A Walk Through The Old Neighbourhood – Jalan Kayu

Mention Jalan Kayu, and most will think of the delicious roti prata. Indeed, there are two large roti prata shops here that are as popular and famous as the ones at Upper Thomson Road and Clementi Road.

Jalan Kayu literally means “Road Wood” in Malay. A road made of wood, or was the road named after a person called Wood? Nobody knows for sure. In the past, stacks of firewood could be found along the road, whereas a credible historical source indicates the name was probably named after British planner C.E. Wood, who was the supervisor for the building of Seletar Airbase in 1927. The road leading to the camp was suggested by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to the Singapore Rural Board in 1937 to be named as Jalan Kayu, with respect to the Malay-majority community in this region.

jalan kayu11

The other end of the narrow 1.2-km dual-lane Jalan Kayu Road is bounded by Yio Chu Kang Road, the Seletar Hills private estate and the cluster of fish farms at Seletar West Farmway. Seletar East Farmway has been developed into the new neighbourhood of Fernvale (Sengkang) in the early 2000s. The popular Seletar Hills market and hawker centre, built in 1975 and demolished in 2004, used to be the focal point for food and grocery for the residents in the area.

The old two-storey concrete shophouses along Jalan Kayu, decorated with spiral stairs and metal gates and more than 50 years old, add a captivating nostalgic charm to the area. Walking in the calm and peaceful alley, one may mistaken himself in an old Malaysian town.

At Jalan Kayu, there are rows of private terrace houses situated in a small network of roads named after traditional Indonesian dances. The roads are Jalan Tari Piring, Jalan Tari Lilin, Jalan Tari Payong, Jalan Tari Dulang, Jalan Tari Zapin and Jalan Tari Serimpi.

  • Tari Piring – Known as Plate or Saucer Dance in Indonesian, it is one of the most enchanting traditional dances of Indonesia, originated from a place called Solok, West Sumatra.
  • Tari Lilin – It is the Candle Dance, and was traditional dance of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra.
  • Tari Payong – Known as Umbrella Dance in Indonesian.
  • Tari Dulang – Dulang is an exploration of movement that is taken from the vocabulary of Tari Piring, the Saucer Dance.
  • Tari Zapin – The “Zapin” dance was probably introduced to Malaya and Sumatra around the early fifteenth century by Arab traders and missionaries during the spread of Islam.
  • Tari Serimpi – A traditional Indonesian dance of 4 dancers in the late nineteen century, served as entertainment during the negotiation with the Dutch colonial government.

Interestingly, two minor roads, Lorong Tanggam and Lorong Samak, located on the opposite side of the main road of Jalan Kayu were given Tamil names instead. Tanggam (Thanggam) means gold in Tamil.

The Abundant Grace Presbyterian Church is a Chinese speaking presbytery at Lorong Samak, one of the 40 Presbyterian churches in Singapore. The origin of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore could be traced back to as early as 1829, when Rev Benjamin Keasberry arrived in Singapore to start the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.

Arguably one of the most famous names at Jalan Kayu, Thasevi Food Prata Resturant is more than half a century old and was selling their doughs at Tong Lee Road 500m away before moving to their current location at one of the shop houses. Despite fierce competition and spike in their prices, the roti prata business continues to thrive in recent years.

During the early days, rural farming and rearing of pigs and poultry were common in Jalan Kayu. The Chinese and Indians lived in harmony with the Malays, and some of the British would live in the terrace houses although majority of them had the luxury of staying in the black and white colonial houses at Seletar. Pasar malams, wayangs, even a small cinema provided the entertainment for the people of that era.

The sleepy neighbourhood of Jalan Kayu has yet to be affected by the major changes at nearby Fernvale, where new blocks of flats spring up like mushrooms in the last five years. There are talks of widening the road of Jalan Kayu or turning the place into a food and drink haven similar to Siglap or Dempsey, but I believe most will like the laid-back place to remain as it is.

Check out more old photos of Jalan Kayu here.

Published: 17 November 2011

Updated: 08 September 2013

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36 Responses to A Walk Through The Old Neighbourhood – Jalan Kayu

  1. jennyteo says:

    Thanks for the nostalgic post! The other end of Jln Kayu that was Seletar Airbase also used to be an interesting haunt. I always looked out for the lovely houses en-route to Sunset Grill. What a pity that the area is now being developed into an aviation hub.

  2. Kaizen says:

    Thanks for this website. I just bought my new place in Jalan Kayu and am really looking forward to moving into this place that is so full of nostalgia and history. :)

  3. chris says:

    Served at Seletar with 51 1965 to 1968 with real fond memoirs. great site and well worth the history lesson, pity we didn,t know it at the time….tooo busy taking in all the sights at the age of 18…….

