Long Long Time Ago

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Revisiting the past with Jack Neo’s new film “Long Long Time Ago”.

After making ‘Homerun’ in 2003, popular home-grown director Jack Neo had always wanted to make another movie exploring kampong family life – and he finally get to do so with the release of ‘Long Long Time Ago’ in 2015.

“I have all these fond memories of my own childhood growing up in the kampong – you know, catching earthworms in middy ponds and rearing pigs at home – and I wanted to make a movie that can really showcase those good old days, he tells Life! in Mandarin following the press conference held at Marina Bay Sands on 10 December, 2014 to announce his latest project.  (Source:  The Straits Times, 11 December 2014).

“After I made Homerun, I’ve wanted to explore kampong life a lot deepter, to tell a more complete kampong story.  And what better time to take this movie in 2015, when Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday?  The movie will evoke a lot of good memories for many Singaporeans.”

Homerun, his remake of Iranian flick Children Of Heaven (1997), was about a pair of siblings in 1965 Singapore.

Long Long Time Ago, a $6-million project to be released in two parts, is said to be a heartwarming story about a single-parent family and will take them from Singapore’s birth in 1965 all the way to the present day.

The first part, due out at the end of next year, will focus on the kampong days, while the second part, scheduled for release in 2016 during Chinese New Year, will have the family move out of the kampong and into HDB flats.

The official trailer on YouTube here .

Kampung boy Jack gets nostalgic

By Wendy Teo in New Paper, 15 November 2002

At a certain spot in a Chai Chee carpark, you might see Jack Neo standing deep in thought.  No, the acclaimed director is not seeking inspiration for his new movie.

Instead, the 42-year-old is reminiscing over his childhood memories; the spot is where his old kampong house used to be.

Jack told reporters at the prayer ceremony for his new movie, Home Run, how much he missed the kampong life at old Kampung Chai Chee.

He had spent 16 years of his life there.

Jack said in dismay: “My old kampong is now an expressway! And where my house used to be, there is now a carpark.  There used to be so much space.  It’s quite sad to see it gone now.”

Incidentally, Home Run – inspired by the Iranian film, Children Of Heaven – is based in a kampong in ’60s Singapore.

It’s about a small boy and his younger sister who have to share one pair of shoes between them.

The son of a fishmonger, Jack said that even though is family wasn’t rich, his parents always made sure that the children’s needs were met.

“We didn’t know whether we were considered poor or rich, because there was nobody for us to compare with.  Everyone else in the kampong was just like us.  And my parents could afford our schoolbags, uniforms and stationery.

“The only time we felt different was when our neighbours had toys, or “bak kua” (barbecued pork) to eat, and we didn’t.  Some of them would even boast about going out for a seafood dinner, but we never had the chance to do so.”

According to Jack, going for a seafood dinner was considered a big treat then as it meant going to a proper restaurant and “the way they cook the seafood is different from how you cook it at home”.

But while Jack never had to go without shoes, he had to plead for a long time before getting his pair of basketball shoes, the ankle-cut canvas ones hat were highly popular back then.

“There was no Nike or Reebok.  I just wanted the Panda brand of high-cut shoes, but my father refused.  In his time, my father had to go to school barefoot, and he told me to be grateful that I even had shoes.”

But, eventually, Jack’s mother gave in and bought him the much-coveted China-made shoes.

As the eldest in the family (he has two younger brothers), Jack had to help out in the family by taking care of the pigs and chickens.

But, as a treat, his grandmother would take him and his brothers to the movies, a makeshift open-air affair.

Jack’s eyes shone as he talked about watching the black and white films – like Ten Brothers and Monkey God – at the cheap ticket price of 20 cents.

He also remembered how, after watching a Bruce Lee movie once, he broke his brother’s arm during a play-fighting session.

“I was in Secondary 1 then.  We were fooling around and pretending to fight with each other.  My brother was executing a Bruce Lee move he learnt from the movie when I blocked him and broke his arm.

“My parents didn’t know what to do with me.  And they didn’t scold me, which made me feel even more guilty!

“Hearing my brother yell out in pain at night made it even worse.”

These days, the kampong kid has made good.

From imitating Bruce Lee’s moves, Jack is now a lauded local director who has been praised by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong himself.

In fact, Jack was given the International Management Action Award by Spring Singapore at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The award was for the contributions he and his successful production company, J Team Production, have made to the media industry.

