Covid19 Special Birthday in 2020

I do not usually blog about my birthday and how I celebrate it. Everybody has a birthday to celebrate it alone or with family, colleague or with friends to remember.

This year, I wanted to do it alone to share my thoughtmoments and think about it aloud on my personal blog.

On a bright, sunny morning on Monday, 28 September, I made a trip to my favorite spots at the waterfront ….. Clifford Pier, Merlion Park, Esplanade, the Singapore River.

Covid19 has adversely affected the tourism industry of every country in the world. The tourists in groups or with families are unable to visit the tourist spots to enjoy the views and capture memorable photos to share. The economy and tourist revenues of every country have also suffered.

With thanks to China Daily Hongkong related article to share on this blog.

Rich legacy lures travelers to city-state

Monday, May 28, 2018, 15:30

By He Shusi

China becomes largest source of visitors as Belt and Road transforms Singapore’s tourism sector

Five years after China proposed its Belt and Road Initiative, Singapore’s tourism industry is enjoying a boost due to a surge in Chinese visitors. 

According to data released by the Singapore Tourism Board in February, China has, for the first time, surpassed Indonesia and become the largest source of tourists to the city-state. The latest data also show that 17.4 million tourists visited Singapore in 2017 — a 6.2 percent jump from the previous year — in which visitors from China increased 13 percent to exceed 3 million for the first time. 

As an island with limited land, Singapore is not home to the same abundant tourism resources as other Southeast Asian countries. On the contrary, Singapore’s reputation as a tourism destination is built on its image as a “garden city” — due to its numerous varieties of plants along with its heritage from the colonial period and the infrastructure of a modern cosmopolitan city. 

The revitalization of historical buildings constitutes another strength and legacy of its tourism industry. For instance, The Fullerton Hotel in the heart of Singapore was reconstructed from the country’s General Post Office, completed in 1928.

After the post office was moved out of the building in 1996, Sino Group, a major Hong Kong property developer, rented it from the government and spent about S$400 million (US$298 million) to transform the Western-style government building into a luxury hotel. 

According to the general manager of The Fullerton Heritage, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, during the six years of revitalization, the company went to great lengths to repair and preserve the historical building’s heritage. He said the hotel is popular with Chinese tourists and the company will consider taking its successful business model to the Chinese mainland.

Circuit Breaker measures in Singapore

On 3 April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a nationwide partial lockdown, known as a circuit breaker, to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore. These measures came after an increase of unlinked cases over the preceding month, as well as the risk of a huge cluster of infections.

Methods: Closure of all non-essential workplaces; Closure of all schools, preschools, community centres, etc.

Stay at home as much as possible, go out alone if you need to.

From now till 4 May 2020, stay at home as much as possible. Avoid going out except to buy food and daily essentials, or for urgent medical needs.

If you must go out, go alone; not in groups or as a household. These trips are not meant to be family outings.

If you need to exercise outside, exercise alone and in your immediate neighbourhood. Do not travel unnecessarily to other parts of Singapore.

If you need to accompany a senior, person with disability, or young children to complete a certain task, do so and return home quickly.

We hope that Covid19 would soon be over and we can all live safely, healthily and happily without wearing masks in public or stand us 1 metre away from everyone.

God please bless us all.



河水山 (Bukit Ho Swee) 位于新加坡的西南部,占地约60依葛 (英亩)。 居民绝大部分是华人,而且是福建人居多。 实际上,河水山没有河,说山,都是座坟山,根据史枓,河水山取名自褔建商人戴河水 (1834-1903)。  河水山俗栋 (马九冢) (或马交冢) 马九 (或马交冢) 马九 (或马交) 原指 ‘澳门’,后来引申为 ‘广东人,广府人,广东人的’。 ‘马九冢’ (或马交冢) 就是 ‘广东人的坆场’,广府冢。数十年前的,河水山有不少坟墓,有些人的家后面就是坟场。

二战后,河水山人口剧增,是一个很贫穷的甘榜,破旧的亚屋比鳞相接,这里的村民,都是在水深火热的情况下,挣扎着生存。这里也是蛇鼠混居的地方,是私会党徒,赌徒等的滋生地。但是,这些私会党据说是不会对本甘榜的人进行骚挄,对本甘榜的居民还真义气。甘榜里有什么事情发生,喊一声,”甘榜人来呀!”  他们都会义不容辞地靠拢来帮忙,也绝不会要什么报酉州。





1961 年 5 月 25 日 3 点多,当天是居民们刚好吃过午饭,那是一个让河水山人民,甚至全新加坡人民难忘的日子,当吋忽然村民东奔西跑,边跑边喊 ‘火烧了,火烧了’ 的喊声,呼天唤地,痛哭哀号,河水山正被一场史无前例的火燃烧着屋子一间接着一间倒,居民无救地眼睁睁地看着自己的家园,财物被大火呑噬,烧毀。浓烟冲向高空,几乎全新加坡人都能看见这浓烟,不堪火神一烧,亚筨屋都毀于一旦。


这严重的火灾造成 2800 多户,约 1 万 6000 人流离失斦,无家可归,据统计,财物损矢估计有 200 万元,这数目,在当时可是一笔很大的数目,有四人困来不及逃离火场,葬身火海。




据说,河水山的大火,在 1961 年的灾难前一年,也曾发生过两次火灾,都被居民扑灭抢救下来,没有造成大灾焳。

这次大火被影响的居民,过后被安罝在邻近的河水山联络斦和金声小学,全岛人民,工人,商家,歌星都热烈与賬灭运动,捐钱,捐衣物,食物等,中学生也发起到火灾现场去支援,发扬了互相帮助的精神,当吋,政府答应在最短的时间,建房子给灾民住,果然离火灾九个月内,建屋发展局安顿好了 2800 户人家,16000 名灾民住进简单的组屋里。这些组屋,虽然只有公用的厠所,拉圾槽和厨房,先线也不足,但总算把全部灾民都安顿下来,又都搬进设备等各方面比较好的组屋里,这场大火所芾来的因境,也随着解决了。



Painted Faces: Traditional Teochew Opera

  • Photo by Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

In August 2018, 15-year-old Tan Wei Tian was made an ambassador of the Singapore Tourism Board’s Passion Made Possible campaign, and she also performed at a TEDxSingapore event.

By Victor Loh  [Source:  TODAY, 2 December 2018]

As a young child, Tan Wei Tian remembers watching “live” Teochew opera performances with her grandmother at the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in Chinatown and Bukit Gombak community centre.

Watching the performers on stage in their elaborate headdresses and costumes, she was so inspired that she tried to sing the opera songs and mimic their movements on stage, using her father’s long sleeve shirts as a substitute for water sleeves, the flowing detachable sleeves used by performers in Chinese opera.


While her peers were glued to the television watching cartoons, Wei Tian, who was then three, had begun taking lessons in Teochew opera.

Having spent the last 12 years honing her craft in a traditional art form – particularly one that is not associated with young people – it is clear that Wei Tian, who is now 15, is not your average teenager.

“My friends are very, very shocked (when they learn about it for the first time).  And they will say, ‘why is a normal teenager doing something weird?'” said Wei Tian, a Secondary 3 student at Nanyang Girls High School.

“They will then go online to search my name, and they get blown away by things that I’ve been doing because no idea.”

Her unusual hobby has prompted some of them to support her by watching her performances, said the teenager, who also plays the piano and enjoys shopping in her free time.

She may only be 15, but Wei Tian has already carved a name for herself on the traditional Chinese opera circuit, having performed with the Nam Hwa Opera Troupe in front of the audiences from Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and China.

However, Wei Tian’s journey to master this traditional art form is not an east one, as she has to juggle her opera training sessions with her studies and co-curricular activity, Chinese Dance.

Wei Tian, who will be taking her O-Levels in 2019, said: “Normally, Nam Hwa will try to schedule my training and performances during the school holidays, but if there are practices during school days, it will be quite tiring for me.”

Each weekly training session usually lasts for two to three hours, although the frequency can increase to alternate days as her show dates approach.

For the petite performer – who stands at 1.6m-tall and weighs 43.5kg, donning full regalia can be a challenge, as the headdress can weigh over half a kilogram and take up to 45 minutes to wear.

She told TODAY:  “The biggest challenge is putting on the headdress.  Some headdresses are really heavy, and it can hurt quite a lot, especially when it is tight.

“Some performances also require physical actions, such as splits, spins and turns.  I also had to wear a 1.6metre long water sleeve, which was hard to control due to the length.”

Wei Tian has clocked in over 50 performances on stage in her career, playing characters such as Zhu Yingtai from the popular opera, The Butterfly Lovers, to young servant Taohua in Peach Blossoms Take The Ferry.

Her most memorable perfornance was her lead role in the 135-minute Teochew opera classic, Lady Liu Ming Zhu, in June 2018 at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, added Wei Tian.

“Out of 12 scenes, I was in eight scenes … It was my first time doing a full-length performance,” she said.

“It was also memorable because the training period was very short, because it was right after my exams so I only had June to practice.  There was a lot of training and hard work, but it was worth it.”


