Change has become an inevitable aspect of life in Singapore. Places we cherish go in a flash and are quickly replaced by unfamiliar. For some, the passing of a neighbourhood in which they may have spent most of their lives in can be an traumatic experience. The loss is not just of the familiarity of a place one calls home, but also the break up of the communities in which ties may have been forged over several decades.
The back of Singapore’s first one dollar note.
One old neigbourhood that has been emptied of life was the one at Commonwealth Drive , an area, at least from a public housing perspective, that goes back half a century. The area, also known as Tanglin Halt, is where some of the earliest planned Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks of flats are to be found. The cluster of 10-storey blocks of flats also referred to as Chap Lau Chu (10-storey houses in Hokkien), while not aesthetically pleasing in the context of today’s public housing designs, served as the face of the HDB’s public housing efforts and were featured on the backs of the new nation’s very first one dollar currency note.
A window into the past. Inside an early HDB flat at Commonwealth Drive soon to be demolished.
Sadly, the neighbourhood will soon lose its note-worthy blocks. The now vacant blocks will soon be demolished and all that will be left of them will be dust and some of our memories. We do get to bid farewell to them before that happens though. A carnival to say goodbye is being organised by My Community and the Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee on Saturday (3 October 2015) to say our goodbyes to blocks 74 to 80.
Block 74 Commonwealth Drive, 1968 (Courtesy of Jasmine Cheng).
The carnival will not only allow access to an area soon to be hoarded up. One of the blocks (Block 74) will be opened up to the public as well as two of the block’s units on the second level. Visitors can also look forward to a photography exhibition “Forget Me Not” by Nicky Loh and Erwin Tan, which looks at the estate in its glory days, the past and the present. One of the photographers Nicky Loh, lived at block 79 and has fond memories of the Chin Hin Eating House, a kopitiam at Block 75 that closed its doors last year (see a previous post on it: Last Impressions).
The carnival will allow access to Block 74 and two of its units. Formerly occupied by Chin Hin Eating House. Reminders of yesterday – retrofitted 2nd generation HDB letter boxes. The common corridor – the slot in the original door found on many of the vacated flats were for mail – a reminder of when the postman used to deliver mail door to door.
Along with the exhibition there will also be performances by local favourites ShiGGa Shay, Tay Kexin and the Switch, as well as a public screening of the highly acclaimed “7 letters”. Three of the seven films, Royston Tan’s “Bunga Sayang,” Boo Jun Feng’s “Parting” and Eric Khoo’s “Cinema” were shot in the neighbourhood.
It will perhaps be a fitting goodbye to an area that was also associated among other things with the railway (the rail corridor runs by it and the name Tanglin Halt came from a train halt or stop located in the area) and the industrial area to its immediate north that was crowned not only with the huge gas holder (the giant blue city gas cylindrical tank similar to the one that used to dominate the Kallang landscape), but was also where Singapore’s homegrown television brand, Setron – once a household name, had its first factory. The mix of light industries and a residential neighbourhood – there also were factories and artisans operating in the ground floor shop lots allowed residents to find work around where they lived in days when folks were less mobile and perhaps when we were less fussy about where we lived.
The gas holder (photo: National Archives of Singapore). The site of the former gas holder.
The area is a popular shortcut during lunch … the masks are not because of the long gone gas tank that used to also be remembered for the smell behind them but due to the current haze.
More on Saturday’s carnival can be found at the My Queenstown Facebook Page.
Goodbye 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive Programme
Date: Saturday, 3 October 2015
Time: 1100 to 1900 hrs
Venue: Block 74 carpark (next to Tanglin Halt Wet Market)
What to expect:
- Access to Block 74 (1100-1900)
- Screening of “Singapore Dreaming” (1200) “Taxi Taxi” (1430) “7 letters” (1700)
- A photography exhibition by Nicky Loh Photography and Erwin Tan (1100-1900)
- Performances by White Ribbon Live Music (1200) ShiGGa Shay (1500), Tay Kexin (郑可欣) and the Switch (1600)
- Free flow of drinks and ice cream ! (1100-1700)
Note : Times are subject to weather conditions and outdoor events will be cancelled in the event the PSI exceeds 201
Some may remember this bathroom door – a standard one-time HDB fitting. A close up of the door with the manufacturer’s name.
