Roving days of street hawkers over by 1990

 

img0096Registered hawkers balloting for hawker stalls at Bukit Ho Swee, 1966.  A new Hawkers Code was implemented in 1966 for licensing and controlling hawkers.  Since then, street hawkers were progressively relocated into markets and shophouses with running water, electricity and proper refuse disposal facilities.  They also had to comply with minimum public health requirements and empty all refuse at proper public refuse bins.  Food and drink hawkers were tested for communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera.

Roving days of street hawkers over by 1990

By Corinne Tham

[Source:  The Straits Times, 10 December 1978]

The wandering days of all street hawkers in Singapore will be over by 1990.

That is the official deadline set by the Ministry of the Environment, a ministry spokesman said on 9 December 1978.

“The current policy is to house all street hawkers because of public health reasons,” he said.

Street hawkers provide a major source of water pollution, do not have proper facilities to prepare hygienic food and obstruct roads.

Channelled

The government has up to now resettled about 20,000 street hawkers by channelling them into food centres and markets located mainly at housing estates.

“There are still 6,986 hawkers in the streets,” said the spokesman.

“We expect to resite some 4,600 street hawkers by 1981 – 4,200 will be absorbed by the Housing and Development Board and 400 into three food centres to be built by the ministry, he added.

Two of the three proposed centres will be located in the Central Business District.  Plans to have them constructed by 1981 have already been submitted to the Finance Ministry and the Master Planning Committee for approval.

The proposed sites will be in the areas within High Street, Telok Ayer and Farrer Park.

There are now about 4,108 street hawkers distributed over 200 sites in the Central Business District.

These hawkers are patronised mainly by office workers.  The Public Health Inspectorate checks hawker sites to ensure that only hygienic food is sold to the public.

In order to settle all remaining hawker centres by 1990, more hawker centres with an average of 150 stalls will have to be constructed, said the spokesman.

“As an interim measure until such time suitable sites are found and more food centres constructed, exisiting hawker sites are being improved and provided with anti-pollution facilities,” he added.

Some of the areas where such programmes have already been implemented are Eu Tong Sen Street, St. Gregory Place and the backlanes of Robinson Road.

Subsidy

All food centres are subsidised by the government.  It costs an average of $15,000 to build a food stall excluding the cost of land.

No more street hawker licences will be issued in line with the current policy to relocate street hawkers.

The present policy is to discourage the young and abled to take up hawking although consideration will be given to hardship cases, the spokesman said.

Archived photos of street hawkers in Singapore [Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore].

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img0084img0009Singapore street scene showing patrons at roadside hawker stall, 1956

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img0061Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stopping at a street hawker stall during his tour of Paya Lebar constituency on 24/03/1963.

img0102Outside Goodwood Park Hotel, 1930

img0082img0080img070img0070A street hawker selling bananas to a soldier, 1945.

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Photos courtesy of Carl Mydans

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The heritage photos of street stalls in Singapore are shared on Facebook by Carl Mydans here .

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My blogger friend, Andy Young’s blog ‘Singapore 60s Music’ is available here .

Hawker food of yesteryear

In this series, Natalie Wong finds out more about the lives of hawkers in early Singapore

[Source: The Straits Times, 14 October 2014]

The five-foot way along shophouses of 1950s Singapore became a natural place for hawkers to open small businesses, to attract the masses of passers-by.

The five-foot-way shelters were ordered by Sir Stamford Raffles to be built in the 1800s.

He ordered shophouses to have a covered walkway of about five feet wide (1.5m) along their street fronts.

This was picked by hawkers as a suitable place to run their businesses, because of the shelter it provided.

Hawkers manned pushcarts and it was common practice for them to hawk their wares by shouting aloud to attract customers.

Without needing a licence to operate and to pay for rental space, these hawkers lined the streets of Chinatown in droves.  Their mobile carts or bicycles allowed them to travel about to sell anything from laksa to satay and wanton noodles.

They also made and sold other popular food and tidbits like ding ding tang (a malt candy), muah chee (a sticky glutinous rice snack covered with crushed peanuts) and grilled sweet corn, among a myriad of other dishes.

However, with hygience concerns and economic progress, the Singapore Government constructed hawker centres to house travelling hawkers in permanent stalls.

In 1993, the Government passed a law that banned hawkers from operating mobile pushcarts along the streets unless they had a licence.

The newly renovated Chinatown Food Street in Smith Street, with 24 street hawker stalls, tries to recreate these days of yore by ling the street with stalls constructed to look like pushcarts of the past.

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River Hongbao & Chingay 2020

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River Hongbao 2020 is organised by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Association (SFCCA), Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and People’s Association.

Since its inception in 1987, the event has evolved to become a major highlight of the Singapore calendar, attracting one million participants every year.  About 30 per cent to 35 per cent of whom are made up of tourists keen to experience Singapore’s unique Chinese New Year flavour, with most of them coming from China, Malaysia and Britain, said the STB.

There is no better way to celebrate the Lunar New Year than to be part of the largest, most anticipated Lunar New Year event of the year.  River Hongbao 2020  features special choreographed fireworks, interactive exhibits and intricate handmade lanterns that truly brings the festivity to life!

It was held at The Float @ Marina Bay from 23 January to 1 February, 2020.   Find out more at the River Hongbao   website .

My personal memories of River Hongbao are shared on my blogs here .

Walking down my fond nostalgic memories once a year again on 31 January, 2020, I arrived at my favorite places in Singapore on a blessed hot sunny morning.

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thumbnail_IMG_20200201_075714The young friend from Taiwan helped to take me a photo.

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The colorful and decorative lanterns at River Hongbao 2020

thumbnail_IMG_20200201_011252_editYear of the Rat 2020, my Chinese zodiac animal.   I was born in the Year of the Rat 1948.

The 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals

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The God of Wealth at River Hongbao 2020

thumbnail_IMG_20200201_011632The God of Wealth at River Hongbao 2020 carries an abacus for you to count your money …  uncountable as more and more money flow in to you.   Huat Ah!

The stage performances of the Peranakan dance and Chinese dance video clips on YouTube.

This piece of melodious Chinese music [Spring on Yi River 春到沂河] brings back the joy of spring at the river here .

With thanks to Sean for the YouTube video of the opening ceremony of River Hongbao 2020 here .

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thumbnail_IMG_20200201_011757The ‘Wishing Tree’ at River Hongbao 2020

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Chingay Parade Singapore 2020

As night falls and the sky grew dark over the Singapore waterfront …..

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Chingay is one of Asia’s largest street and floats parade that epitomises the dynamism of Singapore’s vibrant and multicultural society.  To mark 60 years of community building by the People’s Association in 2020, the theme for Chingay 2020 is ‘Colours in Harmony’, expressed through the use of different colours to symbolise Singapore’s cultural diversity and harmonious blend of different cultures in this 48th edition.

An estimated 6,000 volunteer performers from all walks of life and different organisations were involved in co-presenting this People’s Parade to showcase their passion and skills in a vivid display of their talents, over five parade segments.

As a national platform that brings people from diverse backgrounds together to celebrate Singapore’s unique culturalism, Chingay was the first event mark this milestone.

Over the years, Chingay is always associated with diversity, due to the multi-cultural performances that are put up.  Most times, these ethnic groups will present their individual items.  But for the first time, in Chingay 2020, the creative team has challenged themselves to choreograph a unique fusion item titled ‘Harmony in Motion’ where performers of four different races will perform together as one.  There will be common elements in their costumes, music and choreography, but yet, each ethnic identity will remain distinct.  This is an example of how Singapore is – we celebrate diversity in harmony.

[Source: Chingay Parade ].

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Wishing everyone a blessed, peaceful Happy Chinese New Year of the Rat 2020 for happiness, good health,  success and prosperity!

Second-Hand Books in Singapore

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Second-Hand Books in Singapore

Poor Man’s Library – Crop of Shops in Bras Basah Road

[Source:  Morning Tribune, 8 May 1936]

Numerous and varied are the trades and industries which have come to stay in Singapore as a direct result of the slump during recent years.  Malaya is no more the land “flowing with milk and honey” and extravagance in the country is a thing of the past.

One of the most interesting, and one which supplies the intellectual needs of the educated, but poorer classes, of all communities in Singapore is the trade in second-hand printed matter which is now a very flourishing line of business in the city.

Located at the top end of Bras Basah Road there are at least ten such establishments today and all through the day and the evening until closing time customers in search of something to read may be seen looking through the amazing collections.

VERITABLE LIBRARY

Each second-hand bookshop is a veritable library in itself and the stocks embrace practically everything in the line of text books, fiction, magazines, penny papers, periodicals and the thousand and one other publications with whch the reading world is flooded today.

There are books and magazines for almost every class of reader and every taste.  Instead of paying in dollars or going without the joy of reading, a wide range of printer matter is to be had at these second-hand bookshops and the price you pay is reckoned only in cents!

With the welcome advent of these shops in Singapore, reading is no more the very expensive pastime it was in prosperous days gone by.   Hundreds who were regular patrons of the big bookshops – dealers in new books – in the city, now hard hit by the slump and for other economic reasons, spend their leisure hours in Bras Basah Road looking through the amazing  and varied collection of second-hand literature.

School-boys form a considerable portion of the customers of these flourishing dealers in second-hand books.  Before and after school hours groups of them may be seen in these shops searching for “school-boy thrillers,” detective and cinema magazines and stories of adventure and the Wild West, so dear to the heart of average modern youth.

Their parents are no more in a position to afford new books and the pocket money allowed to school children is nothing like what it used to be.  Instead of having to pay twenty or thirty cents or more for a “thriller” the school-boy today gets the same mental thrills for three or four cents.

THE POOR PARENT

Second-hand school books and text books are also to be had and many a poor parent, for whom the education of his offspring is nothing less than a sacrifice, finds a great measure of relief in these school authorities were by no means helpful in this as invariably brand new books were insisted upon.

These Bras Basah Road second-hand book dealers do not experience any difficulty in keeping up their stocks in slump-ridden Singapore.  Victims of the slump find ready buyers in them and old collections lying covered with dust in shelves and corners are now converted into much needed money.

Public auction rooms and auctions in private homes, so frequent and regular in Singapore, are haunted by the second-hand book dealer and “lots” usually unwanted by the others are knocked down bargain by him.  Thus he is never at a loss to supply the needs of the reading public with almost anything at a fraction of the original cost.

Personal experiences of second-hand school text-books

Since I went to secondary school, I did not buy new text books because the prices of the books were not cheap.  As my family was poor and I tried my father not to spend too much money to send me to school.

Before the school opens and I was given the book-list by the school, I would approach my schoolmates who had those books which they do not need to use them for a higher standard or are graduated and left the school.  These kind and generous schoolmates sold the books to me at very low price or given me the books free of charge.

With other classmates who wanted to save money for our parents, we would then go to the second-hand book shops in Bras Basah Road.  Sometimes we were lucky to buy all the required text-books in a day.  At other times, if we were unlucky, we would have to look for the books at different shops on several days or weeks to get hold of all the necessary books.

These are my personal schooldays memories and experiences in the 1960s.  Of course, our classmates with parents who can afford to buy all the new textbooks for them would not have to go “second-hand textbook hunting” when school opens.

The archived photos of the bookshops at Bras Basah Road, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

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A page from the past

By Stephanie Yap
[Source:  The Straits Times – 2nd Edition, 18 February 2007]

It’s dowdy next to the new National Library, but Bras Basah Complex is still the place where students and book-lovers go, and there are plans to refresh it.

Sitting in the shadow of the glass-and-steel National Library, Bras Basah Complex looks run-down in contrast.  Built by the Housing and Development Board in 1980, it was once dubbed the City of Books because of its five storeys of more than 50 bookshops.

