Lakeview Estate, its Former Market and the “Shopping Centre”

It was a name that was inspired from the splendid panoramic view of the MacRitchie Reservoir. It was also previously well-known for its popular hawker centre and market that were situated opposite Thomson Community Centre in the eighties and nineties. But for the past decade, the name Lakeview has been gradually forgotten, apart from the three brown HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Company) flats and a couple of shops along Upper Thomson Road that still carry the name.

lakeview shopping centre1 1985

Today, it is an empty plot of land that is barely noticeable along the main road of Upper Thomson. But in the eighties and nineties, it was a small bustling estate with HDB flats, hawker centre, wet market and rows of shops that was collectively known as Lakeview Shopping Centre, a name that was commonly used to refer to such HDB-owned and -managed neighhourhood hubs. Similar concepts can also be found in other parts of Singapore; the Boon Lay Shopping Centre, Balestier Hill Shopping Centre and Keat Hong Shopping Centre are some of such neighbourhood hubs that survive till today.

lakeview upper thomson map 1988

Before its demolition in the late nineties, there was a total of 13 blocks of double-storey HDB (Housing & Development Board) flats and a hawker centre cum wet market at Lakeview. The rows of shops, that were dubbed Lakeview Shopping Centre, were located at Block 5 and 7. Today, the only remnant of the “shopping centre” is a flight of steps on the sloped ground that leads to the pedestrian pavement along Upper Thomson Road.

lakeview estate upper thomson

lakeview shopping centre2 1985

Block 9 housed the popular hawker centre and wet market, where residents from the nearby neighbourhoods came to make their daily purchases of vegetables, fresh fish and other groceries from the dozens of stalls. Others came to enjoy their breakfasts, or simply a glass of thick kopi to start the day. Every morning, it was a busy scene at the hawker centre and market, filled with bargaining, chit-chatting and, occasionally, bickering over trivial matters.

lakeview market 1980s

lakeview market 1990s

The hawker centre was also well-known for some of its delicious local delights too, such as the chye tow kueh (carrot cake), bak kut teh, Hokkien mee and char kway teow. When the hawker centre and market were demolished, some of the stallholders were relocated to the nearby Shunfu hawker centre.

lakeview hawker centre noodle stall 1980s

Before its development, Lakeview was formerly a Chinese cemetery known as Hylam Sua, literally means “Hainanese Hill”. Thomson Village was on the opposite side of the cemetery, scattered along Upper Thomson Road, Min Hock Road and Soon Hock Road. Both Min Hock and Soon Hock Roads were expunged in the early eighties, when Shunfu (named after Soon Hock Road) Estate was constructed.

thomson village chinese temple 1986

A street away from Hylam Sua was the Thomson Garden Estate, commonly known as gor ba keng (五百间, “five hundreds houses” in Hokkien). It was also where Heap Hoe Rubber Factory was previously situated.

Another prominent landmark near Lakeview was the Long House, which was closed in early 2014 after its owner sold the property for $45 million. In the early 1960s, the site was owned by oil giant Shell, which had operated a petrol station there. The premises switched hands in 1980, and was subsequently leased out by its new owner to the American fast food chain A&W (until the late eighties) and local food court operator Kopitiam Group. After 2000, it became better known as the Long House Food Centre.

lakeview hudc flats1

The HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Company) was introduced in 1974 to allow the sandwiched middle-class Singaporeans, deemed to be stuck in between affordable HDB flats and expensive private homes, to “have a stake in the country” by having the chance to own upscale public housings. Many of the HUDC estates were exclusively located, including the three tall blocks at Lakeview near the MacRitchie Reservoir. It was developed during the HUDC Phase I/II period, between 1974 and 1981.

The development of HUDC estates (Phase III/IV) was taken over by the HDB in 1982, but by the mid-eighties, the popularity of HUDC flats began to wane. In 1987, the scheme was halted. Overall, a total of eighteen HUDC estates with 7,731 units was constructed.

lakeview hudc flats2

lakeview hudc flats3

In 1995, the government allowed the privatisation of HUDC flats, if there was 75% consensus among the owners. The Gillman Heights, Pine Grove and Ivory Heights were the first HUDC estates to be privatised, between 1996 and 1998. Lakeview Estate was privatised in 2003. Braddell View was the last of the HUDC estates, in 2014, to undergo privatisation, symbolically spelling the end of the HUDC era.