Signs of times forgotten.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
A selection of images of a Singapore, around the time the centenary of its founding. The images show a charming and elegant side hard now to imagine. While a handful of buildings from the era can still be found, most of the character of the then municipality’s commercial quarter and a grand looking waterfront that is perhaps comparable to Shanghai’s Bund, has been lost to progress.
More at : The elegant city Singapore has lost
Empress Place and Princess Square
The statue of the founder of modern Singapore, Raffles, was moved to (its current location at) Empress Place from the Padang on the occasion of the centenary of British Singapore’s founding. The colonnade seen around it was damaged and removed during the war years.
Another view of Empress Place, with the Fullerton Building (completed 1928) already constructed.
Princess Square – looking up High Street towards Fort Canning Light. The Singapore Cricket Club is on the right and the Hotel de L’Europe stands at the location of old Supreme Court (now part of the National Gallery).
Battery Road / Fullerton Square
Fullerton Square, before the Fullerton Building came up. Part of the first HongKong Bank Chambers can be seen on the left. The Exchange and the old General Post Office on the right is where the Fullerton now stands.
Battery Road, seen with the Tan Kim Seng fountain (since moved to Esplanade Park).
Another view of Battery Road at Fullerton Square. The Medical Hall is where the Straits Trading Building now stands.
Battery Road at the turn of the century. The Dispensary, at the corner of Bonham Street is where 6 Battery Road (Chartered Bank) now stands.
Another view up Battery Road.
Finlayson Green at the turn of the last century. The Straits Times offices can be seen on the left with the offices of the Dutch shipping company Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatshappij on the right along with the three storey headquarters of Behn Meyer.
Anson Road, with the once iconic Boustead Institute at the meeting of Anson and Tanjong Pagar Roads.
Collyer Quay and the lost waterfront
Collyer Quay in the late 19th century. The first HongKong and Shanghai Bank chambers (completed in 1892) can be seen at the near end.
A view from the far end of Collyer Quay at Finlayson Green. Princes Building, the 1909 built Alkaff’s Arcade can be seen along with 5 storey St. Helen’s Court. St. Helen’s Court, which was later to be renamed Shell House and subsequently Clifford House after the new 15 storey Shell House was built, was then the tallest building along Collyer Quay.
Collyer Quay in the 1930s, with the second Ocean Building (built in 1924) along with Princes Building, the Arcade, St. Helen’s Court, Union Building (1924) and the Fullerton Building (GPO, 1928) already up. Trolley buses had by that time replaced trams as public transport.
The revamped permanent galleries of the National Museum of Singapore (see a previous post: The new permanent: a sneak peek at the museum’s revamped galleries) were opened officially on Saturday 19 September 2015. The event was graced by Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong, who 25 years ago, reopened the refurbished museum building as First Deputy Prime Minister. ESM Goh also took the opportunity to have a look at the galleries before the opening and unveiled a plaque under the rotunda across from a plaque he unveiled 25 years before. Photographs from the opening and ESM Goh’s visit follow:
Visiting a HDB flat even after the GE (a display at the Singapore History Gallery). Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revisits the plaque he unveiled a quarter of a century ago to commemorate the reopening of the restored National Museum building during independent Singapore’s Silver Jubilee as the First Deputy Prime Minister. Doing the honours 25 years later to opened the revamped Permanent Galleries in independent Singapore’s Golden Jubilee year. ESM Goh and Minister Lawrence Wong coming face to face with a replica of a Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tank in the revamped Singapore History Gallery. At the Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial. Mr Low Kam Hoong with the ministers. Mr Low donated a flexidisc with a recording of the original version of the Majulah Singapura. Coming face to face with Mr David Marshall, Singapore’s first Chief Minister. Prof. Tommy Koh showing his Chapteh skills at the Opening Weekend Carnival. At the opening. Opening the revamped permanent galleries.
Much has improved at the National Museum of Singapore since my days as a schoolboy. Then, I thought of it as cold, dark and maybe a little forbidding, a place where, if not for the spiral staircase, the sight of which would induce a spike in the heart rate, one would be utterly bored to death. The museum these days isn’t just much less forbidding. It has gone far beyond telling history through the display of dimly lit and poorly labelled specimens and artefacts to a place where the history is an experience; and, it promises to get even better when the doors to its permanent galleries, closed for the better part of a year for a revamp, re-opens this Saturday (19 September 2015).
- The National Museum, now a much more welcoming place.
- The mysterious spiral staircase.
