PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES, ST FILE
[ I Remember: Beo Crescent After The Fire] (Source: The Sunday Times, April 19, 2015) By Jennani Durai
On the day his neighbourhood went up in flames, 13-year-old James Seah was out with his mother in the morning, thrilled to be out of school on a public holiday.
When they returned at 3:20pm, they saw columns of dark smoke and his mother sprang into action. She pulled him into their house, grabbed a bundle she had already prepared – the family’s birth certificates and important documents rolled up into a sarong – and mother and son then ran out.
The fire that broke out in the squatter settlement of Bukit Ho Swee on May 25, 1961 and the events that followed are etched in the mind of Mr Seah, now 66 and a retiree. What struck him most though was the speedy transformation of their neighbourhood.
On April 19, 1965, the Beo Crescent Market and Food Centre was opened on the site of the Bukit Ho Swee fire by Madam Chan Choy Siong, the assemblywoman for Delta.
For many residents, the occasion signalled the culmination of efforts to rebuild the area after the devastating fire.
“There were more than 16,000 people who were homeless like us after the fire,” recalled Mr Seah. “After we ran out of our homes, we gathered at a relief centre at Kim Seng School. The next day, many of us went back to look at what was left of our old neighbourhood. Our homes and schools had been burned to the ground.” Mr Seah has a vivid memory of then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew visiting the site the day after the fire. “Many of the fire victims were calling out to him and clamouring for help,” he said. “He promised that within a year, the victims would be provided with public housing.”
Sure enough, Mr Seah and his family were able to move into a block of flats in Jalan Bukit Ho Swee nine months later. Those flats were temporary measures, referred to as emergency one-room flats.
Photo Credit: Yee Weng Hong.
With thanks to Yee Weng Hong who shared me this gem of an old photo of Blk 9, Jalan Bukit Ho Swee . He wrote: “I was searching through my parents’ old photograph when I saw Block 9. This photograph was taken about 40 years ago. My family lived in Bukit Ho Swee from 1973 to 1981”.
Mr Seah and his family lived there for three years before moving into a three-room flat in Jalan Rumah Tinggi.
He went on to work as a finance supervisor at the Housing Board for nearly three decades. When he got married in 1979, he and his wife moved to Clementi West and then to Simei, where they still live. They have two children and one grandchild.
He recalled that after the new blocks came up in Bukit Ho Swee, many street hawkers returned. Before the fire, they used to go from kampung to kampung, carrying their food on a stick on their shoulder,” he said.
When the Beo Crescent Food Centre was ready, many of the itinerant hawkers balloted for spots and it opened with 156 stalls. “People were quite excited when it opened,” said Mr Seah. “We take it for granted now that we have all the amenities in every heartland housing estate – schools, clinics, sports stadiums and food places. But it was all new to us.”
Beo Crescent Market & Food Centre Now Official Opening of Beo Crescent Market Assemblywoman for Delta, Madam Chan Choy Siong unveils commemorative plague during opening of Beo Crescent Market at Bukit Ho Swee on 24 April, 1965. The archived photos of the opening of the Beo Crescent Market are curated on this blog with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore. At the same site at Bukit Ho Swee over 50 years ago, the Beo Crescent Market and Food Centre have been upgraded and revamped many times to improve the amenities and conditions of the hawker stalls for the convenience of the Bukit Ho Swee residents. Same place, different times to provide better experiences for the present and future generations of Singaporeans for everyone.
Photo taken at Beo Crescent Market & Food Centre Hawkers Association (BCMFCHA) Chinese New Year Dinner 2015. (Left to Right) Thimbuktu, Mr Tay Ah Chuan, the first Chairman of the Beo Crescent Market & Food Centre Hawkers Association, Ms Alison Koh, the current Chairman of BCMFCHA.