1972, when the Concorde first flew over Singapore

28 02 2017

Singapore had a brief love affair with the Concorde. Arguably the only supersonic passenger aircraft to be successfully deployed, a London to Singapore was operated by its National airline, Singapore Airlines, in partnership with British Airways for a few years at the end of the 1970s. The aircraft’s first flight over Singapore however, goes back to 1972, a year that was especially memorable for several events.  I came across a wonderful photograph of that first flight some years back, one that in freezing the Concorde over a Singapore that in 1972 was at the cusp of its own reach for the skies, captured the lofty aspirations of the aircraft’s developers and of the city seen below it

An amazing view of Concorde 002 over the old city. The city 45 years ago, was seeing several of its first generation skyscrapers coming up. Some of the iconic buildings seen in this photograph include the former MSA (later SIA) Building, former Robina House, and a partially completed 3rd Ocean Building (now replaced by the Ocean Financial Centre) (photo souce: online at http://www.concordesst.com/).

The photo of Concorde 002 over the old city centre of Singapore during its month-long demonstration tour of the Far East in June 1972 (online at http://www.concordesst.com/).

1972 was the year I was in Primary 2. I was seven, going on eight, ten months older than the newly independent Singapore, and at an age when any machine that sped were about the coolest things on earth. I was also finding out that going to school in the afternoon was quite a chore. Unlike the morning session I was in the previous year, there was little time for distractions and TV. School days were just about tolerable only because of the football time it could provide before classes started each day and unlike the previous school year, great excitement seemed to come only away from school, and the highlight of the year would be one that I would have to skip, “ponteng” in the language used among my classmates, school for.

A friendly game between two great  primary school football rivals - St. John's Island School and St. Michael's School in the 1970s. 

Football was very much part of the culture at St. Michael’s School, the primary school I attended.

The buzz the Concorde created, even before it came to Singapore in June of the year, left a deep impression with the boys I kept company with and the paper planes we made featured folded-down noses that resembling the Concorde’s droop nose – even if it made they seemed less able to fly. I was fortunate to also see the real McCoy making a descent at Paya Lebar Airport, one that was much more graceful than any of the imitations I made. I have to thank an uncle who was keen enough to brave the crowds that had gathered at the airport’s waving gallery for that opportunity. The event was a significant one and took place in a year that was especially significant for civil aviation in Singapore with the split of Malaysia-Singapore Airlines or MSA, jointly operated by the two countries taking place in the background. The split would see the formation of Mercury Singapore Airlines on 24 January to fly Singapore’s flag. The intention had been to ride on the established MSA name, which was not too well received on the Malaysian side, prompting the renaming of the new MSA to Singapore Airlines (SIA) on 30 June 1972, a point from which the airline has never looked back.

What might have been.

What might have been.

The building that housed MSA and later SIA is prominent in the 1972 photograph, the MSA Building. Completed in 1968, the rather iconic MSA and later SIA Building was one built at the dawn of the city’s age of the skyscraper. The building was a pioneer in many other ways and an early adopter of the pre-fab construction technique. A second building in the photograph that also contributed to frenzy was the third Ocean Building, then under construction. The Ocean was to be the home of another company that was very much a part of Singapore’s civil aviation journey: the Straits Steamship Company. It was during the time of the already demolished Ocean Building that preceded the third that the company set up Malayan Airways in 1937. The airlines, which would only take off in 1947, became Malaysian Airways in 1963, and then MSA in 1965. The company, a household name in shipping, is now longer connected with sea or air transport in its current incarnation as Keppel Land. Other buildings marking the dawn of the new age seen in the photograph include the uncompleted Robina House and Shing Kwang House, and also a DBS Building in the early stages of erection.

