Dark clouds on the northern horizon

8 10 2018

I have long thought of the Sembawang area as a final frontier, and a last part of modern Singapore in which much of yesterday remains to be discovered. Progress is however eating away at these remnants of a soon to be forgotten time; the latest bit of Sembawang being absorbed into the brave new world is the area’s last forested hill on which the grand Admiralty House is perched. Now with almost the entire western slope of the hill denuded, the settings that provided the house with its charm and also its much needed isolation for its eight decades of existence, will never again be the same.

Dark clouds on a northern horizon … the denuded western slope of the last forested hill in Sembawang.

Completed in 1940, the house with its distinctive Arts and Crafts inspired flavour, was built as the residence of the Rear Admiral, Malaya. Its scale and appearance would have been most fitting to house the  commander of the then newly opened Naval Base – the largest and most important of Britain’s bases east of the Suez. It would only acquire the name best known to most, Admiralty House, when it became the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Far East Station in 1958.

Another view showing the extent of the clearance on the western slope.

Handed over to the Singapore Government in 1975 after a spell as the residence of the Commander of the ANZUK Force, the house – and the hill has since resisted the advance of concrete that has seen a new HDB town sprout up around it. Time was finally called on the hill when plans for a sports and community hub surfaced in the 2014 Master Plan. At the project’s launch in 2016, an announcement was made that some 200 of the hill’s mature trees, just over a quarter of the existing trees, would be retained – with a greater number of new trees planted. While this may be the case – even with most of the hill’s western slope now stripped bare – the terracing necessary for the project and the construction of new structures and footpaths, will permanently alter the hill’s character and add much unwelcome concrete to an already heavily concretised area.</p?

The still forested hill, seen in July 2016.

The hub, which will feature a food centre, a swimming complex, other sports and recreational facilities, is due to be opened in phases from the first half of 2020. It will eventually incorporate the former Admiralty House, a National Monument since 2002. Work on this phase will commence when Furen International School, vacates the house in 2020.

Another view of the hill in 2016.

More on the hub and the former Admiralty House can be found at:


The front of the former Admiralty House.

The house has been likened to an English country manor.

The view the house commanded until fairly recently.


 





The Sembawang sport and community hub

2 07 2018

Standing at the top of the southeastern-most hill in the former Naval Base for much of its 78 years in existence, Old Admiralty House is set to part with the quiet isolation that it was intended to have when it was built to house the Commander of the British Admiralty’s then newly completed Naval Base. An integrated sport and community hub, “Bukit Canberra”, will soon come up around it, bringing the hill it is perched on more in sync with the Singapore that we have come to know.

Old Admiralty House and the quiet isolation that was very much a part of why it was there, with modern Singapore knocking on its door.

Unveiling “Bukit Canberra”.

The hub will include amenities that are much desired by the sports and healthcare facilities deprived residents of the area. These include a hawker centre, indoor and outdoor sport facilities, a polyclinic, a senior care centre, green spaces for community farming and lifestyle related amenities – all “within a lush and naturalistic environment”. The first phase of the hub is due to be opened in the first half of 2020. Subsequent phases will involve the integration of Old Admiralty House – a National Monument – after its current occupant, Furen International School, vacates it in 2020.

A model of Bukit Canberra.

Old Admiralty House from the ground.

The “lush and naturalistic” environment the hub will feature is being built around the retention of a large proportion of the hills existing trees, with some 1600 additional trees added. One that has already been added – during a family carnival held to mark the launch of construction on Sunday – is a Sembawang tree (also Semawang tree) from which the area got its name. A “Fruit Orchard and Food Forest” will also feature in which a variety of fruit trees and food plants some grown in the early days of Singapore will be planted. Here a community garden will allow planting to be carried out by members of the community.

Sembawang GRC’s MPs at the groundbreaking.

Planting the Sembawang tree.

Heritage (or history as the case may be) will apparently not be forgotten with heritage story boards telling of Sembawang’s history as a former naval base. Along with Admiralty House, other features of historic interest that would be retained include a gate put up during Admiralty House’s days as ANZUK House (1971 to 1975) and a bomb shelter built before the war. A swimming pool thought to have been built by Japanese POWs after the war will however be going based on model on display at the family carnival.

The front of the former Admiralty House.

