So Many Worlds in Singapore


Oh, so many worlds apart!


By Geraldine Heng

[Source:  New Nation 13 July, 1976]


In a very special corner of my childhood are memories of some old toys, some noisy playmates, and some evenings spent in what seemed like wonderland – places that shimmered with lights and people, that whirled your child’s soul into fantasy and laughter.

We knew them as The Worlds – Great World, Happy (or Gay) World, New World.  They were symbols of all that you associated with fun, excitement and pure and simple pleasure.

Once you were within their grounds, anything could happen – you could go flying through the air on an aeroplane trip, become an intrepid explorer in your boat on a swirling river, or have the life scared out of you by ghosts and skeletons and horrible monsters.

Yesterday’s children had a great deal of fun in those amusement parks.  Today’s children have fun, too, but of a different kind, doing different things.

Today, the Worlds are not what they used to be.  Great World, which ceased operation in 1964, is no longer great.  By night, it is ghostly and deserted, pitch-black except for cases of activity like the cinemas and the penny arcade.

By day, office workers traverse its grounds to reach lunchtime eating places in nearby buildings.  The amusement machines – the miniature aeroplanes, the whirling jet rockets, the merry-go-round – stand as monuments to better times.  Some are coated with rust and are slowly falling apart.  Grass sprouts from the tracks of the miniature train.


A watchman tells you that the place comes alive once a year, for a month, during the Chinese New Year festivities.


New World and Gay World still survives, though they no longer live up to their names either.  New World is mostly shops, where business, if stallholders are to be believed, is largely slow.  There is still a weekend crowd, however, that pumps some life into the park and the shopkeepers’ pockets.

And there is still some entertainment.  Seated before a wayang-style stage are a couple of dozen people, watching a female singer, obviously inexpert and ill at ease, trot out a Mandarin pop song.  The Bunga Tanjong dance hall, with its dim interior  and kebaya-clad hostesses, still operates.


Both the New World and Gay World, still charge for admission at the gate, at 20 cents per person, and cinemas function with its fairly good crowds at all three Worlds.

Their presence is much needed – they act as booster shots in the arm for the rest of the park, disgorging patrons who may stroll a while before leaving, buying or eating something in the process.

Gay World is by far the liveliest of the three.  The crowds at the Sin Hua Emporium are like those at other empriums around town, and the band at the Pesta Tarian Ria belts out heavy music, watched by a crowd of appreciative teenages.

The stadium still functions – you can hear people cheering from inside, watching the Fourth National Pugilistic Championships.  There are even hoopla and coconut-shy-type stalls, and a pool hall.  And perhaps most heartening of all, the ferris wheel still spins, and children still squeal excitedly, although the long queues of the past are missing.


The people managing the worlds are reluctant to talk about them, for fear probably that the inevitable comparisons between past and present conditions might scare away the shopholders who are still around.

Great World and New World are both owned by Shaw Organisation, the first directly, and the second through New World Pte Ltd.

Plans were periodically announced from 1971 to 1975 to turn Great World grounds into a shopping, housing, business and entertainment complex in the style of a famous Hawaiian tourist centre, at an estimated cost of $100-$300 million.

When completed, the complex will almost be a self-contained “town,” say the owners.  But the plans and the blue-prints, apparently, will not be finalised for another six months yet, according to a spokesman.  Once begun, the entire project which will be built in three stages will take about six to seven years to complete.

The future of New World is somewhat more hazy, and the owners are reluctant to discuss whatever plans they might have.  A new revue hall, with facilities for both nightclub-style foreign and local artistes, will be opened soon, they say.


Gay World was taken over by the Government in July 1973, and underwent a facelift for the Seap Games in August.  The Stadium now is managed by the National Sports Council.  The future of the park is unknown.

The numbers of people visiting the parks have changed because life has changed.  Singaporeans’ life styles have grown away from the old forms of entertainment towards new forms.

Shopping for instance, has become the great new recreational experience, a well-known sociologist says.  A student of his, when asked what she was planning to do during university vacation, replied:  “Oh, nothing much, just some shopping.”  That we have become a great consumer society is undeniable.  Look at the people-filled giant shopping complexes.

Then there is television, which keeps people glued to their living rooms for most of the night.  Television is a family entertainment too, like the amusement parks used to be – children watch cartoons, parents watch the new local documentaries and the whole family watch the police-detective programmes.

According to the Survey Research Singapore Media Index, in fact, there were 1,205,000 people of 15 years and above watching television in a average week last year.  An average day alone grossed 774,000 viewers.  And that’s not counting children under 15.

Outside the home, the range of entertainment has greatly increased in recent years.  Where, in the early ’50s and 60s, were there rollerskating and ice skating rinks, a sociological garden, a bird park, cable car rides, or specially constructed swimming lagoons?

People frequented the Worlds because excitement revolved around them then – stage shows, shops, fund rides, eating places, seasonal carnivals and fairs, the occasional special attraction or two.

Today, there are phenomena like large department stores in which you can shop, eat, market, and entertain your kids with coin-operated amusement machines, all at the same time.

One Japanese-own department store in town has a special amusement are4a, where the children of busy shoppers can happily spend their time riding spaceships or “flying” on the backs of their favourite TV cartoon heroes.

