Old School National Day’s Memorabilia

It is Singapore’s National Day again.

I remember during my primary and secondary school times, we used to receive memorabilia during the National Days. Each student would receive a small item that marked the annual joyous celebration. The memorabilia ranged from pens, pencil cases and staplers to bookmarks and coin pouches.

memorabilia national day 1985

memorabilia national day 1988

memorabilia national day 1989

memorabilia national day 1990

Other than the National Days, we were given memorabilia during the Children’s Days and Family Sports Days. Most of the memorabilia were sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Singapore Sports Council and the Community Chest.

memorabilia family sports day 1984

memorabilia children's day 1984

memorabilia children's day 1986

memorabilia children's day 1987

memorabilia children's day2 1987

Do you still keep these old school memorabilia given to you during your study days?

Published: 09 August 2014

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Posted in Nostalgic | 7 Comments

Raffles Place, 50 Years of Transformation

For almost two centuries, Raffles Place has been the designated business centre of Singapore. Under Sir Stamford Raffles’ Town Plan in 1822, the hilly area at the southern side of the Singapore River was leveled to fill up the nearby swamps. It became the Commercial Square, which was renamed in 1858 as Raffles Place.

raffles place 1966

Despite the massive bombings during the Second World War, Raffles Place survived and quickly picked itself up again after the war as Singapore’s prime commercial district. It saw its biggest transformation in the past 50 years, where many of its old iconic buildings were rapidly replaced by modern skyscrapers.

Below are some of its best memorable landmarks that no longer exist today:

Chartered Bank Chambers

chartered bank 1968

Along with the Mercantile Bank and Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank was one of the earliest foreign banks to be established in Singapore in the mid-19th century. Between 1895 and 1904, the Chartered Bank was located at the corner of Battery Road and Flint Street. It was later shifted nearer to Bonham Street where the bank headquarters continues to operate today.

standard chartered bank 2014

The Chartered Bank Chambers, with its striking dome, was demolished in 1981. In its place, a new Standard Chartered Bank building (known as 6 Battery Road today) was constructed and completed three years later, becoming a new landmark at Raffles Place with its towering 44-storey and 174m-tall design.

Robinsons and John Little

The 114-year-old Robinsons Department Store was another iconic landmark at Raffles Place, having established at Singapore’s prime commercial area since 1858. It survived the Great Depression and the multiple bombings by the Japanese during the Second World War, and even acquired its competitor John Little in 1955. But the great fire on 21 November 1972 ended Robinsons presence at Raffles Place.

The unfortunate disaster, caused by a short circuit, claimed a total of nine life; eight of them perished after being trapped in the lifts. Robinsons also suffered more than $20 million in losses, as its consumer goods packed ready for the coming Christmas period were all destroyed in the burning flames that could be seen as far as Jurong.

robinsons department store 1960s

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John Little, on the other hand, was established in the mid-19th century. By the 1920s, it had expanded to many major cities in Malaya. During the Second World War, the Japanese forces took over the four-storey signature John Little’s Building at Raffles Place, renaming it as Dimaru to serve the Japanese population in Singapore. After the war, John Little reopened for business and became popular as a “meeting place” for Indian and Chinese merchants from the nearby Market and Malacca Streets.

In 1955, John Little was bought over by Robinsons. Its building, once served as the office for the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board between 1964 and 1970, was torn down in 1973. During the eighties, the oldest department store in Singapore relocated its business to Orchard Road and, later, focused on the smaller retail markets at the heartlands. Its legacy at Raffles Place, however, remained till today as its Spanish-styled facade was used as the design of the entrances for the Raffles Place MRT Station.

Other major department stores such as Oriental Emporium also left, as Raffles Place was transformed into a pure financial centre. The gaps were filled up by other banks, which began to see the rise of the skyscrapers. In 1980, the 190m-tall Shell Tower (Singapore Land Tower today) was built near where John Little used to be, whereas at the former site of Robinsons Department Store, the 63-storey OUB Centre (One Raffles Place today) was completed in 1986 as the tallest building at Raffles Place.

The Alkaff Arcade and the Ocean Building

singapore waterfront 1960s

Well-known as a waterfront landmark at Raffles Place, The Arcade, representative of the Arab influence at the prime commercial belt, was built by the famous Alkaff family in 1909 as Singapore’s first indoor shopping centre. Designed by the Swan and MacLaren Architects, the four-level building possessed a distinctive Moorish style, featuring domes, arches and atrium.

By the seventies, The Alkaff Arcade was bustling with retail and commercial activities even though the building was in bad shape. In 1978, it was demolished and replaced by a new 17-storey retail-and-office tower, after the Alkaffs sold their prized asset to Singapura Developments in the early sixties for $20 million.

the arcade 1978

Standing beside The Alkaff Arcade was the Ocean Building. One of the oldest landmarks in Singapore, the first Ocean Building had made its presence at the then Commercial Square since 1864. Its second-generation existed between 1924 and 1970, and was well-known for its popular Prince Restaurant. The third Ocean Building was completed in 1974 in the form of a $70-million 28-storey office and shopping complex. Today, the Ocean Towers and Financial Centre, the fourth generation of its legacy, stand at its place.

