A Singapura Mystery – The Queenstown Shooting 1972

It was a sunny Sunday noon, like any other normal weekends in Singapore. Yet a tragic case happened and shocked the Singapore society; an unsolved case that still baffles many till this day, even after 43 years.

On 17 September 1972, at around 1230pm, 22-year-old Malaysian seamstress Chan Chee Chan (Zeng Lizhen, 曾麗珍) suddenly screamed and collapsed at Queen’s Circus. She had suffered a gunshot at her chest, while walking back from a shopping centre to her Tanglin Halt flat with her younger sister Chan Kim Moy (Zeng Jinmei, 曾锦梅).

The Tragedy

queenstown shooting2 1972A passing-by police patrol car immediately attended to her and called an ambulance. With blood gushing out of the wound, Chan Chee Chan was rushed to the Singapore General Hospital. The hospital staffs at first thought she was stabbed, but it was later diagnosed as a wound caused by a gunshot. She was shot slightly above her chest, and the bullet entered her heart after deflected by a bone. Chan Chee Chan was pronounced dead at the hospital after 11 hours of unconsciousness.

The bullet extracted from Chan Chee Chan’s wound was of .22 calibre. The police, initially suspected that it was fired from a flat within Tanglin Halt, proposed two theories; a sharpshooter or sniper, with a score to settle, aimed and shot her from a flat. Or it could be a case of an accidental discharge of a rifle, perhaps, from someone while he was cleaning his weapon.

map of queen's circus 1972

The shooting was later classified as a murder case by the police, and a big hunt was launched to nab the mysterious Queenstown gunman. Witnesses, whether they had seen the shooting or heard the gunshot, were appealed to come forward. Hundreds of residents living at Tanglin Halt were interviewed. Other investigations were also carried out, including the checking of firearms’ licenses.

Unlike today, private firearm licenses were abundant from the fifties to seventies. By the early seventies, there were still more than 5,000 firearm owners in Singapore, although the majority was owned by the various gun clubs’ members. Almost of half of the firearms accounted for were shotguns, followed by 1000-plus rifles. Revolvers, pistols and air rifles made up the remaining. At Queenstown, there were several registered gun owners living at Queenstown. By Monday 19 September 1972, seven guns were seized and ballistic tests were conducted, but the results proved to be negative. More islandwide raids were then conducted by the police.

More Theories

queenstown shooting4 1972The shooting case dominated the newspapers’ headlines for days.

Who was the murderer? What was his motive? Or was it an accident?

An unnamed firearm expert came forward to propose a new theory. He believed that the weapon used was a .22 pistol or revolver instead of a .22 rifle, and the bullet was shot at a close range, possibly from a passing car at Queen’s Circus. He cited two reasons. First, if a .22 rifle was used, a telescopic lens would be required as the nearest block of flats was more than 150 yards (approximately 137m) away. According to the expert, he did not know anyone in Singapore who possessed a telescopic lens.

Secondly, a .22 game-hunter’s bullet would have penetrated the victim’s chest and left a gaping hole in her back. A target practice bullet, although it would not have penetrated the body, would have to be fired very accurately. It was very unlikely that the gunman could make his kill with only a single precise shot. Hence, the firearm expert deduced that the gunman was hired to kill the victim, and had followed and shot her at Queen’s Circus.

Another speculation was that it might be a case of wrong identity, in which the target was actually Chan Chee Chan’s sister Chan Kim Moy, and the assassin was her rejected suitor or a hired killer.

Unsolved Case

queenstown shooting3 1972Chan Chee Chan was from Kluang, Malaysia, and had nine siblings and a longtime boyfriend. She had been in Singapore since 1970, working as a seamstress at East Coast and living at a relative’s home at Tanglin Halt with her two sisters Kim Moy and Loy Koon. Upon hearing the tragic news, Chan Chee Chan’s mother, elder sister and brother rushed to Singapore. The mother, devastated by the loss of her daughter, claimed the body from the mortuary on Tuesday morning to bring back to Kluang for burial.

The forensic report submitted in 1973 concluded the case as unsolved. Since then, it has been more than four decades. The case remains open today, and the murderer, if there was ever one, is still at large all these years. Hopefully, the victim’s family could move on in life with their departed rested in peace.

Published: 16 January 2016

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The Cambridge Estate – An “English” Estate in Singapore

Located in the central part of Singapore, and largely bounded by Bukit Timah Road, Serangoon Road, Thomson Road and Moulmein Road, the Cambridge Estate, of Farrer Park district, is an old housing district where its inner roads are mostly named after English counties, cities and towns.

English-named Roads

As many as 22 minor roads at the Cambridge Estate carry the “English” names:

  • Bristol – English city
  • Cambridge – English city and county town
  • Carlisle – English city and county town
  • Derbyshire – English non-metropolitan county
  • Dorset – English non-metropolitan county
  • Durham – English city and county town
  • Essex – English non-metropolitan county
  • Gloucester – English city and county town
  • Halifax – English town
  • Hampshire – English shire county
  • Hertford – English county town
  • Kent – English non-metropolitan county
  • Lincoln – English city and county town
  • Norfolk – English non-metropolitan county
  • Northumberland – English non-metropolitan county
  • Oxford – English city and county town
  • Rutland- English county
  • Shrewsbury – English county town
  • Suffolk – English non-metropolitan county
  • Surrey – English non-metropolitan county
  • Truro – English city and county town
  • Worcester – English city and county town

There were also the Cumberland Lane and Westmoreland Road, named after historic counties in England, but they were expunged in the seventies. Interestingly, the network of “English” roads at the Cambridge Estate is situated near to the “Burmese” roads at Moulmein and Balestier, such as Akyab, Bassein, Bhamo, Irrawaddy, Mandalay, Martaban, Mergui, Minbu, Pegu, Prome, Rangoon and Shan, all of which were named after cities, towns, states and rivers in old Burma.

Another place in Singapore where a network of roads within a residential estate is similarly named after places in Britain is the Serangoon Gardens, a former enclave for British military and their families until the early seventies. At the Serangoon Gardens, more than 30 roads were named after English, Scottish and Welsh cities, towns and villages.