Indeed, book lovers with the patience to prowl along musty aisles will still find the building a treasure trove.  There, they can get anything from second-hand Nancy Drew mysteries published in the 1970s for 50 cents each to the latest issue of cult design magazine Wallpaper.

But with the rise of mega bookstores like Borders and Kinokuniya in the 1990s, the complex today is a far cry from its heyday.

Back in the early 1980s, it was buzzing with students because of its numerous bookstores.  It was also a centre for xin yao, which is Chinese music written by Singaporeans.

At the height of the movement’s popularity, hundreds of students would gather at the complex’s open concourse to catch their favorite musicians, who included Ocean Butterflies music director Billy Koh and singer Eric Moo.

Times have changed

Mr Yeo Kar Han, 36, a senior operations manager with Popular Book Company, recalls spending many of his Saturdays at those performances.

“But times have changed.  People now want to go to places that are air-conditioned, where they can shop and then go for food or a movies,” says Mr Yeo, who oversees the Popular outlet in the complex, which has been there since the latter was opened.

Another long-time tenant is Tecman, one of Singapore’s largest Christian bookstores.  Owner Jane Tan, who is in her 50s, remembers how it used to be a magnet for shoppers.  “Everyone had to come here to get books, and it was very packed and busy.”

The complex is also home to many Chinese language titles sold at stores like Shanghai Book Company, one of Singapore’s oldest bookstores.  Mr Ma Ji Lin, 53, the managing director of the 2,900 sq ft store, says: “We have been in business sine 1905, and have been in the complex since 1980.  Why do we like it here?  Because people know this is where you go to get books”

Bras Basah was synonymous with books even before the complex was built in 1980.

In the early part of the last century, Bras Basah Road along with Victoria Street and North Bridge Road, was lined with bookshops catering to the many schools in the area, including Raffles Institution, St. Joseph’s Institution, Catholic High and Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus.

Popular (then called World Book Company), Shanghai Book Company and MPH started in this area, and its prestige as a book hub was raised when the old National Library in nearby Stamford Road opened in 1960.

Mr Wong Kai Hong, 52, who studied at RI when it was at the site where Raffles City now stands, remembers buying comics like Beano and Dandy there.

Restore to glory

Mr Wong, the CEO of retail consultancy TR21, recently signed a contract with the Bras Bash Complex Merchant’s Association to help restore the ageing centre to its past glory.  But he adds:  “It is true that as an old HDB building, there is only so much improvement we can do.”

Any makeover must also consider the needs of the residents who live on the sixth to 25th floors of the complex.

“However, we can make its HDB ambience a characteristic of the place rather than a setback,” says Mr Wong.  He foresees books and arts and craft fairs beinbg held at the atrium.

He and the merchants want the complex to build on its reputation for specialty books, as well as an art supply destination, as there are about 20 such stores there.

Already, students from the many nearby tertiary institutions have boosted sales.

Mr Abdul Nasser, 43, who runs Basheer Graphic Books, which his father Basheer Ahamad set up in 1992, says the company has no plans to move, citing the central location, lower rent and reputation for books and arts supplies.

“Bras Basah is an ugly duckling compared to the surrounding buildings,” he says, “But actually, having a contrast between old and new is what makes a city interesting.”

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Second-hand Book Service Group on Facebook

School textbooks which the owners do not need them could give to those who need them.  Please reuse and recycle these books.  Don’t throw them away.

I have taken the initiative to create a new group ‘Second-hand Book Service’ on Facebook.  Your respected suggestions and comments is much appreciated.

Please join the group if you find it useful and helpful to everyone.  Thank you.

Singapore’s Tourist Trade

img040Chinatown Tour – Curious tourists looking at a finished product in a coffin shop in 1958

It is interesting and amusing to blog about Singapore’s tourist trade in the past.  I bounced on this archived photo in 1958 (above) with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.   I believe the photo was taken at a coffin shop in Sago Lane (Chinatown) and a popular tourist attraction at that time.  Of course, these coffin shops have been demolished.

budhisttempleThe Buddha Tooth Relic Temple now was built on the former Sago Lane.

Tourist trade is the best revenue earner for every country and it brings benefits for the peoples.  Some people may criticise the government to spend so much money every year to build and develop the interesting places which tourists are attracted … such as Gardens by the Bay, Changi Jewel, etc.

Sarong Island

The official opening of Pulau Sarong (Sarong Island), Singapore’s first tourist isle was marked by a dinner and show for invited guests only.  The owner, Mrs Christina Stone (standing) said that the five-acre isle, just off Pulau Blakang Mati, was catering to tourists.  Photo date:  21/09/1967.

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A former blog about Sarong Island to share.

Tourists travel in sea vessels and land at Singapore Harbour

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Tourist Attractions in the Past

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Breakfast at the Zoo with Ah Meng

Tourists posing with Ah Meng, the orang utan during breakfast time at the Singapore Zoo.  c 1988

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Tourist guide with tourists for sight-seeing

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The Tourist comes to Singapore

The amusing cartoon published in The Straits Times 83 years ago.  These illustrations depict the scenes which the tourists could see at witness in Singapore over 8 decades ago.
Source:  Straits Times, 4 July, 1937

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Source:  Straits Times, 11 July 1937

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I spoke about the production of water from the Singapore River as “smelling salt” …..

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How Singapore can cash in on $ tourists

By A Special Correspondent [Source: Malaya Tribune, 21 May 1950]

It won’t be long until round-the-world tourist ships crowded with dollar spending Americans will be tying up at Singapore’s docks every three weeks.  But if Singapore is to attract them ashore from their air-conditioned cabins it will have to get to work now creating the proper atmosphere for tourism.

The American government is trying to get Americans to travel abroad even more than they do now.  It is one of the most painless methods of alleviating the Dollar Gap.  Travel restrictions have been reduced and every American from one to ninety can bring home US$500 worth of souvenirs free of duty.

The American tourist today isn’t the free spending millionaire he was once imagined to be, but a thrifty, sober citizen who has saved up enough money to see the world.  He wants to get his money’s worth.  He wants to be entertained and enjoy the trip, as who wouldn’t.  When he does, he spreads the word and he is followed by many more.

Singapore has certain great advantages in this regard.  At the risk of disdainful disbelief, it can be stated that prices here are on the average cheaper than in the United States (with the exception of occasional items like cinemas – a foam rubber seat at New York’s finest theatre complete with first-run films, stage show and symphony orchestra isn’t any more, even in terms of pre-devaluation currency, than a smoky Singapore showhouse).  There isn’t a cleaner or a more orderly major city in Asia.  The climate is hot – but nothing compared to a U.S. city in summer.  The island has a surprising variety of scenery for its size.  Where else can one see Asia’s many races at one swoop?

One can’t go around the world on the standard shipping routes without stopping at Singapore.  Geographically, it is a convenient centre to explore South-East Asia in a hurry.  The food is adequate and plentiful, the water potable, health excellent.  And if the police continue their ccommunists, Singapore will continue to be an oasis of peace in a turbulent region.

Singapore isn’t on the round-the-world air routes.  The writer is not sufficiently acquainted with the reasons to express an opinin, but somewhere Singapore is missing the boat by not encouraging American airlines to include it on their Pacific-Europe routes.  There is little encouragement to detour down from Bangkok enroute to Manila and Japan.

The trouble with tourism in Singapore is that it has need to be fostered and developed and advertised.  How did Hawaii ever get the trade? Or Mexico? Or Italy?  The average tourist likes to be taken by the hand – not forcibly or ostentatiously, but nevertheless, guided gently.

European countries have granted ECA dollar funds for advertising their tourist industries in America.  Singapore might be able to get some too – or use some of the dollars from its surplus of exports to America.  Most Americans think Singapore is part of China.

Singapore, for the long run, needs more modern hotels.  Running hot water, beds with springs, decent coffee – and reservations are very hard to find in Singapore these days (i.e. 1950s).

Travel upcountry is unfortunately out of the picture in the foreseeable future.  But airlines based in Singapore could attract those elusive dollars by arranging packaged all-expense tours by air to such tourist Meccas as Bangkok and Bali.  With air speed a tourist could leave ship in Singapore, fly to his goal, and rejoin his vessel in Penang.

The colony could help the unknowing tourist by listing approved stores with fixed prices in the same way the Army approves restaurants for the Forces.  One of those “two or three minor incidents” concerning the sailors in town recently was reputedly caused by a wily gem merchant passinga zircon off as a diamond.  Most tourists can’t retaliate as effectively as did the gypped sailor.

The docks need dressing up.  Admittedly, there has been much more serious work of reconstruction to do since 1945 but the time has come when efforts could be made to make the Singapore Harbour Board area more attractive.  A van from the Tourist Bureau-to-be could meet ships, pass out booklets explaining the town, provide telephones and taxis, distribute free samples of Singapore products.

Singapore’s industries could be made into tourist drawing cards.  Every visitor would like to have the thrill of snapping a piece of latex right on the rubber tree; seeing how rubber is processed; visiting a pineapple cannery; eating a coconut freshly picked.

There is big money in  tourism.  Singapore to be out getting more of it.

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 The impact of the tourist flood on a developing country

[Source:  The Straits Times, 7 June 1979]

In 1978, more than two million visitors came to Singapore, nearly one for every Singaporean, man, woman and child.  The number of tourists had doubled in the half decade since it hit one million in 1973.  What problems will this human flood bring in its train?  PETER STALKER looks at how it is affecting India, in a special report marking the UN Environment Programme’s World Environment Day.

The flow of tourists around the world is assuming dramatic proportions.  Trains and boats and planes disgorged some 243 million international passengers in 1977 and the number is now growing at 1 per cents a year.

And as ever more exotic horizons are opening up for the determined traveller, many of those who live on those horizons eagerly await the arrival of thicker and thicker wallets.

Tourism is indeed big business.  It now accounts for 5 per cent of international trade – US$50 billion (S$110 billion) a year.  But this year’s “State of the World Environment” report from the UN Environment Programme rings alarm bells on the potential impact, socialand physical, of this massive migration, particularly for developing countries.

How will the onrush of conspicuous wealth – the clothes, the cameras and the money – affect desperately poor societies like India?  How will ancient monuments that have lain undisturbed for centuries stand up to the buffeting of jumbo jet-loads of fast-moving humanity?

There are people in India who neither know nor care about such things, and take pains to place themselves in the firing line.  For US$6 a month 20-year-old Afaq Ahmed rents a hole in the wall near the Taj Mahal, leaping out every few minutes or so to try and divert the stream of toursists:

“Just come and look!  You get carvings cheaper here than in government shop.”  Then, surrounded by his marble elephants, jars and chess sets, he haggles over the price.

“I do OK.  My father he was a shoemaker, but I prefer this.  I like to talk to people and I can make more money here.  Look, I started with just US$60, now I can earn about US$100 a month.”

And the money he earns ripples through the rest of the local economy.  Some estimates put the “tourist multiplier” at four to one, so that each dollar is effectively spent three times more after it passes through Afaq’s hands.

In fact, keeping the tourist cash in the country is one of the major headaches for those poor countries which do manage to attract foreign visitors.

Tourists expect comfort, in the hotels they stay in, the vehicles they ride in and the food they eat.  But if the original investment is made by foreign corporations, or if the things the travellers demand have to be imported, the tourist cash can disappear on the next plane back.

Certainly, when it comes to luxury hotels the Indians can do things in style.  The sleek and opulent Ashoka hotel in Delhi is a real city within a city.  Inside you could be in any country in the world.

But the real world does not go away.

The tourist in India will, when he leaves the comfort of his hotel, trip over the bodies of people sleeping rough on the streets.  And, not surprisingly, he himself will be the object of attention.