The fast growing city, seen at ground level in 1972 (Jean-Claude Latombe, online at http://ai.stanford.edu/~latombe/)

The fast growing city, seen at ground level in 1972 (Jean-Claude Latombe, online at http://ai.stanford.edu/~latombe/)

The new Ocean Building in July 1974 (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

The completed third Ocean Building (left), seen in July 1974 (photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

It was several months prior to the the Concorde’s flight and just four weeks into school, that I would find myself skipping classes for what was to be the highlight of the year and of my childhood: the visit of the Queen, Elizabeth II of England, Price Phillip, and Princess Anne, to the 3-room Toa Payoh flat I had called home. As its was in the case of several other visiting dignitaries, Her Majesty’s programme included a visit to the rooftop viewing gallery of the Housing and Development Board’s first purpose-built “VIP block”. The gallery was where a view of the incredible success Singapore had in housing the masses could be taken in and a visit to a flat often completed such a visit and living in one strategically placed on the top floor of the VIP block had its advantages. Besides the Royal family, who were also taken to a rental flat on the second floor of Block 54 just behind the VIP block, Singapore’s first Yang di-Pertuan Negara and last colonial Governor, Sir William Goode, also dropped by in 1972. The flat also saw the visits of two other dignitaries. One was John Gorton, Prime Minister of Australia in 1968 and the other, Singapore’s second president, Benjamin Henry Sheares, and Mrs Sheares in 1971.

The kitchen during the Queen's visit.

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne, in the kitchen of my flat on 18 February 1972.

The Queen at the Viewing Gallery on the roof of Block 53 Toa Payoh

The Queen at the Viewing Gallery on the roof of Block 53 Toa Payoh on 18 February 1972.

One thing being in the afternoon session developed was the taste I acquired for epok-epok, fried curry puffs that are usually potato filled. Sold by a man who came around on a bicycle at dismissal time, the pastries that he vended – out of a tin carried on the bicycle – were ones to die for. They were made especially tasty the vendor’s special chilli-sauce  “injected” in with a spout tipped bottle and well worth going hungry at recess time, to have the 10 cents the purchase required, for. Being in the afternoon session, also meant that the rides home from school on the minibus SCB 388, were often in the heavy traffic. The slow crawl, often accompanied by the deep vocals of Elvis Presley playing in the bus’ cartridge player, permitted an observation of the progress that was being made in building Toa Payoh up. Much was going on in 1972 with the SEAP games Singapore was to host in 1973 just around the corner. Toa Payoh’s town centre, also the games village, was fast taking shape.

A view over the area in the early 1970s when Toa Payoh New Town was taking shape. The school can be seen in the lower left of the photo with Times Building then occupying the other part of the former quarry site.

A view over Toa Payoh around 1972.

Toa Payoh’s evolving landscape stood in stark contrast to its surroundings. To its south, across the Whampoa River, was Balestier – where suburbia might have ended before Toa Pyaoh’s rise. That still held its mix of old villas, shophouses, and a sprinkling of religious sites. The view north on the other hand was one of the grave scattered landscape of Peck San Teng, today’s Bishan, as would possibly have been the view west, if not for the green wall of sparsely developed elevations. On one of the hills, stood Toa Payoh Hospital, in surroundings quite conducive to rest and recovery. Potong Pasir to Toa Payoh’s east had still a feel of the country. Spread across what were the low lying plains that straddled one of Singapore’s main drainage channels, the Kallang River, the area was notorious for the huge floods that heavy rains would bring. When the area wasn’t submerged, it was one of green vegetable plots and the zinc topped structures of dwellings and livestock pens.

The grave dominated landscape north of Toa Payoh - with a view towards Toa Payoh (online at https://i1.wp.com/news.asiaone.com/sites/default/files/styles/w641/public/original_images/Nov2014/sgtowns_26.jpg)

The grave dominated landscape north of Toa Payoh – with a view towards Toa Payoh (SPH photo, online at http://news.asiaone.com/).

Potong Pasir (and Braddell Road) during the big flood of 1978.

