Farewell to Old Tanglin Halt

A total of 31 blocks – Block 24 to 32, 33 to 38, 40 to 45, 55 to 56, 58 to 60 and 62 to 66 – at Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive was placed under the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in 2014. This is the largest SERS program till date, as Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) aims to rejuvenate the aging housing estate that is already more than half a century old.

Almost eight years after the SERS announcement, Tanglin Halt’s mass shifting has finally happened, affecting as many as 3,480 flats, 200 hawker stalls, shops and eateries.

By September 2022, majority of the residents have vacated their flats; many of them have moved to the new flats at the nearby locations, such as Margaret Drive, Dawson Road and Strathmore Avenue. Likewise, the former shopowners and hawkers continue their trades elsewhere. Some chose to retire after spending decades of efforts in their businesses.

One of Queenstown’s five neighbourhoods, Tanglin Halt was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in 1962. Queenstown – its name commemorated Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation – was Singapore’s first satellite town developed back in the early fifties. Its first two neighbourhoods were Princess Estate and Duchess Estate.

The first flats at Tanglin Halt were the low-rise flats (Block 57, 61 and 67 to 73) built by SIT. After its establishment in 1960, HDB embarked on the construction of low-cost high-rise flats in the vicinity. There were 47 blocks of HDB flats and nine SIT flats upon the completion of the new housing estate.

While some of the Tanglin Halt flats were sold (Block 50 to 54 had their 99-year leases began in 1964) upon their completion, most of the Tanglin Halt flats started off as rental units. One particular block, Block 35, was used temporarily as a dormitory for HDB workers.

In the late sixties, in order to extend home ownership to as many people as possible, HDB conducted comprehensive surveys to find out the demand, especially among the sitting tenants to see if they were willing or capable of purchasing the flats they were occupying.

The survey results showed that there were strong demands. Hence, between the late sixties and early seventies, the HDB started converting the blocks from rental units to leasehold residential flats (according to HDB Map Services, most of the old Tanglin Halt flats began their 99-year leases in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1973. Only a couple started as late as 1983).

In 1968, the Tanglin Halt flats were sold at about $4,900 (for two-room units) and $6,200 (three-room units) each.

In the mid-nineties, HDB introduced housing schemes to assist the lower income families to own their flats. For those with household incomes of not more than $1,000, HDB purchased the flats from the open market and resold to them. For example, several three-room flats at Tanglin Halt, after acquired by HDB in the $80,000 to $100,000 range, were resold to those families for $30,000 to $40,000. About 4,000 families benefited from such housing schemes.

In 2003, Block 50 to 54, 57, 61 and 67 to 73 were selected for SERS. At the same time, the sites of Tanglin Technical School and Tanglin Primary School were redeveloped to build the current Commonwealth View (Block 88 to 91), the designated Build-To-Order (BTO) replacement flats for the former residents of Block 50 to 54.

On the other hand, the 50-year-old blocks of 50 to 54 were torn down and replaced with new BTO flats, also numbered 50 to 54, completed in 2015. The low-rise SIT flats of Block 57, 61 and 67 to 73 are conserved to reflect SIT’s role and contributions to Singapore’s public housing history.

In 2008, another batch (Block 74 to 80), built in 1962 and were fondly nicknamed 10-storey flats (chup lau chu in Hokkien), came under SERS. All seven blocks were torn down by 2016. Its site is currently left vacant.

The Tanglin Halt Food Centre was closed on 31 July 2022, and its role as the provider of affordable local food in the vicinity is now taken over by the new Margaret Drive Hawker Centre, opened on 1 August at the revamped former Block 38 Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market building.

Most of the residents, shopowners and hawkers have shifted out of Tanglin Halt by September 2022, leaving behind their empty flats, fond memories and the unbreakable bonds with the home they called for many years.

A few former residents still come back to Tanglin Halt occasionally to gather and chit chat about the good old days. But even that may not be possible soon, as the old housing estate will likely be demolished next year. A new Tanglin Halt will rise again in a few years’ time.

A brief timeline of Tanglin Halt housing estate:

1962

Tanglin Halt was built as one of Queenstown’s five housing estates

1964

Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate was developed

1969-1973

Most Tanglin Halt blocks were converted from rental flats to leasehold residential flats with 99-year leases

1979

Upgrading works were carried by HDB out to install additional lifts for the flats

1985

Upgrading works were carried out by HDB to install aluminum flashings at the flats’ kitchen windows to keep the rain out

1992

Part of Tanglin Halt Industrial Park vacated for demolition/redevelopment

1993

Upgrading works for the park next to Block 50

1996

Upgrading works were carried out by HDB (at Block 24 to 32) to extend the flats’ bedrooms and add a toilet, after 88.5% of the residents voted for the upgrading program in 1993

1997

Clusters of flats at Tanglin Halt were named Tanglin Grove, Tanglin Halt Green and Commonwealth Green

2001

Tanglin Halt flats were repainted with fresh coats of vibrant colours

2003

Block 50 to 54 (old) were selected for SERS
Block 57, 61, 67 to 73 were conserved
Upgrading works for Block 55 to 56, 58 to 60, 62 to 66

2008

Block 74 to 80 were selected for SERS
Block 50 to 54 (old) were demolished
New Block 88 to 91 were completed

2014

Block 24 to 32, 33 to 38, 40 to 45, 55 to 56, 58 to 60, 62 to 66 were selected for SERS

2015

Block 50 to 54 (new) were completed

2017

Block 74 to 80 were demolished

2018

Partial closure of Tanglin Halt Close

2022

Majority of the flats at Block 24 to 32, 33 to 38, 40 to 45, 55 to 56, 58 to 60, 62 to 66 were vacated

Published: 24 October 2022

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The WWII Stories of Changi Chapel, Cross and Murals

The Changi Chapel and Museum is one of the war museums in Singapore, telling stories of the harsh and difficult days of the prisoners-of-war (POWs) during the Japanese Occupation.

When Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942, tens of thousands of British and Australian troops were held at the internment camp at Changi. It also detained, beside the military personnel, the Eurasians and civilians related to the British. Many POWs were later sent to Japanese-occupied territories at Thailand, Manchuria and Taiwan for hard labour, and only some managed to survive and return. It was estimated that throughout the occupation, as many as 90,000 passed through the Changi internment camp.

Changi Chapel

The Changi Chapel is modelled after the St George’s Chapel, one of the small churches built by the POWs during their internment at Changi. It was started by Reverend Eric Cordingly (1911-1976), who was an army chaplain deployed to Singapore in early 1942. Just a few days after his arrival, the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese.

Eric Cordingly was interned as a POW together with other British and Australian soldiers until the end of war in 1945. The poor living conditions, malnutrition and ill treatment by the Japanese guards saw many POWs perished in the internment camp. Accordingly to Eric Cordingly’s burial returns book, he buried more than 600 comrades during his times as a POW. He officiated as many as five to six burials a week in the month of May in 1942.

Despite the inhumane treatment, the Japanese did not really restrict the POWs’ religious activities in the camp. Hence, Eric Cordingly and the other POWs decided to establish a chapel. According to the archives, there were four versions of the St George’s Church built during the war. The first was housed at a former mosque used by the Indian soldiers of the British Army, who gave Eric Cordingly permission to use it. He would conducted the church’s first service on 22 February 1942.

When the POWs were sent by the Japanese to work on the notorious Thai-Burma’s Death Railway, they also built a similar small chapel – the second St George’s Church – at Kanchanaburi. Those who had survived and returned to Singapore, built two more St George’s Churches at Changi Gaol. For all three versions of St George’s Church, the POWs painstakingly savaged all the scrap materials they could find to build the chapels and their altars and furniture.

Throughout the war, the various St George’s Chapels provided comfort and relief to the POWs, giving them the will and hope to live on.

Changi Cross

After the first St George ‘s Chapel was established, Eric Cordingly designed a cross and asked his fellow POWs to make it for the chapel’s altar. One of the POWs, Staff Sergeant Harry Stogden, was able to construct the cross at the prison workshop using a brass howitzer shell case. Another POW Tim Hemmings used an old umbrella stem to engrave their regiments’ badges on the cross. It became known as the Changi Cross. By the sides of the cross was a pair of pewter candlesticks. After the war, Eric Cordingly brought the cross back to Cheltenham.

The idea of a Changi Chapel museum began in 1953 at the Changi Prison, where one of its hospital wards was converted into a chapel. But as the visits to the chapel grew, it caused inconvenience to the prison’s operations.

Hence, in 1988, Singapore decided to build a replica chapel next to the Changi Prison, where a small museum was also set up. The Changi Chapel and Museum served as the site of remembrance for the visitors and former POWs to commemorate the history and significance of the St George’s Church during the Second World War.

In the late 1990s, due to the expansion of the Changi Prison, the replica chapel was relocated to its current location along Upper Changi Road North. On 15 February 2001, 59 years after the Fall of Singapore, the Changi Chapel and Museum was officially opened.

On the altar of the replica chapel displays the original Changi Cross, which was loaned by the Cordingly family since 1992.

During the Japanese Occupation, other than St George’s Church, the POWs and civilian internees at Changi also set up several other places of worship, such as the St Luke’s Chapel, Our Lady of Christians Roman Catholic Chapel, St Paul’s Church and the Synagogue of Ohel Jacob. Only St Luke’s Chapel and Our Lady of Christians Roman Catholic Chapel survived till this day.

Our Lady of Christians Roman Catholic Chapel was built by Australian POWs in 1944. After the war, the church was dismantled and shipped to Australia. In 1988, the original building was reassembled at the Royal Military College in Duntroon to serve as the poignant memorial to the 35,000 former Australian POWs.

Changi Murals

St Luke’s Chapel was housed at the former Roberts Barrack’s (present-day Changi Air Base West) Block 151. It was where former POW Stanley Warren (1917-1992) painted his famous Changi Murals. Between 1942 and 1943, a very sick Stanley Warren, inspired by his pastor, comrades as well as his faith, carried out and completed the Christian-theme works.

With scarce resources available, Stanley Warren managed to paint a total of five wall murals. He eventually survived the war and returned to England. Roberts Barracks was returned to the British artillery who then transferred it to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1947. One popular version of the story on how the murals were “rediscovered” was that one of the servicemen, in the fifties, found the murals hidden under the distemper paint applied by the Japanese. Under much persuasion by the RAF, Stanley Warren returned to Singapore in 1963 to help restore the murals. He would return to Singapore two more times, in 1982 and 1988, for the restoration works at the former chapel which had became a part of the Changi Air Base premises.

As the location of the original Changi Murals is restricted to public access, the Changi Chapel and Museum showcases the replicas of Stanley Warren’s murals for visitors to appreciate his priceless works of significant historical values. (Refer to Heritage Tour around Colonial Changi for the original Changi Murals)

Changi Gaol

Built in 1936, the former Changi Gaol was designed to accommodate up to 600 prisoners. When Singapore fell in 1942, the Japanese used it to detain the civilians and families of the British and Australian troops. 3,248 internees were packed into the prison for more than two years. Out of these internees, 2,598 were men, 408 were women and the rest were children.

The filth and misery inside the gaol was indescribable. It was infested with bed bugs and cockroaches, and the latrine buckets and garbage tins were used for cooking and the distribution of food. Hunger, diseases, tortures and deaths became daily affairs at Changi Gaol.

The Changi Chapel and Museum displays an original prison door of Changi Gaol. It was part of a prison cell meant for a single occupant. Such doors had eye-level and knee-level spyholes for the guards to observe the prisoners. During the war, four internees, sometimes up to eight, were crammed into the cell. There were no beddings, so the internees typically slept on the bare concretes inside the cells.