For no matter how modestly dressed, tourists shine as a beacon of wealth around which the poor will congregate.

There can also be a resentment against wealthy tourists.  The problem is that when it occurs, it is bound up with so many other issues – economic, cultural and racial – that the part the tourists themselves play is difficult to disentangle.

“Tourists won’t cause resentment here,” one wealthy Indian explained to me.  “There have always been such gross disparities between the lives of rich and poor Indians that the tourists are hardly going to add significantly to it.

“And then again the Indians are such a fatalist people.  They accept poverty and wealth as the will of God.”

That may be wishful thinking.  But it is certainly true that the ordinary Indian off the tourist track has an open-hearted acceptance of travellers of any kind, however wealthy.

As one young American girl making her way around India on a few dollars a day said:  “If it was the last piece of food that they had they would insist that you sat down and ate it with them.”

Indeed it is these jeans-clad overlanders who probably get closest to the spirit of Indian life.  If tourism has the chance to contribute to a measure of international understanding this is where it is likely to be.

Mr Sunil Roy, a former Director-General of Tourism, explained that they also bring an indirect benefit to the economy which is not often realised.

“When these young people sit down at the roadside and eat off a stall, the money goes direct to the shopkeeper and then from him to the vegetable dealer or whoever.  Whereas with the hotel money a lot of it stays on top, in salaries and administration.”

In fact, India’s attitude to low-budget tourism is likely to play a key part in the way that the tourist flood affects the environment.

The luxury hotels that have scarred the coastlines during massive building booms in Europe, with waters clogged by effluent far beyond the cvapabilities of the sewerage system are looked on with some horror.

“We don’t want mass tourism,” said Ms Anjari Metha, the Indian Government’s Additional Director-General of Tourism.  “We want people to come here who will understand the country and who won’t be a threat to the environment.”

She argued that in any case it wouldn’t be practical to deal with people en masses.  Japanese tourists for example, who want to look at Buddhist shrines, “will often find they are in isolated spots with no facilities for tourists at all.”

She took me over to a model in the corner of her office.  “This is the kind of tourist village we need to build.  It will use local technology for simple buildings, maybe bio-gas for heating and light.”

It is hoped that the tourists will take things as they find them and accept the local standards.  “And maybe,” she added, “The local people can also take their cue and use some of the ideas here to improve their own homes.”  –  UN Environment Programme.

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What our tourists complain about …  And how the STPB acts

By Judith Hale

[Source:  New Nation, 7 November 1980]

Acting on complaints is one of several ways the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board can safeguard tourist interests.  And it is important to protect thier ingerests as revenue from tourism is too important for Singapore to lose.  Find out how the STPB goes about doing this.

One tourist complained about a tour guide who had brought two “female impersonators” to perform an illegal show in a hotel room. (See picture above).

An Arab gentleman felt he was discriminated against because a bus driver and hotel porters refusted to help him carry his luggage.

A Britisher, brought to a shop by a tout, grumbled about being made to pay for his beer after he decided not to buy anything there.

Yet another visitor complained about a Szechuan duck ordered in a restaurant which was served looking like a “deflated mess”.

Reading this you might conclude that our tourists are a troublesome lot.  To some degree, they are.

While Singaporeans who absent-mindedly leave their umbrellas somewhere would promptly forget all about them, one tourist actually bothered to complain to the board about losing hers.

The board has the unenviable task of listening, reading, recording and acting upon every single complain from tourists provided of course, thge name of the offending place or person is given.  The number of complaints amounted to 607 in 1979, up 132 from the year before but the increase is not alarming considering the jump in the number of visitors coming here.

Most of the complaints are against overcharging and non-delivery of goods rather than messy ducks.

STPB writes to the establishments named stating that a complaint has been lodged and asks for an explanation.

Over the years, it has learnt that the visitor may not always be right.

In the duck case, for instance, the board learned that the restaurant had not charged the customer for the dish.

And in the touting incident, the shopkeeper replied that the Britisher had provoked him into charging for the beer by loudly declaring in front of other customers that the goods sold in the shop were very expensive.

There was nothing more that the board could do.  While it frowns upon touting it is not empowered to prosecute any establishment which indulge in the practice.

But this is something to be working towards.  Meanwhile, the board is fairly successful in taking offending establishments to task when the complaints, especially of non-delivered or damaged goods, are genuine.

Complaints about over-charging are more difficult to resolve.  As an official pointed out: “No one forces you to buy something.  This is a free enterprise system and that’s why we always advise tourists to shop around before buying.”  Acting on complaints in one of several ways tourists are safeguarded in Singapore.

You might wonder why it is necessary to protect their interests at all since they are more or less here today and gone the next.

The reason is that Singapore’s reputation as a good place to visit has to be maintained.  If tourissts complain and nothing is done about it, word will soon spread that Singapore is an unscrupulous place and one to be bypassed if possible.

The country needs the tourism revenue too much to allow this to happen.

So apart from having a complaints bureau of sorts, STPB has also set up a compensation fund regulated by a committee chaired by the board director, Mr K. C. Yuen.

On April 1, the fund at a comfortable sum of $481,111.

This comes from travel agencies which have to pay cash contributions and furnish bank guarantees when they are licensed.

The funds are used to compensate individual travellers who are victims of fuinancial collapse or malpractices of agencies.

The third safeguard STPB has is the close monitoring of travel agencies.  Apart from prosecuting unlicensed companies and acting as agencies, the board takes a good look at their accounts before renewing their licences each year.

Checks are made on whether complaints have been made against them too.

There have been several cases of the board refusing to renew licences.  This sort of control reduces the likelihood of malpractice of financial collapse.  Another less successful attempt to protect tourists from the unscrupulous has been accepting shops as associate members.

This entitles them to display STPB signs which enhance their reputation.  However, some of the shops have not lived up to this reputation as they are repeatedly mentioned in complaints.

Perhaps, the board should cancel the associate membership of repeat offentders.  Otherwise, STPB’s endorsement via the sign, may leave victims of malpractices wondering if the board approves of the duping of tourists.

City Sightseeing Tours for Tourists

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Your Singapore is waiting!  Explore and travel freely around the city with a hop-on hop-off bus.  Take a seat on the top deck of the bus and get ready to surround yourself with the intoxicating sights and sounds of Singapore.  This is a great introduction to all the best landmarks and attractions and if you choose a flexible hop-on hop-off bus tour, visitors are free to ride the buses at their own pace.  Touring Singapore independently has never been so easy!

Find out here .

Tourism in Singapore then and now.

Once upon a time, coffin shops in Sago Lane.  Now, every tourist to capture a photo with the Merlion to bring back the memories of Singapore home.  They are singing this song  …..  “I left my heart in Singapore!”.

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New Tampines Central Post Office

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What last heritage blog should I post at the end of 2019?

I happened to pass by Tampines Central this morning and noticed that new Tampines Central Post Office is opened today and found it interesting to share on this blog.

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The post office is located directly opposite the Tampines Central bus interchange and very convenient to reach it.

This is not an ordinary post office available in Singapore.  Stamps, gifts, collectibles are sold in Tampines Central Post Office.  SingPost is very innovative and creative to offer postal services to the customers.

The place is not very big, but not crowded because most of the self-service are provided with computerised vending machines and the staff serve the customers fast and efficiently.

Look at the philatelic gifts to discover the story of the nation through stamps.

My blogger friend, Tan Wee Kiat have written several interesting educational books about stamps here .
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The layout, design and concept of this modern post office is very user-friendly and comfortable for the customers to take their drinks when thirsty and to wait for their services and very relaxed.  The post office staff are helpful and friendly, and I had a chat with a few of them.

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Have a visit to the Tampines Central Post Office and learn many new stuff of evolution of postal services in Singapore.

It reminds me of the General Post Office where I first visited five decades ago to buy a First Day Cover.

Fullerton’s history relived

With thanks to NewspaperSG and National Archives of Singapore for the resources on this topic.

By Huang Huifen [Source:  The Straits Times, 9 July 2010].

The hotel’s past as the General Post Office is seen in a permanent exhibition.

You can post a letter at The Fullerton again – 14 years after it ceased operations as the Republic’s General  Post Office.

No, the luxurious hotel has not reverted to its original use.  But a colonial-style red pillar post box located outside the newly launched Fullerton Heritage Gallery in the building will function as a regular mailbox.  Letters posted there will carry the Fullerton stamp.

The 500kg mailbox flown specially from Britain is part of a permanent exhibition of photographs and artefacts which traces the history of the Fullerton Building from a fort to post office to its present day use as a hotel.

There is another functioning postbox at the hotel’s Post Bar.

sp_posting_box_red_coin_bank_latestcspbspc1It is the brainchild of Mr Giovanni Viterale, the Italian general manager of The Fullerton Heritage, a company which manages properties in the Fullerton Heritage precinct.  These include The Fullerton Waterboat House, One Fullerton, Clifford Pier, The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore and Customs House.

Mr Viterale, who arrived in Singapore in early 2010, was immediately fascinated by the rich history of the area.

“It has so much to tell about the history of the building and Singapore.  We feel that we should do something about it and bring back to life the history of this monument,” he says.

The gallery’s exhibits include the Foundation Stone, a monument erected outside the building in 197o by Singapore’s first president Yusof Ishak as a tribute to the early settlers.

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Other attractions include philatelic items such as a 1906 picture-less postcard, a letter from Chicago which made a stop in Singapore enroute to Europe in 1935, and a weighing scale.

The history of the Fullerton precinct is also told through photographs, maps and building plans.  The collection of 70 artefacts were brought from the National Archives, National Museum of Singapore and Singapore Philatelic Museum.

Paintings of the Fullerton precinct by Cultural Medallion recipient Ong Kim Seng can also be seen.

The National Heritage Board’s Heritage Industry Incentive Programme, which supports private players in developing heritage attractions, funded half of the gallery’s start-up costs.

For the first postmaster-general, Mr Bala Subramanion, 93, the gallery captured one of his fondest memories of his 35 years of service in the post office.

A photograph which showed him receiving the Public Service Gold Medal from Mr Yusof in 1965 is prominently featured in the gallery.

He says that he hopes the gallery will go beyond merely showcasing the history of the building to rekindling the warm feeling of receiving traditional mail.

“I hope this gallery will remind Singaporeans of the pleasure of accepting a cover from a friendly posstman, looking at the postage stamp affixed on it and reading it with interest.  I still enjoy sending and receiving greeting cards through the post,” he says.

Fullerton building: From GPO to national landmark

90-YEAR-OLD STRUCTURE GAZETTED AS 71ST NATIONAL MONUMENT
By Stacey Lim [Source: TODAY, 8 December 2015]

Overlooking the mouth of the Singapore River and the heart of the Central Business District, the Fullerton Hotel’s colossal two-storey Doric colonnade bore witness, for almost nine decades, to the growth of the country through the colonial and pre-independence era till today.

Before its present day incarnation as a five-star hotel, the building was home to the former General Post Office, and over different periods of time, housed government offices and departments where some of the Republic’s pioneer leaders began their careers, as well as a hospital providing makeshift operation rooms for wounded British soldiers during World War II.

On 8 December, 2015, the iconic eight-storey building – which was declared open on June 27, 1928 – was given its own place in history when it was gazetted as Singapore’s 71st National Monument.

The gazetting ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as well as Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who had worked at the building in his days with the Economic Planning Unit in the 1960s.

PM Lee himself had fond memories of the building.  During General Elections, political parties would hold lunchtime rallies at Fullerton Square and his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, delivered “many stirring and memorable speeches” there, as his mother listened from the balcony of the building, he said.

The speech of the Prime Minister to watch on YouTube video here , with courtesy of the Prime Minister’s office.