Potong Pasir (and Braddell Road) during the big flood of 1978 (PUB photo).

Another main drainage channel, the Singapore River, was a point of focus for the tourism drive of 1972, during which two white statues came up. Representations perhaps of the past and the future, the first to come up was of a figure from its colonial past. The statue of Raffles, placed at a site near Empress Place at which Singapore’s founder was thought to have first came ashore, was unveiled in February. The second, was the rather peculiar looking Merlion and a symbol perhaps of new Singapore’s confused identity. This was unveiled at the river’s mouth in September. A strangest of would be National symbols and with little connection to Singapore except for its head of a lion, the animal Singapore or Singapura was named after, the creature was made up in a 1964 tourism board initiated effort. Despite its more recent origins, the statue has come to be one that tourists and locals alike celebrate and that perhaps has set the tone for how Singapore as a destination is being sold.

The View from the Esplanade towards the open sea at the mouth of the Singapore River in 1976. The Merlion in the background, is seen at its original location at the mouth of the river.

The Merlion at its original position at the mouth of the Singapore River (seen here in 1976).

An icon of a developing and newly independent Singapore, the Merlion, stares at the icons of the new Singapore across a body of water that played an important role in Singapore's development.

The Merlion at its position today, staring at the icons of the new Singapore.

1972 was a year that has also to be remembered for the wrong reasons. Externally, events such as the tragic massacre of Israeli Olympians in Munich, brought much shock and horror as did the happenings closer to home in Indochina. There were also reasons for fear and caution in Singapore. Water, or the shortage of it was very much at the top of the concerns here with the extended dry spell having continued from the previous year. There were also many reasons to fear for one’s safety with the frequent reports of murders, kidnappings and shootouts, beginning with the shooting to death of an armed robber, Yeo Cheng Khoon, just a week into the year.

The darkest of the year’s headlines would however be of a tragedy that seemed unimaginable – especially coming just as the season of hope and joy was to descend. On 21 November, a huge fire swept through Robinson’s Department Store at Raffles Place in which nine lives were lost. The devastating fire also deprived the famous store of its landmark Raffles Place home and prompted its move to Orchard Road.  This perhaps also spelled the beginning of the end for Singapore’s most famous square. In a matter of one and a half decades, the charm and elegance that had long marked it, would completely be lost.

Christmas Decorations from a Simpler Time - Robinson's at Raffles Place, 1966

Robinson’s at Raffles Place, 1966.

The burnt shell of Robinson's(SPH photo online at http://www.tnp.sg/)

The burnt shell of Robinson’s (SPH photo online at http://www.tnp.sg/)

Another tragic incident was the 17 September shooting of the 22-year-old Miss Chan Chee Chan at Queensway. While the shooting took place around midday, it was only late in the day that medical staff attending to  Miss Chan realised that she had been shot. A .22 calibre rifle bullet, lodged in her heart, was only discovered after an x-ray and by that time it was too late to save her.

Just as the year had started, shootouts would be bring 1972 to a close in which four of Singapore’s most wanted men were killed. At the top of the list was Lim Ban Lim. Armed and dangerous and wanted in connection with the killing of a policeman, a series of armed robberies on both sides of the Causeway, Lim was ambushed by the police at Margaret Drive on 24 November and shot dead. Over a nine-year period, Lim and his accomplices got away with a total of S$2.5 million. An accomplice, Chua Ah Kau escaped the ambush. He would however take his own life following a shootout just three weeks later on 17 December. Having taken two police bullets in the confrontation near the National Theatre, Chua turned the gun on himself.

