Total Pageviews

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tg Rhu HDB Estate Then & Now

Jalan Batu HDB Estate

I like to go back in time for it evokes fond memories of yester-year. The time was more than fifty years ago in 1962 when I moved to Tanjong Rhu HDB estates. There were 6 blocks of 10 storey 3 room rental flats neatly arranged in a row. One side of the flat faced Mountbatten Road (see map). There were 12 units at each level. The ground floor had no void deck. Each block had only one lift at the centre  with a staircase. Block 1 was reserved for police officers and Block 2 to 6 were let out to the public. A couple of years later HDB decided to sell the flats and gave priority to sitting tenants. The sale price was $6.200 per unit. I bought my unit 149-J Jalan Batu which was at level ten. In those days each floor level had an alphabet denoting each level. It started with letter 'A' for ground floor and 'B' for second floor and so on. Letter J instead of letter I was used for level ten.

Map of Jalan Batu HDB Estate

A 3-room flat had only 2 bedrooms. My one year old daughter had one room to herself. Then came a son, followed by a daughter and another son. I bought 2 double deck beds for 4 of them. Climbing to the upper deck to sleep was quite fun to the two older children. 

Tanjong Rhu HDB estate had a 2 storey wet market cum food centre. A basket-ball court between Block 7 & 8. Jalan Batu was an access road between Kampong Arang Road and Kampong Kayu Road. The blocks with double digit numbers were all one room rental flat. There was no four or five room flat then.

                    Children playing at common corridors and staircases

The estate had no playground and children played at common corridors as well as at the side staircases. Kallang Park was nearby and during week-ends I drove them there to play the swings, merry-go-rounds, slides, sand pit, wading pool etc. Every Tuesday night there was pasar malam (night market) at Jalan Batu. There were a variety of goods and food stalls. Every stall was crowded with people haggling for a good bargain. I could feel the festive atmosphere among the crowd. Most of the residents liked pasar malam and looked forward to Tuesday night.

Kampong Spirit

There was kampong spirit at Tanjong Rhu HDB estate. They were not only friendly but also helpful too. Our doors were seldom closed. Children moved freely to each others flat. They also helped to look after our children when needed.
I remembered all my neighbours. An Indian family lived beside the lift. The man’s young sister-in-law had a Chinese boy friend. Next to him was a Chinese couple with a daughter. The little girl's father was a  bus conductor. My immediate neighbour had 2 children. Their father worked  in the postal service. The other immediate neighbour was a police inspector. His brother was a teacher. I entrusted my 2 older children with the teacher for outings. The neighbour at the end of the block owned a fancy fish shop. His flat had many fish tanks with colourful fishes.  My children like to admire the fishes and visited the neighbour a few times a day.

On Tuesday 4th November 2014 I paid a nostalgic visit to Tanjong Rhu HDB estate. I was looking for the ‘lo mee’ stall in the food centre to have my lunch. The hawker stall was not there anymore. All the stallholders were new to me. I remembered there was a coffee shop at Block 8. After lunch I walked there but could not find it. Many shops had changed trade. But the famous Tanjong Rhu ‘pau’ shop was still at Block 8.

The Jalan Batu link road between Kampng Arang Road and Kampong Kayu Road had been converted into a walkway. The basket ball court is now a mini amphitheatre with a circular pool in the center. There were many covered walk ways. Tanjong Rhu HDB estate had indeed changed since I moved out in 1975.

                                    Mini Amphitheatre

                                    My former home at No 149J

I went up to my former flat unit No. 10-149 (then 149-J) at level 10.  I found the door and windows closed. On further inspection I noticed more than 90 percent of the flats had their doors and windows closed too. Perhaps it was due to security. Thinking backwards, I remembered we used to sit at the common corridors chatting with neighbours and also with those at the opposite block. As hearing was difficult because of the distance we used sign language with our hands. We laughed trying to make the opposite neighbours understand our body language. Those were the days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Battle For Merger

                                                    Original copy printed in 1962

                                                     Reprint copy 2014

The reprint of the book The Battle For Merger  was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on the morning of 9 October 2014 at  the National Library. The book contains  a series of radio talks about  the Communist  threat  in Singapore by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1961.