Change Alley

Change Alley, a narrow lane between the Winchester House and Singapore Rubber House, was once famous for its money-changers, both legal and illegal, and rows of little retail stores. It had existed for a century as a hotspot of trading activities that involved everything from clothes and bags to toys and souvenirs. During its heydays, visitors had to squeeze their ways through the congested walkways for their bargain-hunting.

change alley 1989

The Singapore Rubber House was a 15-storey landmark that faced the Collyer Quay. It was previously known as the Shell House, which started as a five-storey building since 1920. The Winchester House, on the other hand, was built in 1906.

By the late eighties, the businesses at Change Alley had dwindled rapidly due to the decreasing number of foreign sailors and military personnel visiting Singapore. In 1989, the buildings of the Winchester House and Singapore Rubber House were demolished, bringing along with them the permanent closure of the old Change Alley.

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raffles place 2014

Mercantile Bank Chambers

The magnificent grey building in front of The Arcade was the Mercantile Bank Chambers that stood between two streets of De Souza and D’Almeida. D’Almeida Street is still present today but De Souza Street was absorbed into the Ocean Financial Centre during its redevelopment in the late 2000s. The Mercantile Bank was first established in Singapore as early as 1855 under the name of “Mercantile Bank of India, London, and China”.

raffles place 1960s

The building was later used as the office for the Prudential Assurance Company (1931-1941 and 1945-1962) and the Chartered Bank (1980-1984). In June 1984, the Mercantile Bank Chambers was demolished due to the construction of the Raffles Place MRT Station.

Malayan Bank Chambers

The former body of the Malayan Bank Chambers was the three-storey Whiteaways Laidlaw Building with its popular Whiteaways Department Store. In 1962, the building, then owned by the Malayan Banking Sdn Bhd, was refurbished with a distinctive facade, tapered-in windows and an addition of three storeys. It was torn down in 1999 to make way for the Maybank Building, a new 32-level office tower designed by SYL Architects.

Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank Building

The Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank had its roots in Singapore as early as 1877. It established its first office building at Fullerton Square between 1892 and 1919, before investing in a new Neo-Classical styled tower completed in 1925. The new building lasted more than 50 years until 1979 when it was demolished and replaced three years later by the 21-storey Hong Kong Bank Building (HSBC Building today).

Bank of China Building

Once the tallest landmark at Raffles Place for twenty years between 1954 and 1974, the Bank of China was first set up at Cecil Street in 1936, before moving to its present site at Battery Road in the early fifties. In 1999, its former record-breaking tower was replaced by a new 37-storey Bank of China Building.

Raffles Place Park and Underground Carpark

raffles place underground carpark 1960s

raffles place2 2014

In November 1965, Singapore’s first ever underground carpark at Raffles Place was officially opened by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Able to accommodate 250 cars, the new carpark was expected to relive the traffic and parking congesting at Raffles Place, where its previous slots could only cater for 113 vehicles. There was also an underground subway leading directly to the basement of Robinsons Department Store, a feature welcomed by late night shoppers.

Costing a total of $500,000 constructed by the Public Works Department, the underground carpark also featured a rooftop garden known as the Raffles Place Park. Decorated with rows of lawns, shrubs and flower beds, the eye-pleasing popular landscape roof garden also came with ornamental fountains and a giant $58,000 flower clock donated by Japanese watch-maker Seiko.

raffles place clock garden 1970s

The underground carpark was demolished in the 1980s due to the construction of the Raffles Place MRT Station.

The 50-Year Chronology of the Prominent Landmarks at Raffles Place:

1962 – The Alkaff Arcade was sold to Singapura Developments for $20 million.

1965 – Singapore’s first large-scaled underground carpark at Raffles Place was officially opened.

1966 – Oriental Emporium opened its department store at Raffles Place.

raffles place2 1960s

1970 – The Ocean Building was demolished.

1972 – Robinsons Department Store was destroyed in a fire.

1972 – The areas around Raffles Place Park was pedestrianised by the Public Works Department.

1973 – The John Little’s Building was demolished.

1974 – UOB Building (UOB Plaza 2 today) was completed.

1974 – Clifford Centre was completed.

1974 – The Ocean Building was completed as a new third-generation 28-storey office and shopping tower.

1976 – OCBC Centre was completed.

1978 – The Alkaff Arcade was demolished.

1979 – The old Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank Building was demolished.

1980 – Shell Tower (Singapore Land Tower today) was completed.

central business district 1980

1981 – The new Arcade was completed.

1981 – The Chartered Bank Building was demolished.

1981 – Prominent waterfront landmark Maritime Building, formerly known as Union Building, was demolished.

1982 – The new Hong Kong Bank Building (HSBC Building today) was completed.

1984 – The Mercantile Bank Chambers was torn down due to the construction of Raffles Place MRT Station.

1984 – The new 44-storey Standard Chartered Bank building (known as 6 Battery Road today) was completed.

1984 – Tung Centre was completed at the former site of Maritime Building.

construction of raffles place mrt station 1985

1986 – OUB Centre (One Raffles Place today) was completed at the former site of Robinson’s Department Store.

1987 – Raffles Place MRT Station was officially opened.

1989 – With the demolition of the Winchester House and Singapore Rubber House, Change Alley was shut down.