Parents are thankful for stores with amusement machines, they say.  It makes shopping or marketing a whole lot more convenient when their children are happily accepted.

Do they take their children to amusement parks these days?  “Well, not really”; “perhaps once in a blue moon”; “so many other things to do”; “waste of money”; “what for, when they can have rides in a shopping centre instead?”; “we stay at home mostly.”

And they do.  Stay at home, that is.  A University of Singapore Sociology Department research team recently completed a survey of the activities and habits of 400 lower-income HDB families.

Their results are not officially released as yet, but they say that 76 per cent of the people interviewed spent their nights at home, listening to records, or the Rediffusion, chatting, playing mahjong, working at hobbies, sleeping, or just doing chores around the house.

There is a decline, acccording to the sociologists, in outside-centred activities and an increase in home-centred activities among lower-class flat dwellers.

Perhaps the fact of living in a closed environment has something to do with it – people housed in one unit in a block of high-rise flats look inwards, towards each other, rather than outwards.

Even Singapore Wonderland Amusement Park, that five-million dollar younger sister of the old-style Worlds is deserted on weekday nights.  Unlike the other amusement parks, which originated in the 1920s and 30s in a Singapore that was still young and waiting to be entertained.  Wonderland was opened in 1969.


The machine operators there say that the park really come to life on weekends and when there are block bookings made by large companies for the entertainment of their employees’ families.  This happens quite frequently, apparently, and draws crowds as good as those during trade fairs.

But things are a far cry from what they were before, in the halcyon days of the smusement parks.  Yellowing newspaper clippings of the ’20s and ’30s testify to the bygone glory of the Worlds.

Clippings tell of a New World glittering with beauty contest, garden parties, ronggeng and singing competitions, boxing matches that boasted fighters of international or near-international repute and mammoth trade fairs.


Clippings say Gay World (then known as Happy World)started a few shacks clustered together, and grew to be a venue for political rallies, badminton matches (in the days before the Singapore Badminton Hall was built) performing bands and cabaret acts.

One clipping dated May 7, 1937, described the World as “a parade ground for the rich and poor alike, where a towkay may entertain 20 friends in a million-dollar private apartment of the expensive restaurants to be followed by largesse in the shape of dance coupons in the cabarent, and where the humblest members of the working class may spend his very hard-earned 50 cents or more unostentatiously at the gaming booths, the open-air cinema or laneside hawker.”

And did you know that in the gala grand re-opening of Great World when the Shaws took over ownership in 1958, there were weeks of celebrations where champagne flowed?

Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband, Mike Todd, even made personal appearances …

Singapore’s latest amusement park in 1937

The Happy World, Singapore’s newest amusement park, complete with cabaret, cinemas, restaurants and boxing arena in addition to the usual side shows, open on May 6, 1937.  It is adjacent to the new Singapore Airport.  Pictures show the imposing buildings erected within the new park.


The juxtaposed photos of the Happy World from the Malaya Tribute (above) and National Archives of Singapore (below).


I am amazed to discover that these 82-year-old photos published in The Malaya Tribute on 6 May, 1937 are available to share on the blog, with thanks to NewspaperSG and National Library Board.

Nights of bright lights

By Yeo Ghim Lay (Source: The Straits Times, 26 March 2005 of Yesterday’s Tales)

Before the pubs and the late-night supper places, Singaporeans went to Great World, or “Tua Seh Kai” in Hokkien after the sunset.  A favourite with locals and tourists, it offered the best of night entertainment in one place.

Spread out over 300,000 sq ft of land in an area bounded by Kim Seng, River Valley and Zion roads, the site was a Chinese cemetery before it was developed into an amusement park in the 1930s by Mr Lee Choon Yong, a businessman.

Back then, Great World was visited mainly by British servicemen and the upper classes.  However, business was poor and the park was sold to Shaw Organisation in 1941, before the Japanese Occupation.

After the war, Great World flourished as the new owners expanded and reopened it in 1958.

Among the attractions was the 27.4m Sky cinema, the tallest building in the park.  It was one of four cinemas there.

A $500,000 stadium, which has a revolving stage that hosted wrestling and boxing matches, was a hit with Singaporeans.  Locals and foreigners danced the night away at the Flamingo Nite Club, also known as Great World Cabaret.

Besides entertainment, Great World was also home to 150 stalls hawking food and merchandise, two popular Cantonese restaurants and a slew of amusement rides, such as Ghost Train and a ferris wheel.

In its heyday, the park attracted up to 50,000 people daily and was packed during festivals like Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.  The searchlight, which pierced the night sky whenever there was a special attraction, was a familiar sight.

My personal memories and experiences at Great World Amusement Park on the blog here and the video on YouTube here .

But the allure soon faded.  Television, supermarkets and neighbourhood night markets came up and drew Singaporeans away from the park.

Poor business forced it to shut down and Great World’s lights were permanently snuffed out on March 31, 1964.


Haw Par Villa, the Family Playground

20190824_114202.jpgThis last artisan at Haw Par Villa, Mr Teo Veoh Seng, 76, repairing and maintaining its figurines.  ST Photo:  Lau Fook Kong.

By Nicholas Yong

[Source:  The Straits Times, 17 April 2011]

Senior systems specialist Teo Mui Kiang, 44, has fond memories of a childhood spent at Haw Par Villa.

