Vanishing acts

24 08 2015

Standing in silence at what perhaps is a less explored end of Balestier Road is a row that was only recently emptied of all life. Life in the row at the Rumah Miskin end of the road, included several reminders of the city we seem to have long forgotten – until only a few weeks ago, or at least when I last drove past it a month or so ago, the row was home to two artisans shops, a timber merchant and the merchant’s material storage yard.

A reflection on a discarded piece of the old world.

A reflection off  a discarded piece of the old world (sitting against the fence of Chop Chuan Seng’s former material yard).

Trades such as these were once a feature of the city’s living streets, but not in the redefined urban landscape we see today. With our streets seemingly intent only with the display of the city’s new found vanity, little place has now been left for the one thriving traditional business of old, leaving many of our streets, even ones along which the structures of old still exist, with little flavour and with hardly any character. The “more of the same” that many of our spaces in Singapore, once each with a charm and character of its own and now with a tendency to be differentiated only by a fanciful name, have become.

Along the five-foot-way of the row now emptied of life.

Along the five-foot-way of the row now emptied of life.

The noodle manufacturer, Nam Hin, which occupied two shop lots at Nos. 3 and 5.

The noodle manufacturer, Nam Hin, which occupied two shop lots at Nos. 3 and 5.

The now closed gates of the shop the noodle manufacturer once occupied.

The now closed gates of the shop the noodle manufacturer once occupied.

The Rattan Furniture maker's shop.

The Rattan Furniture maker’s shop.

Along the back lane behind the rattan furniture makers' shop.

Along the back lane behind the rattan furniture makers’ shop.

The timber merchant, Chop Chuan Seng, which occupied a four storey art-deco style building.

The timber merchant, Chop Chuan Seng, which occupied a four storey art-deco style building.

And the now empty timber merchants' yard next to it.

And the now empty timber merchants’ yard next to it.

A view of the storage shed inside the yard.

A view of the storage shed inside the yard.

 





150 metres above Beach Road

31 07 2015

JeromeLim-7742 DHL Balloon (s)Many will remember the DHL Balloon at Tan Quee Lan Street.

Rising high above the Bugis and Rochor areas of Singapore for a short while in the 2000s, the brightly coloured attraction, added not just a burst of colour to an area painted grey by the march of urban redevelopment, but also offered the hundreds of thousands who were to be carried on its gondola a view then unsurpassed over the area from a height of some 150 metres up in the air.

The balloon, touted as the “world’s largest tethered helium balloon” at its launch in April 2006, required the efforts of 40 people over the 12 hours to fill the 6,500 cubic metres of helium it took to inflate it. Once inflated, the balloon at a diameter of 22 metres, was as high as a six storey building. Carrying a maximum of 29 passengers in a gondola suspended below it, it gave a wonderful view of the developments around that were rapidly changing the face of the Beach Road and Marina Bay areas.

Sadly for us, the end came for the DHL Balloon just a little over two years after it was launched as the land on which it was operated (as well as that of its neighbour – the rather iconic New Seventh Storey Hotel) was required for development of the Downtown MRT line’s Bugis Station.  The popular attraction closed at the end of September 2008, by which time the Singapore Flyer was up and running and the balloon was deflated in early October 2008 in half an hour.


Information on the DHL Balloon previously carried by its operator, Singapore Ducktours:

Launched at a cost of S$2.5 million, the DHL Balloon was a joint venture by Aerophile Balloon Singapore Pte Ltd and Vertical Adventure Pte Ltd, and took one year to plan. The project was sponsored by global courier, freight and logistics company DHL, for which it gets exclusive advertising space on the balloon. The business partners involved in the project worked with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Singapore Land Authority and Singapore Tourism Board to allow public advertising on the balloon, and arrange for the lease for the site at over S$1 million for two years. S$800,000 was spent priming the ground for the balloon, and another S$60,000 for the helium.

On 19 April 2006, 40 crew members took 12 hours to inflate the French-made balloon, which took its first passengers in May 2006. The DHL Balloon is operated by Singapore Ducktours, a Singapore company which also offers city tours on its amphibious vehicles. As of September 2007, more than 150,000 people have ridden on the DHL Balloon, 70% of whom are tourists. Up to 1,000 people ride the balloon on weekends. Its ridership is the highest among all of Aerophile’s balloons.