The case that had Singapore on tenterhooks due to the one and a half month trail of violence and terror left by the pair of gunmen involved, would play itself out just the evening before the gunfight involving Chua. It was one that I remember quite well from the manner in which the episode was brought to a close in the dark and seemingly sinister grounds of the old Aljunied al-Islamiah cemetery at Jalan Kubor. The trigger-happy pair, Abdul Wahab Hassan and his brother Mustapha, crime spree included gun running, armed robbery, gunfights with the police, hostage taking and daring escapes from custody (Abdul Wahab’s from Changi Prison and Mustapha’s from Outram Hospital). Cornered at the cemetery on 16 December and with the police closing in, Abdul Wahab shot and killed his already injured brother and then turned the gun on himself.

A view from the Madrasah Aljunied al-Islamiah Cemetery across to the Kampong Glam conservation area.

The Aljunied Al-Islamiah Cemetery off Jalan Kubor and Victoria Street, where two gunmen met their deaths in 1972.

Besides the deaths of the four, quite a few more armed and dangerous men were also shot and injured as a result of confrontations with the police. A 23 December 1972 report in the New Nation put the apparent rise in shootouts to the training the police had received to “shoot from the hip, FBI style”. The spate of crimes involving the use of firearms would prompt the enactment of the Arms Offences Act in 1973, which stipulates a mandatory death penalty for crimes that see the use of or the attempt to use a firearm to cause injury.

The tough measures may possibly have had their impact. The use firearms in crimes is now much less common. This has also brought about an increased the sense of safety in Singapore, as compared to 1972. Many who grew up in that age will remember being warned repeatedly of the dangers on the streets, particularly of being kidnapped. The same warnings are of course just as relevant today, but the threat was one that could be felt. Many stories of children disappearing off the streets were in circulation and that heightened the sense of fear. While many could be put down to rumour, there was at least one case of a child being abducted from a fairground, that I knew to be true. There were also many reports of actual kidnappings in the news, including one very high profile case in 1972 that saw the abduction of a wealthy Indonesian businessman. The businessman was released only after a ransom was paid.


Singapore in 1972:


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Dawn in the new world

26 07 2013

6.38 am on 23 July 2013. The colours of the breaking day illuminate the icons of the new Singapore, which the Merlion probably best represents. The body of water, Marina Bay, now a reservoir of fresh water, had once been the sea where the inner harbour, the Inner Roads, once fed Singapore with its immigrants and with goods from east and west , the foundation on which Singapore’s early success was built upon.

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The Merlion at 40

18 09 2012

A few more photographs of the Merlion during its 40th birthday celebrations, taken on the last evening of the light, sound and pyrotechnic display, Merlion & I: An Inspiring Journey on 16 September 2012. More information on the event can be found on my previous post ‘Looking sexy at 40‘.





Looking sexy at 40

13 09 2012

A Singapore icon that has for much of its life been an instantly recognisable one is the Merlion, a creature which, much like Singapore, combines the best of two worlds. Conceptualised in the early 1970s for use in the promotion of tourism in what was a Singapore that was beginning to find its feet as an independent nation, the Merlion has become much more than that, becoming a well-loved symbol of Singapore and perhaps one that can be seen to have heralded the remaking of Singapore into what it is today.

An icon of a developing and newly independent Singapore, the Merlion, stares at the icons of the new Singapore across a body of water that played an important role in Singapore’s development.

Originally located at the mouth of the Singapore River, the Merlion was certainly one that was much photographed, including serving as a backdrop for the bevy of beauties that graced our shores during the Miss Universe pageant that Singapore hosted in 1987. And as it celebrates it 40th birthday, having been unveiled by Singapore’s elder statesman and first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on 15 September 1972, the Merlion provides an opportunity for Singaporeans to celebrate it and be photographed in a new light. A 7 minute light, sound and pyrotechnic show, Merlion & I: An Inspiring Journey, presented jointly by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and event sponsor Far East Organization (FEO), will come on six times a night up until 16 September 2012 (Sunday). The show which was launched yesterday evening includes spectacular 3D projections on the icon, fresh from a 2 month long makeover, as well as a musical segment, and a video segment shown on a 8m by 4m LED screen set on a floating pontoon facing the Merlion, which includes a nostalgic element in the form of photographs of past encounters both Singaporeans and visitors have had with the Merlion over its 40 years.

