Friday, 27 April 2012

A walk through the old neighborhood

Serangoon Gardens Estate

Serangoon Gardens was formerly a residential estate for the British (and some Australian and New Zealand) soldiers and airmen, where some of them were based in the nearby RAF (Royal Air Force) Chia Keng Camp, until the early seventies.

The name Serangoon is likely to be derived from burong ranggoon, referring to a species of black and white stork that lives around Sungei Serangoon (formerly called Rangoon River). Satu, or one in Malay, was added to the name, thus becoming Saranggoon. This name was used for a long period of time before it eventually evolved to Serangoon. During the Japanese Occupation, large plots of flower farms were cultivated in this region, leading to the naming of the estate as Serangoon Gardens.

Serangoon Gardens was developed in the early fifties by Steven Charles Macey, a British private developer who also worked as an engineer at RAF. Due to its limited accessibility from other parts of Singapore in its early days, and for the benefits of the residents, Macey sought approval from the Singapore Rural Board to build a recreational clubhouse on a 5.56 acres of land. Completed in 1956, Serangoon Gardens Sports Club was opened exclusively to the residents of Serangoon Gardens at a monthly membership rate of $2.

The clubhouse underwent major changes over the decades. It was renamed as Serangoon Gardens Recreation Club after the British withdrew from Singapore in the early seventies. However, the clubhouse suffered a decline in membership and had difficulty maintaining its facilities due to a lack of funds. In 1981, it was given a makeover under the proposal of Lau Teik Soon, Member of Parliament for Serangoon Gardens, and became the new Serangoon Gardens Country Club.

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Eastern and Oriental Express

This post is overdue.
Then again, memories stay in our minds.
So what was yesterday's memories
Could seem very present
As if these have taken place today.

5 Jun 2011 shall be remembered as the date of the final departure of the luxury Eastern and Oriental Express train service from the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

On a rainy and tearful day, many people visited the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to have a good glimpse of the final departure of the beautifully romantic Eastern and Oriental Express from the Art-Deco style Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. This railway station is no longer in operation after 30 Jun 2011.

Thanks to a lift from Jerome, after the Eastern and Oriental Express had departed, there was enough time to witness the Eastern and Oriental Express train travelling past the Bukit Timah Station which is no longer in operation.

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What Terrible Twins? Larry Lai And Tan Swee Leong
Singapore had its first independent cable station in the 60s called Rediffusion. Back then the term DJ or Disc Jockey was practically unheard of in conservative Singapore. I still remember using the term, Announcer during the 50s when listening to such programmes on the radio.

To be a DJ in the 60s was the ultimate. It is a profession that promises fame and fortune. Larry Lai and Tan Swee Leong were two of the most prominent personalities at Rediffusion. With their faultless and fluent British accent on air and sometimes cheeky capers, Larry and Swee Leong became household names. "Like Kleenex!" Larry remarked.

So here they are again, the Terrible Twins. But how terrible can they be? Both were just carrying out their duties. Larry Lai (left, in case you still don't know and haven't been reading this blog too carefully) was up the ladder of shelved Long Playing records, searching for vinyls to spin for his new show Disc Jockey Parade which aired in September, 1960. Slim and trim, he was still a teenager then, at 19 years young.

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Selegie Integrated school

How Selegie Integrated School Looks Like Today
In February this year, Sunday Times reporter Kon Xin Hua requested me for an email interview as the newspaper would be publishing an article on old buildings and Selegie Integrated School was one of them. Her questions and my answers are reproduced below:

Q1. What was the reason that saw you studying at Selegie Integrated School?

A1. Our family lived quite near to the school then. We were staying in Cheng Yan Place, a mere 15-minute leisurely stroll to the school which was less than one kilometre away. Of course, in those days, there was no such thing as priority for registration if you lived within one kilometre of the school. Even if there was, we would have no problem with it. As my family was not very financially well off, we could save on transportation costs if the school was nearby. The school was also brand new. I went to Primary One in 1963 which was year when the school was opened. (The then DPM Dr Toh Chin Chye officially opened the school on 19 Jan 1963.)

Dr Toh Chin Chye, Deputy Prime Minister and Assemblyman for Rochore Declaring the School Open on 19 Jan 1963 - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives
Q2. What were your initial thoughts on the 10-storey tall building?

