A Flashback to Singapore 1982 Through Old Geography Textbooks (Part 1)

Like the good old Social Studies textbooks (see A Pictorial Gallery of Singapore in 1980), the old Secondary School Geography textbooks, first published by the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) in 1982, also contain a large variety of old photos portraying Singapore of the early eighties.

CDIS was established in 1979 to provide textbooks for Primary and Secondary levels of Singapore’s education system, replacing the old textbook schemes by the Ministry of Education (MOE) (1970-1978) and its former Education Publication Bureau (EPB) (1965-1969). In 1996, CDIS was officially ceased, after the new Curriculum Planning and Development Division took over the role to prepare the syllabuses and authorize the quality and prices of textbooks.

old cdis geography textbooks

Its Part 1 (for Secondary One students) mainly touches on Singapore’s rural and urban landscapes, urban renewal and conservation, as well as Singapore’s residential, industrial and agricultural developments. Through the photo gallery, one can easily notice the large changes of Singapore in the past three decades.

Central Business District and Global City

The Central Business District (CBD) has always been Singapore’s centre of commercial activities, such as banking, insurance and wholesaling. As the volume of trade grew, the CBD expanded along the waterfront facing Collyer Quay and Clifford Pier, and it became known as the Golden Shoe in the eighties and nineties (today, the name Golden Shoe was seldom used, except of the double-storey hawker centre at Market Street).

1982 golden shoe

Over the years, the Central Area was expanded to include City Hall and the Orchard vicinities. Many shopping malls were also built along a stretch of Beach Road that later became known as the Golden Mile.

As the CBD continued to change and progress, there was a need to utilise the lands effectively. More urban renewal projects were launched to demolished the old buildings, replacing them with office towers and other skyscrapers. Parts of the coastal waters were also filled to enable the further expansion of the CBD.

1982 shenton way

1982 raffles city construction

In the eighties, Singapore became the world’s second largest port after the Netherlands’ Rotterdam. Between the sixties and eighties, Singapore’s trade grew so rapidly that by 1981, there were six gateways (Keppel Wharves, Container Terminal, Telok Ayer Wharves, Pasir Panjang Wharves, Sembawang Wharves and Jurong Port) to the Port of Singapore.

1982 singapore river godowns

1982 goods unloading at singapore river

In the late seventies, Singapore’s major imports and exports included telecommunication equipment, fabrics, ships and boats, electronic valves and crude rubber. But the largest imported and exported products were the crude petroleum and refined petroleum products that generated more than $10 billion in annual trade.

1982 port of singapore

1982 changi airport

The growth as the centre of air travel was essential as Singapore thrived to become a global city. In 1981, the new Changi Airport was officially opened after six years of construction, replacing the former Paya Lebar International Airport which had became over-congested by the seventies.

Singapore’s third international airport (after Kallang and Paya Lebar airports) was mostly built on reclaimed lands. The location was chosen to be away from the populated areas in order to avoid the issues of noise pollution and traffic congestion. Domestic travelling was made convenient as new highways such as the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) were linked to the airport; the travel time between the city and the airport was only twenty minutes.

Residential Development and New Towns

1982 singapore hdb estates

One of the maps used in the textbook displays the locations of the housing estates in Singapore in 1982. Newer housing estates such as Choa Chu Kang, Bishan, Pasir Ris, Sengkang and Punggol were not listed as they have not yet slated for modern residential development.

By 1980, almost 358,000 flats were built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to accommodate 75% of the 2.5 million residents in Singapore.

1982 malay kampong

1982 chinese village

In 1982, many villages still existed in areas such as Lim Chu Kang, Yio Chu Kang and Punggol. Fast forward 30 years, all kampongs on mainland Singapore had vanished with the exception of Kampong Lorong Buangkok, which is increasingly threatened by urban development in its surroundings in recent years.

The old shophouses, on the other hand, have better fates. Although many could not escape demolition during the urban renewal projects carried out in the sixties and seventies, a large number of shophouses have been retained and restored, especially at designated areas in Geylang, Tanjong Pagar, Little India and Joo Chiat.

1982 geylang shophouses

1982 singapore new towns

In the sixties, public housing districts, such as Queenstown, Redhill, Tiong Bahru and Farrer Park, were mostly located near the Central Area. By the early seventies, there was a need to build new housing estates in the outer regions that were 10km away from the city. The housing estates were developed into full-fledged new towns that contained flats, a variety of public amenities and flatted factories.

Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi were the three earliest new towns to be developed in Singapore. By 1982, six more new towns were planned and developed. They were Woodlands, Yishun, Tampines, Hougang, Jurong East and Jurong West.