To attract a younger audience, Nam Hwa Opera Troupe, which was founded in 1963, in also looking beyond tradition by creating a social media presence on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

The non-profit company, which has an opera group and music ensemble also unveiled a new websute and logo in 2018 to commemorate its 55th anniversary.

Instead of sticking to the classics, Nam Hwa is also experimenting with non-conventional storylines with more action, such as wuxia xiaoshuo (martial arts stories).

At a recent performance at the George Town Festival in Penang, Malaysia, English subtitles were also provided for the benefit of members of the audiences who did not understand Teochew.

It is also looking to recruit younger troupe members of its 130 members.  Wei Tian and another 16-year-old girl are the youngest.  The rest of the performers are in their 30s, 40s or older.

To nurture a younger generation of opera connoisseurs, Nam Hwa also has a programme for children aged between four to 12, with about nine currently enrolled.

Acknowledging that more needs to be done to revive the fading tradition, Wei Tian said: “Youngsters don’t appreciate, and won’t perform and learn this art form.  We need more youngsters to learn and pass down this art form so it won’t die off.”

For Wei Tian, who hails from s family that is passionate about arts, Teochew opera is a way for her to carry on the culture and heritage of her forefathers.

“I won’t stop performing Teochew opera … I have the passion for it, I love it, and it is something I enjoy doing,” she said.

“I am not sure if I will pursue it professionally, but I hope I can bring more joy through my performances to people who appreciate and love this art form.”

Pls watch the video of Wei Tian’ interview  here .

A Teochew Opera Child Star is Born

Please check out a related blog posted formerly here .

Opera’s changing phases

[Source:  The Straits Times, 22 May 1987]

During its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, Chinese opera was a popular form of entertainment among the working class.

The poor used to sell their children to opera troupes as aporentices.  Besides learning opera acting, they also ran errands and did other chores.

As time passed and other forms of entertainment such as movies and television became more popular and widespread, opera troupes were faced with the problem of survival.

Many were faced to disband, and opera actors and actresses had to seek other means of earning a living.

Painted Faces, a 30-episode MediaCorp local drama serial in 2018 traces the life of a Teochew opera actress and the rise and fall of an opera troupe from the ’50s to the ’70s.

The story revolves around as opera troupe called Lao Yu Tao Xiang and some of its members.

One of them is Bai Lanxiang, the illegitimate daughter of Bai Mudan, an actress who leaves the troupe in search of a more comfortable life.

Lanxiang grows up to become a popular opera actress and develops an unusual relationship with her instructor, Mei Yangqiu, who was formerly a top opera actor and her mother’s lover.

When the demand for opera declines and the troupe is on the verge of breaking up, Lanxiang shoulders the responsibility of pulling it together.

Her materialistic mother, on the other hand, resorts to being a songstress, a bargirl and a striptease dancer to support her frivolous lifestyle.

Popular actress Xiang Yun plays dual roles – as mother Bai Mudan and daughter Bai Lanxiang.  The other in the cast include Chen Shucheng, Yang Yanqing, Liu Qiulian, Huang Yiliang, Tang Hu and Liai Lili.


Kampong Amber, Kampong Spirit

IMG_20200422_193616This nostalgic blog is inspired by Prem Singh whose post on 18 April, 2020 was contributed to the Facebook group “On a little street in Singapore” here .

With thanks to Prem Singh to share this blog with our heritage friends.

He wrote: “The unforgettable kampung Amber, demolished in the name of progress, like all other kampungs and wither the kampung spirit …

Situated between East Coast Road and Amber Road. The kampong was sited beside the residences of rich Chinese businessmen. This particular kampong location was famous for hawkers selling mee rebus, nasi lemak and lontong. The kampong residents were mainly Chinese, Indians and Malays.The kampong was demolished in the 70s/80s.

On route to Changi Beach, for picnic, my Dad, on some occasions, would stop his car for my Mum, siblings and me, to buy food. Most times, however, we had food already prepared by Mum, and Dad’s best friend, Darshan Singh, of Alexandra Terrace.

Photo below of my letter on “Kampung Spirit” published in the Straits Times, Forum Section on 24 October, 1997.IMG_20200422_193427There is no doubt that our nation has to equip itself well for the 21st century.

Already the Government far-sighted as usual in its vision of the nation’s goals and achievements has got people talking with its call for foreign talents to be brought in to live and work in Singapore.

It is timely call if our nation wishes to survive in this highly competitive world.

I have no doubt that there are those among us who still dream of the good old kampung days of slow-paced living.It was an era of close bonds of love and friendship between all races.

More significant, there was a true sense of family ties, and family picnicking was the best-loved recreational activity during the weekends and the holidays.

But who says that, with progress or even greater progress, the picnicking has to stop or that the family’s ties must become weaker or that mass friendship has to take a back seat and be a thing of the past?

Many of us have wake-up calls to get us up to face a brand new day.

The government has just given us a wake-up call to face a brand new century.

Make a wrong turning at the crossroads ahead and we will end up bitter and destitute.

This is all the more reason for us to support our Government which has been doing all the excellent navigating.

I appeal to all mass communication networks to do their bit to help steer us to a greater tomorrow, not only for our national economy but for us as one united people.

The networks ought to play a greater role, particularly in bringing back the good old kampung spirit of good neighbourliness, close family ties and that special feeling that we are really one and not divided.

The radio stations ought to have a theme each week, for example “Great neighbours”, “Family values” and “Bridging the generation gap”, during which the public can call in to express its views.

Experts, if available, could also air their views for the benefit of one and all.

And as we progress, we must not forget the less fortunate and the less privileged among us.

Let us guide them to that better tomorrow.

Finally, to the Government, I appeal for a little romantic interlude (kampung style) each year to add more meaning to our joint struggle for greater prosperity for the nation.

The romantic interlude I am thinking of is a new public holiday called “National Family Picnic Day.”

It is not asking too much as we work towards building a better Singapore forever rich in assets, surpluses, social and family values.


Archived photos of Kampong Amber in the past, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore, NewspaperSG and National Library Board to share on this blog.SQUALOR IN KG. AMBER[Source: The Straits Times, 30 December 1950 Saturday Forum]With the reputation that Kampong Amber has now earned for itself, don’t you think it is time immediate action were taken to remove this cesspool of evil, squalor, dirt, filth and noise from its present position to some rural parts of Singapore, systematically planned, and to preserve this area for progressive and healthy development.

Kampong Amber has no right to exist in its present central position.

I am not a property owner and I have no financial interest whatsoever in this area, but as a citizen I advocate this reform, which is twenty years behind the times. And I can see no reason why property owners should not be allowed to develop their property in this extremely progrssive area.

It is now a year since the Municipal President publicly stated that the Commissioners were working on a plan to remove squatters to suitable areas. No further word has been heard of it since.

ACTION, Singapore

[Note:  Forum letter writers to the Straits Times was allowed to use an anonymous nickname (eg ACTION). Later, the real name of the writer and NRIC No. would only publish his/her letters in the Straits Times].

The reply to ACTION’s forum letter below:

Reply for Kampong Amber  [Source:  Straits Times, 6 January 1951]

As most Kampong Amber dwellers are probably unable to reply in English, I feel a reply is called for to the unwise, intemperate and unfair letter which appeared in last Saturday’s Forum under the heading “Squalor In Kampong Amber,” and which, among other things, commented on and prejudged events which are to form the subject of an inquiry.

In the circumstances, I think it is only fair to mention that a number of people of all races living in the vicinity of this kampong consider that the regrettable outrages which occurred on the roads near only a part of the kampong may have been the work of mobs from other areas.

In addition, it has to be remembered that councillors visited this kampong some months ago and reported that on the whole, it was sanitary and clean – more so than other kampongs they had visited.

BRITON, Singapore

Puan Noor Aishah visit Persekutuan Wanita Singapura Association at Kampong Amber on 26 April, 1962





Photo of unauthorised attap huts at Kampung Amber in 1958


Tanglin Cinema Street


Emerald Hill

Emerald Hill was the site of a former nutmeg orchard established in 1837 by a postal clerk, William Cuppage. The area was acquired in 1900 by businessmen Seah Eng Kiat and Seah Boon Kang, who then sold smaller parcel of land to new owners to build terrace houses and shophouses. During this period Emerald Hill became popular address, especially for Peranakan (Straits Chinese families).

In the mid-1900s, Emerald Hill Road became known as Tang Leng Tiam Yia Yee Hang or “Tanglin Cinema Street” in Teochew, as the road faced a cinema. This cinema opened in 1914 as Palledium and was renamed Pavilion in 1925. The cinema building was demolished in 1969 and its site was later developed into Hotel Phoenix and Specialist’s Centre (now Orchard Gateway).

Emerald Hill was also home to the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) during the period 1926-94. SCGS was established in 1899 at Hill Street to provide Chinese girls with a modern education. In 1926, the school relocated to Emerald Hill and occupied the site of Claregrove, a house that had belonged to one of the school’s founders, Dr Lim Boon Keng.Emerald Hill, together with Peranakan Place and Cuppage Terrace, was collectively designated as a conservation area in 1989. In 1994, SCGS relocated to its new premises at Dunearn Road but its former premises are still around today.