Jack now lives in a semi-detached house in the east, together with his wife and three children.

But he will have the chance to relive his childhood memories while working on his fifth and latest movie.

He left for Malaysia yesterday for location shooting of Home Run.

He said: “It’s not possible to find a kampong here in Singapore.

“Everything’s either built-up or has been set aside for preservation.  But I managed to find a kampong in Malaysia, just like what Singapore had in the ’60s, right down to the attap trees.”

As the school holiday has begun, Jack said he would take his wife and children along to Malaysia.

“I want to show my children what kampong life is like.

“In fact, that’s the point of my movie, I want kids to know how tough life can be, and also how import a pair of shoes can be to some people.

“These days, kids are too fortunate.  They don’t know what hardship is.”

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Childhood memories of PM Lee Hsien Loong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Memories of Magnolia Snack Bar in Orchard Road, Singapore

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

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

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

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

Goodbye to an ‘old friend’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Develop young kids with talent

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In 2016, I posted the blog “A Teochew Opera Child Star is Born” here .

Recently, I watched this video to share on YouTube to enjoy 張楚怡小朋友 – BTV北京電視台文藝頻道《我家有明星》.

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More photos of 張楚怡小朋友 from People’s Republic of China

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《見多識廣》魯豫有約:小鬼當家 (上集)
張楚怡、張峻豪及謝豪─三位擁有表演天賦的小朋友,他們熱衷於舞台表演,深得觀眾喜愛。今集除了送上他們精彩的演出外,還會通過任務小考驗讓大家看看台下的他們;另外還有專家解答父母們在教育孩子上遇到的疑問。

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姓名 :  张楚怡   性   别:女     生   日:06月10日  双子座   职   业:学生

 

The kampong memories that last a lifetime

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Places & History:  Geylang Serai

By Shaik Kadir  for The Straits Times  (ST 22 July, 2009)

The new Geylang Serai market opened earlier this month – on the very same site as the old one.The event brought back many memories for me for I lived in Geylang Serai from the age of eight to 21.  I had seen it grow from a kampong into a conglomeration of ultra-modern buildings.  But it is the area’s kampong days that I cherish most for they are associated with the days of my childhood.After my father died, my mother, my sister and I moved from Chinatown to Paya Lebar and then, in 1954 when I was eight years old, to Geylang Serai.  We lived not far away from a kampong mosque, Surau Aminah, now relocated to nearby Jalan Eunos and called Masjid Darul Aman.  My mother rented a room in a row of attap houses for $14 a month.

My house had no tap, so I had to collect fresh water from the government standpipe a little distance away.  I usually did this at night, carrying two pails.  It took a few trips to the standpipe to fill the water-drum in our tiny kitchen area.  On my last trip, I would bathe at the standpipe, enjoying the cold water, before returning to my room.

There was an entertainment centre in the area called Eastern World Amusement Park.  It had rides, games galleries and snack stalls.  Though the entrance fee to the park was a nominal sum, we children would insist on sneaking into the park through secretly-made holes in the zinc fence.

Besides the park was the Taj cinema, where Tamil, Hindi and Malay movies were screened to packed houses during weekends.  We boys found it more fun to watch cowboy and Tarzan films at the open-air cinema located at Islam Alsagoff.  It cost only 10 cents to watch movies there.

Once, as we watched a travelling wagon on being set on fire in a cowboy movie, we suddenly realised that the screen was really burning –  perhaps because vandals had set it on fire.  The show was abandoned, much to our dismay.

Another popular cinema was The Garricks, which showed English movies.  Located at the junction of Onan Road and Geylang Road, where The Galaxy is currently located, the cinema screened English and Hindi movies.  Its front seats cost 50 cents, as at the Taj, and so we seldom patronised it, though we often went there to look at the photos of the movies being shown.

In front of the Taj, in the area where Northlight School is now located, there were many food and drinks stalls.  Men would play sepak raga there, standing in a circle as they used their legs, shoulders and heads to toss a rattan ball to one another.

Nearby, in an open field, we boys would play with tops and marbles.  In the kite season during windy April, we would watch young men fly kites and engage in “kite battles”.  Boys carrying salvaging poles would run after the “losing” kites, often stepping on food spread out to dry on the grounds or on roaming chicks.  With the curses of residents ringing in their ears, the boys would run away.

