The Fire Dragon’s Lair

8 12 2014

It is in the last remnant of the village of sand that we find the lair of the fire dragon. The dragon, the only one in Singapore, lies in wait , its mouth wide open, expelling not a breath of fire, but of flames that reignite the memories of a time and place that might otherwise have been forgotten.

Inside the dragon's lair.

Inside the dragon’s lair.

The residence of the dragon, a small corner of the Mun San Fook Tuck Chee (萬山福德祠) – housed in a century old structure erected during the days of the now forgotten village, is the temple’s newly completed Sar Kong Heritage Room. The room is where the story of the dragon, that of the area’s heritage, and also of the humble origins of the temple and the community it served, now awaits discovery.

A view of the heritage room from the outside.

A view of the heritage room from the outside.

As with much of the Geylang that had developed along the banks of the rivers and tributaries of the area, the origins of the village of Sar Kong (沙崗) whose community the temple served, is one that is tied to the trades that thrived due to the geography of the area. In Sar Kong’s case, it was the kilns that fired the much needed building blocks for the fast developing Singapore, providing employment to a community of Cantonese and Hakka coolies. Established through the efforts of the community, the Mun San Fook Tuck Chee is unique in that among many early Chinese temples that has survived to this day, it owes its setting up not to an act of philanthropy by well-established individuals, but to the efforts of a coolie community.

Among the exhibits is a set of historical photos and building plans that is set against part of a wall that has its plaster removed to reveal its original brickwork.

Among the exhibits is a set of historical photos and building plans that is set against part of a wall that has its plaster removed to reveal its original brickwork.

Much of the information on geographical and historic setting for the village and the temple can be found within the exhibits of the heritage room, along with the background to some of the temple’s more interesting religious practices as well as the role it played from a social perspective. There also is information to be discovered about the dance of the fire dragon, which has its origins in Guangdong, Made of straw imported from China, the dragons previously made would have been constructed for the feast day of the temple’s principal deity Tua Pek Kong, and sent in flames to the heavens.  The dragon that is on display is one made for a more recent Chingay Parade.

Putting up the plaques.

Putting up the plaques.

More information on the temple, which is under threat from future development, can be found in a previous post, On Borrowed Time: Mun San Fook Tuck Chee. The newly completed heritage room is due to be opened officially in Jaunary 2015.

Early birds to the heritage room.

Early birds to the heritage room.

The fire dragon.

The fire dragon.

A one way ticket from a personal collection on display.

A one way ticket belonging to a personal collection on display.





Geylang in the early light of day

12 11 2013

The new day brings with it freshness and hope. It is perhaps with fresh optimism (or maybe not) that Geylang, a neighbourhood in Singapore better known for what goes on after dark, wakes up to each morning as it wakens from a short and restless slumber, coming alive in a way that, because of its reputation, one might least expect.

Migrant workers lining the Geylang kerbside  - a common sight in first hour of daylight.

Migrant workers lining the Geylang kerbside – a common sight in the early light of day.

I often enjoy a walk through its streets, numerous lorongs and five-foot-ways, in the early light of day. Without the chaotic scenes that is all too often associated with the worn and tired neighbourhood and the accompanying vehicular clutter, Geylang’s less appreciated architectural treats can best be shown some appreciation. Also adding colour in the early light, is a parallel world, a world much of Singapore has denied an existence to, laying claim to the streets fresh with litter left behind by the world we know Geylang to be.

Geylang Road as the sun rises.

The waking Geylang Road as the sun rises.

The parallel world is one belonging to a large group  of the neighbourhood’s transient residents, migrant workers who come from far and wide. Drawn to the area by the availability of low cost accommodation shunned by the locals, the coolies hole themselves up in overcrowded lodgings squeezed into the upper floors of the neighbourhood’s many shophouses.

An area of modern Singapore society for which there is low interest in.

An area of modern Singapore society for which there is low interest in.

The migrant workers are ones who toil for meagre spoils in jobs necessary to keep Singapore going, menial jobs that are below most of us. These workers, the modern coolies of a modern Singapore, rouse as the extinguished lights that painted the previous night are still warm, spilling onto the streets and five-foot-ways in scenes that are reminiscent of coolies squatting in wait along the five-foot-ways of old.

Transporting the foreign legion.

Transporting the foreign legion.

Unlike the scenes of old, the new coolies wait not for the call, but for blue and silver trucks to ferry them to places of work at which they remain well into the dark of night. The blank stares accompanying the scene seem however the same, brought about not by the numbness that opium would once have provided, but by the lure of false hope for an unattainable material nirvana.

As night time Geylang goes to sleep, another side of Geylang awakes.

As night time Geylang goes to sleep, another side of Geylang awakes.

Migrant workers along the five-foot-way of a shophouse.

Migrant workers along the five-foot-way of a shophouse.

Material nirvana aside, the migrant workers who do find themselves in Geylang are perhaps the lucky ones in a country which chooses to conceal the bulk of the new coolies in faraway dormitories well hidden from sight. The migrant workers in Geylang do at least find themselves in an environment where the conveniences of the urban world are at their disposal – their presence has in fact drawn a slew of new business catering to their needs to the area. Interspersed among the KTV outlets, dingy looking massage parlours, pubs and well established food outlets are mobile phone and service vendors, new food outlets, budget clothing shops, mini-marts, and internet cafes to serve the demands of the wider migrant communities – many opening at the break of day to catch the very early birds.

Businesses open at the break of day to cater to migrant workers leaving for work.

Businesses open at the break of day to cater to migrant workers leaving for work.

Food stalls with offerings more appropriate for lunch do a roaring trade as many pack food for lunch.

Food stalls with offerings more appropriate for lunch do a roaring trade as many pack food for lunch.

It is the food stalls that do particularly well in the early light. Many are stocked not so much for that breakfast bite, but with offerings more appropriate for lunch. Taken away by many migrant workers, the contents of the white styrofoam containers serve a hurried lunch which is taken during the morning’s break, allowing the lunch hour to be used to catch up on much needed sleep.

Migrant workers queuing up at a cooked food stall.

Migrant workers queuing up with the odd local breakfast patron at a cooked food stall.

This parallel world is one we in Singapore, more often than not, choose not to see. It is a world that we can in fact draw many parallels to, one that opens a window into both Singapore’s and Geylang’s past – painted by stories not so different, only that … the stories do end in very different ways …

Seeking enlightenment - many houses of worship found in Geylang catered to the early immigrants community in the area.

Seeking enlightenment – many houses of worship found in Geylang catered to the early immigrants community in the area.

A scene along the foot-foot-way.

An early morning scene along the foot-foot-way.

Businesses catering to the needs of the migrant workers are in clear evidence.

Businesses catering to the needs of the migrant workers are in clear evidence.


Other posts on Geylang:





Work resumes at St. Joseph’s Church

9 09 2013

Great news delivered over the weekend – the much delayed work on the stained glass restoration at St. Joseph’s Church will be resuming today. The work will restart at the south (or west) transept where the first batch of stained glass windows were taken down in the second half of last year. Work on this batch of windows has in fact been completed and that does mean we shall soon have a first glimpse of some of the beautiful windows restored to its full glory when the windows are finally re-installed.

A look across to the west transept.

A look across to the west transept.

Part of the west transept seen to the right of the sanctuary.

Part of the west transept seen to the right of the sanctuary.

Close up of the window at the end of the west transept.

Close up of the window at the end of the west transept.





