River Hong Bao 2019 Bicentennial Edition




The River Hongbao celebrations have drawn more than 1.35 million visitors during the 8 days of festivities.

River Hongbao has been building in popularity over the years.  It drew 1.45 million visitors last year, 1.4 million in 2017 and 1.06 million in 2016.

Mr Ang Wei Neng, chairman of the River Hongbao organising committee, said the hard work has paid off.

The MP for Jurong GRC said: “What is most satisfying is when I walk around and talk to people, to see many first-time visitors who say they want to return next year, and the happy faces of young children, teenagers, young adults, parents and grandparents as well as a diverse array of visitors from different countries, it makes it all worth it.”

Thirty-six years ago on 27 February 1983, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board held a Hong Bao Special at the Ngee Ann Kongsi land (between the Mandarin Hotel and Ngee Ann Building at 8pm. This was held in conjunction with the celebration of Lunar New Year.  The show features lion and dragon dances, pugilistic displays, a performance by Chinese Orchestra, flag dances and songs by local and overseas artistes.

The first time I brought my son to the River Hongbao celebration at the Singapore River in 1992 in the “Memories of River Hongbao 1992” blog here  .

River Hong Bao 2019 (Bicentennial Edition)

This year is special for me.  I made a trip to River Hongbao 2019 at the The Float @ Marina Bay, organised by Tampines Green Residents’ Committee.  Thanks to the staff and volunteers to help the residents, many of whom have never visited the River Hong Bao celebrations before.  The community service for the various constituencies in Singapore.




“Cai Sheng Yeh” met me and blessed me with a complimentary voucher to Sentosa.



The young Singaporean mother kindly posed this memorable photo with her daughter. The first time for her to attend the River Hong Bao CNY celebrations and especially to watch the fireworks display.



The loving father carried his daughter on his shoulders for her to have a better view of the fireworks display.

The theme of the River Hong Bao “Bicentennial Edition” exhibition are shown on the photos on this blog.





20190209_182807.jpg20190209_183023.jpg20190209_183047.jpg20190209_183059.jpg20190209_183342.jpg20190209_183400.jpg20190209_183452.jpg20190209_183621.jpg20190209_183659.jpg20190209_184005.jpg20190209_184120.jpg20190209_185312.jpg20190209_193152.jpg20190209_193158.jpgThere were many non-Chinese Singaporeans in the audience.  The River Hong Bao Chinese New Year celebrations is the entertainment and enjoyment for everyone.


The performances on the stage were displayed on the huge screens.  There were 3 screens located at the floating platform where the audience were seated.

Before 8 pm, all the seats were fully occupied and everyone waiting for the fireworks display at 10 pm.

The River Hong Bao 2019 fireworks display

The spectacular, colorful fireworks display, the finale of the evening’s
programs for everyone waiting with bated breath.  My amateurish video of the memorable memories of the fireworks display I captured to share.

At the Marina Bay and Esplanade areas, a joyous firework flare-up that filled the skies exploded in a kaleidoscope of colours., an unforgettable sight and sound for young and old.

One does not get a chance to see fireworks everyday in Singapore.  Fireworks help to hype up the mood of the people.  In addition to light and sound, there is also the beauty of the colors and patterns of the fireworks display.  Many overseas visitors and tourists made a trip to watch the River Hong Bao fireworks, thanks to the publicity by the Singapore Tourism Board in the mass media, brochures and websites.

With thanks to CM Chen who posted a professional video “Singapore River Hongbao 2019 – (China) Chinese New Year Fireworks” on YouTube here .  The splendid location where he captured the beautiful fireworks to show the fireworks; with the background of the lighted buildings at the Singapore waterfront.  Awesome!

Postman in the Kampong in the Past


Postmen are familiar figures in all parts of Singapore since the early days.


A Malay postman in the 1900s.

A postman is an important person in our lives because they facilitate communication among people from various parts of the world; internationally.

Those were the early days before Internet online email, Facebook, Twitters, Whatsapp, Messenger and the instantaneous communication with text, images, ‘live’ audio-visual videos and photos to change the lives of everyone.


Did you notice that the postman in 1906 was bare-footed?

They not only deliver letters, they also bring parcels at our doorsteps, instead of travelling long distances to pick it at the nearest post office.

Everyday, people wait patiently for the postman to deliver good news after a job interview, application for a licence from the government or businesses, result after a school examination, etc.

These include confirmation of business deals, college invitation, or a selection to attend an event.  Love letters from boy to girl or girl to boy and they couldn’t sleep the whole night after reading the letters of sweet nothing 🙂



Being a postman is not an easy job.  One needs to serve many households everyday without mixing up the letters or parcels.

The postman do not work in air-conditioned comfort or sitting down in front of a computer and little to walk about.  In whatever weather, rain or shine, he works outside serving people.

Being a postman requires to be self-disciplined, honest, reliable and part of his duty is to deliver sensitive information he needs to be responsible and arduous despite the volume of work he needs to complete each day.  A postman is a diligent worker and true to his work.  It is an honest job to earn a living and with a good respect for contribution to Singapore.

In summary, a postman is a noble person and has a heavy responsibility job to perform because he ensure everyone receive his package in time.  Someday, an important letter from the employer to attend a job interview could change our lives.