Besides the amusement park was a bus terminal fronting Changi Road.  The diesel buses plied routes from the city to Jalan Eunos, Kaki Bukit and faraway Changi Point, while the trolley buses, which ran on electricity from overhead electric cables, plied routes from Geylang Serai to the city.

The terminal area was often crowded with people who had made purchases of the popular wet market on Changi Road, where the Joo Chiat Complex is now located.

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Trishaw riders waited in the vicinity to take housewives with their heavy purchases home to the kampungs nearby.

The terminal was littered with leaves from the many Madras thorn trees in the area – and also with used bus tickets.  I would go round with a friend to collect clean used tickets and arrange them according to value, the lowest being 5 cents.  We used the tickets to play number-guessing games.

One day, as we were collecting these tickets, my friend found a 10-cent coin.  We rushed off to buy a packet of nasi lemak – coconut flaved rice with sambal, a piece of cucumber, a tamban fish and a bit of fried egg, all wrapped up in banana leaf, which in  turn was wrapped in old newspaper.  Between the two of us, the food was gone in no time.

Finding the 10-cent coin was a piece of good luck.  But there was another time when I was even luckier.  At the edge of the present Malay Village, there used to be four rows of shops.  One afternoon, I went to a bookshop there to look at some Malay books.  As I was leaving, an elderly man in the shop tapped my shoulder and gave me an old English book.

That book – Grimms’ Fairy Tales – stirred my interest in reading, and I went on to read most of the books in the library cabinet in my classroom.  I was then a Primary 6 pupil at Telok Kurau Primary School.

Some time in the middle of the year, my principal, Mr Ratnam Sabapathy, a strict man who walked around with a cane in his hand, made an announcement during the morning assembly.

“Singapore now has a Prime Minister,” he said.  “He is Mr Lee Kuan Yew – and he was a student at this school.”

This year was 1959, when Singapore became a self-governing state.

Shaik Kadir, a retired teacher, is a freelance writer.

Happy memories of life in a kampung

As a young boy growing up in Geylang Serai, Shaik Kadir was so poor that he used to give tuition squatting on the floor “like a frog” round a kerosene lamp.

43 years-old in 1989, Kadir has written an autobiographical book, A Kite in The Evening Sky, which he explains in “an attempt to preserve the past so that my grandchildren can read what life was like for me back in the 50s and 60s.  The kampong I used to live in is all gone now but the place holds great sentimental value for me.”

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According to Kadir, his family was so poor back then that all their possessions could be contained in three trunks, a few boxes and a small cupboard.

However, true to story-book fashion, they were happy.

Like all kampong boys, he flew kites, swam in canals and went to open-air cinemas.

It may not have been an eventful life but there were a few dramatic moments.  For instance, during the racial riots in 1964, he had to hide in a kampong jamban (latrine) to escape.

But his most traumatic experience was his sunat or circumcision – all Muslim boys have to undergo this religious rite – performed when he was about 13.

It caught him totally unprepared.  He relates: “I was playing with my friends when I was told to go home.  The minute I stepped into the house, my grandfather and His barber friend grabbed me and did it.  Till today, I don’t even know if the razor was sterilised.”

Kadir said he was so frightened that after the wound healed, he jumped up and down “to ensure that I was as good as ever!”

Years later, as a father, Kadir made sure his 10-year-old son, Imran, knew what sunat was all about.

Kadir considers his children (he also has an 11-year-old daughter) much luckier than he himself was.  The family can afford to go on holidays abroad whereas he was so poor that his friends had to chip in to pay for his examination fees.

Kadir’s father died when he was quite young and being the eldest and only boy (He has two younger sisters), he became “the man of the family” and left school at 16 to become a teacher.

He was a primary school teacher for four years before he left to join the Vocational Industrial Training Board where he is now their publication editor.

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Kadir is content with how his life has turned out.  As he says: “I’m a non-graduate but I’m doing a graduate’s job.”

A man of simple tastes, his hobby is to do up his flat – decorated with frilled curtains, built-in aquarium and artificial creepers – which he takes pride in showing off to visitors.

His wife, Khairon, is his “secretary” who types his manuscripts for him.

Kadir has no consuming ambition to become a “proper writer like Catherine Lim” and treats his writing as a hobby.

