From Ashes to Market and Food Centre

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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.

blk 9 jalan bukit ho swee from yee_edit

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 PicsArt_1429601486901_new PicsArt_1429601637350_new PicsArt_1429601715686_new PicsArt_1429601785077_new PicsArt_1429601940077_new PicsArt_1429601993392_new PicsArt_1429602082206_new PicsArt_1429602163338_new Official Opening of Beo Crescent Market  img0010 Assemblywoman for Delta, Madam Chan Choy Siong unveils commemorative plague during opening of Beo Crescent Market at Bukit Ho Swee on 24 April, 1965. img0012 img0014 img0015 img0017 img0113 img0115 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. PicsArt_1430092785040_sm

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.

6 thoughts on “From Ashes to Market and Food Centre

  1. Very interesting. .Appreciate your sharing your prsonal memories through those photos! Nice to know how much change from than till today.Great photos.James Sheah thank you.

  2. My pleasure, Alison. Thank you for the lead to Jennani Durai of Straits Times for the interview on this article. So much has been changed at Bukit Ho Swee since the fire 54 years ago; and this heartland with high-rise HDB apartment flats with better living condition, amenities and convenience for the residents of Bukit Ho Swee.

  3. James
    Your life and mine seem alike.
    Stayed in Kampong Tiong Bahru (四脚亭). Before the 1961 fire broke out, I moved out to Stirling Road 2 rooms flat. Moved to Clementi West St 1 in 1979. Again moved back to Queenstown Strathmore Avenue in 1996. My career path same as yours. After SRS, work in Amg Mo Kio Town Council till now.

    Freddie

  4. Thank you for sharing your childhood memories at Kampong Tiong Bahru, Freddie. Didn’t know that the BHS fire in 1961 affected by you and your family. Glad to know that you are now staying at Forfar Height now. Regards.

  5. Thanks, James for the very insigthful recollection of this place which holds great memories dear to the residents of Bukit Ho Swee and yourself. It is true that we take all the amenities we enjoy in Singapore as a given. I can see that after so many years you are still harking back to the good old days of kampung life n camaraderie that we dont often see nowadays. Your pictures are really good. Thank you so much for the sharing, James! Many of us are richer by your sharing and experience of a fire of that magnitude.

  6. Thank you for your kind compliments and comments, Hui Hwang. My personal blogs are collective memories not intended to compare the “good old days of kampung life” of the pioneer generation and the present and future generations of Singaporeans. It is meaningful to understand the past of a Singapore where life was carefree and simpler when we started schooling at age 8 in the 1950s whereas toddlers at age 5 or 6 nowadays have to attend nurseries, kindergartens. Kids these days started learning earlier and have more things to learn for knowledge with fun. The juxtaposed photos of then and now to bridge the perceived “generation gaps” of the older and younger generations for inter-generational bonding.

    Every generation advance forward (not backward) to develop and build Singapore for a better future with latest technological infrastructures, amenities and systems. Time changes and moves on with every generations of Singaporeans. It serves of no purposes to “hark back” to the old days ….. “today is the tomorrow of yesterday”. The present generation today would become the older generation in another 50 years time. Time does not remain stagnant and the memories and experiences to share the young and old for a better future generation to remember the heritage stories to learn and share with benefits.

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