Singapore Improvement Trust Estates

dutch corner houses dorset road 1973

The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was tasked with the development of residential units at the vicinity in the 1930s and 1940s. One of its most memorable residential projects was the “Dutch-corner” houses located at Dorset Road and Cumberland Lane. The seventeen Dutch-style cottage-like houses added an unique European flavour, but they eventually had to make way for new development by the mid-seventies.

In the early fifties, the British government planned to develop a new SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) public housing estate at Kampong Java. Seven new blocks of double-storey flats, made up of 10 three- and 10 two-bedroomed units, were built at Kent Road, in addition to the existing staff SIT flats at Gloucester Road. Between 1953 and 1955, new SIT flats popped up at Norfolk Road and Durham Road; their respective housing estates became known as Norfolk Estate and Durham Estate.

norfolk durham estates 1955

sit flats at norfolk road 1958

Other little neighbourhoods included Owen Estate and Tasek Utara Estate. By the late fifties, there were almost 8,000 families living at the estates of Norfolk, Durham, Owen and Tasek Utara. The estates’ names largely vanished in the late eighties, with the vicinity became generally known as Cambridge Estate. To the local Chinese, this vicinity was better known as Pek Kio, which literally means “white bridge”.

The residential vicinity, however, had existed since the early 20th century, with Truro Road and Carlisle Road metalled and drained in a Municipal project in 1929 that cost $15,500 and $12,300 respectively. Gloucester Road, on the other hand, remained as a muddy and potholes-filled road until it was given a tarred surface in 1962. As street lighting was insufficient, the roads were dark at night.

The darkness provided a cover for illegal activities and affected the residential estate as it was infested by secret societies, particularly in the sixties. A gang named “329” had, for several years, dominated Cambridge and Truro Roads, and posed a serious threat to the residents living there. In 1964, six “329” members, while having a “gangland conference” in a hut at Cambridge Road, were caught by the detectives. They were subsequently detained under the Criminal Law Ordinance, but the influence of the secret societies was under control only in the seventies.

truro road cambridge estate

In the early seventies, Durham Estate was sarcastically known as the problem estate, even by their own residents. The tiny housing estate of 20 SIT blocks was constantly bothered by gangsterism, robberies, floods as well as dirty and poorly maintained corridors. To make things worse, the three-storey flats appeared to be tilting and sinking.

Between 1968 and 1973, numerous large cracks began to appear on the flats’ ceilings and walls. As a result, many units were deemed unsafe. The problem became so serious that families living in Block 43 were ordered by the authorities to shift while Block 48 was demolished. All of the 30-plus-year-old SIT flats at Durham Estate were later torn down and replaced by a cluster of new HDB flats. The neighbourhood was later renamed Kampong Java Estate and Dorset Court. Today, it is called Dorset View.

flooded areas in singapore 1978

flooding junction of norfolk road thomson road 1978

Durham Road used to be a busy road, mainly used by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to access Durham Estate. It was, however, flood prone and full of potholes in the fifties.

In fact, the whole vicinity bounded by Owen Road, Dorset Road and Norfolk Road was extremely flood prone, and was constantly devastated by floods especially in the sixties and seventies. An old flood level gauge can still be seen along Cambridge Road today, reminding one of the difficulties the residents faced during the flooding. It was a dreaded scene of overflowing muddy waters, sometimes as high as knee levels, submerged corridors, waterlogged furniture and helpless residents waiting for the rains to stop.

cambridge road flood level gauge

Durham Road, by the mid-eighties, was cut short and became a minor road that accessed Kampong Java Estate. The Norfolk Estate, on the other hand, was flattened in the eighties when the Central Expressway (CTE) was built. Its 17 blocks of SIT flats were demolished in batches between 1982 and 1989, while a large section of the road itself was widened to become part of the expressway. Today, Norfolk Road is a 600m-long minor road that runs parallel with CTE at the Kampong Java Flyover.

norfolk owen durham estates early 1980s

norfolk road sit flats1 1982

Life at the sleepy SIT estates of Norfolk, Owen, Durham and Tasek Utara was changed forever when the completed CTE cut through and divided them in 1985. The residents found it difficult to cross the six-lane expressway, and former neighbours of Norfolk and Tasek Utara estates could no longer visit each others regularly.

The residents also lamented that the closure of two road junctions, at Norfolk and Owen Roads, and at Norfolk and Rangoon Roads, caused them great inconvenience as they had to make detours or long trips to visit the markets or clinics on the other side of the CTE. Hawkers, shopkeepers and stallholders in the vicinity were also unhappy due to the declining number of regular customers from Balestier, Whampoa, Toa Payoh, Thomson and Ang Mo Kio.

central expressway pek kio norfolk owen durham estates 1985

Places of Worship

Cambridge Estate has been a place where many different religious practices co-exist together in the same vicinity. One of the smallest mosques in Singapore can be found here. Masjid Tasek Utara, a humble kampong mosque that can accommodate 120 people, has its history traced back to 1907 and is located at the junction of Carlisle Road and Bristol Road.

There are two Chinese temples at Cambridge Estate; the Ling Chi Xing Gong Temple (灵慈行宫) and the Qing De Gong Temple (清德宫). The Ling Chi Xing Temple was built at Truro Road in 1962 and its devotees mostly worship the Goddess of the Ninth Heaven and Ma Zhu, the Goddess of the Sea. The Qing De Gong Temple used to worship the Jade Emperor, the supreme Taoist god, but the temple has been left unattended for many years.

cambridge estate truro road abandoned qing de gong temple1

cambridge estate truro road abandoned qing de gong temple2

cambridge estate truro road abandoned qing de gong temple3

The Singapore Baptist Church was registered with the government in 1960 and first conducted its worship services at a residential house at Cambridge Road. As its church members grew in number, it required a building of its own. Hence, it purchased a plot of land nearby in 1967 and moved into the new church two years later. The Singapore Baptist Church became the first bilingual church in Singapore in 1973 when it conducted its worship services in Mandarin and English simultaneously.