She says: “I used to run around the park with my siblings and cousins.  There was a cave where we could play hid and seek and open fields where we could play catching.”

Even the iconic 10 Court of Hell held no fear for her and her playmates:  “We were used to it.  It was just another part of our playground.”

Ms Teo and her seven siblings have a unique connection with Haw Par Villa – her grandfather, granduncle, father and uncles served the owner, ointment tycoon Aw Boon Haw, as servants and workers.

The extended family of more than 40 lived in two houses just behind the park.  Ms Teo’s parents moved out in the 1970s while the rest of the family remained for some years longer.

Her father, Mr Teo Veoh Seng, 76, is the last of the six artisans who created the original statues depicting scenes from Chinese legends and folkloare, which were meant to impart Confucian values.

More than six decades on, Mr Teo is still five days a week, patiently repairing and maintaining the statues with handmade tools such as chisels and scrapers.

Trained by a master craftsman who had worked at Haw Par Villa’s now defunct Hong Kong sister park Tiger Balm Garden, which was sold and demolished in 1998, he started work at the Villa in 1948 at the age of 13.

As an apprentice, his task was to lay the foundations for the statues, which were made of materials such as wire mesh, cement and sand, before the more experienced craftsmen refined the design.

A typical 2m-high statue would take a team of four to five men about a month to complete.

“I was the youngest among them.  When I was in my 20s, they were already in their 40s,” recall Mr Teo in Teochew.

“Now, I am the only one left.”

Built in 1937 by Mr Aw Boon Haw, Haw Par Villa housed a residence for his younger brother Boon Par and a free public park filled with statues.

It was one of three parks in Asia built by the Aw brothers, with another counter-part in Yongding county, in the Chinese province in Fujian.

Mr Teo recalls Boon Haw, who was based in Hong Kong, as a kind and generous boss.  He allowed the family to build a house and rear livestock on the land while paying a nominal rent, as well as to supplement their income by operating food and drinks stalls in the park.

Mr Teo’s eldest daughter, Ms Tay Chew Buay, 54, adds:  “Mr Aw Boon Haw came back once a year to pay his respects to his ancestors and the children would all queue up to get hongbao from him.”

In its heyday in the 1980s, Haw Par Villa attracted more than a million visitors a year.  Today, it receives only about 250,000 to 300,000 annually.

Mr Teo says:  “In the old days, there were not many attractions in Singapore, so Haw Par Villa was a must-see.  Now there are more places for people to visit, such as Sentosa.”

The Chinese New Year was an especially busy time for the Teos, when tourists and locals alike flocked to the park.  While others were out visiting or enjoying themselves, everyone would chip in at the family stalls.

Brought over by STB in 1985, Haw Par Villa was given an $80-million facelift, expanded to five times its original size and turned into a ticketed theme park.  But it failed to take off and is now a free attraction, open daily from 9am to 7pm.

When Lifestyle visited the park on a weekday afternoon, there were only about 15 visitors, all of them tourists.  Many of the iconic statues were chipped and peeling and the small food court there had been closed for at least a year.

When asked if it was a pity that so few come to visit these days, Mr Teo says with a shrug:  “It can’t be helped.  Young people especially don’t know about history or the things of the past.  They don’t know how to appreciate the figurines.”

One thing is for sure:  If Haw Par Villa ever closes down, he will just quietly retire.

While the park has changed greatly from its original incarnation, the memories of the Teo family have not.

Ms Tay says: “I go back every now and then to reminisce if I happen to be passing by.  It is a place where I forget my troubles.”

20190824_114834.jpgMr Teo Veoh Seng’s (fifth from right in the last row) extended family in the 1960s, many of whom worked at Haw Par Villa.  Photo:  Courtesy of Teo Mui Kiang

The saga behind the Villa

[Source:  The Straits Times, 20 September 1990]

Haw Par Villa was built by millionaire philanthropist Aw Boon Haw in 1937 for his family’s enjoyment.  After it was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation, Aw painstakingly rebuilt the place, adding more displays each year until his death in 1954.

But as with many historical relics, Haw Par Villa fell into disrepair.  The paint on the statues started to peel, and weeds began sprouting between the cracks.

A similar villa had also been built in Hongkong, another place where Tiger Balm Oil found a market.  This was demolished in 1978, making Singapore’s Haw Par Villa unique in the world.  But the owners decided to sell off the park as it was becoming a white elephant.

A 1975 report by Haw Par Brothers stated that it cost $10,000 a month to upkeep the park, part of the costs going to the four sweepers, three jagas, three gardeners and four painters employed.

With thanks to the National Archives of Singapore, the archived photos are shared on the blogs for the memories of Haw Par Villa.


Tableaux of the infamous Chinese tale “The Journey to the West” displayed at Haw Par Villa.


Tour guides to Tiger Balm Garden in the 1950s


Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak, Puan Nor Aishah and Governer General of Trinidad and Tobago Sir Solomon Hochoy touring Haw Par Villa, guided by Chairman of Haw Par Brothers Private Limited Aw Cheng Chye (centre) on 30 June, 1964.


Family photos at Haw Par Villa in the 1950s


Students and teachers of Tampines Primary School on an outing to Haw Par Villa in 1980.


My personal childhood memories of Haw Par Villa to share here .