1992 – UOB Plaza 1 joined OUB Centre as the tallest buildings at CBD.

1992 – Hitachi Tower was built at the former sites of the Winchester House and Singapore Rubber House.

raffles place 1992

1995 – The Republic Plaza was the third building at Raffles Place with the height of 280m.

1999 – Malayan Bank Chambers was demolished.

1999 – The new 37-storey Bank of China Building was completed.

2000 – The Fullerton Building, built in 1928, was restored to become The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.

2006 – The 52-year-old Asia Insurance Building was bought over by the Ascott Group for $110 million, and renamed as Ascott Singapore.

2007 – The third-generation Ocean Building was demolished.

2011 – The Ocean Towers and Financial Centre was completed.

raffles place3 2014

The Tallest Landmarks at Raffles Place:

1954 – Bank of China Building (18-storey, 87m tall)

1955 – Asia Insurance Building (Ascott Singapore today) (18-storey, 87m tall)

1974 – UOB Building (UOB Plaza 2 today) (38-storey, 162m tall)

1976 – OCBC Centre (52-storey, 198m tall)

1986 – OUB Centre (One Raffles Place today) (63-storey, 280m tall)

1992 – UOB Plaza 1 (66-storey, 280m tall)

1995 – Republic Plaza (66-storey, 280m tall)

Published: 28 July 2014

Updated: 06 August 2014

Posted in Historic | 19 Comments

Tanglin Halt – Where the Trains used to Pass by

Tanglin Halt. This was where the trains used to pass by, exchanging key tokens with the station master in order to receive the authority to enter the correct tracks. Express trains from Kuala Lumpur used to stop regularly at Tanglin Halt, although that would be changed after 1936 when the Federated Malay States (FMS) Railways arranged their trains to run straight to Tanjong Pagar instead.

With the population surging rapidly after the Second World War, Singapore was facing a housing crunch. In 1952, the former Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) kicked off the development plans of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite new town, to tackle the housing shortage issue. Tanglin Halt was one of the five districts within Queenstown that were initially drawn up; the other four being Commonwealth, Duchess Estate, Princess Estate (present-day Dawson & Strathmore) and Queens’ Close.

tanglin halt sit flats

tanglin halt sit flats2

A number of low-storey SIT flats were constructed at Tanglin Halt. Built in the mid-fifties, they are currently only seven such three- and four-storey buildings left in the vicinity, serving as hostels for the university exchange students. With only 32,000 units built over a span of thirty years, SIT had proven to be ineffective in its housing development progress. It was eventually dissolved in 1959, and was replaced by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) a year later.

tanglin halt chup lau

In 1962, rows of 10-storey flats were built at Tanglin Halt. Fondly known as chup lau chu (10-storey buildings in Hokkien) to the local Chinese, these iconic blocks, with diagonal staircases at their sides, were featured at the back of the Singapore one-dollar note of the Orchid Series and the Marine Series’ one-cent coin (both first issued in 1967).

tanglin halt chup lau4

In the early stages of Tanglin Halt’s housing development, the government also planned to introduce a light industrial estate near the flats to provide adequate employment opportunities to the new residents. In 1964, a $1.5 million project was launched by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to build multi-storey factories at the fringes of Tanglin Halt. The objective was to attract 30 or more factories to operate in the five-storey buildings as part of Singapore’s industrialisation program. Such scheme, first tested at Tanglin Halt, would be introduced to other part of the country if proven successful.

tanglin halt chup lau2

tanglin halt chup lau3

The challenge to develop part of Tanglin Halt into a light industrial estate had yielded positive results. In April 1965, Nippon Paint, formerly known as Pan-Malaysia Paint Industry Limited, opened a $2 million factory along Commonwealth Avenue. The new facility, sitting on a 2-arce site and possessing a tropical research station to study the effects of tropical climate on paints, had demonstrated the Japanese industrialists’ confidence in the future of Malaysia and Singapore.

Local entrepreneurs also began to move into the new vicinity. Well-established Singapore trading company Lim Seng Huat Limited Group opened their knitted garments plant at Tanglin Halt in 1969. Setron, Singapore’s own television maker, also set up a factory to assemble and produce thousands of black-and-white TVs. By the seventies, the industrial estate at Tanglin Halt was bustling with manufacturing and commercial activities with various companies involved in different trades such as electronics, textile, frozen food, chocolate, fiberglass and paper products.

tanglin halt market 1967

Most common public amenities were added to Tanglin Halt by the late sixties. The Tanglin Halt Market was completed and opened in 1967. Tanglin Halt was also said to be the first district in Queenstown to have a public phone installed.

Tanglin Halt Road was constructed in the early sixties but was converted into an one-way street in 1964. Parking was permitted on one side of the road but it affected the traffic conditions as insufficient parking space failed to meet the demands of some 600 cars and a large number of scooters. It also did not help when many street hawkers plied their trades along the narrow road, often causing congestion to the one-directional traffic. The issue was eventually solved with more public carparks built at Tanglin Halt.

tanglin halt 1970s

church of the blessed sacrament 1970s

Tanglin Halt’s two most iconic landmarks are the Church of the Blessed Sacrament and Sri Muneeswaran Temple.