The revamp, which sees in particular a huge improvement to the layout of the Singapore History Gallery, is summed up by Ms. Angelita Teo, Director of National Museum of Singapore:
With a refreshed layout and updated narrative, visitors can look forward to a more engaging and immersive experience; a bit like stepping back in time to the different periods of our history. Innovative displays, interactive elements and compelling personal stories make history and the artefacts come to life, and through them, we hope that visitors will form a greater emotional connection to the museum and to Singapore’s history.
- The Separation Story seen at the new Singapore History Gallery.
- Visitors will be able to contribute their own stories on an interactive map in the Singapore History Gallery’s Global City section. The map contains memories of places in Singapore from the Singapore Memory Project and lesser known facts about Singapore’s global footprints.
A large number of artefacts, more than 1,700, include will be on display in the permanent galleries. Many, from the National Collection, would previously have been seen. One that will catch the attention of the visitor is the so-called Singapore Stone, a surviving portion of a sandstone boulder that had been located at the mouth of the Singapore River. The boulder, which was blasted out by the British, bears inscriptions that have not fully been deciphered and is thought to have originated in the days of Temasek or early Singapura. It has been associated with the legend of Badang, a strong man. A tale told in the Malay Annals or Sejarah Melayu has Badang winning a challenge by hurling the boulder to the mouth of the river.
- The Singapore Stone (or at least the surviving part of it).
- An archaeological find that provides evidence of links in the 14th century.
Several artefacts from recent times, some never seen before, also make their appearance. These include personal objects of national significance that were either donated or are on loan such as a 1959 flexidisc recording of “Majulah Singapura” and a complete Temasek Green National Service uniform set, the very first to be used by our NS enlistees. The flexidisc features the only known recording of Zubir Said’s original 1958 version of the song that was later to be modified for use as Singapore’s National Anthem. The version was one composed for the Singapore City Council and the flexidisc, a souvenir produced to commemorate the attainment of full self-government in May 1959. The flexidisc was donated to the museum by Mr. Low Kam Hoong, a friend and former colleague (see also a post related to the flexidisc on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“).
- Singapore’s first National Service Uniform.
- Stories of war told through the telephone.
In the new galleries, the artefacts are given greater meaning through the use of contextual displays, ambient sounds, multimedia platforms as well as interactive platforms, giving a much more immersive experience to visitors. Another dimension is given to the experience in some cases, where scents, a powerful trigger for memories, supplement the displays. Produced and sponsored by Givaudan, one of the scents recreates that hard to forget stench of the once polluted Singapore River!
- Contextual set-up of a HDB Flat in the Singapore History Gallery.
Many of the historical artefacts will be found in the remodelled Singapore History Gallery. With its entrance now located on Level 1, it has been made a lot more accessible. Its now more linear layout also allows a literal walk-through of 700 years of our history as Singapura / Singapore, which begins with a monsoon storm. The winds, responsible for bringing traders and visitors from far and wide to the region, will in the new Singapore History Gallery blow visitors on a journey through the days of Singapura (1299 to 1818), the years of the Crown Colony (1819–1941), the dark days of Syonan-to (1942–1945), and post-war Singapore (1945 to present).
- The entrance to the new Singapore History Gallery on Level 1.
- Abraham Ortelius’ 1570 map of the East Indies and a storm greets visitors to the new Singapore History Gallery.
The passing of the storm, a light and sound show over a 1570 map of the East Indies, brings visitors to Singapura at its beginnings, an period of time described in the Sejarah Melayu. The accounts of a Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, also tell us of the links the island may have had to the Middle Kingdom. This is supported by evidence from archaeological excavations in Singapore that visitors will see on display, which also tell us of the links early Singapura may have had to kingdoms in Siam and in India.
- Visitors are taken on a voyage of discovery that spans over 700 years.
- Pages from the Malay Annals.
- 14th Century Chinese porcelain unearthed during an archaeological dig.
In a year in which we also commemorate 70 years of the end of World War II, the exhibits relating to Syonan-to may be of particular interest. One very significant artefact from the period in the Singapore History Gallery, which is on display during a one-year loan period, is the Surrender Table. The six legged teak table was the one on which the surrender of Singapore to Japan was signed in the boardroom of the Ford Factory at Bukit Timah on 15 February 1942. Donated by the Ford Motor Company of Malaysia to the Australian War Memorial in November 1964, the table is on loan to the National Museum.
- The Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.
- The war years in the Singapore History Gallery.
