Ravaged by the passage of time and probably neglect, a structure which harks back seemingly to the days of empire and dominion, sits somewhat obscurely and well forgotten on the southern slope of Bukit Purmei in Kampong Bahru. Dominated by the emblems near it of a Singapore that spares little thought for such vestiges of its past, the structure, a walled compound, with an entrance archway suggesting a European origin, hides a world that has much to do with the days of empire that is anything but European.
The well hidden reminder of a past we have long discarded.
The walled compound, referred to in the past as Keramat Bukit Kasita, is well hidden from view. Located on what can probably be described as a short spur on the Bukit Purmei slope, it sits on the edge of a public housing estate, behind a disarray of zinc topped shacks. A narrow path leads through the shacks – home to the guardians of the compound, who perhaps are also the keepers of a past which would otherwise have been discarded; rising up to where the archway is. Beyond the locked gates – a more recent addition to the archway, it is the unmistakeable sight of Malay graves – many have its headstones covered in the yellow cloth that is associated with Malay royalty, that greets the eye. There are also several on which green cloth is wrapped over – green being the colour of Islam.
The concrete jungle Keramat Bukit Kasita now finds itself in. The blocks of flats painted in light blue and white are of Bukit Purmei.
One of the keepers of the tombs, a rather chatty lady who identified herself as “Umi”, tells the group of us standing by the archway that the tombs are those of the Riau-Lingga branch of the Johor Royal family, hence the yellow cloth and the name Tanah Kubor diRaja by which the site is also known as. The earliest grave there she says, is one which dates back to 1721. She also made mention of a “Sultan Iskandar Shah”, buried at the site, about which I was rather puzzled as I was intrigued.
A look into the compound from the back of it.
“Wouldn’t Sultan Iskandar Shah be buried in Melaka” I ask. Umi tells me there might have been more than one “Iskandar Shah”, as names are often recycled down the line.
A Berita Minggu article from Nov 1998 tells us of a notice which identifies the tomb of a “Sultan Iskandar Shah” under in a yellow shed.
Interestingly a Berita Minggu article published on 29 November 1998 also makes mention of ”Sultan Iskandar Shah”, drawing reference to a notice put up at the site on which the words “terdapat sebuah makam seorang sultan, Almahurum Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah, di pondok tuning itu“, which translates into “there is a tomb of a sultan, the late Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah, in the yellow shed”.
A zinc topped dwelling, one which hides the walled compound from view.
The article which is written based on an interview the newspaper did with a previous keeper of the tombs, an En. Azmi Saipan, also mentions that this “Sultan Iskandar Shah”, was thought to have died some 400 years previously – placing him in the 16th Century, well after the passing of the Iskandar Shah, the last king of Sang Nila Utama’s Singapura and the founder of Melaka, that we know well from our history texts.
What greets the eye at the bottom of the spur – used as a barber shop until very recently.
There is a suggestion that is offered by a Radin Mas heritage guide which is put together by the Radin Mas Citizens’s Consultative Community, that the burial site was set up in 1530 by Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah II – who established the Johor Sultanate out of the ruins of the Melaka Sultanate which was deposed through the Portuguese conquest of Melaka in the early 16th Century. Whether or not Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah II who ruled from 1528 to 1564 could be that “Sultan Iskandar Shah” the keepers speak of isn’t certain, although the association remains a possibility. This does also does date the burial grounds some two hundred years before the “oldest grave” which Umi made a mention of.
The grounds of the former De La Salle School which opened in 1952 are right next to the keramat.
We also learn from Umi that she was from a family of caretakers appointed by a member of the Johor Royal family to take care of the Istana Woodneuk and the grounds of the former Istana Tyersall until some 15 years ago, before being asked by a “Tunku” to move to Bukit Purmei to look after the Bukit Kasita site, which she says is still in the hands of the State of Johor. A check on the Singapore Land Authority’s one map site shows however that Bukit Kasita is within a parcel of land which is owned by the Housing and Development Board – although I am given to understand that it is possible that the site itself could still be owned by the Johor State.
Query on ownership of land on which Keramat Bukit Kasita is on via SLA’s One Map site.
While it is uncertain what origins of the site are, we do know that there is at least the graves of a branch of the Johor Royal line all of which can be traced back to Sang Nila Utama and his successors who ruled Singapura and subsequently the Sultanate of Melaka, is can be found behind the walls. This branch, are the descendants of the rulers of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate which was set up by the Dutch out of the remnants of the Johor-Riau-Lingga Sultanate they controlled through the appointment of the Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Shah the younger son of Sultan Mahmud Shah III following his death in 1812 and cemented by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.
The locked gates.
