Orchard Road’s last shophouses

10 11 2019

Built close to a century ago, the last of Orchard Road’s shophouses stand as a reminder of a time before Singapore’s shopping mile was mall-ed. Comprising four delightful structures at numbers 14 to 38, each a gem of eclectic architectural expression, they also serve to remind us of the rubber trade inspired hopes and aspirations of the decade that followed the end of the Great War. The row, which features three notable edifices and one, no 38, which often goes unnoticed, was acquired by the State in the 1980s following a 1978 gazette for acquisition and gazetted for conservation in November 2000.

The conserved row.

The east end of the row is marked by the cry for attention that the former Malayan Motors showroom is. Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s DS Petrovich, it replaced the Morris and Rolls Royce dealer’s earlier showroom and represented a progression in showroom designs. A length of windows on each side of a projection in its façade provided natural illumination to its upper floors where its upper level showroom was served by a ramp to the ground floor. A scalloped semi-circular gable (if one can call it that) at each end of the roof drew attention to it.

The former Malayan Motors showroom seen in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Completed in 1927, the former showroom can also be thought of as a marker of Orchard Road’s motoring days. Fuelled by the expansion in the rubber market here during the Great War, the demand for the motorcar had risen three-fold between 1913 and 1918, leading to a proliferation in the area of motorcar showrooms, and workshops (several over the canal at what is now Handy Road ) by the 1920s. Vehicle assembly was also introduced and Singapore’s first assembly plant – for Ford – opened in the area with a production capacity of 12 cars a day in 1925. The showroom was built by the Wearnes brothers who also brought in the Fords, which they sold via another dealership, Universal Cars. Besides Morris and Rolls Royce, other brands that the Malayan Motors showroom would have dealt with were Rover and Studebaker.  The showroom made its last sale in August 1980, following which Malayan Motors concentrated its business at its Leng Kee branch. Following its acquisition by the State, the showroom was renovated in 1988 for use by the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association as SMA House. It has been used by MDIS, a private school, since 2002.

The former MidFilm House, then and now.

Another interesting building is the Dutch-gabled former Midfilm House (Middle East Film Building) at no 22 to 24 next to the showroom. This dates back to 1921 and was put up by Middle East Films Ltd, a pioneering distributor of films in Southeast Asia. The building, which is Orchard 22 today, also served as temporary premises for Malayan Motors when its showroom was being rebuilt in 1926-27.

22-24 Orchard Road in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

What is probably now the icing in the cake for the row is the somewhat art deco and possibly modern-classical no 26 to 36 next to the former Midfilm House, which since June 2019, is the resplendent Temasek Shophouse. Built  in 1928, it stands on the site of six older shophouses – three of which had each been acquired by Chee Swee Cheng in 1926, and the other three by E Kong Guan from 1925 to 1926. Both Chee and E had roots in Malacca and were tapioca and rubber planters. Chee was also known to have substantial interests in opium and spirit “farming” in North Borneo and a landowner, who held several properties in Singapore. He is associated with the abandoned villa at 25 Grange Road, Wellington House, often incorrectly referred to as the Chee Guan Chiang mansion – after Chee’s son by a second marriage.

The Temasek Shophouse.

It was Guan Chiang who had the 3-storey 26 to 36 Orchard Road co-developed with E – based on plans drawn up by Westerhout and Oman in 1927. The new building’s interior spaces were split down the middle for each of the two owners, with E’s side being the western half numbered 32 to 36. An office space and store was laid out on each side of the ground floor. The upper floors of each half, each contained a 2-bedroom apartment.

No 26 to 36 in 1984 with the Art Furniture Depot and Sin Sin Furniture occupying the ground floor (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

The office spaces found use as showrooms, both initially occupied by The Art Furniture Depot in 1929. It was this store that the building would have the longest association with. The store gave up one of its showrooms in the early 1930s in the face of the Great Depression. The vacant unit would became the Eddystone Radio showrrom in 1933 and after the war, Sin Sin Furniture’s. Both furniture stores moved out around 1986 when the building was acquired by the State. Following this, substantial modifications were made to the building’s interiors so that it could house Pisces Garments Department Store with escalators, lifts and a mezzanine level were put in. The department store, which opened in 1989, morphed into PMart in 1994.


The current transformation has opened up the back of no 26 to 36, giving a full view of it.

The current transformation followed on the award of a tender launched in 2017 to Temasek, on the basis of the quality of concept that it had put forward.  The 18-month refurbishment effort that followed reversed several of the interventions of Pisces and gorgeously and sensitively restored the building, earned a 2019 URA Architectural Heritage Award for restoration. The overhauled interiors now feature a double-volume event space with a green wall featuring native plants. That is – in the context of today – not complete without a social-enterprise café. As an alternative to the street entrance, the garden – which the knocking of a boundary wall at the back has opened up – provides a very nice back door. The back is also where a pair of conserved concrete spiral staircases attached to the building’s rear – perhaps one of the tallest now seen – can be admired together with the equally impressive back façade. Offices, co-working spaces, meeting and function rooms – with native birds as themes, offices, a meeting space on its roof garden and space to accommodate its partners complete the picture.

Shophouses beyond the east end of the row – leading to an expunged street named Dhoby Ghaut – that have since been demolished (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Fresh, innovative and a joy to behold, the Temasek Shophouse brings Temasek Trust and its beneficiaries Temasek Foundation and Stewardship Asia Centre under one roof – with the aim to serve as an incubator of social and philanthropic in initiatives promoting community collaboration and advancing sustainability. It brings, if not for anything else, an injection of purpose to that the conserved row now sorely lacks.

The event space and its green wall.

More photographs of the Temasek Shophouse

A co-working space on the mezzanine.

Another view of the event space and the café.

One of the native bird themed meeting spaces.

Up on the roof.

The rooftop meeting room.

Offices for one or its sustainability partners – which makes furniture out of recycled material.

A pantry within an office space.

A balcony and on of its spiral staircases at the building’s rear.

A balcony overlooking Orchard Road and Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

A close-up of the Corinthian capitals of the classical-esque columns on the building’s front façade.

Another view of the front balcony.

And another of the rear spiral staircase and balcony.

A downward view to the back garden from one of the spiral staircases.

A postcard from the past: Shaw House and Lido

29 06 2017

Another landmark of the Orchard Road that I loved was the old Shaw House. That, stood at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Road through the 1960s to the 1980s. What made the building special was the branch of The Chartered Bank that was housed on its ground floor, a branch that my mother frequented and one at which I obtained my favourite piggy bank that was modelled after the Disney cartoon character Donald Duck. Completed in 1958, the modern 10-storey block was lit the path for the eventual transformation of Orchard Road. It was one of two that the Shaw Brothers built, the other being Lido Theatre next to it – a cinema at which I caught many Pink Panther movies. In its latter years, Shaw House was also where a popular restaurant Copper Kettle opened.

A postcard from the past: Fitzpatrick’s on Orchard Road

21 06 2017

I miss the old Orchard Road. Laid back, when compared to the madness that now consumes the street, little remains of it except for a few memories and some precious photographs, which when they crop up are like postcards sent from the past.

One photograph that I was quite excited to come across is the one below. A scan that a new found friend kindly permitted me to scan, it is a rare shot taken inside Fitzpatrick’s supermarket in the very early 1970s, just as I remember it. The scene, complete with the inside ends of the checkout aisles and the cigarette display racks, brought back an instant recall of a place, its smell and of the brown paper bags the shopping would be packed into. I remember the latter especially well and a time when plastic bags, now a scourge to the environmental, were much less used widely used. Much was also reused and recycled such as the cartons that one picked up from a pile on the left after the checkouts that the shopping, particularly the heavier items were sometimes packed into.