Students to design Peranakan[Source: The Business Times, 15 September 1981]

Sixty architectural students are stretching their imagination to create a suitable design for a “Peranakan Corner” at Emerald Hill Road.These students, from the third-year School of Architecture course at the National University of Singapore, have the Urban Redevelopment Authority to thank for the oppotunity to exercise their skills in “live project”.This is the first time that the URA is inviting students to submit design suggestions for its own project.The Perankan Corner today (photos below)

Emerald Hill tells its tale

By M Gretchen [Source: Straits Times, 1 July 1984]

Although Emerald Hill was designated as Singapore’s first Area Preservation Scheme in 1981, little was known about the men who built the houses that line the curved, inclined street and the families who inhabited them. But a book just published by the National Museum is about to fill this gap.

William Cuppage, RT Rajoo, JB Westerhout, Seah Boon Kang and Seah Eng Kiat aren’t exactly household names.Even Singapore history buffs would be hardpressed to place them.But thanks to a new book by Mr Lee Kip Lin, entitled Emerald Hill, The Story of a Street in Words and Pictures, these men are about to take a place on the stage of history.The book, newly-published by the National Museum, is a 90-page, fact-packed gem. It can be used as a guide-book or it makes an engrossing arm-chair read.Included between its covers are a 14-page, compact, readable essay on the development of Emerald Hill that covers who built what, when and who lived where, augmented by 19 pages of amazingly detailed footnotes filled with new information that any history or architectural enthusiasts will find fascinating.

Rare pictures

Maps, old photographs – including a rare interior shot of a Nonya card party in progress at No.58 Emerald Hill Road – as well as measured drawings and contemporary photos of the houses, in both black and white and colour, complete the story.Mr Lee tells us that the development of this elegant, suburban, residential neighbourhood began only at the turn of the century.From 1836 up to that time, the land was held under successive, single ownerships until it was subdivided into buulding lots and disposed of separately around 1900.William Cuppage, one of the early European settlers in Singapore, was the first legal owner and occupant of the land. After his death, it was purchased by his son-in-law, Edwin Kock. He ran into financial difficulties and mortgaged the land twice, in 1878 and 1891.In December, 1900, the property and the three houses on it were jointly sold to Seah Boon Kang and Seah Eng Kiat.The two enterprising businessmen then subdivided the land into 28 lots and sold off most of them. The first house plans were submitted two years later.

Mostly Teochews

And so Emerald Hill – as we knew it – began.Between 1902 and 1930, 112 houses were built in the area at the rate of about hour units a year.Most of the developers were Teochew, Straits-born Chinese. According to Mr Lee, at least 54 of the houses were built by Teochews.But Peranakan (local-born) tenants or owner-occupiers formed the biggest group of inhabitants. As Mr Lee writes: “For 50 years, Emerald Hill was an enclave of Baba life.”He reckons that about 45 of the houses (40 per cent of the total) were occupied by Baba families in the 1930s.The longest family residents have been at No. 44 Emerald Hill Road. Four generations of Yong’s have lived in that house over a 75-year period.


The architectural features and the designers themselves are also discussed.Mr Lee says that the men who designed the houses were “well-known practitioners of their day.”In the five decades between the 1860s and 1930s, they had determined much of the physical shape of the town and made considerable contributions to the development of the suburban area.”Most were local men who had received their training while apprenticed to private firms or government departments.One was JB Westerhout, a well-known community figure and builder and a descendent of a prominent Malacca family of Dutch origins.He designed 17 of the houses over a period of 22 years.RT Rajoo was a talented designer whose legacy is one of the most attractive rows of Emerald Hill houses, Nos. 53 to 69.Little is known about him except that he had a flourishing practice around 1913 to 1920 and that he designed the fine row of three-storey terrace houses at the corner of River Valley and Kim Yam roads.The names of the other designers are as eclectic as Singapore itself: among them were George Anthony Fernandez, Wan Mohamed Kasim, EC Seah and WT Moh.


Of the 17 architects practising in the 13 firms which built the Emerald Hill houses, only one received professional traing as an architect.He was William Cambell Oman, a Scot who came to Singapore around 1907.Despite the fact that so many individuals were responsiple for building the houses, the street has a remarkable sense of continuity because good maners in architecture then meant conforming to certain accepted norms.And so the men who built Emerald Hill and the people who have lived there has become a part of our heritage – as has the area itself.

Role of writers in heritage

[Source: Straits Times, 21 November 1989]

“Singaporean writers – the modern-day versions of the old storytellers – have an important part to play in the preservation of the country’s heritage.”

Mrs Pamelia Lee, director (development) of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, spoke last week of the important role of these writers when she launched The Nan-Mei-Su Girls of Emerald Hill written by Mr Goh Sin Tub.Said Mrs Lee: “More than bricks and mortar we needed to make sure these older areas survive for the future to be enjoyed by everyone.”Nan-Mei-Su, or The House of Southern Beauties, was a “comfort” house set up by the Japanese Army in Cairnhill. The book, published by Heinemann Asia, is centred on six girls and their adventures during wartime.Mr Goh, 61, who lived in Emerald Hill then, said his book is drawn from actual events during the Japanese Occupation.Syonan Shimbun (Shonan Times) Editor’s Mail BagThe national English newspaper published during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore was the Shonan Times, not the Straits Times.Photo journey of Emerald Hill on Sunday, 12 April, 2020

Singaporean by birth and choice


Singaporean by birth and choice


[ Source:  The Straits Times, 9 August 2006]

Head down, eyes ahead, a foolish grin on my wet face, I pedalled through the rain.  On my left, rows of tall casuarinas swayed in the breeze.  In the distance, the sea beckoned, grey-green.


img0006I had spent a hallowed half hour on a secluded stretch of the beach.  Facing the waves, my Marin mountain bike behind me, I got into some yoga poses.

Standing tall, arms raised, I am strong like a Mountaintop.  Body swivelling, arms raised, eyes ahead, I am fierce like a Warrior.

There was no one around to stare.  Only a couple of white-collared kingfishers flitting around the palm trees.  A (human) couple engrossed in their own world having a picnic under grey skies.  A lone man, who emerged from a tent and tossed a coconut husk into the sea.  He sat and waited for the waves to bring back the husk, then tossed it out again.  Of such simple joys is life made.

And then the rain came.  I got back onto my bike and pedalled in search of a pavilion.

At that moment, I knew one thing:  There is nowhere else, no time else, I would rather be in than right here, right now, in Singapore, where I grew up, on East Coast beach which holds so many memories, on my new bike (which cost not much more than the Progress Package I got), in the rain.


I’ve lived in the United Kingdom and in the United States as a student.  I’ve travelled to some 20 countries.  And always, when someone asks why I’m still working in Singapore, as though it’s some inferior option to be explained away, I britle.

I live here because I like it here, because this place gives me a good quality of life in the Great Glamorous West would be better.  Somewhere in my 30s, I got reconciled to the simple truth:  I am Singaporean and I prefer Singapore to any other place I have been.

This being National Day, it’s a good time to take stock and appreciate what we have, and unleash the latent patriot in all of us.

There are many things, after all, that we share.

Like the memories in places like Macritchie Reservoir,


the old National Library,


or East Coast Park, where I I learned to cycle a quarter of a century ago, a feat a new generation in the person of my nephew Jonathan recently repeated.  (I took several weeks, he took 15 minutes).


We also share common experiences.  Like the Use Your Hands Camapaign, splashing the classroom with a hose, sweeping away the water with a “sapu lidi” (broom made of twigs).  When else can you play with water in class?


We share a common repertoire of folksongs, taught in school.  From the Philippines, we knew Planting Rice is Never Fun, bent from morn till the set of sun.  We know Di Tanjong Katong.  And everyone who went to school here knows at least one Tamil song:  Munnaeru vaalibaa munaeri endrum.  Thoduvaan noakkuvaai …

The other day I looked at my niece’s school song book and realised a new generation is learning those songs.  We may disagree on her music and mine (I can’t get into Lindsay Lohan or S.H.E.  She thinks my music from the 1980s is just weird.)  But at leasst we booth like singing “Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree”.

Question:  How do you pick out a Singaporean from a bunch of other Asian-looking folks?

When he opens his mouth, a the Great Wall, the Grand Canyon, the Zambezi Bridge, you shudder at the familiar twang, the flat vowels, the inability to enunciate clearly, the shortening of sentences.

We also know a Singaporean from her palate.

If appetite and health were no constraint, this would be her desired menu for a day:  Breakfast of nasi lemak, extra otah please, with teh tarik at Adam Road hawker centre.


Or maybe bak chor mee, Chicken rice from Wee Nam Kee at Novena for mid-morning.

For lunch, perhaps tauhu telor or briyani or Katong laksa, maybe all three, and Sanur’s avocado cream.  For tea, Ghim Moh char kway teow,


Joo Chiat prawn noodles.