the singapore baptist church

Another significant church, the Parish of Christ Church, is located at Dorset Road. Established just before the Japanese Occupation, the Christ Church is a Tamil church whose foundation stone was laid on 18 October 1940, the St. Luke’s Day. During the war, the church suffered considerable damages by the bombing raids but was able to rebuild within three months.

parish of christ church dorset road 2000

The Little Sisters of the Poor Home, a Catholic institution, was established in 1935 at Derbyshire Road. The Little Sisters was a congregation of religious sisters who devoted themselves in providing accommodation, food, clothing and medical services to the elderly, assuring that the old folks would be well taken care of in their golden years. It later shifted to its new location at Thomson Road, with its old premises taken over by Kheng Cheng School. Little Sisters of the Poor Home was renamed as Saint Theresa’s Home in 2003.

little sisters of the poor home thomson road 1972

Primary Schools

A number of primary schools had existed at the Cambridge Estate; one of them was Kheng Cheng School (擎青学校), whose name literally means “to uplift the youth” in Teochew and had a long significant history. It was founded by Madam Lim Peng Tuan, the mother of Tan Chong Tee, a well-known heroic resistance fighter with the Force 136 in Malaya during the Second World War. Lim Peng Tuan had first started a private school at her own home, providing education to about 20 students.

In 1927, Kheng Cheng School was officially named and registered with the government. It also had its own building, leasing a bungalow near Shrewbury Road as its new campus. In 1931, Kheng Cheng School was relocated to Moulmein Road, but was forced to stop its classes for two years due to financial difficulties. Due to high enrollment rate, Kheng Cheng School was relocated again to Derbyshire Road in 1938, taking over the premises of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home, and was converted into a public school.

kheng cheng school derbyshire road 1969

During the Second World War, the campus of Kheng Cheng School was partially damaged, and it had to suspend its classes until the end of the war. In 1963, former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew paid a visit to the school. Kheng Cheng School stayed within the Norfolk Estate until 1974, when it finally settled at Toa Payoh Lorong 3.

Cambridge School was opened in March 1963, near the junction of Cambridge and Carlisle Roads, with Yong Nyuk Lin, the former Minister for Education, and G. Kandasamy, the Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Culture, invited as the guests of honours. The school cost $370,000 in construction, and had 24 classrooms catered for as many as 2,000 students in both morning and afternoon sessions. Cambridge School was the 20th school opened by the Singapore state government in the early sixties.

carlisle road cambridge school 1982

As Cambridge School was opened during the merger years between Singapore and Malaysia, the lyrics of its school song were composed in Malay, which began with:

sekolah Cambridge sekolah sami, tempat yang mana kami sanjungi
(“our school Cambridge School, the place where we hold dear”)

In 1998, Cambridge Primary School was shut down. Its premises, together with that of the neighbouring Norfolk Primary School (opened between mid-1960s and 1984), was later converted into a foreign student dormitory called the Carlisle Hostel. The buildings of the former Cambridge and Norfolk Schools are still standing today, although they have been vacated for years.

carlisle road former cambridge school1

carlisle road former cambridge school12

carlisle road former norfolk school

The other schools that made their presences at Cambridge Estate but have since closed down or relocated to elsewhere were the Dorset School, Owen School, St. Michael’s School and Rangoon Road School.

Dorset School was started at the junction of Dorset Road and Durham Road in the mid-fifties and had existed there until the mid-seventies, when it was relocated to a new site between Thomson Road and Gentle Road. It, however, only lasted a few years before its new premises was taken over by Catholic High School. The old campus of Dorset School at Dorset Road was demolished after its relocation, and in its place, two new blocks of HDB flats known as Dorset Court were built in 1976.

dorset school1 early 1970s

dorset school2 early 1970s

dorset school3 early 1970s

Owen School was also started in the mid-fifties and lasted until 1988. In May 1986, Owen Primary School hit the headlines when two of its students, 12-year-old Keh Chin Ann and Toh Hong Huat, went missing. The boys were never found, and the case remains unsolved till this day. After its closure, the school compound was vacated for years before its conversion into Cambridge International Hostel. The premises was eventually demolished in 2015.

cambridge international hostel former owen primary school

Other Public Amenities

The Cambridge Road Market was formerly located at Tasek Utara Estate, along Cambridge Road. It was built in the fifties to serve the growing community, but had become disorderly when illegal hawkers made their pitches all over the place. In 1958, the Singapore City Council decided to expand the market and provide permanent stalls for the selected hawkers.

The Cambridge Road Market was demolished in the early eighties. It was not until the late eighties before a new market, the Pek Kio Hawker Centre and Market, was completed at the junction of Cambridge Road and Owen Road. It has remained popular since, and is often referred as the Cambridge Road Market by the older residents.

The Pek Kio Community Centre was opened in 1954 by J.T. Rea, the President of Singapore City Council, as an effort to enhance communal harmony and develop the residents’ civil pride and consciousness. The humble community centre was housed in a shophouse at Cambridge Road for a decade, before it was relocated to a new single-storey building in 1964, just beside the Cambridge Road Market.

pek kio community centre 1984

In 1984, the community centre received its new building, built at the site of the demolished Cambridge Road Market. Costing about $600,000, the new single-storey Pek Kio Community Centre was designed with roof and steel pillars that mirrored the design of the old Cambridge Road Market. It was also equipped with multi-purpose hall, library and rooms for kindergarten and cooking classes.

Today, Pek Kio Community Centre is located beside Farrer Park Primary School at Gloucester Road, where the former Farrer Park Stadium was.

Despite the fact that the SIT flats, schools and most old terrace houses have vanished, and the present-day Cambridge Estate is largely filled with new modern private residences, one can still spot glimpses of vintage buildings in the vicinity that have somehow escaped the fate of redevelopment and served as this old estate’s reminiscent history.

cambridge estate hertford road old house

cambridge estate truro road kampong house

keng lee road old terrace house

cambridge estate truro road old building

cambridge estate truro road shophouses

Cambridge Estate Truro Road Shophouses2

Published: 10 January 2016

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From Hock Lam’s Beef Noodles to Funan’s Computers

The older generation of Singaporeans would remember Hock Lam Street and its delicious beef noodles, fried kway teow and char siew rice. To the current generation, the name Funan is more associated with computers and information technology (IT). When the 30-year-old mall eventually closes for redevelopment in mid of next year, perhaps the next generation of younger Singaporeans will have a different set of memories of this iconic place.

