Singapore in the 1960s – three blasts from the past

25 05 2016

Footage found online that take us back to a Singapore we have all but forgotten.

The first is a video posted online by Gary Porter on the Memories of Singapore Facebook group that shows the National Theatre crescent-shaped fountain, the fountain at Holland Circus and a gathering of hawkers. The second is an excerpt from a French / Italian 1967 movie Cinq gars pour Singapour or Five Ashore in Singapore that was filmed in Singapore in 1966 that takes has us take walk through one of my favourite childhood places, Change Alley. The third is from the 1967 British film Pretty Polly, which starred Hayley Mills and Shashi Kapoor.

 





Echoes of the Sheung Wan of the 1960s: Wing Lee Street and the ladder streets

28 07 2010

If you haven’t already noticed from my blog, The Long and Winding Road is that one of the things that I have a soft spot for is in old places which would be mixed with bits of nostalgia of those places in the days that have passed. While The Long and Winding Road isn’t so much a nostalgia blog as it has sometimes been labelled as – being about how I see what is around me, it does have a large dose of nostalgia for the Singapore that I grew up in, and when I am in a place like Hong Kong, I can also identify with the places and things that the local people have a nostalgia for. Hong Kong does provide a lot of that in some ways: the tramway and the Star ferry being some of the older things that are still around. There is another part of Hong Kong where it is possible to enjoy hearing the lingering echo of a forgotten past, which on this trip was introduced by Mr Leon Suen, a professional photographer who had kindly and patiently served as our guide for two hours in an thoroughly enjoyable walk around the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong Island.

Down Shing Wong Street in Sheung Wan with Mr Leon Suen.

The highlight of the walk was the walk along the staircases and terraces of Sheung Wan around the area where Wing Lee Street is. Wing Lee Street is a terrace that was made famous by Alex Law’s award winning movie 歲月神偷, 岁月神偷 in simplified Chinese or when translated into English, “Time, the thief”. It goes by the title “Echoes of the Rainbow” in English, a reference to the double rainbow I suppose, that features in a scene in the movie. I guess the walk would probably have been more meaningful if I had watched the movie before taking it, but somehow, walking down the staircases and terraces did take me back to a time as the street that Wing Lee Street was used to depict was in, to the Sheung Wan of the 1960s, much like how my walks in some of the older parts of Singapore would bring me back to a time that I would have remembered.

A building from the past along Shing Wong Street. Many of the old buildings have been demolished and replaced by high rise buildings, altering the character of the area.

Wing Lee Street served as the set for the award winning movie 歲月神偷 or “Time, the thief” which goes by the title “Echoes of the Rainbow in English.

Wing Lee Street served as the set for the award winning movie 歲月神偷 or “Time, the thief” which goes by the title “Echoes of the Rainbow in English.

The building that served as the school on the set of the movie.

The building that served as the school on the set of the movie.

Ventilation and light openings in the stairwell were a common feature of the old buildings.

Ventilation and light openings in the stairwell were a common feature of the old buildings.

Wing Lee Street and the movie Echoes of the Rainbow provide a doorway into Sheung Wan's past.

Wing Lee Street and the movie Echoes of the Rainbow provide a doorway into Sheung Wan's past.

The movie, which I made a point of watching in the plane on the voyage back to Singapore, is filled with sights, sounds and images of the Hong Kong of the late 1960s. In watching it, I felt very much that I was back in that Hong Kong, back to a time when I had my own childhood in Singapore, with strains of music of the era that echo in the background of the many warm nostalgic scenes that fill the movie. I didn’t think very much of the plot though, while it may have centred around a heart wrenching tale of a family of a shoemaker struggling to make ends meet and desperately trying to save a favoured son in his prime diagnosed with cancer as seen through the eyes of the younger son finding hard to live up to the comparisons made with his elder brother. The story which is in a sense an autobiographical tribute to the director’s own brother who died of cancer in his teens, I felt was rather shallow and predictable, but still watchable for the poignant look of the Hong Kong of old. I understand that it was only after the shooting of the movie that a decision was taken to conserve the buildings along Wing Lee Street which would otherwise have been demolished.

A gate on Wing Lee Street.

A gate on Wing Lee Street.

Windows on on Wing Lee Street.

Windows on Wing Lee Street.

A wall along Wing Lee Street.

A wall along Wing Lee Street.

Grilled windows.

Grilled windows.

A broken pane on a window.

A broken pane on a window.

The terrace that is Wing Lee Street.

The terrace that is Wing Lee Street.

An interesting part of Wing Lee Street is at the corner of Shing Wong Street (one of the “ladder streets” – named such as they are literally staircases up from the lower reaches of the Central and Sheung Wan areas to the Mid Levels higher up), where the Wai Che Printing Co. is located. It is also interesting to note that opposite the entrance to the Wai Che is the building that was used to depict the school in the movie. Entering the printing shop through the half opened collapsible gate, you would immediately be transported back in time – more so because of the sight of old wooden racks of lead type against the wall and an old Heidelberg cylinder movable type printing machine, which although still being operated by the owner, the very friendly Mr. Lee Chak Yue who is in his eighties, has become obsolete. Mr. Lee, had been using this traditional method of printing which harks back to the days of ancient China in which it was invented (it is considered one of the great inventions of China), for some 60 years and was patient enough to explain how printing is done in this traditional way where typesetting can be a lengthy task. It is a shame to have to hear from him and Leon that the shop and the wealth of history that can be found in the lead type and machines is not something that the heritage body in Hong Kong is looking at preserving. It would certainly be nice to see that at least the shop and the contents of the shop be kept where it is and preserved as a museum, but from the sound of things, that is quite unlikely.