The DHL Balloon’s lease on its site on Tan Quee Lan Street will expire on August 2008, and URA has indicated that the lease will not be extended as it has plans for the site. Singapore Ducktours is considering three alternative sites: Beach Road near Park View Hotel, Clarke Quay near Novotel Clarke Quay Hotel, and Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay. Other plans include relocating the balloon to Kuala Lumpur or Johor Baru in Malaysia. Terminating the venture will cost the company S$1.2 million.

NB: With a capacity of 7,800 cubic metres, Johannesburg and Mexico City are believed to be the largest passenger carrying tethered helium balloons currently in operation.

Ride
Passengers aboard the DHL Balloon can have a bird’s eye view of Singapore’s Central Area, including the central business district, Suntec City, Marina Bay, Orchard Road and Little India, and as far as Indonesia and Malaysia.Standard flights to 150 metres typically lasts between seven to ten minutes, über flights to 180 metres last up to 13 minutes.

Features and specifications

The DHL Balloon measures 22 metres in diameter, and is filled with 6,500 cubic metres of helium. While it is the world’s largest tethered helium balloon, it has been certified as an aircraft. There are only fifteen like it around the world, in cities including Paris and Hongkong.

As the balloon is anchored to the ground with a metal cable, it only ascends and descends vertically. The DHL Balloon was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to ascend to a maximum altitude of 180 metres, or around 48 stories. Flights to either 150 metres or 180 metres are offered. It can accommodate a maximum of 29 passengers in its gondola.

Piloting

The balloon, which flies between two to six times an hour, is operated by a pilot within the gondola. A hydro-electric winch system controls take-off and landing. As a safety measure, the balloon is not flown when there is lightning, rain, or when the wind speed exceeds five knots on the ground, as measured by an anemometer, on location.

Maintenance

A crew of six pilots, who work in rotation with one pilot working at any one time, conduct routine checks daily, weekly and every three months on the balloon and its equipment. The helium is replenished every four to six months, and engineers visit the balloon every year to conduct an inspection.


Another photograph of the balloon at the Aerophile website: DHL Balloon Singapore.






The long road to Somapah

26 06 2015

Excerpts of an interview with Mr Lim Jiak Kin:

From the late 1950s to the 1970s, I had a relative who lived in Mata Ikan. This was close to Somapah Village where my mother’s best friend lived. Her second son was my second brother’s god-brother.

The approach to Somapah and Mata Ikan was via Somapah Road, lined on the left and right with rows of shophouses. I remember a tailor, as well as a corner shop where my mother’s best friend ran a permanent wave salon. The salon was air-conditioned – a big deal in those days and it was where we always stopped on the way to Mata Ikan.

The idyllic setting of Mata Ikan village as captured by Singapore artist Harold Ong.

The idyllic setting of Mata Ikan village as captured by Singapore artist Harold Ong.

I also remember that there were shophouses opposite the permanent wave shop, in front of which were some very good food stalls. One hawker sold fish porridge and another sold fried oysters. The stalls were relocated to Changi Village when Somapah was resettled. Right next to the permanent wave salon was an open-air cinema.

Somapah Road, at its junction with Jalan Somapah Timor (National Archives online catalogue).

By the side of the cinema there was a little slope where a number of stalls had been set up. This was where the morning market was held and where freshly cooked food and fish were sold. The fish would probably have been brought in from the sea at Mata Ikan, one or two kilometres away. Driving past the market, you would come to a child and maternal clinic. Farther in there were holiday bungalows, corporate as well as private ones.

Mata Ikan 1973

A playground at the Government holiday bungalows at Mata Ikan.

After stopping by the salon, we would head to the end of Somapah Road. That was where we would find the last house by the sea, a house of wood and attap typical of a Malaysian beach hut, standing under a coconut tree.

That was our main destination, a provision shop run by a good friend of my father’s. He was a relative of sorts, having originated from the same ancestral village in Hainan as my father. This man and his Teochew wife lived at the back of the house and kept chickens, reserving the best of them and also their eggs for my father for the Chinese New Year.