Many generations of Singaporeans have grown up to remember Haw Par Villa.  It is a special place to learn and enjoy for family and community bonding.  An unique tourist attraction in Singapore not found elsewhere in the world, because the sister Haw Par Villa in Hong Kong have been demolished.

One of the oldest existing cultures in the world today, Chinese history stretches back across millennia, and is filled with fascinating stories.  History buffs looking to journey through the richness of Chinese tradition and religious beliefs to visit Haw Par Villa, an Asian cultural park that is a repository of folklore and storied myths.


The Legend of P. Ramlee


Icon for the ages, P. Ramlee

P. Ramlee – Most if not all Malaysians and Singaporeans will agree that this legendary figure’s significant contribution to the local entertainment scene helped define the industry in Malaysia and Singapore and across the region.

Teuku Zakaria was better known as P. Ramlee – an entertainment icon during the golden era of Malay movies who help shaped history in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

P. Ramlee’s lack of formal training in the performing arts field was no hindrance to him.  This talented man acted in 65 films, directed 34 feature films and sung close to 400 songs – an impressive track record which ran over two decades.

The “P” in his name came about when Ramlee first entered a singing competition in Penang in 1947.  He had decided to add the initial “P”, from his father’s name Puteh.  P. Ramlee’s father himself was from Aceh, Indonesia, which perhaps helped boost the entertainer’s popularity in Indonesia, later on.

P. Ramlee’s interest in music began at a young age, having formed a band called Teruna Sekampung or lads from the village, where one of his roles was to be a song arranger, giving him the experience to learn popular music and trends.

Family and life

He was born on 22 March, 1929 in Penang.  He is being remembered up to today, long after his death, because he composed “evergreen” songs which are rare nowadays.

This legendary artiste married three times, first to Junaidah Daeng Harris in 1950.  After divorcing her, he married Noorizan Mohd Noor in 1955, but the couple divorced in 1961.  The same year, P. Ramlee married singer Salmah Ismail or more popularly known as Saloma.  He had a total of seven children from these relationships, three of whom were adopted.  He also had a stepson.


P. Ramlee was 44 years old when he died of heart attack in 1973.  His strong influence on Malay popular culture is reflected in Malay production and songs.  P. Ramlee’s classic movies continue to be a hit amongst today’s viewers, as television stations air reruns of his famous title, and production houses churn DVD copies of  his award winning work.

Walking in Kuala Lumpur, visitors can appreciate the honour given to this talented individual, as major roads like Jalan Parry was renamed to Jalan P. Ramlee in 1982 and a memorial dedicated to his work was set up in 1986.  In 1990s, P. Ramlee was awarded with the title of Tan Sri posthumously.

P. Ramlee Memorial

The address of the P. Ramlee Memorial is 22, Jalan Dedap, Taman P. Ramlee (formerly Taman Forlong), Setapak, 53000, Kuala Lumpur.

His birthplace has been turned into a memorial, offering the opportunity for fans and visitors to enjoy and appreciate P. Ramlee’s contribution to the entertainment industry in Malaysia and the region.


According to reports, on 22 April, 1986 – exactly a month after its official opening – the memorial received its 100,000th visitor.

Though every effort has been made to ensure that the house that P. Ramlee lived in would have a “live-in” atmosphere while serving to enlighten visitors, the objective has not been fully achieved.

The memorial was set up with two objectives in mind; namely, to commemorate the contributions of the late artiste to Malaysia’s performing arts and to preserve his works so as to encourage research into various aspects of his contributions towards the growth of Malay culture as a whole.

Glimpses of his life from childhood until his demise are found in the biography area.  In this area, documents such as his identity card, passport and death certificate are displayed.

There is a large wall poster that gives a summary of his biography.

He was born on the morning of Aidilfitri or Hari Raya – the first day of Syawal – when Muslims celebrate to mark the end of Ramadan, the fasting month.

Picture of his three wives – Junaidah, Norizan and Saloma – are hung in the adjoining room.  There are also written tributes paid to him by his contemporaries like Aziz Sattar, who acted with him in the Bujang Lapok series, and Ahmad Daud, a popular singer of evergreen songs.

At the centre of this room on a revolving table, are his violin, flute and gramophone, and a piece of music sheet.  This area focuses on the music world of P. Ramlee’s, tracing his involvement with music from childhood up to the time he became Malaysia’s renowned musician, composer and singer.

His favourite piano is also displayed in this room.

Pictures of scenes from films which P. Ramlee acted in or directed are displayed in another room.  Also displayed are filming equipment once used by P. Ramlee at the Merdeka Studio.  They include his huge camera.

P. Ramlee won many awards at various international film festivals.  They include the award he won for being “The Most Versatile Talent” in 1963.  It was for the film “Ibu Mertuaku”.  All these awards are displayed in a room together with letters from fans.

Also displayed are personal items including the clothers won by P. Ramlee and his wife, Saloma, when they received the Ahli Mangku Negara (A.M.N) award from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and costumes worn by P. Ramlee in the film, “Ali Baba Bujang Lapok”.

In the memorial, there is a theatrette which screens films by P. Ramlee and also documentary films.  It is located at the centre of the building.  Visitors can watch the films free of charge.

A Malaysian leader once said that P. Ramlee’s films did not provide empty stories.  They served as a guideline for social construction.