It was Abdul Rahman’s elder half brother, Hussein who was set up by Raffles as Sultan of Johor and Singapore, in Kampong Glam – Hussein’s descendants are buried in another site at the Old Malay Cemetery in Jalan Kubor.
The ‘Tombs of Malayan Princes’ at Jalan Kubor.
The Riau Sultanate was abolished when the Dutch drove an uncooperative Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Shah II, the great-great-grandson of Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Shah through his great-granddaughter Tengku Fatimah, from his seat in Pulau Penyengat into exile in Singapore in 1911. Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Shah II, the very last Sultan of Riau-Lingga, died a poor man in 1930 and along with several of his descendants, is buried at Bukit Kasita. This does make the cluster, one of three connected, albeit distantly, with the Johor Royal family.
Sultan Abdul Rahman Muazzam Shah II, the last sultan of Riau-Lingga who died in exile in Singapore in 1930 (source: www.royalark.net).
The other two are the Tanah Kubor Temenggong at Telok Blangah where the Temenggong with whom Raffles negotiated with in setting up the East India Company’s trading post in Singapore, and from whom the current line of Johor Sultans descended, Temenggong Abdul Rahman is buried; and the Old Malay Cemetery at Kampong Glam, where the “Tombs of Malayan Princes” – many of whom were descendants of Sultan Hussein, is found. Tanah Kubor Temenggong along with the Masjid Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim are on land owned by the State of Johor. The tomb of Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim after whom the mosque is named is also found in that burial site. It was Temmenggong Deang Ibrahim’s son, Abu Bakar, who established the current Johor Sultanate.
Another view of the Tanah Kubor diRaja / Keramat Bukit Kasita.
It is thought that the area where Bukit Kasita is, was where one of the oldest settlements in Singapore was established well before the arrival of Raffles and the resettlement of the Temenggong and his followers by Raffles to the Telok Blangah area. It might have been Abu Bakar as Temenggong who permitted the establishment of a settlement by followers of the ousted last Bendahara of Johor in Pahang Tun Mutahir in 1863, many of whom fled to Singapore and Johor at the end of the Pahang Civil War of 1857 to 1863. Tun Mutahir was defeated by the Bendahara’s younger half brother Tun Ahmad who established the Pahang Sultanate. The settlement came to be known as Kampong Pahang – which is shown in a map of Singapore from 1907, one of several villages of the same name set up by fleeing followers of Tun Mutahir, another of which was on Pulau Tekong.
Detail of a 1907 map of Singapore showing Kampong Pahang at Bukit Purmei / Bukit Kasita.
As to how the Bukit Kasita site came to be venerated as a keramat, a clue is found in a paper published in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 2003 by P.J. Rivers. Rivers identifies two graves which are venerated as keramats, one is of a Raja Ahmad which Rivers identifies as Keramat Bukit Kasita. The second grave is that of a Raja Tengku Fatimah which is venerated on the basis that the waters of spring next to the tomb which is said to have healing powers.
Another keramat, that of Radin Mas Ayu, just a stone’s throw away on the slopes of Mount Faber.
Outside the gate two urns containing sticks of incense provide evidence of the veneration of the site, which the Berita Minggu article says attracts visitors of all races. Umi does confirm this, telling us that there are indeed visitors who come from as far as Europe, who offer prayers at the site.
Yellow is seen along with the colour green.
Before we leave, we ask Umi about the significance of the green seen on some of the graves. Umi tells us that they are of descendants of “shaikhs” from Iraq, related to Muslim holyman Habib Noh (of Keramat Habib Noh). Whether it is completely true or not is hard to establish. She adds the grave of an infant seen under the tree in the middle of the compound, is that of a grandchild of Habib Noh. As we thank Umi for her information and turn to leave, Umi adds that the tree is a holy one which should never be cut down.
URA’s Draft Master Plan 2013 shows the Keramat Bukit Kasita area as a reserve site.
Whether or not the tree will ever be cut down, would depend very on whether the site and the wealth of history that comes with it is discarded in the same way much of what made us who we as Singaporeans are has been sacrificed for the glitter of the soulless world we have come to embrace. What is known today, based on the latest (2013) draft of the URA Master Plan, is that the site is a reserved site for which there are no immediate plans. In that there is hope that what may be a link we have to a world we might otherwise have lost touch with, may somehow survive.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
A sneak peek at the Gardens by the Bay – Far East Organization one hectare Children’s Garden which is scheduled to be open in January 2014. The garden, being set up on a site adjacent to the Cloud Forest will feature river scapes, lush greenery, a special toddler’s play zone, Rainforest tree houses and a water play area and on the evidence of the sneak preview that the young guests of the Gardens by the Bay and Far East Organization got over the weekend, will provide kids a splashing good time.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Something to look forward to at the end of next week: the 3rd Rendezvous With French Cinema, which brings some of the best of French contemporary cinema to Singapore. The film festival will take place from 5 December to 8 December 2013 with 14 films being screened, opening with the The Nightingale (Le promeneur d’oiseau) at the Mastercard Theatres at MarinaBay Sands on 5 December.