A look back: the Merlion at its original location at the mouth of the river in 1976.

The music and lyrics of An Inspiring Journey is the work of music director, Mr Kenn Chua, who has been behind concerts for local artistes such as Corinne May, Kit Chan and Stefanie Sun. The song is performed by Mr Jim Lim, a member of the popular local group Dreamz FM (a MTV version of the song has also been recorded by Ms Serene Koong). The light projections are the work of Mr Andrew Gardner who has worked extensively in South East Asia, and is behind the lighting of Singapore’s Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. The show will also see an energetic street dance, choreographed by Mr Ryan Tan to accompany the song. Showtimes (13 to 16 September) are 7:15pm, 7:45pm, 8:30pm, 9:15pm, 10.00pm and 10:30pm. For more information, do visit YourSingapore.com.

Photographs from the launch of the Merlion’s 40th Birthday Celebrations

The celebrations are launched ….

There was also a birthday cake in the shape of the Merlion.





The Merlion in a wrestling ring

17 05 2012

Head over to the Esplanade Park if you are looking for some unusual fun and entertainment this weekend. For two weeks from 18 May to 2 June 2012 will be abuzz with a host of activities and performances as the Festival Village of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012 invades the once popular destination for family outings and for a satay feast. The activities and performances are aimed to reach out to as the Festival organisers would have it, anyone from ages 1 to 100, which will tease the senses and delight the soul, and I did have the opportunity to see did tease and delight my soul and senses at a preview of a few of the highlights last evening.

XII – in search of 13. The Merlion flooring the Getai Queen.

Singapore Arts Festival GM, Low Kee Hong, giving speaking at a media preview of the Festival Village.

After the introduction to this year’s Singapore Arts Festival and the Festival Village on the Café Rooftop which provided a wonderful view not just of the Festival Village but also of Marina Bay, the group were soon brought down to earth to have a sneak peek at what the Festival Village will have on offer. The white of the marquees and the yellow of the festival’s paraphernalia was clearly evident. The comings and goings of people the white and yellow must surely have attracted when mixed in certainly brought a buzz to the Esplanade Park that hasn’t been seen for some time. The first act that we were introduced to, XII – going on 13, was one held in a ring – a wrestling ring that is. While what was to go on in the ring definitely wasn’t WWE, it did involve some heavyweights – in the form of twelve icons of Singapore, in a fight to determine as the festival guide puts it “the ultimate National icon amid a backdrop of myths, stories and drama where the Lim Bo Seng Memorial stands”. In the first match-up, the Merlion swiftly and without so much fuss, floored the Getai Queen – in what was probably not an even match-up …

Couldn’t help but notice the fascinating movement of 41 women interacting with 35 urns nearby in DREAM COUNTRY – a lost monologue.

Next up, not before I got distracted by the 41 women moving around 35 large urns in the clearing nearby (DREAM COUNTRY – a lost monologue) , was a pop by the Kids Art Village. After a short introduction, we were treated to a performance by some really adorable children 3 to 8 years old from Kids Gallery Singapore in their interpretation of Dr Dolittle, Talking with the Animals. The Kids Arts Village offers activities and performances that will certainly appeal to children as well as the kids in some of us. Some other highlights found at the Kids Art Village include Tangle – which will have many tangled in ribbons and Spooky Stories by Children.

Talking with the Animals – an interpretation of Dr Dolittle by children 3 to 8 years old from Kids Gallery Singapore … see various acts and participate in various events that will reach out not only to children, but also to the kids in some of us at the Kids Art Village.

Talking with the Animals.

Tangle.