Unique for its blue slated roof and cross-shaped service hall, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, designed by Y.G. Dowsett, was planned in the late fifties but could only be completed in 1965 due to limited funds. By the eighties, the church was able to serve some 7,000 parishioners at Queenstown. In 2005, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament was given the conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for its heritage value and architectural excellence.

old sri muneeswaran temple 1980s

The Sri Muneeswaran Temple, the other iconic place of worship at Tanglin Halt, has a history dated back to the early 1930s, when it was first set up as a railway shrine for the Hindu staffs who lived at Queenstown and worked for the Malayan Railway.

In 1969, the Hindu devotees at Queenstown donated generously to buy a parcel of land from the Malayan Railway Administration for the construction of a temple to replace the aging shrine. The temple, however, had to be moved in the nineties due to a road widening project along Queensway. The new Sri Muneeswaran Temple finally found its new home next to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in 1998.

tanglin halt

tanglin halt2

The chup lau chu were placed under the HDB’s Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in 2008, and are now awaiting demolition after most residents had moved out by mid-2014. Another 31 blocks of flats, most of them already half-century old, and the popular Tanglin Halt market, hawker centre, shops and eateries are scheduled to be cleared and torn down by 2021, in what will be HDB’s biggest SERS project to revamp and redevelop the vicinity.

When the time comes, Tanglin Halt, an unique neighbourhood where the trains used to pass by, will never be the same again.

tanglin halt chup lau5

Published: 13 July 2014

Updated: 15 July 2014

Posted in Cultural, Historic | 18 Comments

When the Durians Fall at Pulau Ubin

It is the durian season now.

Often described as a smelly fruit with heavenly taste, a durian’s aroma is so strong that the thorny fruit is banned in MRT trains and the airport. To most locals, however, it is the king of fruits. Many durian plantations used to thrive in Singapore, especially in the early part of the 20th century. Today, one can only find abundance of durian trees on outlying islands such as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

pulau ubin 2014

A colleague of mine has invited me to visit his grandparents’ former home at Pulau Ubin and, perhaps, pick a few durians along the way. So in one hot and humid Saturday morning, we found ourselves on the bum boat to the rustic island that resembles a Singapore of the seventies rather than the modern city it is today.

pulau ubin2 2014

Walking around the island was perhaps too tiring and time-consuming in a hot day, so we decided to follow what most visitors to Pulau Ubin do: Cycling. It is an efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transport on the island, where its number of vehicles is kept under control.

Our first stop was the former home of my colleague’s grandparents, who had stayed on the island some twenty years ago before they resettled at the eastern side of mainland Singapore.

pulau ubin5 2014

Their old house had already been demolished and only a forgotten flight of steps and a disused water well remained, with the rest slowly consumed by the forest over time. There are several giant durian trees at the vicinity; some are over 50 years old and have grown to heights of more than 10m tall. We scanned around for durians that had just dropped to the ground but unfortunately we could not find any fresh ones.

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The neighbouring zinc-roofed kampong houses are still standing in a mint condition well supported by a water well and electrical generators. Opposite of the kampong houses lie two ponds, which according to my colleague, used to be a fish breeding pond and a dumping pool. In other words, it was a natural toilet.

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Our next stop was the Kampong Sungei Tiga Chinese Cemetery, one of the three Chinese cemeteries at Pulau Ubin, along with the Muslim cemeteries at Kampong Chek Jawa, Kampong Malayu, Kampong Sungei Durian and Kampong Sarau. At this 150-year-old cemetery lies dozens of tombs, one of which belongs to my colleague’s great-grandfather.

pulau ubin9 2014

The abandoned burial ground had few visitors even during day time, as most cyclists chose to avoid or ignore the path leading to the cemetery. We thought it was a good opportunity to pick up some fresh durians unnoticed by others. The result was not satisfactory as we came across only two good pieces.

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As we rode on, we came across the kampong house that was in the news two years ago. In late 2012, a durian tree, said to be over 90 years of age, fell and crushed the 4-decade-old house, leaving half of it in wrecked condition. The house, once featured in the National Parks Board’s Pulau Ubin trail, has since been restored, although its owner no longer lives in it.

pulau ubin13 2014

So at the end of our three-hour durian-picking and exploration of the island, we had only two good durians to show off. And they were nearly snatched by a family of wild boars.  Already used to human presence, the friendly beasts have all the freedom to roam around the island, becoming one of Pulau Ubin’s main attractions.

pulau ubin14 2014

Unlike the “branded” ones such as mao shan wang (cat mountain) or ang hei (red prawn) sold in Singapore, the Pulau Ubin durians are small in their sizes with lesser flesh. But they come with tasty pale-yellow creamy flavour that reminds us of those durian trees that once grew in abundance at Mandai, Nee Soon and Upper Thomson during the olden days. Despite only two durians as our reward, it was still considered a “fruitful” trip, especially for urban dwellers like us.

pulau ubin15 2014

Published: 25 June 2014

Posted in Cultural, Exotic | 9 Comments

Gongs, Long Hair and Chewing Gums

What do gongs, long hair and chewing gums have in common?