More on the former Admiralty House:


About Bukit Canberra (from Press Release)

Bukit Canberra is an integrated sports and community hub to be opened in phases from first half of 2020, it will provide the community with lifestyle related amenities, such as a hawker centre, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, a polyclinic, senior care centre, and green spaces for community activities.

‘Bukit Canberra’ is a name that the residents can easily relate to given the history of the area. Many of the streets in Sembawang have links to Commonwealth countries due to the naval communities residing in the area. For instance, Canberra Road was named in 1937 by Rear-Admiral R.H.O Lane-Poole, a Commander of the Royal Australian squadron, H.M.A.S. Canberra, that was visiting Singapore. The Former Admiralty House, built in 1940 was also known as Canberra House (not so sure about this) when it was first completed, after the adjacent Canberra Road. The hub is scheduled to open in phases from 2020.

Site size: 11.86 ha

Key Facilities/ Features:

Sports

  • A six-lane sheltered swimming pool, an eight-lane lap pool, a wading pool and a fun pool for children
  • Indoor sport hall with 500-seat gallery for sports like basketball and badminton
  • Inclusive gym, an outdoor forest gym and fitness studios
  • Running trails
  • Active Health Lab & Active Health Nutrition Studio

Greenery & Heritage

  • Community Gardening
  • Fruit Orchard
  • Food Forest
  • Heritage story boards

Healthcare

  • Polyclinic
  • Senior Care Centre

Food

  • Hawker Centre

 


Landscape design (from Press Release)

The landscape design for Bukit Canberra will leverage on and enhance the existing greenery, topography and heritage of the site to create unique experiences for visitors. Taking into consideration the existing site conditions and character, the landscape design for the site is divided into three zones: Forest, Agrarian and Hilltop. The landscaping will help to strengthen ecological links for biodiversity, allow users to enjoy the hub’s features in a natural setting and connect the community with flora and fauna.

Overview of landscape design for Bukit Canberra (Courtesy of SportSG).

Forest Zone

In the Forest Zone, the focus is on restoring habitats for fauna and enriching biodiversity. Existing healthy mature trees and vegetation will be retained and more native forest species will be added progressively to recreate the natural rainforest structure. Bukit Canberra is at the intersection of existing NParks Nature Ways and the species planted within the Forest Zone will include those found along the Nature Ways to help increase ecological connectivity.

Agrarian Zone

The existing vegetation in this zone is less dense and several community spaces are planned for within this zone, including the Food Forest, Fruit Orchard and community gardens. The landscaping surrounding these features will be themed similarly.

Hilltop Zone

The key feature at the Hilltop is the Former Admiralty House. The landscaping will frame the frontage of the building and provide an open and unobstructed view of the surroundings. The area around the house will be an open space suitable for a wide range of recreational activities, from events to picnics and gatherings.


 





Lost in the rising sea at Telok Ayer

12 02 2016

It is hard now to imagine the sea coming right up to Telok Ayer Street where the original shoreline had once been.  The Telok Ayer Reclamation scheme of the 1880s moved the shoreline to where Shenton Way is today, adding some 1,808,028 square feet or 167,971. square metres of land where Telok Ayer Bay had been. A portion of the land, reclaimed at a cost of 51 cents per square foot, was sold initially (in 1896) for an average price of $1.13 per square foot.

One of the earliest structures to be erected in the land where the bay had been is what we now know as Telok Ayer Market or “Lau Pa-Sat” – meaning old market in the Hokkien dialect with pa-sat being a Hokkien loan word from Malay used locally. The “New Town Market” replaced a 1833 market that had been built along the earlier shoreline and would possibly be the only one of the reclamation’s early structures to have stood to this very day (it did disappear over a three year period in the late 1980s when it was dismantled to protect its structure from damage from tunnelling works for the MRT).

A National Monument, the former market and now a food centre, is a showpiece of exquisite Scottish ironwork. Although it still remains very recognisable for its distinctive octagonal plan and its clock tower, the old market has become a lot less noticeable now that it is lost in the new sea at the former Telok Ayer Bay; a sea not of water but of towering skyscrapers that has risen in the last four decades or so.

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Lost in the sea of skyscrapers, the former Telok Ayer Market. This view of it is down Maxwell Link, running in between Robinson Road and Shenton Way, along which newer and taller buildings are now replacing the first generation skyscrapers of 1970s vintage.