I was invited to an exclusive guided tour of The Battle For Merger exhibition at 12.15 pm the same day. The exhibits consisted of 12 panels and each had a story to tell accompanied by pictures. 

The exhibits evoked memories of  tumultuous days and the radio broadcasts by Mr Lee. His radio talks were captivating and I listened to most of them. During that period there was the domino theory of communism spreading from China to Singapore. China became a communist country in 1949, North Vietnam in 1954 and war continued in South Vietnam with the Vietcong. In Malaya the communist waged violent armed insurgency in 1948 with the British and continued after  Malaysia’s independence in 1957.

I am English educated but lived in a Chinese educated environment. Most of the people I knew then was leftist and some was active grassroots. The fear  that Singapore might become a communist state was so real and listening to Mr Lee’s radio broadcasts made it  more frightening.

I have one original copy of the book The Battle For Merger printed in 1962 and I treasured it to this day. It reminded me of Singapore’s critical period. At that time I dread to think that Singapore would become  a communist state. 

The Battle For Merger is now history. I was wondering how the younger  generation  felt after viewing  the exhibition. On Saturday 11 October  I went to the exhibition to interview some of them. The students viewed it as Singapore’s history. The adults said they heard about it from their parents when they were young. The response from them reminded me of my family’s history. My great grandfather came to Singapore from China without a penny in his pocket. He worked hard to make a fortune for himself and died leaving a legacy in Joo Chiat. My grandmother  told me the story when I was young. Like the people I met at the exhibition, I did not feel the hardship and struggle my great grandfather went through during his early years in Singapore.

Singapore’s history is taught in our secondary school but their history book do not have the story  Battle For Merger. If we want this critical part of our history be known to our students, copies of Battle For Merger should  be made available in the school library and teachers should encourage the students to read the book.

Merger with Malaysia helps Singapore from becoming a communist state. Getting out of Malaysia is a blessing or Singapore would not be what it is today.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pioneer Health-care

Staff of Ministry of Health at Palmer Road 1959
The red arrow points to me

Health-care Pioneers

“As we look back over the last five decades, no matter how big or small you think your role has been, the progress and achievement we have today is a result of the dedication and hard work from each one of you.”
Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong
On Saturday 23 August 2014 I attended the Pioneer Health-care lunch hosted by Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong at Mandarin Orchard Hotel, Grand Ballroom. More than 400 people were at the function. Majority of them were seniors and former staff  of the Ministry. There were music, songs and dances during the seven-course lunch
The Health Minister paid tribute “to the sweat, the tears and sometimes the blood” that pioneer health workers had shed.

His speech was appropriate as far as the public health inspectors were concerned. During our outdoor site inspections especially in the hot sun, we did sweat a lot especially during a survey for mosquito breeding. Checking open ground was alright but inspecting a septic tank for mosquito breeding was all sweat plus a “bonus”. I had to remove the heavy concrete slabs that covered the tank so that I could check for mosquito larvae. I spent some time to remove the concrete slabs and later to put them in-place again. It was not an easy job and I sweat a lot.

But you had the “bonus”!

A septic tank needed to be de-sludge regularly. A contractor was engaged to do the job. After the septic tank was de-sludge the contractor was supposed to take it away from site. Instead he dumped the sludge as well as the fresh faeces beside the septic tank. After some time vegetation and grass grew over the dung. So, on my way up the septic tank I stepped on the smelly faceas and sludge. On the way down, I also jumped onto the dung. That was my “bonus” that I did not want.

At another incident I was nearly stabbed by a pair of scissors from an illegal hawker at Circular Road. Fortunately a colleague saved me. The street was crowded with people looking for bargain and illegal hawkers setting up stalls on the road. The five-foot way was obstructed by crates and bales of textiles. We were there with police escorts to clear the obstructions and the illegal hawkers. It was so crowded with people that we were separated and I was on my own. That was when an illegal hawker attempted to stab me with a pair of scissors. He did not had the opportunity to plunge the scissors onto my body and disappeared  in the crowd.