With the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore, with an excerpt of the oral interview of Mr Cheong Yoke Khee ( 张玉旗先生)  on 4 September, 1995 below:

Postmen expected to be courteous.  Travelled by walking.  Delivery of mail during Christmas and Chinese New Year.  Mail must be delivered by end of the day.  Salary earned was enough for him.  Uniforms issued.  Polished uniform buttons and shoes.  Mailbags used.  Few letters written in the 1950s.  Carried a raincoat or else he would be fined or transferred out.  Postmen in outlying areas had bicycles and motorcycles.  Bicycles looked after by shopkeepers while on duty.  People waited for letters eagerly.  General Post Office (GPO) branches,

The interview in Chinese reproduced:

现在他们没有这么样 ( 认真 ),只有看那个 [信] 送到去就不管了,我们没有,以前没有,认真,很认真做,做工很汄真,送一定要送好好来,不要去到那边就丢下去在那个桌子,我们不敢的。现在他们是那个……就跑掉,我们没有。以前的很好,礼貌的。我们的那个时代,50 年代,叫做 50 年代,我们送信的时候不敢怎么样,要去到那边有礼貌,跟人家说: “早安,你的信到了。” 要淡一谈的,
跟那个店头 (店里) 还是什么。有时碰贝那个人家家庭什么: “你的信,送来,来收信。” 他有信箱我们放信箱,以前是很少有信箱的,那个小的信箱很少有的。说”好了!收信了!” 他们就说谢谢。保家信签名,要比较跟他们很客气,我们对他越客气,他们对我们越好。

那个时候还没有脚车,就走路,你走几多条石 [供应] 来,我做了这样多年是走路,有时走几里路。好像我们去到那边来回要3个半里路,没有太短的,这样去都1个里半了,回来不是 [共] 3个里半 [吗?],多数走路。有时背 [很] 重,在那个 [节日] 人家过节,圣涎节还是我们华人过年,那个信很多,就是在圣诞节那个圣涎卡就很多,困为那个时候 [是在] 英国人的手,很多人是奉教 [教徒|] 的多。这个送完了后就到那个华 [人新] 年了,困为新加坡人很多华人,寄贺年片多,就做那个补水 (超时工作)。有时晚上放工回去,筹等下晚上你来做补水,你准备你的区的信做好了,明天你送些比较没有……送不完。 他英国人这样,一定要你送完的,今天的信不要留在明天的,一定要迒到完。就是放工事,回去了,回去吃饭吃完了,晚上就淮备我们的……。做十多天,做到差不多要过年就停了。那个时候过年都要做工,年初也要做工。那么在50年代。店头 (商店) 很喜欢的,他年初收到年片什么东西,他们很高兴。他重要是年片,因为他说你去做工,送张年片给他,说有人跟他拜年什么,他很喜欢有这种的东西。以前华人的传统是这样,年初一来,他很高兴。但是很多店头没有开的,有来开就是好像八时多,九时开,他就关了,那个时候我们刚刚出来送信,送给他们。有的还没有开我就没有办法,看它可以放进去我们就放进去,多数跟他放在门下面,塞进去那个信。

…… 50年代那个东西很便宜,好像一杯咖啡,没有奶的,才我看1角钱,你放奶就1角5分,所以很便宜,什么都……。 吃一包 nasi lemak 饭 (梛丬浆饭),马来人卖的,很大包,两角钱,有的1角5分,看大小,小一点就1角钱,吃1包你就可以饱。卖的面的也是很便宜,两角钱,三角钱也有,现在就不同了,几元,差很远了。那个时候好像你不要大用 (多花),你用不完的,137 元你可以养一个家。好像我还没有结婚的时候我都用不完那个钱,137 元每个月用就剩下67元,用不完那个钱,就存下来,储蓄下来。


Mr Cheong Yoke Khee, 59, outside the Singapore Philatelic Museum.  Beside him is Singapore’s only remaining red pillar, old-style post box.

(Photo by Ali Yusoff.  Source: The Straits Times, 2 February, 1996).

Letters from the past: A postman comes calling.

Like the stamps on display at the Singapore Philatelic Museum where he works as a guide, Mr Cheong Yoke Khee is a relic of the past.

At 59, he is probably the “oldest” postman around, having witnessed the transition of Singapore from British colonial rule in the ’50s to an independent Republic in 1965.

It all started in 1955 for the Malaysian-born Mr Cheong, when he gave up his studies in Malacca and came to Singapore.  “I was 18 and I wanted to earn my own living,” he says.

After a stint at a Chinese tea shop as a delivery boy, he became a postman with the British colonial government.

The pay was good for the time, he says.  “It was $137 a month, which is like $1,000 today.  At that time, coffee only cost five cents.”

The work, however, was strenuous.

“Have to walk to deliver letters, hundred of letters.  Bicycles very few, for long journeys only.”

This was no mean feat, considering that he had to carry his mail in a canvas bag, which weighed “at least 16 kg”.

“Sometimes, also had to climb stairs.  At that time, stairs were very dark and dangerous.  When it rained, it was worse, flooding very common.”

His uniform did not make things any easier.

“Khaki trousers and shirt, very thick and heavy.  Also had to wear topi, very hot.”

On top of that, the British were very sticky about discipline.

“Every morning when you came to work, the inspector would check on you.  Shoes, shirt buttons, even belt buckle and the GPO (General Post Office) letters on the topi, all had to polish.  If uniform not smart, they sent you home to clean and gave you warning.”

They were also very strict about people stealing stamps.

“If we saw stamps on the floor, we could not keep, had to report to inspector.”

This may explain why to this day, Mr Cheong has never had a stamp collection of his own.

Things took a turn for the better when Singapore became a republic in 1965.  A green uniform made of lighter material and cap replaced the khaki uniform and topi.