The Japanese guards would use a muster gong to gather the internees for parades and headcounts. This roll call was known as tenko in Japanese, and was instituted in November 1942 at the Changi internment camp. By 1944, as many as 10,000 internees were packed into Changi Gaol, almost 16 times its intended capacity.

The Changi Chapel and Museum opens from Tuesdays to Sundays between 9:30am and 5:30pm, closing every Monday except Public Holidays.

Published: 2 October 2022

Updated: 6 October 2022

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The Legacies Queen Elizabeth II Left in Singapore

Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022), Britain’s longest reigning monarch, has died at an old age of 96.

While Queen Victoria (1819-1901), in her 63 years of reign, managed arguably the golden era of the British Empire, Queen Elizabeth II’s record 70 years on the throne oversaw a devastated post-world war empire that had lost its former glories and colonies during its transition to the modern world. But like her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II has left her influence, mark and name around the world, especially in the empire’s former territories including Singapore.

Here are some of the places in Singapore named after Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth Walk

The Esplanade Park has existed since 1922, but was refurbished and renamed Queen Elizabeth Walk on 30 May 1953 as part of the celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

With a splendid view of the Singapore River connecting to the open sea, the seafront promenade was extremely popular among the locals for dates, strolls and picnics from the fifties to the seventies. Even though it was officially named Queen Elizabeth Walk, many locals, even the newspapers, curiously referred it as the Princess Elizabeth Walk in the fifties and sixties.

In the nineties, the seafront view was partially blocked by the new Esplanade Bridge and the reclaimed Marina South and Bay areas. Today, Queen Elizabeth Walk has become part of the Esplanade Park again, and is extended along the coast south of the Esplanade Theatres.

Princess Elizabeth Flats

In 1949, the Princess Elizabeth Fund Bill was passed in the Singapore Legislative Council for the construction of two housing estates both named after Princess Elizabeth (before she became the queen in 1953) in commemoration to her royal wedding with Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip (1921-2021) in 1947.

One would be the Princess Elizabeth Flats at Farrer Park, whereas the other one was the Princess Elizabeth Park at Bukit Timah. Made up of single and three-storey flats, artisans’ quarters and shops, the two housing projects were undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and funded by the government and public donations.

The Farrer Park’s Princess Elizabeth Flats were completed in 1950 and officially opened on 8 June by Sir Franklin Gimson (1890-1975), the Governor of Singapore between 1946 and 1952. There were initially four blocks of flats, built at a cost of $374,000, that were catered for 72 families of artisans and workers. More flats were later added to the estate for other residents. In the early 2000s, the flats, a total of 18 blocks, were demolished.

Princess Elizabeth Park

On the other hand, Princess Elizabeth Park, also known as Princess Elizabeth Estate, was developed at the same time as the Princess Elizabeth Flats. Located off Hill Avenue, it was completed in 1951.

Over the years, public amenities such as markets, schools and a bus terminal were built at the housing estate, which also enjoyed ample job opportunities due to its close proximity to the many factories and plants established in the vicinity. In the mid-sixties, there was a Princess Elizabeth Community Centre built for the estate’s residents.

Elizabeth Drive, the main road for the housing estate, bore the name of the queen. In addition, there were Philip Walk, Prince Charles Rise and Princess Anne Hill, named after Queen Elizabeth II’s husband and first two children respectively. Clarence Walk was named after Clarence House, the residence of the royal couple after their marriage.

Except for Elizabeth Drive, the other roads were expunged when the Princess Elizabeth Park estate was demolished in the mid-nineties.

Princess Elizabeth Primary School started as Bukit Panjang School in 1952. Two years later, it moved to the Princess Elizabeth Park estate and was renamed Princess Elizabeth Estate School. Its name was changed again, to Princess Elizabeth Primary School, in 1986, when it was relocated to its present address at Bukit Batok West Avenue 3.

Due to their similar names, there were confusions and mix-ups between Farrer Park’s Princess Elizabeth Flats and Princess Elizabeth Park. The locals sometimes referred both as Princess Elizabeth Estate, even though they were more than 10km apart. The situation became slightly better when the Princess Elizabeth Flats were later called Farrer Park Estate.

Queenstown

The first satellite town in Singapore was developed by the SIT in 1952 and was named Queenstown to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. A satellite town refers to a self-sufficient housing district located outside the city centre but has most of the communal amenities required, such as schools, markets, shops, banks, cinemas, bus interchanges, malls and places of worship. Today, this type of residential concept is known as the heartlands.

Several roads at Queenstown were also named in the same convention way as the satellite town, carrying the word “queen”, referring to Queen Elizabeth II but without her actual name. Examples are Queensway (originally Queen’s Way), Queen’s Close, Queen’s Crescent and Queen’s Circus (expunged).

Queen’s Dock

Like other abovementioned places, the Queen’s Dock at Keppel Shipyard was developed in 1953 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Designed by the Singapore Harbour Board, it was then the most modern dry dock in Southeast Asia. Completed in 1956 at a cost of $5.5 million (total $11 million including all its machinery and equipment), Queen’s Dock was able to dock ships up to 18,000 tons.

Queen’s Dock lied parallel to Keppel Shipyard’s three other older graving docks – Dock No. 1 (built in 1859), Dock No. 2 (1867) and King’s Dock (1910). King’s Dock was presumably named after King George V (1865-1936), Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, who ascended the throne in 1910.

Queen’s Dock was scheduled to be officially opened on 31 October 1956 by Prince Philip, who was invited to Singapore for the grand event. However, his trip was cancelled due to the disruptions of the Chinese Middle School riots in October 1956. The dock proceeded with the commissioning and started its operations in November 1956.