The privatisation of the HUDC estates does have its advantage. Singapore’s last remaining sand-based adventure playground can be found at the compound of Lakeview Estate. Such children playgrounds were once a common sight in Singapore in the eighties and nineties, but most of them have been demolished and replaced by the new playgrounds.

lakeview former carpark

lakeview dentist

Published: 17 May 2015

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Transit Road – A Transition from Retro Shops to New Condos

Many former National Servicemen who did their BMTs (Basic Military Trainings) at Nee Soon Camp would remember Transit Road, the short link between the army camp and the main Sembawang Road.

Despite the limited space, Transit Road used to house a row of shops that sold a wide variety of products from military apparels to electronic appliances. It used to served Nee Soon Village too, which was located a stone’s throw away at the junction of Mandai and Sembawang Roads, until the late eighties.

transit road shophouses1

Records show that shops had been plying their trades at Transit Road since 1945. After the war, many locals opened shops at Transit Road to provide delivery and courier services for the British servicemen stationed at Nee Soon Camp, who would send food and gift parcels back to their families at Britain, often on a weekly basis.

Brands and names of shops that had operated at Transit Road in the past six decades might ring a bell to some, including Nee Soon Bar, Yong Lee Provision Shop and Lucky Store to Paris Silk Store, Hock Gift Shop, Rambo Gift Shop and Danny Tattoo, the last batch of shops before the premises were demolished.

transit road shophouses2

transit road shophouses6

Fire Hazards

Clusters of attap and wooden huts used to exist behind the shophouses in the seventies, where they housed many families. The vicinity was prone to fire hazards, and were hit by several fire accidents that affected the livelihoods of many residents and shopkeepers in the seventies and eighties.

A large fire broke out on an early morning in June 1977, sweeping through the shops and huts rapidly. The fire engines only arrived 30 minutes later. More than $1 million worth of goods and properties were destroyed, and at least 12 families were rendered homeless. In mid-1985, another fire burned down a bookshop and two tailor shops at Transit Road. $30,000 worth of goods had gone up in flames; the old bookshop, operating since the sixties, never did recover after the incident.

transit road arson 1986

A Case Within a Case

In 1986, Transit Road again appeared in the headlines when six shops were consumed by a raging fire that cost damages of almost $1 million. Two men died in the fire; the case was classified by the police as arson-murder.

Forensic tests and police investigations were conducted; the results showed that the two victims might be the ones committing the arson, but they themselves were trapped and killed by the engulfing flames. It was later discovered that the owners of London Bazaar, an electronic shop at Transit Road, had hired the two men to burn down their shop in order to cheat the insurance company for $330,000. The owners were eventually sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 1988.

transit road shops 1989

Mini Orchard Road

In the late eighties, perhaps thanks to marketing, Transit Road was dubbed by the media as a mini Orchard Road. The dozen shops received roaring businesses from many New Zealanders and Australians who were the former servicemen at Singapore’s military bases. The competitive prices offered for goods such as electronics, luggage, toys and sport gears also lured the tourists to Transit Road, which had its shophouses refurbished after the disastrous fire in 1986.

Comparing to the “official” shopping belt at Orchard, the shops at Transit Road offered prices of their products at 20% or more cheaper. In addition, the vicinity had hassle-free parking and low pressure “country-style selling”. Besides the tourists, the SAF (Singapore Army Forces) soldiers from the nearby Nee Soon and Kahtib Camps, and residents from neighbouring estates such as Seletar Hills also provided sufficient crowds to keep the shops busy seven days a week.

transit road shophouses3

transit road shophouses4

Decline and Demolition

The hype soon faded in the nineties, but the shops still enjoyed businesses from the NSFs who served their BMTs at Nee Soon Camp. This changed in the late nineties, when the new SAF BMTC (Basic Military Training Centre) was opened at Pulau Tekong. All newly enlisted recruits were no longer trained at Nee Soon Camp; the crowds passing through Transit Road became considerably reduced.

Like the Beach Road Army Market, the gift shops at Transit Road, selling mostly military supplies and apparels, saw their businesses declined since SAF introduced the concept of eMarts and their credit system in 1997. The electrical appliance-selling Lucky Store was the oldest shop in the vicinity, having operating at Transit Road since 1948. Danny Tattoo Art, another old name, was in the business since the seventies.

transit road shophouses5

The former kopitiam, located at the end of the row of shops, had already been demolished and replaced in 2004 by the Forest Hills Condominium. A decade later, at the end of April 2015, the Transit Road shops will face the exact fate. It has been the same story for many old places elsewhere in Singapore, where they were torn down for private residential projects. This has become an increasing and worrying trend especially in the recent years.

transit road shophouses7

transit road shophouses8

Published: 27 April 2015

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Remnants of Singapore’s Lost Roads – Lorong Bistari

map of choa chu kang 1988

Lorong Bistari was one of the numerous roads that were expunged in the late eighties and early nineties due to the development of Choa Chu Kang New Town (Choa Chu Kang North, or Yew Tee today) and the expansion of the Kranji army camps.