The now-defunct Hock Lam Street was famously known for its street food and crowded lanes. Flanked by two rows of century-old pre-war shophouses, the street was located just opposite of the distinctively red-and-white-striped Central Fire Station.

hock lam street 1972

The sixties saw severe overcrowding and hygienic issues at Hock Lam Street. Tenants, sub-tenants and squatters, and very often in large families, squeezed into single rooms above the mouldy stores of the double-storey shophouses. It was also a common sight to see hundreds of laundry hanged out to dry on bamboo poles, above the busy street filled with street hawkers selling dishes, fruits and other goods. During the day, canopies were set up by the hawkers to shield against the strong sunlight.

By the mid-seventies, hundreds of street hawkers plying their trades at the side streets and lanes at Chinatown and city were requested by the government to clear their mobile stalls and move into the newly built hawker centres. The roadside hawkers at Hock Lam Street, and the nearby Chin Nam Street, were not spared, even though they had been the favourite eating spots for those living and working at the vicinity.

hock lam street map 1969

The beef noodles and beef kway teow at Hock Lam Street were extremely popular. In Singapore, there are generally two versions of beef noodles; the Teochew and Hainanese versions.

hock lam street hawkers 1970s

The Hainanese styled beef noodles are typically served dry with beef tendons and beef balls. Two pioneering Hainanese beef noodle hawkers Lee Suan Liang and Kian Teck Huan were credited in popularising the dish before the war. On the other hand, the Teochew beef noodles are generally soup-based, topped with slices of beef and innards. Tan Chin Sia was one of Singapore’s earliest beef noodle hawkers when he set up his stall at Hock Lam Street in 1921.

By the mid-seventies, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had unveiled the redevelopment plan for Hock Lam Street. Its shophouses, under the urban renewal scheme, began their demolition in 1977. The Hock Lam Street hawkers were relocated to a temporary hawker centre behind the Capitol Shopping Centre. Some of them were later given allocated stalls at the Food Paradise, an air-conditioned food court located on the 7th level of Funan Centre when it opened in 1985.

hock lam street sign 1977

From Hock Lam to Funan

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) expected the facelifting of Hock Lam Street to be completed by 1979. The street had been expunged, its shophouses demolished, and in its place, a three-storey shopping centre with 127 shop and eight eating houses was proposed. Space allocation for 64 stalls on the ground floor at the back of the shopping centre was also catered for the original Hock Lam Street hawkers.

The plan, however, did not materialise and the redevelopment of the vicinity was dragged on for several years. A seven-storey retail shopping mall-cum-computer bazaar was proposed instead, with the belief that one-stop shopping idea and a centralised mart would be beneficial to consumers. Finally, in January 1985, the new Funan Centre was completed and opened. The name Funan, the hanyu pinyin-isation of Hock Lam, reflected the history of the vicinity.

funan centre 1989

funan centre2 1989

The new mall did provide new shopping experiences and better convenience to shoppers by putting all the shops in the same trade mix on the same floor. The first floor was occupied by the fast food restaurants in A&W and Big Rooster. Shops selling pens, watches, cameras, photographic and optical equipment lined up on the second level. The third storey were reserved for shops that dealt with retail apparel and ladies’ fashion wear, such as handbags, shoes, leather products, luggage and textiles. An annex also linked up the third floor to the new Cortina Department Store.

Funan Centre’s fourth level was catered for families, where they could find products ranging from household appliances and electronic goods to music and records. The fifth and seventh storey of the mall were occupied by hair and beauty saloons and a food court respectively. But the mall’s most popular destination among shoppers was its sixth level, where more than 40 computer shops became collectively known as the Computer Mart.

funan centre food paradise 1985

The shops at Funan had changed hands in the past 30 years, but there were several that had left impressions in many Singaporeans, such as the Peacock Trading Company, which specialised in beadwork, Kimaries Hairstyling, Roxy Records, DaDa Records and the popular Carona Chicken Rice stall at the food court.

The focus, however, was still on computers, which coincided with the rise in the popularity of PC games in Singapore in the late eighties and early nineties. Students often took buses to Funan Centre after school to try out new PC games such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Bandit Kings. Before IT shows became regular events in Singapore, computer fairs were held at Funan Centre by Atari, Lingo and Amtech to showcase their latest computer models.

funan centre 1994

Over the years, Funan Centre was given several major renovations. In 1992, it underwent a $44-million makeover. The mall was also renamed twice. It became known as Funan The IT Mall in 1997, and had its name changed again in 2005 as Funan DigitaLife Mall. It is expected to close by mid-2016 to be redeveloped into an “experiential creative hub”.

Previously it was well-known as Hock Lam and for its beef noodles. Then it represented computers and IT. What will Funan become next time? We shall know in the future.

Published: 13 December 2015

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Bidding Farewell to Siglap’s Last Standing Flats

The days have come to bid farewell to the last standing flats at Siglap. Also known as the Siglap Fire Site Housing Estate in its early days, the four blocks stood out in Siglap, where it is almost exclusively filled with private residences such as landed houses and condominiums.

siglap flats2 2015

The story of the Siglap flats began in the early sixties, when a large fire broke out at the junction of East Coast Road and Siglap Road. The fire, occurred on 5 February 1962 and caused by the letting off of firecrackers on the first day of the Chinese New Year, burnt down some 50 attap houses and affected 79 families with 465 residents at Siglap.

The disaster prompted the local community to rally in donations and other assistance. Political parties chipped thousands of dollars. A Kampong Siglap Fire Relief Committee was set up to help the homeless residents through a building fund. Variety concerts were held at the Badminton Hall and Happy World Stadium to raise the necessary money. The Siglap Secondary School was used as a relief centre, and the Singapore Council of Social Welfare and Lee Foundation stepped in with food, drinks as well as new books for students who had lost their textbooks in the fire.

siglap fire 1962

When the fire was eventually put out, the victims, most of them fishermen, rushed to the ruins of their previous homes to salvage whatever they could. It was a different period for many. The Housing and Development Board (HDB), formed just two years earlier in 1960, decided to act fast. It proposed to build 80 units of single-storey temporary terrace houses without modern sanitation at the site of the fire. This plan was later changed to a building scheme of four blocks of five-storey flats, comprising of 136 two-room units, 10 shops and a clinic, all equipped with modern sanitary fittings.