“When I first entered politics in 1984, I too spoke at the Fullerton Square rally, which back then was still at Fullerton Square,” PM Lee said.  “Today we still call it the ‘Fullerton Rally’, but it’s actually at the UOB Plaza promenade at Boat Quay.”

Tracing the history of the building, which sstarted out as the General Post Office, PM Lee noted that it was an important point of reference for public roads in Singapore.

Back then, the British used the milestone system for measuring road distances and the post office was “Mile Zero”.  During the Japanese Occupation, the building became the headquarters of the Japanese Military Administration.  Throughout the years, the building was home to many government offices.

“The transformation of this building reminds us of how far Singapore has come together as a nation.  In its lifetime, we have developed from Third World to First,” PM Lee said.

He added: “When the Governor Sir Hugh Clifford opened this building in 1928, he said that “the building is, and will be for many years, one of the principal landmarks of Singapore’.

“Almost 90 years later, his words remain true.  I am sure this buiding will continue to stand proud and handsome, and witness an even more prosperous and vibrant Singapore for many years to come.”

Under the Preservation of Monuments Act, gazetted buildings are preserved with the highest form of recognition for its national significance.  Each National Monument has its own tailored set of preservation guidelines.

Made of reinforced concrete, the facade of Fullerton Hotel encompasses ornate classical decorations that were created by Swiss sculptor Rudolf Wening and Italian sculptor Cavaliere Rudolf Nolli, who was also responsible for the sculptural works at the former Supreme Court and the College of Medicine building.

Former marine officer Capt P J Thomas, 73, said that he holds many memories of the former Fullerton Building.  He said: “However, the one that still remains vivid in my mind is standing on the balcony outside my office, looking at the clock on Victoria Memorial Hall, enjoying the cool breeze and adjusting my watch.”

At the time of its completion, the building represented Singapore’s status as the prime postal unit in British Malaya – there were 14 lifts in the building and the post office had automated mail-sorting equipment.

Mr M Bala Subramanion, 90, for mer Postmaster General, remembered how there was a tunnel from the building into the sea for postal boats to deliver and collect mail.

“The tunnel, measuring about 10ft high and 8ft broad, was large enough to enable assisstant postmen to push trolleys carrying the postal bags,” he said.

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Hawker parents for their children’s education

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She made her hawker parents proud

[Source:  The Straits Times, 1 August 1997]

Her parents, both hawkers, urged her daily to study hard so that she could have a better life than they did.

On 31 July, 1997, they had the satisfaction of seeing her graduate from Temasek Polytechnic as its best business student.

Miss Toh Chew Hong, 20 (photo above), earned that accolade and a Singapore Technology Gold Medal with a final report card of eight As and 19 distinctions.

As she went on stage to receive her prizes and business diploma, she was accompanied by her beaming parents, Msr Toh Seng Song, 47 and Madam Ang Poh Lian, 41.

The couple have sold prawn mee and laksa at a rented stall in Serangoon North coffeeshop for the past five years.

Besides Miss Toh, who is now an assistant tax officer with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, they have another daughter, and two teenaged sons.

They work 12-hour days, seven days a week, taking only one day off a month.  Some days they are up as early as 5 am.

Miss Toh helps out at the stall on weekends.  She said: “I know what it’s like to work in a coffeeshop stall – it’s hot, its stuffy.  So I really appreciate what they have done for me.”

She now plans to study accountancy at the Nanyang Technological University.

He kept his promise

Three years ago, Nsg Lip Chye nearly missed getting a place in Temasek Polytechnic because his application was too late for admission.

Yesterday, he won a Lee Kuan Yew Award for being the top technology students to graduate from the polytechnic.

The 20-year-old National Serviceman bagged seven As and 22 distinctions during his three-year Diploma in Electronics course.

Quite a feat for a youth who had missed the deadline for applying for the course in the last week of June 1994.

Desperate, he begged the polytechnic’s admissions counsellors to give him a chance and promised that he would study hard, if admitted.

They did, and he kept his promise, scoring nine distinctions in his first-year examinations.

Friends saw her through

She went blind in her left eye just as she was preparing for her second-year polytechnic examinations.

Blood vessels in her eye had burst.

To add to her woes, she could not pay her school fees as her medical bills were mounting.

But her mother, friends and lecturers rallied round to help.

Today, Miss Ong Sok Kim, 23, now working in a financial audit firm, holds a diploma in accounting and finance from Temasek Polytechnic.

She had to fight long odds to get it.

The injury in her left eye in late 1995 was caused by complications arising from the diabetes she had been suffering from since she was 15.  An operation failed to save the sight in the afflicted eye.

She read her notes and sat for some of her papers while in hospital.

Friends and lecturers helped by enlarging her notes and examination papers so that she could read them better.

Her mother also took to sewing clothes for manufacturers to supplement the family income and to help meet the hospital bills, while Miss Ong took a bursary and a book grant and worked part-time to pay the rest of her fees.

Despite the hardship she has been through, she is cheerful.  “I plan to upgrade myself by taking further courses in accountancy.”

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She is doing grandma proud

By Dawn Quek
[Source:  Today, 7 July 2005]

JC dropout wins Lee Kuan Yew Award

Four years ago, Dian Farziana Mohd Farid was skipping classes at Anglo-Chinese Junior Colleg.

Yesterday, she became the first Malay student to win the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew award, which is given to the top graduates from mathematics or science-related courses at secondary. pre-university and polytechnic levels.

The 20-year-o;d Singapore Polytechnic (SP) graduate also won a Public Service Commission (PSC) Merit Scholarship from the Ministry of Education, after bagging 38 distinctions during her three years at SP.

Dian dropped out of junior college after her first year to enter the polytechnic and quietly worked her way to the top of her cohort.  Her family members did not even know.

Said her paternal grandmother Madam Salmah Rahman: “I was shocked.  She had distinctions all the way from Year 1!”

Dian cites her late maternal grandmother, whom she lived with, as her inspiration.

She recalls visiting her often at her workplace at the then Kandang Kerbau Hospital.

It was there that Dian developed an interest in medicine and biology.

Said the graduate:  “To me, my late grandmother epitomises what a woman should be.

“Not only was she successful in her career as a head nurse, she was also a mother of four, my mentor, guide, friend and ‘mother’ all rolled into one.”

However, Dian is not planning to be a nurse.

She wants to get a degree in biomedical science, then teach biology and chemistry in a secondary school.

Another winner at the awards ceremony was Han Zhihang, who was given the Toh Chin Chye Gold Medal – one of the polytechnice’s four top institutional awards.

Despite suffering from juvenile arthritis since he was 15, Zhihang topped his Computer & Technology course.

The 22-year-old wants to get a degree in Computer Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University and, like Dian, plans to teach once he graduates.

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Poly grad owes his success to hard times

By Shahida Ariff
[Source:  The Straits Times, 19 July 2002]

His outlook on life changed after his father’s near-fatal accident forced him to take up odd jobs at 13

Singapore Polytechnic graduate Thum Yew Leong had to grow up fast when his father was almost killed in a traffic accident in 1994.

The accident left his father with serious lung injuries and unable to work again.  So, at the age of 13, Mr Thum started working during school holidays to help support his father and family.

But he also worked hard at his studies, and on his graduation day next month, he will receive two gold medals and five book prizes as the top student in the diploma in maritime transportation (management) course.

Mr Thum, who is now doing his national service, said his father’s accident, and the financial prssures which came with it, changed his outlook on life.

“I used to be mischievous in class and didn’t study much,” said the soft-spoken 20-year-old.  “But after the accident, I told myself to put more effort in my studies and help lighten the family’s burden.”

His 16-year-old brother is studying in a secondary school and his 50-year-old mother works as a chambermaid.

From Secondary 1 until last month, he spent his school breaks doing various jobs, from waiting on tables at a hotel to doing odd jobs at a shoe factory.

When he started out, he took home just $20 for a day’s work, of which half went to his family.

In later years, he got double that amount, but he remained prudent, confining his spending to an occasional compact disc or movie.

“I learnt how hard life can be,” he sid.

“The environment in the working world was not sheltered, like in school.  So I told myself to work hard so I can progress to a higher level and get better jobs.”

At the polytechnic, he scored distinctions and As for 27 of the 37 modules he took.

He plans to go to university to do a business-related or logistics course, and then in the marine industry.

His father, Mr Thum Weng Soon, 49, said he was proud of his son’s achievements.

“I’m very happy he did well.  I hope to see him do well in the university and to his work.”

Another proud parent was retiree Lim Poh Swee, 63, whose son, Kok Heng, won the Tay Eng Soon gold medal, awarded to the polytechnic’s top Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduate.

The 24-year-old Mr Lim, who is now working as a senior officer at NatSteel, entered the ITE in 1993 after failing his Primary School Leaving Examination.

Said his father:  “In primary school, I had no hope for him, his results were very bad.  Now, I’m so proud.”

Are the children of hawkers, coolies, bus drivers, odd job labourers and other low-income parents ashamed of their parents or did not reveal to their friends the type of work their parents do?  Did they appreciate and be thankful to their parents who have to go through hardship to earn a living and to send their children to schools and universities?

Something to learn about the ways of people who have rich or poor parents from the article below:

IMG_20191223_152202.jpgMiss Melissa Kwee

[Source:  New Paper, 25 February 2000]

She’s filthy rich but …

Her family is behind the massive Millenia Singapore development at Marina Centre, owns he Regent Hotel and several residential properties.  But Melissa Kwee does her own laundry and cleans her room herself.  GENEVIEVE HANG meets a woman determined to live a life less extraordinary.

RICH.  Many people dream of being that. Rich. Life would be so easy, if you are rich.  Just kick off your shoes and relax.

Well, you would think that is what Miss Melissa Kwee does all the time.

Her father is a multi-millionaire.  She lives in a semi-detached house with two maids.  And she doesn’t need to work for a living.

But getting her to talk about her wealth is like squeezing water out of stone.  She will have none of that rich-lifestyle story.

Indeed Miss Kwee, 28, who belongs to the family which owns a Pontiac Land, takes great pains to live a life less extraordinary.

She says she does the laundry and cleans her own room.  No caviar and smoked salmon for her.  More like popiah at a hawker centre.  And yes, she takes the bus and MRT most of the time, although she has a car.

She is in T-shirt and jeans, with hardly any make-up on her face.

During our interview at Millenia Tower, she waved and smiled at almost anyone who walked by, even the security officer.

No one would guess that she’s the daughter of the man who owns the tower, Mr Kwee Liong Tek, 54.

Said Miss Kwee, the eldest of four children: “I know that I’m blessed.  That’s why I try not to waste, and use whatever resources available to me to do something worthwhile.”

She set up Project Access (PAX) in 1996, a company which designs programmes for secondary schools and junior colleges, to help develop leadership qualities in young people.

She is now busy with an Aids awareness campaign.

PAX is non-profit organisation.  Miss Kwee says it earns enough to support herself and her crew, though she admits her parents pay for a part of her monthly expenditure.

“I haven’t come across many nasty people saying that I’m some rich girl with too much time.  And I don’t feel like people don’t take me seriously.

“Nothing bothers me,” said the Harvard University anthropology graduate.  She took time out from college to spend a year in Nepal teaching and doing research work.

Said her mother Mrs Donna Kwee, 54, a housewife: “Of course, we were worried, but Melissa has always had this adventurous spirit and confidence that she can make a difference in other people’s lives.

SUPPORTIVE PARENTS

“And as parents, we don’t want to stand in the way of her ideals.  We’re supportive of what she does, so long as she doesn’t hurt herself or others.”

Miss Kwee recalled the trip:  “The first night I was there, I had to sleep in the loft of a barn.  There were buffaloes and chickens below me.  I couldn’t sleep the whole night, but it was quite an expereince!”