Several other exhibits may also be of interest in the Syonan-to section. One recalls Mrs. Elizabeth Choy, a war heroine who was held and tortured by the Kempeitai. The display includes the set of clothes that Mrs. Choy wore during her imprisonment, and also a gold necklace. The necklace was donated by Mrs. Choy’s daughter Bridget and was one given to Mrs. Choy by Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas. A family heirloom, the gift was made by Lady Thomas in gratitude for the help Mrs. Choy had provided Lady Thomas with during the latter’s internment during the occupation.
- The clothes worn by war heroine Mrs. Elizabeth Choy when she was held by the Kempeitai.
- A gold necklace, in the shape of a snake. A family heirloom given to Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas, the necklace was given to Elizabeth Choy, as a token of gratitude for her help during Lady Thomas’ internment. Mrs Choy later gave this to her eldest daughter, Bridget, as a present for her 21st birthday.
An exhibit that will certainly catch the eye in the Syonan-to section is a replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank. The light, fast and highly manoeuvrable tanks were widely deployed during the Second World War and used in the Battle for Singapore. The replica is one of four constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).
- A replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank, one of 4 constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).
- A view through a Changi Prsion door.
- Anchor from the RMS Empress of Asia troopship, which was bombed and sunk.
- We are also reminded of the scourge of opium addiction.
- A revolver seized during the tumultuous 1950s.
- The period of self-government.
- The road to nationhood.
- The period of industrialisation seen in the Singapore History Gallery.
The war years also feature in one of the four Life in Singapore: The Past 100 Years galleries (previously the Living Galleries) located on Level 2, in a gallery dedicated to Surviving Syonan. The four galleries will allow visitors to immerse themselves in four more important periods of Singapore’s recent history, in part, through the experiences of those who lived through them.
- Surviving Syonan.
- Small business licenses issued during the Syonan years,
- A bicycle license.
The occupation years are ones in which visitors can see how hope and love could overcome despair and uncertainty. A glimpse is also provided in the three other galleries into life in the 1920s–1930s in the Modern Colony, the turbulent 1950s and 1960s in Growing Up, as well as into the years that shaped the new Singapore and Singapore identity in the 1970s and the 1980s in Voices of Singapore.
- A father’s tribute to a son who passed on during the Syonan years.
- The Modern Colony Gallery.
- A baby carrier used by amahs.
- A display of women’s shoes in Modern Colony – a reflection of the evolving identities of women in early 20th century Singapore.
- Toy swords – commonly sold at the pasar malams that accompanied wayangs.
- The zoetrope in the Growing Up gallery, inspired by stories of female Olympians in the 1950s.
- Games of a forgotten age in Growing Up.
A rather interesting display in Voices of Singapore, one many in my generation will identify with is an installation that attempts a recreation of Singapore’s first and only ever drive-in cinema, Remembering the Jurong Drive-in cinema. The installation features a video montage by Singaporean filmmaker Eva Tang, who is inspired by the different film genres and themes popular with Singaporean audiences in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Jurong Drive-in.
- Familiar landmarks in the Pursuit of Leisure TV Wall Projection in the Voices of Singapore gallery.
- Cameras and film.
The last of the permanent galleries will be found at the Goh Choo Seng Gallery on Level 2. Here, we find Desire and Danger, which aims to show how fine a line sometimes exists between the two in the natural environment. The gallery features a selection of drawings from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, which is combined with scents and specimens that tell us of the complex and often uneasy relationship between man and nature.
- Desire and Danger?
- A puffer fish specimen.
- Scents and in-sensibilities.
If the immersion into history starts to get too heavy this re-opening weekend, there will be distractions on offer at the Opening Weekend Carnival that the museum is also holding. The carnival, from 10 am to 6 pm on 19 and 20 September, will provide some excitement to both the young and the old, including a chance to relive the good old days through once familiar childhood favourites such as kacang puteh, ting ting candy, sng bao and tikam-tikam. Also to look out for are special guided tours of the Singapore History Gallery this weekend. Information on this, the re-opening and more on the carnival can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s Opening Weekend Page.
- The Level 2 galleries.
Opening and Admission Information:
The permanent galleries will be opened from 10am to 7pm (last admission 6.30pm) daily.
Admission is free for Citizens, Permanent Residents (unless otherwise stated) and visitors aged 6 years and below.
Otherwise, these admission fees apply: Adults $10, Students & Seniors aged 60 above with valid ID $5.
