Go fly kite and jump into the harbour!

6 10 2010

The NTUC Income Kite Festival Singapore 2010 over the 18/19 September weekend saw many descend on what was once the sea … a reclaimed piece of land part of what was the Inner Roads of the Singapore Harbour, on what is now the Promontory @ Marina Bay. The Inner Roads had then extended to the Detached Mole – a breakwater where the piece of land on which Marina Bay Sands has been constructed on. The festival was organised with “the aim to rekindle the old kampong spirit and celebrate the kite as a symbol of grace, cultural diversity and scientific achievements”, certainly attracted a large crowd, and was perhaps a little too crowded for any serious kite flying. What was nice to see certainly, was the level of interest that Singapore has in what was once considered a schoolboy’s past time.

The Inner Roads with Clifford Pier in the foreground and the Detach Mole at the top in the 1960s - the area beyond where the cluster of ships on the top right of the photograph is the general area where the Promontory @ Marina Bay is today (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

A night time view of what used to be the Inner Roads from the Promontory @ Marina Bay.

Kite flying as an activity has certainly evolved over the years. My first brush with kite flying was seeing boys preparing kite strings that had been coated with a mix of starch and crushed glass, stringing the strings around the trunks of trees to allow the starch to dry in the Mata Ikan area of Singapore. I would watch them later loft their simple kites made of paper and bamboo high into the skies – with the aim to “fight” with their kites – this would be achieved by trying to entangle one’s glass lined sting against the opponent’s and cutting the opponent’s string. The kites were similar to those I would have seen hanging outside the provision and mama shops, two of which would have gone for an affordable five cents. Many of the boys would have made their own kites however, something which wasn’t really difficult to do – and something that I myself did on occasion, initially with the help of my father who often spoke of his exploits fighting kites in the Farrer Park area in his childhood. I did also try my hand at kite-fighting, something that I never really mastered, using strings that a neighbour in Toa Payoh helped me with. Somehow for me, my kites seemed to behave in the same way that Charlie Brown’s kites often did … and it wasn’t long before I turned to playing football with the neighbourhood kids.

Crowds descended on the Promontory @ Marina Bay for the Kite Festival.

I did get to fly kites again … and by the time I got to do that, kite flying had evolved into larger kites made of fabric or plastic mounted on wooden frames that could collapse for portability. This was an activity that I enjoyed with my parents over at an open strip of land just east of the swimming lagoon at East Coast Park, which was a very popular spot for kite flying back in the late 1970s. The kites were of course heavier and more costly, and fighting wasn’t the objective anymore. The kite strings we used were also thicker and this we either wind around a can or a fishing reel. By that time I had also somehow managed to learn to keep the kite up in the air and we spent a few hours every Sunday evening for maybe a period of two years doing that. There was an occasion that I became so engrossed in the activity that I left a bag that was in my care behind – one that contained my parents camera …

Kites soaring above the Promontory @ Marina Bay.

Kite flying in SIngapore has evolved from a schoolboy activity into a weekend pursuit involving kites that cost a lot more that the simple kites in the old days.

That was more that thirty years ago … and I have not flown a kite since, despite on being told to “Go Fly Kite” on many occasions. I had noticed of late that there is still quite a lot of interest in kite flying still – seeing kites soaring high over the open field along Woodlands Avenue 12 just by the Seletar Expressway, but never realised the extent of this level of interest until my recent encounter with the NTUC Income Kite Festival Singapore 2010. Perhaps the next time I am told “Go Fly Kite”, I might just think about doing it!

Kite soaring where tall buildings now soar above what were the Inner Roads.

More views around the Promontory @ Marina Bay … there were other activities as well …


The gateway to the roads that lay to the south of Singapore

21 05 2010

There was a time when embarking on a journey to not just a distant land, but to a destination that would now be considered closer to home, would mean saying goodbye not at the terminal building of Kallang or Paya Lebar Airport as it might have then been, but perhaps at a wharf in Tanjong Pagar or a pier along Collyer Quay. That was a time when the journey would invariably have had to be one made by sea, not with the intent of a leisurely cruise as we are inclined to do these days, but out of necessity. So it was that piers came into prominence as entry and exit points through which the many immigrants, some of whom were our ancestors, arriving in Singapore, and travellers setting off on their journey would pass.