The remaining 50m stretch of Lorong Bistari, off Choa Chu Kang Way, is still visible today, although it is no longer listed in most modern maps and street directories. The defunct road, along with its several old lamp posts, has been gradually forgotten. Other roads such as Lorong Chembol, Lorong Keduang and Lorong Puyu had long completely disappeared into history, while part of Lorong Kebasi (where the former Yew Tee Community Centre once stood) and Lorong Limbang (which gave rise to the naming of Limbang, one of the neigbourhoods at Choa Chu Kang North) were absorbed into the restricted premises of Kranji Camp.

lorong bistari1

lorong bistari2

Choa Chu Kang was a different picture in the sixties and seventies, where pig, poultry and vegetable farms were abundant. On the opposite side of Woodlands Road, there were granite mills and crushing plants for the Mandai Quarry, providing ample job opportunities for the villagers living in the vicinity. At Lorong Bistari, small businesses such as hardware shops and sawmills lined up along the road; Guan Seng, one of the sawmills, was destroyed in a fire in 1973. An estimated 150 tons of wooden planks and boards, reported to be worth $80,000, were consumed by the flames.

guan seng sawmill at lorong bistari destroyed in fire 1973

The Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) started developing a small light industrial estate at Choa Chu Kang North in the early eighties. It was named Yew Tee Industrial Estate, and was made up of rows of double-storey terrace workshops built in the area bounded by Woodlands Road, Stagmont Ring, the railway tracks and Peng Sua Canal. To boost the industry, parcels of vacant lands near Lorong Bistari, between 30,000 and 60,000 square feet, were made available for lease to small factories.

stagmont ring 1977

The Choa Chu Kang New Town was developed in the late eighties. By 1991, as many as 35,000 housing units were ready. However, Choa Chu Kang North, or Yew Tee, was not yet developed as a residential district, even though main roads such as Choa Chu Kang Way were already laid by the late eighties. It was only after the completion and opening of Yew Tee MRT Station in 1996 that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) decided to carry out its Development Guide Plan to transform Choa Chu Kang North into a modern new town.

choa chu kang new town 1992

To provide a greater ease of accessibility to the new town, a new expressway called Kranji Expressway (KJE) was constructed in the early nineties, linking Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Panjang and Bukit Batok to both the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE). Part of the original Stagmont Ring was used as a section of KJE that cut through Choa Chu Kang and split it into northern and southern portions. It took a total of $128 million and four years for KJE to be fully operational ready in 1994.

lorong bistari3

Published: 20 April 2015

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The Singapore General Hospital War Memorial – A Tragedy Seventy Years Ago

There are several major war memorials in Singapore, located at Kranji, Bukit Batok, City Hall and the Esplanade Park. Not many are aware that there is actually a small war memorial at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), located along College Road and opposite the College of Medicine Building (present-day Ministry of Health). The SGH war memorial was set up in remembrance of the eleven medical students from the King Edward VII College of Medicine, who were brutally killed during the Second World War.

sgh in memoriam 2015

On 14 February 1942, a medical student Yoong Tatt Sin, also the general secretary of the Medical College Union, was killed while on duty when the Japanese invaders bombed Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Later that evening, his grieving friends and colleagues, a group of 25 medical students, brought his body to the General Hospital at Outram Road (present-day Singapore General Hospital) to give him a proper burial.

Five trenches facing the College of Medicine Building had been dug for air raid purposes. As there was little time in preparation, one of the trenches was converted to a grave for Yoong Tatt Sin. During the funeral procession, the Japanese arrived and began intensive shelling at the students. Ten students were killed; others were wounded while fleeing and taking cover at the nearby buildings and the trenches. One of the causalities was Hera Singh, a prominent sportsman, school prefect and the captain of the V.I. Cricket in the late 1930s.

sgh in memoriam4 2015

Singapore surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. The next morning, the eleven dead students were hastily buried at the trenches where most of them fell and died during the shelling, along with some other military casualties during the battles.