Tickets includes admission to all permanent galleries and exhibitions and are available from the National Museum Visitor Services counter and SISTIC.
Beyond opening weekend, guided tours will commence from 3 October 2015 for which visitors can enquire at the Visitor Services counter for guided tours.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
It was on 2 September 1945, 70 years ago today, that Japan formally surrendered on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, bringing an end to the most devastating of armed conflicts the world had seen. It was a war that “impregnable fortress” that was Singapore found itself drawn into, having been bombed and subsequently occupied by Japan over a three and a half year period that counts as the darkest in modern Singapore’s history.
The formal end of the war and occupation came to Singapore a little after the surrender in Tokyo Bay, an end that was commemorated in a simple yet meaningful ceremony held in City Hall Chamber (now within the National Gallery Singapore) last Thursday, 27 August. Held in the very hall in which the war in Southeast Asia was formally brought to an end on 12 September 1945, the two hundred or so guests were reminded not only of the surrender, but also of the otherwise unimaginable pain and suffering of those uncertain days. Speaking during the ceremony MAJ (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh, of the SAF Veterens League, revisited the trauma of war; his experienced echoed by the distinguished poet Professor Edwin Thumboo through a recital of verses recalling the days of Syonan-to.
City Hall Chamber, during the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the end of the war.
The short ceremony was brought to a close by the sounds of a lone bugler filling the hall with the poignant strains of the Last Call and and then the Rouse on either side of the customary minute-of-silence, just as the call of the bugle on the Padang might have been sounded at the close of the events of 12 September, 70 years ago. Then, the surrender of forces under the command of Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, whose grave can be found at the Japanese Cemetery in Singapore, had just been sealed in the Municipal Chamber, an event that was witnessed by scores of jubilant residents freed from the yoke of war.
The Last Post, 27 August 2015. The Instrument of Surrender signed on 12 September 1945, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4818). General Itagaki and the Japanese contingent being escorted up the steps of the Municipal Building fro the surrender ceremony, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CF 719). The steps of City Hall today, now a wing of the soon-to-be-opened National Art Gallery Singapore.
The war had in all reality come to an abrupt end four weeks prior to the former surrender in Singapore, through the announcement by Emperor Hirohito broadcast to the people of Japan at noon on 15 August of Japan’s acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. That had called for the unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces, a surrender that was to be formalised on the USS Missouri. The impact of the announcement was however only to reach the shores of Singapore on the morning of 5 September, some three weeks later, when troops from the British-led 5th Indian Division made landfall to begin the reoccupation of Singapore.
It may be thought of as fortunate that the end of three and a half years of darkness came with little of the violence that had accompanied its beginning. It could have been very different. The 5th Indian Division were poised to launch an invasion of Singapore (and Malaya), which would have taken place on 9 September 1945, if not for the surrender.
MAJ (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh greeting Minister Lawrence Wong, the Guest of Honour at the commemorative event.
Even with the surrender, there were many in the ranks of the occupying forces who were prepared to carry the fight on to the death. One was General Seishiro Itagaki, the most senior officer after Field Marshal Terauchi. It was Itagaki who would later sign the Instrument of Surrender on the bedridden Terauchi’s behalf, having accepted the Supreme Commander’s orders with some reluctance. This however did not stop some violent deaths from taking place. Some 300 Japanese officers chose death over surrender and took their own lives after a sake party at Raffles Hotel on 22 August. A platoon of troops had reportedly chosen the same end, blowing themselves up with hand grenades.
By and large, the first British-led troops to land late in the morning on 5 September, encountered none of the resistance some had feared. The terms of the reoccupation were in fact already laid out during an agreement on initial surrender terms that was signed on board the HMS Sussex the previous day. The first flight, which included a contingent of pressmen armed with typewriters alongside fully armed troops, made the two-hour journey on the landing craft from the troop ship HM Trooper Dilwara, anchored twenty miles away out of gun range, bound for Empire Dock “a few minutes after nine o’clock”. An account of this and what they encountered is described in a 5 September 1946 Singapore Free Press article written for the first anniversary of the reoccupation. The same account tells us how the flight had come ashore to “docks that were almost deserted, except for one or two small crowds of Asiatics, who cheered from the water’s edge”.
A view down Bras Basah Road during the reoccupation on 5 September 1945, source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4817). Among the 200 guests at the commemorative event were survivors of the war, who were accompanied by family members.