K-Pop Night Out

26 05 2013

K-Pop and Korean music fans in Singapore had a treat on Friday when six different acts performed at Clarke Quay. The acts were that of two fairly new Korean girl groups, Ace of Angels (AOA) and SPICA; a rock group, Eastern Sidekick; a hip-hop quartet, M.I.B; a pairing of Jazz guitarist Park Juwon and blind harmonica player Jeon Jeduk; as well as R&B diva Lena Park. They were performing in a K-Pop Night Out segment of Music Matters Live with HP 2013 (MML) which drew hundreds of screaming fans who packed the area around the Fountain Stage at the Central Fountain Square.

K-Pop Night Out at MML featured two Korean girl groups which included SPICA.

K-Pop Night Out at MML featured two Korean girl groups which included SPICA.

Jeon Jeduk (L) with Park Juwon at the Fountain Stage.

Jeon Jeduk (L) with Park Juwon at the Fountain Stage.

Park Juwon.

Park Juwon.

Jeon Jeduk.

Jeon Jeduk.

The Fountain Stage.

The Fountain Stage.

Ace of Angels.

Ace of Angels.

Eastern Sidekick getting the crowd moving.

Eastern Sidekick getting the crowd moving.

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Oh Joo Hwan of Eastern Sidekick.

Oh Joo Hwan of Eastern Sidekick.

Guitarist from Eastern Sidekick.

Guitarist Go Han Gyul from Eastern Sidekick.

SPICA.

SPICA.

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Fans were out in full force.

Fans were out in full force.

M.I.B

M.I.B

M.I.B

M.I.B

M.I.B

M.I.B

Lena Park.

Lena Park.





The view from the other side …

13 08 2012

While some 26,000 in Singapore had gathered for the wonderful show that was this year’s National Day Parade on 9 August at The Float@Marina Bay, another 10,000 or so had turned The Promontory@Marina Bay across Marina Bay into a sea of red. The 10,000 were at the Promontory to participate in Young NTUC Celebrates! National Day 2012 – an event organised annually for the Labour Movement since 2007 to celebrate National Day. The event brought many families out together in a community celebration of National Day which allowed participants to watch the parade on giant LCD screens as well as watch up-close crowd favourites such as the Red Lions parachute team, the aerial fly-past as well as the always spectacular fireworks display that lit Marina Bay up at the end of the parade. The highlight of this year’s parade came at the end of the event when the Promontory was transformed into a sea of candlelight during a symbolic candle lighting activity, “A Celebration of Unity” held to signify the solidarity and mutual support of the Labour Movement and its role in the building of the nation.





The sun rises on independent Singapore’s 47th birthday

9 08 2012

Photographs of the spectacular break of day I was very fortunate to have witnessed on the morning of Singapore’s 47th birthday. The first photograph was taken at 6.41 am and the last at 7.15 am and were taken at a natural beach along Singapore’s northern coastline that I hope will be left as it is …





Paradise found in a paradise lost

7 08 2012

Very early on a Saturday morning, I found myself boarding a boat headed for Singapore’s offshore landfill at Pulau Semakau. Established in the sea space that once separated two of Singapore’s once inhabited southern islands, Pulau Sakeng (or Seking as it was also known as) and (the original) Pulau Semakau, and contained by a 7 kilometre bund, the landfill has seen the creation of an enlarged single island which has kept the name of the larger of the two islands, Pulau Semakau.

The enlarged Pulau Semakau has been created from a landfill between two existing islands the original Pulau Semakau (to the west) and the smaller Pulau Sakeng (to the east) that is contained by a 7 km perimeter bund.


(Memories of Pulau Seking (Sakeng) posted on youtube by a former resident)

The original Southern Islands of Singapore – Pulau Seking (Sakeng) can be seen south of Pulau Bukom. The larger island to the west of Pulau Seking was the original Pulau Semakau to which it is now attached .

What had motivated me to catch a taxi at 4.15 in the morning just to get on the boat wasn’t so much a fascination for what Singapore does with its waste, but a intertidal walk on, what may surprise some, an expansive tidal flat on what is left of a natural shoreline that has long been known to be rich in marine biodiversity – that despite the extensive disturbance of the natural environment caused by what has gone on around the island. The large tidal flat is one of the few that’s also left in a Singapore that has been robbed of much of its natural shorelines by the extensive land reclamation work that has been carried out both on its mainland and offshore and offers an experience that is well worth waking up at 3.45 am for.

Part of the natural shoreline of the original Pulau Semakau which has an expansive tidal flat still exists in the north-western corner of the enlarged island, home to an offshore landfill.

The journey to Pulau Semakau began with a boat ride at 5.15 am.

A very comfortable hour’s boat ride from Marina South Pier was all it took to get to the island. The ride in the darkness before daybreak offered none of the excitement that had accompanied my first journeys to the southern islands, but the ride was certainly by a very similar sense of anticipation. The point of landing on Pulau Semakau was the area which once had been Pulau Sakeng, the last to be vacated of the two islands in the early 1990s and cleared of its stilted wooden dwellings that extended out from its shoreline, bears no resemblance at all to an island that for its inhabitants would have seemed like a little piece of paradise compared to the all too crowded mainland they now find themselves in.

… which arrived at about 6.20 am at what once was Pulau Sakeng (now part of the enlarged Pulau Semakau).

What was meant to have been a half an hour’s walk to the north-west corner of the enlarged island and where what is left of the tidal flats which had once surrounded the original Pulau Semakau is still left relatively untouched, turned into one that took a little more than an hour with the distraction caused by the colours of the fast lightening sky behind us. From the wide roadway built on top of the northern bund we had walked along, we trudged through a small mosquito infested forested area to get to the tidal flats, which by the time we got there, lay exposed by the tide which had already ebbed, with a few bakau mangrove trees to greet us and perhaps remind us of the coastal vegetation which would have once encircled the island, and is thought to give the island its name.

The walk into the darkness towards the western end of Pulau Semakau.

The colours of the sunrise served to lengthen what would have been a half an hour’s walk along the bund.

The view towards Pulau Jong.

Tidal flats have for me always served as wonderful places for discovery and walks I am now able to take on such flats always bring to mind the wonderful excursions of the sea grass fields off Changi Beach of my childhood, during a time when the sandy seabed there was littered with an abundance of knobbly sea stars, sea cucumbers, and crabs darting across and burrowing into the sand. Those were times when armed with a butterfly net, we would fill a small plastic pail with harvest of edible marine snails (gong-gong), shrimps and flower crabs which we could put on a grill.

A forested area separates the natural shoreline at the western end from the paved road constructed on the bund.

The sun rises over the flat.

Evidence of a concrete jetty that was once used by the island’s inhabitants seen in the mangroves.

A lone mangrove on the tidal flat.

Mangrove regeneration … besides the naturally occurring regeneration of mangroves, mangroves have been replanted along the areas of the coastline disturbed by the work that has gone on.

A group of photographers walking across the tidal flat.

Another view of the tidal flat looking towards Pulau Bukom.

A field of sea grass.

The tide starting to flow in – a view towards the edge of the tidal flat.

A sense of the space on the flat.

Right at the beginning of the walk on the tidal flat, our guide, Ron, made a very interesting discovery – a red nudibranch (sea-slug) that he had not previously spotted on the flats in the many other occasions he has visited it. There was a lot more that the flat was to reveal over the very interesting two-hour walk including three varieties of sea cucumber, two other very pretty looking nudibranchs, moon snails, anemones, flat worms, a giant clam, knobbly sea stars and even a very shy octopus that dove for cover as soon as it was spotted – best seen through the photographs that follow …

A red nudibranch not seen on the flats before.