They were all part of a list of items that were either permanently banned or disallowed in public for a period of time in Singapore. Some banned items contained dangerous elements, while others were associated with excessive contents of sex and violence that challenged the society’s moral standards. Banning of certain publications was common. For example, a Hong Kong comic, popular among Singapore students who would spend their pocket money to buy at the roadside stalls, was banned in 1966 due to its undesirable storyline filled with violence, gangsterism and fantasy.

So other than drugs and gambling, what had been banned in Singapore since the sixties?

Playboy Magazines

As part of the “anti-yellow” drive at the start of 1960, the Playboy magazine and its Playmate calender was officially banned in Singapore. Costing $2.10 per copy, the monthly magazine from Chicago fell under the provisions of the Undesirable Publications Ordnance. It never made it to Singapore shores since.

Three years later in 1963, thirty more “morally objectionable” novels from the United States, with contents mostly describing sex and violence, were banned by the Home Affairs Ministry.

Gongs and Cymbals

chinese funeral gong 1970sIn early 1960, the Singapore police banned gongs and cymbals at Chinese wakes and funerals. A Chinese tradition for centuries, the shattering noise of gongs and cymbals had been an integrated part of Chinese wakes that were accompanied by bands and funeral music. In the fifties, however, secret societies began to infiltrate Chinese clans and associations that increased the rivalries between one another.

The tensions were especially high during the funerals, where rival societies tried to “out-gong” each other, often resulting in fights and melees. Beside the ban, the police also ordered the funeral bands to take the shortest routes from the deceased’s houses to the cemeteries in order to minimise the possible friction between the gangs. The ban was only lifted many years later.


Singapore is a relatively safe place today with the public not allowed to possess any forms of firearms, but it was not the same during the fifties, when post-war Singapore was in the midst of the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). Thousands of weapons and permits were issued to individual private owners for protective purposes.

On 15 July 1960, three days after the official ending of Malayan Emergency, the Singapore police began to cancel the licenses and inform the private firearm owners to hand over their weapons. Those who failed to do so within three weeks had to justify their reasons.

Tikam Tikam

tikam tikam gameThe chance game of tikam tikam was outlawed by the police in 1961. Offenders caught playing the game would be fined $500 and jailed up to 6 months, while the tikam tikam operators faced a fine of $6,000 and a 3-year imprisonment. The harsh punishment, however, failed to deter the the public from engaging in the popular game at places such as Chinatown, Tiong Bahru and New Bridge Road.

At five cents per pick, the punter could pick a piece of paper with a number written on it. With prizes ranging from toys to packets of cigarettes, and sometimes cash, it often attracted many to gather at the tikam tikam stalls outside the schools, markets and Chinese operas. Despite the ban, the game of chance remained popular among Singaporeans until the eighties.

Pirate Taxis

In a major crackdown known as “Operation Taxi” in 1966, as many as 20 illegal taxis were chong gong (confiscated) with their drivers arrested and fined. The problem of pirate taxis had already existed in the fifties, but by the mid-sixties, there were more than 12,000 pirate taxi drivers in Singapore, offering competitive rates and “stealing” an estimated of 6 million ridership from the Singapore Traction Company’s bus services. Many being new drivers without regular driving experiences, they also added to the increasing number of accidents on the roads, complicating insurance matters.

To make things worse, many pirate taxi drivers had the backing of the secret societies, and had marked their territories in areas such as Queenstown, Aljunied and Havelock Road where few licensed taxi drivers dared to venture in to pick up passengers. In March 1966, a riot almost broke out as the illegal drivers protested against the new legislation, almost clashing with the licensed drivers and the bus companies.

In a bid to overhaul the public transport service, the government increased the number of legitimate taxis from 3,800 to 5,000 in 1969. Despite the ban and regular raids, pirate taxis continued to exist in Singapore until the eighties.


firecrackers 1968The year was 1968. Few had paid attention to the government’s repeated appeals not to let off the rocket-type firecrackers during the Chinese New Year. It resulted in the banning of the rocket-type firecrackers, but that did not stop the public from using other types of firecrackers in strings and packets.

A partial ban of all types of firecrackers was issued after 6 people died and more than 70 were injured from the fires caused by firecrackers during the 1970 Chinese New Year. The final straw came two years later, when two policemen were attacked as they tried to stop a group of men letting off firecrackers at a non-designated place. The firecrackers were totally banned in Singapore in 1972.

Long Hair

In the late sixties, long hair, bell bottoms and psychedelic shirts were largely associated with the hippie culture influenced by the Western world. The Singapore government began to strongly “discourage” male Singaporeans with long hair in 1970. Visitors to the country were turned away due to their long hairs. Students were made to go for haircuts, civil servants who refused to cut their hairs short were sacked and groups of long-haired men were rounded up and questioned by the police.

long hair served last 1972In 1973, the People’s Association launched the anti-long hair campaign in all of its 189 community centres, emphasizing that “males with long hair will have their need attended to last” when they visited government bodies. The definition of long hair was determined as hair reaching below the collar, covering the ears and forehead and touching the eyelashes.

Popular artistes, such as Japanese musician Kitaro and British rock band Led Zeppelin, were also barred from entering Singapore. The baffling rule was eventually, and quietly, lifted when the hippie culture faded away by the eighties.