A2. Having attended one or two years of kindergarten classes on the 2nd storey of a 4-storey SIT residential block in Prinsep Street, the 10-storey building certainly looked huge and imposing. (The SIT blocks are still in Prinsep Street. They have been conserved and possibly been converted into dormitories.) I had not seen such big lifts before. The only times when I took a lift was when my family visited my uncle's flat in a 9-storey SIT red-brick resident block (Blk 1) on Upper Pickering Street.

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It is a sad day for Singapore.

The celebrated "Singapore works" moniker is in danger of extinction. The erstwhile 'it just works' island is now an unreliable place to be, transport wise. How did we ever descend into this?

Commuters are so spooked that they pray and cross their fingers they will get to the office on time every morning. And students taking exams are now caught up in this worrisome phenomenon - of trains breaking down for hours. Come to think of it - Singapore students of one type or another are taking exams and tests throughout most of the year, except perhaps in June and December. I am beyond that, but I have children who may face this previously unthinkable prospect. If you are late, it is because you are late. Don't blame the bus or the train. You should have set off earlier to allow for heavy traffic. That's what we get told anyway.

Now, we can definitely say it was the train that was late. What can you do when you are stuck in a subterranean tunnel somewhere on the island for an extended period of time? There is really nowhere to go, nothing to do except wait for help. And given the mess that is likely taking place above ground, you can hunker down and wait, and wait and ....until the oxygen runs out or someone smashes the door with a fire extinguisher.

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Bye Bye Hollywood Theater and Lion City Hotel

Those who had been to the hotel, the shopping complex below was considered an unique feature and one of the largest then. It housed an emporium which sold China products, and there were also a snack-bar, and finance company and bank. There was even a first class restaurant then on the first floor catering both European and Chinese dishes in the evening with a live band playing soft music for dancing. On the ground floor, there was a cocktail lounge too. Maybe many may not be aware that there was even a swimming pool located on one of the floor in the hotel but in the later years, the pool was removed.

It is sad that the Lion City Hotel together with the Hollywood Theatre had to make way for new developments. When you are reading this post, the hotel and it’s surrounding are gone;

Above : Lion City Hotel then

Above : Lion City Hotel going
And the surrounding Hin Hollywood Canteen also disappear;

Above : Then

Above : Gone

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OPINION: Saying Goodbye to One of Singapore's Last Historic Cemeteries - Mimi Kirk
The Atlantic Cities, 24 Apr 2012
Bukit Brown, the largest Chinese burial ground outside of China with an estimated 100,000 graves, became a municipal cemetery in 1922. It serves as the resting place for some of Singapore’s most illustrious families as well as thousands of long-forgotten middle and lower-class citizens. Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s first and longtime prime minister, has a grandfather buried here (next to a descendant of Confucius, no less), as does Tony Tan, Singapore’s current president. Baked goods magnate Chew Boon Lay (1852-1933) also lies here. Like other pioneering merchants buried in Bukit Brown, Boon Lay’s name graces Singaporean public spaces such as subway stations and housing estates.
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Boon Tat Street in the early days (Picture from:
Boon Tat Street, right in the heart of Singapore's Central Business District, is named after Ong Boon Tat (1888-1941) - a well-known, wealthy, Peranakan businessman who also served as Municipal Commissioner and Justice of Peace.

Boon Tat Street is parallel to Cross Street and runs from Amoy Street and intersecting with Telok Ayer Street, Robinson Road, Shenton Way and Raffles Quay. Interesting landmarks on Boon Tat Street include the SGX Centre (Singapore Exchange), the iconic neo-classical Ogilvy Centre, and the distinctive Octagon and historic landmark, Lau Pa Sat. And most importantly for many of us, part of Boon Tat Street is closed to traffic in the evenings to make way for dining at the row of Satay stalls just outside Lau Pa Sat.

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The historic clock tower of Methodist Girls' School, a spot filled with memories.

In a rapidly changing world, the subject of heritage can give rise to much drama and strong emotions.
Even more so in Singapore, which has embraced a relentless drive to develop and modernize for the last 45 years. Little has stood in the way of development.
We have bid goodbye to our kampongs and the communities that went with them; we have said farewell to our street hawkers and the food heritage they embodied; we have seen countless old streets and buildings -- too numerous to count and generic to name -- get swallowed up by urban planning; and then we also watched things we thought had become priceless landmarks of the city fall to rubble.

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