Faces of the Railway: a familiar face from the Railway Book Store

22 06 2011

Arriving at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and walking into the main hall, one of the first things a passenger would encounter is that of what is an institution at the station, the Habib Railway Book Store and Money Changer, of which I have an earlier post on. The so-called book store and money changer is owned by Mr Syed Ahmad, who started his business at the station in 1958, taking over his father’s which started in 1936 at the same station. The book store and money changer is certainly one that many, as passengers, would have patronised, buying a bottle of water, picking a book or magazine up, or getting one’s currency changed for that trip up north, something which I did on my very first encounter with the trains as a passenger back in the 1990s.

Mr Nazir, nephew of the store's owner, Mr Syed Ahmad, is perhaps one of the more recognisable faces at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Manning the book store and money changer are many of Mr Syed Ahmad’s relatives, including a young man Mr Nazir who is a nephew of Mr Syed Ahmad and is perhaps one of the more recognisable faces of the station to a regular passenger. The book store and money changer will sadly see its last day of operation, bringing to a close a 75 year association with the grand old station on the 26th of June. As for that familiar face and Mr Syed Ahmad, life does go on … and for what is most certainly an institution at Tanjong Pagar, life may go on … in a colder and less friendly setting that is the new terminal station (I don’t know if one can actually call it a station) at Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

Information that may be of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.

The end of an institution at Tanjong Pagar?

16 11 2010

While many of us with a sense of nostalgia for the grand old station at Tanjong Pagar are comforted by the knowledge that the main station building would, as a minimum be conserved in some form, which, we don’t really know yet, we are uncertain of the fate of some of the many features that we have associated with the station over the years. One such feature is what must certainly be an institution at the station, the little convenience shop and money changer, Habib Book Store and Money Changer, which has apparently been very much a part of the station’s scenery for over half a century, having started at the station in 1958.

Habib Book Store and Money Changer has been a feature at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for over half a century.

It is not just the trains and tracks that we will see the last of at Tanjong Pagar once the station moves to Woodlands, but also an institution that has been very much a part of the station since the 1950s.

Habib Book Store started operating at what is now a room used by the KTMB Auxiliary Police (Polis Bantuan), which provides security services at the station, and moved to its present location only around 1990. I had sometimes wondered why the shop was called a book store, thinking that it might have been for the magazines that it sold. The most I had ever remembered seeing of books being sold were the few novels and self-help books that were displayed on two rotatable racks that had been placed opposite the shop through which I would sometimes browse through while waiting for the gate to open. It is a shop that I would fondly remember for its colourful display of magazines strung out at the front of the shop, and one where I would often get my supplies of snacks and drinking water for the long railway journeys. It was also where I had obtained the Malaysian Ringgit I needed for that first ever train journey I made, and one that will certainly be missed not just by me, but by the many who have passed through the station at Tanjong Pagar.

The counter now enclosed and used as a room by the KTMB Auxiliary Police (Polis Bantuan) was the original location of Habib Book Store.

The counter is similar to the one used as the ticket counter and is directly opposite it.

Habib Book Store and Money Changer seen at its original location in 1980 (source: National Archives of Singapore).

If you do ever have the chance to pass through the station, do make it a point to pause for a while and take a last look at the convenience shop – it may be the last you might see of it in its current form. It would also be nice if you could stop and chat with the proprietor of the shop, the very amiable Mr. Syed Ahmad, who would certainly be pleased to share his experiences at the station, where the shop was originally located, and when he had first started operating at the railway station … and perhaps where he will be going next.

Mr. Syed Ahmad being interviewed for television.