The development was hindered by the resettlement of the residents and the refusal to move by some squatters. It took HDB eight months to build the flats. By December 1963, the four Siglap blocks, costing $500,000 in construction, were ready. The victims of the fire were given the priority in accommodation.

siglap flats 1960s

siglap 1963

For more than 50 years, the little quiet and peaceful housing estate largely remained the same. The flats were never upgraded; they had no lifts and the residents of each block made use of a single staircase to get to their homes. Many shopkeepers had maintained their shops since the sixties, and the residents were contended living in the little estate that was self sufficient enough with the barber shop, clinic, photo studio and eateries.

In fact, many residents were reluctant to leave their homes when the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) for the Siglap flats were announced in November 2011. They appealed unsuccessfully against the location, which is at Chai Chee Road, of their new homes. But since then, many households had shifted, and by November 2015, the Siglap flats were almost vacated.

When the Siglap flats get demolished eventually, likely by early next year, they will bring a small slice of Siglap history with them, just like the former Kampong Siglap, old Siglap Market and the Ocean Cinema.

siglap flats1 2015

siglap flats3 2015

siglap flats4 2015

siglap flats5 2015

siglap flats6 2015

siglap flats7 2015

siglap flats8 2015

siglap flats9 2015

siglap flats10 2015

siglap flats11 2015

Published: 29 November 2015

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Singapore Trivia: The Tembusu Tree and 5-Dollar Note

If you visit the Botanic Gardens via the Tanglin gates, you may have notice the iconic Tembusu tree and find it familiar. That is because the tree, with its signature low stretching branch, is used as a motif on our current 5-dollar note.

Native to Singapore, the Tembusu trees, whose scientific name is fagraea fragrans, are hard-wooded evergreen trees that strive even on poor clayey soils. In the wild, the trees will often grow up to 40m in height, with large low-lying branches that have upswept ends. Named as one of Singapore’s heritage trees, the Tembusu trees, during their flowering seasons in May/June and October/November, will bear small orange berries and creamy moth-attracting flowers that open and give off a strong fragrance in the evening.

botanic gardens tembusu tree

botanic gardens tembusu tree singapore five dollar note

The signature Tembusu tree at the Botanic Gardens was more than 150 years old; it was already standing there before the Botanic Gardens was founded and laid in 1859 by an agri-horticultural society. Since then, it had witnessed the changes of the garden in the past one and a half century. The Botanic Gardens was taken over by the British colonial government in 1874 and during the Japanese Occupation, it was administrated by a Japanese professor and renamed as Shōnan Botanic Gardens. Today, the 74-hectare Gardens is managed by the National Parks Board.

The current Singapore 5-dollar note belongs to the Portrait Series, the fourth currency series of Singapore after its independence. The back design of the greenish note, officially issued on 9 September 1999, features the exact Tembusu tree that stands in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens.

Iconic landmarks in Singapore have been commonly used as the back designs of the former and current Singapore currency notes. Examples are the Supreme Court Building, Clifford Pier, Victoria Theatre, The Istana, Benjamin Sheares Bridges and Changi Airport, which have all been used as motifs in the previous Orchid, Bird and Ship series. The dollar notes’ motif designs sometimes also tell a Singapore’s history. For instance, the back of the Orchid Series’ 1-dollar note, released in mid-1967, features the Tanglin Halt flats, which were built in 1962. Fondly known as chup lau chu (“10-storey building” in Hokkien), these early HDB flats had existed for more than 50 years but eventually could not stand the test of time. Most of its tenants had moved out since 2008, and the vacant blocks will be demolished by end of 2015.

tanglin halt chup lau6

tanglin halt chup lau7

Published: 19 November 2015

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Coney Island and the Forgotten Haw Par Beach Villa

When Coney Island, also known as Pulau Serangoon, was opened to the public on 10 October 2015, most are more interested and eager to spot the lonely Brahman bull that has roamed the tiny island for many years. Few, however, are aware that there is another lonely “figure” which has stood on the island for decades. It is the Haw Par Beach Villa, located at the mangrove area in the central part of Coney Island.

coney island haw par beach villa7

Coney Island

In history, two Singapore islands have been given the name of Coney Island – Pulau Satumu and Pulau Serangoon. The former, also called Pulau Setumu, is situated in the south-western side of Singapore and is home to the historic Raffles Lighthouse.

The name Coney Island did not restrict to the outlying islands. Probably influenced by the popularity of New York’s world-famous Coney Island, the name had been commonly used by the local entrepreneurs. In 1947, a proposed holiday resort by the sea at Tanjong Balai, off Jurong Road, was named Coney Island. The Happy World Amusement Park, in 1949, also planned to introduce a miniature Coney Island entertainment centre between Geylang Road and Serangoon Road.

coney island map 1954

Haw Par Island

Before the fifties, Pulau Serangoon was known instead as Haw Par Island. It was then owned by the prominent Burmese-born Aw brothers, Aw Boon Haw (1882-1954) and Aw Boon Par (1888-1944), who built a huge business empire with their trademark Tiger Balm ointment.

In 1937, Aw Boon Haw built his beach villa on Pulau Serangoon after purchasing the island. At their peak, the Aw family owned many properties in Singapore, including the famous Haw Par Villa, the Haw Par Mansion and the Jade House. During the Japanese Occupation, many of the Aw family’s properties were heavily damaged. The destroyed villa and the death of his beloved brother affected Aw Boon Haw badly. He passed away in 1954 on his return trip to Hong Kong.