Nunchaku, the martial art weapon made up of two hard wood rods linked together by a chain, was made popular by Bruce Lee’s films in the early seventies. It was used in karate classes in Singapore, and was even advertised in newspapers.

nunchaku advert 1973

But by 1972, it was deemed as an offensive weapon and was banned in Singapore, believed to be part of the cracking down efforts of secret society members. In 1975, a 23-year-old man named Sethupillay Rajaretnam became the first man in Singapore to be jailed and caned for possessing nunchaku. Several youths carrying nunchaku were also subsequently arrested and charged in the court.


“Black Coffins”, “Jacky’s Trails”, “Scorpio”, “White Snake” and “Hell’s Angels”. These were the names hell-riding groups had given themselves in the early seventies. More than just public nuisance, many hell-riders were involved in gambling, drug-taking, gang fights and, worst of all, fatal accidents. In 1982 alone, almost 80 died and more than 4,500 were injured in motorcycle accidents. In the high-speed races, it was not uncommon to read in the newspapers that a Yamaha Daytona had crashed and dragged to the roadside, with its owner lying elsewhere in a twisted manner.

After the new anti-hell-riding laws were passed in the early eighties, the Singapore police carried out a major crackdown in October 1984 at Nicoll Drive, checking on some 500 vehicles in the four-hour operation. Popular illegal racing spots at Changi and Jurong were kept quiet for more than a year, leading to the police to proudly declare that organised hell-riding was a thing of the past.


breakdancing 1984The eighties saw the rise of funky youths dressed in outrageous outfits and carrying portable hi-fi sets at Orchard Road. Popularly known as the Far East Plaza Kids, McDonald’s Kids or the Centrepoint’s Kids, they could be spotted hanging out outside the popular shopping malls, sometimes in groups of hundreds.

In June 1984, police task-force troops were called in to disperse a huge group of youngsters at Far East Plaza. A breakdancing performance had been organised by a record shop, attracting as many as 3,000 youngsters to gather and cheer. A week later, the police officially banned breakdancing in public places.

Chewing Gums

One of the most well-known items banned in Singapore, chewing gums were deemed as a public nuisance after repeated cases of disruptions to the MRT trains and buses. Every night, more than 400 globs of chewing gums, on average, were removed from the seats inside the MRT trains.


In November 1989, chewing gums were officially prohibited in MRT trains and stations. The ban was extended to nationwide in January 1992, due to the increasing cost of removing discarded gums stuck on pavements, lift doors and other public places. The majority of the Singaporeans felt that the ban was too harsh, although many would agree that chewing gum was an irritation and public nuisance. It would take many years before certain gums were allowed to be sold in Singapore as medical products.

Published: 19 June 2014

Posted in Cultural | 63 Comments

The World Cup Craze and Memories

The World Cup is here again.

The biggest football tournament, held once every four years, is again expected to cause many sleepless nights among the local football fans. During Mexico ’86, the 10-year-old me always wondered why my father stayed up every night to watch some TV programs. By the time Italia ’90 was held, I was already a converted football fan and had joined my father in catching the biggest show on football scene, marvelling at the brilliant skills of Gary Lineker, Marco van Basten, Roberto Baggio, Rudi Voller, and of cos, Diego Maradona.

world cup logos

The World Cups on TVs

Since 1966, Singaporeans were able to catch the World Cups in black and white on the free-to-air Channel 5, broadcast by the Radio Television Singapura (RTS). Few had the luxury to watch at home though, since in the sixties, less than 5% of the Singapore’s population owned a television set.

In the seventies, imported brands such as Sharp and Telefunken cost as much as $3,000 per TV set, several times than that of the monthly salary of an average Singaporean. Setron, a local TV manufacturer established since 1965, was able to provide a cheaper alternative to Singaporeans with their TV prices tagged close to $1,800.

setron tv 1960s

There was a breakthrough in early May 1974, when colour tests were run successfully just in time for the final of World Cup 1974 between Holland and West Germany. Hence, the first telecast of the World Cup in full colours would be presented via satellite to Singaporeans that year. When the news was out, more than 2,000 colour TVs were snapped up islandwide. Crowds also gathered outside Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket to catch the final live.

world cup final 1974 live at fitzpatricks supermarket

Singapore and the World Cups

Singapore did not have the chance to participate in the early World Cups. Southeast Asia was generally under colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century, although that did not stop Indonesia from becoming the first Asian country to participate in the World Cup 1938 when they travelled to France as Dutch East Indies. In Malaya and Singapore, the football associations were administrated by the British, and the biggest football event to the fans was the Malaya Cup.

world cup qualifier group 1978After its independence, Singapore remained inactive on the international stage, preferring to concentrate in the regional competitions such as the Asian Games, Malaysia Cup, Merdeka Cup, Ovaltine Cup, the King’s Cup in Thailand and the Merlion Cup.

It was not until 1977 when Singapore debuted in its first ever World Cup qualification games. The inauguration of the World Cup qualifying stage in the Asian zone took place in the new National Stadium, completed just three years earlier. Finishing second in the First Round qualifying group, Singapore met Hong Kong in the playoff for the Final Round, but was knocked out with a 1-0 defeat. Iran would later emerge as the winner of the Final Round to gain a berth at the 1978 World Cup at Argentina.