A very pretty nudibranch – the Gymnodoris rubropapulosa.

A third nudibranch – Jorunna funebris (Funeral Nudibranch).

A flat worm.

And one in its natural environment.

Close-up of a maze coral.

Knobbly sea stars.

A tube anemone.

Another anemone.

Sea cucumber.

Zoanthids.

Moon snail.

The intertidal walk that I participated in is one of several ways in which Pulau Semakau can be visited, and was one that was run by licensed tour guide Robert Heigermoser. Other ways in which the island can be visited are on activities organised by interest groups such as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, the Nature Society Singapore, The Astronomical Society of Singapore (TASOS), and the Sports Fishing Association (Singapore) that needs the blessing of the National Environment Agency (NEA). Guided tours and walks would often include a landfill tour. The tour which is interesting in that it introduces various aspects of the landfill including its history, as well as a bus tour around the landfill and the receiving station where waste incinerated at one of the three incinerators on the mainland is transferred from barges to tipper trucks which carry the waste to the landfill site. More information on Pulau Semakau, activities on Pulau Semakau and the landfill at the NEA website can be found at this link (Landfill Brochure) and also on this link link (Semakau Landfill).

One of the cells of the landfill that has been filled up.

The southernmost point of Singapore that the public has access to is at the end of a bund that contains a lagoon that will be used for phase 2 of the landfill when all the cells in phase 1 have been used.

The view from the bund southwest towards Pulau Pawai and Pulau Senang which is a live-firing area.

Part of the visit also included a drive through of the receiving station where incinerated waste from the mainland’s rubbish incinerators are transferred from barges onto tipper trucks.

The boat back and with the receiving station in the background.





Varying moods of a most beautiful place

2 08 2012

The varying moods of a place that in being left behind (at least for now) by the rest of Singapore, that in its imperfection holds a beauty we seem to have forgotten how to appreciate …





Finding pleasure in the world’s largest stack of thorns

31 07 2012

Living in Singapore, the opportunity to indulge in a session of durian gluttony does present itself every now and again, including one that recently came along. This latest session wasn’t however one that would count as a typical session, but one that did involve what was touted as the world’s largest stack of durians that was dubbed a ‘Durian Extravaganza’. The extravaganza was held at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Coliseum at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) last Friday evening and involved some 3,000 kilogrammes of the thorny fruit – the creamy yellow pulp covered seeds of which brings delight to many in South-East Asia, so much so that the fruit is worshiped as the ‘King of All Fruits’.

The Durian Extravaganza at the Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, saw the world’s largest stack of durians with some 3,000 kg of the thorny fruit being stacked up for a feast that attracted some 1,200 guests.

A closer look at the stack.

The Coliseum was transformed into a setting designed to take one back to the good old kampong days with dried leaves covering the floor and guests sitting on wooden stools set among thatched roofs – reminiscent perhaps of how many would have enjoyed the fruit in days gone by, days when perhaps due to the short season and relatively small supply, indulging on the fruit was always seen as a huge treat. These days, supply does seem a lot more abundant – with many plantations across the Causeway improving on their yields. The increased supply however hasn’t seen the Singaporean love affair with the fruit diminish in any way with the event at the Coliseum proving it with some 1,200 guests – many members of RWS Invites – a membership programme with RWS, going through the 3 tonnes of fruit over two sittings which took place over a four-hour period.

An old world in a new – the Durian Extravaganza took place in a setting design to bring back the good old kampong days …

Some 1200 Guests devoured 3000 kg of durians over a four-hour period.

While the focus of many of the guest were on the durians of which more than six varieties were on offer including the local favourite Mao Shan Wang, there was more than just durians with local seasonal fruits including duku langsat, longans, rambutans and the ‘Queen of All Fruits’ – the mangosteen to complement the durians at the sessions which no doubt left everyone, including some brave non-locals, with not only a full belly, but with a huge statisfied smile (if there was one) on their faces. More information on the Durian Extravaganza as well as some of the varieties of durian on offer can be found at the RWScoop website.

A Mao Shan Wang durian …

A D24.

Besides durians there were other seasonal local fruits on offer such as the Mangosteen – the ‘Queen of All Fruits’, rambutans, longans and jackfruit.

A very brave non-local having a go at the fruit – which must be said is an acquired taste.





A new morning, a new joy

24 07 2012

Another morning, another celebration … the sun rising over southern Johor at 7.17am this morning …





Gardens of enchantment

7 07 2012

Fresh from my visit to the ‘Enchanted Garden‘, I found myself visiting what has to be several gardens of enchantment – exquisite garden displays that I got a peek at during a media preview of the fourth edition of what had to be the top garden and flower show in Asia – the biennial Singapore Garden Festival (SGF). The event which opens today at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, will be held from 7 to 15 July 2012, bringing together some 39 designers from 19 countries who have produced some exquisite garden and flower designs and displays and is expected to draw some 300,000 visitors over the nine-day period.

Visitors to the 4th edition of the Singapore Garden Festival will get to have a feel of some exquisitely designed gardens of enchantment.

The draw of the exhibition must certainly be the experience on Level 6 where 37 masterpieces, the most since the Festival started in 2006 – 15 Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens and 15 Floral Windows to the World, and seven Balcony Garden displays are displayed, featuring both local and international garden designers – 80 percent of whom are making their debut appearance.

Some 37 masterpieces are on display on Level 6 including this show garden in the Landscape category – the work of Sarah Eberle of the UK entitled ‘Continental Drift’ which investigates natural habitats and varying landscapes around the world.

The elevator all dressed up in a garden theme – with artificial turf on its floor, was perhaps a sign of what was to come – stepping out it is the land of fairy tales that greets the visitor – the walkway leading to the exhibition has been dressed up with a fairytale castle themed entrance display with 5-metre tall topiary arches, animal-shaped topiaries, pixies and frog soldiers peeking out from colourful flowering plants and simulated castle walls decorated with climbing plants.

Even the elevator is dressed up for the event.

A fairy tale world welcomes the visitor on Level 6.

One of the winning Fantasy show gardens does in fact incorporate a fairy-tale theme – ‘Garden of Tales’ which is the creation of award-winning local designer Damian Tang which was not only a Gold Medal winner but was also named as the Best of Show for the Fantasy Category. It was one of two that I was drawn to – the other being ‘Luminescent Perspective’ by John Cullen … ones that will certainly leave the visitor enchanted. The ‘Garden of Tales’ inspired by children’s love of fairy tales, is one that through the clever use of frames into each of its five areas – scenes each with a fairy-tale to discover, draws one into it – well described in the fact sheet as “tempting us to peek into different realms of magic, mystery and wonder”. The garden features a one-thousand year old olive tree which was specially shipped in from Spain in a refrigerated shipping container – we were told that the roots of the tree were over two metres wide and the tree almost cold not fit into the container.

I was drawn into the ‘Garden of Tales’ through windows into each of the five scenes that depict scenes from popular fairy-tales.

A scene from Alice in Wonderland.

And one from Little Red Riding Hood.

The creator Damian Tang posing for a photograph.

John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’ is one that celebrates the ever-changing nature of gardens and features a lighting sequence that every two minutes will take visitors through the changes in light through the day – from dawn to dusk. The garden which picked up the Gold and People’s Choice Award also features a rotating carousel and was my personal favourite – being one that welcomes the visitor in – one in the word of the designer in which children can be children in.

John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’.