“To become a good writer, you must read.  I’ll be happy if I can get a book published every two years,” says this family man.

“For the next 10 years, I’d like to give my children a better life than I ever had.  If I can make it on my own without having anything, they, with all things they have, should be able to do better.”

[Source:  The Straits Times ‘BOOKENDS” by Helen Chia, 17 May 1989].

I had the pleasure and privilege to meet Shaik Kadir for the first time in person at the Singapore Memory Project here .

He presented his memories of Geylang Serai on this blog to share.

Shaik Kadir and our Singapore Memory Project pioneer generation friends occasionally meet together here .

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Jerome Lim’s 10 minutes with Her Majesty

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Naval architect recalls the visit of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II to his HDB flat in Toa Payoh 40 years ago

NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH

The scrapbook has been his family for close to 40 years.

[Source:  New Paper, 15 April 2012]

The cover is royal red and used to have gold lettering, proclaiming “Visit of HRH The Princess Anne, 18th February, 1972”.

The letters have since faded and have been penned over with a black marker pen.

But the memories live on in Mr Jerome Lim’s mind in rich Technicolor.

The details might be a little fuzzy – Mr Lim was just seven at the time.  But he remembers the excitement and awe.

He also recalls the exact time Queen Elizabeth II stopped by: 4.15 pm.  As a Primary 2 pupil, he had skipped school in preparation for the visit.

He reveals that back then, he would usually laze around in shorts at home, but that day, his mother had dressed him up smartly in long pants and a crisply-pressed shirt.

Mr Lim recalls that he was caught completely off-guard, and the TV broadcast showed him leaping to his feet when the Queen arrived.

“I was busy daydreaming, which I used to do a lot.  Suddenly, Her Majesty appeared in the doorway!  I just scrambled to my feet in shock,” he says.

The Queen shook hands with Mr Lim, his three-year-old sister and both his parents, and was then ushered through the flat to take a look around a typical Singaporean home,” recalls Mr Lim.

Now 47, Mr Lim, a naval architect, still remembers how she shook his hand softly with a gentle motion of her wrist.

“She was wearing white gloves.  Very luxurious,” recalls Mr Lim.

“A neighbour told me not to wash my hand, or I’d wash all the luck I’d gotten from shaking Her Majesty’s hand away.

“And I actually tried my best to go as long as possible with washing my hands.  It only lasted until night time, when my mother insisted I wash them.”

The Lims’ flat, on the top floor of Block 53, Toa Payoh Lorong 5, was one of two the Queen had visited with Prince Philip and Princess Anne.

At that time, Block 53 had been built with a viewing gallery on the roof for visiting dignitaries to look out over the estate and see how swampland had been transformed into a new town by Singapore’s public housing programme.

Mr Lim’s flat was eventually also visited by a host of other famous dignitaries, like then Australian Prime Minister John Gorton, who gave Mr Lim a pin with a kangaroo on it.

“It felt good to have a lot of dignitaries dropping by.  You get to see people you usually only see in the newspapers,” he says.  The Queen’s visit remains the highlight of his childhood.

HDB sent Mr Lim’s family the scrapbook after the Queen’s stopover, filled with both colour and black-and-white pictures of the Queen’s visit around the Toa Payoh estate.

It has become a prized possession, Mr Lim says, laughing.

Perhaps because of the visit, Mr Lim is now an avid blogger documenting Singapore’s past.

His family moved out in 1976, but he occasionally revisits the area to relive his memories.

“The front door hasn’t changed since the time we moved out!” he beams.

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He has conducted heritage walks for the National Library Board at Toa Payoh, Sembawang and Mount Sophia, sharing his memories about how these places were in the past.

His photos were also used for a recent exhibition at the Toa Payoh Public Library.

The history buff is also involved in the Memory Corps for the Singapore Memory Project, where people can contribute their memories of Singapore.

“I wanted to capture my memories, says Mr Lim.  “I think I had quite an interesting childhood, and a lot of my childhood was spent in a Singapore I can’t find any more.”

This year, the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee after 60 years on the throne.

As for the flat, neighbours say there is currently nobody living there.

Some of the residents who have stuck around since the 1970s still remember the Queen’s visit.

Mr Quek C.S, who has lived in Block 53 since it was built, says: “Of course I remember the Queen.  If you get to see her, you will remember her forever.”