Wai Che Printing Company's entrance at Wing Lee Street.

Wai Che Printing Company's entrance at Wing Lee Street.

A sign at the entrance.

A sign at the entrance.

Mr Lee Chak Yue, the proprietor of Wai Che is in his 80s and has been doing movable type printing fro 60 years. It is with his kind permission that the set of photographs have been taken.

Mr Lee Chak Yue, the proprietor of Wai Che is in his 80s and has been doing movable type printing fro 60 years. It is with his kind permission that the set of photographs have been taken.

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The Heidelberg moving type press.

The Heidelberg moving type press.

At the other end of the terrace there is a charming old apartment block – looking somewhat dilapidated. If not for the evidence of clothes hanging to dry on lines and letter boxes stuffed with the mail, I would have thought that they were not lived in. A feature of buildings of that era can be seen on the façade of the building, which has slots to serve as ventilation openings on the stairwell and more importantly to provide a source of light, one that you will see on many of the buildings around Sheung Wan. Other notable sights in the vicinity are the old Chinese YMCA building – a red brick eclectically designed building that dates back to 1918 which served as the headquarters of the Chinese YMCA on Bridges Street until it moved in 1966 and the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road.

A dilapidated apartment block.

A dilapidated apartment block.

Old letter boxes.

Old letter boxes.

Signs of life ...

Signs of life ...

More signs of life?

More signs of life?

The former Chinese YMCA building on Bridges Street.The Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road.IMG_1654

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Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.





A preview of the 20th European Union Film Festival (6 to 16 May 2010)

2 05 2010

The 20th European Union Film Festival (EUFF) caught my attention with an invitation to a bloggers’ preview at the Spanish Embassy, during which a Sam Garbarski movie, Irina Palm, as screened. The tragicomedy which made its debut at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival,  although directed by the Francophone Garbarski who hails from Belgium, comes into the festival as a Luxembourg entry and is in English and filmed entirely in an English setting, having been co-produced by Belgium, Luxembourg, Britain, Germany and France. The movie revolves around the main character, Maggie, a self described frumpy middle-aged grandmother played by Marianne Faithfull, who, by the circumstances surrounding her, is driven to accepting a job in one of the sleazy joints that London’s Soho district is known for. Marianne Faithfull gives a splendidly touching performance as Maggie in this heartwarming story in which Maggie’s grandson, Olly (Corey Burke), requires life saving treatment in Australia. Olly’s parents, Maggie’s son Tom (Kevin Bishop) and daughter-in-law, Sarah (Siobhán Hewlett) have no means of paying for the passage to Australia. Maggie desperately seeks a way to raise the required sum, and is unsuccessful in her attempts to persuade the banks to lend her the required amount. This does not stop her and she stumbles to Sexy World, a private club in Soho, where she sees a “Hostess Wanted” sign outside the door. In her desperation, Maggie naively walks through the door to discover that “Hostess”, as explained by club owner Miki (Miki Manojlovic), is a euphemism for “Whore”. Accepting a position offered, she eventually finds success as Irina Palm, eventually being able to raise the required sum.

Marianne Faithfull gives a splendid performance as Maggie a.k.a. Irina Palm for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Award at the European Film Awards in 2007.

Irina Palm is one of the delightful movies being lined up for the EUFF, which returns for its 20th year, and follows on its sell-out success last year. The festival aims to bring to local audiences a visual odyssey through the rich and diverse cultures of the European Union through 17 critically acclaimed films that have won awards and nominations in prestigious festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, and even includes an Oscar nominee.

The 20th EUFF is on at GV VivoCity from 6 to 16 May.

The EUFF also sees the EU encouraging cinematic exchange and fostering closer cultural exchange between Europe and Singapore, and will this year see the partnership of  Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film and Media Studies (in screening some of its students’ best short films before the start of selected feature films) providing promising young filmmakers with an opportunity to see their works on the big screen alongside those of acclaimed directors, while offering the local audiences a glimpse of some of the young cinematic talents in Singapore.

The Programme for the 20th EUFF. 17 European films will be screened over 11 days.

Highlights of the festival include the opening film and gala premiere of Broken Embraces (Spain) by famed director Pedro Almodóvar, starring Penelope Cruz (one week ahead of its commercial launch); The Father of my Children (France), winner of a Special Jury Award at Cannes Film Festival in 2009; Unmade Beds (UK) – nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival; and The Secret of Kells (Ireland), an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature Film in 2010. The Festival will be officially opened on 6 May 2010 at Golden Village VivoCity by Guest-of-Honour Mr Sam Tan, Parliamentary Secretary for Information, Communications and the Arts, and will run until at Golden Village VivoCity until 16 May 2010. More information on the EUFF and a synopsis of each of the films can be found at its website www.euff.sgTickets go on sale from 22 April 2010.

About the EUFF:

The European Union Film Festival is an annual event that showcases a collection of films which draws on the diverse and rich culture of Europe. The film festival, now in its twentieth year, is a window into the intriguing world of European cinema. The films showcased in this festival may belong to a specific country, but they are all representative of Europe’s common cultural heritage. The richness of Europe’s culture is world renowned. Language, literature, performing arts, visual arts, architecture, crafts, broadcasting and of course, cinema all celebrates Europe’s cultural diversity and history.