Another display which has lighting effects – as well as sound and movement, is New Zealand’s Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ ‘Ruaumoko’. The Fantasy Show Garden is named after the Maori god of earthquakes – Ruaumoko – the unborn son of Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother) whose movements in his mother’s womb is said in Maori mythology to be felt as earthquakes across the world. It features an earthquake like movement that lasts 40 seconds – the length of the large shock that hit the designers’ home city of Christchurch in February 2011. The garden picked up a Gold Medal for SGF.

An image of Ruaumoko at Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ fantasy themed garden.

An eye-catching display in the Floral Windows to the World Category is the ‘Floral Kaleidoscope’ designed by Harijanto Setiawan which picked up a Gold Medal as well as being named the Best of Show for the category. I loved kaleidoscopes as a child and seeing the display has certainly rekindled my fascination for kaleidoscopes. The display is a celebration of life and the never end change in nature.

The kaleidoscope (in the window below) makes use of a reflection of an illuminated floral display on the ceiling.

A look into the kaleidoscope.

A new and interesting category at this year’s festival is the Balcony Gardens competition. This will feature displays that are very appropriate for us in Singapore – displays that creatively make use of 3 metre by 3 metre spaces. Out of seven entries, there were two Gold Medal winners – Toh Lee Hua and Veera Sekaran. Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ – the Best of Show winner, takes city-dwellers’ busy lifestyles and creates a green space in an urban environment that requires minimum upkeep.

Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ uses neat displays of terrariums which require little maintenance.

Veera Sekaran’s ‘Living Green Balcony’.

On the evidence of what I had a quick glance at, there is a lot more visual treats that’s there to discover and I would, if I could, have spent the entire day walking around the displays on level 6 (there is more to see on level 4 which I have not yet seen) and I would certainly be back for more over the next nine days. Tickets for the show are available at the ticketing kiosks located at level 3 of the Suntec Convention Centre during the show period. Ticket Prices are S$10 (Weekdays – Monday to Friday) and S$14 (Weekends – Saturday and Sunday) for adults and S$5 / S$8 for children, students and senior citizens (children under 0.9 metres in height go in free). Family Tickets (2 Adults and 3 Children) are also available at S$20 (weekdays) and S$38 (weekends).

Gold Medal winner Andrew Seccull’s ‘Mazu’s Garden’ is set on a platform that represents a floating house – with many elements that relate to the sea – a garden for the protector of fisherman in Chinese belief, Mazu, to meditate.

The are a lot more visual treats to discover beyond the winning entries.

Visitors to the show can also participate in the SGF “Colours” photography competition which offers great prizes that include a Sony Nex-F3 camera. Participants can take a photo they feel best depicts the theme “Colours” and submit it through Singapore Garden Festival’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/sggardenfest. The public can then vote for their favourite photo on the Facebook page’s contest tab. A range of prizes are up for grabs for both participants and voters. The Festival is organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and its key partners, the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia (OSSEA), Singapore Gardening Society and Singapore Tourism Board (STB). For more information, please visit the Singapore Garden Festival website or Facebook page.


All photographs accompanying this post have been taken using a Sony α57 (SLT-A57) DSLR camera.






A one hundred year old beauty

26 06 2012

Of the places that remain of a childhood in a Singapore that I will never be able to see again, there is one which carries not just the memories of yesterday, but also the memory of an emotion that has almost been forgotten. The place, a church – St. Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street, which is housed in a building which on the 30th of June will celebrate its centenary, is one that takes me back to years which hold my earliest memories. It was a place where I had spent many Sunday mornings at mass after which I could look forward to sitting by tables and chairs laid by St. Anthony’s Boys’ School in the church’s compound where I could enjoy a bowl fishball noodles from the enterprising school canteen vendor who opened just to serve churchgoers on Sunday. It was also a place to which my grandmother would take me to every Good Friday, when arriving early to get a seat inside the church for its very popular Good Friday service, I would spend hours seated next to my grandmother as she sat in quiet contemplation.

St. Joseph’s Church, Victoria Street.

The church was known then to me as the ‘Portuguese Church’, a name which pointed to its origins in the Portuguese Mission in Singapore and its administration by Dioceses in the Portuguese colony of Goa and later in the Portuguese colony of Macau. The mission’s presence had dated back to the early 1820s – not long after Raffles founded modern Singapore, and predated the French Mission under which the Catholic churches in Singapore were later to come under. The Portuguese presence was to continue through the church which came under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Macau until 1981 and after through priests appointed to the church until 1999 by the Bishop of Macau. This long association with the Portuguese Mission has not only provided us with the beautiful building that houses the church, but also with a little bit of Portugal that manifests itself in the Iberian flavour of the church’s interior as well as traditions and practices that are unique to St. Joseph’s Church which even to this day is still very much in evidence.

The portico of the church with the marble statues of St. Joseph in the centre, flanked by St. John de Brito and St. John of God.

The rectory of the church seen through one of the arches at the entrance portico of the church.

The current church building was blessed by the Bishop of Macau, Dom João Paulino Azevedo e Castro on the 30th of June 1912. The grand ceremony had commenced at 7 am with a procession during which various points around the exterior of the church were blessed before the congregation was admitted into the new church building’s interior in which as newspaper reports would have it “nearly every available space” was occupied.

The interior of St. Joseph’s Church dressed up in red for Easter this year. Newspaper reports mention that ‘nearly every available space’ in the church was occupied for its opening solemnities.

Darkness and light – the beautiful illuminated interior of the church.

The congregation that morning would have been the first to marvel at the splendour that was the new church building’s interior, one that even with the worn appearance that it now wears, is still very much a sight to behold. It is this interior, and its 14th Century style Gothic design that for me makes the church the most beautiful in Singapore. The interior is one that at time of the day is illuminated by a soft and beautiful pale green light that streams through the generous panels of stained glass it is provided with that casts both light and shadow on the many niches that line the walls of the church. The niches are ones which contain statues of Saints – statues which in the Catholic tradition are not as is popularly believed, idols, but reminders of ordinary people who have achieved the pinnacle of holiness. It is a statue of one of the Saints high up on the south wall in the middle of the church’s nave that in my childhood I had a fascination with – that of St. Sebastian depicted as he popularly is, bloodied and tied to a tree.

The church is naturally illuminated by the soft green light that streams through the generously provided stained glass windows.

Windows on the south wall of the nave. The upper windows catch the light beautifully. The upper walls of the nave are lined with niches in which the statues of Saints are placed.

The statue of St. Sebastian on the south wall of the nave.

The church is laid out as was the tradition on a plan in the shape of a cross – a Latin cross in this instance. The nave which ends with the apse in the shape of five sides of an incomplete hexagon in the west which houses the Chancel and the main entrance to the east, is crossed by a transept. The high ceiling allows the provision of the many stained glass windows along the upper levels of the nave and the transept and those that attended the blessing ceremony would have seen this but not the stained glass that has to be seen as the church’s crowning glory – the beautiful panels in the Chancel which although now in a state of disrepair, can still be appreciated as one of the more elaborate works of such kind found in Singapore. The panels were the work of Belgian artisans from Jules Dobbelaere’s studio in Bruges. The church’s stained glass which are now in an obvious state of disrepair will be part of a restoration effort that will commence soon after the church celebrates the building’s 100th Anniversary. The work which will take two years of painstaking effort to complete will be carried out by a Singaporean stained glass artist, Bee Liang, who has extensive experience in the work from her stints in Canada and training in Germany.

The exterior of the south transept – even the exterior of the building catches the light beautifully at certain times of the day.

Closer inspection of a stained soft green glass window on the south transept, illuminated partially by another window across on the rear wall of the transept.