For dinner: Peranakan, with ayam buah keluak and chap chye.  Or maybe Italian or Japanese.

Food is the great social glue and leveller.  If you don’t know your murtabak from your nasi lemak, your otah from your orh luak, than I’m sorry, I have to question if you’re really Singaporean.

CEO or cleaner, we sit as equals in the great, grimy (okay, now not so grimy after the renovations) hawker centres like Tiong Bahru, Maxwell Road adn Newton.


From among their bowels rise future leaders.  That young boy serving you wanton mee?  One day he could be a President’s Scholar, a future inventor, your future boss.

Fondness for food aside, you also know a Singaporean by what he says – or doesn’t say.

That old joke:  Two people are asked, what’s your opinion of food?  The Ethiopian goes:  “What’s food?”  The Singaporean:  “What’s an opinion?”

When Singaporeans do venture an opinion, it’s often negative.  Grumbling, next to eating, is a national pastime.

We sit in groups trashing Singapore and the ubiquitous, mysterious thing called “the system”.  We complain about the heat, the lack of space, the COE system, the education system, the political system.  We say “They” should do this or that;  “They must change; “They” are the ones screwing up things.

Have you ever come across anyone who admits to being part of Them?  I haven’t.  Not citizens, not activists, not even senior civil servants or politicians.

Like teenagers, we need a mythic authority figure to rebel against and to blame.  Without a Them, where would We be?

You also recognise Singaporeans by their chronic insecurity and angst.  Do we have a national identity, we ask, even as our eyes well up at every National Day Parade and we swell with pride that home-grown Shamsui Maidin refereed at the World Cup.

We are too prosaic a society, we have no poetry, no soul, we lament, forgetting poets like Edwin Thumboo and Lee Tzu Pheng, painters like Chua Ek Kay, and the myth-makers in our midst.

We may grumble about this place and put ourselves down, but really, deep down, underneath the reserve and self-doubt, we’re all proud of this little red dot.

In the words of that Dick Lee song:  This is home truly , where I know I must be.

Happy birthday, Singapore.

The archived newspaper article by Chua Mui Hoong and selected photos with courtesy of National Archives of Singapore and NewspaperSG, National Library Board to be shared on this blog.


Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre – Now and Then


Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre (牛车水人民剧场) was built in 1969.  The theatre has been revamped several times, including an entire overhaul which was completed in May 1979, before it became the well-equipped theatre seen on 30A Kreta Ayer Road today.

Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre currently is managed by Kreta Ayer Community Club Management Committee, it continues to stage various arts and culture groups to the heartlands, having strong emphasis on Chinese opera, and with a keen sense of social responsibility.

Theatre’s past and present

[Source:  The Straits Times, 22 October 1981]

Tucked away on a hill in Chinatown, is the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre which has succeeded in preserving and promoting Chinese culture.  LEONG WENG KAM traces the development of the theatre from its humble beginning 14 years ago … has been actively promoting the theatrical arts and is a popular place for Chinese opera performances, especially Cantonese operas.

The theatre has been the venue where many well-known opera groups such as the Hongkong Chor Foong Ming Opera Troupe and China’s Guangdong Opera Troupe have performed.

The present modern theatre, built in traditional Chinese architecture with huge red cylindrical pillars and temple-like green roof-tops, always has a busy calendar.


Besides shows by Chinese opera troupes from abroad, many local troupes have also performed at this 1,102-seat built only about two years ago.

Looking at its past and the present, the theatre has indeed achieved what it set out to do.  And that, in the words of the First Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Kreta Ayer, Dr Goh Keng Swee, was “to preserve and promote Chinese opera”.

The theatre has a stage which is 22.5 metres deep and 8.22 metres high.  It is equipped with good sound and lighting systems, and is ideal for even the big musical and dance performances, including concerts by symphony orchestras.

In between the stage performances, the theatre also screens first-run films – mostly Cantonese movies in a joint-venture with Cathay Organisation.

The theatre, built by the people, managed by the people and used by the people has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

The idea of building the theatre was first conceived 14 years ago when the need to have a permanent stage in the Kreta Ayer constituency was felt.

Since 1960, the Kreta Ayer community centre has been actively promoting cultura activities.  But for every performance organised by the centre then, a makeshift canvas had to be put up and taken down after the show.

That proved to be both uneconomical and tedious.  So, in December 1967, the centre’s management committee set up a charity and building fund to help construct a permanent stage at the centre’s Banda Hill premises.

The fund-raising projects in a series of charity shows received very good public support, and construction of the stage was completed in March 1969 at a cost of about $100,000.

While a permanent stage had been built, there were no proper seats for the audience.  Makeshift canvas still had to be put up to keep the rain or sun away.  And chairs had also to be hired whenever there were performances.

Before long, the theatre decided to raise more money to build a permanet roof.  The cemented stage floor was changed to one made of teak-wood.  This extension project which brough total building costs to $250,000, was completed in February 1971.

With the addition of a permanent rood, the theatre had another use.  Chinese clan associations which needed the place to hold get-together dinners.

The success of the first extension project prompted the theatre to embark upon a second phase of extension.  It included the construction of a toilet block, a ticket booth, repairs to the road and the car park around it, installation of lighting systems and a sound effects control room.

These additional facilities were completed in stages between 1972 and 1974 at a cost of almost $220,000.

Said one faithful Cantonese opera fan and a resident living near the theatre, Madam Kok Ah Mui:  “We were all wet when it rained.  It is much better now.  I can enjoy operas in air-conditioned comfort.  But I must also pay more for the shows.”

The theatre has started to invite top Chinese opera troupes from abroad since 1974 in a bid to provide local opera enthusiasts with the opportunity to see better shows.

Besides the famous Chor Foong Ming Cantonese Opera Troupe from Hongkong, other troupes from the colong, including Ying Ling Cantonese Opera Troupe, Hoong Ling Cantonese Troupe and Seng Ngai Teochew Opera Troupe have been among those invited to perform.

The theatre ws registered to become the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre Foudnation in May, 1975, as a non-profit making and charity body.]

The foundation, with money from the many Chinese opera shows the theatre put up, has donated many thousands of dollars to charity and educational orgnaisations both inside and outside the Kreta Ayer constituency.

In 1976, the foundation planned to rebuild the theatre to cope with the changing demands and needs of the people.  The reconstruction which began in January 1978 and were completed in May 1979, changed the theatre into its present modern structure.  The reconstruction cost more than $1 million.

The reconstruction was also done in conjuction with the re-develoment of the Kreta Ayer community centre which is now occupying the three-storey wing adjacent to the theatre hall.

The secretary of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre management committee, Mr Tan Cher Peow , said the development of the theatre from a stage to its present million dollar building was a reflection of progress and the changing needs of the people over the past 10 years or so.

He added: “The theatre hopes to promote an interest in the theatrical arts among the population and at the same time aims to help the poor and needy.

“It will bring better troupes from abroad to perform in future so as to meet its objectives.”

Opening of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre

The Minister for Culture, Mr Jek Yeun Thong, officially opened the theatre’s auditorium on 16 May, 1971.


20200321_223803Minister for Culture Jek Yeun Thong (wearing dark-coloured suit) and his wife Madam Huang Kek Chee (left background) are welcomed up arrival at the opening of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre on 16 May, 1971.

20200321_222414Minister for Defence and Kreta Ayer Member of Parliament Dr Goh Keng Swee attended the opening of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre on 16 May, 1971.

Pictures of Chinese cultural dance performance during the opening of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.



[Source:  The Straits Times, 8 July 2001]

When Phua Bah Lee entered politics 33 years ago, the promotion of Chinese opera could not have been further from his mind.  He tells LEONG WENG KAM how that all changed when he was asked to help in the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre.


Mr Phua Bah Lee was born in 1932.  He married librarian Tan Cheok Tin, now 65, in 1968.  They have three children.  Elder son, Roger, 30, who is married with two daughters, is a business development manager  Second son, Robert, 26, is a lawyer, and daughter Tin Tin, 26, is a computer software engineer.

1959:  Graduated from the former Nanyang University
1960:   Joined the civil service as collector of land revenue
1968:   Entered politics, became MP for Tampines and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications
1970:   Transferred to the Defence Ministry as Parliamentary Secretary
1972:   Promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary and appointed founding president of the SAF Reservists’ Association
1973:   Elected president of the Basketball Association of Singapore
1977:   Appointed chairman of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre management committee
1979:   Awarded the Friend of Labour Medal by NTUC
1988:   Retired from politics and became general manager of Ngee Ann Development

When Mr Phua Bah Lee, 69, was in a taxi on his way to the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in Chinatown last Monday evening, the curious cabby asked:  “So which opera troupe from China is performing there tonight?”

The driver had presumed that Mr Phua, who prefers not to drive at night because of his poor eyesight, was among the many opera afficionados going to a performance that evening.

And certainly he did not know that his passenger was the long-time chairman of the theatre’s management committee, responsible for bringing in top opera stars from all over China over the last 25 years.

He probably did not know, too, that Mr Phua was Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Communications and Defence ministries and the People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Tampines for 20 years, before retiring from politics in 1988.