1982 clementi new town

1982 clementi playground

Each new town came with a town centre that acted as its commercial, social and transport centre. The new towns were divided into several neighbourhoods that consisted of residential precincts, small malls, retails shops and eating houses. A mature neighbourhood would also featured schools, markets and hawker centres.

1982 singapore urban landscape

1982 woodlands town garden

Agriculture in Singapore

In the early eighties, the main agricultural activities in Singapore were pig and poultry rearing, vegetable farming and flowers cultivation. In 1980, the four activities generated more than $500 million in revenue. The total land area that was devoted to agriculture, however, was small. At 90 square km, it stood only 14.5% of Singapore’s total land area.

1982 singapore agriculture areas

1982 singapore pig and chicken farms

More than 1 million pigs were sent to the abattoir in 1980, and the total output from the poultry farms was 32 million chickens and 550 million eggs. The large output ensured Singapore was more than self-sufficient in pork, poultry and eggs.

The pollution caused by the pig waste, however, led to the government’s policy to phase out the pig farms in the mid-eighties. By 1988, all of the pig farms in Singapore were shut down. Poultry farms were allowed to continue, but most were downsized and generally confined to Lim Chu Kang areas.

1982 punggol primary production department

Also see A Flashback to Singapore 1982 Through Old Geography Textbooks (Part 2).

Published: 13 September 2014

Updated: 29 September 2014

Posted in Nostalgic | 12 Comments

SCDF Heritage Gallery – Singapore’s Firefighting History

First Fire Brigade

The early fires were mostly put out by policemen, sepoys, soldiers and even prisoners. In April 1869, a voluntary firefighting force was formed, but without proper trainings and equipment, the early brigade was proved to be inefficient in dealing with major fire disasters.

wheel escape ladder 1910sIt was only until mid-1886, and after countless fires, when the proposal to hire firemen was approved. Two years later, the Singapore Fire Brigade was officially formed. With sufficient funding, fire stations were able to be established within the police quarters, equipped with horse-drawn steam fire engines.

A breakthrough for the Singapore Fire Brigade was the purchase of its first wheel escape ladder in 1908. Measuring 50 feet, the ladder was able to reach the highest window on a double-storey building. By the seventies, the Singapore Fire Brigade had a total of six wheel escape ladders, which were operationally ready until they were decommissioned in 1981.

The Early Fire Stations

Posted from England, Captain Montague William Pett was the first professional fireman in Singapore. He was appointed as the superintendent of the Singapore Fire Brigade between 1905 and 1912, and was given the task to modernise the force. One of Montague Pett’s contributions was to commission the building of the Central Fire Station to serve as the headquarters of his firefighting force. The fire station, also known as Hill Street Fire Station, was professionally designed with a training ground, engine house and a watch tower. It was officially opened in August 1909.

central fire station

The Central Fire Station, however, was not the first fire station in Singapore. The Cross Street Fire Station had been the main station for the early firefighting force since 1891, and there were also the Beach Road Fire Station, which became operational two years later, and the Kallang Fire Station.

The Early Fire Engines

Merryweather Fire King

The Merryweather Fire King, one of the world’s best fire engines of its era, was introduced in Singapore in the early 20th century. It had been used by both London Fire Brigade and Penang Fire Brigade since 1905 and 1906 respectively. Fully motorised, it was equipped with a boiler that produced steam to drive the fire engine to the disaster site in a short period of time.

merryweather fire king

The Merryweather Fire Engine also allowed water to be pumped directly from a water source. The firemen could then use the high water pressure in their hoses to fight fire effectively.

Major Pump Three

The Singapore Fire Brigade acquired two Major Pump Three before the Second World War, and added one more in 1947. Produced in the 1930s, the Major Pump Three, also known as Dennis Fire Tender, was capable of efficient firefighting and rescue missions with its 450/500 Dennis turbine and 16m escape ladder. During the operations, the driver and the officer-in-charge would sit in the front seats of the open-concept vehicle, while the rest of the firemen had to stand on the side platforms, clinging tightly onto the ladder.

major pump three

The Major Pump Three fire engines were put to test during the Bukit Ho Swee Fire in 1961. They continued to be used by the Singapore Fire Brigade until the seventies. Only one such model remains today, where it is being put on display at the SCDF Heritage Gallery.

