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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Loan Sharks

"Parliament to get tough on loan sharks" was the prime news in today's Straits Times, Saturday November 21 2009. Looking back, my school literature book The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare had a money lending story. Shylock was a money lender. He was worst than today's loan shark. He demanded from Anthony, a pound of his flesh instead of the money borrowed.

In 1950s I came across different category of money lenders. To begin with, there was the Bibik (Nonya) money lenders who makan bunga. Makan bunga literally means eat flowers. It actually means gain interest. The Bibik were not from rich family. Most of them were widows or outcasts as depicted in the story of 'Little Nonya' tv show. They were poor and had to support their family. Lending money business gave them flexible time to look after the children as well as seeing clients. A Bibik money lender usually carried an umbrella in her hand while going on her rounds to look for prospective clients and also to collect money from her borrowers. She knew all her borrowers well and lending money was based on trust. My wife's aunt was a widow with a child. Her husband died when the child was still very young. So, she became a money lender to earn interests to feed the family. Mother and child survived on the interest earned until the child was of age to work. Next was the strong arm type of loan sharks. They set up illegal loan companies. I remember one in Joo Chiat area. He was from my kampong and so were all his runners. His borrowers were mostly trishaw riders and street hawkers. In those days borrowers were given the full loan amount. Unlike today, a borrower did not get the full sum as he had to pay upfront for the first installment of the loan. Loan payment then was weekly and there was no harrassment of payment. But when a borrower was 2 weeks in arrears, he was hauled up to the loan company's office and beaten up. He was released only after a stern warning to pay up.

Another type of loan shark was known as 'sapuloh dua'. It means that for every $10 borrowed, $2 interest was charged. Usually the borrowers were white collar workers. In those days we had our salary in cash which was put in an envelope and called 'pay packet'. On pay day, all office workers had to queue up at the cashier's counter to take their pay. But, outside the cashier's office was loan sharks looking eagerly for their clients. Those who wanted to avoid them would collect their pay on another day or when the loan sharks were not around. There was no strong arm method to get payment. But I do not know how the problem was solved between them.

Today's loan sharks used a different method to get their money back. They used unrelenting and ruthless ways of harassment in getting the debtors to pay up. Sometimes innocent people was victimised and private as well as public properties were vandalised.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NAAFI Services Shop Part II

NAAFI Shackle Club 1947
Photo from Peter Chan
The NAAFI Services shop was at Beach Road opposite Raffles Institution (RI) between 1947 and 1952. It's more than half a century ago and only those above 60 years old who had come across the building can remember especially the RI boys.
The building was originally a fleet canteen exclusively for the naval personnel. It was later extended and renovated at a cost of $40,000 to include all British armed forces personnel.

On 2 July 1947 the NAAFI Shackle Club was officially opened by Mrs L H Cox, wife of the G.O.C. Singapore District. She drank beer from an inscribed silver tankard to commemorate the opening of the club.

The Straits Times 2 July 1947

In 1950 the vacant land opposite Raffles Hotel was leased to the British Armed Forces under their organisation NAAFI. They erected a clubhouse and called it Britannia Club which was designed by Palmer and Turner. It was opened on 17 Dec 1952.

Book Ref: Singapore Then & Now by Ray Tyres

ST 10 July 1951

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NAFFI Services Shop Part I

NAAFI Service Shop at Beach Road opposite the Rafffles Institution

Many articles were written about the NAAFI Britannia Club built in 1949 and completed in late 1952 at Beach Road and Bras Basah Road junction. Bloggers such as Laokokok and Lum Chun See had written about the NCO club in their blogs. So far no one has talked about the one opposite the Raffles Institution. This picture was taken in 1952. Enlarge the picture and you'll see the words NAAFI Shop clearly at the arch entrance. The premises was disused then. Could it had moved over to the new building? Was it the first NAAFI Club before the one opposite Raffles Hotel? If so, it deserves a place in the history of NAAFI Club in Singapore.