Childhood memories of PM Lee Hsien Loong

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Every child of every generation in Singapore have fond memories of tasting ice-cream to enjoy and remember for a lifetime.

With the courtesy of NewspaperSG, I would like to excerpt the relevant topics for an interesting article from The Straits Times on 28 May, 2001.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Political Correspondent Irene Ng what anchors him emotionally to this place.

A favourite haunt of teens and couples in the 1960s, the Magnolia Snack Bar, once where Centrepoint now stands, closed down in the 1980s.  This building held special memories for BG Lee as this was where his grandmother would take him and his two younger siblings when their parents were abroad, attending to national matters.

Sometimes, when Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong drives past Centrepoint, a series of sepia-coloured images flashes through his mind.

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His late grandmother walking close to him as a young boy.  Going to the Magnolia Snack Bar.  Buying ice cream.  Special times.

It was a real treat then.  After all, that was the snack bar in town.

About 35 years on, Brigadier-General (NS) Lee, now 49, breaks into a smile at the memory.  “In those days, it was something special.”

BG Lee mentions this spot when asked which buildings hold special memories for him, at a relaxed point towards the end of a 45-minute exclusive interview with The Straits Times.

…. How to anchor Singaporeans here and inspire a genuine sense of belonging to Singapore as their home.

One way to approach that question is by winding path of collective memory, signposted by events and places.

It emerges that, like many Singaporeans, BG Lee cherishes memories about certain buildings.

Other than the Magnolia Snack Bar, there were the schools he attended – Nanyang Primary School and Catholic High School.

Both institutions have since shed their original shells for new ones.

BG Lee muses:  “I don’t know what will happen to the old buildings, but I hope some will remain, because you remember the times you were there, the things which you did, the classrooms you were in, the times when you had a tremendous go with a band in the auditorium and brought the house down.”

In the school band, he played the euphonium and later, the clarinet.  He was also the drum major, and editor of the school magazine.  “Your memories are with the old buildings.  Hopefully, some of the spirit has transferred over to the new ones,” he says.

But with all these images is an overlay of ideas and convictions, formed as he grew up, about what makes this small country special.

“I think it’s a combination of experience and circumstances and a certain sense that you can see that things can be done better and you believe you can contribute.

“It’s a small place, you make a difference if you are there.  You can add something extra.  Nobody’s indispensable, so you can’t say ‘only I can do it’.

“But it is a job worth doing and I think it’s something a lot of us felt we’d be happy to dedicate ourselves to”.

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Mrs Lee Kuan Yew with her sons Hsien Loong (left) and Hsien Yang (right) at Nanyang Primary School. Lee Hsien Loong received a prize for ‘model pupil’ and top boy of the primary section. Photo on 13 November, 1963 with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore. (Source: National Archives of Singapore).

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National Day Parade 1969 Third Rehearsal at the Padang – Combined schools band of Catholic High School and Raffles Institution, led by drum major Lee Hsien Loong, marching down St Andrew’s Road on 27/07/1969.

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Memories of Magnolia Snack Bar in Orchard Road, Singapore

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The first ice cream manufacturer, Magnolia, sets up shop in Singapore in 1923.

Magnolia Snack Bar, a place close to the hearts of many older Singaporean and a favorite place for ice cream for over 40 years.  It was a hip place to hang out in the 60s and 70s, and a favorite haunt for young couples.

As one former patron said, it was the place to “take a date who mattered”, and at $5 each for a full meal, eating at the café was a special treat.

“If I bought a girl there, it meant that she was really special,” he said.

Goodbye to an ‘old friend’

In New Nation published on 24 July 1979 headline “Saying a tearless goodbye to an ‘old friend'”.

It looks like a tearless goodbye for Magnolia Snack Bar at Orchard Road when the bulldozer trundles in to pave the way for a new seven-storey building to rise in its place.

Despite the imminent end of this more than 40-year-old building, staff morale seemed quite high when a New Nation team visited it on 23 July, 1979.

The date for the demolition of the bar, a favourite rendezvous of teenagers in the sixties and still a top draw with schoolchildren and families, has not yet been set.

Mrs Agnes Leong, the “youngest” on the staff because of her nine years’ of service, said she felt “a little sad” about having to leave.

But she is confident of being transferred to the supermarket, with her 19 colleagues.

Although Magnolia Snack Bar and the building is gone, the taste and the memories of Magnolia ice cream is still available everywhere in Singapore, including the first ice cream hawker stall in 1984 at lot 123 in Telok Ayer market hawker centre, smack in the middle of the central business district (photo below).

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Now called Magnolia’s, the outlet (picture above) has reopened at its original location at Centrepoint in 2002.

Magnolia, the most established name in the local ice cream scene, is rising to the challenge.

The prices of a few of the imported brands now costs their customers a bomb plus an arm and a leg to have an ice cream.

It’s ridiculous to think that we started with ice cream even children could afford.  It’s a question of affordability.  Mr Heng Teng Kwang, senior business (dairy) of Cold Storage Manufacturing: “We have watched with great interest Haagen Dazs, Gelato and Baskin-Robbins, and found one interest common element – their selling price.”

“Then there is the challenge of meeting the changing lifestyle of Singaporeans, who now eat out more often.”

As ice cream is often bought on impulse, Magnolia’s solution is to make it available where the crowd is, while keeping the price low, Mr Heng said.

During my childhood days in Bukit Ho Swee, I could only afford the unbranded “potong” ice cream at 5 cents each and enjoy them just as much.

The first time of my visit to Magnolia Snack Bar at Orchard Road as a special treat here .

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In 1950, dozens of licensed and unlicensed “ice cream factories” spring up as small-time operators try to get their bite of the market which is growing with the baby boom.

Ice cream is still sold by itinerant hawkers, some of whom also make the ice cream themselves.  The hawkers travel on foot, often with pail in hand.  There was even one Indian ice cream hawker who used a bullock cart in the early 1900s.

In time, they graduate to the push cart, bicycle, motorcycle with side car and the three-wheeler, selling ice cream between wafers, in cones or sandwiched between bread slices, and the ever-popular popsicles and lollies.

Please share the fond childhood memories of the ice cream man posted on this blog .

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The archived photos shared on this blog with the courtesy of NewspaperSG and the National Archives of Singapore.

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