Goal 2010

In 1998, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, in his National Day Rally speech, visualised a dream for Singapore. That was to qualify for the World Cup finals in 2010. Citing the success of the French national team as the example, Goh Chok Tong emphasized on the importance of importing foreign sport talents to help raise the standard of the Singapore football.

The ambitious dream, which had initially excited the local football fans, came to an end when Singapore crashed out in the group stage with 2 wins and 4 losses in the 2010 World Cup Asian Qualifying Tournament.

First Singaporean Referee

Singapore did have one representative in the World Cup. It was not the national team but George Suppiah (1930-2012), the first Singaporean, and Asian, football referee to officiate in the World Cup finals. He was appointed as the man-in-charge of the first-round match between Poland and Haiti at the 1974 World Cup held in West Germany, and was also later selected as the linesman for the Sweden-Bulgaria and Brazil-Holland matches. A 25-year between 1953 and 1978 career saw him refereed a total of 43 international ‘A’ matches.

world cup 1974 referee george suppiah

Panini Sticker Albums

Many would perhaps remember the popularity of the Panini sticker collections sold in Singapore in the eighties and nineties. One of their legacies was the World Cup sticker albums, which served as memorabilia for football fans. Selling at $1 per packet of 5 stickers at the convenience stores, it was a craze back then among the students who bought the stickers with their pocket money and swapped among one another in the schools.

Today, Panini continues to launch their new series of the World Cup sticker albums, but its popularity in Singapore seems to have waned as compared to other countries.

panini world cup sticker albums

panini world cup italia 90 argentina

panini world cup italia 90 germany

panini world cup italia 90 holland

panini world cup italia 90 england

This will be the 7th World Cup I am watching. Will there ever be a chance in my lifetime to witness Singapore’s participation in the World Cup finals? Let’s certainly hope so.

Published: 08 June 2014

Updated: 10 June 2014

Posted in General | 7 Comments

Moths, Durians and Other Local Old Wives’ Tales

It is the “moth season” in Singapore recently, with hundreds, even thousands, of moths spotted all over the island. Known as the tropical swallowtail moths, they are the second largest species of moths found in Singapore, and are generally flying around in larger numbers between May and August.


Many cultures around the world believe moths are the symbols of death. In Singapore, there is a popular belief that that moths are the spirits of the dead who have come back to visit their loved ones. Another local old wives’ tale of moths is that the powder that coat their wings can cause blindness, and kids are often warned not to disturb these winged insects. In reality, the “powdery” wings of the moths are made up of thousands of tiny modified hairs called scales.

Other than moths, there are dozens of old wives’ tales and taboos in Singapore. Some may sound illogical, while others are probably originated from superstitions and folklore. The purpose of this article is not ridicule but to explore this interesting aspect that has been part of our Singaporean culture for many generations.

How many of these have you heard of?

Durians Have Eyes

Old Wives’ Tale: Ripe durians will not fall on anyone’s head.

Possible Explanation: There are probably not many reported accidents of anyone hit by falling durians. But such accidents do happen every now and then. In 2001, a Malaysian newspapers reported that a 49-year-old man was knocked unconscious by a falling durian in a plantation.


Cutting Fingernails at Night

Old Wives’ Tale: Many Singaporean mums would prohibit their kids from cutting their fingernails at night. For the Malays, cutting nails at night may shorten one’s lifespan, while the Chinese believes the kids will develop a phobia of the dark.

Possible Explanation: As most kampongs had dim lighting, fingernail-cutting might be a little dangerous in the past, especially with scissors at night. You won’t want to accidentally cut your fingers instead, so it would probably be more advisable to cut the nails during daytime.

A Lizard’s Tail

Old Wives’ Tale: A frightened house lizard’s tail will jump into your ears

Possible Explanation: House lizards are commonly found in homes. When feeling threatened, a lizard will drop its tail off. It is a defense mechanism known as autotomy. A new tail will be regenerated in a couple of weeks. However, the chances of the broken tail jumping into one’s ears are extremely low.

Three’s a Crowd

Old Wives’ Tale: Taking photographs of three people is a no-no. The one in the middle will die soon.

Possible Explanation: The origin of this taboo is undetermined. A similar old wives’ tale also exists: when walking in a group, three people should not walk side by side. Like the taboo mentioned, the one in the middle will suffer an early death.

Sweet Floral Scent

Old Wives’ Tale: The smell of frangipani indicates the presence of a spirit nearby.

Possible Explanation: This originated from the Malay belief that a pontianak gives off a strong smell of frangipani when she is close to her victim.

Hot Bus Cushion Seats

Old Wives’ Tale: Hot bus cushion seats give your piles

Possible Explanation: In the old days, we often see the elderly spanking the bus leather seats vigorously before sitting. Many of them believed that the seats warmed by the previous commuters would give them piles. There is no such problem today, especially with the buses fully air-conditioned and fitted with new fabric seats.

old bus cushion seats

Eyelids’ Twitching

Old Wives’ Tale: There will be good fortune if one’s left eyelid twitches, while right eyelid twitching symbolises bad luck.

Possible Explanation: Its origin is unknown, but this old wives’ tale is not unique in Singapore. It is a popular belief in many other countries, just that it exists in different variations. In medical explanation, the twitching of eyelids indicates the tiredness, stress or allergies of the eyes.