An alternative view of Orchard Road

3 02 2014

The best view one can possibly get of Singapore’s famous ‘shopping mile’, Orchard Road, is perhaps from up above. It is high up above the ground that one does see an unseen side of the street, known more for its gleaming modern shopping malls: that of the cover of trees – something that is quite easy not to notice with the distractions at ground level. It is a view of the street that I now enjoy most, one that takes me away from the madding crowds one now can’t seem to escape at ground level, and one that does seem to take me back to a time, now forgotten, when I did best like the street.

The most heavenly view one can get of Singapore's famous 'shopping mile', Orchard Road, is really from up above. It is from high up that one gets an amazing sight of the tree cover over the street which isn't quite noticeable at ground level.

The most heavenly view one can get of Singapore’s famous ‘shopping mile’, Orchard Road, is really from up above. It is from high up that one gets an amazing sight of the tree cover over the street which isn’t quite noticeable at ground level.

A view of one half of the almost completed Orchard Gateway towering over what will be the new Singapore Visitor Centre and the conservation houses of Emerald Hill.

A view of one half of the almost completed Orchard Gateway towering over what will be the new Singapore Visitor Centre and the conservation houses of Emerald Hill.

Another look at Emerald Hill and part of the area to its right where the first rail line in Singapore ran through to Tank Road.

Another look at Emerald Hill and part of the area to its right where the first rail line in Singapore ran through to Tank Road.

A look across to Mounts Sophia and Emily which once provided commanding views across the city.

A look across to Mounts Sophia and Emily which once provided commanding views across the city. The dome of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Sikh Temple between Mount Sophia and Emily can be seen.

Another look towards Mount Sophia - the buildings once used by Methodist Girls' School are clearly visible.

Another look towards Mount Sophia – the buildings once used by Methodist Girls’ School are clearly visible.

A look down Cuppage Road.

A look down Cuppage Road.

A look towards the greenery surrounding the grounds of the Istana.

A look towards the greenery surrounding the grounds of the Istana.

A look west westwards - distinctive roof of the Singapore Marriott (ex-Dynasty) Hotel can be seen.

A look west westwards – distinctive roof of the Singapore Marriott (ex-Dynasty) Hotel can be seen.

Orchard Road at ground level is dominated by the gleaming new edifices of glass and steel that has risen in the last two decades.

Orchard Road at ground level is dominated by the gleaming new edifices of glass and steel that has risen in the last two decades.

Another look through a glass panel.

Another look through a glass panel.

The roof terrace of Orchard Central from which one gets the alternative views of Orchard Road.

The roof terrace of Orchard Central from which one gets the alternative views of Orchard Road.

A look down the Orchard Road of the early 1970s

20 01 2014

A photograph that would probably have been taken from the top of the Hilton in the early 1970s offers a view of that show how different Orchard Road was back then. The Mandarin Hotel, which was completed in 1971, and the two-way traffic system along the stretch from the junction with Scotts/Paterson Roads provides an indication of when the photograph would have been taken. This was period when I probably enjoyed Orchard Road the most, a time when the crowds we now cannot seem to escape from were non-existent, and a time before the modern shopping malls descended on what has since become a street well-known throughout the world for its shopping offerings.

Orchard Road early 1970s

Of some of the main landmarks seen in the photograph, only the Mandarin Hotel and Liat Towers stands today. In place of Orchard Road Police Station is the Orchard MRT Station and ION Orchard above it. Across the road, the complex that houses Tangs and Marriot Hotel (ex Dynatsy Hotel) now stands in place of the two rows of shophouses and the iconic old CK Tang Building.

Lucky Plaza (1978), one of the first malls to arrive on Orchard Road, stands where Champion Motors (a former Volkswagen dealer) used to be and Tong Building (1978) stands where the Yellow Pages Building and an Esso Petrol Station were, right next to the old Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket.

Fitzpatrick’s went for the Promenade Shopping Centre (1984) to be built. The Promenade, best remembered for its spiral walkway up, has since been demolished for an extension of Paragon (2003) to be built.

The original portion of Paragon (1997) would have been where The Orchard, a shopping centre that was converted from the former Orchard Motors showroom in 1970, had stood. The Orchard would be remembered for its famous Tivoli Coffee House.

Another icon along that old Orchard Road, would be Wisma Indonesia beyond Orchard Road Police Station and separated from the road by an uncovered Stamford Canal and a service road. That housed the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, and was very recognisable for its Minangkabau styled roof. In its places stands Wisma Atria (1986).

Beyond the Wisma was Ngee Ann Building. It was where the once well-known Mont d’Or Cake Shop was located. The site of Ngee Ann Building (and the then empty land beyond it) is where Ngee Ann City (1993) stands today. The canal one had to cross both to Ngee Ann Building and the Wisma, was covered up in 1974 and its is on top of this that the wide pedestrian walkway running down that side of Orchard Road, now runs.

More related to Orchard Road in the 1970s and 1980s can be found in several posts:

The magical sea of light at Christmas

24 11 2013

Every year for the last three decades, Orchard Road is transformed into an enchanting sea of lights in the lead up to Christmas. This year’s light-up, which features the silver tinged twinkle of stars and sparkle of diamonds against the cool of blue lights taking one magically away from the tropics, was launched last evening at Shaw House’s Urban Plaza with President Tony Tan Keng Yam gracing the occasion as the Guest-of-Honour.

The Orchard Road Christmas Light-up is in its 30th year.

The Orchard Road Christmas Light-up is in its 30th year.

President Tony Tan greeting the guests.

President Tony Tan greeting the guests.

Before the launch, colour and entertainment at the launch ceremony was provided by the Super Trouper Choir and the Dim Sum Dollies. The Super Trouper Choir features 14 students with intellectual disabilities from MINDS Lee Kong Chian Garden School, 11 of whom sang at the event.

The Super Trouper Choir.

The Super Trouper Choir.

The Dim Sum Dollies.

The Dim Sum Dollies.

The Dim Sum Dollies, who were their entertaining selves, included the brand new dolly, Denise Tan. Together they will feature in Dream Academy’s CRAZY CHRISTMAS Ting Tong Belles the cast of which will also include the likes of Kumar, Broadway Beng (Sebastian Tan) and Judee Tan. CRAZY CHRISTMAS Ting Tong Belles will play at Esplanade Theatre from 11 to 22 December 2013.

Selena Tan.

Selena Tan.

Pamela Oei.

Pam Oei.

New dolly, Denise Tan.

New dolly, Denise Tan.

Themed “Christmas on A Great Street”, the light up, which will run from 23 November 2013 to 5 January 2014, is sponsored by Hitachi (for the 23rd year) with Mastercard as the Official Card. The light-up which is organised by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) is also linked with the Community Chest – an association which goes back to the first light-up, serving as a launch-pad for the annual year-end charity drive.

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During the launch ceremony, battery-powered candles were also given out to guests as well as members of the public by 100 student volunteers from the Republic Polytechnic with the ORBA donating $1 for each candle lit in front of ION Orchard.

A lighted candle during the launch ceremony.

A lighted candle during the launch ceremony.

The light-up also sees several malls participating in the Best Dressed Building Contest 2013. The contest runs from 23 November to 8 December 2013 with members of the public voting for their favourite building through a mobile @Orchard app – with the chance to win shopping vouchers – $500 worth for each of the six winners, and $250 worth for each of the three runners-up.

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The very useful @Orchard app which is free and downloadable to mobile devices, also includes a underground navigation function with an ORBA Walking Map which works below ground.

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The period of the light-up also sees performance and activities along Orchard Road to look forward to including a mass carolling event on Christmas Eve and a Grand Christmas Concert on Christmas Day. More information can be found at the Christmas on the Great Street website’s events page.