The streets of Singapore had apparently been well policed in the interim by the Japanese. In maintaining sentry at major intersections, the Japanese troops also kept the streets clear to receive the anticipated reoccupation forces and it seems that it was only after word spread of the returning British-led forces that the large cheering crowds seen in many photographs circulated of the reoccupation, began to spill onto the streets.
For most part, the horrors of war, and the liberation that came, are now quite forgotten. While the dates were remembered as Liberation Day and Victory Day in the first years of the return to British rule, 5 September and 12 September have all but faded into insignificance in a nation now obsessed with celebrating it most recent successes. While the initial years that followed may not immediately have fulfilled the promise that liberation seemed to suggest, we are here today only because of what did happen, and because of the men and women who lost their lives giving us our liberation.
Joy and hope on the streets. Children following a trishaw carrying two sightseeing British sailors from the reoccupying forces down High Street. Source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (A 30587). City Hall and the Padang, where the Surrender and Victory Parade took place against the backdrop of a thriving and successful Singapore 70 years on.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
It has been a little more than four years since the lights went out on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Left to the ghosts that are said to haunt it, the former station sees the occasional return of the living, as it did on Tuesday evening, when I got to see it again after dark with its ghosts scared off by the lights, sounds and action of the first of a series of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) Dance Marathon nights being held at the station.
The evening, which had Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi hosting a small reception and introduce Archivist-Choreographer Mikuni Yaniahara as a Japan Cultural Envoy, saw two dance performances, starting with Yaniahara’s Real Reality at the main hall and followed by Yukio Suzuki’s Lay/ered on the tracks. The double-bill was the first of four dance evenings that are being held at the station. The three other evenings are on 28 August, 31 August and on 4 September.
The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi. Mikuni Yanaihara.
The former station, intended as a grand terminal and a gateway to oceans, was built in 1932 and is thought to have been modelled after Helsinki’s Central Station. Gazetted as a National Monument in April 2011, it has been left empty since the Malayan Railway’s moved its southern terminal to Woodlands in July of the same year. The building, once the property of the Malaysian government through the Malayan Railway or Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in more recent times, bears many reminders of the links Singapore had to Malaya throughout much of its history.
The future of the well-loved monument, at least for an interim twenty year period before the port nearby begins a journey to the west (port operations are being moved to Pasir Panjang and eventually to Tuas), is now on the drawing board. As one of two special interest areas, for which a concept design proposal is being sought under Stage 2A of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor, the five teams shortlisted are required to suggest an interim re-purposing of the former station. The former station is seen as a gateway to the Rail Corridor, and it is a requirement of the RFP that any proposed reuse will allow the public to have “unfettered access so that they can appreciate the heritage of this building and its surroundings”.
Submissions for the stage should have already been made. We should have some inkling of what the teams have in mind with a public exhibition of shortlisted submissions scheduled for October this year. More information on this can be found at the Rail Corridor RFP information site.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
The recent news relating to the introduction of Vehicle Entry Permits (VEP) for Singapore registered private vehicles entering Malaysia, brings to mind the VEP in its previous form. A requirement in force from 1 May 1967, in the same year that full immigration controls at the two previously unified countries’ only land crossing point, the VEP was issued free and took the form of a paper disc. Much like a road tax disc and similarly sized, the disc, commonly referred to as the “White Disc” was to be displayed on the windscreen. The initial intention of implementing the VEP was to stem a loss of revenue due to Malaysian based motorists using Singapore registered vehicles permanently in West Malaysia to take advantage of the then lower road taxes in Singapore.
Most motorists from the era will remember the effort that was required just to obtain the VEP, which after December 1973, had a its validity limited to 14 days from the previous 6 to 12 month validity. This required a visit to the Malaysian Registrar of Motor Vehicles’ Office, which was at a colonial bungalow at Holland Park off Queensway (the entrance to it was at Queensway – somewhere around where the crest of the hill, just past the Commonwealth Crescent area in the direction of Holland Road), and a good amount of patience as queues for the VEP were notoriously long – especially during the holiday season (the VEPs issued per day ran into the thousands).
The VEP was eventually scrapped from 1 May 1986 and for close to three decades, Singapore registered vehicles could enter Malaysia for up to 90 days a year without the need for a permit. The new VEP requirements take effect from 1 September 2015, which requires vehicles to be registered through the Malaysian Road Transport Department’s website. Along with the VEP, Singapore registered vehicles would be required to pay a RM20 fee per entry, which based on current information, will take effect from 1 October 2015.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
Standing in silence at what perhaps is a less explored end of Balestier Road is a row that was only recently emptied of all life. Life in the row at the Rumah Miskin end of the road, included several reminders of the city we seem to have long forgotten - until only a few weeks ago, or at least when I last drove past it a month or so ago, the row was home to two artisans shops, a timber merchant and the merchant’s material storage yard.