Having to be whisked away to catch a rehearsal of Mark Chan’s The Flight of the Jade Bird, I wasn’t able to catch much of the last part of the preview. That involved the appearance of the mythical centaur – the half man / half horse creature that we discover, may not be so different from us in a performance entitled FLUX. The dance routine of man and horse that I did manage to catch before heading off looked thoroughly captivating – reason enough for me to head back down over the two weeks to catch the full performance of this as well as to further tease my soul and delight my senses in discovering what else the Festival Village has to offer.

FLUX introduction.

FLUX.

FLUX


About The Singapore Arts Festival

The Singapore Arts Festival began in 1977 as a national showcase celebrating the local arts of Singapore’s diverse communities. Over the last three decades, the Festival organised by the National Arts Council, has played a symbiotic and catalytic role in the development of the artistic and cultural life of Singapore. It has influenced the work of artists and generated a growing public demand for the arts, spawning new capital platforms, events and movements that help underpin the lively cultural scene in Singapore.

The Festival saw its turning point in 2010 as it embarked on a new phase of development under the leadership of Low Kee Hong. Key changes and initiatives include turning this international arts platform into a Creation and People’s Festival with a vital year-long participation programme, com.mune to sustain the Festival’s engagement with the public beyond individual shows staged during the Festival period. The commune events and activities are tailored for four groups: new audiences — people who may not have encountered the arts; arts lovers — people who buy tickets to performances; arts makers — artists and teachers who inspire their students through the arts; and arts volunteers — people who have the heart to make a difference.

The Singapore Arts Festival has now become an international showcase of ideas, art and discourse with a distinctive Asian flavour, known for its bold and innovative discussions between vernacular and contemporary art.

Singapore Arts Festival 2012: Our Lost Poems

The 2012 Festival will be held from 18 May – 2 June 2012. This edition of the Festival completes the trilogy of themes set out two editions ago – Between You and Me (2010), I Want to Remember (2011), Our Lost Poems (2012). Over these 16 days, the city comes alive with an infusion of performances at the Festival’s hub – the Festival Village @ Esplanade Park and other key venues. There is something for everyone this year, from ages 1 to 100.






Dawn over the new Singapore

1 03 2012

Finding myself early one morning in a delightful old world I once knew that now is surrounded by a new world, I was drawn to the eerie blue glow that now colours the trusses of the gorgeous Anderson Bridge to venture in that direction and a little beyond it. As I walked past the Boat House – I half expected to be greeted by that joyful chaos that would have been the harbour of old, coloured by the icons of the old Singapore – that of the bumboats, tongkangs and towkows that Singapore’s success depended on. It wasn’t the old harbour however that greeted me, but a sea of calm coloured by the glow and the hues of the lightening sky, a sea without the chaos of old, surrounded by the icons of the Singapore we have become.

An icon of a developing and newly independent Singapore, the Merlion, stares at the icons of the new Singapore across a body of water that played an important role in Singapore's development.

The sea that I speak of is actually not anymore a sea. Bound by fingers of land carved out from the depths of the old harbour, it is now a body of sweet water, Marina Bay – a resource to supplement Singapore’s growing thirst for a resource it never has enough of. The icons we see around it are now the icons of the present and the future – representative of the Singapore we’ve become perhaps. One is the Merlion – a curious and unlikely fusion which is the icon of a confident and developing Singapore that emerged from the darkness that was the uncertainty of the early days of our independence. The Merlion stares towards even more curious edifices on the piece of land that sits over the old outer harbour – the edifices of the Marina Bay Sands Complex – which silhouetted against the glow of the lightening sky is a sight to behold.

The sunrise over a new Singapore.

As I sat in quiet contemplation marvelling at the magnificence of the sight that was before my eyes, I tried hard to imagine the world that once had been there, a world that I deeply miss. The gentle undulations of the water’s surface which was otherwise undisturbed served to remind me that world is no more, replaced by a world I often struggle to come to terms with. It is this new world however that I must now must love – one that when seen in the calmness and light of the new day, is one that certainly is hard not to grow love.








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