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Participating Malls for the Best Dressed Building Contest 2013

  1. Forum the Shopping Mall
  2. GrandPark Orchard
  3. ION Orchard
  4. Mandarin Gallery
  5. Ngee Ann City / Takashimaya Shopping Centre
  6. Orchard Central
  7. Paragon
  8. Tanglin Mall

A world apart

26 09 2013

A look down Orchard Road at its junction with Killiney Road close to 40 years apart. The view in 1975 was dominated by the towering Mandarin Hotel which opened in 1971, but it was probably Cold Storage, the longest established supermarket in Singapore, which would have served as a landmark. Across the road from the Cold Storage was what became known later as “Gluttons’ Square”, a car park which would be transformed as night fell, into a sea of pushcarts, tables and stools – a food lovers’ paradise of local hawker fare which was popular with many. The area did in fact feature more than just the car park, but also across Cuppage Road from Cold Storage – with many popular hawker stalls found around the old Orchard Road Market area at Koek Road and Koek Lane.

The junction of Orchard Road and Killiney Road some 4 decades apart, as seen in 1975 and today (source of 1975 photograph: Ray Tyers' Singapore Then & Now).

The junction of Orchard Road and Killiney Road some 4 decades apart, as seen in 1975 and today (source of 1975 photograph: Ray Tyers’ Singapore Then & Now).

Another landmark in the area was of course the Specialists’ Shopping Centre which opened in 1972. That housed the main outlet of a retail institution, Robinson’s, after a huge fire on 21 November 1972 had destroyed its main premises. Intending initially to open a branch on a single floor at the Specialists’ Centre in late 1972 / early 1973, the long established departmental store opened on two floors on 11 December 1972. The Specialist Centre Robinson’s would be remembered for the St. Michael’s (a brand name used by Marks and Spencer’s) outlet within it on the ground floor which was popular particularly for its biscuits.

The old Cold Storage on Orchard Road.

The old Cold Storage on Orchard Road.

The area now sees huge developments taking place, dominated by new shopping malls such as Orchard Central and 313 @ Somerset. One that isn’t completed which will certainly add to the clutter will be Orchard Gateway which will straddle Orchard Road with a tubular glass pedestrian link bridge between its two parts positioned diagonally across from each other.

The stretch now sees many new retail developments such as Orchard Central on the left and under construction Orchard Gateway with its link bridge which will further alter the area's flavour.

The stretch now sees many new retail developments such as Orchard Central on the left and under construction Orchard Gateway with its link bridge which will further alter the area’s flavour.

Orchard Central as seen at the corner of Orchard and Killiney Roads.

Orchard Central as seen at the corner of Orchard and Killiney Roads.

The competition from the new malls has also seen one which has seen its popularity wane in its three decades of existence. Centrepoint, to which Robinson’s moved its fashion departments into in June 1983 – which then became its flagship store after it shut down its outlets (including John Little’s keeping only the St. Michael’s outlet) at Specialists’ Centre in June 1984, underwent a recent makeover. It will soon also see its anchor tenant moving out – Robinson’s has announced it would be moving to The Heeren next year, ending what will be a 30 year association with Centrepoint.

One side of Orchard Gateway with part of the link bridge. The conserved shophouse seen below it is fronting Orchard Road where a new Singapore Visitors' Centre will open.

One side of Orchard Gateway with part of the link bridge. The conserved shophouse seen below it is fronting Orchard Road where a new Singapore Visitors’ Centre will open.

The changes that are taking place, are ones which will render the area unrecognisable even from what it would have been like a decade ago. For me, however, it will always be the gentler times of four decades past I am taken back to, times of the old Cold Storage with its deli counter which never failed to interest me – times when our shopping went into brown paper bags and used cartons rather than in the non environmentally friendly plastic bags we use too much of these days. They were also times when not only having a malted milkshake in the cool comfort of the vinegar scented air of the Magnolia Snack Bar was as much a treat as a bowl of beef noodles at Koek Lane or a plate of oyster omelette at the car park would have been. It is that simpler world I often wish I can return to, a world unlike the one I find myself in today in which the a lot more than we have does somehow seem like a lot less.

Celebrating Orchard on National Day

10 08 2013

Celebrating Orchard is an exhibition of photographs I helped the National Heritage Board (NHB) put together for a National Day event. The one day exhibition at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza offers perspectives of Singapore’s well known shopping district, commonly referred to as ‘Orchard’ through  a series of photographs – those of eight individuals including myself who have made first impressions of the street and its environs at different periods of its development, post-independence.

Photographs I exhibited:



I love how reflections can sometimes offer interesting perspectives such as these reflections I captured off an Orchard Road shop window, which does represent how I see Orchard’s transformation over the years since my first impressions were formed. The street is now one that is rich in flavour and colour. Full of excitement, it now has an appeal which goes far beyond the shopping and dining venues it is known for and is very much where Singapore comes alive.

The Motor End

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An early impression I had of Orchard was of its car showrooms. Several were found at the ‘Motor End’. It was where my father was to purchase the first five cars he owned from. Three were from Borneo Motors (two Austins and later a Toyota), as well as one from Universal Cars (a Ford) and another from Malayan Motors (a Morris). The building which housed Malayan Motors is one which has survived and is currently occupied by MDIS.

Runway Orchard

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Orchard has always been one to celebrate fashion. Back in the 1960s it became home to trendsetting designer and hairstylist Roland Chow when Roland’s opened on the street. The internationally recognised fashion hub now celebrates in a big way, shutting itself to traffic one evening a year when it transforms itself into a fashion runway for Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard.

About Celebrating Orchard

Orchard Road or ‘Orchard’, as the street and its surroundings is commonly referred to, has over the years offered very different experiences to its many visitors. Lined with car showrooms and several memorable places to shop at the point of Singapore’s independence, it has become a focal point of the new and exciting Singapore. It is where the heart and soul of Singapore can perhaps be found.

Celebrating Orchard explores the famous street through the eyes of eight photographers, who having had their first impressions of the street made during different periods of its development, offer a different take on Orchard Road.






Other photographers who exhibited:

The shortlived French invasion of Singapore

8 02 2013

I was looking through some of my old (and rather badly taken) photographs of Chingay when I stumbled upon a sign which brought to mind events of the 1980s. The decade was a time when the world around us was very much in transition and a time when the French decided on an invasion of Singapore. The invasion was one not involving any form of military force, but by forces of an entirely different nature – those of two of their well established retail giants, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps – department stores which are landmarks on one of Paris’ famous shopping streets, Boulevard Haussmann (it was a photograph with the Printemps sign that brought this to mind).

The Printemps Store along on the ground level of Hotel Le Meridien at Orchard Road.

The Printemps Store along on the ground level of Hotel Le Meridien at Orchard Road.

The entrance of the two stores into the local retail market came at the start of a decade in which Singapore was too see massive changes. Much of the resident population of the city centre had been or was to be moved out, and once bustling districts of shophouses which coloured much of the urban landscape was over the period, reduced to rubble. The 1980s also saw Orchard Road establishing itself as Singapore’s main shopping street and the economic success of Singapore – one of the four “Tigers” of the Asian economies, provided for the rising affluence among Singaporeans and with that a greater awareness of fashion trends. This influenced shopping habits and preferences and many overseas based retailers saw an opportunity to gain a foothold into the Singapore market, with two Japanese based retailers having by then already established themselves. Isetan came in 1972 and Yaohan in 1974.

It was Galeries Lafayette which lead the French charge, opening a 5574 square metre store in out-of-town Goldhill Square (since renamed United Square) in December 1982. Printemps followed soon after, taking up 4000 square metres of space on Orchard Road on the ground floor of the newly constructed Hotel Le Méridien (now Concorde Hotel) in September 1983. It was Printemps which perhaps had the greater impact – projecting an image not so much of Parisian chic but one of being hip, colourful and affordable – it was Printemps which introduced the colourful canvas espadrilles which for a while seemed to catch on with Singaporean shoppers (trendy as they might have been, they unfortunately were not the most ideal form of footwear for the local climate). Printemps colourful and cheap polo-tees were also rather a hit with the young.