Relating the incident to Sunday Review, Mr Phua, now a director of several public-listed companies, says the taxi-driver’s query shows that the theatre in Chinatown has become a well-known venue for opera performances, the West End or Broadway of Chinese opera to all its fans here.

He said: :  “I told the taxi driver, a man in his 40s, that some of the top opera stars from Guangdong in China, including Peng Chiquan and Zeng Hui, were performing at the theatre and told me that he had brought his father to a Hainanese opera recently.”

Mr Phua has headed the theatre’s management committee since 1977 when he was still Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Defence).

He added:  “The greatest satisfaction in my work with the theatre has been to see the old folk, some with walking sticks in hand, and even a few in wheelchairs, coming to enjoy the Chinese operas we stage at least twice a year.”

Chinese opera, including that from Guangdong in China, was regarded as a dying art form here, with audiences dwindling in the early 1970s when Mr Phua first joined the management committee of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre, a brainchild of former Defence and Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee, who started it as an open-air stage in 1969.

“But look, after about 30 years, Chinese opera is still alive and the theatre is almost full every night when there is a Chinese opera troupe peforming,” Mr Phua said proudly.

In fact, interest in Chinese opera, he added, noting that at least two opra perfromances are staged here by both homegrown and foreign troupes, and thousands of people are enrolling in opera-singing and performing courses at community centres and clubs.

But he is not claiming in credit for himself or the theatres where more than 1,000 Chinese opera in the last decades have performed there.

They include the late Liang Xingbo and Wen Quefei, Chen Chuhui, Pei Yanling, Yang Lihua, Nan Hong, Luo Pingchao, Lin Jiasheng, Feng Huangnu and Hong Xiannu.

“I think Chinese clan associations and community centres, many with Chinese opera troupes, and professional opera companiesw such as the Chinese Theatre Circle, have also done a lot in promoting the art form all these years,” he said.


With such enthusiasm and accomplishments in this art form, one might think that Chinese opera has always been in Mr Phua’s blood. Wrong.

Indeed, it was the last thing on his mind when he made his first foray into politics in 1968  …..


In the early 1970s, Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee asked him to join the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre management committee in Chinatown, a largely Cantonese-speaking area in his Kreta Ayer constituency.

Mr Phua, a Teochew, felt that he was in a strange place at first, for he spoke no Cantonese then.

Nevertheless, he took up the challenge to promote Chinese opera – especially Cantonese opera – in the area, by helping to develop the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre from a simple makeshift stage to a 1,102-seat, air-conditioned auditorium today, and bringing in top opera stars from China.

As chairman of the theatre’s management committee, one of the highlights was the return in 1980 of diva Hong Xiannu, now in her late 70s to Singapore, after 50 years.

She was the undisputed movie and opera queen of  the 1950s and she created a stir when she came as artistic director of the Guangdong Cantonese Opera Troupe.

Another hindsight was China’s Xiamen Hokkien Opera Troupe’s performance in 1985, which grossed a record profit for the theatre, with a collection of over $300,000.

But the most memorable was Guangdong’s Foshan Cantonese Opera Troupe in 1991, starring young opera stars Peng Chiquan, Cao Xiuqin and Wu Guohua, who played to a record 28 full-house nights.

Looking back, Mr Phua said: “I still admire Dr Goh, a Peranakan who knows little Chinese, but was zealous in promoting Chinese opera as chairman of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre Foundation, an non-profit, charity organisation formed to help the poor in the constituency.

Besides promoting Chinese opera, the foundation also used the money raised from performance by both local and foreign troupes for charitable causes, such as distributing hongbao to old folk during Chinese New Year and giving bursaries to children from poor families.

Inspired by Dr Goh, Mr Phua did not step down from his role at the theatre in Kreta Ayer, when he retired from politics in 1988 to make way for younger leaders in the PAP.

With more time now, Mr Phua said he watches and enjoys the Chinese operas he brought over from China even more.

He added: “The stories are from well-know Chinese folklore or history, lften with good moral teachings, I also like listening to opera music.”

After all these years, Mr Phua said he now speaks Cantonese as well, and converses easily in the dialect with officials from China and the opera stars.

“I am considering bring in Peking operas to the theatre next,” he said.

His work and interest in Chinese opera has influenced his wife, Madam Tan Cheok Tin, 65, a retired librarian, who is considering taking lessons in Cantonese opera singing.  “She is a regular at opera performances now.” he added.

Mr Phua said he hopes to retire from the Kreta Ayer Theatre when a successor is found.  “After so many years, I think someone younger should take over from me,” he said.

And when he retires, he will still go the opera, probably with his wife  – and in a taxi.


The big night jitters of  Madam White Snake

[Source:   The Straits Times, 21 February 1972]

Queen Elizabeth on Saturday night ended torment of Mrs Joanna Wong, the deputy registrar of the University of Singapore.

She had been in a flutter of anxiety since a local newspaper report a few weeks ago said that hte Queen and her family would come to see the Cantonese opera, “Madam White Snake” the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre.

06105807-story-image-122258_cover_640x400(Right of photo:  Mrs Joanna Wong)

The Royal Family was coming to see the opera, in which the leading lady was none other than Mrs Wong.

And Mrs Wong had no doubts about the Queen not understanding the play.

20200321_225255Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew seated beside Queen Elizabeth at the theatre

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave the Queen a running commentary of the opera.

The opera is based on a legendary story of a white snake falling in love with a man.

They wed but the marriage is broken up by a monk who lures the groom into a temple which in turn is flooded by the snake with its magical powers in a bid to release him.

Did the Queen enjoy the opera?

Her Majesty was overheard telling the produces:  “Thank you very much for the very good show.”

The archived photos of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family visit Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre on 19 February, 1972.  Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

20200321_224557Queen Elizabeth II being greeted by Diretor of People’s Association Lee Wai Kok upon arrival at Kreta Ayer People’ Theatre in Chinatown.

20200321_224710Queen Elizabeth II signing the guestbook at Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre.

20200321_225407Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by Director of People’s Association Lee Wai Kok leaving Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre after watching a Cantonese opera  on 19 February, 1972.

Motorcade of Queen Elizabeth II leaving Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre (photo below).



Memories of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore


The Vic revived

By Gretchen Mahbubani
[Source:  The Straits Times, 27 September 1980]


What better example of breathing new life in old buildings then Victoria Memorial Hall’s $4-million restoration?  When the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, opens the splendidly refurbished Concert Hall on Wednesday night, hearts will await the memories stir to the strains of the SSO’s strings.

A theatre painstakingly restored to its turn-of-the-century splendour with fluted columns, arches and glorious architectural details left intact but updated and outfitted with modern comforts.

In Paris, London or New York, such news would not surprise anyone.

But it has happened in Singapore – and concert goers are in for a treat.

Behind the surrounding the Victoria Memorial Hall in the last year, a massive $4-million renovation has been taking place.

The Victoria Concert Hall, to be opened on Oct 1, by the Prime Minister, is not only a fitting home for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, but it also has a historic and dramatic stage set that will make concert-going an exciting experience.



The Victoria Memorial Hall and adjacent theatre are at the hub of a group of older buildings that stretch from the General Post Office and Immigration to Parliament, the Supreme Court and City Hall, all of which together create a grand civic design.

While remnants of a colonial past, they are also closely associated with the decades of independence.  Since these buildings are considered to be of historic interest, there is no fear of any of them being torn down.

But it is an unexpected surprise that the renovations to the Victoria Memorial Hall have taken into such careful consideration the old and irreplaceable architecture.

Rather than getting the structurally sound building – or doing away with it altogether and replacing it with a totally new building – the Public Works Department architects and engineers have worked around its neo-Classical interior.

For many years the hall was the venue for musical recitals, orchestral and choir concerts.  But it was never renovated like the adjacent Victoria Theatre was in the mid-Fifties.

The only thing that ever happened was a half-hearted attempt to restore the organ, originally one of the finest in Asia, to its original state.  It had been battered and looted during the Japanese Occupation.  Today, it is hidden behind white folding doors at the back of the stage.


By the mid-Seventies the hall was in a state of disrepair and downright dreary.  But with the formation of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the need for renovation became more urgent.

In March 1977, the then Culture Minister, Mr Jek Yun Thong, said on the question of converting the hall to make it suitable for the orchestra to perform, that it would be cheaper to build a new concert hall elsewhere.

But, he added, the hall was of historic interest because the PAP convened its first meeting there.

Fortunately, the structurally sound hall was saved.

From the beginning the building’s hsitoric flavour was considered an asset.  Said Mr Peter Loh Ying Leong, a PWD Senior Architect (Special Duties) who supervised the project:  “The basic design principle governing the renovations was to retain the old character of the building.

“People come to the theatre for an experience.  If the outside is classical, the interior should be as well.  We hope the concert hall will provide the right kind of atmosphere and environment.”

But leaving the basic structure alone was a major constraint.

Wooden fire staircases had to be replaced with metal ones; rotten roof trusses had to be replaced without disturbing the roof, behind the stage new dressing rooms were built and a glass front recording room for the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation was put in.