The view from Mount Wallich

When the air was much clearer – a view from Mount Wallich, which was soon to be levelled, towards the Telok Ayer Reclamation, possibly in the late 1890s, soon after the “New Town Market”, also seen in the picture, was constructed. The road closest to the viewer would be Cecil Street, with Robinson Road running parallel and what would became Shenton Way just by the sea.

Carnival time on the reclamation – the Manila Carnival during the Malaya-Borneo Exhibition in 1922 where Shenton Way is today. The market can be seen in the background (National Archives of Singapore Photograph).

 





The Fullerton Hotel National Day light up

2 08 2015

As a child, one of the highlights of National Day was the nighttime drive to see the city’s birthday lights. The beautifully lit landmarks, buildings and the fountains that once graced the city, although much simpler then, brought a wonderful burst of colour to the city and its surroundings. Among my favourites were the illuminations of the City Hall, the old Supreme Court, and also the old St. Joseph’s Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum, which always seemed to be bathed in green, and where I would eventually attend school at. The fountains looked especially beautifully lit at night, besides the ones that would be normally illuminated at the roundabouts, there was one located at the filter beds off Bukit Timah Road, close to its junction with Cavenagh and New Cemetery Roads, that would be specially turned on and illuminated for the special occasion.

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Light-ups to celebrate our special days these days, tend to be more than just the simple illuminations of old, involving video projections of both light and sound. One to look out for in the lead up to our nation’s 50th anniversary is the video mapping show that is being seen on the face of the last of the grand edifices of our once glorious waterfront, the grand old Fullerton Building, over nine evenings from 1st August.

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Produced in collaboration with Hexagon Solution Pte Ltd, the light-up, an eight minute long projection entitled “A Celebration of  Our Heritage”, will take the audience through key moments in Singapore’s history and the connection the building, the former General Post Office or GPO, had with some of them. One of these moments are the election rallies Fullerton Square was well known for.

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The light-up is part of a slew of activities in the Marina Bay area, where the focal point of the National Day celebrations will take place. One thing to look forward to will be the fireworks and aerial displays on 9 August – the parade will be screened live on LCD screens around the bay. Also to look forward to is the complimentary kacang putih and potong ice-cream that will be given out by Fullerton Hotel on 7 and 8 August at One Fullerton. The Fullerton is also running a Facebook contest that will see ten lucky winners walk away with a complimentary weekend night’s stay at the hotel – all that is needed to enter is to take a photo of the projection and submit it with a birthday wish to the nation via Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #FullertonSG50LightUp (contest closes on 9 August 2015 at 11:50 pm). More information on this and the light-up can be found on the Fullerton Hotel’s Fullerton Hotel website or Facebook Page.

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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.






New Year at the old harbour

1 01 2015

An occasion that is celebrated in a big way in Singapore in the New Year, which since 2005, sees fireworks illuminate the night sky against the backdrop of the ultra modern skyline at Marina Bay. The occasion, providing an opportunity not just to usher in the new year, but also to celebrate Singapore’s amazing transformation over the years, especially so this year with Singapore celebrating 50 years of independence.

Fireworks over Marina Bay at the stroke of midnight, 2015.

Fireworks over Marina Bay at the stroke of midnight, 2015.

While the 2015 countdown at Marina Bay, marks the tenth anniversary of the event being held there, the location has in fact been one that has traditionally been associated with the New Year – as the Inner Roads of the old harbour, it was where a New Year’s Day event that could be traced back to 1839 – just 15 years after Raffles founded modern Singapore, the New Year Sea Sports, had been held annually – except for the intervention of war, until the end of the 1960s.

A kolek race held during the New Year Sea Sports, 1951 (National Archives of Singapore).

The sea sports event, held in the waters off Collyer Quay, featured a series of races with traditional boats such as koleks, as well as competitions that ranged from tub-races, greasy poles, swimming, diving and even cock-fighting and attracted participants from the islands not just of Singapore, but also from those in the Riau Archipelago – maintaining a centuries old cultural connection that has in the post-independent years been broken with the tighter enforcement of border controls.

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A tub race during the sea sports event, 1960 (Straits Times).

Tracing its origins to a regatta that was organised in 1834, five years before it became an annual event by European merchants, the sea sports event would draw crowds in the tens of thousands to Collyer Quay. With the introduction of races that featured traditional boats, the event would keep alive Singapore’s coastal inhabitants connections with the sea for well over a century. Sadly, as with many of the traditions that were very much a part of who we were, the new year races have long been abandoned in a Singapore that cares little for its past.