Despite the apparent popularity of some of what the stores had to offer, both did have great difficulty in making inroads and were making losses. Galeries (as it was referred to by Singaporeans) closed its Goldhill Square store in May 1986. The news of that did not come as a shock as it had been plagued by rumours of its closing for several months before that even as it had expressed interest in taking up a space either at Crown Prince Hotel or the space previously occupied by Mohan’s at Orchard Shopping Centre. It was perhaps a poor decision made to open their store at a location far from the main retail scene in Singapore. The closure did turn out to be a temporary move. Some ten months after closing the Goldhill Square store, Galeries opened a 4460 square metre store at Liat Towers on Orchard Road and not long after that, a smaller 400 square metre outlet at Raffles Place. In spite of the problems the two stores faced in what was perhaps becoming a saturated retail market, the two did last a little longer. Printemps operated ntil December 1989 when it shut its doors. Galeries after its second coming lasted a little longer – it was in March 1996 when they did finally close again.

Galeries Lafayette's second coming which was at Liat Towers, seen here in the 1990s, in March 1987 (source: http:// a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

Galeries Lafayette’s second coming which was at Liat Towers, seen here in the 1990s, in March 1987 (source: http:// a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

The transformation of Chingay over the years

5 02 2013

The Chingay Parade in Singapore as we know it today had its beginnings in the wake of the total ban on firecrackers which once were a must-have at any Chinese New Year celebration.

That was back in 1973 – the parade was a relatively simple one which had been put together by the People’s Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation, and it saw a procession of lion dancers, giant flag bearers, dragon dancers, stilt walkers, clowns and juggling acts down a 3 kilometre route from old Victoria School to Outram Park.


An early Chingay Parade through the streets. Chingay was revived as a street parade for everyone in 1973 following a total ban on firecrackers.

Being very much connected with Chinese New Year, it was a Chinese-centric procession and passed through some of the streets of Chinatown. The first procession was a resounding success, prompting the decision to make it an annual affair and the four decades of it, saw a transformation that had it move into the housing estates (starting with Toa Payoh in its second year), before it was moved to Orchard Road in 1985.

In that time, the parade also took on first a multi-cultural flavour and then an international flavour – moving from being a street parade not just for the man on the street but also for visitors to the island.

The carnival -like street parade Chingay is today. A less than traditional looking stilt-walker seen during the rehearsal for Chingay 2013.

The carnival -like street parade Chingay is today. A less than traditional looking stilt-walker seen during the rehearsal for Chingay 2013.

Stilt walkers from a Chinagy Parade in the 1980s seen along Orchard Road.

More traditional stilt-walkers from a Chingay Parade in the 1980s seen along Orchard Road.

The origins of Chingay were actually not in the carnival-like street parade that we are treated to today.

Chingay in its original form was what had been described as a Hokkien Chinese tradition, held in conjunction with religious festivals with a parade of deities. It is this form that it the celebrations of Chingay across the causeway still take. One example of this takes place in Johor Bahru on the 21st day of the Chinese New Year. The parades were held in Singapore as far back as in the 1880s, and saw the participation not just by the Hokkiens, but also by members of the main Chinese dialect groups.

The annual event has over the years taken on a multi-cultural and more international appearance.

The annual event has over the years taken on a multi-cultural and more international appearance.

The Japanese community  in Singapore has been well represented over the years.

The Japanese community in Singapore has been well represented over the years.

A Straits Times report of 1 February 1902 gives us an idea of the Chingays of the early days. It describes the parade as “being accompanied by all the usual banners, flags, toms toms, bands, magnificently and grotesquely made out individuals, and figures”.

The report further describes the parade: “barbaric splendour was manifested to extravagance and thousands of spectators flocked to all points to witness it. Numbers of pretty Chinese girls brilliantly and richly dressed sat on perches ten feet high, surrounded by flowers, and borne on the shoulders of bearers”.

The early parades in its more recent form would typically feature traditional performers such as flag bearers.

The early parades would typically feature traditional performers such as flag bearers.

Chingay in 1985 seen passing Peranakan Place.

Chingay in 1985 seen passing Peranakan Place along Orchard Road.

Parades in their original form were ones, which perhaps were an expression of identity and on which no expense was spared, were discontinued after December 1906. That was when at a meeting of the Hokkien clan, it was decided that the raising of public funds would better serve the promotion of children’s education instead.

The colourful celebration that is today's Chingay.

The colourful celebration that is today’s Chingay.

Chingay these days has perhaps come a full circle – at least in the sense of the extravagance.

Each parade is now one to look forward to and involves preparations that begin as early as some fifteen months ahead and are no longer the spontaneous street celebration it once had been. Many rehearsals are required so that the delivery is made “perfect” and what can be seen to be more of a staged performance – much like our National Day Parades.

For photographs of a preview of Chingay 2013 – please visit my previous post on Chingay 2013.

Stilt-walkers resting along the Orchard Road route in 1985.

Stilt-walkers resting along the Orchard Road route in 1985.

Some highlights of Chingay 2013:

  • Grandest Cultural Opening – 文天祥之“正气歌” Song of Righteousness by renowned Wen Tian Xiang, Song Dynasty (Cultural collaboration between artistes from Singapore and Fuzhou), with Chingay Taichi Sword Showcase
  • World’s Biggest Peach Blossoms, “桃夭” Performance
  • First-Ever Combined Chinese Opera Performance of Lady Generals of The Yang “杨门女将” jointly presented by Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese Opera Groups in Singapore
  • Programme will involve at least 5,000 students and Singaporeans to write calligraphy based on the poem “Song of Righteousness” 五言诗:正气歌

Where dogs, politicians and the postman once met

6 11 2012

One of the quieter stretches of today’s Orchard Road has to be the less trodden path that takes one from Killiney Road towards what is today a four way junction with Buyong Road, across from where the Concorde Hotel (ex Le Méridien Hotel) is. Walking down it I am often taken back to a time when Orchard Road was a very different place, a place lined with car showrooms, the odd supermarket, and lots of old shophouses that lined both sides of what has today become a sea of malls, and when the stretch that I speak of was where the headquarters of the ruling political party, the People’s Action Party or PAP, had been located.

Orchard Circus in days when Orchard Road was a much quieter place. To the left of the clump of palm trees is where the entrance to the Istana is.

Map of general area today with overlay of road layout in 1978.

Besides the PAP having their headquarters there until 1978 (when they moved to another of their former HQs at Napier Road), the stretch was home to headquarters of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The SPCA occupied a premises the entrance of which was by the side of a building that was the former Orchard Road Post Office (across from where Buyong Road met Orchard Road) – a sign over its entrance could not be missed. The former Orchard Road Post Office which was built in 1902, had by the time I got to see the building, long moved out when the Killiney Road Post Office (which opened in 1963) was built to replace it when that magnificent building it occupied proved too small (there were initial thoughts to expand the building – but due to limitations of the site, a new building was instead planned).

The shophouse lined stretch of Orchard Road is seen between Specialist Centre at the top of the picture and United Motor Works (building seen with the AC Spark Plug Advertisement – with words “Hot Tip”) in 1974 (source: http://picas.nhb.gov,sg). The gap in the buildings just beyond United Motor Works is where the SPCA / former Orchard Road Post Office was.

The former Orchard Road Post Office building in 1982, with the entrance to the SPCA next to it (from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009). The post office closed in 1963 when the Killiney Road Post Office was opened.