For a year, she lived without proper toilets, electricity or telephones – and without complaining.

“But it was worth it because you see them ploughing the field and singing and whistling.  There’s this sense of fun in all they do.  It’s a great attitude to have.”

When she’s not working, she relaxes with her family at home.

Or goes for a picnic with friends at the Botanic Gardens.

Fiercely protective of her privacy, she declined to tell us if she was seeing anyone special.

So how does she see herself 10 years down the road?

“Probably happy, with lots of kids, taking long walks by the beach!”

She (Melissa Kwee) has no airs at all.  She never mentions her family connections, I think she doesn’t need to.  She’s always nice and very down to earth

– An acquaintance of Miss Kwee’s, who declined to be named.

 

Fire: A Catalyst for Modern Singapore

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The title of this blog is reproduced from Chapter 1 of the book “Squatters into Citizens” – The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore – by Loh Kah Seng.

The related blog is available here .

Excerpts are made from this book to share my personal related topics from my interview with the author.   After his interview with me on 21 Oct 2006, the book was published in 2013, seven years later.

He dedicated the book to his parents and other kampong dwellers.

The story of how the 16,000 victims of the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee fire were rehoused in modern housing has become a formative episode in the state-sanctioned historical narrative of Singapore, commonly known as the “Singapore Story”.  According to Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, Bukit Ho Swee had been “an insanitary, congested and dangerous squatter area”, but
the fire disaster was a blessing in disguise for all the occupants there.  It is a far too familiar picture of an inert community who would not think of moving from their unpleasant and dangerous surroundings until a disaster makes the decision for them.

In the Singapore Story, the fire is depicted as a “blessing in disguise” whereby an enlightened government rehoused the “inert community” of squatters after a disaster and set the country on the right path to progress and modernity.  This book suggests a more complex and nuanced story.  The inferno tipped the balance in  a protracted struggle not between modernity and backwards, but between two forms of modernity.  On the one hand, the People’s Action Party (PAP) government, like the British colonial regime before it, envisaged the creation of a well-planned city of public housing estates.  On the other, both administrations confronted the proliferation on the urban fringe of kampongs, built haphazardly and without planning controls.  These kampongs constituted an alternative form of modernity to the official vision.  Squatters were not inert, as depicted, but progressive and urbanised,  and  with effective social autonomy.  The rehousing after the Bukit Ho Swee fire integrated these semi-autonomous squatters into the formal structures of the state, an early project of social engineering that helped accelerate the development of postcolonial Singapore.

The following archived photos with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore, these captured moments of the Bukit Ho Swee fire victims packing their treasured belongings before the fire and the aftermath after the day’s fire on 25 May, 1961 to search for whatever that’s left.

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Preface of the book “Squatters into Citizens”

At around 3 p.m. on 25 May 1961 a small fire broke out in Bukit Ho Swee a kampong (village) settlement of wooden housing on the western fringe of Singapore city.  Within hours, the inferno had jumped across two roads and destroyed the homes of nearly 16,000 people.  Kampong fires were not unusual in Singapore, but the scale of this disaster surpassed all previous ones, even the great fire of Februry 1959 at Kampong Tiong Bahru, just across the main road from Bukit Ho Swee, which had rendered 5,000 people homeless.  What ensued at Bukit Ho Swee was even more remarkable.  By 1961 Singapore had become a self-governing state under British colonial rule, and housing thereby came under the purview of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government, elected in 1959 in a landslide victory.  Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew assured the fire victims that they would be rehoused in modern apartments within nine months.  This promise resulted in the first big building project carried out by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), established the previous year to implement the PAP government’s ambitious housing programme.  The HDB quickly erected high-rise blocks of emergency flats on the fire site, enabling former squatters to return to Bukit Ho Swee – not in nine months but within a year.

The fires and flats of Bukit Ho Swee loomed in the background of my childhood years of the 1970s and 1980s.  In 1969 my parents got married and began living with my grandparents in their three-room flat in Block 29, Havelock Road.  I was born in 1972, followed two years later by my sister.  In 1975 our family of four moved into a one-room rental flat in Block 28, Jalan Membina, the site of the emergency housing built after the 1959 Kampong Tiong Bahru fire.  So began my experience of living in one-room housing.  Two years later we shifted to an improved one-room flat in nearby Block 14, and again in 1980 into a lower-rent, improved one-room flat in Block 79, Indus Road.  I found the housing embarrassing and repeatedly urged my parents to obtain a larger home.  But my father was a coolie on a daily wage and my mother  a housewife, although the family also did some handicraft work at home for additional income.  My parents slept on blankets laid over the linoleum in the living room and my sister and I on a bunk bed in a partitioned corner.  Once, my face burned with embarrassment when a classmate from Havelock Primary School visited my home and said,”Your house so small ah?”   The school, as opposed to the flat, was the centre of my life.  I knew nothing of Block 79; as Yeo Seok Thai, a resident in the block, told me in an interview, it was complicated (hock chap), where low-income families sruggled with debt and their children ran aoul of the law.  I graduated well from Havelock and enrolled in River Valley High School on Kim Seng Road, which had sheltered victims of the 1961 inferno.  In 1989 my family at last left the locality for a three-room flat in Yishun New Town, in north Singapore.  This, I thought happily, was the true meaning of progress.  I knew nothing about the great kampong fire and had no wish to return to Bukit Ho Swee.

Although I myself knew nothing about the blazes and the kampong settlements they razed, they have remained in the minds of those of my parents’ generation, the “pioneers” whop made the dramatic transtion from unauthorisecd dwellings to public housing.  Among the first former kampong dwellers I interviewed was my father shared with me what one would call the “history of modern Singapore” as he knew it.  I transcribed and translated the interview, which was in Hokkien, and gave a copy to my sister.My mother had lived in a wooden house in Kim Seng, close to Bukit Ho Swee, before she married my father; she was rather hesitant abut a formal inteview. But she hovered in the background of my conversations with my father, and I was able to piece together a rudimentary narrative of her early life from fragments of her interjections from time to time.  Oral history does not often have a place in households in a city-state that is always looking forward.  My interview with my father addressed an amnesia in the history of Singapore that was both personal and academic.  It crossed a cultural divide between generations created by the advent of public housing.

Did my personal background make me the right candidate to investigate the impact of the 1961 fire?  I knew nothing about the calamity, but having lived in one-room flats in a low-income estate gave me a strong sense of the lives of the renting poor and the role of housing in their lives.  Once I had started my research, I became more confident that I was the right candidate.  I would, I thought, unravel the social history of kampong dwellers and their resistance against the social history of kampong dwellers and their resistance against the colonial state.  I imagined that I knew the social and mental worlds of the “underclass” who still, unlike my parents, live in one-room rental units and who are faceless, voiceless and unplaced in the official Singapore Story about our supposedly historic journeyd from fishing village to First World city-state.  I was invigorated by the prospect of finding an alternate past to the one dominated by the PAP government, a past that loomed large over the present.  My research into the Bukit Ho Swee fire, I thought, would qualify the Singapore Story, which tells a heroic tale of the government building modern flats for homeless squatters.  I was interested in investigating the dynamism of the kampong community and its resistance to unfair eviction.  The wooden house dweller of Bukit Ho Swee seemed to be the perfect subaltern.

My research appeared to be aided by the fact that, as momentuous events that shattered the calm of history, fires are much written about and well remembered.  Besides the interview with my father, I found oral history invaluable for obtaining insights into both the perspectives and experiences of wooden house dwellers.  This book draws from about 100 interviews conducted between 2006 and 2007.  The oral history fieldwork frequently brought me back to Bukit Ho Swee, where several of my informants still resided.  I found many fire victims and eyewitnesses of the disaster by approaching grassroots leaders, visiting coffee shops frequented by elderly residents, and posting open letters at HDB blocks inviting residents to participate in my reserch.  I also interviewed individuals whose life and work were bound up with 1961 fire in other ways:  architects, public officials, firefighters, artists, grassroot leaders, rural activists and social workers.

In using the oral history, I have tried to  both build a collective biography of Chinese kampong dwellers and acknowledge differences in experience due to age, gender and income group.  The interviews comprise the voices of males and females; English, Mandarin and Hokkien speakers (an indicator of economic status in Singapore); and former civil servants, shop owners, hawkers, shipyard cleaners, factory workers, construction workers, general labourers and homemakers.  Where the interview material is sensitive, I have used pseudonyms to protect the individuals’ anonymity.

There are gaps in the oral hstory record.  Although the Oral History Centre of the National Archives of Singapore had conducted interviews in the preceding decades, which helped fill part of the gap, most of my informants were “baby boomers” born after World War II, presently in their late fifties to seventies, with a handful in their eighties.  Their memories of the kampong and inferno were based on the experiences of children, adolescents and young adults.  It was difficult to locate older kampong dwellers, especially to find out about their rehousing in HDB flats after the fire.

Information about them often came second-hand from the recollections of younger people, such as their children.  Still, the strength of oral history is that being a child in the 1950s was rather different from growing up in present-day Singapore.  The kampong child’s social life centered around the immediate locality in which he or she grew up, studied and played.  This produced a keen awareness of the landscape far beyong the child’s age.  Most of my informants remembered the past vividly.  As Samuel Setoh, born in 1944, emphasised, “Old people always say they forgot where they put the keys or what they did just now but long, long ago, they can still remember because it is in the ‘heart disk’.”

Admittedly, memory erodes over time into a reflection, shaped by events both in the individual’s life and in society  The social memory of the fire is marked by official representations.  In his study of the 1922 Chauri Chaura riot, which holds a pivotal place in Indian national history, Shahid Amin finds recollections tainted by the hegemonic master narrative.  How much of my oral history was the independent memory of the “subaltern” and how much a filtered oral history have argued that any influence renders the source wholly unreliable.  My approach has been more modest:  I have tried to distinguish the independent layer of memory from the state-influenced parts, and to use the respective fragments to write about booth individual experience and social myths.

My interviews usually went well, and many individuals, including fomer fire victims, complimented me on a worthwhile and much-needed project.  But I noticed anger and recrimination in some interviews and silence and wariness in others.  This pointed to a story to be told about the present as well as the past.

The research into the Singapore archives was more challenging.  Here, I found, I had been deemed the “wrong candidate” for the project.  Fifty years after the fire, obtaining access to the archives remained fraught with dificulty:  official gatekeepers are mindful of the long shadows cast by the makers of the recent past.  In Singapore, a researcher seeking access to classified government records is requird to obtain the depositing institution’s approval.  The HDB turned down my request “as the records contain personal data of identifiable individuals”.  Subsequently, the assistance o my member of parliament, an academic, enabled me to obtain the depositing institution’s approval.  The HDB turned down my request “as the records contain personal data of identifiable idividuals”.  Subsequently, the assistance of my member of parliament, an academic, enabled me to obtain partial extracts of 8 of the 25 requested HDB files.  The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports granted me access to 23 Social Welfare Department files, mostly on its relief work for fire victims, with the condition not to release sensitive information prior to the ministry’s clearance – a necessary stipulation.  But I was unsuccessful with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Department.  Their documents on what were regarded as politically sensitive issues of police invstigations into the cause of the fire and thework of the rural associations were important for writing a “total history” of the inferno.  The records, I was told, were still classified.  These gaps in the documentary record affected particularly the part of history I wanted to tell after the disaster, while the cause of the fire remains in the realm of social rumours that the inferno was caused by an act of arson by the state to clear the kampong for public housing.  I was not the first researcher on Singapore’s history to experience such a rebuff.