The Nightingale which makes its Southeast Asian premiere as part of Screen Singapore is directed by Philippe Muyl, was shot in China and features an all-Chinese cast and is one of two films being screened which are Franco-Asian collaborative efforts. The other is a short film directed by Singaporean Jow Zhi Wei After the Winter (Au-dela de l’hiver). Jow Zhi Wei is a recent graduate of the prestigious Le Fresnoy post-graduate school in France and his 19 minute film which was selected for The Cinefondation Selection at the Cannes Film Festival will be shown just before the screenings for The Nightingale.
Other films that will be screened during the four day festival is Michael Kohlhaas, a period drama which centres around a horsedealer directed by Arnaud des Pallières, and Möbius, a spy thriller directed by Éric Rochant. The debut of both films in Singapore will see the attendance of the respective directors, Arnaud des Pallières and Éric Rochant. The screenwriter of Michael Kohlhaas, Christelle Berthevas, will also be in Singapore for what will be the film’s premiere in Asia.
Tickets are priced at $12 for screeings at The Cathay Cineplex, Golden Village Marina and Shaw Theatres Lido and at $11 at Alliance Française Theatre. Information on ticketing and the programme can be found at www.rendezvouswithfrenchcinema.sg.
The previous rendezvous:
Selections from the 3rd Rendezvous With French Cinema Film Programme
(for the full programme, do visit: www.rendezvouswithfrenchcinema.sg)
(Le promeneur d’oiseau)
In Mandarin with English subtitles, Drama, China & France, 2013,100 mins
Director: Philippe Muyl
Cast: Li Bao Tian, Li Xiao ran, Qin Hao, Yang Xin Yi
6 Dec, 6.30pm: Alliance française Theatre [Preceded by the screening of short film After the Winter (Au-delà de l'hiver)]
7 Dec, 2.00pm: The Cathay Cineplex
Zhigen has lived alone in Beijing for over 20 years after moving to the city to allow his son Chongyi to attend university. He decides to make the long journey from Beijing to Yangshuo to honour the promise he made to his wife to bring back the bird that has been his only companion in the city. He takes along his granddaughter Renxing. While grandfather and granddaughter set out on their journey, they ponder the meaning of the life they have led in the sole pursuit of success and money.
After the Winter
(Au-delà de l’hiver)
In French with English subtitles, Short Film, France, 2013, 19 mins
Director: Jow Zhi Wei
6 Dec, 6.30pm: Alliance française Theatre [Followed by the screening of The Nightingale (Le promeneur d’oiseau)]
An old couple living in a small village goes through their everyday rituals. However, each day they seem to be waiting for something. A metaphorical tale of tumult and the loneliness we life in.
Singaporean Director Jow Zhi Wei graduated from the Puttnam School of Film at Lasalle and under the scholarship by Institut Français Singapour, has completed his Masters programme this year at Le Fresnoy, the prestigious post-graduate art school and audio-visual research and production centre in France. To make this short movie, he spent more than a month living with his subjects on Penghu Island in Taiwan. His hard work paid off in the form of a nomination in the Cinéfondation Selection of the Cannes Film Festival.
In French with English subtitles, Period Drama, France, 2013, 122 mins
Rating: M18 – Sexual scenes and nudity
Director: Arnaud des Pallières
Cast: Mads Mikkelson, Mélusine Mayance, Delphine Chuillot, David Kross, Bruno Ganz
6 Dec, 9:15pm: Alliance française Theatre
8 Dec, 2:00pm: The Cathay Cineplex
Winner of the Golden Iris Award for Best Film at the Brussels Film Festival 2013 – The Cévennes in the 16th century. Michael Kohlhaas, a horse-dealer, leads a happy and prosperous family life until he suffers an injustice carried out by a lord. This pious and simple man raises an outlaw army and lays waste to the country by war in order to establish his rights once again.
In French with English subtitles, Thriller, France, 2013, 109 mins
Rating: M18 – Sexual scenes
Director: Éric Rochant
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Cécile de France, Tim Roth, Emilie Dequenne, Oleksii Gorbunov
7 Dec, 9:00pm: Alliance française Theatre
8 Dec, 7:20pm: Shaw Theatres Lido
Gregory Lioubov, alias Moses, a Russian secret services officer, is sent to Monaco in order to keep watch over a powerful businessman. For this mission, his team hires Alice, a top-notch financial expert who infiltrates the company. Gregory suspects that Alice has betrayed them; he breaks the golden rule and makes contact with his clandestine agent. An impossible passion develops between them which inexorably leads to their downfall.