Another photograph of the SPCA on Orchard Road from the SPCA’s website.

The premises of the SPCA were used since the organisation moved to into in 1965 (although they had maintained kennels behind it since 1954 when it was still the RPSCA), paying a nominal $1 in rent per year. The kennels were one that were regularly visited by student volunteers including some of my classmates in primary school – I recall my mother dropping me off at the premises on a few occasions in 1976 when I did accompany a classmate who helped out at the SPCA. The SPCA’s premises was acquired for redevelopment in 1983 and the SPCA moved into their current headquarters at Mount Vernon built at a cost of $1 million with money obtained from the organisation’s fund raising efforts.

The area where the SPCA / Orchard Road Post Office was.

Approximate position of the former post office building / SPCA seen against what the area is today (image of Orchard Road Post Office from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

The stretch today bears little resemblance to the stretch back when the SPCA was there. Cleared completely of the buildings that had occupied it as well as with the realignment of the roads in and around it, it is hard to imagine what is today a relatively quiet and pretty green stretch, lined with shophouses all along to where its junction was with Clemenceau Avenue (where the Orchard Circus, which went in 1967) had once been.

The next face of Asia

15 05 2012

The six-week long street fashion festival, Fashion Steps Out at Orchard 2012 (FSO 2012), which began with the first time a 600 metre stretch of Orchard Road was closed and used as a fashion runway, saw another first – the first time a cinema hall at Shaw Theatres Lido was transformed into a fashion venue with a catwalk built over the cinema seating for the closing party on 27 April 2012. The closing party marked the end of the festival and also saw the Next Face of Asia 2012 selected from 12 finalists representing six Asian countries – China, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Next Face of Asia which aims to discover Asian models and be a launch platform for Asian faces internationally, involved a regional search to identify potential talent from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, HK, Taiwan, Indonesia, China and India. The deserving winner, who walked away with $10,000 worth of prizes and who will be the Face of FSO 2013, was 25 year old Indonesian model Paula Verhoeven, the tallest model in the finals at 1.82 metres in height.

A cinema hall at Shaw Theatres Lido was turned into a fashion runway for the first time for the closing of Fashion Steps Out at Orchard 2012.

The closing party also saw the finals of the Next Face of Asia 2012 which picked a winner from 12 finalists from 6 Asian countries.

More Photographs from the Next Face of Asia 2012

The deserving winner, 1.82 metre tall Paula Verhoeven from Indonesia, who was the tallest model in the finals.

About FSO

Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard (formerly known as Fashion Season @ Orchard) aims to bring fashion to the man on the street. From 16 Mar – 29 Apr 2012, the Orchard Road shopping belt of nearly 800,000 sq. m of retail space will be heralding the Spring / Summer fashion season with exciting events and promotions that will spice up everyday fashion and thrill shoppers. FSO 2011 brought 5.2 million visitors, drew $3.9 million in receipts (an 18% year on year growth in sales***), and generated $2.035 million worth of publicity. FSO 2012 aspires to attract even more visitors and higher spend.

*** According to MasterCard’s tracking in USD

When fashion and Fever closed Orchard Road

19 03 2012

One of the busiest stretches of Singapore’s Orchard Road was closed to vehicular traffic for a few hours last evening – all for the sake of fashion. The closure was to allow a 600 metre stretch from ION Orchard to the Mandarin Gallery to be used as a runway for the launch of Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard 2012 (FSO 2012), a six-week long shopping extravaganza that promotes fashion for everyday use. Dubbed “The Day when Fashion Stops Traffic”, the launch saw more than 170 models showing off creations from both international and local designers, including Vivienne Westwood, walking down road turned catwalk. This is the first time here that a busy road has been closed and used as a fashion runway – a brilliant idea that has definitely put the festival in the spotlight as well as allowing the festival to achieve its aim of reaching out to those on the street.

Fashion and Fever on Orchard Road. Alicia Pan entertained with a rendition of Fever right in the middle of the road.

A 600m stretch of Orchard Road was transformed into a fashion runway for the launch of Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard 2012.

One of the busiest stretches of Orchard Road from ION Orchard to Mandarin Gallery was closed to vehicular traffic on what would normally be a busy Saturday evening.

The a downpour prior to the opening and the inconvenience of the closure of the road to vehicular traffic did not at all deter those who came to watch the opening of the event – a large crowd had already lined the barricades well before the show started. The fashion show started with host Junita Simon strutting down the street accompanied by bare-chested male models which must have set the hearts of many in the crowd racing.

A large crowd gathered by the barricades set up well before the show started.

Host for the evening, Junita Simon, struts along the road runway to open the festival.

Over the hour-long show, a steady stream of models showing off collections from Vivienne Westwood, Dsquared2, Dip Drops, Rosebullet, iCB, J.Press, Robinsons, Marks & Spencer, Just Cavalli, Paul & Joe and Maria Grachvogel took to the road turned catwalk. The show also featured the appearance of singer/songwriter Alicia Pan – who seemed to have caught everyone there by surprise with a rendition of Fever on the road right in front of Paragon.

The fashion parade down Orchard Road begins with a collection from one of the participating international designers, Vivienne Westwood.

It wasn't just the models who attracted the attention of the cameras. A glamourously dressed photographer has a camera trained on her.

The opening of fashion festival was certainly one to remember and one that has set the tone for six weeks of activities and deals, including those from MasterCard – the Official Credit Card. More information on the festival which runs until 29 April 2012, can be found at the FSO 2012 website, or the FSO 2012 Facebook Page.

Some highlights of the Fashion Show:

Following the star down Orchard Road

25 12 2010

Every year now, as part of its campaign to draw in the tourist dollar, Singapore transforms what is its main shopping street, Orchard Road, into a wonderful sea of lights in anticipation of what actually is a religious celebration, that as a nation, it has somehow embraced. So with an old classmate who now resides halfway across the world in town for a few days, a few of us decided to join the crowds thronging Orchard Road and take in the bright lights and snap a few photographs along the way. The light-up, now very much a feature of Christmas in Singapore, has been an annual affair since the very first street-wide light-up was organised in 1984 by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) was know then. That initial light-up had lasted for just 20 days, being launched on 13 December by the then Chairman of the STPB, Dr Wong Kwei Chong, and running up to New Year’s Day. Following the initial success of the light-up, it was extended to 37 days the following year, becoming the annual affair it now is, and this year, the light-up runs for 44 days from 20 November to 2 January. I guess that initial light-up was in keeping to what Christmas was being transformed into in Singapore (and many other parts of the world), a celebration that transcends religious and cultural boundaries, one that sparks a frenzy of shopping and feasting that makes it an annual season of joy for the retailers and restaurateurs, and one that has perhaps taken on a nationwide importance.

It wasn't three wise men but five wise guys who decided to follow the star(s) down Orchard Road.

Walking down Orchard Road and taking in the lights, it is hard to imagine what Orchard Road might have been like some three to four decades ago, and much less what Christmas was about back then. That was a time when Christmas was a simpler, quieter and perhaps more personal affair. While, gift-giving, a tradition that in fact dates back to pre-Christian pagan practices (which Christians adopted together with the time of the year when the birth of Christ, the central figure in Christianity, is celebrated), and now is maybe seen to be associated with the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh that the three Magi, the Wise Men or Kings of the Orient brought with them when they followed the proverbial star to the east to the manger where the newly born Christ Child had lain in, was very much being practiced, it was mainly between relatives and close-friends, and was never really the expensive affair that it is these days. That was a time of course when even decorations were simpler and a lot more modest than they are these days, with only simple cut-outs and other decorations mounted on the façades of the large department stores – certainly not the elaborate decorations and lightings that we see these days.

A walk down Orchard Road offers a peek into the window of the Commercial side of Christmas in Singapore.