By the eighties, Haw Par Villa was handed to the Singapore Tourism Board whereas the Jade House at Nassim Road was demolished. As for Haw Par Island, Aw Boon Haw sold it after the war to a local Indian businessman named Ghulam Mahmood. It was, by then, a popular spot for picnicking and organised water sports.

coney island pulau serangoon 1985

The Island’s Development

In 1950, Ghulam Mahmood planned to invest $100,000 to convert Haw Par Island into a holiday resort island. Calling the isle “Coney Island”, Ghulam Mahmood wanted it to be specially catered for the working and middle class people, where they could enjoy various facilities used for swimming, boating, fishing, skating and other indoor and outdoor activities. He also visioned the island to have restaurants, bars, dance halls as well as cottages for honeymoon couples. The proposal, however, did not work out well.

Over the years, the 32-acre (approximate 13 hectares) island changed ownerships several times. It was owned by a Thai businessman in the early seventies, who tried to sell it off at $1 million without success. In 1974, Coney Island and its foreshores were reclaimed and expanded by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) in a $20-million project, which also included the construction of a bridge between the island and the mainland. The planned conversion of the island into a recreational centre, however, came to nothing.

coney island path

coney island mangrove

The Beach Villa

Designed in Modern architectural style, likely by Ho Kwang Yew, a leading architect during the 1930s, the beach villa consisted of a main building and a service block that occupied 600 square metres and 100 square metres respectively. The main building was built with a central hall and an open veranda that surrounded the house. At one corner, there was a water well, presumably to supply fresh water to the occupants.

coney island haw par beach villa1

For many years, Coney Island was only accessible from Punggol and Changi Points. It was a popular destination among the locals for fishing, swimming, bird-watching, water-skiing, picnicking and camping activities. Hence, it was no surprise that the Haw Par Beach Villa was once a haunting topic among the picnickers and campers. The stories ended when the island was closed in the late nineties during the Punggol 21 development, when its size doubled to 50 hectares through land reclamations.

As for the beach villa, it remains forgotten until recently, when Coney Island opens up to the public once more.

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Published: 01 November 2015

Posted in Exotic | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Heritage Bridges – Singapore River’s Grand Old Dames

For over 150 years, the 3.2km-long Singapore River has played an important role in the economical growth of Singapore as a free port. Started from the mouth of the river, development gradually spread upstream. Population surged and trading activities flourished. By the early 20th century, the vicinities at Robertson Quay, Ho Puah Quah and Kim Seng were filled with ricemills, sawmills, boat yards, godowns and shophouses.

The increasing economic and social demands saw the need to link up the northern and southern sides of the river. Thus, bridges were built along the Singapore River to connect the north, where the government offices were located, and south banks, where cargo goods were unloaded from the boats.

bridges of singapore river

Over the decades, the old bridges had been replaced by newer ones. Many had witnessed the transformation of the river and its surroundings in the past century. On 03 December 2009, five of the oldest bridges of the Singapore River were given the conservation status; they are the Anderson, Cavenagh, Elgin, Read and Ord Bridges, built between the mid-19th and early 20th century.

Singapore River’s Early Bridges

According to historical illustrations of old Singapore, the first bridge across the Singapore River was an unnamed wooden footbridge located near present-day Elgin Bridge. The bridge was built in 1819, the same year Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore.

Presentment Bridge
1822-1844

It was replaced three years later, by another wooden bridge named Presentment Bridge, also known as Jackson’s Bridge or Monkey Bridge. The Presentment Bridge later linked up North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road. The roads, named with reference to the bridge, were planned by George Drumgoole Coleman (1795-1844) and constructed in 1833 by his team of Indian convict labourers.

presentment bridge government hill 1830

An Irish architect, George Coleman was the Superintendent of Public Works whose legacy included many roads, churches and buildings in Singapore of the early 19th century. The Coleman Bridge was named in honour of him, when it was completed in 1840 and became the Singapore River’s first ‘modern’ bridge made of bricks.

Thomson’s Bridge
1844-1862

Between 1827 and 1842, the Presentment Bridge was repaired many times. In 1844, the colonial government decided to demolish the bridge, and replace it with a new wooden footbridge. The new bridge was designed by John Turnbull Thomson (1821-1884), a British civil engineer and surveyor who designed and built many iconic structures and buildings such as the Dalhousie Obelisk, Horsburgh Lighthouse and Hajjah Fatimah Mosque.

thomson's bridge singapore river 1850s

Named Thomson’s Bridge, the footbridge was later widened to allow carriages to cross the river. In 1862, the bridge was replaced by an iron bridge imported from Calcutta, India (present-day Kolkata), and was renamed as Elgin Bridge.

ABC Bridge
undetermined-1884

ABC Bridge was a footbridge across the Singapore River where Clarke Quay is today. By the 1880s, the aging bridge was unable to cope with the growing demands between the northern and southern river banks, where godowns, wharfs and quay accommodations were rapidly increasing.

ABC Bridge was closed in 1884, and was replaced by the new Ord Bridge two years later.

Singapore River’s Heritage Bridges

Elgin Bridge
first 1862-1920s, second 1929-present

The first Elgin Bridge was built in 1862, when its iron-cast body was imported from Calcutta to replace the wooden Thomson’s Bridge. It was named after Lord James Bruce Elgin (1811-1863), the Governor-General of India from 1862 to 1863.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Elgin Bridge underwent widening and strengthening projects in order to meet the increasing demands and trading activities near the river, and also to allow the steamed tramways to cross the waterway. It was demolished on 24 December 1926 to pave way for the construction of a new Elgin Bridge.

coleman and elgin bridges 1970s

elgin bridge 1980s

The second Elgin Bridge was opened on 30 May 1929, after three years of construction by the Public Works Department. It was designed by local-based engineer T.C. Hood, who also designed the Crawford Bridge over present-day Rochor Canal. The bridge’s iron-cast lamp posts were designed by Cavalieri Rodolfo Nolli (1888-1963), the Italian sculptor and architect whose work included the reliefs for the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Old Supreme Court Building and College of Medicine Building.

elgin bridge

elgin bridge2

The new Elgin Bridge was raised four feet higher than the previous one, so as to allow boats to pass under it during the high tides. It also had encased concrete around its steel structure, in order to prevent corrosion due to the fumes produced by the nearby factories and warehouses.

