A defining moment in photographs: the 1959 elections that propelled the PAP into power

17 02 2018

Thanks to LIFE Magazine’s John Dominis, we are able to get an interesting look back to a defining moment in Singapore’s history – the momentous 1959 elections that saw the People’s Action Party propelled into power.

The elections, held on 30 May, was to elect the first Legislative Assembly of a fully self-governing Singapore. The PAP claimed 43 of the Assembly’s 51 seats. While their victory was not unexpected – with the PAP the only party contesting all 51 seats – the manner and margin of its victory had alarm bells ringing with many, especially in Britain, concerned about the PAP’s leftist leanings.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew speaking at an election rally outside Clifford Pier.

The crowd at the same rally.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew addressing the crowd.

The PAP team at the rally – including Mr. Lee and Mr. S. Rajaratnam.

On the campaign trail.

Election day crowd at Orchard Circus.

A voter arriving at the Tuan Mong School voting centre by trishaw.

A view of Tuan Mong School at Tank Road.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew arriving at Tank Road.

Mr. and Mrs. Lee arriving at Tuan Mong School.

Joining the queue.

Waiting in queue.

A section of queuing voters at Tuan Mong School.

A view down Tank Road.

Tuan Mong School – with a view towards the steeple of the Church of the Sacred Heart.

The queue of voters at Ai Tong School in Telok Ayer Street (Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Building). A queue can also be seen across the street at Chong Hock School (at Chong Wen Ge) next to the Thain Hock Keng Temple.

Outside the Chong Hock School (Chong Wen Ge) at Telok Ayer Street.

The scene at the PAP’s Tanjong Pagar Branch Office.

An enterprising vendor through the crowd.

The crowd at Anson Road opposite the counting centre at Gan Eng Seng School.

Another view of the crowd at Anson Road.

A bus carrying ballot boxes arriving at Anson Road.

An election officer carrying a ballot box.

The agonising wait.

Victory?

A garlanded Mr. Lee being carried by supporters.

Supporters gathering around the victorious Mr. Lee.

Jubilant PAP supporters.


Photographs: © Time Inc. for which Personal and Non-Commercial Use is permitted.


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What colours the full moon of Thai

4 02 2015

Colouring the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai, which fell yesterday,  is the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.

The festival is celebrated with much fervour by the southern Indian communities of Singapore and in the Peninsula and is one of the last religious festivals in Singapore that brings crowds, colour, and what seems very much in evidence these days, a massive police presence and snap happy locals and tourists, to the streets.

More on the festival, including photographs taken at previous Thaipusam celebrations, can be found in the following posts:

Vel, Vel, Vadivel: Thaipusam in Singapore (2010)
Sights Sans Sounds of Thaipusam in Singapore (2011)
Thaipusam at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Templ (2012)
An Annual Walk of Faith (2013)
Faces of Thaipusam 2014 (2014)


Photographs from the 2015 Thaipusam celebrations at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple

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Faces of Thaipusam 2014

18 01 2014

Photographs from this year’s Hindu festival of Thaipusam. The festival, which is commemorated by the southern Indian community in both Malaysia and Singapore is celebrated with much zeal and passion bringing much life and colour to the streets of a Singapore. In Singapore, the festival involves a procession of kavadi bearing devotees down a 4 kilometre route from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (Chettiars’ Temple) at Tank Road, which starts at midnight on Thaipusam and continues through much of the day and into the late evening. More on the festival and photographs taken at previous Thaipusam celebrations, can be found in several posts I have previously put up:

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Memories and Lost Spaces

30 12 2013

A small crowd was present on Saturday, to witness the return of a ghost that has haunted us in Singapore for close to a quarter of a century. The ghost is of a much loved icon, the National Theatre, which having been completed in 1963, would have celebrated its 50th birthday this year.

The ghost of the National Theatre - National Theatre@50 an installation for the Singapore Biennale by Lai Chee Kien.

The ghost of the National Theatre – National Theatre@50 an installation for the Singapore Biennale by Lai Chee Kien.

Designed by pioneering architect Alfred Wong, the theatre was built with funds partly contributed by members of the public. What became for a while a symbol of Singapore’s statehood, the much photographed and very distinctive building, had stood for some 2 decades before it was closed, as we were told, due to structural defects in its cantilevered roof (it turned out that it was to be demolished to allow the construction of two tunnels for the CTE and for the MRT (to connect Chinatown with Dhoby Ghaut).

National Theatre located at the foot of Fort Canning Hill at the corner of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road. The theatre was demolished in 1986 after it was found to be structurally unsound.