But some of the younger generation still remain oblivious about Toa Payoh’s royal guest.

Ms Cindy Tan, 18, a student who sleeps over at her grandmother’s Toa Payoh flat some nights, is disbelieving.’

“You mean, the Queen really came here?” she asks.

“I thought my grandmother was just joking when she told me.  I can’t believe the Queen would come here when she can go somewhere high-class instead.”

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CHANGE:  Toa Payoh housing estate in the 1970s.  It had been transformed from a swampland into a new town.

Rochor Centre with the missing ‘e’

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Rochor used to be spelt Rochore -with an ‘e’.  Today, the ‘e’ has disappeared.

In The Straits Times of 19 February 2012, Toh Yong Chuan was in a bid to trace the missing ‘e’, a far more important ‘e’ issue surfaced: the elderly.

An excerpt on this article with courtesy of Newspaper.sg and The Straits Times to share on this nostalgia blog.

Toh Yong Chuan said:

I was 10 years old when my family moved into a three-room HDB flat across the road from Rochor Centre in 1979.  Dr Toh Chin Chye was still the MP and Bugis Street was lined with street hawkers, not with the cutesy carts in the air-conditioned, dressed-up indoor street in Bugis Junction.

The disappearance of the Rochore constituency in 1988 did not erase it from Parliament records until 2000.  In March that year, there was a record of “Rochore Centre” being mentioned during the Budget debate.  That was the last trace of the old name.

A search among newspapers’ archives also drew blank on when the ‘e’ was dropped.  Also, old street directories or maps that could pinpoint the change of name were not readily available.

But as I got more preoccupied with finding the ‘e’, the more I found myself digging into my memories of Rochor.

Even until the mid-1980s, Rochor was dotted with shophouses that were prone to fire and open drains that overflowed during downpours.

There were three things that Rochor was known for – the transvestites brothels in Johore Road; the street hawkers in Bugis Street; and the bus terminal where SBS bus no. 170 and taxis ply between Singapore and Malaysia.

The bus terminal is still there; but most of the rest are gone.  The brothels have made way for a carpark, Bugis Street hawkers were cleared out in 1985 and the shophouses razed for Bugis Junction to be built.

And it was not just the sight, but also the smell.

My neighbourhood stinks, I used to tell my friends as I dissuaded them from visiting.  The daylong stench came from the nightsoil treatment centre opposite Rochor Centre.

Daily, the nightsoil truck with their distinctive 32 door panels would deposit buckets of human waste at the centre.  The smell got intolerable during hot afternoons.  The nightsoil trucks, also called honey wagons , made their last run in the mid-1980s, the centre closed, and Albert Complex with its OG department store stands at the site today.

The stench of the nightsoil in the day was matched by the odour of urine and vomit in the numerous backlanes and alleys at night.  I would hold my breath and cover my mouth when I had to take shortcuts through them.

The worst smell was the whiff of death, at least in my head, I would try to avoid a row of coffin shops and funeral parlours along Rochor Road, but yet find the occasional nerve to peep into the shops as I hurried past.

But not all the smells were unpleasant.  On my way to school, I would pass by a bread shop and a coffee powder shop next to it.  The aroma of freshly baked bread and coffee beans being roasted, when combined, is divine.

The smells – both pleasant and unpleasant – are also gone today, together with the shophouses and forgotten streets such as Noordin Lane that were wiped off the map.  The missing ‘e’ is not found in my memories of the old Rochor.

And as my frustration grew, I took a slow walk and found myself standing at the fourth-floor void deck at Rochor Centre.  There it was, right in front of me – Rochore Kongsi Home for the Aged – the first trace of the old “Rochore” name.  The ‘e’ has not vanished completely.

It was Singapore’s first HDB void deck old folks’ home.

In a speech at the home’s opening in 1977, Dr Toh explained why he picked the void deck for the pilot project:  “The aged no longer need to feel that just because they are in the autumn of their lives, they will be put away in an institution, alienated from and forgotten by the rest of the world.”

The location of the former Rochor Centre on 5 May, 2019

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Rochor Centre before the demolition

The 4-colored blocks at Rochor Centre in red, green, blue and yellow before the demolition.

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The colourful HDB flats was demolished to make way for a new expressway.

$24m complex at ‘gateway’ to city

The headline of New Nation dated 5 July 1976.

