The ruins on Sentosa and a rare chance to visit

3 02 2017

Sentosa, or the island of peace and tranquility and now also of posh homes, fancy boats and overpriced hotels, was once the rather sinister sounding Pulau Blakang Mati – the island of death at the back. No one seems quite sure of the origins of the name, although there have been several suggestions including one that is tied to the legend that Pulau Tekukor to Blakang Mati’s south had once seen duels to the death pitting Bugis warriors against ones from the Malay world.

Ruins on Mount Serapong.

It was in putting up a deference to violent confrontation that was to be Blakang Mati’s purpose for a large part of British rule. Strategically positioned, it served not only as a natural breakwater for the new harbour. Endowed with high points, it was only a matter of time before guns to protect the harbour from seaward attack were positioned on the island. The idea was in fact already mooted by William Farquhar, Singapore’s first resident, as early as 1820 – a year after the British arrived.

The first military installations would however only come up in the late 1800s. Undeterred by outbreaks of malaria and “Blakang Mati fever”, fortifications requiring extensive use of concrete – then newly introduced to Singapore, were constructed at the end of the 1870s on Mount Serapong – Blakang Mati’s highest point. It would only be in 1885 that work started on the installation of coastal artillery on Serapong. Two 8 inch guns were installed with supporting infrastructure such as casemates built into the terrain, which contained magazines, accommodation and other working spaces.

By 1912/13, the guns at Serapong Battery would be upgraded to 9.2 inch calibre guns and a separate Spur Battery, also equipped with a 9.2 inch gun added. These guns would be decommissioned in the later half of the 1930s when 9.2 inch guns at Fort Connaught were installed. Two 6 inch guns would however be placed on the spur (renamed Serapong Battery) after a review in 1936 and this was operational up to the final days before the fall of Singapore. Both guns were spiked and destroyed, No. 2 on 14th and and No. 1 on 15th February 1942.

With the development of Sentosa today, it may perhaps be surprising that extensive remnants of the installations scattered over Mount Serapong – just a stone’s throw away from the luxury developments at Sentosa Cove – can still be found today. The remnants include a underground magazine built for the 9.2 inch spur battery that was converted for use for Serapong Battery’s 6 inch No. 1 Gun, the battery’s gun emplacements, as well as several other support structures built in the 1930s for the battery. What may be more surprising are casemates, thought to have been built around 1885 can be found along with mountings for the 9.2 inch guns and best of all, a bunker 20 metres under the casemates that served as the Blakang Mati Command Centre. The bunker, with several chambers is in a damaged condition and has a vertical escape shaft at the top of which is a hatch.

The National Heritage Board, through a series of guided tours to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, offers an excellent opportunity to learn more about and see these remnants. One tour, Fort Serapong @ Fort Siloso, for which 3 sessions on the 25 February, 4 and 11 March (from 9.30 am to 12 noon) will be held. Places are limited. More  on the tours and other programmes can be found below.

For more on the guns at Serapong, on Sentosa and also across Singapore, do visit Peter Stubbs excellent FortSiloso.com site.


Photographs of the ruins on Mount Serapong

On the spur, the Gun No. 1 Gun duty personnel rooms and gunners’ shelter.

On the spur, the Gun No. 1 Gun duty personnel rooms and gunners’ shelter.

The collapsed structure of the 6 inch Gun No. 1 emplacement on the spur.

The collapsed structure of the 6 inch Gun No. 1 emplacement on the spur.

The underground 6-inch Gun No. 1 magazine on the spur, converted from that for the 9.2 inch spur battery.

The underground 6-inch Gun No. 1 magazine on the spur, converted from that for the 9.2 inch spur battery.

Inside the Other Ranks shelter in the magazine.

Inside the Other Ranks shelter in the magazine.

In the 'courtyard' of the magazine.

In the ‘courtyard’ of the magazine.

Inside the magazine.

Inside the magazine.

The 1936 kitchen complex.

The 1936 kitchen complex.

More of the kitchen complex.

More of the kitchen complex.

Another view.

Another view.