In the nineties, Keppel Shipyard was relocated to Tuas, and the site it left behind was redeveloped into luxury waterfront condominiums Caribbean and Reflections built in 2004 and 2011 respectively. The present-day Queen’s Dock is the water channel between the two condominiums.

Queen Elizabeth II had visited Singapore three times – in 1972, 1989 and 2006.

Many older Singaporeans’ fond impressions of Queen Elizabeth II were perhaps her tours of Toa Payoh during her first Singapore state visit in 1972. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Princess Anne visited the residents at their homes and caught a bird’s eye view of the new public housing estate from the viewing gallery of Toa Payoh Lorong 5’s Block 53. In 2006, 34 years later, Queen Elizabeth II would visit the Toa Payoh flats again in her final Singapore state visit.

The three-day state visit in 1972 also saw Queen Elizabeth II officiated the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new British High Commission at Tanglin.

At the Singapore Turf Club, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup was introduced in 1972 as one of the annual horse racing events. Hong Kong, Japan and the United State also have their horse racings competing in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Published: 11 September 2022

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Nantah’s Sundial, a Time-Telling Relic Lost in Time

At Nanyang Technological University (NTU), one can find remnants of the former Nanyang University, or Nantah, from the fifties and sixties, such as the Chinese Heritage Centre (former Nanyang University Administrative Building), Memorial Pagoda and Nanyang University Arch (the current one at Yunnan Garden is a replica whereas the original arch is at Jurong West Street 93).

One lesser known relic, however, is the marble sundial outside the current NTU’s Student Services Centre. It was made in 1969 to commemorate the 150th year of the founding of Singapore.

The idea and concept of a local Chinese university was first suggested in 1953 by rubber magnate, community leader and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce chairman Tan Lark Sye (1897-1972). In the same year, Singapore’s Hokkien Huay Kuan donated 523 acres (about 2.1 square kilometres) of land for the construction of the university. Fundraisers were organised, and many communities in Singapore and Southeast Asia donated money enthusiastically. Tan Lark Sye himself generously donated $5 million, an astronomical amount during that era.

The Nanyang University Administrative Building was first built in 1953. Two years later, the Nanyang University was officially established as the first and only Chinese university outside China. In 1958, the university had a grand ceremony to celebrate the completion (first phase) of its campus.

Nanyang University’s history was short and turbulent. From the fifties to the seventies, it was plagued with issues such as its students’ involvement in pro-communist activities, the government’s refusal to recognise its degrees and the national policy of English-language education. In 1980, Nanyang University was compelled to merge with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to become Nanyang University Institute (NTI). NTI then became a full-fledged university in 1991 and was renamed NTU.

Three of Nanyang University’s buildings and structures – the Administrative Building, Memorial Pagoda and Nantah Arch – were gazetted under the Preservation of Monuments Act in 1998.

As for the sundial, it was fortunately retained and has become a small part of Nanyang University’s legacy. The original location of the sundial was not known, but it was originally facing the true North at a height of 60m above sea level.

Made of white marble, the sundial has a 12-hour scale – each scale represents an hour – that works between the Spring Equinox and Autumn Equinox. The gnomon, which is the sundial’s project piece that shows the time by the position of its shadow, coincides with the longitude of 103°41’15″E. During noon when the sun reaches its apex overhead, the gnomon’s shadow is casted vertically downwards, indicating the time of 12pm.

The year 2019 was the bicentennial (200th) year of the founding of Singapore. More than half a century has since passed, as the forgotten sundial continues to stand quietly at one corner of NTU.

Published: 5 September 2022

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The Vanished Pasir Ris Farmways and Pet Farms

The area between Pasir Ris Park and Lorong Halus Wetland used to have three roads named farmway – Pasir Ris Farmway 1, Pasir Ris Farmway 2 and Pasir Ris Farmway 3. Only Pasir Ris Farmway 1 is left today.

In the fifties, the swampy Lorong Halus was used by the Municipal Commission for sewage treatment and refuse disposal. On its east were scattered villages and small vegetable, cattle and goat farms. In 1970, the government designated Lorong Halus as a sanitary landfill in Singapore, taking in almost half of Singapore’s rubbish output by the early eighties.

Due to the pollutions, foul smells and illegal dumping, Lorong Halus, for many years, left a poor impression to many people. After almost three decades, the Lorong Halus Dumping Ground was fully filled and was officially closed on 31 March 1999. The offshore islands of Pulau Semakau-Pulau Seking was selected as Singapore’s next landfill.

In the 2000s, Sungei Serangoon was dammed to form a reservoir. The Public Utilities Board (PUB) decided to transform the former Lorong Halus Dumping Ground into a wetland. Opened in 2011, the new Lorong Halus Wetland serves as a bio-remediation system for the reservoir, treating and removing any contaminants in the groundwater. A Lorong Halus Bridge was also built to connect Punggol to Lorong Halus Wetland and Pasir Ris Farmway 3.

Other than the landfill and villages, the region also saw the rise of fish farms and boom of seafood, ornamental fish and aquatic plant-related industries in the seventies and eighties. The area was further diversified in trades when it became home to many firewood and charcoal dealers and shops, who had relocated from Tanjong Rhu, in the eighties.

By the early nineties, the area was expanded through a series of land reclamation projects, and roads such as Pasir Ris Farmways were constructed. Pasir Ris Farmway 3 was initially called Pasir Ris Drive 12, before it was renamed in 2004.

Pet farms began plying their trades in the vicinity after the mid-nineties. By the 2000s, the Pasir Ris Farmways had become a popular go-to place for animal lovers. Besides the tropical fish farms, there were also numerous dog farms where puppies were bred locally.

More than a dozen pet farms had previously made their homes along the Pasir Ris Farmways, including The Pet Hotel, Ericson Pet Farm, Le Doggy Specialist, Topbreed Pet Farm, Kyoto Koi, TROP Aquarium, Koyo Aquatic Centre, Aqua Fauna Centre, OTF Aquarium Farm, Mainland Tropical Fish Farm, Tropical Fish International and Irwana Aquarium.