[This is a model of the $24 million complex for Rochore.

By the end of this year, the whole area, which has some of the oldest slums in Singapore, will be turned into a large modern residential, commercial and recreational complex.

The Rochore “face-lift” will include 572 flats and 212 shops in four multi-storey blocks on a 2.6 hectare site bounded by Rochore Canal Road, Queen Street and Rochore Road.

There will be 481 three-room flats and 91 four-room flats in the 14-storey complex with 480 parking lots in the basement.

The shops will be in a continuous three three-storey shopping podium of which each of the four blocks.  A playdeck on top of the podium will serve as a recreational area for residents.

Queen Street will have a new market with food stalls.  Hawkers will be resettled there.

The present bus station at Queen Street will be re-sited at Muar Road.  There will be six bus bays where commuters from Johore Baru and Bukit Timah area may alight.

Buses and taxis will travel from the new centre at Muar Road to Woodlands and Johore.

A new road will eventually replace the Rochore Canal Road and Ophir Road to streamline traffic at what is being described as the “gateway” to the city from Bukit Timah Road.]

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China Street Fritters: From Pushcart to Award-Winning Stall

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Ng Kok Hua remembers the days when his family’s business comprised a pushcart with a canvas roof and two square tables in front of it.  Those were the humble beginnings of China Street Fritters, one of the most popular stalls at Maxwell Road Food Centre today.  It was started by his father and uncle in the 1950s and has remained a steadfastly family-run business since.  Their traditional fritters, known as “ngoh hiang” in Hokkien, are aromatic  rolls of spiced minced meat wrapped in soft beancurd skin and then deep-fried.  These are sold alongside fried bee hoon and other items like fried tofu, fishballs and century eggs.

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“In the early days, cars would stop right in front of our stall along China Street and people would buy their food without getting out,” Kok Hua recalls fondly.  “We could only operate between four and nine in the evening as the fritters were all handmade, which took a lot of time.  Without a fridge, the food couldn’t last very long either.”

The stall was run by Kok Hua’s father, mother, grandmother and sister.  It fed people from all walks of life – “from tycoons to coolies,” as he put it – but in particular, workers from the nearby shipping companies.  “Sometimes we’d get bullies who pretended to pay on credit, but who were really looking for a free meal,” he added.

Kok Hua and his elder brother Richard began helping out at the stall in 1972 when their father fell and dislocated his arm.  The patriarch passed away three years later and Kok Hua took over the running of the business.  In 1979, the Ngs moved to a different space on the same street, but this time with a real roof over their cart.  They peddled their popular fried fritters there till 1987, when the government relocated them and their fellow hawkers from China Street to Maxwell Market.

The simple set-up of their new space fostered both camaraderie and conflict between the hawkers pooled together a sum of money to buy more tables and stools for their customers,” says Richard.  “But this often caused arguments because the customers would sit at those tables but order from the stalls that didn’t contribute to them.”  Still, the open concept meant that the hawkers could communicate easily, which for the most part helped to build good relationships.  Richard says that the vibe has changed now that the centre has been renovated.  With each stall confined to nine-foot-square space, there is little opportunity for the hawkers to chat throughout the day.

Nevertheless, for patrons, it is all about the food, the familiar favourites that they return for year after year.  China Street Fritters is still as popular as it was in the 1950s.  It consistently receives accolades for its good food and was even invited to cook at the presentation of the President’s Award for the Environment, held at the Istana, the official residence of the President of Singapore, in 2010.

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Source:  “Savour Chinatown” by Annette Tan and photography by Mervin Chua.

Annette Tan is a food writer, editor and food stylist.  She is a regular contributor to numerous magazines and newspapers in Singapore and the region.  She is the editor of The Miele Guide, Asia’s first independent restaurant guide and has lent her talents to various cookbooks including Heritage Feasts: A Collection of Singapore Family Recipes that was named Best Cookbook – Singapore at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2011.  She is also a culinary instructor at TOTT, and lives and works in Singapore.

Mervin Chua – His earliest memory of photography was the smell of burnt magnesium filaments wafting from the flashcubes of Kodak Instamatic cameras.  Since then, he always incorporates a sense of touch and scent as part of the visual cache of an image.  The Singapore-based photographer has contributed to many regional magazines and has lent his eye for detail to projects such as the award-winning Heritage Feasts: A Collection of Singapore Family Recipes.