Stained glass panels in the Chancel – work of Belgian artisans from Jules Dobbelaere’s studio in Bruges.

Looking towards the east end of the nave – the gallery can be seen on the upper level.

Another view of the east end of the nave.

The central panels depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus flanked by Our Lady and St. Joseph.

A stained glass panel depicting St. John Berchmans.

A panel depicting St. Francis Xavier.

A panel depicting St. Agnes.

Five panel stained glass window at the end of the south transept.

Morning light streaming into the north transept.

Besides the beautiful stained glass – the very elaborate high altar of white and coloured marble dedicated to St. Joseph is another that is worth taking a notice of. The church also features some excellent carved teak wood pieces – one which runs along the transept is a 40 metre long altar rail along which the faithful would once have knelt to receive Holy Communion. The carved piece that will certainly be noticed is the ornamented teak pulpit with its canopy, one that I never failed to notice every time I visited the church.

The stained glass of the Chancel and the high altar dedicated to St. Joseph.

The ornamented craved teak pulpit and canopy.

The church which once shared its compound with two schools – St. Anthony’s Boys’ School and St. Anthony’s Convent, is the last of the three to remain and having been gazetted as a National Monument in 2005, will be one that will certainly be there for a much more than the 100 years it has stood, for which a mass will be held at 10.30 am on 30th June 2012. Besides the work on the stained glass, there is much more repair work that needs to be done – the ravages not just of time, but also of nearby construction activity are clearly evident which will require funds to be raised. It will not just be the magnificent building and all that it holds that will with its restoration and conservation be retained, but also of a tradition that its has been proud to maintain that dates back to the early days of Singapore.

More views around the church in the morning light

Seeing the light.

Darkness and light.

Statue of St. Anthony of Padua.

The nave windows of the church.

Floor tiles in the church.

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A new world in an old: A peek inside a Geylang conservation house

23 06 2012

I was able to add on to my recent discovery of the streets of sin and salvation by taking a peek into a conservation Late style shophouse that dates back to the 1920s. The shophouse is one along a row of eight delightful shophouses along Lorong 24A that is part of an collective effort by seven architects known as the Lorong 24A Shophouse Series. The project’s aim was to turn each unit into an architect’s mini-showpiece which takes advantage of the features of the buildings and in the case of the unit I was able to visit, no. 21, something that has to be one that one has to see.

I was able to take a peek into a Late style conservation house along Lorong 24A that has been beautifully transformed internally.

Stepping through the foyer at the entrance area and up a short flight of stairs, I found myself transported into a world that seems far removed from the one that I had only just left behind. The lap pool is sure to catch the eye as well as the gorgeous soft light that filters through the frosted glass panels at the front. At the back of the very long unit, clear glass panels allow light into the wet kitchen area as well as up on a beautiful mezzanine area which would serve as a dining area. Also opened is the second level on which one finds a living area and at the front – a room that would serve as a master bedroom which is naturally lit through the original set of front windows at the level. The shophouse is currently opened to the public for an exhibition of second year architecture students’ projects which is on until Monday 25th June 2012. More information on the unit can be found at the Lorong 24A Shophouse Series’ website.

The ground level with the lap pool.

A top view of the lap pool with the reflection of a skylight on the pool’s surface.

The dining area (on the mezzanine).

The lower level and the living area on the second floor as seen from the mezzanine.

What would be the master bedroom at the front end of the second level.

A second level front window.

A juxtaposition of the present on the past … on and through the master bedroom’s window.





On borrowed time: Mun San Fook Tuck Chee

19 06 2012

The Geylang area as many know is one that is associated with the seedier side of life, great food as well as the many houses of worship it plays host to. It is unfortunate that the seedier aspects does dominate the impressions we have collectively formed of the area. Geylang does, despite its appearance, have a lot more to offer than that, being rich not just in its architectural heritage, but also where some aspects of its history (as well as that of Singapore’s) have been preserved. Strategically located in the area where the Kallang and Geylang rivers meet, a large part of Geylang’s more recent history lies in the industrial development that took place around the Kallang Basin which also drew many from afar to seek their fortune to the area.

The stories of these migrants and that of the area’s industrialisation are now all but lost and it is in the old buildings and in the houses of worship that these forgotten stories are to be discovered. One of the houses of worship that has a story to tell is a Taoist temple, Mun San Fook Tuck Chee (萬山福德祠), that now lies somewhat isolated in a quiet corner off the Geylang we now see – a story that all too soon may be totally forgotten. The temple is one that now sits on a site that it occupied since 1901 as a guest, a guest that may soon overstay its welcome. The site – an obscure corner of what used to be Geylang Lorong 17, now Sims Drive, is on land that the HDB now owns, land that will be possibly be redeveloped with the cluster of public flats next to it that find themselves the victims of the relentless pace of redevelopment in Singapore.

Mun Sun Fook Tuck Chee sits in a quiet corner at the end of what was Geylang Lorong 17 (the part that is now Sims Drive).

A portal to a forgotten past.

My introduction to the temple and its origins was via a guided tour of it that one of our local experts on temples in Singapore, Yik Han, was kind enough to give at the end of a short walk of discovery I did with some friends through Geylang’s streets of sin and salvation. The temple’s history, I was to learn, goes back beyond 1901, to the second half of the 19th Century (the 1860s). It owes its establishment to the Cantonese and Hakka coolie population that had found work in the brick kilns that thrived by the banks of the Kallang River due to the availability of clay that was of a quality suitable for brick making. The temple is closely associated with a village on the banks that was referred to as Sar Kong (沙崗) or ‘Sand Ridge’ and had moved a few times before finding itself in its current site.

Yik Han giving an introduction to the temple’s history.

A member of the temple’s committee speaking of the temple’s origins …

… some of which is captured on a tablet.

In the temple’s name, one can perhaps find a reference to its origins. The name ‘Mun Sun’ is thought to be transliteration of the malay word bangsal, the Malay word for ‘shed’ or ‘workshop’ – a reference to its industrial origins. The temple which is dedicated to the Taoist deity Tua Pek Kong (大伯公) does, besides its interesting history, contain several interesting articles that await discovery. One is a carved altar table that bears the markings of the craftsmen who made it. On closer inspection of one of its legs, there are the marks left by the craftsmen which include the Chinese characters ‘牛車水’ – ‘Ox-Cart Water’ or the Chinese name for what we call Chinatown today. What this points to is that the craft was carried out not as one might have expected in China – where there was a tendency to commission such work, but locally.

The main altar to Tua Pek Kong. The carved wooden altar table in the foreground is one that was crafted off the streets of ‘Ox-Cart Water’, 牛车水 or 牛車水 in the traditional script. A carved inscription on one of the legs bears evidence of this.

Close-up of characters carved on the table. The Chinese characters ‘牛車水’- ‘Ox-Cart Water’ or ‘Kreta Ayer’ or the Chinese name for Chinatown in Singapore, indicate that there were furniture craftsmen present in Singapore’s Chinatown who made the table at a time when a lot of such work would have been commissioned in China.

The temple plays host to several other deities including the Golden Flower Lady (金花夫人). That she is the patroness of child-bearing won’t escape notice with the 12 nannies tending to young children that accompany her on the altar. One deity whose name escaped meat the side of the temple takes a curious form – that of a mannequin that is used to represent it.

The patroness of child-bearing, the Golden Flower Lady (金花夫人) with some of the 12 nannies who flank her on the altar.

A close-up of one of the 12 nannies.

Te deity which has a mannequin representing him.