Clifford Pier as seen today. The pier would have been the starting point for many a journey from Singapore back in the earlier part of the 20th Century.

View of the Roads in the 1950s from an old postcard. Clifford Pier, the Inner Roads, the Detached Mole (breakwater) and the Outer Roads beyond can be clearly seen (courtesy of Mr. Low Kam Hoong).

In those days, the inner harbour that would have greeted the immigrants to Singapore, or where those setting off on their journey from Singapore would have had a last glimpse of the island, would have appeared to be very different to what is in the area today. For much of the twentieth century, Singapore’s busy harbour been separated by a breakwater referred to as the “Detached Mole”, built in 1911, which ran parallel to the shoreline. This in the area where today, another breakwater of sorts, the reclaimed parcel of land which now forms part of the southern boundary of the Marina Bay reservoir, and on which the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort and part of the East Coast Parkway has been built on, now sits. The breakwater back then, separated what was referred to as the Roads – the Inner Roads within the breakwater where the smaller coastal vessels and the tongkangs and twakows (lighters and bumboats) and passenger launches could be safely anchored. The smaller boats ferried their cargoes of goods and people to and from the larger ocean going vessels, being less susceptible to the effects of waves and wind, anchored in the Outer Roads that lay beyond the breakwater.

Another view of Clifford Pier, the Inner Roads, and the Breakwater in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk)

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

Where the limits of the Inner Roads, the Breakwater would have been. On this sits the reclaimed land on which the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort has being built on.

The starting point for many a journey would have taken place at Clifford Pier, named after Sir Hugh Charles Clifford, the Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1927 to 1929, which replaced the original Johnston’s Pier opposite Fullerton Square in 1933. The wonderfully built structure features a roof structure supported by beautiful concrete arched trusses designed by the Public Works Department, served as the arrival point for many immigrants as well as a departure point for many seafarers and travellers out of Singapore. It was one of my favourite places, growing up in Singapore in the 1970s, being first of all, across another favourite place of mine, Change Alley, on which Derek Tait has an interesting post on, and also being where I could, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the going-ons of the pier, observe the comings and goings of travellers and seafarers through the wide hall like deck of the pier, and up and down the numerous stairs at the pier’s end and sides from which the colourful wooden launches took or discharged their passengers. It was also where, I could catch the sea breeze on a muggy evening, standing by its open sides.

View of the Inner Roads from Collyer Quay in the 1960s with a fleet of passenger launches moored in the foreground (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

Looking across Marina Bay from the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay across the area that would have once been the Inner Roads.

Change Alley across from Clifford Pier as well as Clifford Pier, was one of my favourite places in the 1970s. I remember being greeted by the sound of the many Laughing Bags that the vendors set off filling the alley as you walked through it.

Clifford Pier would also have been where boats that would take us to what seemed then to me as the distant shores of the then inhabited islands that lay to the south could be boarded, with the promise of an adventure on the high seas that I would somehow associate with a trip to what I would see as my Islands in the Sun. It was also from Clifford Pier that I also later embarked on a voyage of adventure of my own, far beyond my Islands in the Sun, one which I would be describing in another post. It is also interesting to note that the pier is known to locals as Hong Ten Ma Tou 红灯码头, or Red Lamp Pier, named after a red lamp that was placed on it to serve as a navigation aid to seafarers, or so the information plaque says. It is thought however that it was actually hung on Johnston’s Pier and the locals continued the use of the name for the new pier when it replaced Johnston’s Pier.

The beautiful arched concrete trusses that support the roof of the pier.

A window in the façade of the pier.

It may be comforting to know that despite the large wave of land reclamation and redevelopment that has swept over much of the Inner Roads and the areas around Collyer Quay and has seen Clifford Pier cut off from the boats, ships and islands that provided it with a reason for her being. But alas, Clifford Pier is now, despite looking none the worse for wear, only a pale shadow of what it was in its heyday. Where the pier had once been alive with the continuous footsteps of seafarers, travellers and the many interested onlookers that pass through its deck, it is now devoid of life, surrounded by waters that can only lap sadly and silently onto the columns that hold it up.

Plaque commemorating the opening of Clifford Pier in 1933.

Information plaque on Clifford Pier.