Between 1942 and 1945, the General Hospital was used as the main surgical hospital for the Japanese forces stationed at Southeast Asia. The College of Medical Building was converted into a department of bacteriology and serology used by the Japanese Army Medical Corps. In 1943, the Japanese established the Syonan Medical College (called Marei Ika Daigaku in Japanese) at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which was later moved to Malacca until the end of the Second World War.

sgh in memoriam2 2015

sgh in memoriam3 2015

After the war, the British colonial government erected a memorial along College Road, made up of a red cross with a granite base, in remembrance of the British soldiers and civilians who had perished during the occupation. In 1948, Dr G. V. Allen, the principal of King Edward VI College of Medicine between 1939 and 1942, unveiled a war memorial plaque inscribed with the names of the eleven dead students (Yoong Tatt Sin, Mabel Luther, N.P. Sarathee, E. Baptist, H.E. Oorjithan, Ling Ding Ee, Hera Singh Bul, Chan Kok Loon, Chen Kok Kuang, Teoh Tiaw Teong and Abdul Hamid Bin Mohd Yusoff).

The plaque was first hung at the Harrower Hall. It was later relocated twice before settled at the College of Medicine Building, where it remains today.

sgh war memorial 2007

Published: 12 April 2015

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Remembering Lee Kuan Yew, the Founding Father of Singapore (1923-2015)

On 23 March 2015, Singapore fell into a grieving state as Lee Kuan Yew, widely regarded as the country’s founding father, passed away at the age of 91 at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). The former prime minister had been battling an infection due to severe pneumonia, and was warded in the intensive care unit since early February. He left behind two sons (current Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Hsien Yang) and a daughter (Lee Wei Ling).

lee kuan yew youngThe Beginnings

Lee Kuan Yew was born in 1923 in a Hakka Chinese family living at Kampong Java Road. His great-grandfather had arrived at Singapore in the late 19th century from the Dapu county of Guangdong, China. After completing his primary education, Lee Kuan Yew attended Raffles Institution and Raffles College (present-day National University of Singapore), where he became the top student in Singapore and Malaya.

After the Second World War, Lee Kuan Yew went to study law at England’s prestigious University of Cambridge, graduating with double First Class Honours. It was also at London where he met and married Kwa Geok Choo (1920-2010). In 1949, Lee Kuan Yew returned to Singapore with his wife, working as a lawyer and a legal advisor to trade and students’ unions.

lee kuan yew met wife 1950s

Entering Politics

It was in the fifties when Lee Kuan Yew began involved in politics. In 1954, Lee Kuan Yew, together with Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee, Devan Nair, S. Rajaratnam and Abdul Samad Ismail, founded the People’s Action Party (PAP) with a mission to seek Singapore’s independence from Britain through merger with the Federation of Malaya. Together with his comrades, mostly made up of lawyers, journalists and trade unionists, Lee Kuan Yew aimed to establish a corruption-free and democratic government in-charge of a multi-racial society that would be harmonious and fair.

lee kuan yew touring tanjong pagar 1960s

In its early days of formation, English-speaking Lee Kuan Yew and his PAP had to work closely with the pro-communist members in order to gain support of the local Chinese, most of which could only communicate in Mandarin and dialects. Lim Chin Siong (1933-1996), the leader of the pro-communist faction, was influential in helping PAP to gain mass support. The cooperation, however, ended in 1961 due to different political ideas. Lim Chin Siong would leave PAP to lead the opposition party Barisan Socialis (Socialist Front).

lee kuan yew and his supporters 1960s

In 1959, after three rounds of Constitutional Talks with London, Singapore was granted internal self-governance. PAP would win most of the seats in the general election held that year to become Singapore’s ruling party, with Lee Kuan Yew becoming the Prime Minister of the self-government. He would become the Prime Minister of the State of Singapore when PAP won another general election after the merger with Malaysia in 1963.

lee kuan yew tears 1965The merger, however, was short-lived. Between PAP and the Malaysian leaders, there was an ideological divide over the nature of the Malaysian society. PAP wanted to build a fair and just multi-racial society – a Malaysian Malaysia, but the Malaysian leaders insisted special privileges be given to the Malay majority.

The uncompromisable differences meant that Singapore had to exit the federation, and on 9 August 1965, Lee Kuan Yew tearfully announced on television Singapore’s separation from Malaysia: “You see, the whole of my adult life, I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know that we, as a people are connected by geography, economics, by ties of kinship

Singapore’s Independence

Lee Kuan Yew believed Singapore, a nation with limited natural resources, would require strong diplomatic relationship with other countries in order to survive. Shortly after independence, Singapore joined the United Nations (UN) and became a member of the Commonwealth. In August 1967, Singapore, together with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, formed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the objectives to promote economic development, social progress and regional stability against the influx of communism.

lee kuan yew and suhartoThe Singapore-Indonesia ties, however, had been deeply soured due to the execution of the two Indonesian saboteurs who were involved in the MacDonald House bombing during the Konfrontasi (1963-1966). After a brief discussion with former Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia Lee Khoon Choy (born 1924), Lee Kuan Yew, on his official visit to Indonesia in 1973, decided to pay respect at the Jakarta Kalibata Heroes Cemetery by sprinkling flowers onto the graves of the two Indonesian marines. The move clearly won the hearts of many Indonesians who held strong Javanese beliefs in souls and clear conscience.