One of the few places in central Singapore left untouched by the spread of the concrete jungle, the area bounded by Thomson, Whitley Road (Pan Island Expressway) and Lornie Road, will in the not so distant future, see the change it has long resisted.
The area bounded by Thomson Road, Lornie Road and Whitley Road, hides some beautiful sights which has long resisted the advance of the concrete world.
The area, a large part of which Bukit Brown Cemetery and the cemeteries adjoining it occupies, is where a calm and peaceful world now exists, one not just of cemetery land reclaimed in part by nature, but of laid back open spaces, colonial era bungalows beautifully set in lush greenery, and where horses sometimes outnumber cars on a few of its roads.
Gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery.
While it may be a while before the concrete invasion arrives – much of the area has been earmarked for housing developments in the longer term, the winds of change have begun to pick up speed. Alien structures related to the MRT Station have already landed and exhumation of graves affected by the new road through Bukit Brown will commence soon.
Notices of exhumation at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
Close-by, across Thomson Road, which will soon see construction work beginning on the North-South Expressway, Toa Payoh Rise has been widened and looks nothing like the quiet and peaceful road it once was.
Toa Payoh Rise losing its gentle feel in 2010 as work started to widen the once laid-back road.
Marymount Convent, a long time occupant of the mound next to Toa Payoh Rise, already once affected by the construction of Marymount Road, held its last mass – the convent will have to vacate the land on which it has occupied for some 63 years. Not far away – at the corner where Mount Pleasant Road runs through, the houses and the Old Police Academy another with a long association with the area, will also not be spared. The expansive grounds of the academy was where many would have spent a Sunday afternoon in simpler days watching grown men kicking a ball on the field. Besides football matches close-up, one could sometimes get a treat of a glimpse at a parade or a Police Tattoo practice session as one passed on the bus.
Riding off into a sunset – the Old Police Academy south of the Polo Club will be one of the victims of the winds of change will may soon blow into the area.
With the many changes about to descend on the area, one probably constant along that stretch of Thomson Road – or at least the hope is there that it would be, is the Singapore Polo Club. A feature in the area for more than seven decades, the club first moved to the location, just as the dark days of the Occupation were upon us in 1941.
The Polo Club’s grounds as seen from Thomson Road.
Sitting across the huge monsoon drain in which many boys would once have been seen wading in to catch tiny fishes, the grounds of the Polo Club – with it huge green playing field, is one that I almost always kept a look out for, in the hope of catching a glimpse of a match underway.
Some of us would have fond memories of catching fish from the huge monsoon drain running by the eastern edge of the Polo Club.
The grounds, the lease on which the club holds for another 20 years, wasn’t the club’s first. One of the oldest polo clubs in the region (as well as being one of the oldest sporting clubs in Singapore) dating back to 1886 by officers of the King’s Own Regiment – not too long after the rules of modern polo was formalised. The first grounds on which the sport was played at was one shared with golfers of the Singapore Golf Club at the Race Course or what is Farrer Park today.
The Polo Club’s Indoor Arena and Stables.
It does seem that from a 1938 newspaper article contributed by René Onraet, the Inspector General of the Straits Settlements Police from 1935 to 1939, who was a keen polo player and also a President of the club that the game was also played at the reclamation site across Beach Road in front of Raffles Hotel. This was where the NAAFI Britannia Club / SAF NCO Club and Beach Road Camp were to come up, a site currently being developed into the massive Foster + Partners designed South Beach residential and commercial complex.
The grounds at Balestier Road which hosted the Singapore Polo Club from 1914 to 1941.
The club sought new premises after being prevented from using the Race Course grounds in 1913 – moving to its first dedicated grounds at Balestier Road (Rumah Miskin) in June 1914 – grounds now occupied by the cluster of buildings which once were used by the Balestier Boys’s School, Balestier Mixed School and Balestier Girls’ School.
The Prince of Wales playing polo at the Balestier Road ground in 1922 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).
The grounds were unfortunately limited in size, and a search was initiated for a new ground at the end of the 1930s. It was the club’s President, René Onraet, who was instrumental in securing the current premises, which incidentally was right by what was the Police Training School – the Old Police Academy.
The Singapore Polo Club has occupied its current grounds since 1941. The grounds were said to have been used as vegetable plots during the Japanese Occupation.