Across the path from the provision shop was a small shed. That was where my father’s friend turned crushed cockle shells into a ‘dough-like’ kapor to be sold as whitewash. Packed into wooden crates measuring one foot by one foot and two to three feet high, the kapor would be put on sale in paint shops. Competition from low-end, but superior-quality paints introduced by established paint-makers, had seen the trade gradually dying out.

I remember that the population of the Somapah area was mainly Chinese. Among the various dialect groups was a large Hainanese community and I can recall the Hainanese-run Kwang Boo Kok Suat Thuan. The head of the association was one of the founders of the Long Beach Seafood Restaurant that used to operate in the now long-gone Bedok Rest House.

Kwang Boo Kok Suat Tuan on the Changi 10 Mile Facebook Page.

I have many fond memories of my trips to Somapah and Mata Ikan. It was an outing that to a young boy, seemed almost like an overseas trip. Not many people had the opportunity to travel to the beach by car in those days. We would head there in an Austin A40 with the registration plate SC 644 that my mother would drive. There would be five of us; my parents, my two brothers and me, and we would take the drive on Sundays when my father was free.

Somapah Village was one of the main settlements in the area and served as the gateway to some of the villages that lay along the old coastline.

Somapah Village, in the National Archives online catalogue.

The drive was a long but scenic one. It seemed a long journey even in later years when made on board a lorry that left from the Capitol Cinema, near where the Bata shop was. Sitting on a plank in the back of the lorry about an hour into the journey, I would always look out for the “阿弥陀佛” (a mi tuo fo) temple opposite the Bedok Army Camp, as a sign that we were nearing our destination, the site of the picnic we were attending.

The “阿弥陀佛 (a mi tuo fo) temple” – photograph online at Stamford Chalky’s Flickr album.

As a city dweller living in a two-storey shophouse with only the very dangerous Odeon car park to run about in, I felt like a caged dog being let loose when we went to the beach. It always meant getting my feet wet, picking up shells and sitting under coconut trees – a real treat that to this day I can still picture in my dreams.


More memories of Somapah Village and Mata Ikan

The site of Somapah Village is now where the new campus of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) stands. Mata Ikan, was a holiday destination for many in days when it was the fashion to take vacations by the sea. The site of the village by the sea would be close to where Changi South Ave 3 is today.

What has happened to the magical Tanah Merah Coastline ...

Approximate locations of some of the missing villages of the Changi / Somapah area.


 

 





The sports complex at Turnhouse Road

24 06 2015

Lying silently and somewhat forgotten is a set of structures that is seemingly out of place in an area dominated by buildings of the former Royal Air Force Changi station (RAF Changi). An award winning sports complex that was completed in October 1982, the set of structures was the Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group Sports Club and had been built on the site of a previous sports facility, the former RAF Changi’s Airmen’s Swimming Pool. The S$11 million modern looking complex at 24 Turnhouse Road, one of the early post RAF Changi era interventions in the previously restricted section of Changi Point, was built to replace to the club’s facilities at the former international airport at Paya Lebar.

The former SIA Groups Sports and Recreation Club complex at 24 Turnhouse Road.

The former SIA Groups Sports Club complex at 24 Turnhouse Road.

The approach to the former club.

The approach to the former club along Turnhouse Road.

Windows into a more recent past.

Windows into a more recent past.

Erected at a time when several larger organisations were also investing in similar leisure facilities, the 2.68 ha. complex was thought of as second only to Shell’s impressive facilities at Pulau Bukom and Paya Lebar and catered for a variety of popular sports. It boasted of a seven lane Olympic size swimming pool, a children’s pool, basketball and netball courts, playing fields, three tennis courts, four squash courts, and a multi-purpose hall with three badminton courts.

The entrance to the club.

The entrance to the club.

The main staircase.

The main staircase.

The multi-purpose hall.

The multi-purpose hall.

And the seven-lane Olympic size swimming pool.

And the seven-lane Olympic size swimming pool.

The row of squash courts.

The row of squash courts.