Many Indonesian newspapers carried headlines describing Lee Kuan Yew as a magnanimous person. This helped to break the ice between the leaders of Singapore and Indonesia. Trust between the two countries were gradually restored, and for the next two decades, Singapore and Indonesia enjoyed a peaceful and beneficial bilateral ties. Lee Kuan Yew also maintained a close friendship with Suharto, the President of Indonesia between 1967 and 1998, until the latter died in 2008.

lee kuan yews speech at us senate 1985

Beyond Southeast Asia, Singapore was also actively establishing diplomatic relations with the major countries in the world. Bilateral ties with The United States and Japan were established shortly after the country’s independence.

lee kuan yew met deng xiao ping 1980Lee Kuan Yew also placed importance on good Sino-Singapore relations. He first visited China in 1976. Until 2011, Lee Kuan Yew had made a total of 33 official trips to China, and was one of the few in the world who had met all five Chinese leaders in Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.

National Interests

Lee Kuan Yew had demanded efficiency and capability in his government. In the sixties and seventies, his team of Goh Keng Swee (1918-2010), Toh Chin Chye (1921-2012), Lim Kim San (1916-2006), Othman Wok (born 1924), Ong Pang Boon (born 1929), S Rajaratnam (1915-2006), Hon Sui Sen (1916-1983) and Dr Albert Winsemius (1910-1996, Singapore’s Chief Economic Advisor between 1961 and 1984) was able to successfully tackle the urgent issues Singapore was facing, such as inadequate housing, national defense and economic struggles. Lee Kuan Yew himself also placed great emphasis on the ground, regularly visiting villagers living on both mainland Singapore and the outlying islands, to understand their concerns.

lee kuan yew speaking at hunyeang community centre tampines 1963

lee kuan yew touring radin mas 1964

Over the years, Lee Kuan Yew had built up a no-nonsensical reputation although some viewed him as a tough leader ruling with an iron fist. He made it clear many times that he would not allow any events to affect the country’s stability and undermine national interests.

This was demonstrated in late 1980, when a strike by the Singapore Airlines Pilots Association’s (SIApa) expatriate pilots threatened to escalate into a crisis. The month-long strike for higher pays and better benefits had already disrupted many international flights. With the 1980 General Election around the corner, Lee Kuan Yew stepped in and confronted the pilots with an uncompromising stand. He demanded, in one of his rally speeches, that the pilots end their strike: “I will, by every means at my disposal, teach you, and get the people of Singapore help me teach you, a lesson you won’t forget. And I’m prepared to start all over again. Or stop it!

The pilots eventually backed down. SIApa was de-registered a year later, and 15 leaders that incited the strike were charged and convicted. Even after he retired as the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew would intervene again, this time as the Senior Minister, when a group of SIA pilots threatened to strike over disputed pay-raise in 2004.

A Garden City

Tourism had a difficult start in post-independent Singapore as it did not have many attractions. Lee Kuan Yew believed that Singapore could be different from other developing countries in a practical way. In 1963, Lee Kuan Yew planted his first tree. He kept his tree-planting tradition every year, and it later evolved into an islandwide campaign. Today, there are 2 million trees planted around Singapore, meeting Lee Kuan Yew’s original vision of Singapore being a well-known Garden City.

lee kuan yew in parliament

The cleaning up of the Singapore River was also one of Lee Kuan Yew’s proposals of a clean and green Singapore. Before the seventies, the Singapore River had a notorious reputation of being an extremely dirty and polluted waterway at the country’s commercial district. In 1977, Lee Kuan Yew issued a challenge to his Environment ministry: “It should be a way of life to keep the water clean. To keep every stream, culvert and rivulet, free from pollution.” “The Ministry of Environment should make it a target: In 10 years let us have fishing in the Singapore River and Kallang River. It can be done.

The enormous task was given to Lee Ek Tieng (born 1934), the former chairman of the Public Utilities Board and then Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary, and his team. It took 10 years for the Singapore River and Kallang Basin to be successfully cleared of pollutants. By the mid-eighties, the river and its banks were no longer filled with garbage, bumboats, squatters and stench.

lee kuan yew played chess with sons

Bilingualism

A language genius, Lee Kuan Yew was proficient in English and Malay, and understood Latin and Japanese. He once addressed the Malaysian parliament in perfect Bahasa Melayu that surprised many Malaysian leaders.