Although the grounds were ready at the end of 1941, it wasn’t until 1946 that the first game of polo was played on the grounds which by the time required some effort to restore it. The war had seen the grounds turned, as a couple of newspaper reports would have it, into vegetable plots – complete with drainage ditches and water wells. The club’s website makes mention of the Japanese Imperial Army converting the grounds into a gun emplacement area, before turning it into a squatter’s camp.
Prince Charles participating in a game on the Thomson Road ground in 1974 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).
Over the years, the club has expanded it membership and now includes activities such as equestrian sports, as well as having facilities for other sports. Along with club, the area around the club, also plays host to the likes of the Riding for the Disabled Association and the National Equestrian Centre at Jalan Mashhor.
The sun rises on Jalan Mashhor, home of the RDA and National Equestrian Centre.
Another view of Jalan Mashhor.
The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).
The National Equestrian Centre – with the Mediacorp Caldecott Broadcast Centre seen in the background. The Broadcast Centre is scheduled to move to Buona Vista in 2015.
The area where a healthy cluster of horse related activity centres are located is one which based on the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Draft Master Plan 2013 will be retained for sports and recreation use in the future.
Masjid Omar Salmah, at Jalan Mashhor which was built in the 1970s and is now long abandoned by Kampong Jantai it was built to serve.
Another view of the National Equestrian Centre.
The area where the Polo Club is (in green) on the recently released URA Draft Master Plan, is designated for Sports and Recreation use, but the rest of the area around it may see a change (http://www.ura.gov.sg/MS/DMP2013/draft-master-plan/map.html).
While it does look like this might remain a beautiful world for some time to come, time is being called on the gorgeous world which now surrounds it. It won’t be long before the wooded areas across Thomson Road are cleared for development. The greater loss will however be the places of escape to the west. That is the green and beautiful world of the cemetery grounds. Grounds where men and horses, and perhaps the good spirits of the world beyond us, have but a few precious moments in which they can continue to roam freely in.
Jalan Mashhor at sunrise.
The road to nowhere … at least for the time being (MRT related structures are clearly visible).
More on the game of Polo and how it is played in Singapore: A Royal Salute to the sport of kings.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Every year for the last three decades, Orchard Road is transformed into an enchanting sea of lights in the lead up to Christmas. This year’s light-up, which features the silver tinged twinkle of stars and sparkle of diamonds against the cool of blue lights taking one magically away from the tropics, was launched last evening at Shaw House’s Urban Plaza with President Tony Tan Keng Yam gracing the occasion as the Guest-of-Honour.
The Orchard Road Christmas Light-up is in its 30th year.
President Tony Tan greeting the guests.
Before the launch, colour and entertainment at the launch ceremony was provided by the Super Trouper Choir and the Dim Sum Dollies. The Super Trouper Choir features 14 students with intellectual disabilities from MINDS Lee Kong Chian Garden School, 11 of whom sang at the event.
The Super Trouper Choir.
The Dim Sum Dollies.
The Dim Sum Dollies, who were their entertaining selves, included the brand new dolly, Denise Tan. Together they will feature in Dream Academy’s CRAZY CHRISTMAS Ting Tong Belles the cast of which will also include the likes of Kumar, Broadway Beng (Sebastian Tan) and Judee Tan. CRAZY CHRISTMAS Ting Tong Belles will play at Esplanade Theatre from 11 to 22 December 2013.
New dolly, Denise Tan.
Themed “Christmas on A Great Street”, the light up, which will run from 23 November 2013 to 5 January 2014, is sponsored by Hitachi (for the 23rd year) with Mastercard as the Official Card. The light-up which is organised by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) is also linked with the Community Chest – an association which goes back to the first light-up, serving as a launch-pad for the annual year-end charity drive.
During the launch ceremony, battery-powered candles were also given out to guests as well as members of the public by 100 student volunteers from the Republic Polytechnic with the ORBA donating $1 for each candle lit in front of ION Orchard.
A lighted candle during the launch ceremony.
The light-up also sees several malls participating in the Best Dressed Building Contest 2013. The contest runs from 23 November to 8 December 2013 with members of the public voting for their favourite building through a mobile @Orchard app – with the chance to win shopping vouchers – $500 worth for each of the six winners, and $250 worth for each of the three runners-up.
The very useful @Orchard app which is free and downloadable to mobile devices, also includes a underground navigation function with an ORBA Walking Map which works below ground.
The period of the light-up also sees performance and activities along Orchard Road to look forward to including a mass carolling event on Christmas Eve and a Grand Christmas Concert on Christmas Day. More information can be found at the Christmas on the Great Street website’s events page.
Participating Malls for the Best Dressed Building Contest 2013
- Forum the Shopping Mall
- GrandPark Orchard
- ION Orchard
- Mandarin Gallery
- Ngee Ann City / Takashimaya Shopping Centre
- Orchard Central
- Tanglin Mall
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Royal Salute is a name in the Chivas Brothers’ household that is as much associated with its exquisite range of blends of highly aged scotch whiskies, as it is with the sport of polo for which the brand is an international sponsor. And, it was in the wonderful setting provided by the Singapore Polo Club – one of the region’s oldest polo clubs, just last week that I had the recent pleasure of being acquainted with both the brand’s offerings, as well as the sport it sponsors.
Polo in the Singapore Polo Club’s Indoor Arena.
My initial impressions of polo were formed early in life. It was in the many occasions in passing through Thomson Road that I got my first glimpses of horse mounted men chasing a ball with sticks – something I always hoped to catch the sight of in passing.
Thomson Road seen from across the Singapore Polo Club playing field.
It was however at the recent Royal Salute event that I had the opportunity to better understand the sport, its heritage, and some of its rather intricate rules – and also have a hand at getting on a horse and taking a swing at the ball.
The Singapore Polo Club’s outdoor arena.
After getting some formalities out of the way in the form of an indemnity statement I had to sign, the small and privileged group that Royal Salute had over were given the privilege of an introduction to the sport’s heritage and some of its basic rules by a well known retired polo professional and the club’s Polo Director, Mr Podger El-Effendi.
Mr Podger El-Effendi explaining the “rules of the road”.
It was interesting to hear of the sports origins, particularly of the modern version of it that is played today. Long held as the sport of kings – some of the better known personalities associated with polo today are in fact members of royal families around us, the sport is thought to have military origins in the training of the horse mounted armies of Central and East Asia. The name of the sport, “polo” is in fact derived from a Tibetian word “pulu”, which is a reference a root used to make the ball used in the earlier days of the sport.
Moving along the line of the ball.
Polo as it is played today is an interpretation of the sport as it was played in India in the 1800s, as the British Crown started to exert its sovereignty over the sub-continent to which the sport had arrived at by way of the Moghuls several centuries before. The British, through members of its cavalry units based in India, were responsible for setting up the first clubs and also formalising how the game was played, and exporting it to Europe and then to Argentina through settlers from the British Isles. In Argentina, the sport found an ideal setting with the country’s geography and climate, and it is where the sport now thrives.
From Mr El-Effendi, we hear also of rather curious sounding terms used in the sport such as a “chukka” – a playing period of seven minutes, four of which are played in the Singapore game between teams of four players, and six to eight in the full version of polo.
Of the rules that were introduced, one that would probably be most important from a perspective of safety is what is to polo akin to road traffic “rules of the road”. In polo, the path of the ball forms the middle the line that the players should move their horses along. Also essential were rules relating to when a player is allowed to intercept the ball or attempt to block a shot by hooking the opposing player’s mallet.
Taking a swing at the ball.
After the quick introduction, it was time to head to the covered riding arena – which is used for games between teams of three players when the weather does not permit a match outdoors, for what might have been the most exciting part of the event.
The indoor arena and the stables of the Singapore Polo Club.
At the arena, we met Mr Stijn Welkers, the club’s polo captain, who first introduced the horses used in the sport, and the manner in which they were prepared and dressed – three things did catch my attention. One was the tying of the tail hair to the tail bone to prevent the sweeping horse’s tail getting caught in the swinging polo mallet, the second was the use of two reins – to provide a greater degree of control on the horse’s movements, and the last was the wrapping of the horse’s legs with bandages to protect it from impact on being hit with a ball.
Mr Welkers explaining the use of the two reins. Polo ponies are smaller than riding ponies and it takes four years to train one. One out of every ten selected makes it as a polo pony.
The leg wrappings.
It was now time to get on a horse and have a swing at a ball, which Mr Welkers did say was what made you crave to get more of once you’ve done it well.
The tied up tail of the polo pony.
It was tough getting up the horse, even with a little help from the groom. Rather embarrassing having only just heard that polo ponies are smaller in size than riding ponies. All was forgotten when I did eventually find my way up on the saddle and get to have a swing with the mallet from my mount – with the horse being led safely by a groom. It was certainly as Mr Welkers had insisted that it would be, each successful swing does have to wanting to take one more.
Just how many does it take to get a man on a horse?
There was an demonstration by one of the club’s instructors that followed but the excitement did not end there … especially with the promise of dinner in the club’s Mountbatten Room accompanied by the promise of indulgence in “the water of life”.
Slàinte mhath! Mr Prentice leading a toast, Scottish style.