One well-known tenant was Zoe’s Pet Gallery, owned by Zoe Tay, opened in 1995 at Pasir Ris Farmway 2. The popular local actress would open her second pet shop at Frankel Avenue a year later.

Another one was Animal Lovers League’s Pets Villa, a non-profit rescue facility and shelter. It was set up at Pasir Ris Farmway 3 in April 2004 after the SARS crisis when the authorities carried out the culling of stray cats.

By 2010, Pets Villa was housing hundreds of abandoned and stray dogs and cats which were available for adoption. However, the large number of strays led to high maintenance cost of the shelter which constantly put Pets Villa in financial difficulties. In 2018, Animal Lovers League moved their shelter to Sungei Tengah Road after almost 15 years at Pasir Ris Farmway 3.

Despite its popularity, the Pasir Ris Farmways’ pet farms had its share of adversities. In 2006, drainage works at Pasir Ris Farmway caused a neighbouring fish farm to be flooded, leading to the death of its prized arowanas. In the end, the High Court ruled that the contractor in-charged of the project was liable and had to compensate the fish farm for their losses.

In 2013, a Pasir Ris Farmway animal shelter was found abandoned and its dogs and cats were left to fend for themselves for a week. One pet farm operator was fined $50,000 for animal cruelty after he failed to take proper care of the 15 dogs in his facility. Three shih tzus were found caged and dumped at Pasir Ris Farmway. They were rescued by a public member but died shortly after that. In 2017, another Pasir Ris Farmway dog breeder was fined $180,000 and disqualified from carrying out animal-related businesses for six months for neglecting the well-being of eight dogs under his care.

The early 2010s also saw Singapore’s export of ornamental fish hitting a slump. Coupled with the authority’s plan to redevelop the vicinity, many fish farms at Pasir Ris Farmways decided to close down or choose not to renew their leases. A few shifted to Malaysia to continue their businesses. For other pet farms, several were relocated to the sites at Sungei Tengah Road allocated by the government.

By the late 2010s, with most of the tenants gone, the Pasir Ris Farmways area had become quiet and deserted. According to the latest Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Masterplan, the area is likely to be planned for light and clean industry development in the near future.

In July 2022, the 30-year-old OTF Aquarium Farm became the latest fish farm at Pasir Ris Farmway to close. Its lease had run out and was ordered to stop its operations and hand over its site to the authority.

OTF’s rustic countryside settings and wide variety of affordable ornamental fish previously made it a popular venue among many fish hobbyists. With its closure, the remaining tenants in the vicinity are Mainland Tropical Fish Farm, Tropical Fish International and Irwana Aquarium.

As of 2022, the only roads in Singapore named farmway are Pasir Ris Farmway 1, Seletar West Farmway 1 to 9 and Murai Farmway. The area where the Seletar West Farmways are located is also currently undergoing redevelopment into an industrial estate. Some of the Seletar West Farmways may be expunged in near future.

Elsewhere, Seletar East Farmways, Punggol Farmways, Cheng Lim Farmways and Buangkok North/South Farmways had already walked into history.

Published: 31 July 2022

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An Old Riverine Temple at Sungei Kallang

Chwee Kang Beo (水江庙) was a rare Chinese riverine temple in Singapore in the past, when it stood in the waters of the Kallang River. Throughout its rich history of more than seven decades, it has witnessed the vast transformation of the Kallang Basin, originally filled with mangroves, to shanty towns and attap shacks and now occupied by public flats and industrial estates.

Chwee Kang Beo was erected in the late 1940s after the Second World War, in the form of a simple wooden structure standing on stilts by the riverbank. Set up by several residents from the nearby Kampong Pulau Minyak, led by Sng Pi Soon (dialect name derived from his Chinese name 孙丕顺), Ong Sek Tong (王世通), Lee Zai Seng (李再升) and Teoh Ji Kui (张子开), the temple was to appease the spirits lingering in the river, where it was rumoured to be the dumping ground of the victims killed during the Japanese Occupation.

The temple worships San Jiang Da Pu Gong (三江大普公, or Tua Por Gong in Hokkien), Shi Shi Cheng Huang Gong (石狮城隍公), Shi Shi Qi Wang Ye (石狮七王爷) and Tua Pek Kong (大伯公). Other than Tua Pek Kong, which originated in Singapore and Malaysia, the worshipping of first three deities were influenced by the early Chinese immigrants from China’s Chinchew (Quanzhou today). It was said that in the early days at Chinchew’s Dongshi town, the fishermen believed in Tua Por Gong, praying for their safe returns before each fishing trip. The deity became well-known as the protector of the river.

The temple also possesses a unique artefact – a small vessel made of teak and in the shape of a Ming Dynasty-era junk. This well-crafted artefact was apparently built decades ago by a devotee of the Chwee Kang Beo who worked as a boatbuilder in the area.

During the fifties, it was common to find many small shacks erected along the Kallang River. It cost about $1,500 to build a wooden house with a zinc roof standing on stilts along the riverbanks. But these squatters only lasted until the mid-sixties, when they were removed and their resident evicted during the canalisation of Kallang River.

In 1953, the first proper temple building of Chwee Kang Beo was built. In 1961, it had a simple renovation. Kampong Pulau Minyak was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1964. The Kallang River underwent both canalisation and river cleaning from the sixties to the seventies.

The precarious wooden temple was affected by the projects but managed to survive. Instead, it had another round of renovation in 1979, adding concrete stilts to strengthen and support the building. In the same year, the temple’s first management committee was formed. The rebuilding of Chwee Kang Beo took two years to complete, and it had its official reopening in 1981.

The seventies saw tremendous changes around Chwee Kang Beo. Beside the river cleaning project carried out by the Environment Ministry, new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats were also built in the vicinity.