The 1936 bathroom.

The 1936 bathroom.

Fort Connaught's Battery Command Post (BCP), positioned on the highest point.

Fort Connaught’s Battery Command Post (BCP), positioned on the highest point.

Another view.

Another view.

9.2 inch gun mounting studs.

9.2 inch gun mounting studs.

A close-up.

A close-up.

The 9.2 inch shell hoist.

The 9.2 inch shell hoist.

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Nature reclaiming the space.

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Stairs at the casemate.

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Space inside the casemate.

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Part of the casemate.

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Inside a casemate space.

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Another collapsed structure.

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A underground reservoir.

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Magazine inside the casemate.

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Another view.

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The Blakang Mati Command Centre.

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Another view.

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The view up the escape shaft.

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The hatch at the end of the escape shaft.



Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore

This 15 February will mark 75 years since the Fall of Singapore, an event that brought about 3½ years of occupation by the Japanese and a period of immense hardship.  The National Heritage Board is commemorating the anniversary with  “Battle for Singapore – Years under the Sun Empire: Tales of Resilience” that will see guided tours, talks and activities organised by various Museum Roundtable museums from 16 February to 12 March.

There would be 12 different tours with a total of 49 tour runs to look out for. These will cover 11 World War II related sites and structures, including some rarely opened places such as the former Fort Serapong and the former Command House. There is an opportunity to also hear accounts of battle and survival and learn about the contributions and courage of the local population to the effort to defend Singapore.

Also to look forward to is the re-opening of the Former Ford Factory, which has been closed for a year-long revamp. This will reopen to the public on 16 February 2017 and see a new exhibition gallery with never-been-seen-before archival materials, There is also an interactive component offering a more immersive account of the days of war and suffering. Special exhibitions and programmes are also being put up by the Army Museum, Battlebox, the Singapore Discovery Centre. the Eurasian Heritage Centre, and Reflections at Bukit Chandu. More information is available at  www.museums.com.sg. Sign-ups for the Battle for Singapore 2017 programmes can be made at this link: https://www.eventbrite.sg/o/national-heritage-board-9384989257 (available from 6 February 2017 at 10.00am onwards). Slots are limited and will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.






In Singapore: The amazing human tower builders of Catalonia

20 10 2016

A Catalonian tradition that dates back to the 1700s, a human tower or castell building performance is being seen for the first time in Southeast in Asia. One of the many rich and interesting cultural practices of Spain as a whole, and of Catalonia, the tradition – usually performed on important festivals, is inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Minyons de Terrassa at Kidzania, Sentosa.

Close to 300 castellers from the Minyons de Terrassa are in Singapore, brought in by Qatar Airways and the Catalonia Tourism Board. The group has recently broken the world record for the biggest human tower ever built.

Practice makes perfect.

Practice makes perfect.

The building of castells involve a huge group forming the all important base on top of which tiers of more castellers are progressively built up, supported by the shoulders of those in the tiers below. The bigger built of the castellers form the lower tiers with brave young children climbing higher up to form the summit.

Forming the base.

Forming the base.

Forming the lower tier.

The Minyons de Terrassa, who have performed at Raffles Place on 19 October and at Kidzania in Sentosa today, will hold two more performances tomorrow, 21 October 2016, at 4.30 pm for ITB Asia at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre and again at 5.30 pm at Customs House. On another note, Qatar Airways, flies from Singapore to Barcelona (and Madrid) via Doha’s Hamad International Airport. The airlines is offering special fares, which start from SGD 945, until 24 October 2016 for travel until 30 June 2017.

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The bloodstained cliffs south of Sentosa

7 08 2014

Unlike its better known northern companion, the isle of Peace and Tranquility, Sentosa, the island of Pulau Tekukor is one that rarely gets a mention. Named in Malay after the rather benign spotted-neck dove – tekukur (as it is spelt today) is derived from the sound the bird makes, the name, so it seems, masks quite a sinister past.

A tekukur in flight.

A tekukur in flight.

Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island - hear stories of its past when it was known as Pulau Penyabong and its association with the origins of the former name of Sentosa, Pulau Blakang Mati.

Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island.

If one of the forgotten stories of our shores are to be believed, a curse was said to have been placed on Pulau Tekukor and despite the island’s welcoming sandy beaches, the island is one that unlike its immediate neighbours, has never been inhabited. The curse, one that left its soil incapable of supporting any useful plant life as well as leaving it without a source of freshwater, as the story goes, is a result of the island’s violent past, a past that does provide a possible explanation as to how the nearby island of Sentosa acquired its mysterious previous name,  Pulau Blakang Mati (the island of death at the back).

The eastern end of Sentosa today with Terumbu Buran in the foreground.

The paradise end of Sentosa today with Terumbu Buran in the foreground, now an isle for the living.

Pulau Tekukor was once itself, known by another name, Pulau Penyabong. Penyabung (as penyabong is spelt today), as is used in more recent times, has connotations of bloody confrontations, having been associated with the cruel but once popular sport of cockfighting. The fights, however, that were thought to have taken place on the island, so that blood not stain the soils of the more sacredly held islands, involved creatures not of the feathered kind. Pitting keris wielding Malay and Bugis warriors of the old world, these confrontations were duels to the death, for which the reward for the vanquished, was a final journey to be buried on an island that now for some, does seem like paradise on earth.

Another view of Tekukor a.k.a. Penyabong, Sisters' Islands can be seen to its south-west. The channel on the west of the island, Sisters Fairway is also known as Selat Tanjong Hakim.

Another view of Tekukor a.k.a. Penyabong, Sisters’ Islands can be seen to its south-west. The channel on the west of the island, Sisters Fairway is also known as Selat Tanjong Hakim.

Besides the curiously named Pulau Blakang Mati, another name that is thought to be linked to the bloody battles, is Selat Tanjong Hakim (now more commonly referred to Sisters’ Fairway in navigation charts). Hakim being the Malay word for judge – the selat or strait west of Penyabong, would have watched over the duels, in the same way a judge might have presided over the fights.

Another view of the former Pulau Blakang Mati.

Another view of the former Pulau Blakang Mati.

As Pulau Tekukor, the island became a commercial explosives storage facility for the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) in the 1980s- after the island was enlarged by reclamation of its western shores. There was also a proposal to turn it into a sanctuary for long-tailed macaques that surfaced in the mid 2000s that did not take off and as of today, there are no known plans for the island and the island remains as mysterious as it long has been.

The sandy beaches and 'bloodstained' cliff faces of Tekukor.

The sandy beaches and ‘bloodstained’ cliff faces of Tekukor.

In its cliff faces that are still seen today – stained by the blood of the fallen, there perhaps is the only reminder of the story of the island; a tale that, as with the many stories from our islands handed down through the generations telling us of a past we long have discarded, may never again be told.





Promising a splashingly colourful start to the new year

22 12 2013

Touted as Asia’s Largest Beach Countdown Party, the highly anticipated Siloso Beach Party returns this year and promises to bring in 2014 with a splash of colour. Happening from 6 pm on 31 December 2013 and stretching to 6 am on 1 January 2014, the party, which is expected to draw a crowd of 20,000 to it, will offer five party zones, a giant foam pool and a sandy dance floor, as well as an opportunity for party goers to get splashed with colourful paint (all of which is water based and will be washable). For ticketing and more information on what looks to be another exciting countdown party do visit the Siloso Beach Party’s website.

 A sneak peek at what promises to be a splashingly colourful start to the New Year:

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A sun rise on another strange horizon

23 03 2013

Another strange horizon where the sun has risen on is one to the west of the city, and one which includes the island of Sentosa, once a military garrison named Pulau Blakang Mati and now a playground on which one of Singapore’s two integrated resorts has been built. It is across from the western end of the island – close to the area where the western rock of the “Dragon’s Teeth Gate” or “Batu Berlayer” at Tanjong Berlayer which together with another rocky outcrop, marked the ancient entrance to the harbour, that we now see the rising of the sun against silhouettes which are of another strange and unfamiliar world.