In his thirties, Lee Kuan Yew also learnt and mastered Mandarin and Hokkien in order to reach out to the masses in Singapore, much of it were made up of Chinese Singaporeans. After 1970s, he, however, stopped using Hokkien in his public speeches because he wanted Mandarin to become the common language of the Chinese Singaporeans. The Speak Mandarin Campaign that his government promoted aggressively in the eighties eventually led to the demise of Chinese dialects in Singapore.

lee kuan yew through the yearsCreating a bilingual society was what Lee Kuan Yew had in mind. While retaining one’s mother tongue, Lee Kuan Yew believed English should be the common language among different races in Singapore. This would give the country an advantage in the international arena. Thus, in the eighties, schools with Malay-, Chinese- and Tamil-medium classes were gradually phased out and replaced by English as the compulsory first language.

Lasting Legacy

In his political career, Lee Kuan Yew admitted making several bad judgements such as the shutting down of Nanyang University, population control and the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme launched in the eighties. His government’s tight control of the media and suppression of political dissent also drew criticism.

However, his achievements and contributions to Singapore far exceeded his political blemishes. For that, Lee Kuan Yew would be fondly remembered as the great man behind Singapore’s success and prosperity today. His unquestionable legacy as the founding father of modern Singapore will live on for many generations to come. For the city-state which will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee in the coming August, it is a monumental loss.

lee kuan yew 1923-2015

I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much on it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 2014

Published: 23 March 2015

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Goodbye, Old Yishun Bus Interchange

On 13 March 2015, the residents of Yishun bid farewell to the bus interchange they were so familiar with. The departure of the last bus meant that it was time to say goodbye to the Yishun Bus Interchange that had served the town well in the past 28 years. The premises will be demolished in near future to make way for the new Integrated Transport Hub (ITH) at Northpoint City, which will be made up of North Park Residences, an air-conditioned bus interchange and a shopping underpass that links to the Yishun MRT Station.

old yishun bus interchange

In 1977, the Singapore government launched the Yishun New Town project, reserving some 920 hectares of land between Admiralty and Sembawang Roads for residential and industrial development. By the early eighties, there was a sizable population living at Yishun New Town; many of the residents originated from the nearby villages such as Nee Soon, Chye Kay and Mandai.

construction of yishun bus interchange 1980s

A large bus interchange became essential to meet the demands of an increasing population in Yishun. Before the construction of the old Yishun Bus Interchange in the mid-eighties, the Yishun residents had to be contended with the two bus terminals located at the Yishun Central and Yishun Avenue 5. Slow and irregular bus services made commuting between new towns and the city area tedious and inconvenient. The small terminals also faced difficulties in coping with the rising number of commuters, and basic amenities such as coin-changing machines were absent.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) was thus given the task to build a permanent facility to provide bus services at Yishun. In August 1985, tenders were issued and awarded to contractors for the construction of the new bus interchange.

yishun new town 1988

In just two years, the Yishun Bus Interchange was completed and ready for operation. Officially opened on 23 August 1987, it was the ninth bus interchange built in Singapore after Bukit Merah, Clementi, Woodlands, Ang Mo Kio, Hougang, Bedok, Jurong East and Toa Payoh. Four more bus interchanges at Bukit Batok, Tampines, Serangoon and Bishan were added by the early nineties.

old yishun bus interchange2

old yishun bus interchange3

old yishun bus interchange4

Costing a total of $2 million in construction, the new bus interchange, painted with an eye-catching purple appearance, consisted of 36 bus parking berths, 24 boarding/alighting bays and a staff office. Shortly after its opening, HDB handed the management of the new bus interchange to the Trans Island Bus Services (TIBS) for a token of $1.

The Trans Island Bus Services was established in 1982 to provide competition to the Singapore Bus Services (SBS), which was formed earlier in 1973 after the merger of the three largest private bus companies in Amalgamated Bus Company (ABC), Associated Bus Services (ABS) and United Bus Company (UBC). Running its own fleet of yellow-and-orange buses, TIBS was given the exclusive right to operate in the northern part of Singapore such as Woodlands, Yishun and Sembawang. Its services were later extended to Bukit Panjang, Jalan Kayu and Punggol.

old yishun bus interchange5

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In 2001, TIBS merged and became a subsidiary of the SMRT Corporation, which took over the management of the bus interchanges at Woodlands and Yishun. TIBS officially walked into history three years later when its fleet of buses were painted red and renamed under the SMRT brand.

old yishun bus interchange7

The early bus services by TIBS were mostly the 800-series. New bus services were later added constantly to provide wider convenience to the commuters in getting to other towns and housing districts. A daily one-way service No 825, for example, was introduced in 1988 to ferry commuters between the Yishun Bus Interchange and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6 at a frequency of 10 minutes from 6am to 830pm. The bus fares for the One-Man-Operation (OMO) service ranged between 40c and 60c for adults and 25c for children.