By the mid-seventies, 15 blocks of flats, numbered 6 to 20 (Block 7 and Block 17 were warehouse and market respectively), were completed. Some of the flats (Block 6 to 10, 13, 14 and 20) were demolished and replaced by newer ones in the late nineties and 2010s.

In the early nineties, Chwee Kang Beo‘s trustees managed to secure the ownership of a small parcel of site along the river, which is the temple’s location today. A total of $3 million was raised via donations by its devotees, which aided the construction of the new temple building in 1993. The new Chwee Kang Beo was completed in the mid-nineties, and held its official opening on 22 December 1999.

Published: 19 July 2022

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The Forgotten WWII Tomb Memorial at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery

At Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery Path 4 lies an undisturbed, almost forgotten, tomb. It is the tomb memorial for the Bamboo Lane’s Chinese victims who were killed during the Second World War. Their remains, more than 2,000 of them, are buried underneath the tomb.

Shortly after the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, the Japanese carried out massacres of Chinese civilians at many places. One of them was at tek kia hung (竹仔巷, “little bamboo lane” in Hokkien), where more than 3,000 Chinese were killed.

Tek kia hung was roughly the area around Namly Avenue today, located off Bukit Timah Road and behind Hwa Chong Institution. Known as Chinese High School then, its compounds and buildings were seized by the Japanese Army as headquarters and concentration camp.

After the war, many mass graves around tek kia hung and Sixth Avenue were discovered. Mass graves were also found at another 13 sites in other parts of Singapore. In 1962, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) and local Chinese community leaders conducted a full exhumation of the discovered mass graves.

Over 2,000 remains were unclaimed. Their ashes were kept in six large urns and reburied in a communal grave at the nearby Hock Eng Seng Cemetery (福荣山) at Laurel Wood Avenue. A tomb memorial was erected for the remembrance of the victims. In addition, the SCCC also requested the government to make representations to the Japanese government for compensations to the victims massacred by the Japanese during the occupation.

In 1996, Hock Eng Seng Cemetery was acquired by the government for redevelopment purposes. The communal grave and tomb memorial had to be relocated to Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery, where they were allocated a 46.5sqm site. In 2019, they were shifted again to the current location along Chinese Cemetery Path 4, under the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) exhumation exercise for Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

The new burial policy was started by NEA in 1998, where graves were limited to a lease of 15 years. Those old graves of 15 years and above were exhumed in phases. During the first phase, a number of Chinese (dated 1947-1961) and Hindu graves (1946-1953) were removed and exhumed.

Several exhumation exercise phases had since been carried out. They were:

  • Phase 2a (Chinese graves of 1954-1971)
  • Phase 2b (Muslim graves of 1973-1980)
  • Phase 3 (Chinese graves of 1968-1978)
  • Phase 4 (Muslim graves of 1980-1986)
  • Phase 5 (Chinese graves of 1947-1975)
  • Phase 6 (Muslim graves of 1984-2000)
  • Phase 7 (Chinese graves of 1955-1999)
  • Phase 7a (Chinese graves of 1992-2013)
  • Phase 8 (Muslim graves of 1990-2003)

The unclaimed ashes from the Chinese and Hindu graves were scattered at sea, whereas the unclaimed remains from the Muslim graves were re-interred at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery’s Pusara Abadi.

While most Singaporeans are familiar with the Civilian War Memorial at Beach Road, which has commemoration and memorial services held on 15 February every year, not many people are aware of this much smaller tomb memorial. But it will continue to serve as the testimony to the horrific Second World War and Japanese Occupation even as those memories fade away.

Published: 23 June 2022

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Kranji Industrial Estate and its Little Enclave of Eateries and Shophouses

Tucked at the corner of Kranji Industrial Estate is this little cluster of shophouses and eateries that has been present since the late eighties.

In the late sixties, shortly after independence, Singapore focused on developing industrial estates at different designated parts of the island. For Kranji, it underwent reclamation between 1965 and 1970, after which the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) established the Kranji Industrial Estate. Kranji, along with the neighbouring Sungei Kadut, was positioned to become Singapore’s manufacturing centre for wood products.

Dozens of sawmills, woodworking and timber factories were set up. They played important roles in Singapore’s early exports of wood products to the United States and Europe, as well as supporting the local industries in the making of furniture, wooden cases and small boats. The timber and wood products, along with rubber, textile and petroleum products, became the top channels of revenues for Singapore in the late sixties and early seventies.

One of the pioneering foreign companies at Kranji Industrial Estate was Bork from Denmark, which set up a $2.5 million factory in 1970 to produce and export high quality sliced veneers (woods that are sawed parallel to the logs’ cut lines) to Europe. Bork Singapore was later acquired by Inchcape Berhad in 1984 for $12 million.

By 1972, almost 270 acres (about 4,000 square metres) of land at Kranji Industrial Estate were allocated to 25 sawmilling and woodworking factories.

To supply water to the new Kranji and Sungei Kadut Industrial Estates, the Kranji/Pandan Water Scheme was implemented in 1972. A dam was constructed across the mouth of Sungei Kranji to convert the body of water into an impounding reservoir. Kranji Dam and Kranji Reservoir were completed in 1975 at a total cost of $75 million.

In 1978, a $1.4-million 53m-long concrete bridge was built across the small river of Sungei Pang Sua. With the bridge, Kranji Industrial Estate became linked to the western parts of Singapore, where drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists could travel between Kranji/Sungei Kadut and Lim Chu Kang via the bridge and Kranji Dam.

Kranji Industrial Estate’s cluster of eateries and shops not only supplied the necessary provisions to the growing working population at Kranji, but also became another choice of meals and drinks, other than the hawker centre at Neo Tiew Estate (closed in 2002), for the residents and workers at Lim Chu Kang, Neo Tiew and Ama Keng. It also acted as a stopover for short breaks for those travelling to Lim Chu Kang. As Kranji’s light industrial estate boomed in the eighties and nineties, the eateries and shops enjoyed brisk businesses from the crowds.

