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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dawson & Alexandra Tour

The Dawson & Alexandra Heritage Trial
I was invited to the Media Preview of  Dawson & Alexandra Heritage Trial on Saturday 4th March 2015 We met at Queenstown MRT Station at 8.30 am. Mr Kwek Li Yong Chairman of Queenstown Heritage and  Mr Jasper Tan were there. About 50 people participated. We were divided into 2 groups which were led by 2 volunteers, Mr Choo Lip Sin and Huang Eu Chai.

The bloggers

                                         At meeting point Queenstown MRT Station

Mr Choo Lip Sin led us passed the old Car Testing Centre building and stopped at Dundee Road for a briefing. At Strathmore Avenue I was overwhelmed by the tall buildings. When I was working at Princess House Annex building in the early 1970 there were many low rise buildings. The tallest building then was Farfar House, a 14 storey building was known as  “çhap si lau” by the Hokien speaking Chinese. Entrance to Forfar house was by Ballater Close and fronting the building was Forfar Square. It has been replaced by a much taller building called Forfar Height. There we interviewed  3 residents who have been living in the area for many years. They were Susan, Rosi and Fernandez.  Each gave an account  of the changes in the area.  Meanwhile, I was looking for Princess House which was not visible from the ground. When Lip Sin said our next point was Princess House I got very excited. My office was in the Annex building.  Fond memories filled my mind. I saw Princess House. It had a new coat of paint  and unoccupied. I could not find the Annex building. It had been demolished and is now a vacant land. During its heyday there were long queues of hawkers applying  for hawker  licenses on the upper floor. The ground floor was a collection centre for hawker licences and paying of licence fee. The maps below shows two different periods of the same place.

                                          Forfar House and Dawson area in the 1970s

                                            Today's  map showing the same area

I remember the Consumer Co-operative Club. It was a small single storey building located between Princess House Annex and Forfar Square. It opened for business in the afternoon for the residents in Queenstown. As there was no security check, outsiders took advantage  to buy consumer goods at a lower  price compared to shops. Office workers in Princess House and the Annex building were also there after office hours. 

Our next point of visit was  Dawson Road. The tour guide told us that soon after the war there was a Japanese prisoner of war (POW) holding area  known as Buller camp. In fact, there was a road thereat named Buller Terrace. One end was from Strathmore Avenue and the end was at Dawson Road opposite the present Dawson Place.  My memories flashed back again to the 1970s where there was a market cum food centre at Buller Terrace. The market had hawker stalls selling fresh fish, meat, vegetables, and live poultry among others. The chicken  was  put in cages. They were slaughtered and defeathered on site when a purchase was made by a housewife. The process was very unsightly. The hawker slit the throat of the bird and let it bled to death on the floor before defeathering.  It was done manually. Later a machine was invented to remove the feathers from the bird. Outside the market were many illegal hawkers stalls by the roadside as well as at the market concourse. Their stalls were removed when the Ministry of the Environment decided to clear all hawkers  from the roadside. 

Next we were taken to 2 war bunkers nearby the former Hua Yu Secondary School. Going to the sites were quite adventurous.  We had to negotiate our way to a higher terrain with thick foliage. It  reminded me of my scouting days when I went hiking through the jungle in Changi. At the first bunker only the façade of the building was left. At the second bunker, the building with four wall was still  intact but the place was empty. We were told there was a third bunker. 

                                    The way to the bunkers were through the thick foliage

                                                                       Bunker 1
                                                                          Bunker 2

Many were interested to know about Boh Beh Kang. Two elderly men were waiting for us at Stirling Road Tiong Ghee temple to be interviewed. According to them Boh Beh Kang was a swamp with farms, plantations, burial grounds and dotted with villages. According to them Boh Beh Kang (no tail river) came about because the villagers there were unable to determine  the source of the river. In the early 1950 the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) wanted to build a settlite estate called Queenstown thereat and the villagers were affected by resettlement scheme. In late 1960 Queenstown estate extended to the present Mei Ling Street area Tiong Ghee temple at the site was affected. The villagers asked the HDB to resite the temple to Stirling Road but was turned down a few times.When the then Prime Minister the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited the place, they approached him for help. Within a week the request to resite the Tiong Ghee temple to Stirling Road was approved. The villagers were very grateful to our former PM Lee Kuan Yew. Tiong Ghee temple now stands proudly on a higher ground overlooking Stirling Road.

