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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 It has been replaced by a much taller building called Forfar Height.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.

                                Paul Fernandez (sitted on the left) sharing his memory.
                                I am sitting on the right

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.