I  was also being followed, I came to discover, by rumours in some official quarters that I was attempting to fix the blame for the fire on the ruling government.  As the researcher, I found myself enmeshed in rumours about rumours.  In academic studies of fires in other places and times, the question of arson is a logical, if politically incorrect, subject of inquiry.  In this case the rumours also usefully captured the fraught relationship, both historical and continuing between the state and squatters.

There was also, among some local academics, a view that I was working on the “wrong” topic.  The Bukit Ho Swee fire was inconsequential in Singapore’s history, they said.  These academic responses also say something, I believe, about what is considered worthy scholarship in Singapore.

The final and most important challenge in my research was mediating between what I had wanted to write and what my documents and inteviews were telling me  My initial idea of an independent kampong community soon had to be modified to a “semi-autonomous” one that before the 1961 fire was alredy lined to the state and formal economy.  I also acknowledged the fact that public housing, no matter how unpopular in the early years, is strongly desired by most Singaporeans (and indeed myself) in the present day.  Most crucially, I found that many of my interviewees did not simply affirm or reject the Singapore Story but moved between it and their own narratives, sometimes weighed down by the official acount, at other times contesting it or even departing from it.  Frequently, the oral testimony reconciled between national and individual narratives as the storytellers shifted between their present and past identities, respetively, as citizens and squatters.  I did not find my subalterns but, rather, individuals whose real agency lay in mediating between different narratives, experiences and memories.  The oral narratives were partially counter-hegemonic, partially afirmative but always entwined with the dominant account.

Excerpts from the book mentioned in the interview with James Seah

James Seah, his parents and four siblings lived in a wooden house at 20 Beo Lane.  His father, a bookkeeper in a trading company, took a bus to the Central Area daily, while his three sisters worked in the steam laundry.

James Seah’s family moved into a one-room emergency flat in Block 9, Jalan Bukit Ho Swee; he was studying nearby at Delta Primary School, while his elder sisters were still working at the Singapore Steam Laundry at Delta Circus.

When this author spoke to former fire victims in 2006-2007, two generations after the inferno, it was evident how deep the social influence of the official discourses was.  For individuals such as James Seah, the 1961 disaster contained an important set of lessons for young Singaporeans.  In Seah’s view, the government suppressed secret societies after the inferno, while low-income families were able to break out of the cycle of poverty as their children acquired higher education.  Seeing the fire as “a breakthrough for the PAP government to really change the whole socio-economic landscapte of a big part of Singapore’s starting time”.  A sense of national identity and support for the government inextricably merged.

James Seah was saddened by young people’s apparent ignorance of the difficult experiences of their elders.  The dangerous desire fore Western-style politics, he said, was the result, which only history could rectify, by “bringing this little kid, who shouts like that, influenced by Western democracy, and putting him in our time to go through the racial riots, the labour strikes, the fire”.  But Seah was also acutely aware it may be impossible to fully convey the intimacy of a terrifying event outside the experience of young Singaporeans:

How do I describe to you the day when it was on fire and we ran?  Then the next day when we came back and saw all was gone?  That element of living through a certain period can never be replicated … I talk to my children, and they say, “Where got such things?” … This is something that I am very fearful of for the children, ecause they can’t imagine the hardship that their parents went through.

In August 2011, 50 years after the fire, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon in his National Day Rally speech recalled the disaster at Bukit Ho Swee as a key event that nurtured a sense of a shared destiny among older Singaporeans.  He referred to the trauma suffered by James Seah, then 13, on the day of the inferno and in the aftermath, before his family were rehoused within a week in an HDB flat.  Seah’s experience, Lee surmised, was a fitting entry for the state’s Singapore Memory project, which aims to collect five million memories of ordinary Singaporeans by 2015, the 50th year of Signapore’s independence.  It is hoped that this ambitious project will not edit out those fragments of stories from Bukit Ho Swee that do not fit neatly with the state’s account:  the rumours of arson, the contributions of gangsters to the kampong, the official perception of the HDB estate as a “black area”, and the disillusionment of the one-room HDB dwellers.  Such jagged fragments mark boundaries to and gaps in the glossy “shared history” that governments propagate to their citizens.  As Howard Zinn wrote in his A People’s History of the United States, local past may not exactly correspond with the claims of those preoccupied with the unity of the nation.  Yet a nation is richer and more resilient if it can acknowledge events such as the Bukit Ho Swee fire that expose historical and continuing social fissures and tensions.  Such a mature nation is reflective, self-aware and more inclusive.

The blog is posted to share my personal learning experiences in the interview with Kah Seng, who helped me to learn more about myself and the Bukit Ho Swee fire from his meaningful book and the success of his thesis.

These are life lessons for me to learn from my blog to express and to share them to my children, grandchildren, classmates and friends, whom I have not spoken to them about the Bukit Ho Swee fire in person in the past.

The blog mentioned in the National Day Rally 2011 here and the selected section of the video on YouTube.

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Landmarks of A Time Past

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These buildings and landmarks have disappeared from the face of Singapore.  But thanks to the photographic ‘eye’ of Marjorie Doggett, they have been captured for posterity.

By Rebecca Chua

[Source:  The Straits Times, 6 July 1985]

“For me, a building remains like a cold stone monument unless it is possible to visualise the sort of person who constructed it and live in it.  One learns of the scenes of happiness or sorrow enacted within its walls and it is then, in one’s imagination, that the house assumes its atmosphere.”

– Mrs Marjorie Doggett in the foreword to the first edition of her book, Characters of Light.

“Let it still be the boast of Britain to write her name in characters of light; let her not be remembered at the tempest whose course was desolation, but as the gale of spring reviving the slumbering seeds of mind and calling them to life from the winter of ignorance and oppression.  If the time shall have passed away, these monuments will endure when her triumphs shall have beome and empty name.”

Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore 1823

Little did Sir Stamford Raffles know, when he declared Raffles Institution open in June 1823, that the school, which he envisaged for students of all races and religions as “the means of civilising and bettering the conditions of millions”, would not stand the test of time.

Where the Raffles Institution used to stand, Raffles City now towers.

In fact, Singapore has changed so much in the past quarter of a century that many of the buildings Marjorie Dogget photographed in Singapore almost 30 years ago have disappeared.

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Even roads have vanished.  Although the Hadji Fatimah Mosque is still standing, a mite tipsily, it must be admitted, “Java Road, the charming little street where it once stood, parallel to North Bridge Road, has ceasted to exist”, she said.

Most of the buildings that have been earmarked for preservation are places of worship.  But Mrs Doggett feels that “you can’t just save the building and not the environs”.

“The Hadji Fatimah Mosque, for example, is a misfit, standing amidst a redeveloped area of modern highrise flats.  There used to be a large area of the surrounding environment with which the building was the building was so compatible, but all that’s been demolished.

Still, she believes, it’s not too late to take stock and start preserving not just the building, but the surrounding that give a building its character and sense of place in the community.

Mrs Doggett is no fanatical conservationist.  She remembers how the architects wanted to save Raffles Institution, and how impassioned letters to the press lobbied for both preservation and demolition.  But the official verdict to demolish came in July 1968.

“Okay, one realises you’ve got to progress,” she admitted.  “Some things have got to go.”

And yet … what if they hadn’t demolished it and had restored it, instead?

“They could’ve made it a history museum and constructed an underpass to the Japanese obelisk,” she suggested.

That would have reinforced a Singaporean’s sense of history – after all, the Raffles Institution was the very first monument to education here – and provided a tourist with a starting point.

When she first began taking photographs for this book, Mrs Doggett did not realise how history was to repeat itself, or what an ironical turn the title, Character of Light, would take.

She had come with her husband Victor to Singapore from England in January 1947, arriving a month before published Donald Moore, who was to become a good friend.  She had been trained as a nurse and at first worked at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital.

In those early days, her bouts of photography consisted of taking pictures of visiting musicians to enhance the walls above the steps of the Victoria Concert Hall.  She had been interested in photography ever since she was a teenager and had, at the age of 15 or 16, a home-made enlarger (made from a soapbox) that engrossed her.

More than a decade later, a fortuitous meeting with photographer C.A. Gibson-Hill set her camera clicking.  With the encouragement of some friends, she took countless pictures.

She still has hundreds of negatives, all meticulously washed and developed and neatly filed away in individual waxed paper sleeves in several drawers.

The book was first published in 1957 by Donald Moore as a guide to the buildings of Singapore.  But even then, it was not the buildings alone that mattered to the young woman.

In the foreword to the first edition, she had written:  “For me, a building remains like a cold stone monument unless it is possible to visualise the sort of person who constructed it and lived in it.  One learns of the scenes of happiness or sorrow enacted within its walls and it is then, in one’s imagination, that the house assumes its atmosphere.”

The book had been written in the closing years of the British colonial era, “The British were leaving, people started knocking things down,” she said.

It was, perhaps, a natural tendency to ignore and discard all reminders of the previous colonial power.  The book went out of print, and Mrs Doggett herself only has a few copies left.

When Times Book International decided on a second edition, it was a chance for Mrs Doggett to revise and update not only the text, but to add pictures hitherto unused from her store of original negatives, still in good condition after nearly 30 years.

The result:  a nostalgic picture book of public buildings, places of worship, schools, hotels, private homes, the old Chinatown and the Singapore River.

For her only son, Nicholas, 25, and part of the new generation of Singaporeans, it is a means of getting acquainted with the past, with the history that is reflected in the architecture and the lifestyle of another age.

When she first started taking those pictures, she could not have guessed that, one day, many of them would make their way into the archives.  For in their eagerness to build the new Singapore, few bothered to record for posterity the buildings that would be torn down.  It seemed apposite, when she was casting around for a title, that the phrase “character of light” in Raffles’ speech at the laying of the foundation stone of Raffles Institution should come to mind.

But now, a century and a half later, the monuments which Raffles hoped would endure long after the waning of the British empire are no more than dust.

“Fullerton Building and the Victoria Memorial Hall,” landmarks on the southern coast, are now lost to view amidst a virtual forest of multi-storey office blocks in what has become the business centre of the city, and many of the buildings described in the book have fallen under the axe of progress.”

Still, it is not the past that commands her attention.  “Singapore has miraculously survived and flourished.  If, at times, one is apt to dislike some of the inevitable effects of progress, perhaps this is merely a sign of an older generation resenting change,” she said.

Recognising that the future lies with the new generation, she added:  “I hope that these young people will work out some agreement between the conflicting policies of conservation and development, retain some of the atmosphere of old Singapore, and find time to savour occasionally the nostalgia of a past era (because) historical value cannot be counted in economic terms.”

Excerpts of the book “Character of Light” by Marjorie Doggett

In the research for this blog to search for the book at many bookshops but was told that its like searching a needle in haystack, so to speak.  Bookshops would only carry books which customers are interested to buy, not old books exclusively for readers of nostalgia.

Fortunately, I was able to find a copy of “Character of Light” at the Reference Section of the National Library.  The book is not for loan outside the library.   With the courtesy of National Library Board, excerpts of this “treasure” to share on this blog.

FOREWORD

Singapore is such an interesting place, so little understood outside and so little appreciated inside, that it really is worth writing about.”

ROLAND BRADDELL, The Lights of Singapore

This book makes no pretence to be a technical work on Colonial architecture, but is produced in the hope that it may be of some help of those who are interested in the short but fascinating history of Singapore.

Isolated names of the old pioneers often make little impression, but when one can visit the places where they lived and worked, and imagine the scene as they must have known it, both buildings and people come alive and assume an added attraction.

It is for this reason that I have written at times at greater length on the residents than on the actual building itself, for to me a building remains like a cold stone monument unless it is possible to visualise the sort of person who constructed it and live in it.  One learns of the scenes of happiness or sorrow enacted within its walls and it is then, in one’s imagination, that the house assumes its atmosphere.