Our final destination was the Alexandra Hospital. I remember it was originally a British Military Hospital at Alexandra Road. According to our tour guide Lip Sin, 250 people in the hospital including patients were massacred during the Japanese invasion of Singapore. I found a plaque in the hospital compound that confirmed the Japanese massacre.

It was a long walk from 8.30 am to nearly 12 noon although part of the journey was by mini buses. I was surprised that at my age of 80 years old  I was still able to walk that distance. Perhaps walking in memory lane had urged me on without realising the distance and time covered. Thanks to Li Yong, Jasper, Lip Sin and Eu Chai for the opportunity to go back in time. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The War Years

When the first Japanese bomb dropped in Singapore my grandpa evacuated all his families to his rubber estate at Chai Chee, Changi. The rubber estate had a factory processing liquid rubber (latex) into rubber sheets for export. During the war the rubber factory stopped functioning. The two storey rubber smoke house was converted into dwelling for my grandpa’s first two families and my aunts’ family. Nearby on the lower ground was a row of labourers’ quarters. Some of them had moved out and my grandpa’s third family lived there.
The first thing grandpa did was getting the adult members of the family to dig an air raid shelter outside the smoke house. It was rectangular in shape about 6 feet deep with steps going down the air raid shelter. The top of the shelter was camouflage  with coconut leaves. Entrance to the shelter also served as an exit. The shelter could accommodate only 10 persons. When the air raid siren was sounded, women and children ran quickly to the shelter. The men hide under the trees or bushes. As a young boy I was very excited each time the siren was sounded. Lights were off and it was total darkness and silence everywhere. Nobody was allowed to talked in the shelter as if the enemy was around us. We went back to the house when a second siren sounded. The air raid shelter had no drainage system and was flooded when there was rain. The men had to drain away the muddy water before we were able to use it again.
At the rubber estate we heard all sorts of news about the Japanese invasion and their atrocities. The people was very frightened. Then one day we saw Japanese soldiers roaming the rubber estates. We had news  that Japanese soldiers raped young girls at night. I had a few teenager female cousins. At night when there were Japanese soldiers nearby they hid under a pile of coconut husks. When the Japanese government was established in Singapore, grandpa moved all his three families back to Joo Chiat. Built up area was then considered safer than living in the rubber estate where there was no rule of law by the Japanese soldiers.
Joo Chiat after the war was so different from before the war. There was so much changes. Hawker stalls were everywhere along the roadsides, lanes and vacant lands, especially at busy road junctions. In the early stage of Japanese occupation many people were jobless especially the lower income group. Hawking was the easiest occupation and cigarette stalls with little capital proliferated at market place, five foot ways, street corners etc. The lane close to my home became a gambling place like a casino. There were games of dice (si go luck), fan tan (the game started with dealer placing a cup over a pile of seeds.The players had to guess the winning numbers from 1 to 4. Betting stop when the dealer started counting for winning numbers.  Each time 4 seeds were removed and  the last group say only 3 seeds, then number 3 was  declared the winning number) and also çhap ji ki or 12 Chinese characters representing numbers from 1 to 12. The payout was 10 times for betting the winning number. Then there was card games and Chinese domino or Pai Kow. The ‘casino’ operated only at night but it did not last long probably it was illegal.
Hawkers were quick to take over the sidelane and turned it into  a wet market selling from fresh fish, meat, vegetables to food for breakfast. Unlike the cigarette stalls which operated the whole day, the wet market finished at midday and the side lane was back to normal.
I attended the Choon Guan English School at Koon Seng Road which taught Japanese language. Every morning we sang the Japanese National Anthem ‘Kimigayo’. The school then dispersed to their classes. Then class by class marched to the basketball court for exercises. I remember walking round the court perimeter singing Japanese song ‘aruke’ (walking) followed by free hand exercises like stretching and bending your body. The Japanese school ceased functioning when Singapore was liberated.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Family Holidays At Why House

