Preparing for the harvest festival

12 01 2020

One of the great joys of living in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Singapore, is the array of festivals wonderful festivals that bring life and colour to the streets. Just as Chinatown prepares to welcome the Chinese New Year this January, we see Little India come to life for the Tamil harvest festival Pongal. Besides the annual light-ups, the two ethnic precincts also feature crowded street bazaars with the festival essentials on offer.

In Little India, the Pongal is especially colourful with displays of pongal clay pots, produce representing the harvest such as sugarcane – adding much flavour the area around Campbell Lane – where the street bazaar is set up in the days leading up to the festival. There is also a chance to see livestock in the form of cattle and goats, which are brought in for the celebrations each year.

The celebration of the festival proper, begins with the eve – the last day of the Tamil month of Margazhi, which falls on 14 January of the western calendar and carries on for three more days. A description of the festival is  provided by Mr Manohar Pillai in a post on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“:

Pongal is the biggest and most important festival for the Tamilians, since ancient times and transcends all religious barriers since it signifies thanks giving to nature and domestic animals. Cattle, cows, goats, chickens are integral part of a farmer in India. It is celebrated for three days in Tamilnadu starting from 15th to 17th January. Vegetarian food will be served only in Hindu households. Thanksgiving prayers will be offered to the Sun, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether, without these life cannot be sustained on Mother Earth. The celebrations comes on close to the harvest season which just ended and Jan 15 is the beginning of the new Tamil calendar.

Clay Pots are used to cook flavoured rice with traditional fire wood in the open air and facing the early morning Eastern Sun. The Sun’s early morning rays are supposedly to bring benevolence to the household. The cooked rice is distributed to all the members of the household and with it the festivities begins. Everyone wears new clothes and very old and useless clothes are burnt the previous night.

The next day the farmer turns his attention to the animals especially the Cattle and Cows.

The third day all people celebrate it with gaiety and grandly.

More on the festival and how it is celebrated in Little India can be found in these posts:


More photographs taken this year:


 





When the region’s naval ships were being built at Tanjong Rhu

11 01 2020

Tanjong Rhu – the cape of casuarina trees and once known as “Sandy Point“, has had a long association with the boatbuilding and repair trade. Captain William Flint, Raffles’ brother-in-law as Singapore’s first Master Attendant, established a marine yard there as far back as 1822, for the “convenience of the building and repair of boats and vessels”.  That association would come to an end when the last shipyards relocated in the early 1990s, not so long after one of the larger establishments Vosper Pte. Ltd. Singapore, went into voluntary liquidation in 1986.

High and dry. A Point class U.S. Coast Guard WPB (left) used in Vietnam by the U.S. Navy, being repaired at Vosper Thornycroft. A Royal Malaysian Navy Keris class patrol boat is seen on the right (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

With links to Vosper Thornycroft (VT) – an established name in naval shipbuilding, Vosper Singapore was a major player in the domestic and regional naval market. It also had a long association with Tanjong Rhu that began with John I. Thornycroft and Company setting up its Singapore shipyard there late in 1926. Among Thornycroft’s successes were the construction of motor launches in 1937 for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, a series that included the very first Panglima, a name that would acquire great meaning with the naval forces of a sovereign Singapore some three decades later.

A 1927 ad for Thornycroft Shipyards at Tanjong Rhu.

Thornycroft morphed into Vosper Thornycroft (VT) in 1967, following a merger the previous year of Vosper Limited with Thornycroft’s parent company in Britain. VT would also merge with neighbouring United Engineers here, another long-time shipbuilder based at Tanjong Rhu the same year. The expanded VT would find great success, especially in the regional naval market, obtaining contracts from the Ceylonese Navy, the Bangladeshi Government, and the Royal Brunei Navy – for which it built three Waspada class Fast Attack Craft.

A view towards a bakau laden Bugis pinisi on the Geylang River from Vosper Thornycroft (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

Locally, VT also supplied and serviced the Royal Malaysian Navy, as well as the fledging Singapore navy. A contract for six ‘A’ and ‘B’ Class 110 foot Patrol Boats with Singapore’s then Maritime Command in 1968 involved the lead vessel being constructed in the parent company’s yard in Portsmouth. This arrangement set the tone for how large naval procurement would be conducted here, although VT would play little part in the subsequent naval construction for what became the Republic of Singapore Navy in the years that would follow.

The launch of the ‘A’ Class 110′ Patrol Craft at VT for the Maritime Command in 1969. Interestingly, the main deck of these steel hulled vessels were constructed from aluminium alloy (photo source: National Archives of Singapore).