The National Theatre  which was demolished in 1986 would have celebrated its 50th birthday this year.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre, a scaled replica of its very recognisable façade, was put up at Tank Road, across from its original site, by architect Lai Chee Kien, for the Singapore Biennale (entitled National Theatre@50). And it was at the installation on Saturday that perhaps some of our ghosts, not only of the National Theatre, did return in a collective lament for lost spaces and a lost past, in a poetry sharing session.

The National Theatre@50, with the audience gathering in front of the "stage".

The National Theatre@50, with the audience gathering in front of the “stage”.

The enjoyable session involved with many of the who’s who in the local arts and literary scene and included a selection of works (some impromptu and some sung) that revolved around the theme of Memories and Lost Spaces. The session was jointly organised by Chee Kien and poet Alvin Pang and also featured Isa Kamari, Simon Tay, Kim Cheng Boey, Pooja Nansi, Christine Chia, Verena Tay, Jollin Tan, Cyril Wong, Felix Cheong, Hao Guang, Joshua Ip, Leonard Ng, Zai Ruda Kuning, Thirunalan Sasitharan, Vikas Bhatt Kailankaje, Emelda Jumari, Annaliza Bakri and Goh Beng Choo.

Another view of the installation and Saturday's audience.

Another view of the installation and Saturday’s audience.

More photographs from Memories and Lost Spaces

Lai Chee Kien opens the session.

Lai Chee Kien opens the session.

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Pooja Nansi.

Pooja Nansi.

Christine Chia.

Christine Chia.

Varena Tay.

Varena Tay.

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Jollin Tan.

Jollin Tan.

Cyril Wong.

Cyril Wong.

Hao Guang.

Hao Guang.

Ng Yi-Sheng.

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Simon Tay.

Simon Tay.

An animated Joshua Ip.

An animated Joshua Ip.

Thirunalan Sasitharan, who mentioned sitting on the shoulders of his father by the road on the side of the former theatre as a child to watch the Silver Chariot make its way to the Chettairs Temple on Tank Road on the eve of Thaipusam.

Thirunalan Sasitharan, who mentioned sitting on the shoulders of his father by the road on the side of the former theatre as a child to watch the Silver Chariot make its way to the Chettairs Temple on Tank Road on the eve of Thaipusam.

Isa Kamari, who sang.

Isa Kamari, who sang.

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Patterns of a once familiar world

12 10 2012

The stretch of River Valley Road that starts at its junction with Tank Road and leads you to that grand edifice that is the MICA Building at its junction with Hill Street is one that I am familiar with through many encounters I have had with it in my younger days. It is one that takes a southeast path and runs along the foot of the southern slope of the mysterious Forbidden Hill where three well-known landmarks did once stand.

A doorway into a once familiar world at one end of the stretch of River Valley Road that I was once familiar with.

Once familiar window grilles.

It however was an air of emptiness that greeted me as I took a stroll along that path, seeking that world which I was once familiar with in what now seems an unfamiliar place. Two of the landmarks: one, meant as a symbol of Singapore’s coming of age in attaining self-government, designed by the people for the people, the National Theatre, was a well loved one; the other, the Van Kleef Aquarium, was a source of fascination especially for the young ones; have since departed, with not so much as a trace left. And only fragments of the third, the least significant of the three, the River Valley Swimming Complex, are now left behind – the only reminders of a time we seem to want to forget preserved in the former complex’s entrance, its exit turnstile, and a few auxiliary buildings. Traces of its two pools vanished when they were filled up not so long ago.

Archways of the old that lead to the new.

The new world that has taken over from the old.

It is at the two ends of this stretch where there is a greater semblance of the once familiar world. At Tank Road, there stands a house that has retained much of the old charms with which it had been provided; charms with its modern neighbours seem to have lost their love for. And, at the other, there is the magnificent MICA Building, the former Hill Street Police Station, which once was described as the ‘Police Skyscraper’ being the largest built structure in all Malaya.

Grilles at the former entrance of the River Valley Swimming Complex.

The exit turnstile of the former River Valley Swimming Complex.

A brick wall that has been painted over at the former entrance of the River Valley Swimming Complex.

The pattern of columns of the former Hill Street Police Station … it was not a sign warning of danger that we once would have seen, but one overhead which had the words ‘Senior Officers’ Mess’ further along the row of columns.