On 15th December 2014 my family of 10 and 10 others in the group were warmly welcome upon arrival by the staff of the boutique hotel known as Why House. It stood on 3 acres of land with a swimming pool and lots greenery. The beach was about 15 minutes walk from  the hotel. In the morning  there were birds and squirrels running around looking for food. During my stay there I saw a peacock on the ground and 2 monkeys up on a tree.

Birds, squirrels, monkeys and peacock

What impressed us most was the friendly and smiling staff ready to give us assistance whenever needed. The food was fantastic. We had fish, prawns, crabs, meat , vegetables, fruits etc.

A team of cooks. For Mary have kitchen will cook. We had sambal udan from her.

                                               Friendly staff were there to bid us farewell


At Why House adults and children played together in the pool. A friend Isabel was thrown into the pool fully dressed. I was too slow to snap a picture. Kids liked swimming in the sea too. My grandson, Guy went surfing for 2 days. Emma and Mark took surfing lessons. They enjoy it so much and I believe they would be back next year. For me I enjoy the cool beer by the beach watching my grand-children surfing.

                                                    Adults and children played at the pool


                                                            Kids playing ball game over the net


The ladies had their share of fun too. They went shopping in a convoy at the Rampart which was a Dutch fortified area in the colonial era. They liked the jewellery shop Orchid House so much that they visited the shop again and again including a last minute shopping before leaving for home.

                                                         Ladies shopping galore

                                                              Emma and the horse

Why House has very good comments in the guests book and as well as in the Tripadvisor reviews. No wonder it was awarded Certificate of Excellence for 2013 and 2014

Welcome to Why House and the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

A stunning private villa providing a bespoke holiday and experience for its guests. With the feel of a boutique hotel but with more of a personal and family orientated touch. It’s a unique property - a home away from home, providing a concierge service where no request is too small.
This beautiful home is situated within a beautifully landscaped three acre private walled garden of tropical plants, fruit and spice trees – and is only a short walk from the beautiful beach of Wijaya and a fifteen minute drive to the world heritage site Galle Fort.

Beautiful hotel, wonderful hospitalityHenrietta and her staff, the stunning room, pool and grounds and the amazing foodWe had a wonderful 3 nights here. We loved the very welcoming staff, especially the manager Henrietta, who went out of her way to make sure we had a fabulous time. The food was probably the best we had in Sri Lanka. We were travelling with 2 small children and there needs were well catered for. Couldn't recommend this place highly enough. had a great stay at why house: intimate hotel well located off the stream of beach hotels but yet at a walkable distance from it, with a beautiful swimming pool and garden full of squirrels and birds. henriette was very welcoming and we felt like at home, if not better with the always nice and helpful staff!! thank you!

An outstanding place with a wonderful,staffThe place itself, the staff, the lovely managerWe had a great time from start to finish: the welcome, the discovery of our room, the discretion of the although omnipresent staff, the fantastic and lovely manager, with a heart as big as the house, the food, drnnks and brownies. I could go on and on as everything single moment or glimpse deserves a special review. The pool was huge and welcoming. The house is on a nice lane away from the beach and the main road but everything is close at hand. The House has two tuk tuks for the guests' use and a car. You are minutes away from Galle. Henrietta, the manager, will share with you her best addresses, with a smile and enthusiasm. Just go for it. The food was excellent on our two evenings there. Actually, don't book for two nights only but for more. It is a perfect ending of a holiday, specially after a tour of the island. You will be pampered. That's guaranteed.Beautiful tranquil hotel, with outstanding serviceLovely rooms, stunning pool and restaurant, fantastic food and very friendly, helpful staffWe had a fantastic few days at Why House. We were totaly taken care of by the team there. The hotel is in a really beautiful location, calm and tranquil and yet not far from Galle and Unawatuna.

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.