A greasy-pole competition during the New Year Sea Sports in 1929 (National Archives of Singapore).

The tens of thousands that are now drawn to the areas where the Inner Roads were – much of which now forms the western part of the new world that is Marina Bay, are treated to a very different spectacle these days. The especially big celebration  at this year’s countdown event included a concert on The Float @ Marina Bay – a temporary floating stage that was originally intended to stand-in as an event venue in the time it took the National Stadium to be constructed; saw the likes of popular local artistes such as the Dim Sum Dollies, Stefanie Sun and Dick Lee and Kit Chan, as well as popular K-Pop group BIGBANG create a big bang.

K-Pop group BIGBANG - clearly the highlight of the evening's lineup on stage.

K-Pop group BIGBANG – clearly the highlight of the evening’s lineup on stage.

As might have been expected, BIGBANG drew the loudest response of screams from the youthful crowd. It would however have been Kit Chan’s rendition of local favourite “Home” for which she was accompanied by Dick Lee – the song’s composer, on piano just before the turn of the year, that made the event especially memorable for all of Singapore as it prepares to celebrate its jubilee year.

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Stefanie Sun

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The city's ultra modern skyline - illuminated in colours selected for the New Year.

The city’s ultra modern skyline – illuminated in colours selected for the New Year.

Dick Lee and Kit Chan gave a stirring performance of Home.

Dick Lee and Kit Chan gave a stirring performance of Home.





An oasis recreated?

8 07 2014

It is good to see that the long overdue Singapore Sports Hub has finally been completed. However, having been built over a part of Singapore that does hold many of my most memorable childhood experiences, seeing the new world complete with the seemingly indispensable shopping mall come up in place of a once familiar gentler world that existed, bring with it a tinge of sadness.

The new National Stadium seen from its south end, looking as if it is about to roar.

The new National Stadium seen from its south end, looking as if it is about to roar.

Reflections on Kallang Basin at dawn - the area where the once iconic Oasis was has since been transformed.

Reflections on Kallang Basin at dawn – the area where the once iconic Oasis was has since been transformed.

I liked that old Kallang, or properly Kallang Park, part of the area where the Sports Hub now stands. That was the Kallang that was shaped by the developments of the late 1960s and early 1970s that were not just to provide Singapore with the highs and lows that the old National Stadium in playing host to Malaysia Cup matches brought, but also a different set of highs-and-lows that the lion-headed roller coaster of the old-fashioned Wonderland Amusement Park did give to many of the younger folks of the era.

The National Stadium provided the setting for a football match in 1974 that left a lasting impression on me.

The odl National Stadium, which provided the setting for a football match in 1974 that left a lasting impression on me.

Beyond the stadium and the place that brought much joy to the children of the 1970s, it was a place where one could take a leisurely stroll by the waters of the Kallang Basin and perhaps watch the setting sun painted a scene made interesting by the silhouettes of boat against reflections off waters that might have been less than welcoming to the recreational boaters we see a multitude of in the Kallang Basin of today.

The new stadium with the silhouette of a dragon boat team in the Kallang Basin seen at sunrise.

The new stadium with the silhouettes of a dragon boat team at practice in the Kallang Basin seen at sunrise.

There was of course the places to dine at – the Oasis Restaurant complex, with its immediately recognisable octogonal shaped pods over the waters of the basin, having once being a popular dining and entertainment destination. Besides the Oasis, the fast-food craze of the 1970s brought with the arrival of fast-food outlets to Kallang Park, with A&W setting up a drive-in restaurant in September 1978. The opening of restaurant would best be remembered for a famous personality who was well-known from his appearances at the nearby stadium, footballer Quah Kim Song, making an appearance.

What used to be the Oasis over the Kallang Basin.

The pods of the once familiar Oasis over the Kallang Basin.

Over the years, we have seen McDonald’s and KFC being set up in the area with a UK based Fish and Chips chain, Harry Ramsden’s opening an outlet in the early 1990s. Over the years – the fast-food outlets have become a popular place for those heading to or from the stadium for a quick and convenient meal.

Another look at the waterfront around where the Oasis once was.

Another look at the area by the waterfront around where the Oasis once was.