  4. David Smith says:

    I lived in Poulden Court Jalan Kayu from 1969 to 1971, the court consisted of 6 blocks of flats, car parking and a club house! The compound was secure at night and occupied by Brit Govt officers from Chai Keng 2. The location was between the village and the Air Base and a large grassed area was between the two camp roads! If anyone recognises the name or has photos of it i would love to chat to you as some of my happiest memories are here!

    Thanks and best regards

    David smith

    • yo i used to live there in a block below the hill, my dad was in Safti logistics ; we were good friends with a singh family , whose son & daughter stayed in a block further up , we left Poulden Court in 1980 to head to ang Mo Kio newly built flats
      its nice to find this
      keep info coming , i can answer some questions ,i was born in 1970 by the way :-)

  5. Robert Cokayne says:

    I lived in number 24 poulden court from 1954 to 1957.I was 11 years old and had 3 wonderful years there.I went to school in RAF Seletar .Joined the royal navy in 1958.My first posting was back to Singapore in 1960 for 2 years .I returned again in 1967 with my wife for another 2 years.

    • David Smith says:

      Hi Robert, Oddly enough we must have lived in the same block! Our flat was number 19 on the ground floor. We moved in in 1969 If you visited the club in Poulden Court you may have met my dad? Charlie Smith?

      Regards

      Dave

  6. David Smith says:

    I’ve often wondered what happened to Poulden Court! I know it was still residential in the 1980s but when was it demolished? is the site under the freeway now? I can’t quite work it out on google earth. Can anyone help me?

  7. Doug Weldon says:

    I lived in Poulden Court from 1961 to 1965 – from age 11 to 14 – I can’t remember the number but it was the second floor of the block right at the bottom left, next to the wire of the camp. I’d love to see any photos of the old site if anyone has any. I remember the club very well – and the badminton court at the back..Yes, it looks to me as though the site is now under the new freeway – but the camp gates look very much the same !!! I went to Changi grammar school. Happy days indeed.

    • David Smith says:

      Hi Doug, my first visit to Singapore was in 1963, we were on route home from Bangkok on the Danish Liner Jutlandia! we returned for a tour in 1967 and moved to Poulden Court in 1969, it appears we lived in the same block! Our flat was number 19 on the ground floor. You may remember Mr Lim the club steward and Hamed the groundsman? I remember so many things about our time there in fact my partner and I are going back for a brief holiday next year!

      • Roy says:

        Hi David,

        I don’t lived in Pouldon Court but I would go there very often as a kid as my father owns the laundry called Ak Kow Laundry across the famous roti prata shop. Do you have any pictures?

  8. kartsubra says:

    Any pictures of Telecoms Quarters near Jalan Kayu?

    • hmm my church friend says he lived in the quarters behind Telecoms ther in the 70’s
      ,he told me his haunted stories , anyone here got information about the area?
      i would also like to find out

  9. Photos of Jalan Kayu in 1973




    (Photo credit to Colin Liddel)

  10. The newly-built terrace houses at Seletar Hills Estate, near the junction of Jalan Kayu and Yio Chu Kang Road. 1973


    (Photo credit to Colin Liddel)

  11. More old coloured photos of Jalan Kayu, 1970s



    (Photo Credit: Facebook Group “Jalan Kayu Primary School”)

  12. John D'Costa says:

    I was at the Air Base at Jalan Kayu in 1974 when I was enlisted into the SAF. Stayed there for 6 weeks while on transit to the School of BMT in SAFTI. The street brings many fond memories specially with the Parat Shop. There was a lot of bonding with the mates there at that time.

  13. LKH says:

    Fantastic story, fantastic pictures! I spent my childhood at what has now become the Fernvale Road. Jalan Kayu was within walking distance from my house and that’s where we would go for our entertainment. It moved me emotionally to see these well preserved photographs of old Jalan Kayu. They bring back so much fond memory.

  14. venugopal ig says:

    great pictures my parents lived in Jalan Kayu infact Jalan Tari serempi house 47 from 79-81 I have fond memories of that place. Small shops owned & run by Chinese & indians hope to visit the place soon,
    Venugopal ( venuvijaya@hotmail.com )

    • Doug says:

      I was there from 1961 to 1965 – just imagine what it was like then – fantastic place to be as a 14 year old. Lot’s of trips down to the fishing pond, down a track which started at the entrance to Jalan Kayu village – through what was still jungle in those days. We used to buy balls of aniseed bait from the pond owner and fish all day long – we caught fish which were called ‘grasseaters’ – wonderful memories – anyone else ever use that fishing pond ? Doug.