As the amount of mail increased in the ’70s, delivery by bicycles, which were given a coat of bright yellow paint (“to show that we are a young country”) became more common.

“The stamps also became more colourful.  In the past, they showed mostly the crowns of the British king and queen.  But now, they showed places in Singapore, the national flower and also tigers, which were common at Bukit Timah Hill.”

The Postman in Modern Times







Over the decades, the postman and postal system offer courier services for sorting, delivery to destinations all over the world.  Speedpost is one of the best system and courier service, fast, reliable and efficient in Singapore.


With the advent of Internet online communications, the methods of postal services have to change with the times. Please find out more here .

Personal memories of the postman in Bukit Ho Swee kampong.

Before the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961 when I was 13 years old, I received only 2 letters which the postman put into the letter-box of our landlord’s house.

One was a Chinese New Year card which my Primay 5 teacher Mr Soo Mok Sung from Delta Primary School in 1960.  I was very happy and when I showed it to my mother, she told me to thank Mr Soo.

Another was a colorful postcard which my English language teacher, Mrs Jessie Wee in 1960.  She was in Maxwell Hill in Malaysia when she was on honeymoon with her husband.  It is a pity that the greeting card and the postcard were burnt in the BHS fire.

More about Mrs Jessie Wee here .


A new postman who have to deliver mails to an address in Bukit Ho Swee kampong, he would be confused and go crazy.

The house numbers were not in sequence or in any order.  It was a maze.  For example, house No. 15 would be house No. 55 on its left and house No. 88 on its right.  House No.  16 could be located further down the muddy road.   A seasoned and experienced postman after many months or years in Bukit Ho Swee may be able to deliver mails easily.

Fortunately, there are no longer kampongs in Singapore, else it would take hours to find the house numbers.  It was unplanned houses built anywhere anyhow as long as there is a vacant land to build the kampong house with wooden plank walls and attap or zinc roofs.  Really, nobody can imagine what a kampong in Bukit Ho Swee could locate.  Those were the days and place where I was born.

My fellow pioneer generation kampong dwellers have survived the fuzzy and messy ways of life in the kampong in the past.  We have adapted to the changes in our work, in the environment and the progress and developments in Singapore.

A Chinese Temple in A Malay Kampong

screenshot_20190116-224648The former Changi Hong San Si Temple at Lorong Melayu before it was rebuilt and developed in 1987.

207437_514702655214631_1143839391_nThe present Changi Hong San Si Temple at Lorong Melayu


Hong San Si Temple (zhang yi feng shan si) was founded in the early 20th Century by a Peranakan Chinese that worked in the police force. His daughter was suffering from a long term illness and was cured after receiving blessing from Guangze Zunwang. In return he built a temple to honour Guanze Zunwang. Due to the founder’s profession, this temple is known to some as ‘Tua Kou Hong San Si’ (‘Tua Kou’ means police in Hokkien). The temple was last rebuilt in 1987 at the same site, and it is now a 3-storey building.



There are many Chinese temples, mosques, churches and other places for worship in multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore.

Please check out the previous blogs on “Inter-religious places of worship in Singapore” here and the “Koo Chye Ba Sheng Hong Temple 100th Anniversary Celebration in 2017” here .

A new book on Chinese temples uncovered fascinating fact in the new book “Temple Culture”.


Address: 17 Lorong Melayu, Singapore
Tel: 6742 4318

Operating Hours:
Normal days – 6am to 6pm
1st & 15th of Lunar month – 6am to 8pm

Main Deity 主神/佛
Guangze Zunwang 广泽尊王

Other Deities 众神/佛
Miao Ying Xian Fei 妙应仙妃
Thirteen Tai Bao 十三太保
General of the Black Command 黑令将军
Tai Sui 太岁爷
Five Battalion Commanders (Wu Ying Shen Jiang) 五营神将
Tian Hou Sheng Mu (Mazu) 天后圣母
Zhun Ti Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy/Compassion) 准提观音
Madam Zhu Sheng 注生娘娘
San Qing Dao Zu 三清道祖
Jade Emperor (Yu Huang Da Di) 玉皇大帝
City God 城隍爷
Kitchen God 灶君公
Hell Soldiers 阴军
Earth God 土地公
Tiger God 虎爷(下坛元帅)

Changi Hong San Si Temple celebration video on Youtube

樟宜鳳山寺 posted by Lim tan here and 樟宜凤山寺 2017 yewkeng part 1 by louis lim here .

“三王峰会”盛大庙庆 新加坡樟宜凤山寺

1986 年落成以来,樟宜凤山寺不断中国取经学习,目前相信己成为本地拥有最完整广泽尊王文化的庙宇。












With thanks to the contributors of the related photos, contents and Youtube videos to share on this blog.  Much appreciated.

james seah at hong san siJames Seah at 樟宜鳳山寺 on 16 January, 2019


World Will End in Year 2000


Everybody’s favorite scapegoat

In Computerworld’s first 50 years covering the tech industry, it’s possible that no single IT topic got as much attention as the so-called “Y2K crisis.”  In the second half of the 1990s, IT organizations spent billions patching systems and replacing hardware and software that had been designed to support only a two-digit year format.  Because of the unprecedented scope of the work required to address the problem, what became known in industry shorthand as “Y2K remediation” projects turned out to be the biggest challenges many IT leaders faced in their careers.  The world knew the problem by many names – Year 2000 Bug, the Millennium Bug and simply Y2K – and just about everyone had heard dire predictions that business operations would spiral into a state of total paralysis as the clock struck midnight on Dec 31, 1999.  And then it was over.