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Courtesy of “Savour Chinatown”.  This publication is supported under the National Heritage Board’s Heritage Industry Incentive Programme (Hi2P).

Memories of Maxwell Road Food Centre

A few of the related blogs on this topic posted here and here to share.

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At the end of South Bridge Road, on the corner of Maxwell Road, is a hive of gastronomic activity.  The Maxwell Road Food Centre draws hungry crowds throughout the day, who come to sup at their favourite stalls, including stalwarts such as Tian Tian Chicken Rice, China Street Fritters and China Street Hum Jin Pang.  Built in the 1950s as a wet market for the Chinatown area, the site was transformed into a temporary hawker centre in the 1980s.  It housed hawkers from nearby China Street, who were relocated to make way for urban redevelopment.  “In those days, the layout of the centre was more open,” recalls Madam Foo Kui Lian, who owns the perennially popular Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall.  “We hawkers would communicate with one another by shouting across the stalls.  We built friendly relationships by chatting around the common washing area.”

While hawkers like Madam Foo hold fond memories of the space, diners remember it differently.  Set smack along the main thoroughfare where people ate, the common washing area collected stacks and stacks of dirty dishes that piled up high during peak hours – not a particularly appetising sight.  When the crowds ebbed, the hawkers would perch themselves on tiny stools and do their washing up.  The oily dishwater ran into clogged drains, which in turn spilled over onto the floors.  Poles of sugar cane sat nearby, their porous flesh soaking up the polluted water before heading for the crusher to yield sweet [though terrifyingly unhygienic] sugar cane juice.  Yet despite these unsanitary conditions.  Maxwell Road Food Centre remained a favourite culinary destination where a glorious variety of dishes, from Chinese delicacies such as turtle soup and pig’s brain to rickshaw noodles and Chinese kueh [cakes], drew patrons from far and wide.

That all changed in March 2000 when a S$3.5 million renovation transformed it into the organised, sanitised hawker centre that it is today.  “Each stall now measures nine feet by nine feet, which is larger than the six feet by eight feet stipulated by the National Environment Agency,” says Richard Ng, co-owner of China Street Fritters and hawker representative for Maxwell Road Food Centre.  “The building’s structure is such that its original pillars are set nine feet apart, so the stalls had to be arranged that way.”  Still, despite the relatively generous stall sizes, the new centre proved to be ill-equipped for the searing tropical climate.  Diners complained that the centre was too hot for any kind of culinary enjoyment.  The simple solution: more fans.

While Maxwell Market, as it is fondly known to locals, continues to be a popular food hub in Chinatown, Richard says that the vibe is decidedly different now.  “The bonds between the hawkers were much stronger in the days before the renovation.  Because of the cubicles, people tend to keep to themselves now.  They can only interact with each other after peak hours, unlike in the past, when the activities in the stalls were visible to all.”  [Source: ‘Savour Chinatown’ – Stories, Memories & Recipes book].

Heritage Food Culture – Roadside Hawkers

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In the 1950s and earlier, roadside hawker stalls were unlicensed before the hawker centres were built in Singapore.  The archived photos above with courtesy of the National Archives of Signapore.

In the 1950s when my father was working at Kheng Seng Chan at Telok Ayer Street, he often eat his favorite “ngoh hiang” at the China Street roadside stall.  At that time, the stall was operated by Kok Hua’s father.

Later, when I was working at the Outpatient Services Department, Ministry of Health at Kadanayallur Street next to the Maxwell Road Food Centre, my favorite “ngoh hiang” at the China Street Fritters stall run by Kok Hua.  From one generation to another generation, the homemade stuff with secret recipe by Kok Hua’s father passed to Kok Hua remain unchanged ….. the heritage food culture and the hawkers in the family.

Food is a personal preference that the favorite of the father will not necessarily be the favorite food of the son or anybody else.   Incidentally, my father’s favorite “ngoh hiang” of the China Street fritters was passed to me and no change of our taste.  Anyway, we do not know how nice we like the food unless we try them for the tasting experience.

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Led by local celebrity and food connoisseur, Moses Lim, the media entourage at the Singapore Food Festival was given an intimate insight to Maxwell Food Centre, and was introduced to six heritage hawker stalls such as China Street Fritters, well-known for its traditional handmade Hokkienngoh hiang’,

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