The temple’s building also holds a clue to its origins. In the course of his introduction, Yik Han pointed out a little known fact – that the building is one of the rare examples of Cantonese style temple architecture in Singapore. It is also interesting to note that the temple had also at some point, housed a school, as well as a sports club, the sports club being started to provide a channel for alternative pursuits other than addiction to opium.

The temple’s building is one of the rare examples of Cantonese temple architecture.

The part of the temple where the school operated, now houses the lion dance troupe that probably is the temple’s claim to fame. It is the troupe that performs the fire dragon dance which uses a dragon that is made out of padi straw and lit up with incense sticks. A fire dragon from the temple featured in this year’s Chingay parade. The dragon that was used lies quietly in a room on the right side of the temple.

A ‘fire’ dragon made from padi straw that was used in Chingay 2012. The temple is known for the Fire Dragon dance.

Despite the temple’s significant links with the history of immigration into and the industrial development of the area, the future of the temple on its current site is one that is uncertain. The blocks of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats that have cast a shadow on it for over three decades have been vacated – part of a on-going programme to renew some of the older public housing neighbourhoods known as the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) that will see them demolished and replaced by newer apartment blocks. This may mean that the temple at its current site may soon see its final days and with that … one of the last reminders of the area’s early industrial history will be one that like the area’s past that it represents, be forever lost.

Coils of incense on the ceiling.

Blessings that will be attached to the incense coils.


See also: 19th-century temple at risk of demolition (Sunday Times 26 January 2014).






A landmark soon to vanish

16 06 2012

Long abandoned by an old world that it had once been a part of, the Shell service station at the end of Mandai Road had for many years now looked out of place in the emptiness of its surroundings. It would have once held a strategic position, being placed right at the end of one of the main routes that took vehicular traffic from the east over the top of the catchment reserve to Woodlands Road which connected with the West of the island, as well as to the North where the Causeway brought traffic across to Malaysia.

The end is here for a service station which has been a landmark at the end of Mandai Road at its junction with Woodlands Road for as long as I know.

The station has for me, also long been a marker. It marked not just the point where the then narrow and rural Mandai Road joined the long and equally narrow Woodlands Road, but also when the zoo came to Mandai, as the point where we would see signs showing the way to the zoo. I had on many occasions passed by the station – on the long journeys to and from the Causeway of my childhood and also later when it was along the route of bus service number 171 which I would take from camp while doing my National Service to Sembawang Road where I could connect with a 169 that took me to my home in Ang Mo Kio. The station had then and for long, worn the look of one of the old world it was a part of. Even with the more recent makeovers, it did, when it was still operating, seem set in that old world – the washroom was an ‘outhouse’ – in every sense of the word.

The outhouse see from behind a fence.

It has been a while since I’ve driven by an area that one doesn’t really need to drive through anymore with the new expressways that has taken traffic from both Woodlands and Mandai Roads. I did earlier today and saw what for long I had suspected would happen – the station, already abandoned, was being hoarded up for demolition. Having already driven past it, I decided to turn back to bid an old acquaintance farewell. As I took a final look at what had for so long been a familiar face, it is with sadness that I realise that the last marker of a world that has been all but forgotten will soon itself be erased.

The hoardings coming up around the landmark.

A soon to vanish sight.

Another soon to vanish sight.

Maybe the last remnant of an old world – a shed that seems to be beyond the area enclosed by the hoardings that have come up.


Update:

Good news! It seems that the station will be with us for some time to come … thanks to a reader, Mr Francis Ang, an update on what is happening at the station and also a few photographs (one of which I have posted below) have been provided which show that the station is apparently being upgraded. While it will perhaps lose some of that old world appeal it has had – it will still be right there where it seems to always have been!

The station as seen on 18 June 2012 (photo courtesy of Mr Francis Ang).






The Tunnel

15 06 2012

In a part of Singapore where the remnants of an old world finds itself cloaked in the garments of the new, lies a relic that even in the new garment that it wears, is one in which I am often reminded of halcyon days that accompanied what is now a lost childhood. The relic, a now underused and largely ignored pedestrian underpass, is one that I am well acquainted with from those days, days when family outings often involved visits to the sea shore to enjoy the cool of the evening breeze. The Esplanade or Queen Elizabeth Walk, as Esplanade Park was more commonly referred to then, was a popular choice with my parents. Its stone benches provided a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the breeze, as well as a vantage from where we could watch the dance of lights, flickering lights of the ships in the harbour that coloured the darkness for as far as the eye could see.

The pedestrian underpass under Connaught Drive today – corrugated metal sheathing once lined its walls.

I had always looked forward to visiting the Esplanade. It wasn’t just for the sights it offered and the cool evening breeze, but also where there was chendol (a sinful dessert made with shaved iced, coconut milk, bits of green jelly shaped like worms and sweetened with palm sugar) to die for which came from a semi-circular food centre located close to where the Stamford Canal spilled into the sea. There were also the itinerant vendors to look forward to – the kacang putih seller with a table load of nut filled canisters balanced on his head and the balloon vendor who held up a colourful bunch of balloons that in the days when helium filled balloons were rare, were air-filled and held up by a long tubular balloon. It was however not the chendol or the vendors that would most interest me, but the underpass under Connaught Drive which my sister and I would refer to as ‘the tunnel’, a passage through which was always necessary to take us from Empress Place where my father would leave his car to the Esplanade. I would never fail to take the opportunity to stamp my feet as I passed through it, not in a show of temper, but to hear the echoes of the sound it made that bounced off the corrugated metal sheathing that had then lined the walls of the tunnel.

Singapore’s first overhead bridge in Collyer Quay, opened a month and a half after the underpass at Connaught Drive (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The tunnel, I have discovered, was completed in the days when Singapore was a part of its now northern neighbours. It was built to ease the flow of traffic which in stopping to allow pedestrians to cross, was reported to have backed-up all the way to the Merdeka Bridge. Those were days when Connaught Drive served as a main thoroughfare that took traffic (reportedly some 4,200 vehicles and hour at its peak) from Nicoll Highway into the commercial heart of the city. Built at a cost of some $85,000, the 28 metre tunnel which is about the width of a road-lane at 2.4 metres, was opened on 23rd February 1964 – just before Singapore’s first overhead bridge at Collyer Quay was completed in April 1964. This makes the underpass a historic one, being the first non-conventional (non-surface) pedestrian crossing built in Singapore. That fact is today is largely forgotten, as is the underpass. The recent developments in the area involving roads, public transport, and use of buildings in Empress Place, has seen pedestrian traffic in the area falling off, as well as vehicular traffic on Connaught Drive and the underpass in the context of all that does seem rather irrelevant. What greets me today, is a tunnel that stripped of its corrugated lining, vendors and beggars, contains not the echoes of today’s footsteps, but the silence of one that is forgotten.





Streets of sin and salvation

13 06 2012

Passing through the Geylang area of Singapore, it is probably hard to imagine it as anything other than a destination to indulge in two of the seven deadly sins. The two ‘sins’, gluttony and lust, is a reputation that the district has acquired – gluttony in that it is a destination to search for some of the best food in Singapore; and lust that can be satisfied in the glow of the red lights of some of its lorongs (streets). It is perhaps not the ‘sins’ that meets the eye down Geylang Road but the rows of shophouses that line the busy thoroughfare. Although there are many that have been spruced up of late, it is the tired look that many wear that you would first notice.

A green light at a traffic junction in Geylang. There is more to Geylang than the red lights that is has acquired a reputation for.