His films were full of criticisms against people who indulge in injustice and dishonesty and full of sympathy for the poor and the oppressed.

He also said that P. Ramlee’s works also did a great favour to Malaysia in the promotion of correct usage of Bahasa Malaysia and to popularising the use of idioms.



Although he was born in Penang, it was in Singapore that he carved a niche for himself and contributed consideraly to the film industry.

Through his films, he brought glory to Singapore by winning several awards in the various South-east Asian Film Festivals held in the 50s and early 60s.

Some of these awards include Best Music for Hang Tuah, Best Actor Anak Ku Sazali (My Son Sazali), Best Comedy for Pendekar Bujang Lapak (The Old Bachelor Hero) and Best Cameraman for Sumpah Orang Minyak (The Curse of The Oily Man).

His most prestigious award was for the film Ibu Mertuaku (My Mother-in-law) in which he was voted the Most Talented Actor.

All these films were produced in Singapore during the heyday of the Malay film industry.

P. Ramlee’s works and copyrights are owned by his former employer, the Hongkong-based Shaw Brothers film company.

Mr Yusnor, a scriptwriter, says:  “It would be sad if his works were taken elsewhere or cloistered in some company which had the copyright to them.

“Instead if we have a corner dedicated to the man where we can display his works, it will not only be something the community can be proud of but also be beneficial to the younger generation.”

There are many old movies of P. Ramlee on YouTube.  Please check Seniman Bujang Lapok and Ibu Mertuaku to enjoy.

Singapore Film Council – Press Conference on P. Ramlee at Shaw Preview Room, Shaw Centre on 31 March, 1999.


On 14 April, 1999 the former Minister for Information and the Arts and Second Minister for Trade and Industry Brigadier-General George Yeo Yong-Boon as Guest of Honour at opening of a ‘A Tribute to P. Ramlee’ at Gallery @ Fort Canning.

The second Singapore International Film Festival from 14 to 28 January, 1989 gave younger movie fans a chance to see the man in action … and a trip down memory lane for those from an earlier generation.

Four P. Ramlee movies screened: Semerah Padi (The Village of Semerah Padi), Penarik Beca (The Trishaw Rider), Antara Dua Darjat (Between Two Classes) and Ibu Mertuaku (My Mother-in-Law).


A world of dreams


Xiang Yun and the stars of Kelvin Tong’s It’s A Great Great World remember the good old days at Great World Amusement Park



By Genevie Loh

TODAY, 26 January 2011





Memories are groovy.  Anyone who says otherwise probably just can’t remember.  Not only do they light the corners of your mind, misty watercolour memories are best way to remind us of the way we were.  (Thanks, Babs).

And with MediaCorp Raintree Picture’ Its’ A Great Great World opening on 27 January 2011. this always sentimental journey was more than ready to plunge into a golden sea of nostalgia and reminiscence about the legendary Great World Amusement Park and all its colourful attractions that director Kelvin Tong had to recreate.

Except for one little glitch:  This 1979 baby was born a whole year after Tua Seh Kai (as it was affectionately known in Hokkien) permanently shut its doors in 1979.  Darn it.

The only Great World I know of is the shopping mall that replaced it on Kim Seng Road, and I don’t think those exotic themed restrooms they have within count as “attractions”.  I so needed help.


Xiang Yun was sitting in the photo studio being worked on by no less than four individuals at once.  There’s the make-up artist, the hairstylist, the art director/stylist and me.  The veteran actress plays an aging but still glamourous songstresses who headlines at the infamous Flamingo Nite-Club in the moview, so she must know a thing or two.  You know, method acting and all.

MediaCorp TV Channel 8’s resident thesp, who will be turning 50 this year, is beyong resplendent in a figure-flattering, siren-red cheongsam by local designer Lai Chan, looking like a glamour puss from another, more glorious era.

“Being dressed up these outfits, and posing for these pictures makes me want to do even more ‘retro movies!” she giggled in Mandarin.


The mother-of-two agreed it was a “more romantic and sentimental era”, which is why her story in the film – that of a washed up diva who pines for an old lover while the club owner hides his own feeling for her – was especially memorable.  “I’ve always wanted to play a stage performer who sings and dances.  It’s been one of my biggest dreams.

Could it be that it was all so simple then?

The actress shared that she was even more intrigued with Great World Amusement Park after shooting her part, and went around asking “uncles” whether they’d been to the Flamingo Nite-Club.  “Everyone had differing stories!  Were the ‘Taxi-Girls’ all Cantonese?  Did they sing Chinese songs or English songs in the club?” she said, laughing.  “I’m guessing Great World had gone through so many different eras and each era bring about different memories for different people.”


She remembers stepping onto the movie set for the first time, saying how Tong’s detailed food stalls and flashing neon lights instantly brought her back to the era – and the delight of her childhood days.  “It was a wonderful rush of happiness.”

Chew Chor Meng understands Xiang Yun’s joy.  The 42-year-old actor – plays the reminiscing link in the movie’s sprawling, star-studded cast – remembers going to Great World Amusement Park with is relatives.

“I was just about 10 years old when it closed down, so I guess I was lucky enough to have been there about four or five times in total,” he said, recalling that it was only during special occasions like Chinese New Year or birthdays that he got to visit the park.  “Because that’s when you have the money to spend on food and games!” the affable actor laughed.