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

For us, taking a walk down wasn’t so much for spiritual reasons (other than to partake in a few glasses of spirits at the end) or to reminisce about Christmases of the past, but to take in the lights and action of a city that has left simplicity behind and to catch up with each other. After all, that is what Christmas is really all about! With this I would like to wish one and all a very Happy Christmas! May peace, joy and glad tidings be with all!

Every year in the lead up to Christmas, Orchard Road is transformed into a wonderland of lights.

The appearance of new malls such as ION with lighted façades has added to fairy land of lights.

Shaw House was one with relatively modest decorations.

ION Orchard.

A shop display at ION Orchard to entice the Christmas Shopper.

Not everyone could wait until Christmas to open their gifts.

Street vendors were doing a roaring trade.

In the lead up to Christmas, entertainment was also provided for the crowds on Orchard Road.

Silhouettes of the crowd of people thronging Orchard Road against the back drop of the best dressed building, Tangs.

There was even a procession of floats to add to the bright lights.

Christmas trees came in all shapes and colours. Sizes were mostly XXL.

All that glitters is the gold of Ferrero Rocher. A close-up of the Christmas Tree outside the Heeren.

Signs of the times!

The writing's on the wall this Christmas!

More of the lights over the Stamford Canal ...

Roman gladiators descended onto Orchard Road ... together with angels and a few Wise Men!

Not a case of too many cooks spoiling the kebabs ...

On the blocks to be the new kid on the block next year? Construction activity at the former Orchard Emerald site.

On the rocks this Christmas ...

A red light district off Orchard Road ...

An inevitable end to our walk ... a search for a watering hole ...

Stay Me, Stay You at the Holiday Inn

7 09 2010

I seem to have had some wonderful experiences of late, first a trip to Hong Kong courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, and more recently, a night’s stay in the deluxe suite at the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre. This latter was most kindly provided by the Holiday Inn, as part of their global marketing campaign which revolves around the theme of “Stay You”, which is all about staying you while staying at the Holiday Inn. The 319 room Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre is one that has already been quite well established in Singapore, having opened in 1985 (that’s 25 years ago already!) as the Holiday Inn Park View, and has had a refreshing makeover at a cost of S$25 million as part of a global re-launch of the already well established Holiday Inn brand. The refurbishment, carried out with the aim of putting the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre alongside the top hotels in the Orchard Road area, has given a refreshingly new look and feel to the entire establishment. What I really liked about it is the excellent location which brings one close to the action on Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping street, but yet is set just off where the hustle and bustle is across from the lush greenery of the Istana which provides a sense of being in a world away from the madness of the city – a perfect location to recharge.

The Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre: right close to the action on Orchard Road, and yet in a location in which one can easily forget where one is ...

Spending a day in the very comfortable and expansive suite certainly allowed me to “get away”, something that I guess I needed to do for some time, whilst certainly allowing me to just “stay me”. The view from the suite was really wonderful, looking across the Central Expressway (CTE) and Cavenagh Road to the wooded grounds of the Istana, not only provided me with a sense of calm, but also with a trip back in time to the area now disfigured by the construction of the much needed CTE, that I had known from the journeys on the school bus which took me from kindergarten in Cambridge Road to Toa Payoh. The bus would take a detour via Cavenagh Road turning right into Clemenceau Avenue, before heading to Toa Payoh to drop a kindergarten mate, my best friend Eddie at a row of terrace houses along Clemenceau Avenue, close to what had been its junction with Orchard Road. Much has changed with the CTE cutting a swath through a Clemenceau Avenue which had the likes of Sands House, the home of the Scouts Association of Singapore, and the Highway Inn among its well known landmarks. I guess I should really devote another post to this.

he gorgeous deluxe suite from which I was able to take in the excellent view of the lush Istana greenery, as well as take a trip back in time.

The calm setting of the Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre ... just a stone's throw away from the busy Orchard Road but yet far enough from it and set amidst the greenery surrounding the Istana that makes you feel that are in another world.

What I guess made it a really great stay were the personal touches that were added all around: a green rubber ducky for the bath (green as part of the Holiday Inn’s branding image); a bowl of candy coated chocolates; the arrangement on the coffee table which included a luxurious looking fruit basket, a bottle of red wine, a plate of chocolates and a book with photographs of old Singapore (I guess going with the main subject matter found in my blog).

Nice touches were all around ... a rubber ducky for the bath ...

Candy coated chocolates to satisfy those with a sweet tooth ...

and personal touches to enhance the entire "Stay You" experience ...

As part of the overall experience, I had also had the privilege of dining at the two food and beverage outlets that the hotel has, the Tandoor North Indian Restaurant, as well as the Window on the Park Restaurant, and along with this, I had Club Privileges extended to me allowing me to make use of the wonderful Executive Lounge on Level 3. The Executive Lounge provides a cosy area where one can relax, surf the net, have faxes sent, and best of all, indulge in before dinner cocktails which can be supplemented by a selection from the excellent spread of finger food, which all in all is an excellent concept for the man on the move. Breakfast is also served at the lounge if one chooses to have breakfast in a private and exclusive setting, or alternatively, at the Window on the Park Restaurant, which provides a wider spread in its breakfast buffet.

The Executive Lounge on level 3 ...

offers finger food and cocktails in the evenings for those with Club Privileges and is popular with executives staying at the hotel.

The highlight of the dining experience for me was at the Tandoor where I had dinner, which offers an excellent selection of breads and well marinated meats cooked in the tandoor as well as some delectable Northern Indian curries. For those who are at a loss for a choice from the menu, set menus are also offered which provides a selection of the best dishes served in thoughtfully sized portions, which for me was completed by a serving of the not too sweet (as is often the case) serving of nutty and creamy Kulfi. To top it all, the service provided by the very attentive staff was excellent. Lunch the next day was a buffet at the Window on the Park, which provides excellent views of the greenery surrounding the Istana. While the restaurant was small, and inadvertently crowded due to the ongoing one-for-one buffet promotion, it was an experience I enjoyed for the excellent attention and service provided by the staff in the restaurant.

The Tandoor provides a wonderful setting for a North Indian culinary experience ...

The set dinner menu offered an excellent mix of North Indian breads and dishes in well thought of portions.

While staying at the hotel, I also had a chance to chill-out by the roof top swimming pool out. The pool was really nice and doesn’t just offer a refreshing dip to the hotel’s guests, but a wonderful place to relax and recharge. Set in the well landscaped private and quiet setting of what is the secluded roof top of the hotel, it takes one away into a world that seems far from the madness of nearby Orchard Road. Next to the pool, a gym also provides a wonderful place in which to work out – something I might have thought about doing if not for the call of the very comfortable suite.

The seclusion of the roof top swimming pool offers a quiet setting to relax and recharge.

A view of the roof top pool with the wading pool in the foreground.

The view from the comfortable poolside chairs ...

Even the little creatures found the pool a wonderful place to stay themselves.

Overall I must say that my stay at the Holiday Inn was certainly a “Stay Me” experience, one in which I was able to catch up on rest, relax by the pool, and feast on the flavours and aroma of spices of Northern India right in the heart of the city. Best of all, I was able to also take a trip back to my childhood as well as do one of my favourite things – catch the glorious sunrise from the window of the suite!

Even with the rain clouds that had gathered, mother nature obliged with a glorious sunrise ...

As part of the global re-launch campaign the Holiday Inn is running a photography competition with some fantastic prizes. As the rebranding as mentioned revolves around the theme of “Stay You”, i.e. about people “being themselves” when they stay at the hotel, the Holiday Inn, is looking for pictures of people being themselves any place. The grand prize is a trip to Bali for 4 (winner + 3 friends/family members) and US$1200 spending money. Hurry to submit you entries – the contest ends on 12 September 2010 at 11.59 pm.