Another strange horizon that the sun rises on is at the historic Keppel Harbour.

Another strange horizon that the sun rises on is at the historic Keppel Harbour. 6.51 am 22 March 2013.

Dominating the view across the horizon, are the six distinctive towers of the recently completed residential development “Reflections at Keppel Bay”, seemingly bowing to welcome the new day. That is the last of the developments to be completed on a 32 hectare site that was originally what may have been seen as a dirty and grimy shiprepair yard, Keppel Shipyard. The yard, besides being Singapore’s most established repair yard, boasted of having the oldest graving (dry) docks in Singapore, inheriting the docks from Port of Singapore Authority when its shiprepair operations were privatised in 1968.

Keppel Shipyard post 1983. Pulau Keppel in the foreground was developed after the land on which Victoria and Albert Docks to the east were taken over for an expansion of the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal.

Keppel Shipyard post 1983. Pulau Keppel in the foreground was developed after the land on which Victoria and Albert Docks to the east were taken over for an expansion of the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal (photo on the Keppel Offshore and Marine website).

At the point that the yard vacated the area , which was in 1996 to move to Tuas allowing the land on which it stood to be redeveloped, four graving docks remained. This included Singapore’s very first graving dock, Dock No. 1. This was built by a British mariner, Captain William Cloughton, on land purchased in 1855 from the Temenggong of Singapore at what had been called  Pantai Chermin or “Mirror Beach”. Completed in 1859, it was Cloughton’s second attempt at constructing a dock there. The dock came under the Patent Slip and Dock Company when that was formed in 1861. A second dock company, the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, added a second dock close by at Tanjong Pagar in 1868, Victoria Dock. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 also saw demand for ship repair increase. Patent build their second dock, Dock No. 2 in 1870. Tanjong Pagar followed with Albert Dock in 1879. Both Albert and Victoria Docks were filled in at the end of 1983, when the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) took them over to allow an expansion of the container terminal at Tanjong Pagar.

Map of Singapore Harbour in the 1950s showing the Detached Mole, Inner Roads and Outer Roads.

Map of Singapore Harbour in the 1950s. The location of the Victoria and Albert Docks as well as Docks No. 1, No. 2 and King’s Dock can be seen in relation to the coastline.

The two rival dock companies were to merge in 1881. Patent, which had been renamed New Harbour Dock Company, came under the control of Tanjong Pagar. This private entity was expropriated by the colonial authorities in 1905, passing control of the docks to the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board. The Singapore Harbour Board took over the operations of the shipping related activities along the waterfront in 1913, launching King’s Dock, in the same year. At 272 metres in length, it was reportedly the largest graving dock east of Suez and the second largest graving dock in the world at the time of its build. A last graving dock was to be added in 1956 – the Queen’s Dock. The PSA took over from the Harbour Board in 1963, before control of the shiprepair docks were transferred to Keppel Shipyard in 1968.

Kings Dock at the time of its completion in 1913.

Kings Dock at the time of its completion in 1913.

The development of Reflections at Keppel Bay, on the plot of land west of Queen’s Dock, was preceded by other developments in the area vacated by Keppel Shipyard. On Keppel Island (or Pulau Keppel), a marina, the Marina at Keppel Bay was completed in 2008. The island is linked to the mainland by Keppel Bay Bridge, completed in 2007.  Pulau Keppel, which was previously known as Pulau Hantu (one of two Pulau Hantu or “Ghost Islands” in our southern islands group), was itself a more recent development. An extension to the shipyard was built on it in 1983 when Victoria and Albert Docks were transferred to the PSA for redevelopment. It was renamed Pulau Keppel at the same time. Another development in the area is another residential one, the Carribbean at Keppel Bay. This was completed in 2004 and occupies the area around the oldest docks, No. 1 and No. 2. The four rather historic docks, have been retained in some form, and are now water channels within the developments.

Singapore Harbour Board Map, c. 1920s.

Singapore Harbour Board Map, c. 1920s.