The interactions I had with the area also include an episode in my life connected to a well forgotten industrial past, when shipyards lined the banks of the foul-smelling Geylang River on the area’s south-eastern fringe. That was in the 1980s, when I did see the last of Wonderland before it disappeared as many things do – having to make way in 1988 for a huge open-air car park meant to serve Kallang Indoor Stadium.

And another...

And another…

Kallang will of course never now be the same again. Apart from few industrial buildings from the era that have been put to alternative use and a couple of fast-food outlets, there is little left to remind me of a time that now seems so distant. While the much needed new stadium and the associated sporting facilities is much welcomed – I have made use of the competition pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and it is fabulous, it will never be the same again, especially without the Kallang Roar, when the old stadium became a cauldron of the collection of noise made by the crowd cheering, clapping and even stamping  that had its structure literally shaking.

An iPhone taken pano of the competition pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

An iPhone taken pano of the competition pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre (click to enlarge).

The roar had been what our Malaysia Cup opponents had feared most in playing at the old stadium. That, having long fallen silent with the days of the Malaysia Cup, as we knew it, well behind us, would probably never return.





Strange Horizons: seeing the future

29 05 2014

The future world does seem to have arrived in Singapore. Rising out of what used to be the old harbour is a new world, the seeds of which were really sown at the end of the 1960s. It was in 1967 that Singapore embarked on the State and City Planning Project (SCP) in 1967 with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme’s special assistance scheme for urban renewal and development for emerging nations. 

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The SCP completed in 1971, identified the need for a coastal highway to divert traffic out of the city, requiring land to be reclaimed for what was to be the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge. It was with this that the planners recognised that there was benefit in further reclamation of land to provide land for the city’s expansion south, land on which a new downtown is now, some four decades after the initial reclamation commenced, in the process of being built.

Among the first structures rising in the new world are several that have since become one of the most photographed and recognisable structures in Singapore including the Sky Park topped hotel towers and lotus flower inspired ArtScience Museum of Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complex (2010) and the Supertrees and cooled conservatories of the Gardens by the Bay  (2012) that is seen in the above photograph, which was taken across what today is a fresh water channel of water at the Bay East garden of the Gardens by the Bay.





Strange Horizons: reflections on the alien invasion at the bay

28 05 2014

Maybe now not such a strange horizon – the view of the alien structures that have invaded the new world at Marina Bay’s Garden’s by the Bay, reflected off the Dragonfly Lake. The structures are probably among the most photographed in Singapore and are now very recognisable across the world. In the foreground, three of the garden’s 18 Supertrees are seen with the two cooled conservatories in the background. The taller of the cooled conservatories is the 58 metre high Cloud Forest, which replicates the moist cooled environments of the tropical montane regions and features a 35 metre man made mountain along with a 30 metre high waterfall. The longer of the two conservatories is the Flower Dome in which the cool-dry springtime climates of the Mediterranean and semi-arid sub-tropical regions is replicated. The Gardens by the Bay, which is now in its second year (having opened in June 2012), has become one of Singapore’s most visited tourist attractions.

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Reflections on the new world

15 03 2014

The new world at Marina Bay, seen at twilight on 6 March 2014 from the edge of the pond at the ArtScience Museum. Built on land reclaimed from the sea that, the ArtScience Museum is part of the new Marina Bay Sands Complex that lies on top of the area where the detached mole that separated the inner roads from the outer roads once was. The complex looks across to what had been the old waterfront built along a bund, which did have some grand works of architecture to welcome the many who came ashore at old Clifford Pier. Much of all that has unfortunately been lost, replaced by the new world of glass and steel that does serve to impress all who set eyes on it.

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Marina Bay, 7.42 pm, 6 March 2014.





Recoloured waters

2 03 2014

A view of the Singapore River from my favourite bridge, the Cavenagh Bridge. The view is now very different one from the one I did when I first set my eyes on it as a child, with the river emptied of its seemingly overladen twakows – lighters that seemed to have non-existent freeboards. The twakows provided the means to bring goods from the ocean going ships anchored in the harbour to godowns upriver and were the backbone of trading business on which Singapore owes much of its early success to. 