The far side of the hill

25 02 2010

The far side of Fort Canning Hill, as far as the schoolboys from SJI were concerned, was the area where the southern and western slopes of the hill were. It was an area that we would usually pass through on our jogs around the hill during Physical Education lessons (P.E.) – or on our way to River Valley Swimming Pool for the occasional swimming practice for our P.E. This was also how we could get across from school to watch the annual Thaipusam procession, which would make its way along Tank Road to its destination at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple (also known as the Chettiar Temple).

The Sri Thandayuthapani Temple as seen from the foot of the western slope of Fort Canning Hill. Also known as the Chettiar Temple, the temple serves as the end point of the annual Thaipusam procession in Singapore.

The western slope which faces Clemenceau Avenue and Tank Road was an area which we would usually try to avoid – several of us had “close encounters” with the boys from the school facing the slope on Tank Road, Tuan Mong High School, which was housed in the distinctive Teochew Building. The Teochew Building built in the early 1960s on the site of the former Tuan Mong High School building, besides housing the school, also housed the Teochew clan associations: Ngee Ann Kongsi and the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, as well as the Ngee Ann College, the predecessor to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, when it was established in 1963, for a while until 1968.

The Teochew Building housed Tuan Mong High School, Ngee Ann Kongsi and the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, as well as the Ngee Ann College.

Tank road is also home to the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, built in the French Gothic style, which was completed in 1910. The church built by the French Catholic missionaries for the Cantonese and Hakka community, was designed by a Rev. Fr. Lambert who was apparently a well-known architect. Interestingly, the site of the church is also close to Singapore’s first railway station: the terminal station of the first railway line running from Kranji to Tank Road built in 1903. The station was demolished around 1939 when the line was dismantled. Drawn perhaps by the concise sermon and perhaps due to the proximity of the newly opened Japanese departmental store, Yaohan, at Plaza Singapura (which opened in 1974), my parents were fond of bringing us for mass at the church on Saturday evenings. We did this for a few years until 1977/78, and would visit Plaza Singapura for dinner and for a walk around the supermarket after mass.

Church of the Sacred Heart along Tank Road.

The Church of the Sacred Heart painted brown in 1976.

Another view of Tank Road in front of the Church of the Sacred Heart in 1976. The shophouse on the left has since disappeared - the Oxley flyover and the Haw Par Glass Tower can be seen in the background.

The southern slope of Fort Canning Hill runs along River Valley Road. This was where four landmarks were located: the National Theatre, Van Kleef Aquarium, River Valley Swimming Pool and the Hill Street Police Station at the end, where River Valley Road meets up with Hill Street. Of these, possibly the two most loved ones, the National Theatre and the Van Kleef Aquarium have since disappeared, and the River Valley Swimming Pool sits disused, quietly awaiting its end.

An aerial view of the southern slope of Fort Canning Hill along River Valley Road in the 1960s on an old postcard.

The area would have been dominated by the National Theatre standing prominently at the foot of the hill where Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road met. This served as a proud symbol of self-reliance, being designed by a Singapore architect, Alfred Wong in a design competition. The construction of the 3420 seat open air theatre was jointly funded by the Singapore government and the public and the theatre was opened in 1964.

National Theatre located at the foot of Fort Canning Hill at the corner of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road. The theatre was demolished in 1986 after it was found to be structurally unsound.

The theatre building was notable for a few features, including a 150 tonne cantilevered steel roof reaching to the slopes of Fort Canning. The façade featured a five pointed diamond shaped patterns, each of which represented one of the five stars on the Singapore flag. An outdoor fountain stood in front yard of the building, representing the crescent moon on the Singapore flag. The theatre had to be unceremoniously demolished in 1986 after it was found to be structurally unsound.

Another view of the National Theatre as seen on the cover of a photo album.

A reminder now stands at the site of the former National icon.

The area where the National Theatre once dominated the landscape.

Next to the theatre was one of my favourite places in the 1960s, the Van Kleef Aquarium. The Van Kleef Aquarium was built in the 1950s with funds bequeathed by a Karl Willem Benjamin van Kleef, a successful Dutch businessman who had settled in Singapore, who passed away in 1930 after returning to the Netherlands in 1913, hence the name of the aquarium. When the aquarium opened in 1955, it was one of the most impressive aquariums in the world. The building designed by the local municipal architects, was in itself, an impressive feat of engineering. It featured two underground reservoirs from which water could be pumped to the tanks housing the exhibits by a system of pumps. This was where I had my first glance of beautifully coloured marine fish, including the Lion Fish which was my favourite. While increasing interest in the first 25 years saw visitor numbers to the aquarium peak at 430,000 visitors in the 1979, interest waned in the 1980s, with visitor numbers falling to some 248,000 visitors in 1985, as newer attractions such as the zoo and the bird park became more fashionable. With the opening of Underwater World in Sentosa in 1991, a decision was made to close the aquarium. It finally closed its doors in 1996, and the building was demolished in 1998.