Do you know Kranji has the least magnetic interference of all places in Singapore? This was the reason Japanese compass manufacturer Nunotani Nautical Instruments chose to set up a factory and testing centre at Kranji Industrial Estate in 1981 for the production of magnetic compasses and nautical instruments.

Kranji’s status as the top wood-based industry in Singapore probably peaked in the mid-eighties. Singapore, by 1984, had a veneer mill, six plywood mills, seven laminated plywood mills, 36 sawmills, three particle-board and woodchip manufacturers, two wooden pallet manufacturers, four timber preservation plants and 27 kiln-drying plants; most of these mills and plants were located at the Kranji Industrial Estate. The entire timber industry employed 14,000 workers, and raked in a total of $964 million in exports in the previous year of 1983.

However, the industry faced a decline after that, and many sawmills were left idle. The Trade Development Board (TDB) was tasked to improve and upgrade the industry through trade missions, fairs, seminars and courses. TDB was formed in 1983 after the merger between the Department of Trade and Timber Industry Board. It was restructured into the International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore) in 2002.

Kranji’s industries were diversified when JTC built an engineering centre in 1986 for the repair of heavy vehicles. The $3.8-million centre, made up of 30 workshops, also aimed to ease the traffic congestions along Woodlands Road, which were largely caused by the unauthorised truck and lorry repair kiosks that the authority wanted to remove and relocate.

More than half a century later, the Kranji industrial area is looking at another big change in its history. The vicinity is expected to be part of the new Sungei Kadut Eco-District in the near future. This was unveiled in the masterplan exhibition at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre held in 2020. The new Sungei Kadut Eco-District shall consist of Sungei Kadut North (including the current Kranji Industrial Estate), Agri-Food Innovation Park, Sungei Kadut Central and Sungei Kadut South.

With the leases of the tenants at Kranji Industrial Estate expiring in 2025, many have already moved out. At this little corner of shophouses and eating houses, many, too, have shut down and vacated their units. The once-busy enclave has now become an almost dead town, awaiting their eventual fate of demolition.

Beside the shophouses and eateries is the Chek Chai Long Chuen Temple (七寨龙泉庙). The humble Chinese temple is the merger of Chee Chea Temple (七寨庙) and Long Chuen Temple (龙泉庙), two old temples that previously existed in the older days of undeveloped Kranji and Sungei Kadut.

Chee Chea Temple was established before the Second World War at Woodlands Road 12½ milestone, where it was a popular temple among the villagers living at Kranji, Sungei Kadut and Lim Chu Kang. Long Chuen Temple was founded in 1943 at Kranji Village. Both temples had been active in using the donations from their devotees to sponsor schools and community centres in the Kranji and Lim Chu Kang areas.

The two old temples’ sites were acquired during the development of the new industrial estates. After they agreed to merge as one united temple, the new Chek Chai Long Chuen Temple was granted a site at Kranji Loop and was officially opened on 29 October 1986. Now almost 40 years later, the temple may have to move yet again by another redevelopment project.

Published: 29 May 2022

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Singapore’s Heritage Tree Series – Terap

Till date, there are 17 trees at the Fort Canning Park granted the heritage tree status. Four of them are the terap tree (artocarpus elasticus), with three located along the park’s 14th Century Walk of History (along the Fort Canning Service Reservoir) and the fourth one along Canning Rise, opposite the National Museum of Singapore.

Terap is a tall forest tree that can grow to a height between 45m and 65m. It is commonly found in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines as well as the forested areas at Borneo and Java islands.

Mature terap trees have leathery and oval-shaped leaves, which look quite different from the deep lobed leaves of the younger ones. Both their fruits and seeds are edible. The terap fruits are large in size, reaching almost 18cm long, and give off a pungent rancid smell when they become ripe. The white pulps wrapping around the seeds, however, are white and creamy and considered a delicacy to some. The seeds taste like tangy marshmallows and are eaten by squirrels and monkeys.

The wood of teraps can be used for timber. They also produce white latex called gutta terap, often used as glue traps for birds. Their barks are tough and fibrous, and are used by the indigenous people for making of clothes, while the Malays also use them for basket lining and rope weaving.

The terap tree is a close relative to the breadfruit tree (artocarpus altilis) and jackfruit tree (artocarpus heterophyllus). The book Wayside Trees of Malaya, authored by John Henry Corner (1906-1996), an English botanist and assistant director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens between 1926 and 1946, mentioned the terap trees at Fort Canning.

Published: 6 May 2022

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Redevelopment of the Rustic Bah Soon Pah Road

The rustic nature of Bah Soon Pah Road may soon be no more. The area has been marked for residential development, as an extension of the Khatib housing estate, in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Master Plan. Sembawang Road, where Bah Soon Pah Road is linked, will also be part of the route for the up and coming North-South Expressway.

Bah Soon Pah Road has been home to many plant nurseries in the past decade. With the impending expiry of their leases, most of them have already moved out by March and April 2022. The area is now waiting for the redevelopment project to commence.

The Bah Soon Pah area was acquired by Lim Nee Soon (1879-1936), a well-known rubber magnate and “pineapple king”, from the colonial government in 1919. The main road Bah Soon Pah Road (华顺芭路) was constructed and named after him. Lim Nee Soon was fondly known as Bah Soon, where Bah is possibly Baba and Soon his name, due to his Peranakan maternal grandparents.

During the peak of his business in the 1920s, Lim Nee Soon owned large pieces of rubber estates in many parts of Singapore, including the Mandai area, and along Sembawang Road and Upper Thomson Road.