The yard’s was also involved in commercial ship construction and repair, and naval repair and upgrading work. The U.S. Navy, which was involved in the conflict in Vietnam, sent several small patrol boats to the yard during this time. One of these boats was brought over from Danang by a Kim Hocker late in the fall of 1969. An officer with the U.S. Coast Guard, Kim was seconded to the US Navy. An extended stay in Singapore permitted Kim to put his camera to good use and his captures included bits of Raffles Place, the Meyer Road and Katong Park area close to where he was putting up, and also ones of the shipyard that are used in this post. One thing that is glaringly clear in Kim’s photographs of the yard is the absence of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, safety shoes and safety belts – a requirement in the shipyards of today.

Kim Hocker with the author.

No hard hats or safety shoes! (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

VT Singapore became Vosper Pte. Ltd. Singapore in 1977 following the nationalisation of its parent company. Despite contracts from Oman and Kuwait, and an investment in a Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) production facility partly motivated by a Marine Police Patrol Boat contract,  the next decade would see Vosper Singapore fall on hard times that would herald its eventual demise as a yard here in 1986.  The closure of the yard came a a time when plans for the redevelopment of the Tanjong Rhu for residential use were being set in motion. The shipyard site was purchased by Lum Chang Holdings the following year for the purpose, and was in turn resold to the Straits Steamship Company (now Keppel Land). Together with DBS Land, the site, an adjoining site as well as land that was reclaimed, were redeveloped into the Pebble Bay condominium complex in the 1990s.

A view towards what would become the Golden Mile area from Vosper. The naval vessel seen here looks like one of the Keris class Royal Malaysian Navy Patrol Boat (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

At the time of Vosper’s demise, there were also several shipyards that were still in operation, including privately held ones such as Kwong Soon Engineering and another long time Tanjong Rhu shipyard, Singapore Slipway. Located at the end of the cape since the end of the 1800s, was had by that time owned by Keppel and would come to be part of (Keppel) Singmarine. The last yards moved out in the early 1990s allowing Tanjong Rhu’s redevelopment into what was touted a waterfront residential district, which incidentally, was where the first million dollar condominium units were sold.

More on Tanjong Rhu and its past can be found at “The curious ridge of sand which runs from Katong to Kallang Bay“.


More photographs taken at Vosper Thornycroft from the Kim Hocker Collection:

Painting the old fashioned way (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

One more … (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

The security guard or jaga … wearing a Vosper uniform (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

It was common to see pushcart stalls outside the gates of shipyards and factories in those days (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

A store? (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

Shipyard workers – again no hard hats (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

Welders at work (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).


 





Rats, on the streets of Singapore!

10 01 2020

The arrival of spring, celebrated as the Chinese New Year, brings colour to the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown. Marked these days by a street light up, the anticipation of the festival also sees a host of events and activities as well as the crowd pulling Chinatown Chinese New Year Street Bazaar offering new year delicacies and must-haves, and an invasion of rats this year for the Year of the Rat.

Trengganu Street last weekend.

Anticipating the arrival of spring in Chinatown.

Rats have invaded for the Year of the Rat.

 


Heritage & Food Trail

Always a hit, the nightly stage shows run from 8 to 10.30 pm from 4 to 24 January 2020 at Kreta Ayer Square, opened each night with a lion dance performance. Another well received activity is the Heritage & Food Trail, which takes participants on a historical and cultural tour through the streets of Chinatown, culminating with a feast of Cantonese delights at Singapore’s largest hawker centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Tickets for the trail, which run on 11, 12, 18 and 19 January, can be purchased at Kreta Ayer  Community Club at $15/- per participant or online (with a 10% discount) at:

11 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail11012020

12 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail12012020

18 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail18012020

19 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail19012020

Food, glorious Cantonese food from some of the 200 food stalls in Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

Yes 933 deejays on the heritage and food trail.

Mural hunting during the heritage and food trial.

The “disneyfication” of Chinatown is complete.


A Walk through Temple Street

Photos of the always Colourful Street Bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Maghrib at Kampong Gelam

9 01 2020

There is no better time of day than maghrib, or sunset, to take in Kampong Gelam. The winding down of the day in Singapore’s old royal quarter is accompanied by an air of calm brought by the strains of the azan – the Muslim call to prayer, and, as it was the case last evening, made a much greater joy by a colouring of the evening sky.

Masjid Sultan against the evening sky.

Viewed against that dramatic backdrop, Masjid Sultan – the area’s main landmark – looked especially majestic. The golden dome topped National Monument, Singapore’s principal mosque, stands just a stone-throw’s away from the former Istana Kampong Gelam. Erected by Sultan Hussein Shah’s heir Ali, the istana or palace, served little more than a symbolic seat of power which Hussein had all but relinquished in signing the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1824. Now the Malay Heritage Centre, the istana is a showcase of the Malay world’s culture and a reminder perhaps of the last days and lost glory of a once mighty Johor-Riau-Lingga Empire.