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The once filthy waters of the river, spilling not anymore into the harbour, but into a body of sweet water – the Marina Reservoir, carved amazingly out from the sea and is now surrounded by the modern skyline that has come up at what is today Marina Bay, has since been cleaned up – the result of a huge ten year effort that began in 1977 that also saw it emptied of its twakowsIt is the new trades – that serving new temporary imports in the form of tourists, have replaced the old, and it is this that now recolours the river’s once dark and murky waters, bringing new life to the area. 

More on the Singapore River and the old harbour:





On fire in Sembawang

19 01 2014

Beside the rich cultural and religious traditions brought in by our immigrant forefathers such as Thaipusam, which was celebrated on Friday, we do increasingly also see the influences from non-traditional sources adding much colour to Singapore. One example that I did come across today was a ritual that does seem to have come from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition – a fire puja seen at the open space beside Sembawang MRT Station and Sun Plaza. The fire puja, in which offerings consumed by a huge fire, was one organised by the Kadhampa Buddhist Association, one of several Tibetan Buddhist movements that have taken root in Singapore in more recent times.

Offerings being consumed by the huge fire.

Offerings being consumed by the huge fire.

Prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Prayer flags fluttering in the wind.





Splashing by the bay

30 11 2013

A sneak peek at the Gardens by the Bay – Far East Organization one hectare Children’s Garden which is scheduled to be open in January 2014. The garden, being set up on a site adjacent to the Cloud Forest will feature river scapes, lush greenery, a special toddler’s play zone, Rainforest tree houses and a water play area and on the evidence of the sneak preview that the young guests of the Gardens by the Bay and Far East Organization got over the weekend, will provide kids a splashing good time.

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Thorns in the urban landscape

22 10 2013

Intended to be an icon of a new Singapore, a building topped with a crown of thorns blocks the view from a once well-loved part of Singapore where many enjoy a meal of satay by the sea. The building, which houses Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, which was completed in 2002, steals its name from the once popular promenade from which we could gaze out into the openness of the old harbour we can no longer see.

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The building is one some of us in Singapore struggle to find a connection in the same we have connected with the old National Library and the National Theatre and even that wonderful promenade by the sea that the real Esplanade was. Those icons, now erased from the new urban landscape, were ones which for many of us symbolised Singapore’s coming into the world as a nation, and point to humbler times we now seem not to want to be reminded of. This does perhaps exemplify what the new Singapore has become for some of us – a place we struggle to recognise and connect with, and one which has become a  Singapore we find hard to call home.





The new world rising from the sea

30 07 2013

A view along Singapore’s former waterfront at 7.37 pm on 28 July 2013. To the left of the photograph, a brand new world has grown on land reclaimed more recently from the sea, dwarfing the Asia Insurance Building, once the tallest building in South East Asia. What has been left behind from when the waters were those of the old harbour can be seen on the right side of the photograph. These include the Fullerton Building (former General Post Office) and Clifford Pier, both built along a bund that was in itself build on land reclaimed in the mid 1800s – one of the first land reclamation to take place in Singapore. The bund was completed in 1864 along with a road which has since been named Collyer Quay.

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A new circus comes to Toa Payoh

20 06 2013

A once familiar world fast turning to one that is unfamiliar, is Toa Payoh, the urban kampong where I had spent a good part of my formative years living in. Back then, what was Singapore’s second satellite town – the first planned as a whole by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), was the pride of Singapore’s highly successful public housing programme. It was built in part to showcase the effort with a purpose built “VIP block”, Block 53, built with a viewing gallery on its roof so that the success story could be shown-off to visiting dignitaries to Singapore. That was some four decades ago, and while the face of Toa Payoh is still very much that of the public housing estate it had been built to be, its prime location close to the city does mean that the land on which it does stand, can be sold off at a premium and increasingly, larger chunks of the estate’s land, originally intended for public housing, is now being diverted towards private residential development. This does have the effect of slowly, but surely, changing how we see Toa Payoh.

Block 53 seen today.

Block 53 seen today with the Seu Teck Sean Tong Temple complex across from it.

Block 53 in June 1969.

Block 53 in June 1969.

One pieces of land which will see private residential developments coming up, is one which has somehow remained almost vacant all the years – since Toa Payoh’s life as a public housing estate began. Now cleared of an Esso Service Station which stood at a corner of it since the early 1970s, the plot, bounded by Lorong 6, Lorong 4, Lorong 5 and the huge Seu Teck Sean Tong Temple complex, is currently being sold with a tender having been called by the HDB for it. The plot, being right across Lorong 5 from where I lived at Block 53 from 1967 to 1976 , is one in which I do have some of the more memorable memories of my days in Toa Payoh in. It was where the circus once came to as well as serving as a location of several Trade Fairs held in the early days of Toa Payoh.