As Robert L. Mitchell wrote in “Y2K: The good, the bad and the crazy,” a Computerworld feature looking back at the Y2K phenomenon 10 years after the fact), the world held its breath on New Year’s Eve 1999 – and nothing happened.  Jan 1, 2000 came in just like any other day.  There were no major failures to report anywhere.  In the aftermath, or non-aftermath, Mitchell reports that some pundits said all the preparation had been overkill. Others maintained that only the hard work of IT pros kept the information systems of the world on track.  Whatever side you take in that debate, there’s no argument that Y2K had a big impact on the psyche of IT professionals and the world at large.  The Millennium Bug became a convenient scapegoat for everyone from CIOs to litte kids with messy bedrooms.  And it certainly provided a wealth of material for our editorial cartoonist, John Klossner.  We hope you enjoy this wry look back at the way we obsessed over, sought to profit from or tried to ignore the looming spectre of Y2K.


Web presence not enough

20181229_143038Mr Alex Siow  (2001)


Name:  Alex Siow

Age    :  46

Interests:   Bowling and golf

Reads an average of two novels a month

Marital Status:  Married with two children

Career:  CIO of HDB

Other Hats:  President of Singapore Computer Society, assistant general secretary of South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation Adjunct associate professor of Nanyang Business Choo, National Technology of University

The coming decade will be an era of e-enabling the business.  Mr Alex Siow, chief information officer of HDB and president of the Singapore Computer Society speaks with JENNY CHIN about his views on what the challenges are and how CIOs can prepare themselves to meet the demands.


If you look at the horizon, what do you see are the technology challenges facing companies?

Prior to the year 2000, the emphasis was on the Y2K bug.  There was fear then of absolute chaos in the systems.  The emphasis then was to make all systems Y2K complaint.

But when 2000 came and the Y2K bug was not an issue, companies began to focus on how to communicate with their customers and business partners over the Web.  There is now a swelling demand for Internet enabled applications and this is the main challenge facing companies.

But most companies have a Web presence already, haven’t they?

Here, we are not just looking at a Web presence.  That is a given and it is important that every company must be accessible to the public on the Internet.  This is because it is becoming common for people to go to the Web and look for information and companies without a Web presence will be regarded as second rate.

But beyond Web presence, companies must now look at Internet-enabled customer service application and transaction based application.

This is going to be a medium to long-term investment.  It is true that many people who have invested on the Web have found the payback in financial terms to be slow.  I urge for patience.  The young people will begin to transact soon and the momentum should snowball.

What is the CIOs role in this whole exercise?

It has only been in the last five years that large corporations here have appointed CIOs.  Before that, this position did not quite exist.

The CIO’s job is to do strategic planning for the company and fit IT into the business model of the organisation.  His job description is much more than looking after the day to day operations.  He is supposed to look into the horizon and chart the IT manpower, systems and business plans for the company.

The IT manpower shortage is for real.  Mr Alex Siow shares his views on how companies can handle this issue and still stay on track to roll out e-enable applications.

Do you find difficulties hiring IT staff?

There has been a global shortage of IT staff.  The crunch started in 1999 and we have not been able to operate to full strength.

Then, how can companies get around the issue of manpower shortage?

Basically, we can look at tackling the issue in four ways.  These are hiring second rate staff, getting contract workers from overseas, outsourcing, or using the application service provider (ASP) model.  The ASP supplies you with the application you need over the Internet and maintain them on your behalf.  You pay based on per user per month or per use.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these methods?

Personally, hiring second rate staff can only be temporary solution.  In the long-term, it impacts the level of intelligence of your organisation.  I am not trying to be arrogant here but you must set a benchmark for your organisation and find people that can raise the benchmark.

Personally, I am in favour of hiring contract workers from abroad but this pool seems to be drying up too.

The third alternative, outsourcing, is not popular in this part of the world partly because companies want to have more control over IT, which is increasingly  a core competency for a business.  So, whenever we outsource, it is mainly for a project where the outsourcing company has expertise not available in-house.  This is a workable solution except that the outsourcing company also runs into manpower problems.  To retain its staff, it has to pay a premium.  That’s why outsourcing is a viable but an expensive option.

How do you classify first grade staff?  What do you look for in a fresh graduate during an interview?

Here, I am not just looking at workers but someone who can be a strategic planner as well and develop the business skills.  That’s what IT in the new economy is all about.

How about existing mainframe staff?  Are they dead and how do you pan to convert them to the new economy?

The CIO needs to draw up a strategic plan, which classifies the existing manpower and draws up a training programme for them to adjust to the New Economy.  It is not easy for someone conversant with mainframes to come out of his comfort zone and fit into the new economy.  Even with training, they may never be able to be as conversant with Java as someone trained in it.

Yet, because they know the legacy systems, they are the ones who help you to e-enable your legacy and mainframe systems.

But mainframes are being phased out, aren’t they?

If you are a big organisation with lots of systems and manpower trained on existing systems, you are not going to throw them out overnight.  The cost of doing so is enormous.  Instead, you will try to extend the life span of your legacy systems, adding functionality and interactivity with the Web economy to it.  There is nothing like the mainframe – an old, reliable, trusty workhorse.

opening-slide_620181229_142833[Source: The Straits Times, 21 February 2001]

WTF – Where’s The Food?


WTF is not the abbreviation of a vulgar phrase in English.  On the Duck & Hippo ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ signboard on the bus, it means ‘Where’s The Food?’

A Moving Dining Experience

A first-of-its-kind dining concept in Asia, the Singapore GOURMETbus combines scenic city tours with the enjoyment of a specialty meal.

Now, enjoy the best of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand Award 2017 local fare in its cool, air-conditioned interior, while cruising past scenic views of iconic landmarks.  Forget long queues for multiple stalls, or sweating it out in a humid and warm hawker centre.   We bring the food to you.

We created a truly unique way to experience Singapore – enjoying our sights while sampling the best menu from the MICHELIN BIB GOURMAND AWARD 2017 and present to our guests.

Tour Singapore the DUCK & HIPPO Way!

Look at Singapore through our DUCK’s eyes and have a splashing fun time!

There is no better way to tour Singapore than catching a ride on the ORIGINAL DUCKtours.  This hour-long journey brings you up close to Singapore’s famous skyline, historical landmarks and gorgeous bay view.  The very first amphibious themed attraction in Asia, this award-winning DUCK is rated Number One in Singapore.  1 million passengers, 14 years of perfect safety record, best in tour experience!  Ride the one and wacky DUCK and embark on a unique city and harbour sightseeing tour in Singapore.

More than a tour, it’s 60 minutes of full-on thrill where you go on a voyage to discover the past, present and possibly the future.  Hear the captivating Singapore story from our well-loved DUCKtainers commentating onboard the craft while you capture snapshots of our city’s major monuments.


Embark on a land and sea adventure onboard a remodeled Vietnamese warcraft that promises great family fun.

[Source: http://www.singaporeducktours.com]










Why the Duck and Hippo Tours almost did not do business in Singapore?

At the National Day Rally 2004 held at the University Cultural Centre, NUS on Sunday, 22 August, 2004, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned in his speech:

“As a government, we have to rethink all over problems, big and small.  Nothing should ever be set in stone.  We’ve made big changes recently.  The GST changes is a big one.  The CPF cut was a big one and now, we are working on wage reform.  That’s another big one which will take some time and this will have a significant impact on our future.  So, we’ve got to change our policies or look at our policies.  We’ve got to support entrepreneurs.  We’ve got to support Singaporeans being spontaneous , being unconventional.  We should not put obstacles in their way.  We should help them to succeed.

Let me give you one example.  These are the Duck and Hippo Tours.  You know what’s a Duck Tour?  It’s a boat with wheels where you take a ride, you go into the harbour, you sail around, you come back.  The Duck took two years to get a licence – nearly died.  Very difficult because they went to the LTA (Land Transport Authority).  LTA says, “Your duck has a propeller, how can it be a car?”  They went to the MPA (Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore).  MPA says, “Your duck has wheels!”  So, ding-dong, it took two years.

Eventually, we sorted the problem.  The Duck became a success.  So came the Hippo.  The Hippo is a bus with no tops, okay?  So, you sit on top, you drive around.  It’s just like in London or one of the other Western cities.  Question — is the Hippo a bus?  A very important question because if it is not a bus, it is not allowed to stop at a bus-stop.  So, that one we did better.  Six months, we solved the problem.  I think we have to do better than that”.

[Source: Prime Minister’s Office]

How Duck tours nearly ended up a lame duck 

By Karl Ho

[Source:  The Straits Times, 24 August 2004]

Entrepreneur mentioned by PM Lee took two years to register his tours after going through endless rounds of negotiations

When Mr James Heng tried to get his Duck tours off the ground in December 2000, he nearly cried in frustration.

He had spent $1 million on buying and rebuilding two American amphibious vehicles to turn into tourist vehicles to turn into tourist vehicles here, but could not get a licence for them.

“I had to present the vehicles first before we could have serious engagements with the authorities,” he said yesterday.

He went through endless rounds of “negotiations, discussions, presentations and re-submissions”, and had to deal with at least seven agencies.

“Every entity was pulling me from all sides,” said Mr Heng, 43, the chief executive officer of Duck Tours.

Along the way, he was told he had to abide by some strange rules.

One agency said bumpers had to be built round the 13-tonne vehicles, which are popularly known as “Ducks” in tourism circles.

“This was to protect pedestrians from being pulled under.  But we’re travelling at a safe speed of 30kmh and are so big,” he said.

Another said the Ducks required “police escort” because of their size.

It took two years before he got a licence to run his tours.

His plight was highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as an example of how policy makers should not put obstacles in the way of entrepreneurs.

Mr Heng said it was sweet vindication to hear Mr Lee talk about his experience.

Trained in architecture and with a master’s in business administration from the University of Hull in Britain, he started out as a marketing executive with Neptune Agencies, the marketing agent for Neptune Orient Lines.

He later went into various businesses, including running his own freight-forwarding company.

In 2000, he chanced on the concept of Duck tours on the Internet.  He and a silent partner poured $1.5 million into the project.

Another 180,000 passengers have taken the tours so far.  They are given a ride around the city before making a splash in Marina Park for a harbour tour.  Adults pay $33 and children $17.

Mr Heng said he knows of other businessmen who have faced red tape.

“One thing about the civil service is it is easier for it to say ‘no’ rather than ‘yes’,” he said.

“If you approach it the other way round with a ‘why not?’, we’ll have so may more interesting things here.”

In fact, even when the Ducks were finally allowed to operate in May 2002, he was told he could ferry only 12 passengers at a time instead of 31, its full capacity.

“We were bleeding because 12 passengers just isn’t viable.  And we had to work like dogs, not ducks.”

However, help came from the government-led Pro-Enterprise Panel, set up in 2000 to remove red tape.  It facilitated meetings between Mr Heng and government agencies.

In September 2002, the Ducks were allowed to carry 31 people.

Earlier this month, Mr Heng launched Hippo tours.  Hippos are open-top buses which ferry tourists for a fee of $23.  The concept took six months to get clearance.

His company made a $500,000 loss in its first year but posted a $350,000 profit last year.

“We started off as a lame duck, but now we’ve taken off pretty well,” he said.  “Hopefully the Duck will be a springboard for many better things.”


Last Farmers in Singapore



With thanks to MediaCorp Singapore for Documentaries On Five on “The Heritage Series” video featured on “The Last Farmers of Sembawang” here .

Watching this video inspired me to blog about the disappearance of kampongs and the farmers in Singapore which the younger generations to understand why these changes had happened in Singapore; the causes for the transformation of land use over the decades.

Singapore’s food production in 1962,  although the number of farmers engaged in agriculture was relatively small, they produced a considerable quantity annually:  750,000 pigs, 20,000,000 poultry, 200,000,000 eggs, 34,000 tons of vegetables, 1,800 tons of fruits.


Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs Lee visit the Horticulture and Aquarium Fish Show at National Stadium on 5 November, 1971.

Alternatives for the resettled farmers

In 1976, Mr Lee Kuan Yew assured pig farmers in Punggol that the PAP Government would do all it could to help those settled elsewhere to re-adjust to their new environment.

At a rally in Tampines Way, the Prime Minister said it was inevitable that farmers would have to be settled in view of the development taking place in the area.

He said he understood that those affected would need some time to re-adjust, be he assured that the PAP candidate for Punggol, Mr Ng Kah Ting, would help them overcome their problems.

Of the farmers affected, he said the bona fide ones would be given alternative farmland elsewhere while the small farmers would be offered alternative employment at hawkers.

Mr Lee later spoke at another rally at Lorong Tai Seng in Paya Lebar where he told residents that the constituency would undergo phased development to make it as attractive to live in any other place in Singapore.

Speaking at a rally at Chong Pang Village, Mr Teong Eng Siong said that apart from the Sembawang shipbuilding yard, the government had allocated 1,174 hectares of land in the area for development into an industrial estate.

At another PAP rally, in Tampines Way in Punggol Estate, Mr Ng Kah Ting said:  “What the Workers’ Party wants to do is to set the clock back to the early 1950s when there was wide-spread unemployment labour exploitation and industrial unrest.  [Source:  Straits Times, 22 December, 1976]

Question mark over future pork supplies

Dr Goh Keng Swee’s policy statement on the future of pig farming in Singapore has pointed to a likelihood that we will have to import pork and poultry in large quantities.

Dr Goh, who has taken over the Primary Production Department, to the Parliament on 12 March, 1984 that “the future of Singapore pigs look to me to be very bleak”.

Though he had yet to touch on poultry farming, the general line of thinking on the long-term policy of primary products was made clear.  It was mainly the economics that would dictate the fate of the farming sectors here.

In other words, if the production costs of the food produced locally are higher, the Government prefers to get supplies from other countries.

However, the phasing out of the pig farms, if it happens at all, may disrupt the price mechanism of the pork supply here, according to an earlier study made by the PPD on pig farming.

img0008In 1964, Minister for National Development Lim Kim San (sixth from right) during his week-long tour of rural districts and installations of the Primary Production Dept.

Field  trips for farmers organised by the Primary Production Dept.



img0035This is an animal husbandry field station in a rural part of Singapore.  The Colonial Government of Singapore use these field stations to decentralize veterinary services to livestock farmers living at Changi, Ponggol-Tampines and Yio Chu Kang.  That about 80% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, is reflected in the fact that production is concentrated on pigs and poultry.  There are 750,000 pigs and 24 million birds in 1958.  Up-to date information and results of research on genetics and nutrition are disseminated to livestock farmers through these field stations.




Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew meeting Chinese farmers during his tour in 1963


img0055-lky tour of bt panjang 03031963

img0109-pm tour bt timah

Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak greeting guests at a reception for farmers from Tampines area at Sri Temasek hosted by PM Lee Kuan Yew on 16 February, 1963.





District for farmers to resettle

Over 2000 farmers were resettled in Ponggol, Tampines and Teban districts.

The 420 hectares of land were allocated by the government to resettle farmers from all over the island.  Most of the farmers were affected by resettlement were mainly in the Yio Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang and Chua Chu Kang.

Meanwhile, over 300 land-owners in Ponggol, Tampines and Teban were served with quit notices by the government.

On the question of compensation for the farmers affected by resettlement, Mr Lai Fee Kwong, president of the Singapore Livestock Farmers’ Association said the government has not given any definite reply.

He said: “We understand that resettlement is necessary but financial aid and concessions for farmers to develop their farms on new lots must be given”.

Small pig farmers agree to quit and take compensation

Most of the small pig farmers in Punggol, Jalan Kayu and Lim Chu Kang have agreed to quit their farms – a dramatic switch in 1983 when they fought hard to keep them.

Seventy farmers in Punggol, who keep fewer than 1,000 pigs have indicated in the Housing and Development Board that they prefer to get compensation early and quit farming.

The decisions follow a policy statement by the First Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, in Parliament that preliminary study had shown that it would be cheaper to import pork than to keep pollutive pig farming in land-scarce Singapore.

He added that the authorities were looking closer into the alternative sources of supply for pork.

Most of the small pig farmers have decided to call it a day because of the bleak future in pig farming here.

Another reason if the over-supply of pigs, which has made the prices go down.  Furthermore, diseases are not uncommon in the farms.  [Source:  New Nation, 13 January, 1975]

Please check out the related blogs “Ways Done in the Past – Rural Farming” here and “Memories of Woodlands – Jessica Bong” here .

The relevant photos on this blog to share with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.


Singapore Food Ambassador Violet Oon


[Photo of Violet Oon, courtesy of Anna Chittenden]

Violet Oon is considered by many to be one of the leading authorities on Asian cuisine, having written about food professionally early on in her career.

However, few people know that Violet is the Singapore Food Ambassador.

In 1988, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now Singapore Tourism Board) and the Singapore Airlines sent the food envoy to the US to promote Singapore as a food paradise.

She went on a 3-week media promotional blitz of eight American cities – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Diego, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Washington and New York.

During her trip from April 30 to May 20, 1988, she was interviewed by the media and also give food demonstrations on television food programs.

She said: “I am really pleased that STPB is now using food as an introduction to Singapore.  To me, food is the more distinctive part of our culture”.

Born a Singapore Nyonya in 1949,Violet Oon is the grande dame of Singaporean cooking and is widely considered to be an authority on Asian cuisine, specialising in Nyonya food. Her reputation as a chef and food connoisseur spans the international arena and she often represents Singapore as a food ambassador abroad.

An Interview with Violet Oon by Anna Chittenden, author of the book “SINGAPORE, a unique, stylish and offbeat travel guide to Singapore.”

How did you get started on your food journey?

I first learnt the art and skills of Nyonya cuisine at the age of 16, when I took lessons from my aunts, my father’s sisters.  They were the ones that carried on the heritage of the cuisine from our ancestors.  In Singapore, my mother was liberated – she was a secretary and a career woman, and did not learn the nuance of this type of cooking.  In those days, you were not meant to be a superwoman, so if you were a secretary, you did not do the housework.

My first teachers were my aunt, Mrs Nona Bong and my great aunt by marriage, Mrs Nanny Khoo.  I also learnt in the traditional Asian way from Sifus (masters), who come from a long line of family chefs and cooks, and teach the next generation to carry the torch.  My first cooking classes were in Singapore in 1965-1966.  My aunts didn’t have proper recipes, but they were very accurate, because they were cooking everyday.  Recipes used to be written in five cents of this, three cents of that and one cent of this, so that makes no sense 30 years later!  So I asked my aunts to show me, and I would write as they cooked.  I then got very good at estimating the measurements, such as how many teaspoons and tablespoons went into the dishes.  When you actually watch people cooking, it is different from a recipe.

How did you become a chef?

Cooking and becoming a chef happened by chance.  I started off my career as a journalist in 1971, becoming the arts and music critic and features writer in the now defunct newspaper called the New Nation.

I then started writing about food in 1974 – my editor David Kraal said, “We had better have someone who can cook to write about food”.

During my career as a food journalist in the 1970s to the late 1990s, chefs would open their kitchens and invite me to cook with them.  I visited professional chefs in restaurants in Singapore (doing French, German, Italian, Chinese and Malay cuisine) and also abroad to places such as New Orleans, Paris, London, Australia and Hong Kong.  In this way, a lot of my cooking skills came by observation and osmosis.  The experiences that were of particular value to me though was when I was invited into kitchens in homes, where I would see each families’ own particular interpretation of well-loved dishes.

On the international food scene in the 1980s and 1990s there was a whole generation of highly respected women chefs who did not go through training in culinary schools, or who did not rise up the culinary ladder through working in hotel or restaurant kitchens, including Julia Child and Alice Waters from America, and Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander from Australia.  You could say I became a chef in the same way as these women did, by starting with a love and abiding interest and dedication to the art and craft of cooking a particular cuisine, and then sharing it with other people.

Peranakan culture is a marriage of the East and East with a strong dose of the West.  Starting with the native Malay culture in Malacca and Penang and finally in Singapore, where Chinese male immigrants married Malay maidens.

My culture, that of the Peranakans, evolved more than five centuries ago, with the flourishing of trade between China and the Malay Peninsula, although it started to die out from the 1970s.  It seemed as though there were very few of us, mainly concentrated in the Katong area of Singapore, which today is still the heartland of the Peranakan culture.  Having been born in Singapore and brought up for much of my childhood in Malacca, I was very much in touch with the essence of Peranakan life, with their specific art, music, food and dress.  In the 1950s living in Malacca, I saw a world from a past age.  For example, there were multi-generational families living in mini-apartments in courtyard house, family dinners where the men ate first and wives and daughters last, and women who dressed in opulent, richly embroidered kebayas over hand-painted sarong skirts from Pekalongan in Indonesia.  Yet coming from a modern Peranakan family, we were more in tune with the 20th century than of the past, and I did not quite live the life of a Peranakan.  At home, we did not speak Peranakan patois, ate both Chinese Hokkien home cooking as well as Peranakan dishes and Western food.  My mother did not dress the way Peranakan women did in their sarong kebayas, choosing instead to wear modern dress and the Chinese cheongsam.

