Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Great 1961 Fire at Bukit Ho Swee - Squatters into Citizens

For the past decades, there were once attap wooden houses which my grandma normally lived in Kampong villages with her children. A moment of their times where many kampong kids and local villagers would spend their life living in squatter settlements where there were no electricity and gas during their olden times. They were very independent in life, quiet and peaceful just like how my late grandma had lived through hardship before they moved out by the government which I might not say this of what had happened. They survived on foods using charcoal and wok, caught fish near the ponds or rivers, household chores (everyday work around a house or farm) and their daily lives.They were barely uneducated, spoke Mandarin and local dialects through their lives before their kids were sent for schooling even though they were very poor unlike younger generations born in modern city of Singapore. Younger generations should respect and appreciate their great grandparents, grandparents and parents' hardship in life and they should learn of their perspective about stories of the great Bukit Ho Swee fire in 25 May 1961 which happened to be Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday at that time. Bukit Ho Swee village was occupied by squatters on state land illegally during the colonial government days.
I was invited by Kelvin Ang (URA) to attend the talks of "Squatters into Citizens" on 21 July 2013 at 3.00 pm, hosted and organised by Kelvin Ang. But before that, on Saturday 20 July 2013 afternoon, I met my two close friends aka 'sisters'and one of them who told me that her mother is, now at the age of 84 year old who is connected to the great Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. Actually, I didn't know of her mother who was a former resident of Bukit Ho Swee whom I had met for years. By chances,  I will interview with her when the time comes and would love to hear of her story when she was younger and had two kids at that time of the fire before my close friend (sister) was born.
Tiong Bahru Community Centre
My hubby and I reached at Tiong Bahru Community Centre at 3.00pm and took a lift to 2nd level floor where the hall is. There were crowd almost more than 60 people who came to hear the talks by Mr Loh Kah Seng (Author of the book - "Squatters into Citizens").
Hosted by Kelvin Ang and Talks by Kah Seng
Many people including former residents of Bukit Ho Swee attended the talks and tell of their encounter of Bt Ho Swee fire and also aftermath of fire refers to how they were survived during the intense fire and how they coped after the fire. A devastated area of Bukit Ho Swee which was razed to the ground by a big fire on 25 May 1961, which happened to be Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday in Singapore.
A survivor victim of Bt Ho Swee, James Seah
A survivor victim of Bt Ho Swee, James Seah, a blogger citizen who relates his encounter of the great fire in his talk at Tiong Bahru Community Centre.
Many former residents shared their stories of the Bt Ho Swee fire during and aftermath of fire during each session which some of them including foreigners wouldn't know of the intense fire that had happened 52 years ago.
An 80 year old woman relates of her story
One of the former residents who shared his side story whereas an 80 year old woman relates her encounter when she was younger back then who raised her 4 kids in squatter settlement in early years. Also one of the audiences was told by her grandmother,who said she had a premonition 2 nights ago and had a dream that the sun fell into her granddaughter at Bt Ho Swee.
Former Bt Ho Swee resident
The former Bukit Ho Swee resident (above pic) brought the jewellery and important documents for the family, and then brought the important items to his grandmother's house in Geylang for safekeeping. Truth or myth, nobody knows!
An 80 year old woman who sat quietly at the corner in front who only spoke Mandarin and hardly understand during our talks. Both Kelvin Ang and James Seah ushered her to her seat and being interviewed of her kampong life during squatter settlement and the great fire in 1961.
Here a short video on what inspired me to start doing this and the memories of the great fire that not forgotten by many especially former residents and survivor victims who survived the intense fire.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Back to School Where I Studied

Former Permaisura Primary School (1965)
Back To The School is somewhat I yearn for as a child if "Time Travel" would permit me to travel back to the past in early 1970s. Forty-two years has passed since, I stepped into this school on 20th Jul 2013 which was formerly as Permaisura Primary School built in 1965, an event organised by MOE for two days "Open House" on 20th & 21st July 2013. Actually my former school was "New Town Primary School" built in 1965 (photo below) which is located next building that is still standing today. Both former schools are occupied by MOE in 2010s.
My Former School - New Town Primary School (1965)
On both days, I stepped into the school where I could see not much changes and both buildings are intact especially the rooftops and structure of the buildings as I often walk pass daily to see both schools as long as I could remember. I have kept a photo 'class group' when I was in primary six.