He patiently recounted to me all his fond memories of watching Bruce Lee movies at Sky Cinema and the many “tikam tikam” stalls.  His favourite attraction at Great World?  The Ghost Train ride.



“I cannot remember if it was 30 or 50 cents.  But I do remember going on the ride and screaming really loudly.  Just for fun because, actually, the ‘ghosts’ in there aren’t scary at all!” he said, laughing heartily.

“Those were good times,” sighed the Star Search-winning father-of-two and self-professed nostalgic.  “Good times”.

If we had the chance to do it all again …

For stalwart Channel 8 actor Chen Shu Cheng, those “good times” refer to his carefree days as a Primary 6 student when he and his friends used to “pontang” school to hang out at Great World all afternoon long.

“The park would be empty in the days, so it was really fun to go and sit on the tea cup ride and chit chat with my friends about anything and everything,” the 61-year-old shared in Mandarin.

The actor, who plays a father paying for his daughter’s wedding banquet at the famed Wing Chun Yuen restaurant, remembers it all.  Well, almost.


“I loved watching cowboy movies in English – those were my favourites!  I remember watching them in the Globe Cinema, which had air-con!  Or was it fan?  Oops, now I cannot remember … All I know is that it was nice and cool inside,” he recounted, laughing.


Chen will forever link Great World to his father, seeing how his days of truancy came to an abrupt ended after his teacher sent a letter to his parents asking why he was “sick” for so many days.

“My father took me out of the house because he knew my mother would cane me, and asked me very gently to explain why I skipped school.  He also reminded me of how much he had to struggle to come to Singapore from China to start a life here.  After that, I felt very guilty and never skipped school to go to Great World again!”

Actress Yvonne Lim might not have the same intricate memories of Great World.  In fact, seeing as she was only a toddler during the last days of Great World, she has no direct memories at all.  But that’s not to say her story is any less touching.

It was through her preparation for this move that the 34-year-old, who plays a sassy photographer in the film, discovered that it was where her parents met and courted.

“I had to speak Hokkien naturally and, as you know, our generation doesn’t speak dialect very well,” she shared, laughing.  “So I ended up asking my father to help me with some words.  And that was when he suddenly revealed that my mum used to work at Great World selling clothers!”

The 2007 Star Awards Best Actress choked up recounting her father’s story of how he’d wait for her mother to finish work at Great World every night to send her home, explaining how it meant a lot as her mum passed away when she was very young.

“We never really talk to our parents about how they met.  And because of this movie, I now know.  And because of this story, I feel even more attached to the movie.”

Lim shared how she loves the fashion of the era, from vintage clothes to bags and shoes.  “Maybe I should have been born in that era,” she laughed.

After hearing all these stories, I wish I had been, too.  You know, scattered pictures of the smile we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another … for the way we were.

Please check out the related blog here .

Archived photos of former Great World Amusement Park shared on this blog with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.


Street cries that are no more


[Source:  New Nation, 25 November 1976]

By Sylvia Leow


One hot still afternoon, when the air was heavy with lethargy, I heard again the “tock, tock” call of the mee seller.


I had almost forgotten the sound, seldom heard these days with the springing up of hawker centres everywhere housing all hawkers from the streets.

It brought me way back into my childhood when the cry of each and every street hawker passing through the lorong where I lived as a child punctuated the stillness of the afternoon at home after school was out.

We used to wait in anticipation for these hawkers and they never failed us, passing the house regularly at a certain time so that we could even time our appetites accordingly!

I must have vexed my grandmother, who looked after me in those days, a great deal rushing back from school to demand 30 cents from her, grabbing an empty bowl from the cupboard and then dashing outside the house to wait impatiently for the “ap choek” (duck porridge) man to pass.

That was my lunch day after day through – strangely, I never tired of it although I did quickly enough of the rice and various dishes which she laid out in readiness for me every afternoon!

The “ap choek” man would come at 2.00 pm sharp.  At three, came the “ting-ting” man – he was the one who carried a tray of gooey sweet-till-your-teeth-fall-out-concoction so hard that he had to use literally a small-sized pick and hammer to chisel out pieces.  Now I wonder why I ever ate the stuff.


The other hawker plying sweetness (and tooth decay) was the Chinese treacle man.  To buy his sweet, you had to arm yourself with an odd chopstick first.  This you would solemnly hand to the hawker while he would as solemnly and very skillfully wind a lump of sticky treacle onto the chopstick for a mere few cents to lick your heart out!

But my earliest memory of the street hawkers who never pass anymore dates back, believe it or not, to when I was three years old.

I still remember myself seated on the uncomfortable blackwood chairs of the front hall (they had three halls in those days) waiting for the “eng chye ju hee” man to pass and when he did, screaming out loud to alert the household of his coming.  Although “eng chye ju hee” is still being sold nowadays, his was the best I’ve tasted!

Childish memories and tastes being what they are, I was probably wrong.  But not about the taste of the “loh kai sip”  sold by probably the original fat man who seemed to have patronised the same street hawkers in their childhood!

He was a personality in those days.  Where other hawkers walked trundling their pushcarts, this man sat in a tricycle with his pot of steaming stew of chicken wings, pig’s innards and kangkong in front of him.