Much of Geylang wears a worn and tired look.

The tired veneer hides a world that awaits discovery such as this five-foot-way of a Late style unit along Lorong Bachok.

The area does seem to be well policed and is a relatively safe area to explore. However, it’s best (especially for ladies) to avoid walking alone.

It is easy to forget where you are in Geylang, there streets bear no resemblance to the futuristic looking city centre just a few kilometres to the west, having a look and feel of perhaps the main street of one of the larger towns across the causeway. A large proportion of the area’s architecture, is made up of buildings that date back to the turn of the last century, seemingly at odds with the futuristic looking city centre that lies at the end of the main street that has all but discarded the same buildings that dominate Geylang’s landscape. Within the landscape, it is the less familiar accents that seem to be heard – the area draws many who have come to seek their fortune – a reprise of a role that it once, interestingly enough, played, a role that perhaps gave the area some of the attractions we are about to discover.

The streets bear very little resemblance to the ones of the futuristic city just a few kilometres to the west.

Migrant workers from China line the sidewalks to await transport to their work sites – Geylang with its cheap lodgings attracts many migrant workers – a reprise of a role it played in the pre-war years for those coming from China seeking a fortune.

It is in peeling the tired and worn veneer that Geylang wears, and looking beyond the reputation it has acquired, that you will find that Geylang does have a lot more to offer. It is a district that is rich in history, having traced its origins to the resettlement of the sea gypsies that once lived around much of our shoreline – the Orang Laut from their homes in and around the swamps that dominated much of the Kallang Basin. Over time, as the city to the west expanded outwards, being close to the banks of two large rivers, it naturally drew many industries to the area, and with them, the immigrant population needed to keep the factories running as well as businesses that supported both the industries and the growing population. One thing that is also very apparent in and around the area is the ample sprinkling of places to perhaps seek salvation in – mosques, temples and churches, nestled in between Geylang’s buildings, that were established to support the spiritual needs of Geylang’s booming population and have survived till today.

Geylang has historically attracted many factories to the area, being close to the banks of the Geylang and Kallang Rivers and as a result many spiritual and commercial enterprises – many of which survive until today.

Besides having a reputation for its streets of sin, Geylang’s streets are also streets of salvation in the form of the many houses of worship that were established to meet the spiritual needs of the area’s diverse population.

One of many temples along Geylang Road.

Several mosques can be found in the area. The photo shows Masjid Khadijah along Geylang Road built in the early 1900s.

A more recent introduction – a temple housed in a conservation double storey Late style shophouse in Lorong 25.

Geylang’s history is well represented in its architecture, a lot of which, fortunately for our future generations, has received conservation status. The area is rich particularly in shophouses built from the early 1900s to just before the war – many are in the Late style that dominated in first four decades of the 1900s and also in the Late Transitional style of the late 1930s. There is also many delightful buildings that feature elements of the Art Deco style that was popular in buildings in Singapore just before and after the war. Many are hidden away in Geylang’s lorongs along with some other charming discoveries that can only be found in walking the many streets – which with a small group in tow I attempted to do over the weekend.

A row of Art Deco style shophouses built in 1939 between Lorong 30 and Lorong 28. The architectural landscape of Geylang is representative of its history of settlement and development which took-off at the turn of the century up to the pre-war years.

Late Transitional style shophouses along Geylang Road.

The back alleys around the Lorongs can be quite colourful – in more ways than one.

The spiral staircase is common architectural feature found at the back of many of the shophouses.

A discovery that awaits in one of the many lorongs of Geylang – colourful tiles behind the barbed wire of a fence.

One street that I take particular delight in is Lorong 24A. Here, two rows of beautifully conserved and brightly (but tastefully) decorated Late style terrace shophouses stand across from each other and is a must-see if one is in the area. The cluster of lorongs around Lorong 24A (and even the main road) is blessed with some other gems as well. Running parallel to Lorong 24A, Lorong 26 has a few. One is a two storey bungalow that sits at the junction of Geylang Road and Lorong 26 – used by the Meng Yew Hotel. Further in, there is also a two storey bungalow at No. 5 for which conservation takes the form of it being incorporated as part of a condominium development that is fast changing the architectural landscape of Geylang’s lorongs. Also on Lorong 26, there is a temple to be discovered – one that is in a setting that harks back to a time when much of the area around would have been in a similar setting – a time we have chosen to forget.

Lorong 24A contains two delightful rows of very well conserved and brightly decorated Late style houses.

Another two storey Late style house along Lorong 24A.

Close-up of a Late style house in Lorong 24A.

Meng Yew Hotel at the junction of Lorong 26 with Geylang Road.

A private home temple at No. 14 Lorong 26 takes us back to a forgotten time.

A view of the temple building housed in a single storey bungalow of a type that was found all over the area in a setting that harks back to the good old kampong days.

The side of the temple’s building that is raised on stilts – a measure made necessary by frequent flooding.

A two storey bungalow at Lorong 26 which is being conserved within a larger condominium development that it will be a part of.

In the same area on Geylang Road, there are some noteworthy buildings. One is the conservation of Late style shophouses at Lorong 28 / Geylang Road as part of a residential / commercial development ‘The Sunflower’. Another is a pink building that bears not just the history of the building on its face, but also points to a time when the many small players in the soft drink manufacturing were able to compete alongside the big boys for a share of the market. The words on the Art Deco building tell that it was once the home of the Eastern Aerated Water Company, which had moved its factory here in 1951 from its former premises in Middle Road. The shift of the factory here represented a milestone for the company which produced ‘Ship Brand’ carbonated drinks with the introduction of automated production. The company stopped production in the 1980s. Across the road at Lorong 25, there are a few temples and a church. However, it will again probably be the row of beautiful Late style houses that will catch the eye.

The Sunflower at the junction of Geylang Road and Lorong 28.

The Art Deco style former premises of Eastern Aerated Water Company close to the junction of Geylang Road with Aljunied Road.

A row of conservation Late style houses along Lorong 25.

Crossing Aljunied Road, the very obvious sale of items that are linked to the area’s seedy side reminds us of where we are. We quickly walk past and over to what were the premises of Geylang English School and Geylang West School – now put to commercial use. We had taken the route to bring us towards Lorong 17, where we were to meet up with someone who was going to introduce us to a spiritual gem – a temple that is a physical marker of the area’s industrial past and one that lives on borrowed time. That I will come to in another post. There was still time to walk along Lorong Bachok where at the corner of the street and Lorong 19, there is a very fancifully decorated set of two storey Late style shophouses from 1929 that are rather interesting.

The former Geylang English School and Geylang West School premises.

A gaily decorated Late style house along Lorong Bachok.

This brought a thoroughly enjoyable two-hour walk of discovery to its end. We stopped by a kopi-tiam (coffeeshop) to grab a much needed drink and for some rest before we embarked on the next part of the journey of discovery … The walk provided a glimpse of what the often misunderstood lorongs of Geylang has to offer. There are many more streets that will take more than a few walks to discover and that will certainly ones that I will look forward to.

Decoration on the pillar at the corner unit at Lorong Bachok / Lorong 19.

Decoration on the complementing pillar.


Online Resources on Geylang:





Mapping memories of the Bras Basah area

8 06 2012

The streets around the Bras Basah Road area are ones that I am familiar with through my four years of interactions with them as a secondary schoolboy and also from going to church in the area in my early years. A lot has changed since those days – the school I went to and the many others in the area have all moved out along with the many businesses and household that were displaced when the wave of redevelopment swept through the area in the 1980s. Today, the world that I find is one that, without the buzz that all that has been displaced over the three decades since I left school, is silent and without colour.