old yishun bus interchange8

old yishun bus interchange9

The new Yishun Integrated Transport Hub is expected to be ready by 2019. A temporary bus interchange, located on the opposite side of Yishun Central 1, has been made available for the commuters’ ease of convenience for the next four years. Upon its completion, the Yishun ITH will be the tenth integrated transport hub in Singapore. The other nine ITHs are located at Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Boon Lay, Bukit Panjang, Clementi, Joo Koon, Serangoon, Sengkang and Toa Payoh.

old yishun bus interchange10

old yishun bus interchange11

old yishun bus interchange12

Published: 16 March 2015

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The “King” of Bedok, Villa Haji Kahar and the Bedok Rest House

Longtime residents of Bedok may have heard of a grand residence that was once owned by the “king” of Bedok.

It was the Villa Haji Kahar, located at Jalan Haji Salam, off Upper East Coast Road. The grand private residence was named after its first owner Haji Kahar Abdul Ghani (1863-1940), also known as Haji Kahar Palembang due to his birth place in Indonesia.

The “King” of Bedok and his Villa Haji Kahar

Haji Kahar arrived at Singapore at an age of around 20. He took up many odd jobs before starting a barter trading business at North Bridge Road, establishing a trade relationship with his brother at Palembang. It took Haji Kahar 20 years before he had amassed enough wealth to venture into property, coconut and nutmeg plantations, and other businesses.

Haji Kahar even became the first Malay to clinch a distribution license to sell HMV-label albums in his other shop at Muscat Street. In the expansion of his business, Haji Kahar sent his son Haji Mohamed to Jakarta to establish a “triangular” trade between Singapore, Palembang and Jakarta.

villa haji kahar at jalan haji salam

In the 1900s, Haji Kahar bought 30 acres of land at Bedok from a Chinese nutmeg plantation owner. The parcel of land, completed with small houses and fruit orchards, cost him about $7,000. Earning a generous $1,000 per month collected from the leasing of his properties, a 50-year-old Haji Kahar decided to dedicate more of his time in the religious study. He would later become active as a Qur’anic teacher at Masjid Al-Taqua at Jalan Bilal, a short distance away from his grand Bedok residence.

At the peak of his business, Haji Kahar was known as the “Raja” (“King” in Malay) of Bedok. He was one of the largest landowners in the vicinity, and had two horse-drawn carriage to ferry him between Bedok and the city. He would later spend $1,190 to replace his carriage with Ford cars.

villa haji kahar at jalan haji salam 2005

Despite being extremely wealthy, Haji Kahar was a humble and low-profiled person. The rich entrepreneurs, in the early 20th century, tend to own large parcels of lands and have roads named after them. Haji Kahar, however, refused to accept the renaming of Jalan Haji Salam to Jalan Haji Kahar due to the respect he had of the eldest and most respected villager at Kampong Bedok.

Haji Kahar had a total of 16 children; three with his wife at Palembang, and 13 with his Singapore wife. The decision to build the grand Villa Haji Kahar was motivated by his wishes to bring the family close together. Haji Kahar died in September 1940 at an age of 78, after three years of illness.

villa haji kahar at jalan haji salam 2014

villa haji kahar at jalan haji salam2 2014

After his death, his family did not stay in Villa Haji Kahar for long. In 1942, the Japanese forced the family to sell the estate for $22,000. When the Japanese surrendered three years later, the family’s fortune vanished overnight as the Japanese currency became worthless.

Today, Villa Haji Kahar still stands proudly at Jalan Haji Salam, hidden among the new semi-detached houses. The villa was likely to have changed hands many times after it was sold by Haji Kahar’s family in the 1940s. Compared to Singapore’s other grand private residences built in the early part of the 20th century, Villa Haji Kahar’s history is relatively less well-known.

There is also a well-maintained kampong-styled house beside the villa.

bedok avenue kampong house

bedok avenue kampong house2

bedok avenue kampong house3

Bedok Corner and the Land Reclamation

The Bedok Corner, referring to the sharp bend between Bedok Road and Upper East Coast Road, has been a favourite hangout for the older generations of Singaporeans and also perhaps the British military veterans who had once stationed in Singapore in the fifties and sixties. Many still have fond memories of the place, where the iconic Bedok Rest House was located.

bedok rest house 1960s

However, subsequent land reclamation projects would alter the appearance and scenic views of Bedok Corner. In 1963, a small-scaled land reclamation project was carried out by the government at the 14km East Coast Road to add 19 hectare of land.