Dennis Pump Escape

The Dennis Pump Escape was bought by the Singapore Fire Brigade in 1951 as part of an upgrade to their firefighting equipment. Fitted with a better engine, the Dennis Pump Escape also ensured the personal safety of the firemen, who could now sit inside the fire engine instead of clinging onto the side rails.

dennis pump escape

The Dennis Pump Escape served for a total of 28 years in the force, before it was retired in 1979.

Major Fire Disasters

Kampong Koo Chye Fire (1958)

Tragedy struck Kampong Koo Chye at Lorong 1 and 3 of Geylang Road on 5 April 1958, when a raging fire swept across the kampong made up of wooden and attap houses. Six lives were lost, before the firemen were able to keep the fire under control.

The disaster led to the formation of kampong firefighting parties made up of volunteers. Each party was made up of 20 young men who were given proper trainings by the fire brigade. The fire brigade would visit various kampongs in their fire engines to educate the residents on fire safety. The exercise proved to be successful. Instead of grabbing their possessions and running away, more kampong residents and the firefighting parties were able to quickly deal with small fire outbreaks before they got out of control.

Tiong Bahru Fire (1959)

Tiong Bahru had been plagued by fires between the 1930s and 1950s. A major one hit the kampongs at Tiong Bahru in February 1959, causing 12,000 residents to lose their home. The total loss was estimated to be $2 million.

Bukit Ho Swee Fire (1961 & 1968)

The notorious Bukit Ho Swee Fire, the worst fire disaster in the history of Singapore, broke out in the afternoon of Hari Raya Haji on 25 May 1961. Believed to have started near the King’s Cinema at Tiong Bahru, the fire, fanned by strong winds, spread rapidly through Bukit Ho Swee to Havelock Road and the Delta area. Rows of attap houses, sawmills and workshops were destroyed, and explosions were heard from the oil and petrol containers in the nearby warehouses.

bukit ho swee fire 1961

A record 22 fire engines were activated, but by 8pm, the fire was still burning strongly. By the time it was put out, the fire had destroyed more than 100 acres of squatter settlement, claiming four victims and leaving 16,000 homeless. Several years later, on 24 November 1968, Bukit Ho Swee was devastated by another big fire. This time, 3,000 residents’ homes in another squatter settlement at Bukit Ho Swee were burnt down.

robinsons fire 1972Robinsons Department Store Fire (1972)

On 21 November 1972, a large fire, caused by an electrical short circuit, engulfed Robinsons Department Store at Raffles Place. A total of nine people perished in the fire, and more than $20 million’s worth of consumer products were destroyed in flames that could be seen as far as Jurong. The disaster also ended Robinsons’ 114-year presence at Singapore’s prime district.

Sypros Disaster (1978)

In late 1978, the Liberian-registered vessel named Sypros arrived at the Jurong shipyard for repairs. A spark from the cutting torch caused the ship’s contaminated fuel tank to explode, turning the engine room into an inferno. 76 lives were lost; many of them were burnt to death. The Sypros tragedy later led to the aggressive campaigns for safety in the shipbuilding industry.

Pulau Bukom Fire (1981)

Struck by a bolt of lightning in the wee morning of 18 April 1981, the roof of an oil tank at Pulau Bukom was ignited with fires burning more than 15 hours. More than 100 firemen from the Singapore Fire Service were rushed to the scene to battle against the spreading flames.

pulau bukom fire 1981

Sentosa Hostel Fire (1982)

In the island’s first ever major fire, a two-storey youth hostel on Sentosa was partially destroyed on 24 October 1982. Flames quickly fanned through rooms filled with beds and furniture, as 70 rangers battled the fire for almost 90 minutes.

Pulau Merlimau Refinery Fire (1988)

A fire had broke out on Pulau Merlimau oil refinery on 16 August 1984. Four years later on 25 October 1988, the storage tanks on the Southern island caught fire again. It went on to become Singapore’s worst offshore fire disaster. Lasting more than six day, the fire sent numerous tanks filled with naphtha into flames and smoke. The Pulau Merlimau fire resulted in 25 injuries and $15 million in losses, and thick clouds of polluted air and soot covered the western part of Singapore for days.

pulau merlimau fire 1988

Jurong Shipyard Fire (1994)

Another flash fire hit a tanker at Jurong shipyard on 8 February 1994, killing eight and injuring three.

Tuas Chemical Fire (1997)

One of Singapore’s worst chemical fires occurred on 22 May 1997. Chemical treatment plant Chemsolv Technologies, located at Tuas, was hit by a fire that found it way to the highly flammable waste chemicals stored in drums and containers. The firemen took more than four hours to control the blaze. Two were injured and more than 500 workers were evacuated.