So, it wasn’t the cat after all!

17 06 2010

So it wasn’t really the cat after all, or the dog for that matter. The PUB confirmed this in a statement issued late this afternoon. Quoting a Channel NewsAsia report, “in its statement the PUB said the drain’s capacity is adequate as it has handled previous rains of similar intensity”. In the statement, the PUB blamed the flooding on the build up of debris which were trapped in a culvert near Delfi Orchard. The culvert which diverts water from Nassim and Cuscaden Road into two sections of Stamford Canal, runs along Orchard Road. As a result of the heavy build-up of debris the rainwater from the heavy rainfall was diverted to only one the sections of the canal.

High and dry ... this cat certainly wasn't the culprit, nor the dogs that were said to have fallen with the cats!

The PUB did say in the statement that it would be increasing the frequency of maintenance and inspections of critical closed drains as a result. While this does help to prevent future repeat occurrences of Wednesday’s flood, it would certainly be more effective if we were to tackle the problem at its source. Walking around Singapore these days, there is certainly a lot of litter that can be seen strewn around: plastic cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers etc. Many of these do eventually find their way into the drains and canals when it rains. The recent launch of the new anti-littering drive which was announced last week and the associated measures to curb littering now takes on a greater degree of importance. Let’s hope the recent flooding helps to bring the message to everyone that the consequences of littering can be a lot more far reaching than many of us would like to believe.

The heavy downpour caused debris to be trapped diverting water into only one of two sections of the canal. An open section of the canal is seen here behind Tanglin Shopping Centre.

Walking around Singapore these days, litter such as plastic cups, styrofoam containers, plastic bottles and bags, etc. can be found everywhere.

Much of the litter eventually ends up in the drains and canals, not just choking them, but also diverting them into our rivers and reservoirs.

Singapore underwater

16 06 2010

Oopsie, I guess I may have been a little premature in celebrating the rain this morning – the rain does provide a welcome respite from the sweltering heat that has seemed to engulf us of late, but today, there was some serious flooding that occurred in parts of Singapore. Channel NewsAsia reported that the areas affected included Bukit Timah, Newton Circus and Scotts Road. It does seem that the junction of Scotts and Orchard Roads were hit pretty badly with stalled vehicles causing chaos at the junction which resulted in a friend of mine being stuck for 3 hours! There were some pretty amazing scenes looking at the pictures he took.

The thing about today’s flash floods was that it coincided with the low tide. What we may also recall were the floods which occurred in Bukit Timah last November which were said to be a once in 50 year event. It would be interesting to see what the authorities say over the next few days.

Flooding was quite a regular occurrence in Singapore at one time and I recall that the area where the primary school that I attended was, had been quite flood prone and we regularly had to wade through flood waters. The home of a classmate staying opposite the school in Lincoln Road was regularly affected. Keng Lee Road and Cambridge Road nearby, where I went to kindergarten was also prone to the Rochor Canal that ran along Kampong Java Road overflowing, and there were occasions when I had to be carried over the flood waters. Whatever it is, I am thankful that the drainage system has improved to the extent that flooding isn’t what one expects whenever there is a downpour.

Photos of the Scotts Road and Orchard Road junctions on 16 June 2010 (courtesy of James Tan):

My big, strong, and maybe a little less than friendly experiences at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Roads

16 04 2010

There was a time when the prospect of a visit to the bank would fill me with terror. That was during the time when I was a boy of four, perhaps five, and would dutifully accompany my mother on her many errands, shopping trips and visits to the hairdresser and the like. I accompanied her on her banking trips as well, including those that she made to the branch of The Chartered Bank at the bottom of Shaw House on a fairy regular basis. The visits to the bank, which was then touted as being “Big, Strong, Friendly”, somehow never seemed friendly for me. Big and strong maybe. It would always mean that I had to come face to face with the tall burly guard who also served as a doorman, who, wearing the stern look of a bearded and turbaned Sikh, would always open the doors for us. For some reason, I never did take notice of the warm smile my mother tells me that he would usually flash, choosing to focus instead on his imposing appearance which heightened my irrational sense of fear of policeman and security personnel, which was perhaps brought about by having been constantly reminded during my bouts of misbehaviour, that a figure of authority would soon apprehend me. Such was the terror that I felt that I would chose to forego the opportunity for childhood adventure that being outside the stuffy confines of the Austin 1100 would have presented me with, opting to remain in the parked car with nothing to do except stare impatiently out of the partially wound down window. There were actually a few occasions when I did have to overcome my irrational fear, venturing into the banking hall once I remember, to get my hands on the brightly coloured Donald Duck coin box that I so craved. I must have trembled at the sight of the guard, while keeping a tight hold on my mother’s hand as I followed on her on the far side of the guard hoping that her skirt could obscure me .

Lido and Shaw House at the corner of Orchard Road and Scotts Road, seen in 1960 on an old Postcard.

In the later years, a Chartered Bank advertising campaign actually had another burly Sikh security guard as the face of the “Big, Strong, Friendly” slogan, opening the doors to a banking hall with a big cheery smile. I would often then look back in amusement at my own personal experiences as an anxious young boy of the big, strong and maybe a little less friendly banking experience I had in my younger days.

Another view of Shaw House with Lido next to it c.1960 from an old postcard.

I was indeed sad to see the old Shaw House being demolished when that happened sometime in 1990, having been a prominent landmark at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Roads since it was unveiled in 1958. Along the way, it also housed several embassies, consulates and national trade bodies, including the Swiss embassy and also the South Vietnamese embassy until the fall of Saigon in 1975 when it was abandoned. Another landmark next to Shaw House, Lido Cinema, went with it in 1990. I too have a few fond memories of Lido. That was where I had watched many movies with my parents. Lido was also where I watched the first movie unaccompanied by my parents. I went with a few older neighbours in 1975 for the screening of The Pink Panther Returns.

The new Shaw House now houses the Lido Cineplex.

Looking at the area where the new Shaw House has come up over the old, you wouldn’t see anything of how it was all those years ago. In place of the block of offices and a small open car park in front of it where I would often wait in the parked car, and the a cinema next to it, the new Shaw House stands tall, housing the new Lido – a cineplex popular with Singaporeans, as well as Isetan Department Store and several popular eating places. Very little is left behind to remind me of the big, strong and friendly experiences that I had there … maybe only the successor to The Chartered Bank – a branch of Standard Chartered Bank which moved from the old Shaw House to neighbouring Shaw Centre in 1985.

The magical world of the Tivoli that was on Orchard Road

7 04 2010

Mention the name Tivoli today, and what probably comes to mind to most of us is that magical gardens set in the heart of Hans Christian Andersen’s Wonderful Copenhagen where we can be immersed in the fantasy world that Hans Christian Andersen conjured up in the many tales he told, of which at least one, his most famous, the Nightingale, was inspired by the gardens in which he was said to have been fascinated with. The beautiful setting of the amusement park, with its theatres and restaurants, and wonderful gardens, best seen in spring when one is greeted by the multitude of colours that the flowers that delightfully decorate the gardens bring, served as an inspiration not just to Andersen, but also to a certain Walt Disney for his own wonderful fantasy land. The gardens had apparently also provided the inspiration to Singapore’s own Tivoli in Orchard Road, and it was this Tivoli that would have come into the minds of many of us back in the 1970s.

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is a magical fantasy world that served as the inspiration for Hans Christian Andersen's the Nightingale as well as Disneyland.

The Tivoli Coffee House, was apparently also inspired by the Tivoli Gardens and was located at the left hand corner of The Orchard, and had a sidewalk cafe atmosphere as well as a beautifully and elaborately decorated interior.