I do hope that the succeeding pages will convey something of the pleasure, and nostalgia too, which I have found in their compilation, and will evoke a faint echo of the life and times of old Singapore.

To all the people who have so kindly given information, and permission for me to take photographs, I am most grateful.  My especial thanks must go to Dr. C. A. Gibson-Hill, an elusive but inexhaustible source of knowledge who first inspired a fascinatin search; to Mr. Lincoln Page, A.R.I.B.A, and Mr T. H. H. Hancock, A.R.I.B.A., for their helpful advice; to the Rev. Canon R. K. S. Adams for time so freely given; and last, but not least, to my husband without whose assistance his book would not have been possible.

MARJORIE DOGGETT, Singapore, December, 1955.

Assembly House

The dates back to 1827 when it was built by G. D. Coleman for a merchant, John Argyle Maxwell.  It was never used as a residence, but was leased to the Government for use as a Court House and Offices, and finally purchased by them in 1841.  The building was extended in 1873-75 and again at the beginning of the present century, so that it is now difficult to visualise the original structure, although the arches inside the porch, so distinctive of nearly all Coleman’s work in Singapore, remain as he built them.

The bronze elephant standing in front of the main entrance was erected in 1872 to commemorate the visit to Singapore of the King of Siam in 1871; it originally stood in front of the old Town Hall.

Entrance to Assembly House (photo below).

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The Supreme Court and City Hall

A private house originally occupied the present site of the Supreme Court and City Hall.  This house was built by G. D. Coleman in about 1830 and was occupied firstly by Mr James Clarks and later by Mr. Edward Boustead, the founder of the commercial firm which still bears his name.  The house became the main building of the London Hotel when Mr. Dutronquoy moved there from Colemkan Street in 1845, was later called the Hotel de l’Esperance and finally, in 1865, became the well-known Hotel de l’Europe when Mr. Casteleyns, the proprietor, transferred himself and his signboard from his premises in Beach Road.  At that time, the Court House stood where Assembly House is today.

The City Hall was designed by a Municipal Architect, the late Mr. A. Gordon, and was built in 1926-29.

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Raffles Museum and Library

The origins of a Singapore Library and Museum date from April, 1823, when
Sir Stamford Raffles held a meeting to consider the establishment of a Malayan College in Singapore. This college, the Raffles Institution of today, and then known as the Singapore Institution, acquired a small collection of books, and, though these could be borrowed by anyone on payment of a very small fee, it never developed ino much more than a school library. The Museum never apppears to have been stared at all, probably due to lack of funds, and perhaps, internet.

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The Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall

The old Assembly Rooms, which had been designed by McSwiney in about 1848, and which were situated at the foot of Fort Canning opposite Whampoa’s Ice House, were falling into a bad state of repair by 1854. It was decided at a meeting of the Trustees that instead of repairing the old building, they should build a new and larger hall to satisfy the needs of the growing Settlement.

They gave up their old building to the Government, on the understanding that the new hall would be erected by a Municipal Committee; this Committee agreed to double the amount of money given by public subscription towards the building.

The site chosen was that of the present Victoria Theatre and the foundation stone was laid by the Governor, Col. W.J. Butterworth, on March 17th, 1855. The cost of building proved to be much greater than the original estimate, and, after various difficulties had been overcome, such as that created by the timber contractor, who vanished after receiving an advance part-payment, the hall was finally completed in 1862, Mr John Clunis superintending its construction. The design, highly esteemed at the time, was by Mr. John Bennett.

The Memorial Hall was built as a memorial to Queen Victoria. Various suggestions were received as to what form this memorial should take, but at a meeting in May, 1901, the Hall was finally agreed upon by all.

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Goodwood Park Hotel

The “nut and bolt” columns proclaim the architect, R. A. J. Bidwell of Swan and MacLaren.

Originally built as the Teutonia Club (the tower at that time boasting a short spice) it was opened on September 21st, 1900, with a gala ball. The Teutonia Club was established in 1856 and the members were responsible, amongst other activities for forming the earliest musical society in Singapore. Looking back over a century to the year 1856, the year of Schumann’s death, it does perhaps seem appropriate that the German community should have been the first to introduce the music of the great European masters to the Colony.

After the war the building was taken over for use as a hotel, apart from a short period immediately following the Japanese surrender when it was
used as a War Crimes Court.

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Telephone House, Hill Street

Mr Bennett Pell was the first owner of a small private telephone system, which the Oriental Telephone Company bought in 1882. The exchange, which had been in Paterson Simons and Company’s offices in Prince Street, was removed by them in 1898 to Robinson Road. The company transferred to a central exchange in Hill Street in 1907, their building being designed by Mr. Bidwell, who had joined Swan and MacLaren in 1895.

Mr Bidwell originally came out to Selangor, where under Mr. E. C. Spooner, he designed the public offices in Kuala Lumpur, which no doubt accounts for the reappearance of the Saracenic motif in this unique building in Singapore.

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H.M. Prison, Outram Road

The foundation stone of the oldest block was laid in February, 1847 and was built by Capt. Faber had a rather unfortunate career in Singapore, his previous undertakings – a bridge, a landing place and a market – all more or less disintegrasting of their own accord soon after being built.  Mount Faber is named after him.

The gaol was extended in 1879 from designs prepared by Major J. F. A.  McNair.  It might be interesting to mention that Major McNair, Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts, learned photography while in England in 1861 so that he could photograph the convicts for identification purposes.   It was quite common for ladies and gentlement of that time to visit the gaol to be photographed by the major.

The first gaol in Singapore was for transported Indian convicts and was situated in Queen Street.  The first gaol for local felons, built about 1823, occupied the site of the present Central Police Station in South Bridge Road.

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Collyer Quay

The land on which Collyer Quay is built was all reclaimed from the sea, the shoreline in the early days of Singapore taking a route which would now lead approximately through the centre of the Padang, across Fullerton Building, along the centre of the buildings standing on the south side of Raffles Place to Finlayson Green, where it turned even farther inland to continue just in front of Telok Ayer Street to Tanjong Pagar and Keppel Harbour.

Col. George Chancellor Collyer, after whom the quay is named, arrived in Singapore in 1858 to reconstruct the fortifications of the town.  He was appointed Chief Engineer.  He made plans for a new sea-wall, to extend from Johnston’s Pier to the old Telok Ayer market, but left Singapore in 1862 before this was completed.

By the end of 1861 the sea-wall was almost finished, the foundations having had to be proceeded with at fortnightly intervals in over a foot of water in ordinary tides.  The land behind, where a road and godowns were to be built, had to be gradually filled in, and this was not finished until 1864.

By 1806 nearly all the buildings along the sea front were constructed; they had godowns on the ground floors and ofices above, and must have presented a scene similar to that which can be seen even today along Boat Quay, with merchandise being unloaded straight from the boats into the warehouses.  From the wooden verendahs of the offices, the merchants would watch through telescopes for the ships to arrive, and great was the excitement and bustle as the boat drew alongside.

Some of the original buildings of 1864 are still standing on Collyer Quay today.  One of these is Shell House, and in the tower of the building can be seen a small door which, in those early days, was used for hauling up merchandise to the first floor.

Another original building extends from Collyer Quay up Prince Street.  This was the offices of Paterson Simons and Company and the first home of the Telephone Company.

A third building dating from these times is the office of Nassim and Company.  Originally two storeys high, a third floor was added in about 1880, and at a later date the building was refaced, and some of the wooden verandahs were removed, those remaining now being seen along De Souza Street.

Johnston’s Pier, now demolished, was named after one of Singapore’s earliest citizens, Alexander Laurie Johnston, who arrived here in 1820 when the Colony was little more than uninhabited swamp and jungle.  He was one of the first magistrates to be appointed by Sir Stamford Raffles, the first Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, and his name figures prominently in all public affairs of that day.

He established the firm of A. L. Johnston and Company, the pioneer mercantile firm of Singapore, and he become one of the most esteemed merchants in the country.  His premises were situated where Whiteway’s stands today, and were then at the mouth of the Singapore River.  He retired to Scotland in 1841, and, when he died in 1850, left a generous donation in his will to Raffles Institution.  His premises were moved in 1848 to the site of the present Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

At the time that Johnston’s Pier and Clifford Pier stood almost side by side, they were known as “Old” Johnston’s Pier and “New” Johnston’s Pier separately, and there was quite a public outcry in the papers when the new pier was given its present name.  It does seem rather a pity that Johnston’s name should have been lost as Singapore with the demolition of his old pier.

It was to Johnston & Co., that Charles Burton Buckley was appointed when he came to Singapore in 1864.  Buckley, “C. B.” to his friends, was for ever generous and warm-harted, a man perhaps best remembered by the children of his day for whom he did so much.  During his forty-eight years’ residence he collected the information which forms his History of Singapore from its foundation to the time when it was transferred to the Colonial Office in 1867.

This was a labour of love, his sole reward being a great discovery during his researches – that of recovering the original Treaty made between Sir Stamford Raffles and the Temenggong of Johore on February 6th, 1819, which authorised the original Settlement as a British dependency .   In 1912 Buckley paid what was intended to be a short visit to England but the old man contracted a chill and died, far from the land he loved and had served so selflessly.

Corner of Prince Street … Prince Street, once leading to Raffles Place, no longer exists.  In its place is a cul-de-sac leading to the car-park of the new Ocean Building to its left.

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Intimate look at Queenstown Singapore

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Intimate look at Singapore’s oldest housing estate

Residents’ personal stories a big part of heritage project by community group

By Janice Tai

[Source:  Straits Times, 17 February 2013]

Seized by the desire to preserve the memory of Singapore’s oldest housing estate, a civic group has come up with not one, but five, heritage trails in Queenstown.

To do so, they had the help of residents, who shared personal photographs and memories.

The trails, which can be accessed through the MyQueenstown app on an iPhone, cover the whole of Queenstown and are organised along themes of publc housing, religion, old shops and natural heritage.

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They are believed to be the first few historical trails initiated by a community organisation and incorporating the personal recollections of hundred of residents.  Their creation was much in the vein of recent community conservation projects that grew ground-up.

An islandwide network of 10 trails has been introduced by the National Heritage Board (NHB) to highlight the history and identity of different areas of Singapore.

The NHB’s Queenstown heritage trail was launched in 2007 but it left out some important landmarks and collective memories close to the hearts of the residents, said Mr Kwek Li Yong, president of civic group My Community.  “We wanted a different kind of trail, something more intimate which includes greater input from the residents and not a top-down approach,” said 24-year-old under-graduate, who lives in Jurong.

For example, Mr Kwek said, the residents suggested including Princess House, a seven-storey red-brick building at the junction of Alexandra Road and Commonwealth Avenue, home to the first Singapore Improvement Trust and HDB  headquarters.  Queenstown become Singapore’s first satellite estate in 1953.  They also wanted to include sites like the junction of Dawson and Alexandra roads, where the 1955 Hock Lee bus riots occurred.

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The former depot of Hock Lee Bus Company in Alexandra Road on 1/5/1955.  Photos courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.
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Mr Kwek said it was also time for an update as places along the NHB trail such as the Queenstown Remand Prison and Commonwealth Avenue Cooked Food Centre have been demolished.  So they developed their own trails, though some sites overlap with NHB’s.

This ground-up initiative started in 2009 when Mr Kwek was volunteering at a senior activity centre in the neighbourhood.  He noticed the elderly residents enjoyed sharing their recollections of the place.

“Unlike other elderly who usually talk about their family or grandchildren, they had a strong attachment to the estate and were keen to share their memories,” he said.

He and a friend decided to set up My Community, a registered civic society that champions the preservation of history and heritage.

The group adopted Queenstown as their first project as many local institutoions were pioneered there.

After reruiting 12 other heritage buffs, they fanned out and interviewed residents in Queenstown.