It was our host, Mr Peter Prentice, the Heritage Director of Chivas Brothers, who provided the introduction to the Royal Salute range of whiskies – Royal Salute, which was launched in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, we are told, “begins where other whiskies end” – in the sense that the blends start with whiskies that have been aged for a minimum of 21 years.
A glass of the 21 year old – the minimum age of a Royal Salute whisky.
Even with the 21 year old that we started with, which accompanied the Appetizer of Smoke Salmon and Beetroot Salad, it was evident from the rich colour that the blend was one of whiskies well aged in oak casks (Chivas uses casks in which Spanish sherry and American Bourbon has been previously aged).
While I won’t pretend to be much of a whisky connoisseur, I could at least detect the intensity of flavours that did come with the smell and taste of the 21 year old – as with the bouquet that adding an equal amount of water did bring out.
Age does bring out the best in whisky and we did get on to the older and richer flavours of the older whiskies in Royal Salute’s range as dinner progressed – gaining 17 years as we got to the main course for which I chose the Wild Scottish Salmon cooked with Pearl Barley over the Filet Mignon.
Wild Scottish Salmon.
The 38 year old, Royal Salute’s Stone of Destiny, named after a piece of sandstone which served as symbol of Scottish nobility, is certainly one befitting of its name. The warmness of its dark colour is accompanied by a richness of flavour which the tasting notes describes as having “embracing cedar-wood and crushed almond characters with a sherried oakiness” with which “dried fruit lingers with an assertive spiciness”. It was the spiciness, best brought out neat on the upper gums and the oakiness that did come out with what Mr Prentice described as a Chrsitmas pudding like fruity flavour.
A glass of the 62 Gun Salute.
Dessert soon followed – the very sinful lava cake was accompanied by the top-of-the-line Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute, described as the “pinnacle of the Royal Salute range”. Named after the 62 gun salute* given on the occasion of the Queen’s annual coronation celebrations from the Tower of London, and priced at USD 2500 a litre, the limited edition blend which comes in a specially crafted crystal bottle, is certainly as its name suggests, one for the extraordinary occasions.
The Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute.
Crafted from whiskies selected from each of its four generations of Master Blenders with a minimum age of 40 years, the blend does offer what it does promise with its notes of dark chocolate, warm spicy cinnamon and Seville oranges. Its finish which as with the other blends does linger is one of nutty and oaky flavours, with a hint of smokiness – a great way to bring a what was a delightful evening to a close.
* The 62 Gun Salute (as posted at the Chivas Brothers’ website)
The 62 Gun Salute is fired at the Tower of London every June to mark the Queen’s official birthday and accession to the throne. Gun salutes have marked important State and Royal events since Tudor times and are traditionally fired as a sign of respect or welcome. The 62 Gun Salute at the Tower of London is made up firstly of a 41 Gun Salute – the traditional 21 Gun Salute, plus a further 20, due to the Tower of London’s status as a Royal palace and fortress. Royal anniversaries, such as the Queen’s official birthday, are celebrated with an additional 21 shots as mark of respect for the monarch from the ‘City of London’, resulting in the prestigious 62 Gun Salute.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Long a quiet and peaceful corner in Singapore on a plot of land adjoining the former Bidadari Cemetery, is an area of Mount Vernon which once hosted Singapore’s first public crematorium. The crematorium which started in October 1962, ceased operations in June 2004 and the plot of land now plays a columbarium which dates back to 1978 as well as privately run funeral parlours of more recent times.
The sun streams through the trees of a green and tranquil part of Mount Vernon.
It will not be long before this green oasis of calm goes. Along with the parkland which the former cemetery has been turned into, it will be redeveloped as part of Bidadari public housing estate. The estate’s development will see some reminders of the area’s past being incorporated into it. However, the area on which the columbarium, which besides the beautiful park like setting it finds itself in, is also known for its pagoda columbarium which has become a landmark in the area, sits will be built over.
The pagoda along with a two-storey building which also houses columbarium niches, was the columbarium’s most recent addition which was completed in December 1987 – adding some 13230 niches to the 10392 niches which were added over the years starting with 3000 when it opened in late 1978. Extensions were also made in 1982 and 1985 adding 5280 and 2112 niches respectively, coming at a time when with pressure on land-usage increasing, cremating the dead was encouraged as an alternative to burials.
The nine-storey pagoda which was completed in 1987.
The columbarium is quite distinct in its setting compared to other publicly run ones with the older free standing structures in the garden like setting – a beautiful and respectful space for dead which like the fast disappearing beautiful spaces for the living, Singapore, has no more room to accommodate.
The two-storey building containing niches which was added at the same time as the pagoda.