Van Kleef Aquarium seen on an old postcard.

Evidence of the staircase from Fort Canning Hill beside the former Van Kleef Aquarium.

A path along River Valley Road that led up to the Van Kleef Aquarium now leads to a grassy slope.

Next to the Van Kleef Aquarium, the River Valley Swimming Complex was built in the late 1950s by the Singapore City Council. It was designed by a British architect, M. E. Crocker and was opened in 1959. The Olympic sized pool was one of the pools we used as schoolboys for P.E. alternating with the one at the then SAF NCO club in Beach Road. Little did we know it then, but the complex was a haunt of men of an alternative orientation. The complex was closed in 2003.

The entrance area of the River Valley Swimming Complex.

The life guard post of the disused swimming complex as seen through the entrance.

The exit turnstile of the former River Valley Swimming Complex.

Further along the foot of the hill along River Valley Road, the magnificent Neo-Classical styled Hill Street Police Station building. The building was designed by the Public Works Department and when completed in 1934, it was the largest government building on the island. The building features a courtyard which served as a parade ground and has a total of 911 windows. The building housed Singapore’s earliest jail, as well as housing the police station and serving as the living quarters for police personnel. The Kempeitai was said to have used the building as a prison and torture chamber during the Japanese Occupation. The building was used by the police unitl 1980, and the National Archives used the building from 1983, before the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) which now occupies the building moved in. One of the things that I clearly remember about the building was a sign which stuck out above a doorway on River Valley Road that I always made a point of looking out for when I was a boy of maybe 5 or 6. The sign had the words “Officers’ Mess” on it, and I was comforted in the knowledge that I wasn’t the only person around who lived with a “mess”! It was only when I was a little older that I came to realise what a “Mess” in that context was.

The magnificent neo-classical styled former Hill Street Police Station building which now houses MICA.

Possibly the door above which the "Officers' Mess" sign once stuck out from.

The building has been since renamed as the Hill Street Building and now sports brightly coloured windows.


Some pictures taken inside the old National Theatre during the SJI 125th Anniversary Celebrations in 1977:

National Theatre Staircase

SJI 125th Anniversary Celebrations at the National Theatre in 1977


An old postcard showing Tank Road Station:





Vel, Vel, Vadivel: Thaipusam in Singapore

30 01 2010

Thaipusam is one of several religious festivals which makes a grey Singapore a little more colourful. It is one of those things that is still very much practiced in the same fashion as it had been when the first Tamil immigrants brought the tradition over from Tamil Nadu. I have been fascinated with the festival since my days as a schoolboy, particularly the sight of tongues, cheeks and various parts of the body pierced with vels, skewers or imaginary spears. Going to school along Bras Basah Road, I wasn’t far away from the “action”. This  took place one a year during the Tamil month of Thai, on the day of the full moon. The procession of devotees carrying Kavadis of various forms and milk pots, accompanied by friends and family members and the sound of drums, musical instruments (only drums are permitted today) and the chants of “Vel, Vel, Vadivel“, through a four kilometre route from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road would pass close by at Dhoby Ghaut. As schoolboys, several of us would follow a part of the procession from Selegie Road to Penang Road and sometimes on to Tank Road, where some of the more daring ones would go inside the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple, where a vegetarian meals served on banana leaves would await them.

I have somehow never photographed the event and did so today. The tradition of Thaipusam provides interesting reading, but there would be enough of it already explained elsewhere so I guess it is best to let the photographs do the talking …

The Vel Kavadi is synonymous with Thaipusam in Singapore

The Vel Kavadi is adorned with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels or skewers pierced into the skin on the chest and back.

Peacock feathers on a Kavadi.

Devotees carrying a milk pot and a simple Kavadi.

Milk Pots are carried by both men and women, young and old.

The procession on Selegie Road.

Kavadis along Selegie Road.

Devotees with milk pots along Selegie Road.

Devotee carrying a simple Kavadi.

Concentration and silence is maintained by the Kavadi bearers.

Devotees carrying milk pots.

Old and young carrying milk pots.

Hooks on the back of a devotee pulling a chariot.

More scenes and faces captured during the procession along Upper Serangoon and Selegie Roads today.