Other than Bah Soon Pah Road, several other places in Singapore were named after Lim Nee Soon and his family. Nee Soon Road, Nee Soon Village and Yishun New Town were all named after him. Thong Aik Road and Thong Bee Road were named after his factory and company respectively. There was also Chong Kuo Road, named after Lim Nee Soon’s eldest son, but it was his second son Lim Chong Pang (1904-1956) who had a more famous village (former) and housing estate named after him.

Bah Soon Pah Road was also commonly known as Sembawang Road 11th milestone by the locals. The road cut through rubber plantations and pockets of small farms and was frequently used by military trucks from the nearby Nee Soon Camp. In 1949, Bah Soon Pah Road became so badly damaged that the Singapore Rural Board considered banning the British military from using it.

The Great Depression caused the rubber prices in Malaya and Singapore to slump by 80% between 1929 and 1932. The rubber industry continued to decline throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In the fifties, the Bah Soon Pah area was converted by the Primary Production Department (PPD) from a rubber estate to a site meant for agricultural purposes.

There were as many as 4,000 farmers living at the Bah Soon Pah area by the early sixties. In 1961, Singapore was hit by a drought and water supply disruptions. A water wagon had to be dispatched to Bah Soon Pah’s farms when their wells ran dry for the first time in the dry season that had already lasted for two months. Bah Soon Pah Road and other many other areas in Singapore were hit by another dry spell in 1972.

In the seventies, Bah Soon Pah was the site for several pilot projects launched by the PPD. In 1974, they collaborated with the Singapore Livestock and Agricultural Co-operative Society to set up a pig farm with mechanised feed system. A year later, a 40-acre parcel of land along Bah Soon Pah Road was reserved for a farm engaging hydroponics for its vegetable production.

From the sixties to the early eighties, gotong royong (communal work) were often organised to help improve the conditions of Bah Soon Pah Road and other roads in the vicinity, most of which were muddy and filled with pot holes. For example, in 1968, 600 polytechnic students volunteered to metal Bah Soon Pah Road in their annual work camp led by the Polytechnic Students’ Union. Another large gotong royong project was carried out in 1980, mending almost 1km of Bah Soon Pah Road.

Bah Soon Pah had at least two schools for the provision of basic education to the children living in the area. Onn Hwa Chinese School (旺华学校) was established in 1954 by a respectable Ng family living at Bah Soon Pah, who donated both funds and their lands to build the rural school. The school was made up of offices, teachers’ quarters and eight zinc-roofed classrooms. During its peak, Onn Hwa Chinese School had 500 students, many of them were children of the rubber plantation workers and farmers living at Bah Soon Pah.

Another school, Hua Nam Chinese School (华南学校), was set up in the late 1940s after the Second World War. It was merged from two pre-war schools called Hwa Soon School (华顺学校) and Kian Nam School (建南学校), which were founded by the Teochew and Hokkien communities at Bah Soon Pah. By 1959, Hua Nam Chinese School had grown to 4o0 students. Its old premises was upgraded in 1967, but it eventually walked into history in 1984 due to dwindling student enrollment.

The present-day Bah Soon Pah Road is a remnant of its original longer form in the past, where it was linked to other rural roads such as Lorong Chencharu, Lorong Cherdek, Lorong Mayang, Lorong Mayang Kechil and Lorong Akar. Except for Lorong Chencharu, the rest were expunged when the vicinity was redeveloped as Khatib housing estate in the eighties.

Hundreds of families living at Bah Soon Pah were progressively being resettled at the new Yishun New Town in the early eighties. There were, however, still some 4,000 to 5,000 residents living at Chye Kay and Bah Soon Pah villages in 1983.

Bah Soon Pah was briefly used by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for their military exercises from 1980 to 1985. In the mid-eighties, a new Yishun Avenue 2 was constructed, cutting across Bah Soon Pah Road and Lorong Chencharu and shortening the two roads to their present states.

New Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats started appearing between 1986 and 1988, replacing several former roads, community centres and schools. The new North-South Line (NSL) of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) was laid along Yishun Avenue 2, where Khatib MRT Station was opened in late 1988.

The double-storey black and white bungalow at Bah Soon Pah Road is one of the oldest landmarks in the vicinity. Built in the early 20th century, it was the residence for the manager of the Bukit Sembawang Rubber Company, who would oversee the management and operations of the rubber plantations in the vicinity.

Beside the bungalow was another cluster of buildings functioning as the company’s estate office. The estate office was moved to Chye Kay after the war, and the buildings were subsequently used as offices for the Labour Front Government (1955-1959) and Sembawang Field Experimental Station.

It was at the Sembawang Field Experimental Station where the Sembawang Farm School was initiated in 1966 to provide formal training to the next generation of farmers. Various courses such as animal husbandry, freshwater fisheries and horticulture were taught at the school.

The bungalow became a Orchid Research and Service Centre in 1994. Opened by Lim Hng Kiang, then-Acting Minister of National Development, the centre aimed to propagate existing and new species of orchids for local production and exports. It later evolved into a Horticulture Service Centre to support the plant nurseries that had moved into Bah Soon Pah.

While most of the other buildings at Bah Soon Pah will be demolished during the redevelopment phase, the century-old bungalow is likely to be retained as part of the new housing estate’s history and heritage.

In the early 2010s, there were as many as eight plant nurseries operating at Bah Soon Pah Road, where it became a popular place for plant lovers and hobbyists. After just a few years of operation, the nurseries were concerned by some news that the vicinity would be redeveloped soon. However, a parliamentary response in 2013 assured that they could stay for ten years until the end of their leases.

In 2017, the plant nurseries were informed to move out by end-2021, and were subsequently given another five months of grace extension until May 2022 for their relocation plans.

The Bah Soon Pah area had evolved from gambier, rubber and pineapple plantations to vegetable, pig and poultry farms, before taken over by orchid farms and plant nurseries. Its farming history will soon be over as it looks to be redeveloped into an extended housing estate of Khatib.

Published: 29 April 2022

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