The streets around the former SJI are ones that although is not devoid of life, now seem silent and without colour.

Silent, colourless and changed as the streets may seem, there is still the many memories of them embedded in the many places around the area – memories that I have attempted to capture through entries in this blog, as well as through photographs as a trigger of memory On a Little Street in Singapore – a little Facebook group that I started with the aim of sharing memories of a Singapore we have all left behind. On a Little Street in Singapore has proven not just to be a place to share memories, but has also turned out to be a repository of the memories of many, separated by circumstances, by time and by unfamiliarity, are connected by their interactions with the same places.

One that has resisted the wave of redevelopment – St. Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street, helps to connect the present with the past.

I have been scratching my head on a way in which the captured can be connected – not just those on this blog, but also those on the Facebook Group – which isn’t as easy to navigate through as I would have liked it to be. It wasn’t until I decided to help a friend on a project to record memories of the Bras Basah precinct that I thought of doing what now seems obvious – place them on a map. With an available online tool such as Google Maps, that not only makes putting placemarks to mark the location of a memory possible, it is also possible to connect the places with captured memories through links to photographs, blog entries and even discussions on the Facebook Group. This I have done for the Bras Basah area – and maybe a little beyond it and with that (the navigable map can be found embedded below), it becomes not just a tool to capture and navigate through the memories of the area, but also to aid in the appreciation of the area’s recent and otherwise forgotten history and to discover little bits of the past that lies beneath the glass and steel edifices that now dominate the area.





Fading memories

5 06 2012

A year ago, Singapore was seeing the last days of the old Malayan Railway. The railway had served Singapore over a century, cutting a path through the island first with a line partly running on what is Dunearn Road today over to Tank Road. With the deviation of 1932, the line was set on its last path, turning at Bukit Timah to the docks at Tanjong Pagar. The line fell silent on the 1st of July and with that, all that was left were the physical reminders of the old railway and the collective memories we have of it.

The silence of the morning after a little over 79 years of operations at Bukit Timah Railway Station.

One year on, many of the physical reminders are no longer with us – most of the tracks and sleepers have since been removed and returned to Malaysia. The two station buildings have received conservation status – Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as National Monument and Bukit Timah Railway Station a conserved building. We do know that three other recognisable structures – the two truss bridges that define the Bukit Timah area and a girder bridge that many see as a gateway to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, will remain. There are several other smaller structures that we do see including the surviving signal huts at the various level crossings (the bright yellow one at Kranji Road fell victim to urgent road widening works soon after the 1st of July). It is unfortunate that several structures that still stand, were ones that have not been very well maintained when they were in use. As a result, most of the wooden structures are termite infested and are in rather poor shape. It does look as if, based on the signs that have been placed around the structures, that they may go the way of (if they haven’t already) the other physical reminders that since been removed.

The signal hut at the former Kranji Level Crossing was one of the first to go.

One which sees a “building unsafe” sign is the former Mandai (Stagmont Ring Road) Crossing’s signal hut. This would really be a shame – the hut bears an impromptu memorial on its door neatly scribbled in permanent market pen. Written on the door are the names of the last gatemen, presumably by one of them: Mr P Mohan A/L Ponniah, Mr Hamid B. Hashim and Rodwwan B. Mohd. Salleh. Below the names is a record of the passing of the last train at 2330 hours on the 30th of June noting that the train was driven by the Sultan of Johor as well as the years of the crossing’s operation (1932 – 2011).

The former signal hut of the Mandai Gate Crossing that is structurally unsound.

The memorial to the last gatemen and the last train.

With the removal of this signal hut, little will be left to physically remind me of this level crossing – just those few photographs, and the records and the memories that I have. And of all that I will miss of the old railway, it is the sight of the level crossings that I will most miss – seeing a train cross the road does serve as the earliest memory I have of the railway. As memories fade with the passing of time, it is this memory of the railway that I hope that I will hang on the longest to.

With the tracks and sleepers now removed, there is very little physically left to remind us of the railway.

The outhouse at the Mandai Crossing will also have to go.





Why, oh why, do men have nipples?

4 06 2012

Why, oh why, do men have nipples? That was a question that was being thrown to the crowd at Esplanade Park on Saturday evening. Pondering over this were five men who looked nothing like the beach boys they claimed to be – not that anyone in the crowd cared about this or about the perennial question that was left unanswered.

Joseph Wong pondering over why men have nipples.

The five – Budak Pantai, or “Beach Boys” translated from Malay, really needs no introduction – having been on the scene for some 18 years. And while much of what Budak Pantai does on stage isn’t taken too seriously, the group possesses the talent of any accomplished a cappella group. It was in a cappella that the group excels in – although of late a guitar accompanies most of what they do on stage. The guitar as is explained officially is an addition as the guitarist, Danny Lai, “did not know what to do with his hands on stage”.

A guitar was introduced to the a cappella group because the would be guitarist, Danny Lai, ‘did not know what to do with his hands on stage’.

The group’s repertoire is a great testament to the singing prowess of the group – they take on a range of familiar favourites that range from Il Divo’s Unbreak My Heart to popular Hokkien tunes – all done of course with a twist. The songs – or parodies of them (if I may call them that) are peppered with lyrics that never fail to draw a chuckle – some with local references as well in local languages or dialects. One, Plain White T’s Hey There Delilah even comes with an East London accent courtesy of Michael Loh – who more often than not doubles up as the group’s spokesperson.

Michael Loh (a projection on shipping containers which formed the back of the stage).

It was with Mike that I had a very brief chat with after a performance in November last year at the Republic Polytechnic. That was probably something I should really have prepared a blog post on – but as I was in between trips and rather short of time, and since a friend had already put up an excellent blog post on that performance, I never really got down to doing it.

The group on stage.

The group traces its origins to Rollin’ Good Times – a television talent contest in the 1990s that sought the best imitations of popular artistes (those with more than a few grey hairs like me might remember it). That also provides a clue as to the origins of the name Budak Pantai – the group aspired to be a local version of the Beach Boys, winning a Beach Boys sound-alike segment of the television contest in 1994.

Ho Kah Keh who hits the low notes.

Gordon Ng who hits the hard to reach notes and entertains with his facial expressions as much as with his voice and sound effects.

When not pondering over a redundant part of the male anatomy, the group’s members masquerade paper-pushers – there even is a banker and a lawyer among the five. I did wonder how, with full-time jobs, the five managed to stay together all these years – I was given to understand the blame for that rested with the plates of chicken rice that brings them together and over which their creative juices flow.

Another projection of Michael Loh …

Another of guitarist Danny Lai.

Talented and creative they no doubt are. What, however, does set them apart must be the sense of humour, which provides a very unique blend of humour and guitar accompanied a cappella that never fails to entertain. Entertain they did – at times to rapturous laughter, a performance at the end of which had the crowd who were most comfortably sprawled on the lawn below the stage on mats laid out for the purpose, baying for an encore. The five were pleased to oblige, observing that as the festival village’s closing act – they had the time to do so. That brought the curtains down on the wonderful array of live performances in the festival village which over the two weeks had drawn many singing and swaying members of the public to the festival village. The attempt to bring the festival to the public must certainly be seen as one that has been extremely successful and if this is what will be seen at the next edition of the Singapore Arts Festival, it would be one that we will certainly want look forward to.

Time to say goodbye …

The crowd that had gathered were enthralled throughout the hour long performance.


A slideshow that contains a few more photograph’s of the evening’s performance:

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