Memories of the Jurong Bird Park

The good old Jurong Bird Park had officially closed and walked into history on 3 January 2023. It was opened exactly 52 years ago, on 3 January 1971, after two years of construction that cost a total of $5 million.

A bird park in Singapore was the brainchild of Dr Goh Keng Swee (1918-2010), as he brought up the idea in 1968 during his tenure as the Finance Minister after visiting aviaries at Rio de Janeiro and Bangkok. He envisioned such a place of attraction would be beneficial to both Singaporeans and overseas visitors as Singapore was rapidly developing its industries and tourism in the seventies.

In 1968, a 20.2-hectare (0.2 km2) of site at Jurong Hill (or Bukit Peropok) was surveyed and selected for the new bird park, where it was designed by British aviculturist and ornithologist John James Yealland (1904-1983) and aviary architect John Toovey from the London Zoological Gardens. The construction project was undertaken by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).

Jurong Bird Park would consist of large aviaries that resembled the natural habitats for the various types of birds. Nurseries, breeding rooms and quarantine stations would also be part of the bird park. A tram service would ferry visitors between the aviaries and amenities.

In 1969, before its completion, Jurong Bird Park already had 500 birds of mixed varieties consigned from local donors, London Zoo and National Zoological Park of Washington. Other governments also generously gifted native birds to the Jurong Bird Park. For example, in 1970, the New Zealand government’s wildlife division delivered four pairs of New Zealand birds – brightly-coloured pukekos, paradise ducks, yellow-crowned parakeets and black swans – to the park.

Taiwan’s trade representation office also sent 410 colourful and beautiful Taiwanese birds to Singapore, including budgerigars, Gouldian finches, Formosan blue magpies and Mikado pheasants. In early 1970, the Thai government contributed white breasted waterhens, purple gallinules, little egrets, night herons, Nicobar pigeons, zebra doves, grey-headed parakeets, spotted neck doves and emerald doves.

In September 1969, a rare cassowary, two stocks and a pair of peacocks were stolen from the still-developing bird park. They were later recovered by the police at a Choa Chu Kang farm after tipped off by a bird shop assistant who was offered $800 to buy the birds. The thieves were later caught and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

The opening of Jurong Bird Park was initially set in the early 1970, but was postponed to 29 June 1970. Some of its areas, such as footpaths, tea kiosks and rain sheds, were still not ready and required more time for improvements. Finally, after almost a year of delay, the bird park was officially opened on 3 January 1971 by Dr Goh Keng Swee. It was one of Asia’s largest bird parks, with almost 7,000 birds of 350 species. Other than birds, Jurong Bird Park also kept crocodiles and a pair of imported deer.

The entrance fees for Jurong Bird Park was $1.50 for adults and 75c for children. It would cost another 40c (20c for children) and $1 (50c for children) for the tram services and visit at the Falls Aviary respectively.

Jurong Bird Park’s debut day saw the attendance of some 1000 visitors, including 300 children. The park’s workers were almost overwhelmed when more than 12,000 people decided to spend their rest day at Jurong Bird Park in the first Sunday after its opening. Just 19 months later, in August 1972, Jurong Bird Park welcomed its first millionth visitor. On average, the popular bird park entertained 800,000 visitors annually.

Despite good reviews of Jurong Bird Park in its early days, it did also receive some criticisms. Its opening hour at 10am was deemed late for families during the weekends (the bird park’s management explained that there were routine feeding and maintenance periods every morning). Some visitors complained about mosquitoes breeding from the still waters at several spots. Others were uncomfortable that the pair of deer looked “miserable” in their tiny enclosure.

On the other hand, poor visitor behaviours were also reported, with some visitors chasing after the birds with sticks and others throwing stones into the crocodile pool. Jurong Bird Park warned that those caught mistreating the birds or damaging the park’s properties would be prosecuted.

In 1971, a scheme of “Friends of the Birds” was launched to allow individuals and companies to “adopt” the birds in order to support and contribute to the maintenance fund of Jurong Bird Park. It was a common practise in other countries’ zoos and bird parks.

On 23 February 1971, the President of Singapore Benjamin Sheares (1907-1981) visited the bird park as part of his familiarisation tour of the developing Jurong Industrial Estate. In May 1971, Nepal’s King Mahendra and Queen Ratna Devi became the first foreign royal dignitaries to visit Jurong Bird Park. Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip toured the bird park in February 1972 during their three-day state visit to Singapore.

One of the most iconic features of Jurong Bird Park was its 30m-tall man-made waterfall that plunged over a natural cliff of Jurong Hill. It was part of the Jurong Falls Aviary (later renamed Waterfall Aviary) where it housed more than 600 free roaming birds (increased to 1,800 birds by the 2010s). Waterfall Aviary was the world’s largest walk-in aviary, and the waterfall, the tallest man-made waterfall, remained a popular photo-taking spot among the visitors throughout the park’s history.

Another memorable feature was the bird park’s trackless tram cars that ferried visitors around the park for its various types of aviaries. The early trams were manufactured in a Jurong factory.

The Jurong Bird Park used to be one of the go-to venues for primary school excursion trips in the eighties and nineties. Other popular options were the Singapore Zoo, Sentosa, Van Kleef Aquarium and Haw Par Villa. The community centres and old folks’ homes also organised regular trips to the Jurong Bird Park.