Night Swims

Old Wives’ Tale: Avoid swimming at night. The water spirits will make you drown and claim your soul.

Possible Explanation: In the past, the mothers would warn their kids to discourage them from playing at the rivers or longkangs (canals) after sunset.

Finish Your Food!

Old Wives’ Tale: Finish all your rice, or else your future husband/wife will be mo peng (face scarred by pimples)

Possible Explanation: A good tactic used by the mothers to ensure their kids do not waste any food.

Pointing Finger at the Moon

Old Wives’ Tale: A warning from the elderly: “Don’t point your finger to the moon, or your ear will be cut“.

Possible Explanation: In many religions and beliefs, the moon is as much-respected as the sun. Probably that is why it is considered rude to point at the moon.

urban legend - moon

Bad Luck Underwear

Old Wives’ Tale: It is unlucky to walk under the undergarments hanged at the rear of HDB flats.

Possible Explanation: This perhaps originated from another popular belief: If you wear a panty on your head (why will anyone do that?), you will get bad luck for 7 years. In any case, it is still not advisable to walk at the rear of HDB flats due to the chances of falling bamboo poles that are used for hanging clothes.

Peeping Tom’s Punishment

Old Wives’ Tale: You will get stye (commonly known as eye needle or ba zham in Hokkien) if you peep someone bathing. In the fifties, people used to use a few grain of rice to rub their affected eyes as the cure for stye.

Possible Explanation: Peeping at someone bathing is immoral and illegal. In medical explanation, stye is caused by the bacterial infection of the skin around the eye, and probably has nothing to do with peeping.

Painful Head

Old Wives’ Tale: Use your fist to knock against the bottom of your jaws gently if you are hit on the head.

Possible Explanation: Perhaps in doing so, it may have a psychological effect in soothing the pain. Just like hopping on the spot after being hit on the groin.

“Excuse Me”

Old Wives’ Tale: Mumble “excuse me” when peeing near a tree.

Possible Explanation: In the olden days when there were more jungles and plantations than public toilets, people often had to answer their nature’s calls by the trees, but they were afraid of offending the tree spirits. This practice is still common among the NS personnel today, especially during the jungle trainings. In any case, it is good to respect the nature too.

Knock Knock!

Old Wives’ Tale: Always knock on the door before you enter your hotel room or any other empty rooms.

Possible Explanation: It is to warn any spirits or other unknowns lurking in the room beforehand, and hope they will not disturb the one who is going to stay in that room.

hotel corridor

Nailing Disallowed

Old Wives’ Tale: No nailing during pregnancy

Possible Explanation: The Chinese, especially the Cantonese, believe that nailing during pregnancy will cause deformities to the unborn baby. In fact, drilling and shifting of furniture should also be avoided.

Tiger Cure

Old Wives’ Tale: Write the Chinese character of “tiger” (虎), preferably by an adult born in the year of Tiger, onto the swollen cheeks of the child who is suffering from mumps.

Possible Explanation: Mumps are commonly known as the “swelled face” (猪头皮) in Chinese. Pigs, naturally, are afraid of tigers, and therefore in the olden days, this was a popular folk remedy when professional medical assistance was not easily available.

Tooth Fairy

Old Wives’ Tale: When his/her baby tooth dislodges, the child must stand up straight and throw the fallen tooth out of the window, so that the new replacement tooth can grow well.

Possible Explanation: A possible local variation of the western folklore Tooth Fairy?

Clocks as Gifts

Old Wives’ Tale: Giving clock to others, especially the elderly, is strictly prohibited

Possible Explanation: Giving a clock as gift, to the Chinese, sounds like providing a burial to the parents (送终). Which is why the elderly are particularly pantang (superstitious) about this.


Bad Gossips

Old Wives’ Tale: If you suddenly sneeze, or have an itchy ear, or accidentally bite your tongue, it means someone is talking bad of you, or gossiping about you

Possible Explanation: Nil.

Umbrella Taboo

Old Wives’ Tale: Opening an umbrella inside the house may attract a ghost (Chinese beliefs), or a snake will appear from the inner center of the umbrella (Malay beliefs).

Possible Explanation: This is not unique to the local Chinese and Malays. The Egyptians also believe opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck. Anyway, few will do it unless it rains inside the house.

Choking Remedy

Old Wives’ Tale: If a person chokes while eating, knock a pair of chopsticks (upright) against an empty bowl held slightly above his head.

Possible Explanation: This old wives’ tale seems to have originated from Hong Kong, where the Cantonese believe in doing so, it will clear the windpipe and ease the choking.


  • Do not take photographs of someone sleeping, as his soul may be trapped.
  • A mirror placed in front of the bed will confuse your soul when it returns to your body upon waking.
  • Some local Chinese and Indians believe that if your palms itch, you will receive some wealth or good fortune soon.
  • A young girl, according to Malay beliefs, should avoid singing in the kitchen or else she will marry an old man as her husband.
  • Whistling while walking home at night may attract ghostly presence.
  • Hearing a cat cries at night spells bad omen.

Published: 01 June 2014

Posted in Cultural, Paranormal | 7 Comments