A much larger project called the East Coast Reclamation Scheme was launched in April 1966. This massive land reclamation project, undertaken by the Housing Development Board (HDB), would take almost 20 years and a total cost of $613 million to complete. More than 1,525 hectare of land and 1km of coastline were added, using sand, soil, gravels and rocks taken from the hills at Siglap and Tampines.

east coast reclamation 1966

Wyman’s Haven, Long Beach and the Bedok Rest House

The massive land reclamation saw the decline of a popular Chinese restaurant called Wyman’s Haven, located near the junction of Jalan Haji Salam and the Upper East Coast Road. The restaurant was said to have opened in the 1930s and its business flourished after the Second World War, especially in the late fifties. Housed in a large seafront bungalow, the patrons of the restaurant enjoyed a splendid view of the coastline. But the beautiful seaside scenery was gone by the late sixties due to the land reclamation, and this led to the eventual closure of Wyman’s Haven.

bedok rest house long beach seafood 1992

bedok rest house long beach seafood2 1992

The Long Beach Seafood Restaurant, on the other hand, survived the effects of the land reclamation. It was established in 1946, serving seafood cuisine popular to both the British military personnel and the locals. Housed at the Bedok Rest House, both the building and restaurant became one of East Coast’s most famous landmarks, well-remembered by many for the sandy beach, icycold beer, chilli crab and tea dances.

Although the seaside scenery and vibrant shoreline were altered by the late sixties, Long Beach and its large variety of seafood dishes remained popular with the locals. Its business at the Bedok Corner lasted more than 40 years, before it had to be shut down in the early nineties due to the redevelopment plans in the vicinity. In 1993, the Bedok Rest House and its Long Beach restaurant were demolished, making way for the development of a private residential district called Eastwood Park. The terrace houses of Eastwood Park were completed by 1998.

demolition of bedok rest house 1993

Kampong Bedok Laut and the Mosques

Bedok Corner used to have two kampong mosques called Masjid Al-Taqua and Masjid Bedok Laut. Masjid Al-Taqua still exists today but Masjid Bedok Laut was demolished along with Kampong Bedok Laut in the early nineties. Kampong mosques are a rarity in present-day Singapore. Unlike modern mosques which integrate large gleaming Indo-Saracenic-styled domes into their roof designs, kampong mosques were much simpler, often capping only a small dome over a pitched zinc roof.

map of bedok  corner 1981

Located at Jalan Bilal, Masjid Al-Taqua had a long history, and was the mosque where Haji Fahar taught his Qur’anic studies in the 1930s. In 1984, the villagers in the vicinity were dismayed when they heard their place of worship, which could accommodate a congregation of 700, would be demolished. It turned out to be a misunderstanding as the government was acquiring the lands around Jalan Bilal but leaving Masjid Al-Taqua intact. After confirming with the Land Office that the mosque would stay on, the mosque trustee approved a $120,000 project to repair the aging building.

masjid al-taqua at jalan bilal 1980s

masjid bedok laut at bedok road2 1980s

Masjid Bedok Laut, on the other hand, did not survive the redevelopment. It was demolished along with the Bedok Rest House and Kampong Bedok Laut. Today, the vicinity is occupied by the private residences of Eastwood Park.

There was also a Muslim cemetery which served as the burial ground for the Muslim residents living at the kampongs around Jalan Bilal, Jalan Haji Salam, Jalan Greja and Jalan Langgar Bedok. It was located near the 14km mark of Upper East Coast Road, beside a Chinese Teochew cemetery named Hwa San Teng (or Wah Suah Teng).

The Bedok Muslim cemetery had about 4,000 graves; its last burial was done in the mid-seventies. Both cemeteries were later exhumed. Their sites were eventually redeveloped into Kew Green Condominium in the late nineties. Hwa San Road, the dirt road that led to the cemeteries, was expunged during the redevelopment.

kampong bedok laut 1980s

Kampong Bedok Laut, whose name means Bedok Sea Village, was mainly made up of Malay families; many of them worked as fishermen for generations. Leaving for the sea in early mornings, the fishermen would return by noon with their catches, and laid them along the shoreline to sell to other villagers. The land reclamation project between the sixties and eighties, however, took away the livelihood of many fishermen, who had to switch to hawking of food, drinks and cigarettes. When the kampong was demolished, many of the street hawkers were relocated to the Bedok Corner Hawker Centre.

The face of Bedok Corner has been changing constantly in the past 50 years. In the next decade, it will receive yet another makeover with the opening of Downtown Line’s Sungei Bedok MRT Station.

Published: 02 March 2015

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