A sign foretells the fate of a plot of land which has stood empty since the beginning of Toa Payoh's days as a public housing estate.

A sign tells of the fate about to befall a plot of land which has stood empty since the beginning of Toa Payoh’s days as a public housing estate.

The highlight of my time in Toa Payoh – at least before the Queen visited, was the Great Royal Circus of India coming to town in 1970. Not only did it serve as a distraction that was very different from the travelling wayangs (Chinese operas as they are locally referred to) and the pasar malams (night markets) that they brought with them, it provided me with an opportunity not just to watch the circus for the first time, it also allowed me the chance to see the circus’ travelling caravan (which I often heard stories about) up close. The caravan was stationed adjacent to the big top that had been set up on the same plot of land closer to Lorong 6, just next to Lorong 5 and right across from where I lived in Block 53.

A lion seen in a Royal Circus of India caravan cage in 1968. The circus was based at the plot of land in Toa Payoh in 1970 and brought with it the opportunity to see the animals up close.

A lion seen in a Royal Circus of India caravan cage in 1968. The circus was based at the plot of land in Toa Payoh in 1970 and brought with it the opportunity to see the animals up close (image source: http://a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

Those were indeed exciting times for me, the caravan which would have arrived by ship and moved around the Malayan Peninsula, included the cages of the circus’ animals and it was a huge treat to see the fierce looking Lions, Tigers and the curiously fascinating Ligers in their cages, not on the page of a magazine or book, but from a relatively safe position just an arm’s length away. Another huge treat was getting close the huge elephants – a few were chained to poles in the ground, and being washed and tended to by the keepers, although it is the rather unpleasant smell and sight associated of one of the elephants answering the call of nature in a big way that does seem to remain etched in my memory more than anything else.

The location plan on the HDB Land Sales web page (click to enlarge).

The unoccupied plot of land, along with the one across Lorong 4 on which the Toa Payoh Police Station (now Police Security Command) was to be built on, were ideal places to host the travelling Trade Fairs, popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The fairs, entrance to which would have cost some 20 cents for adults back then, contained many stalls selling a range of goods and cooked food, as well as having a fun fair of sorts. The fun fair was where rides, similar to the ones set by by Uncle Ringo these days, were found along with many other game stalls set up. It was this part of the fairs I was often drawn to, and on one  rare occasion I was allowed to go with an older neighbour (those were days when there were many warnings of children disappearing, many from similar fairs across the island, presumably kidnapped and never again seen). That was a visit, for which my grandmother stored the few coins I was given to spend in a knotted handkerchief, I well remember. It was probably more for what did happen – in participating in a game in which darts were thrown at inflated balloons so as to burst them, one of the projectiles I launched missed the girl who was manning the stall very narrowly.

A view northwards across the plot of land from where the Esso Service Station was. The Toa Pyoah Police Station (now Police Security Command) can be seen across Lorong 4 on the left - both that piece of land and the empty plot played host to trade fairs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A view northwards across the plot of land from where the Esso Service Station was. The Toa Pyoah Police Station (now Police Security Command) can be seen across Lorong 4 on the left – both that piece of land and the empty plot played host to trade fairs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Another thing I do remember of the plot of land was a large grass fire in the early 1970s which happened during a dry spell. The sight of firemen smothering the still smoking grass with gunny sacks after the fire was put out, as well as the sight of the charred black field is that I still well remember. It is however, the (Toa Payoh) Seu Teck Sean Tong (修德善堂), a Buddhist temple perched on the hillock on the eastern side of the plot of land, and a landmark in Toa Payoh which was there well before the public housing estate came up – which would probably be what most would identify with the plot of land. The huge temple complex, most of which was rebuilt in the early 1990s, as I would have known it back in the 1960s and 1970s, was completed in 1959, and was where a previous wooden attap roofed structure was said to have been put up in 1942. The temple’s location also marks where the first block of flats in Toa Payoh proper did come up – the first block of flats completed is Block 52, which still stands next to the temple and overlooks the temple complex.

The (Toa Payoh) Seu Teck Sean Ton seen on a small hillock at the eastern edge of the empty plot of land. The first block of flats completed in Toa Payoh, Block 52, can be seen just beyond the temple complex.

The (Toa Payoh) Seu Teck Sean Ton seen on a small hillock at the eastern edge of the empty plot of land. The first block of flats completed in Toa Payoh, Block 52, can be seen just beyond the temple complex.

With the new development that will soon take place, the temple’s position as a landmark overlooking the northern gateway to Toa Payoh (via the flyover at Bradell Road), will probably diminish. The development will add to growing list of private residential property in Toa Payoh and will further tip the balance in the mix of public and private flats in the area and it may be a matter of time before Toa Payoh will shed an image it was built to have – that of the jewel in the crown of what did become a very successful effort to house Singapore’s once homeless masses.

The rising of the sun over a new Toa Payoh.

The rising of the sun over a new Toa Payoh.





Reflections on Marina Bay

3 06 2013

For me, the story of Singapore is very a reflection of the way in which what we call Marina Bay today, has been transformed. Once the harbour at the heart of Singapore’s early success, the bay, like it or hate it, is today a magnificent sight to behold – particularly at certain times of the day, and a celebration of the tremendous strides Singapore has taken as a nation since the tumultuous events which surrounded a somewhat reluctantly achieved independence.

Marina Bay seen through the light rain at 6.30 am on 2 June 2013.

Marina Bay seen through the drama of the rain coloured scene at first light (photograph taken at 6.30 am on 2 June 2013).

The so-called bay itself (now a fresh water reservoir) and the developments that have taken root around it, was an afterthought made possible by massive land reclamation works which were started in the early 1970s – initially to provide land for a road which would bypass the already congested city (more information on which can be found in a previous post “The Making of Marina Bay“). While it did result in the disappearance of the old harbour – one of the things which did make Singapore, Singapore, it did provide new land for development. It is perhaps because of this, it became possible to widen the scope for conservation of Singapore’s built heritage, particularly in areas of the old city such as in the Tanjong Pagar / Chinatown area and other areas which had previously been earmarked for redevelopment .





Dawn of a new world

25 04 2013

6.58 am on 18 April 2013. Dawn breaks over an old world in Singapore in the midst of change – the former Seletar Airbase which is shedding its old world feel in embracing a new world – the Seletar Aerospace Park .

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Strange Horizons: A mound of sand where the sea once was

21 04 2013

A somewhat curious sight that greets a drive or a ride through Pulau Punggol Timor, is the mound that is seen in the photograph. The mound is one of two very obvious one found on a man-made island off the northeastern coast of Singapore, Pulau Punggol Timor. The island is one of two which came out of a huge land reclamation project along the Northeastern coastline of Singapore that took place from 1985 to 1990 to provide land primarily for future public housing, the other island being Pulau Punggol Barat.  The reclamation project which added a land area of some 685 ha. was also supposed to have seen Coney Island or Pulau Serangoon joined to the mainland, but that part of the project was deferred. The islands are located off the coast just north of the area where an old world, that of the former Seletar Camp, had once existed, between the mouths of the Sungei Seletar to the wast and Sungei Punggol to the east (both of which have since been dammed). The camp which came out of the former RAF Seletar was home to several army units including Combat Engineer units is in the midst of being transformed into the Seletar Aerospace Park.

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Since 2009, the otherwise undeveloped Pulau Punggol Timor, has played host to a construction aggregates receiving terminal (which moved there from Lorong Halus), as well a storage area for the aggregates. Besides the mound of sand – a mound of granite can also be seen.





The sun rises on a strange horizon

20 03 2013

A sunrise over a strange and unfamiliar horizon, 7.08 am 20 March 2013, taken from the mouth of the Kallang River. It wasn’t so long ago that the view would have been towards the pods of the former Oasis Restaurant; the silhouettes not of the clutter of tower cranes that have become all too common a sight in Singapore, but that of the floodlight towers of the old National Stadium.

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The old stadium, home of the once feared Kallang Roar, with its many memories of days when football was played and supported for the love of the game, has since been torn down, and out of the ashes of the well loved grand old dame,  a new stadium – the Singapore Sports Hub is rising. That is scheduled to be opened in April 2014.

The sun will soon rise over the Singapore Sports Hub (currently under construction).

The sun will soon rise over the Singapore Sports Hub (currently under construction).