Istana Kampong Gelam.

More on Masjid Sultan and Istana Kampong Gelam and the Johor Empire can be found at the following posts:

 

Masjid Sultan.

 





Kuala Lumpur’s lorong-lorong

8 01 2020

Not always the tidiest of places, the small lanes and back streets of old Kuala Lumpur (KL) are more often than not, places to be avoided. There are however a number for which exceptions can now be made – such as the attractive mural decorated back lanes of Bukit Bintang and more recently, the area known as Kwai Chai Hong off Lorong Panggung and Jalan Petaling in old KL. The latter saw a charming makeover and is now a well-visited instagram-worthy tourist draw.

 

Kwai Chai Hong

 

Necessary for sanitation and for fire-fighting in the overcrowded urban centres of Malaya and Singapore, the requirement for back lanes was written into town improvement and planning regulations and by-laws in the early 20th century.  They thus became a feature of the shophouse dominated landscapes of Malaya’s and Singapore’s urban centres. Besides spaces in which drainage, access for removal of refuse and night soil, and for fire-fighting, the back lanes became social spaces as well as ones in which trades – legal or otherwise – could be conducted.

 

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A mural in a back lane in the Bukit Bintang area.

 

Unveiled in early 2019, the Kwai Chai Hong project involves six shophouses on Jalan Petaling and another four along Lorong Panggung and offers quite a delightful take on the back lane as a social space through a series of murals. The monicker Kwai Chai Hong translates into “little ghost lane” or “ghost child lane” is perhaps a reference to the activities that went on whether it may have involved (naughty) children or perhaps gangsters – or even both.

 

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Lorong Panggung.

 

More on Kwai Chai Hong can be found at:

The bridge to the past, with a view to the future (in the form of the yet to be completed tallest KL building,  Merdeka PNB 118 (Menara Warisan Merdeka).

 

A sign painter at Kwai Chai Hong.

 

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A recent addition to the area.

 

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Madras Lane – which hosts a old world back lane market.

 

A typical small lane in KL.

 

A back lane in KL.

 

Some can be quite pretty.

 

Some can contain surprises.

 

Some can also be colourful.

 

Back street buys.

 

 





The beca in Singapore

5 01 2020

Deployed these days to take tourists for a ride in both literal and metaphorical sense, the trishaw was a mode of transport many in Singapore relied on in the past. A pedal powered mini-taxi on three wheels, the beca, becak or sa leng chia – as it was commonly known – was convenient as a means to get about town, the market, work, school, and for my maternal grandmother … to get to Kampong Jawa (the Arab Street area) to stock up on supplies of bedak-sejuk and batik sarong-sarong from Indonesia.

A Singapore trishaw, seen in 2017.

There have been several suggestions on when the beca first made an appearance in Singapore. The very first designs of the three-wheeled passenger carrying vehicle took the form of a crude cycle pulled or pushed bath-chair, appearing not long after the 1880 introduction of the jinrikisha, ricksha, or rickshaw to the streets of Singapore. One example is seen in an 1886 advertisement placed by Cameron, Dunlop and Co. for a “Upton Park Passenger Tricycle” invented by Mr. C. E. Read of Upton Park, London. Another variation is described by an article in the 21 May 1892 edition of The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser as a “cyclesha”, “bicycle jinrikisha” or “bicycle bath-chair”, manufactured by Humber Cycles. The device consisted of a brown wicker bath-chair on two wheels with a bicycle attachment behind and was thought of as the “jinrikisha of the future”.

An 1886 advertisement for the No. 2 version of “Read’s Upton Park Passenger Tricycle”.

In August 1912, patents for a “pedal jinrikisha” in the Straits Settlements (and subsequently  in the Federated Malay States and Johor) were granted to Messrs. Christopher Pilkington and St. V. B. Down. This version – with the passenger seated in front and pushed by a bicycle – was similar in fashion to the Humber “bicycle bath-chair”. A prospectus issued by a company set up in early 1913 by Mr. Pilkington for the commercialisation of the invention described this “pedal jinrikisha” as consisting of an “improved jinrikisha body fitted to a wheeled machine propelled by pedals, with free wheel and geared for hilly as well as level roads … with the driver seater behind the passenger so as to cause no inconvenience to the passenger”. The contraption also featured pneumatic-tyres for comfort and efficient brakes.

An 1886 advertisement for the No. 1 version of “Read’s Upton Park Passenger Tricycle”.