A privately run funeral parlour.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
The Sikh holy day of Guru Nanak Jayanti commemorating the birth anniversary of the first Guru and the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, is celebrated by the Sikh community during the full moon in the month of Kartik. This year’s celebration took place on 17 November and I had the opportunity to observe the festivities at the Sikh temple in Yishun, the Gurdwara Sahib Yishun.
The commemoration of festivities at gurdwaras or Sikh temples often sees the appearance of sword wielding armed guards who represent the Five Beloved Ones.
The festival, is said to be one of the most sacred in the Sikh religion. As with all festivals that is celebrated in the Sikh religion, it is one that is involves the entire community, involving prayers offered in the morning, the singing of hymns and the sharing of a meal at the gurdwara or Sikh temple.
The Darbar Sahib or prayer hall.
The highlight of yesterday’s celebration at the Gurdwara Sahib Yishun, was the raising of a new flag. The flag, the sacred Sikh religious flag, known as the Nishan Sahib, is traditionally flown on a tall flagpole outside the gurdwara. This serves to identify the location of the gurdwara as it is flown in such a manner that it can be seen from afar.
Inside the prayer hall or Darbar Sahib.
Sweet pudding is distributed after prayers.
The five beloved ones at the flagpole.
It was with much ceremony that the old flag is lowered and the new flag raised. With the community gathered around, together with five saffron robed sword wielding guards (who represent the Panj Pyaras or the five beloved ones) prominent at the base of the flagpole (and throughout the religious part of the observances), the flagpole is lowered so the the old flag can be removed and the the flagpole prepared to receive the new sacred flag by washing with water and milk.
The lowering of the flagpole.
Washing the flagpole.
All hands to the flagpole.
Milk is also used in the washing.
A new flag is attached.
With the flagpole washed, the new flag is then attached to it and its is with much jubilation that the flagpole and the flag is then raised. Following the raising of the pole, members of the community stream around its base, placing flowers and offering prayers. The members of the community then head back up to the Darbar Sahib or prayer hall for the singing of hymns, with the morning’s festivities culminating in the sharing of a community meal – a practice that is central to all Sikh celebrations.
Raising of the new flag.
The new flag is raised.
Singing of hymns.
About the Gurdwara Sahib Yishun:
The Gurdwara Sahib Yishun which opened on 27 August 1995 traces its origins to two gurdwaras located in Singapore north which merged when the land on which they stood was acquired for redevelopment. The two were the Gurdwara Sahib Guru Khalsa Sabha Sembawang (Sembawang Sikh Temple) and the Gurdwara Sahib Jalan Kayu, both of which are connected with the establishment of bases by the British military in the 1930s.
The Sembawang Sikh Temple had it origins in the British Naval Base, being set up in 1936 in the settlement outside the base which later became known as Chong Pang Village to serve the Sikh community involved in the construction of the base, and later workers in the base as well as Sikh members of Naval Base Police (who has their barracks at View Road).
The Gurdwara Sahib Jalan Kayu, traces its origins to the Sikh community which came to the area to serve in the RAF Seletar Police Force who set up a temple in their barracks in the 1930s. The Gurdwara Sahib Jalan Kayu itself was set up in the village just outside the air base after the war in 1947 when the Police Force was disbanded.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women will be commemorated on 25 November. In conjunction with this, the Singapore Committee for UN Women is holding a photo competition entitled Sheroes through the month of November with the aim of celebrating the inherent strength and power of every woman – everyday, rather than focus on women only as victims of violence.
The competition is open to residents of Singapore over 13 years of age and all photo submissions should be original content that highlights a woman or girl in your life that inspires you, with a short description of why the woman/girl featured inspires you and why you believe she is a Shero, inlcuded. Photos can be submitted until 25 November via the Singapore Committee for UN Women’s Facebook page.
The selection of finalists will be made on 25 November on the basis of online voting (which commences on 18 November). The top 10 photographs will be exhibited at the Indigo Blue Art Gallery on 29 November on which day the winning photograph will be announced with the winner picking up a surprise prize. For more information, do visit the Singapore Committee for UN Women’s Facebook page and the Singapore Committee for UN Women website.
Conceived by the founder of modern Singapore Sir Stamford Raffles, the five-foot-way was a feature that was stipulated in the Jackson Town Plan of 1822 and is seen today in the shophouses which once dominated the urban landscape of Malaya and Singapore. In Singapore today, over 6000 of these shophouses have been conserved and their five-foot-ways remain colourful spaces through which I often enjoy a walk through. The photographs that follow, are ones from some of the more colourful areas of Singapore in which clusters of shophouses with five-foot-ways, old and new, can be found. More on the five-foot-way and the idea behind them can be found in two of my previous posts, the links to which are at the end of this post.
Other five-foot-way adventures:
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.