Eunos Crescent Market Fire (1999)

On 05 July 1999, some 158 stalls were burnt to ashes in a big fire at Eunos Crescent Market.

Seletar Market Fire (2000)

The popular but now-demolished Seletar Market was almost destroyed by a big fire on 28 July 2000. 84 stalls were destroyed, and the hawkers had to be relocated at makeshift stalls nearby. The new Seletar Market was completed in the following year at a cost of $750,000, but was eventually torn down at the end of 2004.

Pulau Bukom Refinery Fire (2011)

Burning for 32 hours and resulting in a total loss of $187 million, the fire that struck Shell’s refinery at Pulau Bukom on 28 September 2011 was the worst refinery fire since 1988. More than 100 firefighters were activated to control the situation. It would take three months before Shell’s refinery was able to resume to full production.

pulau bukom fire 2011

The Modern-Day Force

In 1980, the Singapore Fire Brigade became officially known as the Singapore Fire Service (SFS). It was renamed as the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) in April 1989 after the merger of the Fire Service and the Civil Defence Force. The modern-day force not only dealt with fires but also other disasters such as the collapse of the Hotel New World in March 1986. Since 1988, the Civil Defence Force had also been deployed in overseas humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

995, the emergency number that most Singaporeans are familiar today, was introduced in 1984, replacing the older versions of 5555, 328111 and 3378111. In 1991, the first Public Warning System (PWS) were tested and installed. Today, the system covers more than 2,000 strategic locations on the island.

Former Fire Stations

Alexandra Fire Station (1954-2003)

Alexandra Fire Station was officially opened by the Governor of Singapore Sir John Nicoll on 25 February 1954. Constructed at a cost of $1.5 million, it was then the largest fire station in Eastern Asia. Located near Rumah Bomba Circus, the former round-about between Alexandra Road and Queensway, the fire station’s main mission was to serve Singapore’s first satellite town in Queenstown, Pasir Panjang and the west coast of the country.

Alexandra Fire Station boasted a 164-feet high watch tower, 62 feet taller than the iconic tower at the Central Fire Station. One of the station’s most difficult operations was the battle against the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. Serving for almost 50 years, the aging premises of the former Alexandra Fire Station was eventually demolished in 2003.

Bukit Timah Fire Station (1956-2005)

The fourth fire station in Singapore, the Bukit Timah Fire Station was built two years after the completion of the Alexandra Fire Station. Standing at the junction of Upper Bukit Timah Road and Old Jurong Road for five decades, it had become an iconic landmark in the vicinity with its distinctive red doors and watch tower. There were also several blocks of staff quarters standing beside the main station.

former bukit timah fire station

In 2005, the fire station was closed permanently; its role was taken over by the 4th Civil Defence Division housed in the new Bukit Batok Fire Station at Bukit Batok Road. The premises is currently converted into a restaurant.

Geylang Fire Station (1929-2002)

Before the ceasing of its operation, the Geylang Fire Station was the second oldest fire station in Singapore after the Central Fire Station. It was opened in 1929, and served a total of 73 years at the junction of Paya Lebar Road and Sims Avenue.

former paya lebar fire station

After 2002, the duties of the Geylang Fire Station were reassigned to the Paya Lebar Fire Station, who also serves as the headquarters of SCDF. The premises of the former fire station was given the conservation status is 2007.

Sembawang Fire Station (1941-2003)

Located within the former Sembawang Naval Base, the old Sembawang Fire Station was established by the British in 1941, providing operational coverage for the naval base as well as areas around Sembawang, Mandai and Woodlands. When the British forces started their withdrawal in 1968, Sembawang Naval Base and its facilities were handed over to the Singapore government.

sembawang fire station 1986

The Sembawang Fire Station, with its fleet of fire engines, fire boats and firefighting equipment, was taken over by the Singapore Fire Brigade in 1971. It continued to be in service until 2003, where its operations were relocated to Yishun Fire Station. Like the Geylang Fire Station, Sembawang Fire Station was conserved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2007.

Serangoon Fire Station (1952-2001)

Built in 1952, the Serangoon Fire Station was situated along Serangoon Road near the Kallang River. It won the best fire station award in 1996. The responsibilities of the Serangoon Fire Station were transferred to the Bishan Fire Station after it ceased its operation in 2001.

former serangoon fire station

The restructuring of the organisation ensured that the SCDF’s operational coverage was extended to the residential, commercial and industrial areas at Bishan and Thomson.

Published: 22 August 2014

Posted in Nostalgic | 6 Comments

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

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

robinsons department store2 1960s

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.

raffles place3 1960s

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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