A reflection off a discarded piece of the old world (sitting against the fence of Chop Chuan Seng’s former material yard).
Trades such as these were once a feature of the city’s living streets, but not in the redefined urban landscape we see today. With our streets seemingly intent only with the display of the city’s new found vanity, little place has now been left for the one thriving traditional business of old, leaving many of our streets, even ones along which the structures of old still exist, with little flavour and with hardly any character. The “more of the same” that many of our spaces in Singapore, once each with a charm and character of its own and now with a tendency to be differentiated only by a fanciful name, have become.
Along the five-foot-way of the row now emptied of life.
The noodle manufacturer, Nam Hin, which occupied two shop lots at Nos. 3 and 5.
The now closed gates of the shop the noodle manufacturer once occupied.
The Rattan Furniture maker’s shop.
Along the back lane behind the rattan furniture makers’ shop.
The timber merchant, Chop Chuan Seng, which occupied a four storey art-deco style building.
And the now empty timber merchants’ yard next to it.
A view of the storage shed inside the yard.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
The highly anticipated Singapore Night Festival is back!
One of the highlights of this year’s festival has to be the appearance of the world’s smallest and perhaps the most lovable Inuits, Anooki (Anook and Nooki). The Inuits, the creation of David Passegand and Moetu Batlle, have come all the way from France to run riot and paint the town, of rather the façade of the National Museum of Singapore. red, green, purple and blue and put a smile on the faces of the the crowds that will descend on the museum’s front lawn on the weekends of 21/22 and 28/29 August.
The Anooki wreaking havoc on the façade of the National Museum of Singapore.
David Passegand and Moetu Batlle.
The Inuits, which are said to have taken the animation world by storm, will feature in one of several performances specially commissioned for the jubilee year edition of the Singapore Night Festival. The fun and energetic projection, Anooki Celebrate Singapore, will anchor the festival’s Night Lights – a popular segment that promises to be bigger and better this year. Night Lights also sees several other light installations colour the night in and around the museum. One, Cédric Le Borgne’s le Desir et la Menace brings the huge banyan tree in front of the museum to life with giant illuminated bird wire sculptures. Another, Drawn in Light by Ralf Westerhof, recreates sights typical of Amsterdam using rotating illuminated wire frames suspended above the ground.
Le Desir et la Menace. Drawn in Light.
Inside the museum, Night Light offerings include And So They Say and A Little Nonya’s Dreams. The former is a documentary project that features interviews with 25 senior citizens that will also be seen at SOTA, DECK (at Prinsep Street) and the National Design Centre. The latter, sees three animators come together to individually interpret a little’s girls’ dreams.
And So They Say.
From A Little Nonya’s Dreams.
Playing with fire … and light over at the Singapore Art Museum, will be the Starlight Alchemy, an audience favourite and regular feature at the Singapore Night Festival. This year, sees the locally based group perform a specially commissioned Alchemy that tells of the reconciliation between Apollo from the world of Ethereal Light and Nuri from the world of Ethereal Flame, in another must-catch performance.
Fire …. … and light meet at the SAM.
Other performances to catch include Goldies, who will take us back into Singapore’s musical world from the 50s to the 80s in a ticketed performance; Fields in Bloom, which sees flowers glowing in a spectrum of colours on the steps of SOTA and the Lorong Boys – 5 award winning Singaporean musicians who perform in both the concert hall and on the streets. Another interesting performance to catch is Lost Vegas, which features the giant puppets of Frank Malachi – an award winning puppeteer based in Singapore.
Meet Christine, who will be seen in Lost Vegas. 3 of the 5 Lorong Boys. Fields in Bloom. Goldies.
The Singapore Night Festival 2015 runs over two weekends (Friday and Saturday nights), on 21 and 22 August and on 28 and 29 August, from 7 pm until 2 am. The festival will be held across 5 zones, the National Museum of Singapore, Armenian Street (which will again be closed for the festival), the House of Glamour (at the field across from the Cathay), the Festival Village at SMU and the Singapore Art Museum and Queen Street (including the National Design Centre, DECK at 120A Prinsep Street), Waterloo Street and SOTA). Besides light and music performances, festival goers can also look forward to lots of food offerings. More information on the festival can be found at the Singapore Night Festival Website at which a Festival Guide can also be downloaded.