A VIP room was built in the clock tower itself and a VIP lift up to the balcony level was added behind the clock tower.


Marking time – and progress

[Source:  The Straits Times, 7 March 1994]


Amidst the colony of cranes building the river wall at Boat Quay stands the quaint Victoria Memorial Hall clock tower – past and future juxtaposed in one frame.

As teh seconds tick by, the buildings and scenes that Singaporeans have come to cherish must make way for progress.

Said Straits Times photographer Malcom McLeod who took the picture:  “Time doesn’t stand still when it comes to development.”

An Old Pal of the Tower Clock

rptMr R. F. A. Housman

An “old friend” of the tower-clock of the Victoria Memorial Hall in Singapore.

He is Mr R. F. A. Housman, M. I. Mech. E., consulting engineer of Gillett and Johnston Ltd., bell founders and tower clock makers of Croydon.

The big clock in the tower of the Victoria Memorial Hall was fitted in 1907.

Peek into the past of a national monument

Go on a pictorial walk of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall with Debra Ann Francisco
[Source:  Straits Times, 7 May 2013]


You cannot help marvelling at the beauty of the architecture of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, which were built during an era of a revival of Victorian design.

The birth of the complex began with the decision to build a town hall in 1862.  Before this, local operas and dramas were held in the Assembly Rooms, which had fallen into disrepair.

When the town hall was completed, it housed a theatre as well as offices and meeting rooms.

In 1901, the Victoria Memorial Hall was built beside the town hall in memory of the late Queen Victoria.  The building opened in 1905.  By 1909, the town hall was also renovated to match the facade of the memorial hall.

During World War II, the memorial hall was used as a hospital for victims of the bomb raids.

When calm returned to Singapore after the war, a series of renovations began.

By the 1970s, the town hall was already functioning as Victoria Theatre and the memorial hall was renamed Victoria Concert Hall.

Today, this complex of two buildings, and a clock tower is joined by a common corridor.

In 1992, the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was gazetted as a national monument.


2.  Many exciting events were held at Victoria Memorial Hall.  In 1990, police were called to control a huge crowd that showed up for a children’s party thrown by Chung Khiaw Bank to mark its 10th anniversary.  As many adults as children turned up and this caused traffic chaos on the street outside the hall.


3.   New Year parties were also held there, such as this one in 1952.


4  Volunteers are seen here making poppy wreaths at Victoria Memorial Hall.  Thirty members of the Chinese Ladies’ Association worked to complete about $3,000 worth of poppy wreaths ordered for the Rememberance Day ceremony at the Singapore Cenotaph in 1954.


5.  Political speeches and important events were also held at the memorial hall.

The then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, addressed his Malaysian and Borneo counterparts during his speech at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association regional conference in 1962.


6.  Crowds await the 1957 by-election results outside the Victoria Memorial Hall.


7.  The clock tower, which stands at a height of 54m, was completed in 1906.  The clock, which was donated by the Straits Trading Company, is 4m wide and weights 1 tonne.


A historical event which changed the lives of many pioneer generation Singaporeans was launched at the Victoria Memorial Hall here .

The Victoria Memorial Hall Today


The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at Victoria Memorial Hall looking towards the Fullerton Building and Marina Bay Sands on 16 March 2020.


The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at Victoria Memorial Hall looking towards the Fullerton Building in 1930, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.img0069



New Heights – 50-Storey Pinnacle@Duxton

qrfMinister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew laying the foundation for the 50-storey Pinnacle@Duxton.  The background picture shows Mr Lee laying the bricks for the first two HDB flats in the Cantonment Road area in 1963.  Next to him are Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Koo Tsai Kee and Indranee Rajah.

HDB to invite tenders for Pinnacle@Duxton construction
[Source:  TODAY, 15 September 2004]

The HDB will proceed with the tender and construction of The Pinnacle@Duxton as 79 per cent of the units in the project have been snapped up.

The booking exercise began on Aug 14 and by Sept 13, 1,456 units had been taken up.

The board said it expects the take-up rate to increase.

Almost 5,000 applications were received for the project, which will be reader under the HDB’s Build-To-Order System.

The Pinnacle@Duxton is HDB’s first 50-storey block project, comprising seven blocks in total.

Initially, only some 500 units under Phase 1 were put on offer in May, but these were six times over-subscribed.

The overwhelming response led the board to open all the units for immediate bookinge

Pinnacle@Duxton a ‘specal, one-off project’
[TODAY, 14 June 2004]

The Housing Development Board’s Pinnacle@Duxton development is a one-off project, National Development Miniaster Mah Bow Tan said on 13 June 2004.

He said: “HDB will not be doing a similar project anywhere else because the Duxton Plain area is a very special area, so we wanted to make it a very special project.

“Because of the special design with the special location, we expected the response to be good but frankly it was quite overwhelming.”

In future, the HDB will concentrate on providing for the basic housing needs of Singaporeans instead.

The Pinnacle@Duxton flats will have over 1,800 three-bedroom apartments in sever 50-storey blocks, which will be the tallest HDB blocks in Singapore.



View from the Pinnacle

[Source:  The Straits Times, 3 September 2008]

Singapore will be home to possibly the world’s largest sky garden – 500m long and 24m wide and perched up to 50 storeys above ground.

The garden, spread along a network of skybridges (above) will be on the doorsteps of HDB residents, so to speak, as part of it will sit ateop the tallest-ever public housing project here, with another section further down.

The Pinnacle@Duxton is located where first two HDB blocks in the area were built 50 years ago – an important tribute to the HDB’s 50th anniversary in 2009.



Going up together

By Leong Wee Keat
[Source:  TODAY, 14 December 2009]

The standards of flats – and correspondingly, their prices – are like a barometer of the economy.  If Singapore continues to prosper, the value of flats would appreciate, along with Signaporeans’ tangible stake in the country.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew made the point on 13 December 2009 at the key handover ceremony of The Pinnacle@Duxton.  And given the space constraints the island-state faces, he expects more such high-rise developments to be in the pipeline.

“We can’t expand the city laterally, we have to expand the city vertically,” he said.  “Yes, we can have more reclamations but that’s only about 10,15 per cent and we’ve reached the limit.

But Singaporeans, especially young couples, are concerned about prices going up as well.  On such sentiments, Mr Lee emphasised that flat prices move in tandem with Singapore’s economic growth.

“They’ve got to decide whether the country is going to go up or down, people’s incomes will be down, unemployment will be up, the property values will go down.”

If the people have confidence in the Republic and the Government, flat prices and values will rise “as it has been going up every year” historically, said Mr Lee, who as Prime Minister had in 1964 pushed to HDB to launch the home ownership scheme.

Noting that home ownership “motivates Singaporeans to work hard and upgrade to better flats for a beter quality of living,” Mr Lee said:  “More important, Singaporeans know that the HDB flat gives them a tangible stake in worth.  If Singapore prospers … they share in the growth … The HDB story reflects the social mobility in Singapore.

Pointing out that owning of a HDB flat was “a store of value that can be monetised when needs be”, he said home ownership had been critical for a fledgling nation with “an immigrant community with no common history”.

“If all of the 900,000 HDB flats built over the past 50 years were rental flats, Singapore would be a very different society today.  We would not have the stability, progress and prosperity that the stake in home ownership of a growing asset that has made possible,” said the Minister Mentor, reiterating the assurance that young couples would get sufficient help from the Government to own their first flat.

The Pinnacle@Duxton sits on the site where the HDB built the first rental blocks in the area in 1963.

Today, it houses the HDB’s latest generation of public housing, and the 50-storey project in Cantonment Road scores a number of first – including being the highest public housing block and one of the priciest.

But what takes it to a whole new level for residents is an unusual 800m jogging track on the 26th floor, which runs along six steel skybridges linking the seven blocks.  The top storey also has another six steel skybridges linking the seven blocks.  The top storey also has another six bridges where residents and non-residents can enjoy skyline views.

But the flats do not come cheap.  Prices, which started at $289,200 for the four-room flats in 2004, have climbed to around $533,000 this year, while those of five-room flats have risen from $439,400 to $643,000 over the five-year period.

Even so, demand for the flats was still very strong, Mr Lee noted, “The Pinnacle@Duxton is therefore a good example that if the nation continues to do well, we will build more flats of this standard.”


They’re coming home to Duxton

By Leong Wee Keat
[Source:  TODAY, 14 December 2009]

Getting the keys to their new The Pinnacle@Duxton flat yesterday was a moment to savour for Mr Venketroyalu Deenathayalu and his wife, Mdm Venkatesan Hema.

Not only is the 24th-floor unit their first home purchase, the couple are also returning to the site where they began life as husband and wife.

After getting married in 2002,  they stayed with Mr Venketroyalu’s father in a rental flat at the old Duxton Plain housing estate for eight months.

“I had a wonderful time here,” said Mr Venketroyalu, who had moved in with his father in 1997.  “We had such a close-knit community back then.”