Former New Town Pri. School's canteen (foreground)
Both school are the same layout structure of the building and has four-storey block with 24 classrooms. The old New Town Primary School was then located at the junction of C'wealth Drive and C'wealth Avenue in Queenstown area. . Most of the students like me, lived in public housing flats around Queenstown in early 1960s. At that time, New Town Primary School was an Integrated School, offering both English-medium and Chinese-medium classes in two sessions. But I studied in Malay language subject including English and Chinese lessons in 1970s. The school's canteen and the stage (above photo) are still intact with the rooftop is almost the same back then.
The Stage
I remember the stage that the former principal used to stage to make a speech and prize-giving presentation during 1st term and final term in early 1970s.
Permaisura Primary School  was closed down in 1992 and the New Town Primary took over its campus which was located beside its old campus on Commonwealth Drive. On second of January 2004, New Town Primary School became single session. In January 2009, the school merged with Ghim Moh Primary School and was relocated to a new campus where it now stands at 300, Tanglin Halt Road.
My School's Canteen (L-shaped)
Sadly, I would see my former school's canteen in its poor sight as if I could imagine the children would run to the canteen when they hear the bell rings for their recess in the morning at 10.30am for breakfast. The School canteen is just a tuckshop who sells noodles and drinks at a very low price at 20 cents a drink to 50 cents a bowl of noodle and also 10 cents for sweets as if I could remember in early 1970s. I would recommend the canteen to be open for the events "Open House' for the kick-start as school children, for the former students (1960s-1970s) to see their usual eating place "come alive" as if they were back to school in the old days.
The caretaker aka cleaner's quarter room
I used to remember there was the cleaner/caretaker's quarter who took care of the New Town Primary School premise when the students went home after school and the gate is closed after 7pm.
The Cleaner's Room 
The cleaner's room was used to be the store cum utility room if I am not wrong because there is a caretaker's house at the corner of the Permaisura Pri.School that shared their duty to look after both schools. The cleaner's room looks clean and tidy as if it was not that long, and I was told by one of the cleaners that the store room converted into a living quarter for the cleaners not long ago about 10-15 years ago.
Sitting at the phone's booth shelter
Sitting at the bench of the shelter, behind me is the former New Town Primary School building where I studied in 1970s. There is the old public phone and old kerosene lamp hanging above the phone as to make its nostalgic feeling.
"Vintage" Public phone booth
I would remember that there was a public phone booth at the same location years ago that was used to be school bus lane that parked along side of the pavement for the pupils to board the school bus after school.
New Town Primary School's compound
I remember the school's compound used to be a foothpath with grass patch on it. There was lots of sandy and a long drain (longkang) back then.
 The School's drain or 'longkang' (foreground)
Pupils in school was taught how to brush their teeth after school break. I remember that in primary schools we would all squat along a drain (photo above) after recess to brush our teeth! We were all given a plastic mug with a cover and a toothbrush which we must have with us to teach us the proper way to brush.  Why no toothpaste? Teachers were afraid that we would swallow the toothpaste! It's no wonder the drain water was smelly when we gargle with water that is in our mouth and split the water out. The photo (above) is where I as a school kid and squatted along the drain at the school canteen.
Former Permaisura Pri School's Canteen
The place I was sitting on a chair made of 'teakwood', at Permaisura Primary School's canteen for a pose. 
Former Permaisura Primary School's canteen
Former Permaisura Primary School's canteen was not the same as my former primary school. My former primary school's canteen was 'L' shaped type (see top no. 5 photo). During school recess in between meal break, we played marbles on the field. There were sport games and PE lessons too.
Former Permaisura Pri. School (front)
Both Permaisura and New Town Primary Schools have the same structure and the stage flag poles that I was standing. For the memories of the schools we have in mind, will not forgotten, playful and active we were in schools that were taught to be "well-behaved" by the school teachers. There are many things we used to play during school sport days or others that we could remember but that was in the past to be lingered in our memories of the old school days.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The last final day of Tong Ah Coffeeshop

Remembering the traditional kopitiam that darts away from rows of pre-war houses in early 1939 that when my mum is born a few years earlier during World War One in quarm streets of muddy fields. During the WWI, this building was already built in 1939 with rows of shophouses and there is another building built in 1929 which is 10 year earlier, stands opposite building of an oldest traditional kopitiam building along Keong Saik road in the junction of Teck Lim Road - Tong Ah Coffee shop aka Tong Ah Eating House. 
My mum and her 'big' families as well as my beloved grandma from China (passed on 1999 aged 87 - 5th Generation) love kopi all the time those early kampong days and still does. So do I.. with my family and parents in-laws (passed on between 1993 & 2006 - aged 71 & 89) both of them were from China. Those times, there's hardly to find traditional coffeeshops in Singapore in early times (WWI and WWII). We somehow bought coffee beans to make ourselves a cup of coffee using sock and hot water to fill manually and also bought soya beans to make soya drinks too. Gone were the days when we were kampong kids playing with muddy fields.
Built in 1939 where Tong Ah Eating House located
Not forgetting about those building was once stood still and still preserved after many decades. Many people like us would remember these old buildings to where we can find the traditional coffee shops when we worked or for leisure, came in the morning for breakfasts almost daily. Sometimes, we would go another coffeeshop nearby because it has been increasing more coffeeshops in Singapore after WWII.
Keong Saik road is a popular among the rows of shophouses where there are pubs, eatery shop, interior designs, boutique shops as well as hotels such as Keong Saik hotel and Keong Saik snacks.
Tong Ah Eating House at corner of Restaurant Ember building (1929)
The traditional coffeeshop aka kopitiam sits quietly along Keong Saik road at the 'Y' junction of Teck Lim road at the corner of 'Restaurant Ember' building (1929) just opposite Keong Saik Hotel. The 'Tong Ah' building is already built in 1939 and was started coffeeshop business, owned by Mr Tang Chew Fue's great grandfather, Mr Tan Kar Pin from China. Tong Ah Eating House aka Coffeeshop stands more than 74 years in business after taking over by his great grand son, Mr Tang Chew Fue (4th generation) in 1999 after his great grandfather passed on in 1942.
Triangular-shaped of Tong Ah Eating House
A triangular shaped building sits along Keong Saik road has been preserved since 1939 and at the corner of triangular shaped spread along tables and chairs that close to the kopitiam and Tong Ah seafood store next to it.
Tong Ah Seafood
Many people thronged kopitiam for early breakfast in the morning before they started off work and some come in cars that parked along side of the road that made narrowed road that hardly squeezed side be side.
Last day on 14 July 2013
I has been there for a couple of years ago despite of my busy schedules, I first visited in 1990 and would love their aroma smell of coffee brewing in the morning. So I went on the 4th July 2013 for ordering a cup of coffee just a week ago before I would hear the breaking news of closure of this traditional coffeeshop on the last final day on 14 July 2013. But why? Such a good traditional coffeeshop that comes by all the way since, many old generations like me would love 'kopi' rather than 'teh' since I was a teenager back then.
Keong Saik Snacks towards 7-11 store down the road
It will be relocated at five-foot way along Keong Saik road which I believe it could the spot next to 7-11 stall next to, is the double white shophouses after Keong Saik Snacks to where Tong Ah Coffeeshop stands on the left.
Ironic building of Tong Ah Eating House
So I went again on 14 July 2013 barely a week I was there early on 4th July 2013, to catch a last day of an old coffee shop in the cool slightly dark cloud in the afternoon with my hubby who also loves drinking coffee all the time since when his beloved father (my in-law) made coffee at home many decades and even drinks coffee at home that I make for years. My ex-colleagues used to say that I make best coffee for them at office hours in the morning or tea-breaks.
 Two Kopi (Coffee) on unclean table
A ridiculously good place which does the Kopitiam standards (kaya toast, egg, kopi or teh) very well, but the dinners are crazy good. Not all the place to go for bites if you have weird hangups about tables not being wiped by anti bacterial stuff or crowded narrow spaces...because this place is all of that where the old kampong hut kopitiam used to be. Recalled one of my oldest aunts' kampong hut at the road side at Bukit Timah road beside the thick forests that sold fishball noodles with messy tables and chairs that not fully cleaned in those olden days.
Lady Boss serving ice 'Teh' or 'Milo' at the counter
A truly authentic Singaporean breakfast experience has to comprise of two slices of kaya toast, 2 soft-boiled eggs and local coffee or tea however you like it. Tong Ah does this well with freshly grilled toast and large soft-boiled eggs. 
Mr Tang busyon the kaya toast
The toast at Tong Ah is grilled over an open grill so you don't get the typical compressed toast that you see in modern kaya toast chains around Singapore. A thin block of butter and a swipe of kaya complete the toast making every bite a taste of heaven. So where will you get this cheap breakfast nowadays?
Mr Tang making traditional coffee
Mr Tang throws empty milk can into the bin
Believing what these family go through all these years despite busy handling customers and also operates at night at Tong Ah Seafood (pic shown) that far beyond sitting on the narrow spaces and dig into the Chicken clay pot and what awaits you is a ridiculously tender chicken in a brown ginger garlic sauce with a slight of sweetness. Pork rib tender with sauce is the best that comes with rice. Stacks of bowls, plates and wooden pegs are seen piled up on the tray trolley and are used for nightly dinner next to Tong Ah Seafood stall.
Tian Gong 天宫
Will they remove of the 'Tian Gong - 天宫' that hanged on wall of facade outside Tong Ah Eating house or just move to the new location?
Tong Ah's signage on top of the building
Tong Ah's signage 
I expect the signage will remove from their shop and move to the new location to where they will start on business in beginning of August 2013.
filming crews
film shooting at Tong Ah Eating house
Besides these crowds that jammed at the corners, you could see thronged local photographers and film crews from Primetime Asia gathered around the Tong Ah Coffeeshop on each side of the triangular building on the last final day.
local Photographers on the left
What do you expect for them to come for a shooting outside both side corridors of the heritage of Tong Ah Eating House of 74 years stood? Memories of times..but it will relocate opposite two storey of pre-war shophouses along Keong Saik road. 
A man posed for a shot in front of ironic building
A man is seen posed for a photograph in front of memory of ironic building as if it's like gone for heydays. Many tourists and local residents come for reminiscing of the ironic building and took many shots for the memory that once stood. And it's not closing down of the long standing Tong Ah Eating House and thus it will soon operate in the beginning of August 2013 after renovation on the new premise at 35 Keong Saik road.
Watch the video here.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Walking down on Memory Lane - Holland Village (Kampong Holland)

It's been almost 17 years since I moved in my new block that built in 1996 after clearing the swampy areas along old Holland road, thus Holland Village was named after Holland road. This road was formerly named by an architect and an amateur actor, Hugh Holland in 1907 who was an early resident here. Over the years in 1972, Holland Close, Holland Avenue, Holland Drive was officially named. Holland Village comprises of the village's two well-known lanes that are Lorong Mambong and Lorong Liput and a section of Holland Avenue, which includes Holland Road Shopping Centre; and the lane, Jalan Merah Saga, within Chip Bee Gardens, which is across Holland Ave and the two above lanes nearby my block just one stone away from it. Legends has it as there are much more history to the old land along old Holland road via Hakka Cemetery.
Holland Village's windmill at the top of the building
Holland Village has its share of local visitors but its reputation as an expatriate enclave attracts possibly more foreigners than locals to its restaurants and pubs. Holland Road Shopping Centre is a landmark in Holland Village with its distinctive windmill at the top of the building.
Holland Village Shopping Mall
(shot by Hp Sony Ericssion)
There are two shopping centres - Holland Road Shopping centre and Holland V Shopping Mall which was referred as Holland Village Shopping centre by public as well as sales assistants who works there.
Holland Village is also a place where you can find a lot of expatriates shopping and pubbing. You can find a wide variety of antique, art, music, gifts and curio shops. There are also several fast food restaurants and different cuisine from Thai to French, are also found there. Many of the old shop houses have been conserved and renovated to give the place it's unique characteristics. Housing in this district is also popular with the expatriates. Popular pubs include Wala Wala, Tango's and La Luna.
Holland Village Mrt Station@Holland V
In early years, there was no Mrt stations in Holland areas till the site of Holland area built Buona Vista Mrt in early 1988 which officially opened in March 1988. Over the years in 2006, circle-line station took about 5 years construction until it opened on 8th Oct 2011. I took various photos during opening ceremony of circle-line stations with lots of activities and games.
Holland Village Market & Food Centre
There was once an oldest Kampong Market aka Holland Road Market & Food centre (pre-war market - photo inset) which is now known as 'Holland Village Market & Food Centre located at centre district of Holland Village.
Masjid Kampong Holland Mosque
Further down Holland V Market & Food centre, is Masjid Kampong Holland Mosque, this quaint little mosque nestled next to the carpark in Holland Village will be close by the end of this year, after operating for more than 40 years. The site that Kampong Holland Mosque sits on has for years been earmarked for redevelopment, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) made clear when it would have to make way. Slightly larger than a four-room of my unit (corridor) as if my unit is considered as 5-room unit becos of huge living hall plus dinning room and medium size kitchen.
The announcement was unexpectedly accompanied by a raft of measures - including the upgrading of the nearby Mujahidin Mosque - aimed at ensuring that the religious needs of the community will continue to be met. Muis said in a statement that it had been informed by the Housing Board that the mosque's Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) would not be extended beyond Dec 31, 2013. So make a visit to the Kampong Holland mosque before it closes.
I had a write-up about Masjid Kampong Holland's surrounding the mosque in my blog last year. Read up here.
Signage of Blk 12, 14 to 16 Holland Road
Behind the mosque among carpark area, once sat on the former site of SER block 14, 15, 16, 21 & 22. For blocks 14 to 16 already demolished between 2011 to 2013 respectively.  
Blk 15 & 16 (Demolished in 2012) - Then
Blk 15 & 16 (Demolished in 2012) - Now
Surrounded by carparks that lies the SIT Blocks 15 & 16 was boarded up in early 2012 and demolition on the same year. There were supermarket and a few shophouses along these blocks. I usually went to Blk 15 where there was a NTUC fairprice and it was small supermarket and two clinics that were once operated there. One of the clinics - Kee Clinic (opened in 1974) that operated at former Blk 15 on upper level of the block, now relocated at Blk 36 Holland Drive Buona Vista Community Centre before it demolished. Kee Clinic is owned by Dr Kenneth Kee who is a medical doctor since 1972 graduating from the University of Singapore and starts his own clinic in 1974 at Blk 15 Holland Avenue . At first, he worked in the Ear, Nose and Throat Department of Singapore General Hospital and the Anesthetic Department. He also worked in the Medical Department of Thomson Road General Hospital. He later worked as a locum doctor in a solo general practice and later in a group practice. Dr Kenneth Kee is still working as a family doctor at the age of 63.
However he has reduced his consultation hours to 3 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. He does not do any night duty since 2000 ever since his partner had his second stroke.
Blk 22 & 23 Holland Drive (to be demolished soon)
Behind the vacant site of Blk 14 to 16 Holland road (demolished 2012), is the remaining of the two blocks (21 & 22) waiting to be demolished.
Close-up of Blk 22 Holland Drive
Part of the window grilles taken down before demolition and it has been taken a long time for these two blocks because of the highrise building levels (30 floors).
Old Blk 14 Holland Avenue (Then)
(Shot by Hp Sony Ericsson in 2010)
This old block 14 Holland Avenue was more than 30 years, built in 1975 and yet time has come to be demolished in 2013.
Wall-painted at Blk 14 (demolished in 2013)
I managed to capture the wall-painted of Blk 14 Holland Avenue (built in early 1974) before it fenced up and demolished in early Jun 2013 and has been there almost 39 years.
Gate locked up at blk 14 (demolished)
The last demolition was blk 14 in early Jun 2013. Now left the remaining blocks - 11, 12 & 13 are still standing. As for block 18 &19 still under way demolish, as the windows grille of two blocks have been taken down which is clearly seen at these two blocks.
Blk 14 Holland Avenue (scaffolded) - Now
On going demolition at Blk 14 Holland Ave
Corner of Blk 14 Holland Avenue can be seen clearly as excavators tearing down one by one on each floor instead of using explosives. Imploding a building is very fast — the collapse itself only takes seconds. However, it would endanger onlookers and this can be pose a disastrous. Some demolitions have failed, severely damaging neighbouring structures. The most greatest danger is from flying debris which, when improperly prepared for, can kill onlookers. Safely is a must.
Excavator is seen above of the building
Taken from Blk 2 Holland Ave (HpSony Ecrisson LT18i)
Demolition underway at Blk 14 (Then)
After demolition at former Blk 14 (Now)
Along the Blk 12 Holland Ave, where you can see motorists moving in and out of the carpark, further down the road, the once stood Blk 14 Holland Ave is disappeared from sight along Holland Village.
Do you know there is infamous Blk 11 Holland Drive where the loanshark runner jumped from 13 floors to his death in 2011. Two plainclothes policemen visited Huang Jia Wei (age 32) in the wee hours of the morning at his home located at Blk 11, Holland Drive. It is said that the officers had approached Huang regarding an investigation on illegal moneylending activities. He and his family stayed for more than 20 years. Souces from: Sin Ming Daily news 2011.
(Shot by Hp Sony Ericssion)
Sushi Tei (formerly Food Junction)
Beside the Holland Village Shopping mall, there was once a foodcourt - Food Junction (Established since 1993) where there were varieties of yummy foods - char kway teow, chicken rice, drinks and others and was the first to open at Holland VIllage since early 2000.
Close-up Sushi Teh
In late 2008, Food Junction is closed and is now occupied by Sushi Tei (Japanese restaurant) since. I used to frequent the foodcourt as they were given a free tissue paper pack when paying a drink from the staff whom I had known her since. She opened her own stall at Blk 31A selling 'Rozak' till it closed for a year because of high rental fee.
Holland Village Food Court
After closing Food Junction despite of completion from other foodcourts, just next to Holland V foodcourt and Holland Village Market and Food centre. As you can see behind Holland Village Foodcourt (HVFC) was the former Blk 14 Holland Ave stood.
Many foreigners and local residents of Holland V still very much love this cool and entertainment places where there are variety of pubs as well as fastfoods and restaurants days and nights. Gone were the days, when Holland Village aka Kampong Holland has been changed over the years.