The club’s architectural design, for which it won an award, has been described in an article on page 6 of the 18 June 1981 edition of the Straits Times:

The architecture of the complex is imaginative in concept and bold in design, featuring a four level chalet style building with sloping roofs, wide eaves and cantilevered balconies … An important aspect of the design is the viewing terrace, which links all sports and recreational areas. A roof deck on the topmost level of one wing offers superb views of the general surroundings, while a viewing balcony overlooks the multi-purpose hall and four squash courts.

A view from the sea towards the area where the former club is. The structures of its buildings stand out in the distance.

A view from the sea towards the area where the former club is. The structures of its buildings stand out in the distance.

The viewing balcony.

The viewing balcony.

The upper floor corridor overlooking the swimming pool.

The upper floor corridor overlooking the swimming pool.

What would have been a snack kiosk next to the swimming pool.

What would have been a snack kiosk next to the swimming pool.

A view out to the swimming pool.

A view out to the swimming pool.

Pipework in the club's boiler room.

Pipework in the club’s boiler room.

Besides catering for sports, the club also provided for indoor activities, other hobbies and dining. Housed within its buildings were food and beverage outlets, a gym, a reading room, a conference room, a lounge, a jackpot machine room, an electronic games arcade, as well as rooms for billiards, darts and television. An innovation of the day that the club put to use was a solar powered water heating system.

What must have been a function or conference room.

What must have been a function or conference room.

A restaurant space.

A restaurant space.

A view across the pool to the viewing balconies.

A view across the pool to the viewing balconies.

Despite the club’s enviable facilities, membership fell in its first years of operations at its new premises from a high of 5253 members in 1981 to a low of 1200, based on a 1983 report by in Suara Satu, the newsletter of Singapore Air Transport-Workers’s Union (SATU). Increased membership fees, distance and a lack of transportation to the club had been cited as a contributing factor. This saw the club open its doors to Division 1 civil servants, as well as staff of client airlines of its subsidiary Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS). There was also talk then of the club finding new premises or being opened to the public coming to the surface.

JeromeLim-2008

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The club did eventually move out – to its current facilities off Upper Changi Road East in 2006, leaving the clubhouse at Turnhouse Road abandoned. Today it remains unused – except for the occasional event being held there. The future of the club’s former buildings is uncertain, although an adaptive reuse may be found for the site in the interim during which time the structures will stand perhaps as a lesser known and temporary reminder of a period of Changi Point’s development that was influenced by the arrival of the new airport at Changi.

A terrace with a view to the sea.

A terrace with a view to the sea.

A view across to 23B Turnhouse Road, now a seafood restaurant.

A view across to 23 Turnhouse Road, now a seafood restaurant.

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The vermilion bridge in the naval base

19 05 2015

The vermilion bridge, of a style and colour that is distinctively Japanese, stands almost garishly out of place in the expansive garden of an equally generously sized colonial house. Set in an area whose flavour is overwhelmingly one of the days of the empire, the bridge, and the landscaped area it arches across, is said to have been constructed through the efforts of Japanese Prisoners-of-War (POWs). It is one of at least two structures that the POWs built in an area that was at the heart of the huge British naval base, the other being a swimming pool on the grounds of Old Admiralty House.

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The house with the bridge, is one of many in the “black and white” style, commonly employed in the construction of homes for the colony’s senior administrators and military men, to be found in the area. Along with several residences with red-brick faces influenced by the arts and crafts movement, the “black and white” houses, in lush green and spacious surroundings, served as married quarters for the base’s senior officers. The house, the largest in its cluster and located so that it commanded a view of the base’s former stores basin and dockyard, was reserved for the dockyard’s most senior officer, the Commodore Superintendent.

An aerial view of the former Commodore Superintendent's residence.

An aerial view of the former Commodore Superintendent’s residence (posted in the Old Sembawang Naval Base Facebook Group).

The dockyard passed into the hands of the then newly formed Sembawang Shipyard in 1968 and the base saw its last days in 1971 with the British pullout, and the ownership of the house was transferred to the State, but with an arrangement that it, along with several other similar property be made available for use to the United Kingdom and also to Australian and New Zealand Forces deployed in Singapore under the Five Power Defence Arrangement. It perhaps is due to this that the house, which subsequent to the pullout, served as the residence of Commander of New Zealand’s Force SEA, and the brightly coloured bridge, set in an area that the the URA’s 2014 Masterplan tells us is “Subject to Detailed Planning”,  still stands today in a part of Singapore in which the winds of change are now blowing ever stronger.