A colleague of mine was not so lucky. He was stabbed by a butcher at Cambridge Road market while on duty. So blood was shed. The culprit was arrested and charged in Court. He was found guilty and jailed.

There were a few other life threatening incidents, but I was just doing my job.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Queenstown Heritage Trails

                                       My Queenstown Heritage Trails Map

On 4th July 2014 I received an email from Mr Kwek Li Yong, President of My Community and Chairman of Queenstown Heritage as follows:
"We would like to invite you to the media preview of My Queenstown Heritage Trail with a guided tour on Sunday, 27 July 2014 from 9am to 11am and scribble down your personal experiences about the guided tour in your blog. We are meeting at Queenstown MRT Station. I have enclosed a copy of the poster for further information on the trail". 

On Sunday 27 July 2014 we met at Queenstown MRT. I was given a copy of My Queenstown Heritage brochure. It was quite informative especially to the younger generations who were not aware of the many changes. At about 9.00 am we started the walking tour. Fortunately the weather was good although earlier on it was threatening to rain.

Queenstown Driving Test Centre Map

Photo credit to MyQueestown

Our first stop was at the former Queenstown Driving Test Centre. It reminds me of the time when I was working at Princess House. I drove to my office daily and from there to my work sites. Very often I came across ‘L’ drivers at Commonwealth Avenue and Alexandra Road. They caused obstructions to the other vehicles. I drove behind them always looking for a quick exit. We referred to the ‘L plate’ drivers as ‘lembu’. Lembu in Malay means 'cattle'.

Photo credit to MyQueenstown

Our next stop was at Block 38 (above picture). The building was originally a market cum food centre built by Mininstry of the Environment. Its dome shape facade resembled a Chinese coffin and it was therefore called coffin market by the residents.

Nearby was a building that housed Tah Chung Emporium and Golden Crown Restaurant. Both were on upper floor separated by a wide staircase.The goods sold at the emporium were all China made. I shop there because every item was cheap. The restaurant was popular with young couples especially during the wedding month of April to June.

The third stop was at the two former cinema buildings. They are now use as churches. When I saw the churches, my memory flashed back to the hey-day of the buildings. Both were built as cinemas, Venus and Golden City. Their lobbies were crowded with people and there were long queue for cinema tickets on week-ends. Friday night was a pasar malam night and I was there on duty. There were hawker stalls selling a variety of goods and cooked food on both sides of Margaret Drive. Some overflowed onto the concourse and vacant land. It was like a festive season with streams of people moving and browsing the goods displayed on the hawker stalls. 

Along the way we visited the Queenstown Community Centre, a Catholic Church and an Indian Temple. The Walking Tour ended at Tanglin Halt hawker centre. It was a happy ending for me as it brought back fond memory again when I was in charge of Tanglin Halt Market cum Food Centre. I remembered it was an open shed wet market with a few food stalls at the side separated by a chain link fence. The surrounding shops remained unchanged except for the trade and shopkeepers. I remember there were two clinics. I happened to know the two doctors personally. Dr Lim was a neighbour at Joo Chiat Road and Dr Tang was a former colleague at the Ministry of the Environment. Both of them had moved out of the area some time ago.

I was a little disappointed with the Heritage Trial. Blogger James Seah and I were the only two elderly people in the group. The rest was young people interested to know the history and changes of the place. I was invited to the Heritage Trial. I joined the tour hoping to share my memories but there was no question put to me. So I had an easy time following the tour. The tour leaders should take advantage of our presence to extract our memories of Queenstown. On the whole credit must be given to the organizer and the two tour leaders who did their job well. The Heritage Trial gave me an opportunity to go back in time and rekindled fond memories

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cu Chi Tunnels

Surrounded by Vietcong

My first visit to Chu Chi tunnel was in 1994 with a Vietnamese friend. I had to pay an entrance fee but it was free for the Vietnamese. At that time Chu Chi tunnel was not a popular tourist spot. So there was few visitors. A Vietnamese guide, usually an ex soldier conducted the tour. It was not necessary to have the required number of tourists for each tour. The number could be as few as two. Before the conducted tour, the group was taken to a shed to view a film clip on the war in South Vietnam. Then the guide showed us a layout model of Chu Chi Tunnel and explained to us the facilities in the tunnel. The tunnel had 4 levels and was 9 meters deep. There were meeting room, rest room, kitchen, clinic and others. Kitchen was at the lowest level and the smoke was filtered at every level. When reaching the ground level, the smoke could hardly be seen from the air. At the juctions where the 4 tunnels met, there were booby traps of bamboo spikes at the corners. It was so awkward to get into the tunnel and crawl through it. I doubt anyone would try for level two. At the end of the tour the guide served us tea and tit bits. We gave him tip which he put into his pocket.