Singapore Night Festival creative director Christie Chua.
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.
One of the joys of living in Singapore, a melting pot of immigrant cultures for over two centuries, is the diverse influences seen in the architecture on display across the city-state. One area where a concentration of this can be admired is in and around Telok Ayer Street, a street once fronting the bay after which it was named and a point of landing for many of modern Singapore’s earliest immigrants. Along the street, stand two gorgeously adorned pagodas, possibly the oldest in Singapore, both of which were erected by Hokkien immigrants, one of which takes one from earth to heaven and houses an altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor within what was once the home of the Keng Teck Whay.
The former Keng Teck Whay, now the Singapore Yu Huang Gong.
A second pagoda – Thian Hock Keng’s Chong Wen pagoda, seen across the roofs of the Hokkien temple from the Keng Teck Way’s pagoda.
The Keng Teck Whay, a mutual-aid society, was founded in 1831 by 36 Hokkien Peranakan (Straits Chinese) businessmen from Malacca whose origins can be traced back to Chiang Chew (Zhangzhou), China. The association, membership of which passed from father to eldest son, erected what can be said to be a clan complex around the mid 19th century. Being a very exclusive association, the complex and the fine example of southern Chinese architecture found within it, was kept well hidden from the public eye for much of its long existence.
The ancestral hall where a tablet bearing the names of 35 of the 36 founders – one was apparently ejected. 36 places are however set at the table where food offerings to the ancestors are laid out during the sembayang abu or ancestral prayer sessions – a practice that is now continued by the Taoist. Mission
A National Monument since 2009, the former Keng Teck Whay building – the only surviving example of a Straits Chinese clan complex, has since been taken over by the Taoist Mission. The complex, which was in a state of disrepair when the mission took possession in 2010, was painstakingly restored over a two and a half year period by a team of experts appointed by the Taoist Mission at a cost of some $3.8 million. Having first opened its doors to the public as the Singapore Yu Huang Kong or Temple of the Heavenly Jade Emperor early this year, the newly restored complex was officially opened on 9 August, the day independent Singapore celebrated its golden jubilee.
A view of the central door (reserved for the Deity) and the door gods.
A view through the opened Deity door.
The opening of the former Keng Teck Whay as the Yu Huang Kong, which was officiated by Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, was a celebration in many ways. Marking the the end of the restoration effort, the ceremony, which also included the commemoration of National Day, was also a celebration of Singapore’s unity in diversity with representatives from Singapore’s many faiths also in the audience.
There is also much to celebrate about the beauty of the complex and its traditionally constructed structures and decorations. Laid out along a north-south axis, the complex features two courtyards, separated by its rather interesting pagoda. The beautifully constructed pagoda, laid out on a square base with octagonal plan upper tiers, said to represent Earth and Heaven respectively, is thought to have been modelled after the pagoda structures seen in temples to Confucius. It is on the second level of the three tier pagoda that the altar dedicated to the Heavenly Jade Emperor is found. The ancestral hall, housed on the lower level of the rear two storey building, lies across the inner courtyard from the pagoda.
Another view of the pagoda. The entrance hall.
The altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor.
The iron spiral staircase of the pagoda.
Doors, frescos and architectural details of the pagoda, beautifully restored.
The ancestral hall, would have been where the main focus of the gathering of members five times a year to conduct ancestral prayers or sembayang abu, was. The hall is where a tablet inscribed with the 35 names of the association’s founding members can be found. While the name of the 36th founder, who was ejected for reasons unknown, is missing from the tablet, 36 places were still somehow set at the sembayang abu food offering table – a practice that the Taoist Mission continues with. More information on the Keng Teck Whay and the sembayang abu food offerings be found at this link: http://peranakan.s3.amazonaws.com/2005/2005_Issue_2.pdf.
The curved roof ridge of the entrance hall.
The upper level of the rear hall.
More photographs of the restored former Keng Teck Whay and the SG50 launch can be found at my original post:
Further information on the Keng Teck Whay can be also found at the following links:
- Former Keng Teck Whay building (Preservation of Sites and Monuments)
- Keng Teck Whay – Celebrating the Virtues of the Sages
- Historic building’s revamp completed (The Straits Times 22 Dec 2014)
The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.