The glow in the park

12 05 2015

The quiet green surroundings of Fort Canning Hill provides the setting for the Pinacothèque de Paris’ home away from home, in a building whose best features the museum seems to have brought out, especially with its nighttime illuminations. The rather majestic looking building, looking resplendent after a huge makeover, dates back to 1926, beginning its life as a barracks block of the Malaya Command Headquarters. The Malaya Command HQ occupied a large part of the grounds of a mid-18oos British fortification, of which part of the wall and a gate, the Fort Gate, remains. Named after Lord Canning, the Governor-General and Viceroy of British India at that time, the fort was also what gave the hill its modern name.

The new glow at the formerly very dark cemetery at Fort Canning.

The new glow at the formerly very dark cemetery at Fort Canning.

I first got to know the three storey building that is now the Pinacothèque in my days of youthful adventure when the hill was a draw for as much for its seclusion of the hill, as it was for its mystery. Known also as Bukit Larangan, the Forbidden Hill, it was so named as it was the abode of the ancient kings both in life and in the afterlife. The dark and uncertain slopes, desecrated by the ornaments of the new order the most noticeable of which were the reminders of Singapore’s first Christian burial ground, seemed more forbidding  then than forbidden.

Fort Canning Centre at the start of its transformation into the Pinacotheque de Paris.

Fort Canning Centre at the start of its transformation into the Pinacotheque de Paris.

The monuments on the hill to the garrison no one imagined could be defeated, were less forbidding. In former barracks block, then converted into the “world’s largest squash centre”, Singapore Squash Centre, one was never without company. Established in 1977 when the game of squash rackets was at the peak of its popularity in Singapore, the centre boasted of 25 courts and as a facility for the game, was well used up until the 1980s. Unfortunately, the good times were to be brought to an end at the end of the 1980s. Plans were announced in 1985 to revamp Fort Canning Hill into a focal point for cultural and recreational activities in the city, with the barracks block serving as its hub. Following the expiration of the centre’s lease for the building in 1987, the building was renovated and unveiled as the Fort Canning Centre in 1991 into which arts related tenants such dance studios and theatre groups moved.

The building in the 1980s (National Archives of Singapore).

Overlooking Fort Canning Green, the site of the former Christian cemetery, the Pinacothèque de Paris, which opens its doors on 30 May 2015, adds not just a stunning backdrop to the now open-air concert venue, but also provides a good reason to head up a hill on whose slopes much of our early history was written.





Signs of the times: the final Halt

28 04 2015

What perhaps is the final “Halt” in Singapore is to be found in the area where the former Loewen Camp, part of the former British Tanglin Barracks, was located. The former military camp, used in the post 1971 (British military pull-out) era to house Singapore Armed Forces units such as HQ Medical Services (HQMS) and the 9th Division (9Div) HQ, has recently been refurbished with the buildings found within it being put to new uses. One of the things that, rather surprisingly, can be found in the midst of the old buildings, is a remnant of times when traffic was brought to a halt.

JeromeLim-0063

The halt found in a road marking comes from days when “Halt (at) Major Road Ahead” signs were in use rather than the red octagon Stop signs we are used to seeing these days that are supplemented by “Stop” road markings. The previously used “Halt (at) Major Road Ahead” signs were originally introduced in the United Kingdom in 1935 and its use was then extended to Malaya and Singapore in the same decade.

Halt Major Road Ahead sign and road marking seen at the junction of Transit Road and Sembawang Road in Nee Soon Village, 1966 (photo from David Ayres’ wonderful collection of Singapore and Malaya in the 1960s on Flickr).

I am not quite certain when the more internationally recognised “Stop” signs we see today replaced the “Halt” signs, but it would have been in the very early 1970s. The new “Stop” signs had their origins in the United States, having taken its form and colour in the 1954 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD). It was one of two variants specified under the 1968 United Nations Vienna Convention Road Signs and Signals and has since been widely adopted in many parts of the world.

Highway Code for Learner Drivers – 1950s to 1960s.








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