He had someone to pedal the tricycle while he sat in front lording over his stewpot and calling out in a distinctive nasal voice that elongated every syllabus, “loh-kai-sip”.

When you caught his attention, he would motion his pedal partner to enter the compound of your house (those were also the days when most everybody had compounds).

And with a lightning chop, chop and snip, snip that were as much attraction as the food, he would portion out your orders.

Of course, “loh kai sip” is not sold today and even if it was, it would not be the same for it, would be minus the rich red colour which characterised the stew – much of that came from the red food colouring prohibited now, I’m afraid.

Food sellers of today take their business too seriously unlike a certain “char kway teow” man in Penang who drew so much publicity in the press years back because he used to do the a-go-go while frying his kway teow, renember?

In Singapore, we had the “loh ap” man carrying his stewed ducks in covered baskets suspended from a bamboo pole which he balanced on his shoulder and who would throw dice with you before chopping up your order.  If you win, you get your order of duck free, if you lose, well …..

Philip Chew posted his nostalgia related blog here . The YouTube video here to share.

And the Indian man selling kropok and candy floss who allowed you to draw straws with your purchase.  If you had a longer straw, you win an extra portion!

In those days of low-rise flats, even flat-dwellers did not miss out on the proffered delight of street hawkers.  In fact as a child, I used to envy those living in flats because they could then have a basket with a long rope attached, placed conveniently at the balcony so that when hawkers passed, all the fkat-dwellers need do is to attract his attention then lower the basket with money in it over the side of the balcony in exchange for the food.  There was then the added excitement of hauling up the basket full of goodies without spilling the contents.



There were others too – the iceball man handing out syrupy, colourful balls of ice concoction for five cents.  Nobody wondered in those days whether he washed his hands!


20190721_221516Photo courtesy of Harrison Forman

And the entire contingent of night hawkers with their plaintive cries who only piled at night.  Nothing could beat the taste of steaming hot “ee sang choek” (fish porridge), “char siew pow” and “yong tau fu” eaten in the dead of the

night huddled close to the wavering light of the kerosene pressure lamp.  You ate not because you were hungry but rather for the experience.

Hygiene apart, I’m afraid the antiseptic sterile atmosphere of the hawker centre brilliantly lit by garish flourescent tubes cannot quite match the excitement if the street hawker.

And with their passing, an entire chapter of Singapore life closed.

Archived photos of the peddler hawkers with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.




Memories of “Tok Tok Mee” at Block 9, Jalan Bukit Ho Swee


The aged newspaper article (memory-aid) by Sylvia Leow 43 years ago triggered my memories of “tok tok mee” pushcart stall stationed at Block 9, Jalan Bukit Ho Swee where I lived in 1962.

The stall was located beside the top of the steps and railings in the photo above.  The HDB one-room ’emergency flat’ was built after the Bukit Ho Swee fire and allocated to the fire victims, including myself and my family.

How did I remember about the “tok tok mee”  stall so vividly?  The fish-ball noodle hawker was a 60+ Teochew uncle whom we called “Lau Chua”.  The stall was opened daily from about 7 pm to 10 or 11 pm.  Almost every night, I would eat Lau Chua’s “dry kway teow mee with more chillie”, my favorite supper for 20 cents.

He was helped by two grandsons, one in Secondary 1 and another in Secondary 2 on alternate days to be on duty.  Lau Chua’s grandsons helped to collect orders from the customers in the housing estate and then deliver their orders to them.

During those days, the sound of the “tok tok” on a bamboo instrument to alert customers of their presence, the way Lau Chua’s grandson did.  This was back when a bowl of fishball noodles cost 20 cents.

Thanks to “” for the “here’s the sound of the tok tok man bringer of good noodles” blog here .  Watch the YouTube video of the “Tok Tok Mee” here .


Professor Robert Chia posted the following to Singapore Memory Project on 2/10/2014:

As a young child aged eight, I was quite difficult to please especially with regards to food. Whilst I always remembered my mother (who was of a Nyonya  heritage and wore sarong regularly) as being an excellent cook capable of producing the most wondrous dishes especially on special occasions, on an everyday basis I did not much like what was served for dinner in those early days with rice and vegetables being the main diet. I longed for noodles which she rarely cooked. As a result, I found an alternative way to get what I wanted.  Each afternoon, after primary school, which ended about 12.30pm, I would run home, drop my school bag and go and help a local noodle hawker doing his regular rounds by serving as an ‘advance guard’. In those early days, like many street vendors, noodle hawkers came around the ‘kampong’ estates on their tricycle carts, usually from early afternoon until early evening, fully equipped with bottled gas cooking facilities, the various ingredients needed and all the necessary paraphernalia required for the noodle hawking business such as chopsticks and bowls in which the noodles were served. My ‘job’, as an advance guard, was to alert the residents of the impending arrival of the noodle hawker by producing a pattern of ‘tick tok’ sounds using a half-section of a large bamboo piece held loosely on one hand and a bamboo stick on the other that was used to tap on the former to produce a familiar rhythmic ‘tick tock, tick tick tock’ sound. This was sufficiently loud enough, especially in the hot and musty afternoons to inform residents of the impending arrival of the noodle man. I would then go and take orders, convey it back to the vendor and when the bowls of noodle were ready, it was my job to serve them to those who had ordered. When their meal was finished, they would leave the bowls outside on their doorsteps and I would then collect them together with the payment and bring it back to the hawker. This I did for approximately five hours each day. And my reward? Well it was a huge bowl of kway teow tng (flat rice noodle) with all the goodies that I had worked so hard for. That, then, became my dinner!!