      • David Smith says:

        Hi doug, I was a big fishing fan too, I remember two types of bait Tapioca and a brown bait bought in balls for 20 cents! The fish were Java fish, Grasseys (grasseaters) An Asian Carp type fish, Song fish and of course different types of carp, my haunts were ussually Chap Sengs and Redmire ponds amongst the rubber plantations along the Yu Chi Kiang road! I also remember fishing around the Seletar Yacht club too for mullet and gar fish but also in the mangrove for eels and Java fish too.

  15. nope the whole part except the jungle beside SLE which i trekked into 5yrs ago & almost injured myself ,its all gone ,taken over by that highway lo ,if you remember our semi-detached houses used to face the jungle ? yep that jungle is now next to the park called Sengkang West i think ,well there are so many exciting areas in remembersingapore.wordpress ,its nice to re-discover the pasts

    thanx a lot people ,im Michael by the way

  16. Doug says:

    Hello Michael – thanks for the final confirmation that it’s all gone! I used to live in a place called Poulden Court just between Jalan Kayu and the Seletar base gates – and I’v been scouring google Earth and other satellite maps for any trace of where it used to be – but you are right nothng remains. Which is why I’m so delighted that rthe website exists with all the old photos of the village – but no-one has yet been able to post any photos of Poulden Court itself. All the best. Doug.

  17. More photos of Jalan Kayu in the 1970s




    (Photo credit: http://www.rafseletar.org/ Brian Williams)

  18. Doug says:

    Wonderful pictures – evoking wonderful memories – thank you.

  19. siti says:

    Tari Dulang is “Tray Dance” as Dulang is Tray in Malay/Indonesian. It is a dance where the dancers will carry “trays” but not the trays we use to serve drinks and such but more the trays that Malays bring for the “gifts” or “hantaran” at weddings, that are exchanged between the groom’s and bride’s side of the party. I guess in those “bangsawan” days or era, the exchanging of such trays are presented in the form of a dance … At least, that is what I know it as….

  20. Brocky says:

    Hey what nice memories. Used to live close by at seletar hills estate where I use to grow up with a pack of guys called seletar hills boys, They use to have their regular soccer games at the jalan selaseh park opposite chusan restaurants. Some of these boys were from jalan kayu vicinity. i was barely into my teens then and these chaps were 7yrs my senior on average. Later on after I shifted to serangoon gardens, my NS brought me back to that vicinity as I was attached to seletar west camp.I’m not versed in the little side roads off jalan kayu but I was actually in jalan kayu primary school for one or two years before my parents pulled me out of that place in a jiffy for various reasons hah. I remember a very nice silk store i use to patronize just next to jalan kayu school and of course that place tarzan store. Love to go back some day for old time sake….

    • Doug says:

      Yep, nice memories, Brocky – but don’t go back, it’s all concrete and tarmac now. I was there as a kid, from 1961-64 and loved every minute. I haven’t been back myself, but people have told me you can’t recognise a thing now, and that’s what makes this site so valuable – capturing what was – and is no more !! Cheers. Doug.

  21. Sarifah says:

    Im looking for my long losy friend name irni which ive been studying with her at jalan kayu primary school since 1971

  22. Especkerman Anthony Sherman says:

    Anyone who ever residented at The Telecoms Quarters back in the 70’s ?, if you have old pixs of this place, pls post it online, for this was my childhood home those days, thks !!!

  23. John humes says:

    Hi everyone used to live at 32 jalan bangau on seletar hills estate in1969-1970 went to school on the air base, these pictures bring happy memories, have been trying to locate the whereabouts of mike aka goh Leon king from seletar hills grocery store for some time now , any information would be greatly received

  24. Gail says:

    Hi. I lived at 57 Tong Lee Road from 1961 to 1963. I was 5 when we moved there to be with my dad who served at Seletar and I went to school on the base. I remember there was a young chinese girl called Amoy who used to come and help my mum and babysit me and my younger brother. There was a Kampong at the end of the road. I will search out any photos I have of those days gone by.

  25. Doug says:

    Hi Gail. I was in Jalan Kayu from 1961 to 1964 – aged 11 to 14. I lived in Poulden Court, a set of apartment blocks just outside the Base gates – so a few pics from around that time would be great to see. I went to school in Changi. Cheers. Doug.

    • David Smith says:

      Hi Doug, I lived in Poulden Court from 69-71, Your Dad must have been at CK2 as well! I visited Singapore in 63 on our way home from Bangkok! Our fathers may have known each other. Dad did a tour 67-70 plus an extension to 71 and was stationed at Culmhead. If you fancied a natter my email is mrbluesman86@yahoo.com.

      Cheers
      Dave

  26. Ruby says:

    used to stay in Lorong Tanggam..free to run about….played the so called *concrete slide* outside the mosque…. school at Jalan Kayu Primary school…..till 1986 moved out to new estates Ang Mo Kio…anyone here form Lorong Tanggam???

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