Singapore’s own Tivoli was a fantasy land of a different kind, one that transported us into a world that amused us in other ways – with a delightful menu inspired by the cuisines of Denmark and the continent, an array of beverages – including alcoholic ones, as the parasols that provided shade on the tables that spilled onto the sidewalk testified to, pastries and desserts. Tivoli in Singapore wasn’t so much there to amuse us in the way that the gardens from which it got its name would have done, but provided amusement to our palates. It was a coffee house, what would today be called a cafe. Back in the 1970s, coffee houses were everywhere, appealing to young and old in search of a banana split, a vanilla milk shake, or perhaps an iced coffee, which could be savoured in the cool comfort of the air-conditioned premises that attracted many. The Tivoli, which opened in 1971, perhaps drawing on the inspiration that its name provided, was the coffee houses of all coffee houses, serving its selection of food and beverages twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. By day, it drew couples on an outing, families out shopping, and by night it was a popular watering hole, attracting a regular crowd of locals, expatriates, and the boisterous men serving with the Australian and New Zealand forces in Singapore. The Tivoli Coffee House was then located in a two storey building, one that was purposed built as a car showroom that housed Orchard Motors, the distributor for the General Motors (GM) brands such as Vauxhall and Chevolet, converted into a shopping complex around 1970 and named The Orchard. Located at the corner of Orchard Road and Bideford Road, on which the original wing of the Paragon now stands, the shopping complex was right next to Fitzpatrick’s supermarket and housed some upmarket shops including Charles Jourdan, The Elizabeth Arden Salon, Diethelm Furniture, Jade Palace Restaurant and Thong Sia, as well as a branch of Robina Department Store, which made an unsuccessful attempt at breaking into the local retail scene in the 1970s.

The Paragon stands in place of The Orchard which was torn down in 1980.

The Orchard Shopping Complex seen in the mid 1970s.

The area where The Orchard stood as seen today.

Since I am on this area of Orchard Road, I would also touch a little on what the rest of the area would had been like back then. Moving down towards Scotts Road from The Orchard, which was demolished in 1980, along with neighbouring Fitzpatrick’s which was fronted by a opened car park. The Promenade Shopping Centre was built on the land occupied by Fitzpatrick’s, and was later torn down to accommodate an extension to the Paragon (this clarifies a comment posted by a reader, JC Carino, who lived in the area on a previous post on my impressions of Orchard Road of the 1970s). Right next to this was a petrol kiosk, which can been seen in the photograph labelled “Photo 4” on Peter Chan’s post on on the petrol stations in Singapore’s CBD on the Good Morning Yesterday blog. This was in front of a squarish looking building which housed the Phone Book Company, which published the telephone directory and the Yellow Pages.

Fitzpatrick's Supermarket (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk)

The new wing of the Paragon stands where Fitzpatricks and later, the Promenade, stood.

The Tong Building which houses the Rolex Centre stands where a petrol kiosk and the Phone Book Company once stood.

Next was the road that was Mount Elizabeth and Champion Motors in a building that was similar to the car showroom that became The Orchard, which later also housed Orchard Motors together with Champion Motors (I think both were owned by the same company) which was the distributor for Volkswagen then. Where Champion Motors stood, Lucky Plaza now stands. Right next to this was of course the distinctive Chinese architecture inspired CK Tang building, home of CK Tang, which then opened six days a week and never on a Sunday. Here now stands part of Tang Plaza, which occupies the entire stretch up to Scotts Road, also displacing the old curved row of two shop houses that stood at the corner of Orchard and Scotts Roads.

Lucky Plaza stands in place of a car showroom Champion Motors - a dealer for Volkswagen cars in those days, as well as also housing Orchard Motors after it shifted out of the building that was converted into The Orchard.

The part of Tang Plaza where the distinctive CK Tang building stood.

Orchard Road at Scotts Road Junction: The curved row of shop houses next to C K Tang can be seen on the left. On the right side we can see the former Wisma Indonesia (short white building) on which stands Wisma Atria, Ngee Ann Building (where the Mont D'Or Cake Shop was) on which stands Ngee Ann City and Mandarin Hotel under construction (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The Singapore Marriott Hotel and the Tang Plaza occupies the corner of Scotts and Orchard Roads where the curved row of two storey shop houses stood.

Looking down the area today, we see a totally different Orchard Road, one dominated by the cold modern steel and glass fronted shopping malls that have sprung up in place – it amazes me to think  that it wasn’t really that long ago that Orchard Road had a very different and perhaps more homely feel about it …

Impressions of Orchard Road in the 1970s

5 07 2009

Travelling along Orchard Road in the 1970s had a very different feel than it does these days. Far from being the bustling crowded shopping hub it has since been transformed to, Orchard Road had more of a sleepy feel to it back then.  The best recollection I have relates to the stretch from around the Scotts Road junction to Dhoby Ghaut, which I often visited with my parents.

The Scotts Road junction was where the old Lido Cinema building stood next to Shaw House, across from Liat Towers on the other side of Orchard Road. While old Shaw House and Lido has since been demolished, giving way to the new Shaw House which houses the Lido Cineplex, Liat Towers still stands. The branch of Standard Chartered Bank located in Shaw House was one that my mother made frequent visits to.

On the opposite side of Scotts Road, where Tang’s Plaza is now, you would be greeted by the old C K Tang building. Opposite this, across Orchard Road and what was then the open canal, was the distinctive roof structure of the Indonesian Embassy, the Wisma Indonesia, where Wisma Atria now stands. Further along was the old Champion Motors showroom and Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket, probably around where the Paragon now stands. Opposite that there was the old Ngee Ann Building, which housed a number of Specialist clinics as well the the popular Mont D’or Cake Shop, which my parents often got our birthday cakes from.

Heading further down the road, you would come up to the Heeren Building – not that I remember much of it except for a barber shop at the corner. The area maybe a little further down was a little more interesting for me. The old Cold Storage Supermarket, from which my mother would buy the chipolatas and cold cuts which I always looked froward to digging my teeth into. Next to the supermarket on the nearer side of the entrance to the car park, there was the Magnolia Milk Bar which my mother often brought me to to satisfy my childhood cravings for Milk Shakes and Pies. Opposite Cold Storage was an open air car park  which Hawkers took over in the evening – referred to as Glutton’s corner, which my parents would sometimes go to if we visited Cold Storage in the evenings or late afternoons. What my parents frequented more was the well known Beef Noodle stall at Koek Lane, close to the old Orchard Road Market. Koek Lane has disappeared as has the Beef Noodle stall, which initially moved to the food centre at Cuppage Centre (which is now Starhub Centre), but has since moved from the area.

The old Cold Storage building along Orchard Road (a scan from a Cold Storage mousepad give away).

Another view of Cold Storage in way of the entrance to the car park (link).

Further down the road, memories were rather vague, at least until Plaza Singapura was built around 1974. What I can remember is the Borneo Motors showroom next to MacDonald House, MacDonald House itself and Amber Mansions at the end of Orchard Road near Dhoby Ghaut.

Of the other end of Orchard Road near Tanglin, again I don’t recall much except for the Air India advertisment which greeted you on the side of a building at the junction with Orange Grove Road, which provided the effect of the turbaned Maharaja taking a bow, through the sequencing of the neon lighting mounted on the advertising board.

The Turbaned Maharaja at the corner of Orchard Road and Orange Grove Road in the 1970s

The Turbaned Maharaja at the corner of Orchard Road and Orange Grove Road in the 1970s

Added on 27 Aug 2009:
Source: Straits Times 24 Aug 2009

Graphic from 24 Aug 2009 Edition of The Straits Times provides a good idea of what was on Orchard Road in the 1970s.

Graphic from 24 Aug 2009 Edition of The Straits Times provides a good idea of what was on Orchard Road in the 1970s.