Peranakan food is very strongly Malay based with the addition of Chinese Hokkien dishes.  The Chinese originators of the culture came from the Fujian Province in China, and so the Chinese part of cuisine is Hokkien – a lot of dark soya sauces, taucheo, garlic and shallots.  Indians, who came from Southern India, brought with them their curries and rich aromatic seed spices which added to the cuisine, as well as a strong touch of British cooking which you’ll see in the cakes and morning breakfasts.

What are your favourite Nyonya dishes?

Kuay Pie Tee (also known as ‘top hat’) – Julienned bamboo shoot and turnip poached in a prawn bisque served in a deep fried ‘top hat’ cup topped with prawn, chilli sauce and a sweet fruit sauce.

Ngoh Hiang – Deep fried prawn, crab and chicken with water chestnut seasoned with five-spice powder wrapped in bean curd skin.

Beef Rendang – A creamy and spicy Nyonya dish with Malay and Indonesian Padang cuisine origins.  Tender beef shin braised with spices of galangal, shallots, ginger, garlic, belacan (shrimp paste) and chillies.  It has a Malay bouquet with turmeric leaf, kaffir lime leaf, and local bay leaves (daun salam).

Do you have a favourite ingredient?

The combination made in heaven is the marriage of coconut milk and gula Melaka (palm sugar).  For savoury flavours, essential ingredients include galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, shallots, chillies and belacan.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I’m inspired by home cooking.  My whole childhood was spent going to my aunts’ and different people’s homes.  What you eat at home with your family is a reflection of your life and your family’s life, your travels, and where you have been.  For example, Anglo-Indians have a unique food, which is neither Indian, nor English.

I’m fascinated by dishes or recipes that are locked in time.  The food, as well as drinks that would have gone with it, represents a certain time and place.  I was born in 1949, so in my restaurant there are these different layers of time.  These dishes are like archaeological records.  The restaurant is the brainchild of my two children, but for them, it’s also about capturing and remembering the family cooking.

How important do you think food is to the Singaporean culture and identity?

It’s very important, more so in the last few years, as people start to question what is dying off, such as the hawker culture.  It’s so essential to our psyche, more so than people realise, because expenditure on food here is much higher than in other cultures.  A lot of disposable income goes into food.  Food seems to be the tie that binds us culturally and emotionally as a people, much more so than a shared history of art or music or dance or literature.

What other chefs in Singapore do you admire?

I like what Willin Low, chef of Wild Rocket does.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what cuisine you do, the test is whether it tastes good.  He has taken a lot of traditional flavours from his culture (Singaporean), which is different from mine, and reworked it.  It’s all very delicious, and not only delicious but cooked properly technically.

But I’m more concerned with eating local hawker food that is very old, and sooner or later, the people running the hawker stalls are going to retire and nobody’s going to be able to eat their food.  It’s scary.

Which restaurants do you most enjoy eating at on your day off?

For nostalgia and old-fashioned authentic tastes, I love the Ngoh Hiang at China Street Fritters in Maxwell Food Centre.   They are the last in the whole of Singapore for what they do.  The food wouldn’t even taste the same as if you tried it in China, as they came over 70 years ago, so their cooking style has evolved.  I want to be able to savour flavours and textures that may die off within the next generation.  Already, many old-school hawkers have closed their shutters due to the extreme hard work it takes to cook authentic, old-fashioned food as well as the high cost of employing kitchen helpers.

I love the pau at Teck Kee Tanglin Pau and at Tiong Bahru Pau.  To me that’s the real Singapore texture.  The Singapore pau pastry and the Hong Kong style pau pastry are very different, for instance, when you to the tim sum restaurants in Hong Kong, there’s a very fluffy texture.  I want to see places like Teck Kee preserved.   It’s interesting because it’s truly Singaporean.  This type of food originally came from China, but now they use a particular recipe and a particular style that doesn’t exist in Hong Kong.  Those are the things that I want to see and I want people to know, not whether somebody cooks very well, but whether these nuances are kept.  At Tiong Bahru Pau, that’s the actual Singapore texture and dough preserved.  It’s very important.

I would like to see the children of the old hawkers take over.  They grew up watching their fathers cooking these dishes for 20 years, so there’s a certain osmosis and DNA which is so difficult to capture.  You can’t teach it.  There are things that they know, that they don’t even realise that they know.  You may be able to cook the food excellently as a new chef, but there are certain touches, which you would only have if you grew up with it.

What do you love most about Singapore?

I love our inclusiveness, and our unique Singlish multi-cultural sense of humour; our classic put-downs that speak a volume in a word or two.  I love our whole natural environment.  Our urban jungle is literally a jungle with lots of plants, tree and foliage.  I love our built and unbuilt environment.

Singapore has much more character than people think.  What I find very funny is that a lot of westerners coming to the Far East think that exotic means dirty.  If it’s dirty, then it’s exotic.  They can’t believe that it can be clean and have character.  You just have to go to any of the HDB areas and just hangout.

I also love the diversity.  It’s got a bit of Britain here, a bit of India there; it’s got a bit of everything.

What are you most proud of as a Singaporean?

I think what make me most proud is our inclusiveness, which is now the more obvious in the midst of non-inclusiveness in many societies.  A mosque will be next to a temple, which is next to a church.  To us, religious tolerance and racial harmony is so important, for example, in the schools, children celebrate a racial harmony day.  Regarding our respect for each other’s religion, customs and sense of private cultural space, although we may not be the best at this in the world, we can be proud of what we are and where we are.

[Source:  An Interview with Violet Oon by Anna Chittenden in her book, SINGAPORE. 1st Edition of LOST GUIDES].

Please check out Violet Onn’s ‘Spice of Life’ here .