I visited the Chu Chi Tunnel again in 1995 and 2000. In 2000 Chu Chi Tunnel had become a place of interest for tourists. There were many organised tour from Saigon. At the end of the tour all tips went into a common pool to be divided by all the guides. For recent visit of Chu Chi Tunnel read unk Dick's post here

A layout model of Chu Chi tunnels

The camouflaged trap door to the tunnels

Crawling through the tunnel

A hammock for resting

Clinic for wounded Vietcong

Refreshment area for tourist at end of tour.

Cleaning up after the tunnel tour

Mooncake Festival

My family celebrated the Mooncake Festival yesterday at my son's house. We carried a lantern each to walk around the housing estate. After that we had mooncakes togther.
I remember the traditional mooncakes were packed into a cardboard box of 4 mooncakes. The popular ones were usually from the hotels especially the well known Empress Hotel. Over the years, the mooncakes started to change colours such as green (pandan), purple (yam) orange, white and so on. But the contents inside the mooncakes remained the same with one or two egg yolks or just bean paste. Now the mooncake boxes have new designs like a lady's fashions. I was amazed to see the different mooncake containers displayed on the table (see pictures below).
The Straits Times dated 22 Sept 2010 had an article about the mooncake festival in China. The mooncake fancy boxes not only contained mooncakes but also gold bars, designer watches, fine wine and gold statuette packed next to the mooncakes. In Singapore we now have fancy mooncake boxes too. But with our present government I am assured that what valuable gifts inside China mooncake fancy boxes will not be followed here.

Fancy mooncake box designed to look like a lady's handbag

Hexagon trays
Drawers box
The empty mooncake trays and drawers can be used to keep cosmetic and jewelleries

Closer to traditional mooncake boxes

Birth To Death

All Singapore citizens here are ducomented from birth to death. We know that but never give it a thought. Many of my personal documents can be considered archives. They are shown below. I was born at the Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital and my birth was registered there with my name. Some parents had not decided on the baby's name upon registration. So the baby's name was left blank in the duplicate copy of Registration of Birth.

Duplicate copy of Registration of Birth

My Birth Certificate

The Registrar of Birth & Death stopped issuing the duplicate copy of Registration of Birth after Singapore's Independence in 1965. Before WWII and soon after the war, a baby born in Singapore was issued a Vaccination Notice. Failure to comply faced a penalty of $10/-. It means a lot of money then. An infant who had been successfully vaccinated was given a certificate. All 3 documents are shown below.

Vaccination Notice

Infant Welfare Appointment Card

Vaccination Certificate

Primary school report card

Primary school leaving certificate

Secondary school report card

Secondary school leaving certificate
In school I was given a report card. There were 3 terms per year. All the school examination results were recorded in it. After finishing primary education, I was given a school leaving certificate. Similarly for secondary school I had a report card and after secondary 4, a school leaving certificate. During my time only those who passed the Cambridge Examinations would see their names published in the Straits Times with either Grade 1, 2 or 3 printed besides their names.

1954 Cambridge Examination results

Royal Society of Health Diploma

Standard I certificate

To upgrade myself I took many courses as shown in the above certificates. The documents not shown here are my Identity Card, Driving Licence, Marriage Certificate, International Passport, membership cards etc. I am sure others have more than what I possess. And finally the certificate which I shall not be able to see is similar to the one shown below.

Conclusion: we are documented from the time we are born to say that we have arrived. Then, there is the document to say that we have been through the various vaccination and inoculation to give us antibodies and immune system.

There are also documents to show the level of our faculty to fit us the the jobs.
The final document that ends our lives story here is not visible to the living.