Often, he would chat with neighbours and shop owners in the estate.  “We could buy things without paying first”, including furniture, recalled Mr Venketroyalu, 38, an IT project manager.

Such was their attachment to the neighbourhood that when it was time to move and make way for the new Pinnacle@Duxton project, the couple were among the last to leave their block.

Even though they moved to Jalan Bukit Merah, the couple had their sights on moving back in 2004, they booked a new four-room flat at The Pinnacle@Duxton for $330,000 and picked a unit on the same site as their previous one “for sentimental reasons”.  Their new flat even faces the same direction – towards Everton Park – as the rental flat that Mr Venketroyalu’s father used to stay in.

The couple had been eagerly anticipating the completion of the project.  “Every time I passed by, I kept counting the number of floors they had completed,” said Mdm Venkateasan, a housewife.

Now that the wait is over, the couple intend to start renovation work immediately and move in by the middle of next month.  Special prayers for the flat and housewarming partiesw have also been lined up.

“A lot of my friends are eagerly waiting to see the flat.  Even if I don’t invite them,” they say will come,” Mr Venketroyalu said in jest.



Two families returning to Duxton

By Zakir Hussain
[Source:  The Straits Times, 14 December 2009]

One of the first homes of Mr Venketroyalu Deenathayalu’s parents was a two-room flat they rented in Duxton Plain in 1968.

He was to follow in their footsteps about 35 years later when he rented a flat in the same area after his marriage.

Today, the 38-year-old project manager is the proud owner of a four-room HDB flat in the same neighbourhood, living in Singapore’s tallest and most distinctive public housing project: the Pinnacle@Duxton.

He was among seven first-time home-owners who received the keys to their flats from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, their MP, yesterday.

However, the HDB said Mr Venketroyalu’s family and another – the Tay siblings – are believed to be the only Pinnacle@Duxton flat owners to have previously lived in the two rental blocks that once occupied the same plot.

The project is the pride and joy of the Housing Board, which holds it up as a model of how the HDB has strived to improve the quality and design of its homes since it was set up 49 years ago.

The old rental blocks, launched in 1963, had 334 flats but the Pinnacle has 1.848 four and five-room flats, built for an affluent, home-owning population.

Within minutes of taking the first peek at his new home on the 24th floor, Mr Venketroyalu and his family were welcoming MM Lee into their flat.

Mr Venketroyalu’s 63-year-old mother, Mrs Susilabai Deenathayalu, said:  “It’s an honour to see my old MP after 40 years.”

She and her husband’s rental home in Duxton was a two-room flat on the eighth floor, with a view of the city.

When her son married in 2002, he and his wife, housewife Venkatesan Hema, now 33, stayed at the flat.

But they all had to leave the following year, as the area was earmarked for redevelopment.

Yesterday, as Mr Venketroyalu’s six-year-old daughter, Tejaswini, excitedly checked out each room, he saidL: “Many of our friends and relatives have already asked when they can come and have a look.”

Equally thrilled are the Tays, on the 18th storey of a nearby block.

Freelance tutor TayPoh Choo, 35, and her brother, engineer Tay Peck Seng, 41, lived in Duxton for 20 years, with their parents and three siblings, after moving from Jalan Membina in 1984.

Over the years, their three siblings married and moved out and their parents died, while the pair were relocated before the flats were demolished.

Ms Tay cited the Pinnacle’s central location, its proximity to Chinatown, an array of 24-hour food outlets and a host of childhood memories as factors that pulled her back to the neighbourhood.

The Pinnacle’s seven blocks are linked by skybridges on the 26th and 50th floors.  There is an 800m jogging track on the 26th floor and a huge sky garden on the roof, with views of the harbour and much of Singapore.

Only residents can use the track, but the top floor will be open to the public, for a $5 fee.  Only 200 can go up each day.

Madam Venkatesan, who used to be captivated by the city view from her old flat, noted wistfully that her new home faces the other direction.

“But there’s always the view from the corridor,” she added.

And, of course, the skybridges.

Duxton Plain and Cantonment Road in the Past




img030Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew with Housing & Development Board (HDB) Chairman Lim Kim San viewing scale model of upcoming housing estate at Cantonment Road on 15/3/1963.


Life After Death in Singapore’s Rivers


On 8 October, 1987, Judith Mayer, an Institute Fellow studying environmental protection , conservation, and sustainable development issues in Southeast Asia, wrote to Mr Peter Bird Martin, Executive Director, Institute of Current Word Affairs:

Dear Peter,

Strolling along the lower Singapore River last month, I hardly recognised the waterfront of my first visit there, ten years ago.  I remember describing that part of the river, running through Singapore’s old business district, as the most fascinating cesspool up its rivers and revive aquatic life in the dead waters.  The pace, scope, and intensity of this campaign is perhaps unmatched by those of water quality improvement efforts anywhere in the world.

On that introduction to Singapore, I remember wandering past the new skyscrapers of the multinational banks, angered by their contrast with the squalor below.  But the life along Singapore’s waterfronts interested me more than the sterility of the newer areas – -glossy in the corporate and hotel centers, drab in the more pervasive housing developments.  I followed the courses of Singapore’s major south – draining streams through trading, industrial, and finally incongruously rural areas until the streams became mere drainage ditches, lined in concrete.  I picked my way, gingerly, through bustling open-air food wholesaling districts, where vegetable garbage and packing materials were washed directly into storm drains.  I passed through boat yards where carpenters repaired sampans, tongkangs, twa-kows, and other Chinese-style vessels I never learned to identify.

Every few hours on these walks, I stopped at hawkers’ stalls near the river to try some new delicacy – – an endless variety of noodles or globby, luridly-colored bean-and-gelatin drinks.  I marvelled at the low overhead of these businesses, as cooks poured peels, grease, and washwater into the gutters or threw them onto the riverside mud.  Further upriver, the hammering and woodchips of cabinet-makers’ and coffin-makers’ yards gave way to the grunts, quacks, and putrid run-off of backyard pig and duck farms, curious anachronisms adjacent to the booming construction sites of Singapore’s now ubiquitous highrise apartment blocks.

It occurred to me that these riversides were none too healthy, and that the stinky waters themselves were devoid of any desirable aquatic life, as I carefully washed muck off my rubber thongs and feet each evening, even sacrificing a toothbrush to pursue the grease and grit that had seeped into callouses and under toenails.

In 1977, Singaporeans were self-consciously on the brink of middle-class nationhood.  Waterborne diseases were still more common  than the otherwise high levels of public health would lead one to believe.  Jet-setters rode glittering capsule elevators to the tops of corporate towers to see the panorama of boat life, squatter settlements flotsam and jetsam on the water and riverbanks.  The panorame allowed Singaporeans to romanticise the old town’s historical image, and transcend the conspicuous filth and untidiness of the rivers that flew in the face of high-tech lifestyle to which many Singaporeans had begun to aspire.

In early 1977, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, challenged the government to clean up the nation’s rivers:  ” . . . In ten years, let us have fishing in the Singapore River and fishing in the Kallang River.  It can be done.”  In Singapore, what Lee says, the government does.  By the end of the year, the Ministry of the Environment had traced the most obvious pollution to its sources in the two river basins.  The Singapore and Kallang River basins together are roughly contiguous to the most highly urbanized areas of the island state.  Reports spelled out measures to clean up the waters and riverbanks, on various aspects of the clean-up.

Over the next year, the Ministry of the Environment prepared a master action plan for completing the project.  Some people joked that the plan’s ten-year target was Singapore’s race to the moon.

Noting that I was looking at similar issues in other Southeast Asian nations did even more.  Singaporeans are intensely proud, even chauvanistic, of their success in such fields compared with their neighbors.

Even if bureaucrats responsible for specific segments of a project can’t point to anything tangible in the way of progress – – yet – – they solemnly point to their Plans.  In Singapore, a plan is a Plan.  As a unitary state (i.e. one without built-in divisions and conflict in authority and jurisdictions) the government cvan speak with one voice.  The Ministry of the Environment, as the lead agency in the clean-up effort ordered by Mr Lee, did not need to concern itself unduly with conflicts in interest and jurisdiction between local, state, and federal agencies, for example.  Questions of equitably distributing the costs and displacement associated with the river clean-ups were not subject to the public debate, accusations, and eventual fine-tuning that Amercans call “the democratic process.”  But Singapore’s press had covered the clean-up in details, and had subjected the versions of the plans released for public consumption to general speculation and questions.

I learned that, according to the Ministry of the Environment, cleaning up the rivers had requird resettling 26,000 families.  Occupantsof five major squatter settlements were moved by the Housing and Development Board to government flats or compensated to vacate their unsewered reverine sites according to government scales of patyments.  2,800 small industries, such as charcoal dealing, engine repairing, metal working, and carpenters were moved to government industrial estates or “flatted factories” (multi-storey or strip-type structures and yards leased to businesses and provided with water, sewer, electric, and security services).  800 small boat operators on the Singapore River were moved to Port Authority mooring places.  Most of the 64 boat yards of 1977 went out of business, largely due to the general downturn in Singapore’s small shipping trade with the dominance of large container ships and the demise of the river-oriented economic activities associated with the river clean-up and riverside land clearing.