Fondly known as tee tiao kio (“iron suspension bridge”) by the local Chinese, Elgin Bridge was refurbished in 1989 and conserved in 2009.

Cavenagh Bridge
1869-present

British engineer Rowland Mason Ordish (1824-1886) left his legacy with his unique “Ordish” cable-stayed bridge design with the Cavenagh Bridge at the mouth of the Singapore River and the Albert Bridge, built in 1873, at London.

cavenagh bridge early 20th century

cavenagh bridge 1960s

Cavenagh Bridge had gone through extensive loading tests. At its factory at Glasgow, Scotland, its components were bolted together and tested using loads four times of the bridge’s weight. With the successful result, the components were packed and shipped to Singapore. After its assembly, it went through another live loading test; this time a company of 120 Sepoy soldiers were ordered to march over it.

Cavenagh Bridge was named after Sir William Orfeur Cavenagh (1820-1891), the last India-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements between 1859 and 1867. The bridge itself was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements.

cavenagh bridge

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Trams used to run on the Cavenagh Bridge. However, in the early 20th century, the heavy traffic was diverted to the newly-built Anderson Bridge. A sign was put up at the entrance of the Cavenagh Bridge, declaring off-limits to “vehicles exceeding 3 cwts (hundredweight, equivalent to 50.8kg), cattle and horses”. Since then, it has been used as a pedestrian bridge.

cavenagh bridge3

Cavenagh Bridge was used to be known by the local Chinese as hai kee tee tiao kio, which means “iron suspension bridge by the sea”. During the high tides, cargo-carrying bumboats could not pass under it and had to wait for the low tides. Due to this flaw, the later Elgin Bridge was designed to be four feet higher than its previous version. In 1987, the bridge underwent a $1.5-million restoration. Today, it is the oldest bridge across the Singapore River.

Ord Bridge
1886-present

Ordnance Bridge, Toddy Bridge, “Bridge of Three Letters” or the new ABC Bridge, Ord Bridge is a bridge of many names. Designed in simple form with symmetrical balustrades and girders, it was meant to replace the old ABC Bridge which spanned across the Singapore River at present-day Clarke Quay area.

ord bridge 1980s

A few weeks after its completion in July 1886, the Public Works Department suffered a public backlash due to a “misalignment” in the bridge’s northern abutment, causing the bridge to be unstable. Ord Bridge was named after Sir Harry St. George Ord (1819-1885), the first governor (1867-1873) directly appointed by Britain after the Straits Settlements was given the Crown Colony status. It was officially opened in 1886 by another Straits Settlements’ governor Sir Frederick Weld (1823-1891).

ord bridge

Many toddy and liquor shops used to be found near the Ord Bridge, which gave rise to its other name of Toddy Bridge. It was also used to be linked to four roads; Magazine Road and Hong Lim Quay (defunct today) on its southern end, and ABC Road (later renamed as Ord Road, defunct today) and River Valley Road on its northern side. There was also a large iron foundry near the bridge in the late 19th century.

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Read Bridge
1889-present

Originally known as the Merchant Bridge (or Merchants’ Bridge), Read Bridge was named after William Henry Macleod Read (1819-1909), a prominent businessman, the President of the Municipality and Honorary Police Magistrate who lived in Singapore for 46 years.

read bridge 1980

In early 1887, after laying the first cylinder for the bridge, a 69-year-old William Read returned to London for his retirement. Two years later, the Read Bridge was officially opened by the newly-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements Cecil Clementi Smith (1840-1916).

Read Bridge links the uppermost limit of Boat Quay, which had a sizable Teochew community in the old days. The labourers and rowers from the twakows and tongkangs would often gathered near the bridge to listen to the Teochew storytellers; the location would become well-known as a story-telling centre.

read bridge 1983

The vicinity was also fondly known as cha choon tau (literally means “firewood boat head” in Teochew) due to the jetties built for the firewood-carrying tongkangs from Indonesia. The local Malays and Hokkiens referred Read Bridge as jembatan kampong melaka and kam gong ma la kat kio (both means “Kampong Melaka bridge”) respectively. Kampong Melaka was a Malay village that used to exist near South Boat Quay. Its mosque Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, built in 1820,  continues to flourish and is Singapore’s first and oldest mosque today.

read bridge

read bridge2

In the early nineties, Read Bridge was restored in a $8.4-million project.

Anderson Bridge
1910-present

After three years of construction, the Anderson Bridge was opened on 12 March 1910 by Sir John Anderson (1858-1918), the Governor of the Straits Settlements between 1904 and 1911. It was designed by the Municipal Engineer Robert Peirce, who had Peirce Reservoir named after him, and was Singapore’s first steel bridge.

anderson bridge 1938

The 70m-long and 2.8m-wide bridge was constructed using 1,200 tonnes of steels imported from Britain; and its the non-structural parts such as the castings, railings and frames were fabricated by the Municipal workshops at River Valley Road. The bridge’s stone plaque was specially imported from Egypt, and high power gas lamps were used to lit up the bridge.

anderson bridge 1960s

anderson bridge 1980s

Upon its completion, the bridge’s total cost chalked up to £50,000, equivalent to $10 million Singapore dollars today. Due to the high cost, the bronze lions on each pedestal, originally designed by Peirce, were not added. The colonial government’s purpose in building a new bridge was to allow the heavier vehicles, horse and ox carts to cross the river, and also to relieve some of the overloading pressure faced by the nearby Cavenagh Bridge.

anderson bridge

Anderson Bridge became a symbol of terror during the Japanese Occupation, when the Japanese would hang severed heads along the bridge to discourage the people from breaking the law. Its fortune changed after the Second World War; in the fifties, sixties and seventies, it became a favourite destination for lovers to take a stroll in the evening. Fondly known as Lovers’ Bridge, women would throw oranges into the river from the bridge during the last day of Chinese New Years, hoping to land a good husband.

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Singapore’s Anderson Bridge has a twin in the Victoria Bridge at Brisbane, Australia. The latter, a fourth version, was designed by Australian Alfred Barton Brady. It was built in 1897 and replaced by a new Victoria Bridge in 1969.