For four years, they pounded the ground, starting with the neighbourhood wet markets, then knocking on every door in the estate.  They also talked to residents at communal facilities such as schools, libraries and churches.  The photographs and memories collected from the residents, many of whom had lived in Queenstown since the 1960s, were uploaded onto the app.

The mobile app is funded by the Queenstown Citizens Consultative Committee and developed by software company Tocco Studios.  It uses Global Positioning System technology to guide users.  At different sites, it narrates the history, displaying photographs and recounting memories from the residents.

For example, if the user approaches the site of the Hock Lee bus riots, he would hear Strathmore Avenue resident Sim Cher.  Miss Thangamma Karthigesu, director of the education and outreach division of NHB.  “We also worked with the grassroots to hold roadshows over two weekends to let people know we were planning a trail and memorabilia and stories to share to come forward,” she added.

But she acknowledged that not everything could be included in recounting the history of a place.

NHB said it is heartened by the efforts of My Community to take ownership of the area’s heritage and is in discussion with the group to install information boards along the trail.

Academic Terence Chong, an executive committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society, feels historical narratives are best shaped by both the authorities and the community, with one providing the official narrative and the other the local colour and personal recounts.  “The more conversations between national and local stories we have, the more textured and layered the Singapore story will be.”

Madam Alice Lee, a resident in Tanglin Halt for more than 40 years,” said she looks forward to exploring the five trails.  “It is history at our doorstep abd we walk past it every day,” said the 65-year-old.  “The places contain so many of our stories.”

My Community will move on to Bukit Timah next, where it will develop trails over the next two years.

Kheng, 69, recalling:  “I was visiting my friend at Buller Terrace when I saw from the window a group of riot police spraying tear gas at the rioters.  The rioters were not afraid of the police and marched aggressively towards them.”

As the group wanted to include such personal memories without compromising on accuracy, they took pains to corroborate the material with the national archives.

In developing heritage trails, NHB said it starts with the official history, and complements it with social and communal history from interviewing people on the ground.

For its Queenstown trail, which covers historic sites such as places of worship and community facilities, it worked with grassroots leaders, who helped identify long-time residents for interviews.  “Our researchers also independently walked the ground speaking to some hundred residents, religious organisations and business owners, and schools in Queenstown,”

Queenstown rolls out heritage plan

5-year blueprint includes $2m museum to connect the present with the past

By Melody Zaccheus

[Source:  Straits Times, 14 August 2014]

Queenstown has unveiled a five-year plan to protect its heritage, becoming the first estate here to clearly outline its preservation efforts.

The plan will seek to not only conserve sites in Singapore’s first satellite estate, but also connect the present with the past with a $2 million museum by 2020 and a festival once every two years.

A highlight of its ambition is a network of galleries, heritage corners and markers to be rolled out across various parts of Queenstown by 2015.

The blueprint by civic group My Community and Queenstown Citizens Consultative Committee maps out tangible goals even as different pockets of the 61-year-old estate undergo development.

My Community founder Kwek Li Yong, who has been championing the estate’s heritage, said:  “It incorporates feedback from residents on what they feel is important to conserve.  Rather than just ride the wave of nostalgia, we worked out concrete plans for the neighbourhood.”

These include the construction of 11 galleries displaying residents’ old photographs across void decks, walkways and public institutions, and the installation of 38 site makers highlighting historic places and buildings.

The six Queenstown neighbourhoods will also have areas carved out to pay homage to the precincts’ rich history.  These heritage corners will feature interactive spaces with photographs, artefacts, 3D displays and stories from residents.  These will brighten up the half a dozen neighbourhoods including Commonwealth, Tanglin Halt, Princess, Duchess, Mei Ling and Queen’s Close.

Each area is distinct, said Mr Kwek: “There’s the industrial heritage of Tanglin Halt, the Hakka tombstones of Commonwealth, the military camps of Princess estate, the old town centre of Duchess estate and the Malayan Railway which used to run through Queen’s  Close,” he said.  He also gave the example of Block 145, Mei Ling Street which will have a kampung-themed exhibition that pays tribute to its early years as the site of Boh Beh Kang village.

Speaking at the blueprint’s launch on 14 August, 2014, Tanjung Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu said the aim is for Queenstown to become a centre for community heritage which people can visit to “relive their memories … and understand how different social institutions have evolved”.

It is also part of the estate’s bid for the National Heritage Board’s Heritage Town Award 2014.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, who was guest of honour at the launch, said balancing redevelopment and heritage will  continue to be a top piority.  “If we can do this well in Queenstown, it will be a testimony to how we can do things on a larger scale in Singapore, balancing conservation and development at the same time.”

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Please check out the related blogs shared here , here and here .

Queenstown housing estate in the 1960s (photo below) .  Photo courtesy of Eelke Wolters contributed to the National Archives of Singapore.

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To Have Lock It Both Ways

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Bryna Singh finds that despite the 1960s look of some parts of Havelock, it is a whole new world inside.

[Source: The Straits Time, 9 August 2013]

It has been 14 years since I visited Havelock Road, where my late maternal grandmother Wan Yit Poh used to live at Block 29.  But I have longed to go back to rekindle memories of playing at por por’s (Cantonese for grandmother) flat, terrorising her pretty plants and tearing through the corridor.

She died in 1999, at age 77.

The route to her house, which is along this oldest 1km stretch of Havelock Road, is easily identified by the chilli-red Giok Hong Tian or Jade Emperor Temple.

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But I arrive at Block 29 only to find it swathed in constructon material.  Demolition, the sign reads.

This is hugely disappointing, but I will my feet to move forward:  Perhaps this is a chane to seek more than fleeting childhood memories.

Looking around, I see two Havelocks.

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To my left is Block 22, which has the same facade and ground-floor shops as por por’s Block 29.  Further down are grimy, unimpressive three-storey shophouses.

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At the back of Block 29, Havelock Road (photo above).  The front of the building facing Havelock Road.

Then on my right are sleek, towering, build-to-order HDB flats – Havelock View, a wannabe condominium.

The contrast between old and new is stark.  And it is the old that draws me, and ultimately teaches me that there are fresh stories behind familiar facades.

It is a short stretch of vintage tiled flooring at one old shophouse that leads me to this discovery.  When I look up from the tiles, I see a shopfront seemingly transported from a bygone Signapore, with its flaked-paint doors and classsic cross-hatched grilles  Above, a mosaic of faded red-and-white square tiles form words in English and Chinese:  Chou Dispensary, 733.

What shop is this?  I ask around.

“Sometimes, I see people going in to put things.  But I don’t know what’s inside,” says Mr Thomas Koh, 53, who runs the next-door Dine and Chill Bistro.

On the second-storey landing, a sign with distinctly non-olde-worlde words “Havelock Speedway” greets me.

A lean, tanned man comes to the door.  This turns out to be Mr Yuey Tan, 31, a Singaporean race-car driver who regularly competes in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.  He runs Havelock Speedway, which promotes the Singapore Karting Championships.

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Clearly used to life in the fast lane, he speaks a mile a minute in Australian-accented English – he spent his growing-up years in Adelaide, and returned here in 2000.

“I’ve been overseas my whole life, but this is home,” he says, banging his can of Coke on the table for emphasis.

I’m startled, but unconvinced.  To me, the Coke is a metaphor for the man: an international product.  He continues: “This is a family building, you know?”

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Chow Dispensary at Havelock Road (photo above).

Does he know who owns the dispensary downstairs then, I ask.

“That would be a dude, a doctor called Chou Chung Shih ran it.  It closed only last year, when he turned 97,” he replies.  He adds casually:  “That would be my granddaddy.”

I am delighted.  The puzzle pieces are snapping into place, and he reveals more.

“He’s still alive, and just celebrated his 98th birthday.  He treated hundreds of patients during the Bukit Ho Swee fire of 1961.  It was crazy,” he says.

Four people died and 16,000 people were left homeless in the inferno.

Mr Tan now uses the dispensary space to store kart parts, but has left its layout intact.

In remembrance of his granddad’s clinic, he has named his animation and film company, also on the second floor, The Film Dispensary.

“When I’m not racing, I’m here,” says the bachelor, whose career sends him all over Asia.

It strikes me then, that perhaps he means what he says about this being home.

Two Singapores

I begin to see a young man who is the face of two Singapores in Havelock:  In his blood courses the need for speed, and he hears the call of the world.  Yet, he is also intent on building atop family history and creating a pit stop for himself, right here.

Working alongside him in The Film Dispensary are two friends from Down Under – Mr Shea Bennett and Mr Mitchell Chapman, both 25 – who arrived in February 2012.

They came, they saw, and they ate.

“Chilli crab with fried buns.  Awesome,” says Mr Bennett.

Some other foreign occupants along that same stretch of shophouses view work and life here as a mere step in their journey to becoming global citizens.

“I hang out with couch-surfers: I learn salsa here.  I want to work and travel around the world,” says Chinese national Anitz Xie, 24, a customer relations officer at Food Junction.

For others, money is the sole reason for being here.  Chinese national Wang Zhen, 27, who shares a spartan dormitory with other workers, has been working as a hotel housekeeper for the past three years.  “I want to work hard, earn money, and then I’m going back home,” he says.

Such sojourners in our midst usually flit behind the scenes, their tales disappearing as they leave.  But stories begin afresh as new people come to take their places in these worn dormintories; what once was become what now is.

Outside, dusk is falling.  I walk on the same side of the road to Block 22, which was built in the 1960s to house those made homeless by the Bukit Ho Swee squatter fire.

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Chin Hoe fruit shop owner Raymond Ang, 54, stands outside, serving customers with wife Melina Ang, also 54.  He’s been running the business for 30 years, after taking over from his father.

Today, his son Jeremy, 30, an air force pilot, is at the shop with his two-year-old son, Oliver.

Says Mr Ang: “This is a dying trade.  How to compete, with FairPrice supermarket nearby?”

He’s moving with the times, however.  A box of plump beetroot sits atop a chiller.  Posted above is a menu of fruit juice combinations.  “We’ve added these over the last few years,” he says.

“We’ll run this shop for as long as we can”

Also in reinvention mode is Mr Alan Goh, 66, who runs provision shop San Huat Company a few doors away.

He’s been going into wholesale to keep his goods moving.  He says in Mandarin: “People come only when they are out of something.  And if they buy, they buy one or two pieces.  How to sustain?”

The company started out selling cloth, but that shop burnt down in the Bukit Ho Swee fire.  His father resumed business at this Havelock Road shop space in 1964 when Mr Goh was 10.  The shop has evolved – from peddling cloth, it started selling PVC fooring and sundries, and then everything.

Today, it is packed to the rafters with vintage treasures.  There are 1980s Chinese tableware, sugarcane juice mugs, metal spittons, clogs, and a lone accordion from the 1950s.

I detect stubborn pride as he says:  “Not many buy, but everything can be sold.”

None of his three children will take over.  Gesturing at his shop, he adds:  “This to me is survival.  But if someone gives me a good price, I will sell, and tour the world.”

I am proud of Mr Goh and Mr Ang – remnants of old Havelock and stalwarts of their trade.

They, too, are the face of two Singapores in Havelock:  ageing, but doing their best to stay relevant.

My memory of Havelock Road now encompases not just the past, but also a contemporary dynamic.  I do not know when I will return, but I will have space for new memories.

My personal memories of Havelock Road

The places which Bryna Singh mentioned is his old newspaper article are shared on this blog .

lks_at_blk29_havelock_road_pubDr Loh Kah Seng once lived at Block 29, Havelock Road

birthplace_pubLina Koh and her husband once lived in Block 22, Havelock Road

Former Hong Lim pasat (Havelock Road) in the 1950s (photo below).

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