How Grandma won a duck for dinner


Grace Ling Chan’s favorite story won the first prize in the Singapore Story contest in The Straits Times.  [Source:  The Straits Times, 29 October 2011]


Grace Ling Chan

Grace Ling Chan, 32, has Down syndrome and is a human resources clerk at Goodwood Park Hotel.

I love all types of meat.  My favourite is duck in all its forms – roasted, braised or stir-fried.  Today, Singaporeans can easily afford to eat it at every meal, but there was a time when the dish was a luxury.

Every time we eat duck, my mother will tell me stories about my grandmother’s efforts to win a cooked one for dinner.

My late maternal grandmother, Madam Sim Twa Boey, used to wait anxiously for the duck man to visit their neighbourhood of terrace houses near Little India.  He carried delicious braised duck in two baskets slung across a pole on his shoulders.

The man would call out: “Ark bak sio sio” – fresh braised duck.

It was the late 1940s and early 1950s, and those who could afford it would buy a duck straight from him; those who couldn’t would throw dice to win either half or a full bird.

Each throw of the dice would cost only 10 or 20 cents.  My grandmother would always try her luck with a couple of throws to win a duck for her family.

When her luck was good, dinner would be very, very special – like Christmas and Chinese New Year rolled into one.

My mother Rose Chan, 71, says:  “The story of old Singapore is all about people like my mother who brought up nine children on very little.

“In the old days, there were no degustation dinners costing $200.  Life was very simple.  Singapore’s gross domestic product has since grown from zilch to what it is today.”

Both my mother and my father Chin Bock, 78, have numerous growing-up stories.  I love the duck story best because it’s my favourite meat to eat with rice, noodle or by itself.

Actor as “Lor Arh” Hawker at Sitting in Pictures

In 2011, Chang Soh Kiak, Writer, Director, Producer of Sitting in Pictures invited me and our friends of “Friends of Yesterday” group to her studio to produce a video on “foodage”.  We shared our childhood memories of the food in the past that we remember.

Chang Soh Kiak graduated with an honours degree in Economics and Political Science, University of Toronto.  Her career in TV began as a producter for a Current Affaits show in Singapore’s national channel.  She ventured further afield into sub-tropical Africa where she was an audio-visual consultant to various NGOs.  Over the course of two decades, she went from deforestation to urban jungle to downunder where she produced media for the corporate world, became an independent documentary film maker and co-founded Sitting in Pictures.  With a base in Australia, she travels extensively as she assumes the role of thinker/doer for the company.

Philip Chew blog on “Lor Arh” here .  The screenshot photos of the filming below:
James the Lor Ark seller (9)
Lor Arh vendor

Please watch the Foodage ‘Lor Arh Dice Game’ video here .

How many pioneer generation Singaporeans remember the “lor arh” dice game?

Grandpa’s TV set and regret


Television sets are special to the writer’s grandfather Baharon Ali, seen here with granddaughter Haney Falisya, as they remind him of his late wife Rosiah Abdullah.  He cherishes a Toshiba set that he carted home in 2003 for her.  ST Photo:  Ng Sor Luan.

[Source:  The Straits Times, 29 October 2011]


Hanis Sofea Abdul Rauff

Hanis Sofea Abdul Rauff, 14, is a Secondary 2 student at Christ Church Secondary.  She wins $300 in shopping vouchers and a JVC Digital Videocam GZ-MS120S.

Many in our family regard the outdated Toshiba TV set stashed in the store-room of my aunt’s Sembawang flat as a piece of junk, but not my maternal grandfather Baharom Ali, 76.


It is special, reminding him of his abiding love for his late wife Rosiah Abdullah.

Theirs was a love marriage, celebrated in 1960, when she was 16 and he 24.

Grandma was a Chinese convert whose foster family were neighbours.  That was how they met and fell in love.

After they wed, Grandma, while doing her chores, would follow the broadcasts of popular Malay and Chinese soaps on the radio in the 1960s.  She wished she could watch the shows on television but Grandpa was a brick maker of modest means who had to provide for his wife and seven children.

He had to work even harder in the 1970s as the family upgraded from a rented room to a one-room flat that he bought in Kallang Bahru.

Grandma fell critically ill with kidney and heart problems in the late 1990s and Grandpa now had the added burden of his wife’s expensive medical treatment.

He decided to take on an extra job as a construction workder to make ends meet.  Eventually, he bought a tiny TV but always wanted a better set for her.

Then came the fateful day in 2003 when his boss at the construction site received a call informing him that Grandma was dying.

As Grandpa was rushing home, he spotted a decent, discarded Toshiba TV set near their flat.  Without a second thought, he carried it home, hoping to show his wife that he had fulfilled her wish, but it was too late.  She was 59.

Until today, Grandpa, who is now a school cleaner, blames himself for not being at his wife’s deathbed.

I am proud of him though.  To me, the TV set, which no longer works, shows the extent he would go for a loved one.  And I am sure Grandma knows how deeply he loves her still.