Singapore River’s Other Old Bridges

Coleman Bridge
first 1840-1862, second 1865-1883, third 1886-1986, fourth 1990-present

In its 175-year history, there were four Coleman Bridges. The first was a brick bridge built in 1840. It was designed by and named after George Drumgoole Coleman, who was also Singapore’s first architect and the man behind the planning and construction of the North Bridge and South Bridge Roads.

coleman bridge 1920s

As the second bridge built across the Singapore River after Presentment Bridge, the Coleman Bridge was also known as New Bridge. The road that was linked at its southern end became known as New Bridge Road. The bridge was 20 feet wide, and cost $8,700 in construction, a hefty amount during that time.

In 1862, due to the increasing traffic between the northern and southern sides of the Singapore River, the Municipal Commissioner proposed to replace the Coleman Bridge with a new one. Three years later, a new timber bridge was completed and was known as Canning Bridge, or the second Coleman Bridge.

coleman bridge2 1970s

coleman bridge 1983

The second Coleman Bridge was, however, structurally unsound. Thus a new iron bridge was proposed to replace the old and shaky timber bridge, which was demolished in 1883. In July 1886, the third Coleman Bridge was built. Lasting a century, the third Coleman Bridge was considered the most aesthetically attractive bridge across the Singapore River. It was designed with many arches and columns and had ornamental gas lamp posts by its flanks.

coleman bridge

coleman bridge2

Before 1986, New Bridge Road, an one-way road then, was the only access across Coleman Bridge, linking to Hill Street. Eu Tong Sen Street previously ended at its intersection with Havelock Road. The widening of Coleman Bridge allowed it to become a two-way traffic scheme with Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road in opposite directions. The widening project, which took four years and was completed in 1990, retained much of the decorative features of its predecessor.

Clemenceau Bridge
first 1920s-1938, second 1940-1989, third 1991-present

Clemenceau Avenue (formerly Tank Road) and Clemenceau Bridge were named after Georges Benjamin Clemenceau (1841-1929), the French Prime Minister (1906-1909, 1917-1920) who led his nation against Germany in the First World War. Georges Clemenceau had visited Malaya and Singapore on an eastern tour in the 1920s.

In 1938, a new bridge was built to replace the old corroding Clemenceau Bridge. Supervised by G.M. Wheat, the project, costing $250,000, was Singapore’s first bridge built with web girders. Measuring more than 100 yards long and 60 feet wide, the reinforced-concrete bridge was known as the new Pulau Saigon Bridge before it was renamed as Clemenceau Bridge in 1940.

clemenceau bridge 1985

Until the early seventies, Clemenceau Bridge was linked between the northern bank of the Singapore River and Pulau Saigon. On the tiny island, it merged with Pulau Saigon Road (now expunged) and was led southwards to Pulau Saigon Circus, which provided accesses to Havelock Road, Magazine Road and Chin Swee Road.

The vehicular bridges in which Pulau Saigon Road spanned over the river were simply known as Bridge No. 1 and Bridge No. 2. After Pulau Saigon was reclaimed and merged with the southern side of the Singapore River in the early seventies, Bridge No. 1 was relegated as a footbridge, whereas Bridge No. 2 was demolished.

clemenceau bridge

clemenceau bridge2

This footbridge was demolished in the late eighties, together with the expunging of Pulau Saigon Road, during the second phase of the Central Expressway (CTE) project. In 1989, the CTE was extended to cut through the city between Bukit Timah and Chin Swee Roads. The old four-lane Clemenceau Bridge was also demolished and replaced by a new eight-lane one.

Pulau Saigon Bridge
first 1891-1986, second 1997-present

There were two Pulau Saigon Bridges in history, spanning across the Singapore River but located at different locations.

The original Pulau Saigon Bridge, previously located beside present-day Clemenceau Bridge, was built in 1891 and cost $71,000 of Municipal money. It linked up Pulau Saigon and the northern side of the river and was known as Pulau Saigon Bridge No. 1. Bridge No. 2, completed a year later, connected the island with the river’s southern bank.

pulau saigon road footbridge 1982

The Pulau Saigon Bridge was raised in the early 1930s so as to allow bumboats to pass under it during the high tides. It was due to be demolished after the new Clemenceau Bridge was completed in 1940, but the demolition plans were shelved.

When Pulau Saigon was reclaimed in the seventies, the bridge was converted into a footbridge; its access to Merbau Road was cut off. The vehicular traffic was diverted to Clemenceau Bridge. It was not until September 1986, when the extensively rusted bridge was taken down to make way for the development of the CTE. In an 2-hour operation, the bridge’s joints on both ends were cut and the body lowered onto a barge. The dismantled steel pieces were then shipped to a Jurong scrapyard and sold for $22,000.

pulau saigon bridge

pulau saigon bridge2

In 1997, a new 43m-long bridge was constructed 400m away from the original Pulau Saigon Bridge. The new Pulau Saigon Bridge links Saiboo Street to Havelock Road, cutting the travelling time between Orchard and Havelock Roads. The five-lane bridge is designed with granite pedestrian walkways and a 60m-long pedestrian underpass.

Kim Seng Bridge
first 1885-1950s, second 1954-present

The first Kim Seng Bridge, named after prominent Peranakan merchant and philanthropist Tan Kim Seng (1805-1864), was built in 1890. Spanning over the river near the Great World, its location was said to be the source of the Singapore River.

In the early 1950s, the increasingly heavy traffic and bottleneck at Kim Seng Road led to the planning of a new Kim Seng Bridge proposed by the City Council. In 1954, using pre-stressed concrete and high tensile steel, the new bridge was built at a cost of $370,000. Twice the size of its predecessor, the 26m-long and 20m-wide bridge was designed to meet heavy traffic conditions with its ability to hold a load of 13 tons per square metre.

Singapore River’s Other Bridges

The other bridges of the Singapore River are the Esplanade Bridge (opened in 1997), Robertson Bridge (1998), Alkaff Bridge (1999) and Jiak Kim Bridge (1999).

alkaff bridge

The latest is the $19.7-million Jubilee Bridge, opened to public in March 2015.

Published: 25 October 2015

Posted in General, Historic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments