The Old Town of Kampong Glam in Singapore

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Once upon a time, long long ago, when Sir Stamford Raffles landed in a small island of Singapore in 1819,  people of many races of countries near or far heard about it by words of mouth.

Communication was slow and unreliable  in primitive ways … such as using “messenger pigeons” or “pigeon post”, Red Indian tribal smoke signals, paintings or drawings on caves, etc.

Later, “snail mails” by slow cargo ships became universal with a small amount of postage stamps, but it took weeks or often months to deliver anywhere in the world.

When our forefathers arrived by slow boats, with danger of pirates and travelling in stormy weather, hoping and praying for a safe trip.

Singapore is not a homogeneous population and people have to learn to live and work together harmoniously with different races, different languages, different religions, different culture, even different food to consume.

Similarly, the birds, insects and animals in the forests and jungles have to learn to survive with their different kinds in the world.  Other than humans,  the birds, the insects, the animals, the plants, the flowers and all living creatures big or small created by God are also not homogeneous.

When Singapore was part of the Straits Settlements under the British colony, Singapore established itself as an important trading port and developed into a major city with rapid increase in population.

As early as 1827, the Chinese had become the largest ethnic group in Singapore.  During the earliest years of the settlement, most of the Chinese in Singapore had been Peranakans, the descendants of Chinese who had settled in the archipelago centuries ago, who were usually well-to-do merchants.

Malays in Singapore were the second largest ethnic group in Singapore until the 1860s. Although many of the Malays continued to live in kampongs, or the traditional Malay villages, most worked as wage earners and craftsmen. This was in contrast to most Malays in Malaya, who remained farmers.

Today, an increasing number of Malay Singaporeans are better educated and are professionals to diversify their occupations in Singapore and overseas to become wealthy businessmen, industrialists, bankers, doctors, engineers, IT software developers and creative ventures in every fields.

Yonders ago, William Farquhar, in charge of the new settlement under Stamford Raffles, invited settlers to Singapore, and stationed a British official on St. John’s island to invite passing ships to stop in Singapore.  As news of the free port spread across the archipelago, Bugis, Peranakan Chinese and Arab traders flocked to the island.

Singapore attracted as many immigrants from China, India, Indonesia and other Southeast Asia countries with hopes for a future of golden opportunities with peace and political stability in the horizon.  They built their families and children to grow their roots in Singapore over the decades.

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Kampong Glam (c.1830 Campong Gelam), estate, one of 10 sub-zones of the Rochore area located in the central region. Kampong Glam covers 56 acres of land located to the east of the 19th century European town in Singapore, between the Rochore River and the sea.

On 7 July 1989, Kampong Glam was gazetted a conservation area, and will become a “Malay Heritage Centre” preserved as a historic part of town.


Kampong Glam was land set aside for Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah and 600 family members in 1823, upon his signing the treaty ceding Singapore to the East India Company.

He instructed the Temenggong Abdul Rahman to build his palace here – a large attap-roofed istana or “palace”. Aside from the Sultan’s family, residents of the area included the Bugis, Arabs, Javanese and Boyanese, and by 1824, at least 1/3 of the residents were Chinese. Immigrants of Muslim faith who were allocated to reside at Kampong Glam.

These migrants settled amongst their own ethnic groups, which gave rise to different “mini-kampongs” such as Kampong Bugis, Kampong Java and Kampong Malacca.

Raffles himself donated S$3,000 for a “respectable mosque” which served the community until 1924 when the current landmark, the Sultan Mosque was built.

At the founding of Singapore, there was a village by the sea where the Orang Laut from the Glam tribe resided. According to Wah Hakim, this was known as Seduyong before it gained the name Kampong Glam, after the tribal group of the Orang Laut.

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The Glam Tree (photo above) planted by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, Singapore.

The bark of the Glam Tree was used by the Orang Laut to make awnings and sails. Its timber was often used for constructing boats and served as firewood. Its fruit was ground and used as pepper – mercha bolong; and its leaves boiled and concocted into the Cajeput Oil, a medication for rheumatism and cramps.

The elegant, Moorish-influenced Sultan Mosque was rebuilt in 1924, and continues to be an important beacon for Muslims.

The phenomenal presence and influence of the early Arab migrants are registered on street names like Muscat, Bagdad, Bussorah etc., all namesakes of Arabian cities. The wealthiest of these Arab familes have contributed to the building and maintenance of mosques and religious schools, the most notable of these were the Alsagoff Arab School (1912) and the Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah School.

In 1993, the Singapore Government first announced its plan to develop the Istana Kampong Glam, as it was in the 16 ha Kampong Glam Conservation area. Residents were informed of this and given ample time to make their own housing arrangements.

Then on 12 March 1999 it was announced that the Istana would be converted into a “Malay Heritage Centre”

Within the area also stand significant buildings like Bendahara House (1920s) at No. 73, Sultan Gate; and Pondok Java, a drama house where traditional cultural arts of Javanese migrants e.g. Wayang Kulit (“shadow puppet plays”),Wayang Bangsawan (“drama acting”), were performed.

Chinese name:

(1) In Hokkien means Sio Po or “small town”.

(2) Kampong Glam Beach, in Hokkien Twa Che Kha refers to “The foot of the big well”.

There used to be an old well in the middle of the road at Sultan’s Gate.

(3) Sultan’s Gate in Hokkien is known as (a) Ong Hu Khaurefers to “The mouth of the Palace ” or (b) Phah Thi Koi refers to “The street of the Iron-smiths.

(4) Sultan Road/Jalan Sultan in Hokkien Sio Po Phah Thi Koirefers to “Small Singapore’s Iron-smiths” street.

Malay name: Kampong Glam refers to “The Glam Tree” (Malaleuca leucadendron from the Greek words melasmeaning “black” and leukos meaning “white”).

Indian name: Sultan’s Gate in Tamil is Raja Kottei means “Rajah’s Palace”.

(Source with credit: Infopedia and Author: Vernon Cornelius.

The Malay Heritage Centre in 1970s

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 Sultan Mosque in the Past

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The Sultan Mosque (photo above) was built in 1823 on the initiative of the late Sultan Hussin Shah on its present site.

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Kampong Glam and Its Majestic Past

Andrea Yeo savours the sights of Kampong Glam in his article in The Straits Times dated 27 April, 1989

It is a world unto its own.  Away from the city bustle and thriving in Muslim traditions, this is the “World of Kampong Glam”.

It is the area bounded by Victoria  Street, Jalan Sultan, Beach Road and Arab Street, with shophouses and old spacious bungalows lining the streets and alleys.

The “Leaning Tower of Singapore”


The “Leaning Tower of Singapore” is found at Jalan Sultan.  It is the minaret of Hajah Fatimah Mosque which is visibly inclined at an angle when viewed from afar.  In the 1980s, extensive renovation work was carried out and among other things, its leaning minaret was righted.  It is no longer the “leaning tower of Singapore”.

Built in 1840 by an unknown English architect on the orders of a wealthy Malaccan woman, Hajah Fatimah, the mosque displays traits of Malaccan Indian and Chinese architectural styles.

History has it that Hajah Fatimah’s daughter, Rajah Siti, married into the Alsagoff family, which later became the keepers of the mosque.

Facing the entrance of the mosque is the prayer hall in the direction of the Kiblat (the direction towards Mecca).

One of the most refreshing impressions about the mosque is the serenity and the calmness one feels on stepping insides its main prayer hall.

It is a feeling experienced not only by Muslims, but also by some non-Muslim visitors to the mosque who acknowledge it to their Muslim friends.

Mosques in Singapore are built either by wealthy individuals, as those built by well-known families like the Angulia, Alkaff, Aljunied and Hajah Fatimah, or the community in selected locations to fulfill their spiritual needs.

Many mosques today are built on land either given as “wakaf” (endowment) by individuals or given as a grant by the state.  The majority were built more than a century ago and have undergone successive renovations and upgraded.

Some of the oldest mosques are in the city area like the Sultan Mosque, Abra Mosque, Hajah Fatimah Mosque and Omar Kampong Melaka Mosque.

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Overview of Mosques – Old and New

Excerpts of an article by Yaakub Rashid in Straits Times dated 24 May, 1982

The changing face of Singapore’s mosques is a phenomenon little realized among the public.  The government’s policy to build a mosque in every new housing estate.

The mosque has always been synonymously linked with the Muslims.  And Muslims, the world over, just cannot do without their “House of God” wherever they may be and where they settle down and take roots.

It doe not matter whether they are of different and diverse ethnic or racial backgrounds because under the roof of the mosque they found a common identity and purpose – to serve God and their religion.

Mosque have changed, both physically and in respect of the role they have assumed.  A mosque of the old architecture type was usually a single-storey structure with a prayer hall and perhaps a small room for the Imam, who leads the congregation.

Within the central business district, there are six mosques built by Muslim pioneers who were from different parts of the world in the early days in Singapore.  The area, incidentally, formed the business hub by the Muslim merchants and traders who migrated to Singapore.

The mosques in Singapore are no longer just places of worship.  These are places for community events, exhibitions, tuition classes and other educational activities conducted for Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion.

However, religion studies and classes in the mosques are conducted for Muslims only.

As for Muslims in many, if not most parts of the world, this is what they still are, houses where the faithful gather in Muslim fellowship to pray to the Almighty God.

In Singapore, mosques have become multi-functional.

They are all related to efforts to promote the education and well-being of Muslim youngsters.  They are a reflection of the progress of the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore of their contributions to play their part in the economy and development of the country.

These are the roles of the Muslims for the young and old of every generations as Singapore progress together as our home to play, work and live.

Kampong Glam in the Past


This gem of a heritage photo of the ladder in the middle of the  five-foot way of the shophouse in Kampong Glam.  Escape exit?


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Kampong Glam Today


This photo is off topic but just share for a peek to keep everyone in suspense. Pls watch out for the next screening. That’s all for now, folks!

Metamorphosis of Chinatown Food Street



This nostalgia blog is posted as inspired by my British friend Stephen Harshaw who walked down the memories of Chinatown with me on 18 October 2014 as captured in the above photo.

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Before Smith Street, Singapore became a hub of good food, it was the heart of entertainment in old Chinatown.  The street was famously known as “Hei Yuen Kai” (in Cantonese) or “theatre street”.  It was believed to have been built in 1887.

During World War II, the building was hit by a bomb and was badly damaged.  Though renovations were eventually made to the structure, the theatre did not survive.  The building went on to become a warehouse for street hawkers in post-war Smith Street.  It has survived till today, though with none of its former glory.

Like the rest of Chinatown, Smith Street flourished following the Japanese Occupation in 1942.  Because World War II meant the loss of countless jobs, thousands turned to hawking in the streets and markets.

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The peddlers sold their wares on carts and bicycles, and made street food a highly personalized experience by taking it right to their customers’ doorsteps.  They rang their bells or shouted their wares, and customers would emerge at their doors or windows to call out their orders in return.  Those who did not live on the ground floor would lower a long rope with a basket and then hoist it back up after the hawker had placed it with food by special delivery.

Throughout the 1950s, Smith Street was lined at the roadside, pushcarts and stalls selling what was widely considered some of the best food in Chinatown.  Those were the days before the culinary world was touched by technology, so everything was handmade, cooked over a charcoal fire and the ingredients were always fresh;  not factory-made and processed artificial flavor and products.

These hawkers provided an important service in the largely single migrant population.  And though the colonial authorities recognized this, they also resented the hawkers’ unregulated use of public space.

At first, they created regulations to register and unlicensed hawkers were banned and people were forced to go out of their homes to buy their favorite food.

As Singapore progressed into the First World, food hygience became an increasing concern.  Yet more stringent rules and regulations about how food should be sold were passed.

As a result, the government decided to relocate many street hawkers to sanctioned hawker centres across the island.  Those at Smith Street were moved to the new Kreta Ayer Complex by 30 September, 1983.



Chinatown’s hawkers were moved out from the alleys into cleaner and more hygienic stalls in the Kreta Ayer Complex on 1 October, 1983.

On 30 September, 1983, the last day of the Chinatown roadside hawkers to ply their trade in the streets of Chinatown, but 70 per cent of them, especially the cooked food and fruits stalls.

Only the haberdasheries have settled into the new complex specially built for them in Smith Street.

Breaking up is always hard to do.

For Chinatown’s 745 street hawkers, some of whom have started moving into the new Kreta Ayer Complex.

Some who had been plying their trade at roadside stalls for as long as 35 years.

But most took in their stride the move to clear the narrow streets and backlanes of makeshift stalls.  They would have to adapt to the changes as licensed hawkers in a new environment with proper permanents stalls, provided with electricity and water for their new businesses.  These hawkers with registered licenses would not have to worry in the past the risk of arrests of illegal hawkers by the Environment Ministry inspectors.

With this latest batch of hawkers resettled in 1983, there were 1,187 licensed street hawkers remaining in Singapore.

The majority were settled by early 1985 in food/market centres belonging either to the Environment Ministry, the Housing Board or the Jurong Town Corporation.


Nostalgic Street Style Dining Now

The former Chinatown Food Street was  closed on 1 May 2013 to make  way for renovations.  On 22 February 2014, it was re-opened.

The new CFS was conceptualized, designed and managed by Select Group Limited.

After the $4 million revamp, the stretch was fully pedestrianized, with 400 seats under shelter and another 200 in a open-air seating area.

The revamped Chinatown Food Street (CFS) celebrates the assembly of specialty dishes from main Chinese dialects and the different races in Singapore, all under one roof.  Located on Smith Street in the heart of Chinatown, the revitalized Chinatown Food Street seeks to create the most authentic Singapore dining experience for locals and tourists alike.  From a tantalizing plate of Char Kway Teow, to sticks of mouthwatering satay, CFS offers a diverse spread of local delights, with iconic food from local cultures all represented on one street.

With street hawker stalls, shophouse restaurants and ad hoc street kiosks, complete with the al-fresco dining style along the street, one can revisit the Chinatown of old at CFS.  Newly constructed high-ceiling glass canopy shelter and internal spot cooling system allow diners to indulge in culinary pleasures regardless of rain or shine.  Now fully pedestrianized, visitors can dine in comfort along Smith Street from day to night.

The Chinatown Food Street is set to bring you back into the past.  One can now experience the streets of Singapore, where Samsui women, policemen in shorts, trishaw uncles were aplenty.

The rustic feel of the pushcarts and bustling vibe of the street, along with the many heritage food, are sure to let you have a taste of reminisce.  Immerse yourself in the street, listen to the soft melody of some of the classic tunes, and get ready to feel the sense of nostalgia that will bring you back into the good old days.

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The metamorphosis of the Chinatown Food Street took over a hundred years at the same place, different times, different generations of Singaporeans to experience as Singapore progress to improve and transform Chinatown to be a better food street for the benefit of Singaporeans, foreign visitors and tourists.

Singapore Seah Clan Association 64th Anniversary Dinner


The Singapore Seah Clan Association held its 64th anniversary dinner at Ban Heng Restaurant at Harbourfront on 11 October 2014.

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The Mistress of Ceremony Ms Seah Ming Choo welcome the distinguished overseas and Singapore guests and members of the Singapore Seah Clan Association (SSCA) members and families to the anniversary dinner.



Mr Seah Moon Ming, Chairman, Temasek Polytechnic Board of Governors and Chairman, International Enterprise Singapore  was awarded the National Day 2014 awards.  We congratulate him and greetings for the best wishes to his success.

During his speech at the dinner, Moon Ming thanked the Singapore Seah Clan Association for the greetings published in the local newspaper 联合早报 and from our Seah families, relatives and everyone far and near.

As an adviser of the SSCA (新加坡佘氏公会) management committees, Moon Ming has contributed and supported  the association for over a decade.

He  invited young Singaporeans of Seah surname to come forward to participate SSCA Youth Group actively for new leadership blood for our association to grow from strength to strength.  The future generations of Singapore Seah Clan Association depends on them.

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Mr & Mrs William Shih (佘德聪宗亲夫人) archived photo from file.







Message on  26 September, 2014 to Singapore Seah Clan Association relatives:


Good news of Singapore Seah Clan Association’s 64th anniversary celebration to be held on October 11, 2014.   In my personal capacity and on behalf of the World Seah Clan Fraternal Association, warmest congratulations!   To participate in the anniversary on behalf of all the Clan to pay tribute and cordial greetings!

Singapore Seah Clan Association has been 64 years in the history of its development.  The Chinese mainland provinces Seah’s  fraternity model, the world Seah Clan of the same family.  We have to rely on Seah fraternity the good in the world as the platform.  Within the legal policy to further improve and to the extent of our clan’s exchange, enhance clan kinship feelings and  contribute to building a harmonious society.

Finally, I wish the anniversary celebration a successful completion!  We sincerely wish the Singapore Seah Clan Association fraternity relatives good health and good luck!

Shih Decong
President, World Shih Clan Fraternal Association

Speeches from other Management Executive Committee  Office-holders of SSCA


Presentation of congratulatory banners to SSCA


Enjoy your sumptuous dinner with karaoke entertainment

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The “Oldies but Goodies” karaoke singers entertain the VIP guests with favorite “evergreen” Mandarin songs at the dinner.


Lucky Draw


Three toasts with blessings and best wishes, first  to Singapore, our Home … second to Singapore Seah Clan Association and third but  not least  to everyone for success, good health, good luck and prosperity.  Yam Seng!  Yam Seng!  Yam Seng !!!

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The Seah (佘氏网) Portal  here .

Singapore Teochew Festival 2014

20141002_113226_smThe Singapore Teochew Festival is held at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza till Oct 6, 2014 daily from 11 am to 10pm. Admission is $5. Stored-value tickets of $25 and $50.

The Teochew Festival is organised in conjunction with the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan’s grand 85th anniversary celebrations in Singapore.

The tagline for this festival broadly translates as ‘We are One Teochew Family’ and the logo is an artistic rendition of a distinctive Teochew snack – the ‘png kueh’ or rice cake. Eight ‘png kueh’ are strategically interlinked in a circle to symbolise harmony, community, union and family ties.

Visitors will be captivated by Culture & Heritage, Food & Beverage and Arts & Crafts. Children are not left out as there was special activities such as craft-making and colouring competitions to introduce Teochew culture in fun and engaging ways. There was masterchef classes for adults eager to learn more about Teochew cuisine.

The Teochew Festival would be the first time that the Huay Kuan has organised a festival showcasing Teochew culture on such a large scale. The Huay Kuan hopes to give the public a vivid representation of Teochews through enlightening glimpses into their daily lives, and to a larger extent also highlight an important aspect of Singaporean Chinese culture.

The 12-day event, which will feature the arts, culture, history and food of the second biggest dialect group here, also brought in an opera troupe, actors, dancers, singers and chefs from Shantou.

Mr Quek says that the team went to Shantou to pick the vendors who can best represent Teochew culture for the activities.

One Teochew whose interest was piqued by the videos is project manager Koh Wee Liang, 37, who downloaded the jingle as a ringtone for his mobile phone.

To produce the videos, Mr Quek and his committee roped in 10am Communications led by advertising veteran Lim Sau Hoong, who had previously headed the Speak Mandarin campaign. Five of the 10 videos were shot in Shantou, the home city of Teochews in China.

One challenge was to capture the richness of Teochew culture yet bring to it a “rejuvenated perspective”, says Ms Lim. “The campaign needed to be fresh and memorable to resonate with an increasingly Westernised audience.”

Mr Quek and his team took the same approach in putting together the festival. Expected to draw up to 120,000 visitors, the festival is the association’s concerted push to draw younger members, he adds.

“When people think of us, the image is of older folk. This event is a chance to welcome more youth to join and to find good talent to carry on our work,” he says.

His team took about a year to plan the festival, which cost more than $1 million. They intend to make it a biennial affair.

Polytechnic student Lim Chun Eng, 17, a Teochew, says there is much to learn. He is volunteering at the festival at the behest of his parents, who both run a family jewellery business.

He says: “I honestly don’t know the customs that well. I speak Teochew because my grandmother can only converse in it.”

Source: The Straits Times

The young Festival Ambassador showing my ticket to her.


The Teochew skit performance on the stage at the festival.

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The Food Street was jam-packed and the elder visitors would have to wait patiently for the food.  Its  worthwhile to wait  while the youngster join the queue and bring the favorite Teochew cuisine to the tables for the family to enjoy.

The related “Ancestors Gave Way To Space for the Living” blog here

An Amah Says Farewell

amah-and-washing_smAn Amah in Singapore in the 1960s multi-tasking to dry the clothings after the laundry while a sarong tied to her back to look after her charge.



Many of my Britbrat friends who were brought up by Amahs in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s.

Tim Light shares his memories of  “1960s Singapore Amahs blog”  here

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At the “Good Morning Yesterday” blog ,  a Britbrat Shona Trench would like to contact her amah Chew Joo Keng (Margaret). Shona writes:

“Hello, I am a British expat, living in Singapore now for four years, with my husband and two teenage children. I was born here in 1961, as my father was a photographer in the RAF and was based at RAF Seletar. I just wondered if you would be able to help me?

An Amah Says Farewell

While digging through old memories and newspaper articles at NewspaperSG,  I chanced this report in The Singapore Free Press dated 5 May, 1951.

Bee Wickerson writes from England:

Standing on the deck of the trooper that was to take me away from Singapore and home to England, I stared across the waters of the Singapore roads to where the lights of the city winked rather solemnly at me.  I wondered when next I should see it all.

A steward appeared in front of me and presented a slip of paper.  Curiously I looked at it, reading with growing astonishment, my own name and that of the ship.  I looked up with the obvious question hovering, and I saw Ah Seon.

It had been Chinese New Year and my own embarkation hurriedly put forward a day; and therefore my farewells to my amahs had not taken place.

Off they had gone to their feasting and merry-making, expecting to find me still in the house on their return.  But, when they had returned, I had already gone.

Yet Ah Seon had a tenacious nature.  She had made enquiries and ascertained that the ship was not actually sailing until the following day and that we were lying out overnight.

Whatever the cost, she had made up her mind that she would find us.

I shall never forget her as I saw her standing there on the deck before me.  A sad, white-faced woman, clutching her woven basket and her neatly rolled, black umbrella, she swayed slightly against a sudden lurch of the ship.

“I come, Mem.” she said.  “I no say bye-bye to John and Jane.”

“Come and see the children.” I cried.  “They are little sakit.  And first a taxi, Changi, Singapore.”

I gave her a seat and she sat down to gaze longingly at Jane as the baby stirred gently in her bunk.  I had no heart for discipline and routine.

“Pick her up, Ah Seon,” I said.  Before I had ceased speaking, Jane was being rocked in Amah’s arms, being crooned to in a soft Chinese harmony; and she was laughing, delighted to see Ah Seon.

Trying to waken John was another sort of task.  He was too tired after a long day and turned over sleepily.  Sadly Ah Seon murmured,  “Never mind … Night, night, John.  Tomorrow I no see you.”

Then it was time for Ah Seon to leave as she make her way home.  There was quite a swell when she made a shaky descent from the ship into the launch that was tossing and pitching in the churning water below us.

She turned at the bottom of the gangway and waved slowly.  I admit to a hot pricking behind my eyes as I replied to her farewell salute.

She threw her basket on to the launch and her umbrella.  Her spot clean samfu was spattered with spray as the launch bumped brutally against the ship’s side and then she jumped, landing fair and square, and hurried beneath the shelter of the small craft.

She had gone.  Across the waters came the faint chug chug of the petrol engine, and I believe I heard, “Bye Bye Mem.”

“Goodbye, Ah Seon,” I said, “and thank you.”

I was amazed, and wondered anew at the determination and the enterprise that had been my Amah’s farewell.

(Source:  NewspaperSG)

Returning from the ship to Collyer Quay in a sampan.


Photo Credit:  Stone Family collection with thanks.

To Singapore, With Love

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To Singapore, With Love”  is not about the title of  a book on this blog.

This is the blog topic of an article “To Singapore, With Love” published in TODAY daily newspaper for free distribution in Singapore.

I tried to unearth this article dated 16 September 2006 for some blog research but the link requested URL “” but it cannot be found or is not available at “Good Morning Yesterday” .

With the courtesy of  NewspaperSG, the 8-year-old article written by Juliana June Rasul was extracted and reproduced on this blog for the convenience of our heritage friends to remember not to forget.

 social studies text book

Your average Social Studies textbook may characterize 50s and 60s Singapore as a time of strife and political tension, but Tom O’Brien remembers no such thing.

“Swimming every day – that was our life,” said the 53-year-old, who lived in Singapore for two years when his father, a staff sergeant with the British army, was posted here in 1967.

 “That and fishing at Changi, and exchanging comic books bought at Beauty World.”

Retiree John Harper echoes the same idyllic sentiment when he remembers the two years he spent here from 1957 to 1959 when he was 10.

2 With John HarperMrs Harper, Mrs Lam, John Harper and Lam Chun See in the photo taken in United Kingdom.

He remembers so much, in fact, that he was invited to write about it on a local blog.  At the invitation of  “Good Morning Yesterday”  owner Lam Chun See, Harper has written a seven-part personal history of his time in Singapore, which chronicles everything from his first taste of nasi bryani to an honest account of the racial tension that existed between ang mohs and locals.


Helped along by both locals and former expatriates, the Internet has become a hotbed of historical blogging.  Locally, blogging portal collects posts from local bloggers on their memories of Singapore and has been visited over 150,000 times since its launch in early March, 2006. Its contributors include net-savvy seniors – such as Lam Chun See and Victor Koo – who fill their days reminiscing about simpler times on their own blogs.

6854325583_398f92c96dLam Chun See and Walter Lim, Friends of Yesterday, at the launch of the “Good Morning Yesterday” bestseller book.

On the Western side, though, there is also a growing community of children of former British military and civil servants who used to live here during Singapore’s colonial days.  These individuals are going online to share photos and memories, and to seek long long chums.

One website in particular, Memories of Singapore , owned by O’Brien, has become a database of pictorial memories of 50s and 60s Singapore.  What started five years ago as a personal website of about 30 photos has now grown into an archive of over 1,000 photos, depicting the Singapore of yesteryear as seen through the lens of so many expatriate-own cameras.

It was a search for “postcard-like photos” of Singapore that helped local blogger Lam chance upon Memories of Singapore.

“I was amazed by the number of photos they had, some in colour too!” said Lam, 54.  “We were all simple kampung boys, so we couldn’t afford to have as many photos as them.”

From there, Lam discovered that there was an active community of self-nicknamed Britbrats – children of former British military personnel and civil servants posted to Singapore – with an extraordinary interest in collecting and sharing photos and mementos of the childhood spent in Singapore.

As a blogger, Lam was naturally more interested in the stories that he knew must be attached to the photos.  So he engaged the help of O’Brien, and sent out a request for accounts of Singapore in the 50s and 60s, as seen through the eyes of such ‘Britbrats’.

After emailing back and forth with a few of them, two former Britbrats, Lynne Copping and John Harper, agreed to share their experiences.  Copping runs a former Alexandra Grammar School site,  so named for the primary school on Pulau Brani she attended during her three years here from 1963 to 1966.

According to her, “items on Pulau Brani on the Internet do not mention the army school, nor the fact that the British lived there for about 50 years, as if we never existed.”

“From their stories, they’ve had a very happy childhood here,” said Lam.  “All the things they eat, everything is so new to them, whereas for us, every day we’re here, so there’s nothing special.”

Case in point:  Harper waxing nostalgic over rambutans and nasi goreng (Malay for “fried rice”).  “I think about it every day!  Even now when we have Chinese takeaway, we almost always have a bit of fried rice.”


Considering that most Britbrats spent, on average, only two to three years here, the outpouring of emotions over this “paradise” island is quite surprising.

“I don’t know what it is, it’s hard to explain,” said O’Brien.   “I suppose it’s because we were all children at the time, in our formative years and all very excited about going abroad from the UK.”

In his first email to TODAY, Harper, who spent only two years here in the 50s, confessed that he “sheds a small inward tear each time I check in at Changi Airport to return to Europe.”

“I do, I do!” said Harper, laughing when this reporter asked if it was true.  “You’re making me blub now actually.”

Harper, who used to work in Malaysia made regular stops in Singapore before returning home to England.   Having retired, he said “the budget’s a little tighter now”, but plans to travel here again soon.

For now, he concentrates on writing a little bit every day about his past.  That includes remembering the tiniest details about the two years he spent here.  “I’m getting older, I just want to get it down before I forget,” he said.

While he enjoys writing, Harper make no pretensions about getting a book out of the Britbrat experience.  “I thought about it, but I came to the conclusion that there probably isn’t enough (in my experience) to make a complete book,” he said.

 As for O’Brien, he said he was “too poor at descriptive writing to do anything about it.”

“But it’s history, and it would be nice to have someone put it on record,” he added.

Writer Derek Tait is trying to do exactly that.   Another Britbrat, he is in the midst of putting together a pictorial book as Singapore,  titled Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans:  A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya.

 Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans

“I’ve written other books and thought it would be a good idea to write down my memories of our time in Singapore because so many children at the time had the same experiences and I thought it would prove interesting to them”, he said over email.  “Also, the photos would bring back lots of happy memories too.”


Lam sees the Britbrat online community as a treasure not only for the likes of historical bloggers like himself who appreciate access to their collections of photos for use on their own blogs, but also for the average Singaporean.  Youths especially, he feels, would be able to respond more to local history being documented online.

“Indeed, if I were a teacher,” wrote Lam in one post, “I certainly would ask my students to read these articles to gain some knowledge of our past.”

The photos and memories, he said, are a side of Singapore that is not widely known to the average Singaporean.  “Being expatriates, their perspective is completely unique”.

In a fitting end to a post about Britbrats, Lam wrote: “Thanks to the marvel of the Internet, today we have a chance to bridge a cultural divide between Singaporeans and Britons of my generation; something which close physical proximity could not do all those long years ago.”

It’s old Singapore revisited as more Britbrats – children of British expatriates stationed here – upload their memories of idyllic island days onto the Internet.


Memories Are Made Of These


This is a favorite title which many bloggers, singers, writers would choose.

It is a simple catchphrase for everyone to be attracted and easy to remember.

On this blog, “Memories are made of these” is excerpted from an article by Audrey Tan published in The Business Times on 9 March, 1993.

Audrey was on a three-week-long event designed to rediscover what we’ve forgotten.

20140922_131443_smA memory search in progress at Pulau Ubin:  performers try to get in touch with nature, and hence, themselves.

The following are memorable photos taken at Pulau Ubin over 20 years ago when my daughter and son were still young.  Same place, different times.

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According to Singaporean playwright Kuo Pao Kun:  “There is a need to search, to rediscover things from the past, and to record them in documents or artistic works”.  Memory, he says, is what defines our identity and Memories – The Search For An Understanding in a three-week stay in Pulau Ubin to understand our past, to search for our identity in works of art.


Kuo Pao Kun ( 郭宝崑 1939 – 10 September 2002) was a playwright, theatre director, and arts activist in Singapore who wrote and directed both Mandarin and English plays.

He founded three arts and drama centres in Singapore, conducted and organised a number of drama seminars and workshops, and mentored Singaporean and foreign directors and artists. Kuo is acknowledged by both locals and foreigners as the pioneer of Singapore theatre, and was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1990 for his contributions to Singapore theatre.

His plays are characterised for their dramatic and social commentary, use of simple metaphors and multiculturalism themes, and have been staged locally and internationally.

Its organizers at the Substation believe that memories is an essential program for all who ask that fundamental question:  Who, and what, am I?

“How can we ever answer that if we do not look at our history and our memories?” asks Kuo.

Relevance is important, since he believes that memories are both collective and personal – understanding is for the individual to define.  The search may be for a personal identity or a community identity.  Shared memories may be those of the family, the community or the nation.

But it’s also humanity:  the diverse but common memories, which explains the presence Sally Morgan.

The relevance of their art to Singapore lies in the common strands of memories we share as part of the human race.  “if we are sensitive, the memories of other people’s art will also be inspirational.  Why else do we read books and watch films?

Kuo sees artists as more “intuitive” but “writers are crucial to understanding.  They are more analytical, and we need this layer to get deeper into interpreting our memories”.

“We do not have a single collective memory.  Instead, what we have are strands which combine together to form an alloy, how are we going to understand the alloy?”

According to dictionary definition,  “memory is the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information;  something remembered from the past”.

Ms Angeline Koh, the founder of TYROS, said:  “I had the honour of being commissioned to create a digital story for Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 2012. The video was presented to him at the launch of Havelock View Estate.

I crafted the story around the theme of Promises because Mr Lee made a promise to provide homes for the victims of the Bukit Ho Swee Fire in 1961. May the generations that follow honour our commitment to build our nation, to care for our people and Singapore our home. Thank you Mr Lee Kuan Yew”.

Thanks James for the sharing your story. Please help me honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew by sharing the digital story. Thank you.

TYROS presented the Promise – Bukit Ho Swee story.

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech — English on 14 August, 2011.  At the rally,  PM said:

Recently, I attended the launch of Singapore HeritageFest and I made a speech about these human stories and emphasised how important they were.

It prompted a response in the TODAY newspaper by a lady, Angeline Koh, who is working on digital storytelling and I think I should read a little bit of what she said because it resonated with her.

She said, “What are memories and shared experiences but stories. And storytelling is what Singapore as a nation needs. There are unsung heroes in our midst, there are people we meet each day in our homes and in our schools, at work and in play. Our children need to realise they are heroes in the making. They have the power to become heroes by the brave and sacrificial choices they make to live well and for the good of others”.

Prime Minister mooted the launch of the Singapore Memory Project.  The Singapore Memory Project (SMP) is a whole-of-nation movement that aims to capture and document precious moments and memories related to Singapore; recollections not merely from individual Singaporeans, but also organisations, associations, companies and groups.

Memories of Delta East School, Singapore


The above photo was taken on September 16, 2014 and posted it to my Facebook timeline.  Please click on the photos to enlarge the images.

As I stood at the fence outside the Delta East School, I gazed at the 60-year-old school building where I attended my primary school education 58 years ago in 1956.  I studied in this school in Primary I in 1956 and left in 1961 after I completed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), the same year as the Bukit Ho Swee fire on 25 May, 1961.


The Delta East School is due to be demolished.  The whole area has been covered with tarpaulin, a protective covering of canvas or other waterproof material.  On the right of the photo was the bulldozer below the tree at the school field.  In a matter of months, the building would disappear.

Once I leave the school,  I do not carry the school building along with me.  Only my happy schoolday memories to inspire me.

The building belongs to state land and it is the discretion of the relevant governmental authorities in consultation of the National Heritage Board of  Singapore to decide what to do with utilisation of the land in land-scarce Singapore.

UNESCO is guided by the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage which seeks to encourage state party members to identify, protect and preserve natural and cultural sites around the world that have Outstanding Universal Value.

Singapore ratified the convention on 19 June 2012 and as the 190th State Party to do so, is committed to studying worthy sites for preservation within its wider policies.

The Preservation of Sites and Monuments is jointly coordinating Singapore’s involvement in UNESCO with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth   and the National Parks Board.

Personally speaking, I believe in non-attachment as all conditioned things are impermanent.  I am not a sentimental guy to romanticise anything which need to develop or build for the benefit of the future generations.  Maybe I learned from the experiences of the Bukit Ho Swee fire as a child.

However, the fond nostalgic schooldays memories of Delta East School would be posted on this blog for my schoolmates to share.



This is a photo of the back of the school taken many years ago to juxtapose the same building, same location.

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The century-old “kiow ku kio” viewed through the fence currently.



The “kiow ku kio” (crocked bridge) at the back of Delta East School,  near former Havelock School (now the Boys’ Brigade HQ) are actually the hugh water pipelines which are connected from the waterworks in Johore to Singapore as supply of fresh water directly to Singapore.

Why was there a curved bend of the water pipelines as shown in the above photo?

I was curious and asked an old-timer Bukit Ho Swee friend, Mr Tay Ah Chuan.

He told me that in the early days,  a river was running from Singapore River to a sago factory at Bukit Ho Swee to use a traditional mode of transport by junks or twakows on this route.  As the boats were fixed with sails of a certain height, the water pipes at this location were constructed as a “crocked bridge” to allow the boats to pass through the route.


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School excursion during school holidays in 1960




The scanned photostated photos taken during the year-end school holiday excursion in 1960 when I was in Primary 5 at Delta Primary School. Unfortunately I have lost the original photos and was unable to contact my former classmates.

The form teacher was Mr Foo Chee Kai who once lived in a bungalow at Jervois Road.

My former classmates were Ajit Kumar, Lim Soon Hai, Chua Soon Wee, Jaswant Singh, Lim Siak Kiu,  Lim Cheng Wah, Soh Cheow Poh,  and many others whose names I could not remember. Seah Kok Thim (squatted first row, third from right) in the class group photo.

There’s also a photo of another class taken at the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

1378584_10151779795773432_155841460_nAnother place during the excursion was the Botanic Gardens where I watched the monkeys to be fed with bananas offered by us.

I remember that my mother woke early that day to cook rice with my favorite black sauce prawns which I brought along a tiffin carrier for lunch during the excursion.

I was an active and playful boy and staying at the Bukit Ho Swee kampong before the fire in 1961. It was indeed my fond nostalgic memories in school during my carefree kampong days with lots of fun. That’s me circle in the photos.

Please watch the “Project Neighbourhood” video at YouTube and click the back button to return to the blog after watching the video.

My English Language Teacher Ms Jessie Wee

2014-09-17_132844_smThese photos with courtesy of  NewspaperSG of the National Library Board.


Ms Jessie Wee  was my favorite English Language teacher at Delta East School and will never forget her.   She is a kind and soft-spoken lady who inspired and influenced my interest in the subject.

During the school concert in 1960,  Ms Jessie Wee directed the play, wrote the script and composed the music.  I had the honor to be selected by her to be the actor in the play.

It was by coincidence that she was my neighbor at Bukit Ho Swee kampong before the fire.  In 1950, she was married in Peranakan tradition and customs.

I remember how I watched Ms Wee and her husband in their wedding car driving off from their marital home at Beo Lane and at the boot of the car tied with the “Just Married” poster and a string of used condensed milk cans with lots of noise to attract the attention of the Bukit Ho Swee neighbors.  I was curious something new to me because it was the first time I had seen this kampong wedding in style.

When she went to Maxwell Hill in Malaysia for honeymoon with her husband, she was very kind and thoughtful to send me a colorful postcard.

Jessie and her black kitchen mouse

Excerpt from The Straits Times,  September 20, 1986  in the “Young Reader” column by Thio Lay Hoon.  (Source:  The Straits Times.  Photo credit:  NewspaperSG).


Mention the name Jessie Wee to a group of youngsters and you’ll get blank faces staring at you.  But mention Mooty the Mouse and, immediately, there are resounding oohs and aahs of recognition.

This was what happened to the winsome local author of  children’s books when she was introduced during a creative-writing session for primary school children at a local branch library.

Indeed, it was a black kitchen mouse which shot her to fame six years ago.  She was highly commended by the National Book Development Council for her series of Mooty Stories in 1982, and was similarly honoured for her book of short stories, Boo!, published in 1984.

Boo is a young friendly ghost who just couldn’t bring himself to frighten people,” said Mrs Wee.  “The ghost stories in this book are made to be more funny than scary.”

In between Mooty and Boo!,  she has also produced several fiction books for older children as well as non-fiction ones, such as We live in Malaysia and Singapore,  which she was commissioned to produce a British-based publisher,  Wayland.

“The book is for children 9 to 13 years old, telling what it is like to live in various countries around the world;  in this case, Malaysia and Singapore,” said Mrs Wee.

“Teacher’s throat”

Before becoming a full-time writer, she had taught for 12 years in a secondary school until she caught “teacher’s throat” 16 years ago.

“Chronic laryngitis” the doctor told me – which meant I had to give up teaching,” she said.  “It was such a loss to me because I enjoyed the job so much.  I felt I had to channel my energy into doing something else.  I am lucky I can write.”

Going off to write books was hardly an easy alternative.  Before Mooty, there were the more-than-usual amount of rejection slips.

“In the beginning, I was very naive to think that I could produce a book, sell it and, if it turned out to be popular, I could just relax, sit back and enjoy the royalties.

My first royalty from Mooty was $129.20.  I should have framed up that cheque, but I was so excited about it I took my family out and spent it on dinner, ” she said.

Although having firmly established herself as a writer with the success of Mooty, she cautions that full-time writing is not a self-sufficient profession.

“If not for my husband’s financial and emotional support, I don’t think I would have continued writing because it’s quite a hassle,” she said.

“It can be heart-breaking, you know, when you think this is it, this is my book, but then it gets rejected.  Nobody wants it.  They tell you, this is the recession.  Nobody wants to produce children’s books.”

Before she actually started writing her own books, she contribute prodigiously to children’s magazines.  But even then, it was not without its problems.

“A new editor would come in and change the names of my characters without checking with me to see if it was a continuing series.  And that would get me so worked up, I would not even speak properly on the phone.  I would write letters of protest instead,” she said.

When Mooty was conceived, she was quite apprehensive about its viability.  “Many times I had wanted to withdraw my stories.  I kept on telling the editor: Who is going to read them?  What it they don’t sell?  I was on tenterhooks then, like a cat on hot bricks.”

But Mr S.V. Krishnan of Federal Publications, her editor, was “like a godfather.  He was very supportive all the way.”

Equally supportive are her two sons, 23-year-old Andrew and 22-year-old Derek.  “When I bring home a book I have completed, they would pat me on the head and say:  Good Work, Mum!” she beamed.

Ideas everywhere

“Children are my inspiration,” she said.  And she gets her ideas even while waiting at the bus-stop.  “I would find myself all alone and it can be quite creepy, you know.

“I would imagine a fantastic animal suddenly jumping out of the bush at me.  But instead of being frightening, he turns out to be a very lovely creature.  It’s those things that sort of give me ideas.  I don’t use all of it, but it’s there, everywhere.”


The former Great World Amusement Park (大世界) was within walking distance from the Delta East School in the 1960s.   Great World Park was closed in 1978.

Great World City (世界城), a 6-storey shopping mall,  18-storey office building and 35-storey serviced apartment building complex on Singapore River, was opened in 1997.  The shopping mall part of the mixed development sits on the site where the Great World Amusement Park used to be.   The photo of Great World City is shown above.

Quotable Quotes:

“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.”
― Rob Sheffield

Reminisce Under The Moon


Reminisce under the moon to celebrate the mid-autumn Chinatown lights up in mass lantern walk in Singapore.

According to Channel News Asia, almost 20,000 people took part in a mass lantern walk as part of the Mid-Autumn festivities at the Chinatown area on Saturday evening ( 6 September, 2014 ).

They were flagged off by Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing and Dr Lily Neo – who are both MPs for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Participants took a leisurely stroll and enjoyed performances at 10 different points which included dragon dance and drums. They capped the night with a dazzling fireworks display and the release of “sky lanterns”, on which well-wishes were written before they were released.

The walk was organised by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee. – (Source:  Channel News Asia).


Thanks to Kreta Ayer Residents’ Committee for organizing a Mid Autumn Festival Party for the residents earlier in the night. The event, titled “reminiscing under the moon”, was similar to what we had last year at the same venue. Children carried their lanterns and played at the playground and the adults sat and chatted with one another at the garden. We gave out snacks and goodie bags of gifts like lanterns and mooncakes.  Some of the residents brought their pomelos this year and we decided to have a pomelo peeling contest.

The festival was a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honor of the moon. Today, it is still an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity.  (Source:  Lily Neo Page on Facebook)

Chinatown Mid-Autumn Celebration 2002

I am inspired to post this nostalgia blog to reminisce the same moon (there’s no other moons we know of since time immemorial) to look after us for generations to brighten our lives.

We hope that the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinatown memories will continue to pass from generation to generation.

With the courtesy of archived photos with acknowledgement and thanks to the National Archives of Singapore, these selected photos of the Chinatown Mid-Autumn Celebration 2002 to share on this blog.

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002d_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002za_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002c_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002g_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002a_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002l_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002n_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002p_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002t_sm

kaks mid autumn festival 14092002u_sm

These 12-year-old photos would certainly revive the fond nostalgic memories of the Chinatown Mid-Autumn Celebration in 2002.  Happy Memories!

Celebration of Mid-Autumn festival in the past


In multi-racial, multi-cultural Singapore,  many generations of young Singaporeans have grown up to celebrate without discrimination and study,  work , play and live together in harmony.   This is the unique social system in Singapore with the national pledge:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.


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mooncake festival 01091986a_sm

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mooncke festival 1974a

children carry lanterns 1986a

There was no mass lantern walk in Chinatown or other constituencies in Singapore organised by the community centres over a decade ago.  The photo above shows the few children and their friends to walk around  neighborhood with their lanterns to celebrate mid-autumn festival.

mooncake festival at home 1988h

mooncake festival at kong meng san phor kark see temple 1989f

mooncke festival 1971a



Wishing Everyone A Happy Mid-Autumn Festival !

Pioneer Photographer Old Man Yip


Simply amazing photo captured with a click of the shutter on his camera to compose a perfect shot.  Awesome!

This masterpiece is the art and skills of our pioneer photographer, Yip Cheong Fun, fondly called him as “Old Man Yip”.  But of course, his nickname was used many years later as he aged.  Young Yip Cheong Fun in the photo below:

young yip cheong fun

[I would like to thank Tay Anne who posted this comment on the blog on Sep 4, 2016:

“Portrait picture of Master Yip used in Pioneer Photographer Old Man Yip write up belong to Mr Foo Tee Jun.  Kindly correct it.”

As I was hitherto unable to contact Mr Foo for acknowledgement of his photo. Thanks to Tay Anne for contacting me and to alert me on this matter.  My apologies.  This is now corrected to express my appreciation to Mr Foo Tee Jun to share this photo of Old Man Yip on this blog. Warm Regards.]

Many black and white photos caught in his lens at a nick of a moment with his sentimental feelings in the eyes of his mind.   Its a special spiritual feeling in his heart and his mind which we know is impossible for very few gifted people to explain or describe them in words.

Everywhere “Old Man Yip” left his house, his cameras and accessories were attached with him since he fell in love with photography as a young boy.  His love and passion all his lifetime.





oldmanyip8_smTime is of the essence.  That special moment as in meditation to share his emotion, his mood, his sentiments, love of beauty of nature to reflect on his photos.  He expresses in poem or paintings and soothing sentimental music without noisy color, far away from the maddening crowd.

Yip Cheong Fun (b. 1903, Hong Kong – d. 16 September 1989, Singapore), or “Old Man Yip”, was one of Singapore’s top pioneer photographers. He was the winner of more than 50 worldwide photography awards in his lifetime, identified as one of ten Honorary Outstanding Photographers of the Century (Seascapes) by the Photographic Society of New York in 1980 and awarded the Cultural Medallion for photography in 1984.

Early life

Yip started off as a mechanic in his younger days.  He became a technician and an engineering supervisor with the United Engineers in his adulthood. He resigned from the United Engineers in 1943 when he discovered the firm was manufacturing arms for the Japanese military. He then started his own engineering workshops at Kreta Ayer Road and Kallang, where he employed lathe operators, mechanics, turners and fitters to fabricate engineering machines for sale. In his later years, he worked for Tien Wah Press as an engineering supervisor.

Yip was passionate about photography, which started as a hobby to him when he was in his twenties. His first camera was a Rolleiflex, which he bought as he wanted to take photos for his family album. From then on, his love for photography grew. It led him to capture Singapore’s landscapes and scenery before the onset of urban redevelopment. He took photos of harbours, plantations and kampungs. He also travelled to neighbouring Johor by train, just so he could take photos of the scenery there every weekend. The coming of World War II disrupted Yip’s hobby. When the Japanese confiscated his camera, his grief was palpable, but as soon as the war was over, he bought a new camera and took up photography again.

Yip began sending his pictures for competitions and exhibitions in overseas salons when he was in his fifties and won many awards. However, he remained an amateur all through his life.  In his later years, Yip and his wife ran a grocery store in Chinatown.  Although he started naming his shop Yip’s Photo Service when he reached the age of seventy, the shop only acted as a collecting agency for developing and printing of photos on behalf of Rainbow Photo Service and Kodak. It was a service mainly run by Yip’s wife, Leong Lin, who also used the shop as a grocery shop.

(Source:  Nureza Ahmad at Infopedia)

Mr Yip Cheong-Fun was a remarkable Singaporean who struggled against all odds and faced formidable challenges to emerge eventually as a world famous photographer. He understood how photography can be a great medium not just to record truth and beauty, but to capture the defining moments of the changes that affect all of us in any human situation, and to interpret the dynamic interplay of the elements that constitute life and the human spirit. Oftentimes he used his pictures to tell stories and to depict the changing times and life-styles. He also understood that when creatively manipulated, photographs can present aesthetic ideas: that is, to show us beauty in common things or experiences through his lenses, or delineate the subtleties in quaint things or unusual experiences.

This Master Lensman was elected by the Photographic Society of New York as the “Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century” for his outstanding achievements, especially as the Seascape Specialist in the Twentieth Century. In his work over half a century, there were deliberate engagements with aesthetic forms in the way he used photography as a specialized medium for creative art.

Even if we were not present in the decades of Mr Yip’s practice, we live in that space through his lenses. And for those who lived through the early years in Singapore and other parts of the world, Mr Yip’s work provides not so much nostalgia or memory, but a new perception. In many of his images, we have been gifted with that “plenitude of the soul” we might not have known then, but that we now cherish, through the creative works of Mr Yip Cheong-Fun. Few artists in the world have left such a large body of creative works. Few artists in Singapore have been able to develop such a large collection of photographic images which form the most beautiful and important records of Singapore’s social history. Few in the world have been able to keep such a collection together over the long years and changing times and through a turbulent period of world’s history.

“Reverie is not a mind vacuum. It’s rather the gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul. ”

– Gaston Bachelard
French Philosopher & poet, 1884-1962








” Teach me to live under the sun,
To learn, to work and to have fun.
Mould me like the potter’s clay,
Fill and inspire me each day.”

“Live then like the eternal sun,
Bright, warm and pure like its rays.
Light up the lives of everyone.
Love your folks and cherish them always.

Seek your true self; know your soul,
and feel the filial piety in your heart.
Then have a vision of your role and goal,
In school, home and society for a start.

By all means, enjoy life and have fun,
If it goes with caring and sharing that’s kind.
There’s fun in work for everyone –
If it does engage his passion and mind.

Be careful then how you live in joy or sorrow.
Dwell in humility and wisdom each day.
As you learn to number your days, you’ll know
That you may be the potter, not the clay.

Andrew Yip, Author, Chinatown – Different Exposures

oldmanyip5_smA rainy day – Ang Siang Hill, Chinatown, Singapore  c 1950

Yip Cheong-Fun – Portrait of the photographer

What is the true measure of greatness in an artist in modern society?  Just four words – vision, creativity, empathy and humility.  Yip Cheong-Fun’s greatness as an international icon in photography is buttressed by these four fundamental traits in his personality.


To the pantheon of great photographers belongs Yip Cheong-Fun.  Throughout his life, he shared his vision and artistry and his knowledge of photography with people from all parts of the world.  Living in an era when the world had not fully understood the potential of this powerful medium and art form, he had to convince the unconverted that photography was more than just a hobby or pastime, more than just taking snapshots for family albums that required only placing a finger to press the shutters.  Even to photographic enthusiasts, he had to convince them that photography could be a powerful medium not only to depict truth or beauty, but also to interpret the dynamic forces of life and the intricate relationships and perplexing patterns of changes in our physical and social environments.  It was and still is a futuristic vision for this art form.  During his life time, Yip had witnessed two World Wars and attendant deaths, devastation, and Man’s inhumanity to Man.  His eyes had seen countless instances of violence and human conflicts, the rise and fall of empires, Man’s conquest of space and the oceans, and political upheavals both at home and beyond.  He saw the atrocities of the Japanese Occupation, and in disgust, resigned from United Engineers during the Occupation period when he found the firm manufacturing arms for the Japanese military.  But he also saw good things too, and celebrated in joy when Singapore attained independence and nationhood.  His most famous picture “Rowing at Dawn” was created by him to depict this joy and the celebration of the dawn of a new day, new hopes, new beginning and a new life for all.

The photographer, himself, had publicly stated that he lived in awareness through these times and identified with the events of the time, including seeing on TV the first man walking on the moon.  He promptly took numerous pictures featuring moon as a theme and the rhythm of life as well as Sunrise and Sunset.

The events shaped a vision which shone through is works.  It was a vision of his life and times, ever changing, constantly challenging, sometimes menacing, perplexing or dazzling, but never completely crippling or annihilating.  To him and this shines through most of his works, there is always a rainbow or some light somehow, somewhere; there is always a higher being or higher order to give hope to those caught in the storms of life and the surging seas of change and perils.  Within his limitations, he began to map out the dynamic changes at play, starting taking snapshots of the same locations for paired comparisons over a prolonged period of time.  It was a deliberate undertaking for sure.  On 2nd January 1937, he took some pictures of the Victoria Concert Hall from the then General Post Office (now Fullerton Hotel).  He took the same scene from the same spot on 2nd January 1947.  Now one can see that this man with a vision was serious about his craft and undertaking.  Another example.  He took a few shots showing the panoramic view of Chinatown from a tall building in 1955 in January, and again he repeated the process in 1978.  This time, he submitted the two pictures to the Singapore Governments for an exhibition and was awarded a prize in April 1978.

In the words od Dr. Kevin Tan, the President of the Singapore Heritage Society, Yip carried the camera like a woman would carry a handbag – it was an indispensable part of his whole life.  He took pictures for record purposes, in as much as he did as an artistic endeavor.  His collection of thousands of prints form some of the most important and beautiful documents of the social history of Singapore, taken over the last sixty years.  In his vision, there was always an infusion of confidence and hope for the future.

It is this vision that enables the photographer as an artist to express in his unique way the feelings and perceptions of life and its manifold changes.  His photographs seem to depict the scene directly, and yet there is a multiplicity of meanings within each photograph, providing a wide range of interpretations.  Sometimes, he used the landscape as a natural force in shaping individual character.  In doing so, his landscape photographs were deliberately transformed into ethnoscapes.  It is a vision like this that brings out the true greatness of human endeavor.

Source:  A Poetic Vision – The Photography of Yip Cheong-Fun by Andrew W.K. Yip