In fact, much of the “clean-up” consisted of removing exactly those activities responsible for the economic vitality of Singapore’s rivers since the 1820s, when the island was Stamford Raffles’ Strait Settlement.  It is difficult and not particularly meaningful to distinguish between actions the government would probably have taken in the name of slum clearance or urban redevelopment from those taken only in the interest if improved health, water quality, or riverside aesthetics.  While cleaning the river itself was not originally envisoned as an essential element of Singapore’s comprehensive national development plans, most aspects of the clean-up had already been incoporated in these plans before the clean-up was emphasized as a separate goal.  Those riverside activities not removed from the area have been closely regulated with clear and simple rules on what is allowed on the river and what is now prohibited.

Because the Prime Minister had personally backed the river effort, appropriating money for it was not much of a problem.  Many of the elements of the clean-up were already accounted for or easily added to the responsible agencies’ operating and capital budgets.  More important, perhaps, Singapore’s government has little trouble gaining control of any piece of land it needs in the interest of national development.  Land to be cleared as part of the river clean-up was often moved to the top of priority lists for acquisition.  Because Singapore’s massive program of public housing and slum or squatter clearance was all set up to deal with those dislocated from the riversides, few particularly unique logistics needed to be worked out.  Whether or not the people moved are happy with the radically different housing and working alternatives provided is another matter.  But they have clearly moved from the “old Singapore to the new.

With the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore related archived photos, the scenes of Singapore River by Judith Mayer are shared here on this blog.


qrfqrfqrfqrfThis photo in November 1969 by George W. Porter, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.  Cargo handling was often sheer muscle power as most cargoes were carrier by coolies from bumboats to godowns onto lorries parked along the river bank.

The work of the coolies working on the boats at Singapore River are described
here .



Taking a slow boat down the Singapore River


On 1 October, 1987, a couple of Australian tourists from Perth were the only passengers when River Attractions Pte Ltd ran the first of its bumboat cruises on the Singapore River.

For Mrs Joy Cooper, 71, and her daughter, Mrs Val Bell, 49, the lack of company was more than compensated for by the change they noted in the new “clean look” river.

The two had seen the river in its worst days.

“We remember when the river still had these bumboats along its banks, and it was crowded and dirty,” said Mrs Cooper.

The 90-minute cruise, which begins at Clifford Pier, takes tourists up the Singapore River to Liang Court before turning back.  Stopover can be made at Liang Court and the Raffles Landing Site.

The two women were impressed with their guide, Miss Catherine Chiang, 21, who talked about the activities along the river during the colonial days, the bridges under which the boat passed and the skyscrapers on the waterfront.

UN to tap Clean Rivers expertise

[Source:  The Straits Times, 9 December 1987]

The United Nations plans to get experts from Singapore to help Third World countries clean up their rivers and water resources.

The world body has been impressed with the success of the Republic’s Clean Rivers project – a 10-year campaign which ended recently.


Dr R.D. Deshpande, a UN environmental affairs adviser who has been involved in the Clean River project since 1983, held out Singapore’s success in cleaning up polluted rivers as a shining example for other developing countries to follow.

“If Singapore can do it, so can other countries,” said Dr Deshpande, who is with the UN Environment  Programme’s regional office based in Bangkok.

“The idea is for Singapore to share this experience and know-how with other developing countries.  It will benefit all the developing countries, including China.”

He recalls the state of the rivers four years ago:  “They were such a filthy sight, you wouldn’t believe the smell in those days.  They were a stigma on Singapore then, but now they are so beautiful.



The UNEP helps developing countries look after their environmental problems and provided Singapore with expertise and money in its river-cleaning project.

“We see Singapore as a case study on how to avoid the pitfalls of development,” said Dr Deshpande, citing the Republic’s strict control of pollution and waste discharge as examples of how such pitfalls were avoided.

In the course of cleaning its rivers, Singapore has developed a lot of expertise in the field which, he feels, can be shared with other countries.

He added that as a small island nation, we need to place more emphasis on the recycling of waster water.

This is done in many countries, even in the United States, which enjoys abundant water supplies.”

KL can learn from Singapore’s river clean-up

By Ziauddin Sharuddin
[Source: The Straits Times, 3 March 2007]

Malaysia will need 30 years to rehabilitate its polluted rivers and restore them to their original condition.

Some people were jolted by this statement from the Department of Irrigation and Drainage’s director-general, Datok Rosnani Ibrahim, as the targeted period was said to be long to see changes to the river conditions in Malaysia.

What is the follow-up action for river-cleaning efforts and can the period be shortened?  Malaysia can learn from Singapore’s success, the latter having till the 1970s wrestled with the same problem.

At that time, the Singapore River was badly polluted.

On Feb 27, 1977, then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said in a speech at the opening of Upper Peirce Reservoir that Singaporeans should help keep the rivers clean.

“The Ministry of Environment must set a target.  In 10 years, we should be able to fish in the Singapore River and Kallang Basin was unveiled.

The project was carried out by pooling the expertise of various government agencies such as the Housing and Development Board, Urban Redvelopment Authority, Jurong Town Council and Primary Production Department.

The Ministry of Environment was responsible for monitoring the entire project.

However, how was the cleaning carried out?

A drastic measure was to relocate the sources of pollution along the rivers.  These included industries which disposed of waste into the rivers.  The agencies also relocated settlements along the rivers, while providing those affected with housing.  Hawkers were relocated to food courts complete with amenities.

One important decision took place in 1983 when barges, which used to play a major role in the trade and life of the Singapore River, were relocated to Pasir Panjang to allow aggressive cleaning of the river.  This allowed the river to be re-dug and refuse and mud-thrown away.

In September 1987, the environment ministry celebrated its hard work by organising as mass swimming event at the river.

Lee Kuan Yew What have I given up My Life

Today, the Singapore River has become a national landmark – but the project would not have become a reality if not for political will.

Dr Zaini Ujang, professor of environmental resources engineering and dean of the faculty of chemical engineering and natural resources at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, said Singapore implemented many new things for its river-cleaning programme such that the water resources management model is referred to internationally.

The Public Utilities Board has enormous power in water resources management, whereas that function in Malaysia is held by various agencies and state governments.

Dr Zaini said Malaysia could use Singapore’s approach to speed up the river-cleaning efforts could be implemented faster, that is, in just five years.

He is confident that efforts would be successful, provided there is political will, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi had also expressed regret at the quality of river water here.

However, he said the government needs everyone’s help, particularly help from the private sector, non-government organisations and professional groups.

The commentary translated from Malay appeared in Malaysia’s Berita Minggu.

Do you remember about the building of the so-called “crocked bridge” first mooted by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2003?

Just before ending his 22-year tenure as PM, Tun Dr Mahathir announced that Malaysia would go ahead and build a crooked bridge – a six-lane S-shaped highway that would curve in such a way that it allows vessels to pass under it – if Singapore refused to demolish its half of the Causeway.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia has different dreams and different thoughts compared to the dreams and their thinking aloud of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said that “This is not a game of cards” at YouTube video here .

The decision of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and founding fathers of the government in Singapore would affect the lives of Singaporeans, not by mere words in speeches in public.

As a case in point, it is interesting to know that PM Lee Kuan Yew did not agree with Dr Albert Winsemius that the the Singapore River is too polluted and impossible to clean up.

In his speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Reources at the opening of the Sustainable Singapore Gallery on 2 June 2018.

” … inside the Gallery, you will see a little porcelain figurine of a man, his grandson, and their dog out on a fishing trip.  The figurine was presented to Dutch economist Dr Albert Winsemius after he lost a wager that the Singapore River could once again sustain life.  Dr Winsemius was Chief Economic Advisor to the Singapore Government, and knew Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew well.  They agreed on many things and we implemented most of Dr Winsemius’ recommendations.  But when Dr Winsemius recommended covering up the polluted Singapore River to turn it into a sewer, Mr Lee Kuan Yew objected and instead promised Dr Winsemius that he would one day catch a fish in the Singapore River.  During his final visit to Singapore in 1993, he did catch a “Garoupa”  (Grouper), and said he was never happier to lose a wager.

The clean-up of the Singapore River took us a decade and cost $300 million.  The successful completion showed that despite the difficulties showed Singapore’s determination to grow our economy whilst protecting our environment.  Sustainable development is and has been the cornerstone of our policy making since our independence.

What kind of a Singapore would be like without the Singapore River ….. if Dr Winsemius’ recommendation were to be implemented.  The island of Singapore with the Singapore River when it was God-made and left alone to improve its environment man can do, not change it into a sewer.   God bless Singapore!



In 1977, work has begun to clean up the Singapore River and the hope is that it will become a clean and blue waterway teeming with fish.  The first target of the Port of Singapore Authority clean-up crew is the rotting lighters in the river.  The abandoned lighters, including sunken ones have been lying there for so many years – with no one doing anything to clear them  Many will be glad to see the wrecks removed to beautify the river.  [Source:  National Archives of Singapore].