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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.