It would not be until April 1914 that the first pedal jinrikishas or “pedalshas” hit the streets. Fifteen were licensed on 9 April, Maundy Thursday, for a nine-day trial period and put into service on Good Friday. Although the pedalshas seemed to have much promise, nothing came out of the trials. The Registrar of Vehicles, the rather portly Mr. W. E. Hooper, would be taken on a ride on one on Easter Sunday 1914 when it was reported that the “sha” changed shaped considerably as the 15½ stone (98½ kg) municipal official climbed on board. The less than impressed Mr Hooper pointed to several areas for improvement, chief among them the difficulty the rider had in turning the vehicle – which he felt would cause a great deal of trouble on the crowded streets of the municipality.

Penang’s first trishaw, introduced in 1936.

The next the municipality would hear of pedal propelled rickshaw would be in 1936 – when the introduction of a Chinese designed version of the vehicle, referred to as a “trishaw”, hitting the streets of Rangoon before making an appearance in Penang. Although there were attempts to also bring these trishaws to Singapore, the move fell through as the Municipal Commission felt that the vehicles were unsuitable for use on the congested streets of Singapore.

A trishaw in Penang, 2009.

A (non-tourist) trishaw in Malacca in 2014.

While the idea did come up for discussion in 1941 with a proposal put forward to license up to 150 “pedal rickshas” a year – two-thirds of which were to be offered to rickshaw owners to take their vehicles off the streets, it would be the Japanese who would lay claim to setting in motion the move to have rickshaws replaced by trishaws for the “alleviation of the lot of the ricksha puller”.  The first ten “ricksha-cycles” – manufactured by the Syonan Tricycle Co. based in Orchard Road 0 were put into service on 7 August 1942 during the Japanese Occupation. Described by the Syonan Shimbun of 8 August 1942, as “a bicycle to the left of which a metal frame is attached”, with a “trellaced (trellised?) wooden floor placed on the metal frame on which a cane settee rests” – it would appear that this version of the trishaw was quite similar to what is seen in modern day Singapore. The aim of the Japanese authorities was to put some 350 trishaws – also referred to during the occupation as “sanrinshas” or tricycles – on the streets of Singapore.

Fares for Rickshaws and Trishaws published in 1942.

 

SINGAPORE: SIGHTSEEING. 8 AND 9 SEPTEMBER 1945, SINGAPORE.

A trishaw carrying two sightseeing British sailors from the reoccupying forces down High Street in September 1945. Source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (A 30587).

The Japanese “initiative” wasn’t quite as successful as envisaged. Rickshaws continued to ply the streets during the occupation even as trishaws grew in numbers and in popularity. By the end of the war, trishaw numbers grew to some 4000 and there were however some 3500 rickshaws still in use. It would only be in the years that followed the war that the jinrikisha would disappear completely – with the Municipal Commission announcing in mid-1946 that it would not renew expiring rickshaw licenses. This saw the trishaw rule the streets – at least as a non-motorised form of fare carrying transport – from 1 May 1947.

A Singapore Airlines advertisement depicting the Singapore Girl on a trishaw.

The rapid growth of the motor vehicle, rising affluence and a significant improvement in public bus services, would lead to the demise of the trishaw as a means of getting around in the 1970s and if not for the interest that the trishaw draws from tourists, the once ubiquitous trishaw would like much of the Singapore I had grown to love as a child, have become a thing of the past.

A trishaw on the streets of postwar Singapore (Fullerton Square / Battery Road).

 

 





Wireless comms version 1.0

31 12 2019

Tucked away in a corner of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, the Taoist Sin Sze Si Ya temple – KL’s oldest – is always a delight to wander into. This is especially so when trails of joss stick smoke catches the light that streams in through the temple’s skylights.

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Age-old wireless comms. 

The temple and the area it is found in, lies at the heart of KL and its development into what would become Malaya’s principal urban centre. Founded in KL’s earliest days as a mining settlement in the early 1860s, the devotion to the temple’s chief deities Sin Si Ya (仙师爷) and Sze Si Ya (四师爷) is believed to have contributed to the settlement’s meteoric progress subsequent to the Klang War (1867 to 1873) and the success of one of the temple’s founders Yap Ah Loy – a Hakka-Chinese immigrant who rose to become a successful businessman and KL’s third Kapitan Cina. Yap was a follower of Sin Si Ya both as an earthly being – the deity having been Kapitan Cina Shin Kap of Sungei Ujong (Seremban today) before his elevation into the realm of the gods – and as a divinity.

More on the temple and the veneration of its deities can be found at:

 


The roadway into the temple grounds along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

Inside the temple.

The entrance.

 

A view from its Lebuh Pudu gate.

A view towards the main altar.