For the area, the year 1983 is one that will probably be remembered less for the development of the former Pulau Hantu or the loss of the historically significant Victoria and Albert Docks, but for the tragic events of the evening of the 29th of January.  On the evening of the fateful day, a drillship, the Eniwetok, leaving Keppel Shipyard, drifted into the Sentosa cable car system. Its drilling derrick became entangled in a cable causing two cabins to fall into the sea killing seven people. Another four were left dangling precariously with some 13 terrified passengers trapped inside. A daring but successful rescue attempt directed by our present Prime Minister, then Colonel Lee Hsien Loong, was mounted involving the use of two helicopters operating in high winds from which rescue personnel were winched down to the cabins to pull the 13 to safety, one-by-one.

It is no longer cranes, workshops, keel blocks and large ships around the dock that we see today (a photograph of a graving dock at the former Keppel Shipyard posted on the Captain’s Voyage Forum).

Waking up to a Keppel Harbour today in which there is little to remind us of the world that once was. With the docks now disguised to blend into the new world that has been built around them, we will soon forget what they were and the contribution they made to the development of the port on which much of Singapore’s early success was built. The four docks (as well as the two to the east) were also very much the stepping stones over which the shiprepair industry, an important source of jobs in the post independent economy of Singapore, was built. It is a fate that will probably befall the place where another leading pioneer shiprepair company, Sembawang Shipyard, now operates at. That yard, together with its historic docks built to support the huge British Naval Base, was the subject of a recent Land Use Plan released to support the much talked about Population White Paper. It is mentioned in the plan that “new waterfront land along the Sembawang Coastline being freed up once existing shipyard facilities are phased out” to provide land for new business activities and it may not be far away before we would have yet another strange horizon for the sun to rise up to.





288 metres of pure horror

24 10 2012

[Warning: Images in this post may shock some readers]

It was just last week that I had one of those experiences that I would normally have broken a sprint record trying to get away from. It was one that began with a passage through an eerie green glow into a world inhabited by those that surely were not of this world, a passage that was accompanied by cries and screams that are certain to send shivers down one’s spine, and one that leads to places I would not be brave enough to venture in alone. It is past a funeral parlour that I stumble upon a wedding, not one accompanied by the gaiety of celebration but by the howls of fear of the reluctant bride, Ah Ling, who is forced inot a union with a dead man – a ghost marriage.

A ghost marriage between Ah Ling and the ghost of a dead man isn’t something I would have wished to stumble upon.

Not an altar every bride dreams of!

The eerie green passage …

… takes one to a funeral parlour …

The marriage is one that takes one horrible twist after another, Ah Ling finds herself pregnant with the child of her ghost husband and goes insane … and that I was to discover is where the haunting journey begins.

Part of a haunting journey I would have been glad to shy away from took me …

… through a cemetery …

… and to encounters which nightmares are made of …

The haunting journey was of course one that was not real, or even in a nightmare (I wouldn’t have been brave enough to live through or even sleep through it). It was part of a combined effort between Sentosa 4D Magix and Singapore Cable Car to bring what is a really scary Halloween themed trail, Deadly Ever After. The 288 metre trail is one that combines Chinese superstitions with other elements of Asian spooky tales weaved into a tale of fate and vengeance, taking one through places such as a graveyard and even a haunted hospital.

The trail is one that has been in the works since March this year – the efforts of 10 students from the Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment and has already had two runs on 19 and 20 October 2012. For anyone who is brave enough, this weekend sees the last opportunity to have the experience – the trail is open on 26, 27 and 28 October from 7 to 11 pm. Entry into Deadly Ever After costs $17 and is not recommended for children under 13. There is also an option of a $28 Premium Package (which can be purchased from the Harbourfront Tower 2 Cable Car ticketing counter) which includes a 1 way Singapore Cable Car ride and admission to the trail.

Deadly Ever After at Sentosa 4d Magix.

Mr Baey Yam Keng, MP for Tampines GRC at the launch of the Deadly Ever After trail on 18 Oct 2012.

On hand to welcome you are not beings you would want to meet every day …





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.








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