In the mid-eighties, Jurong Bird Park underwent a major renovation and upgrading works that spanned over seven years and cost $7 million. Covered walkways, automated ticket machines and an air-conditioned theatre were built. New bird exhibits and arenas were also added to showcase different and rare species of birds from other parts of the world. In 1988, the Breeding and Research Centre was established.

Entering the nineties, a new 2,000-seat amphitheatre was installed at Jurong Bird Park. More aviaries and exhibits were opened. The Waterfall Aviary was given a massive $6-million upgrading works between 1990 and 1994.

In 1992, a 1.7km monorail system named Panorail, the second such system after Sentosa Monorail, was built at Jurong Bird Park. The fully-airconditioned Panorail ran a loop within the park, serving three stations – The Main, Lory and Waterfall Stations. Its operations ceased in 2012, and the mode of ferrying at the bird park was reverted to trams.

Jurong Bird Park received its last major upgrade in 2006 with a $10-million revamp that included the setup of Asia’s first bird avian hospital. The government announced in 2014 that the bird park would be relocated to Mandai in 2023 as part of the Mandai Wildlife Reserve together with the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Wonders (formerly River Safari). The new bird park will be called Bird Paradise.

Big John, a sulphur-crested cockatoo, is one of Jurong Bird Park’s oldest residents. Estimated to be of a ripe old age of late 50s, it has been with the bird park since its opening in 1971. Big John will also be relocated to Bird Paradise to enjoy its retirement days there.

The day finally came as Jurong Bird Park was shuttered for the final time on 3 January 2023, leaving behind fond memories for countless local and foreign visitors. For many Singaporeans, Jurong Bird Park was part of their growing up journeys and memories, made up of excursion trips with friends, dates with loved ones and family outings with the kids.

Published: 17 January 2023

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Singapore Trivia – Time Adjustment for Singapore in 1982

Singapore’s 1982 New Year was a little special, as it arrived earlier at 11:30pm on 31 December 1981.

To meet the correct time, Singapore’s government bodies, organisations, companies and people had to adjust their clocks and watches by 30 minutes earlier. The move was to synchronise with the time adjustment in Malaysia, which had their time advanced by half an hour on 1 January 1982. With the synchronisation, both countries’ time were fixed at UTC+08:00 (UTC refers to the Coordinated Universal Time).

Singapore had gone through many time adjustments in history. Until 31 Dec 1900, the British Malayan Mean Time was the standard time in Peninsula Malaya and Singapore. The time was set at GMT+06:46:46, which means the time at both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore then was 6 hours, 46 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

GMT was the international standard of civil time between 1884 and 1972. Although GMT and UTC share the same current time, GMT is a time zone, whereas UTC, officially adopted since 1963, is a time standard that serves as the basis for civil time and time zones in the world.

The Singapore Mean Time was adopted between 1 January 1901 and 31 May 1905. It was adjusted to GMT+06:55:25 for the convenience of the railway, telegraph and postal services and schedules, which were becoming increasingly important by the turn of the 20th century. The Singapore Mean Time was referenced as Singapore was the Straits Settlements’ administrative centre back then.

The previous British Malaya Mean Time and Singapore Mean Time were awkward and confusing due to the minutes and seconds. On 1 June 1905, the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States switched to the 105th meridian time zone (meridian 105° east of Greenwich), where the time in Malaya and Singapore became a standardised GMT+07:00.

In 1920, the Legislative Council proposed a bill to incorporate daylight saving time like the United Kingdoms, in order to allow staff and workers more leisure time after work. The bill, recommending a forward adjustment of 30 minutes, did not manage to pass, but it was brought up for debate again in 1932. This time, a 20-minute forward adjustment was accepted and the bill, termed as the daylight saving time Ordnance, was passed. The time in British Malaya was adjusted to GMT+07:20 with effect from 1 January 1933.

The daylight saving time was eventually extended from 20 minutes to 30 minutes and the ordnance was amended on 1 September 1941 to adjust the time to GMT+07:30. This change, however, lasted only a couple of months as Japan invaded and annexed Malaya and Singapore between late 1941 and early 1942. During the Japanese Occupation, Singapore had to follow the Tokyo Standard Time, which was GMT+09:00. It was one and a half hour forward as compared to the previous time.

After the war, the time was reverted to GMT+07:30 as the Malaya Standard Time (or Malaysia Standard Time after 1963). This continued for almost four decades, before Malaysia decided to adjust the time in 1981. This was because Malaysia and Singapore had been stuck “in between” the standard time zones, resulting in both places not reflected in the time zone settings of the increasingly important digital technologies such as computers and watches.

In December 1981, the delegation led by Malaysia Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad visited and met Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to discuss on various bilateral matters, one of which was the coordinated time adjustment. The Malaysian parliament had passed the Malaysian Standard Time Bill 1981 in December to give Peninsula Malaysia and East Malaysia one standard time.

Singapore agreed to synchronise the time with Malaysia as it would improve the close ties between the two nations and benefitted the convenience for the businessmen, workers and travellers on both sides. There was no major impact observed for the local sectors in aviation, shipping, finance, commodity, stock trading and others.

Published: 31 December 2022

Updated: 5 January 2023

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The Mosque of Paradise and Street of Worship at Old Choa Chu Kang Road

Al-Firdaus Mosque is located at Jalan Ibadat, a short road off present-day Old Choa Chu Kang Road which, in the past, was between Choa Chu Kang Road 13th and 14th milestone.

Jalan Ibadat is “street of worship” in Malay. The road was constructed in the late sixties for the mosque, which, funded by generous public donations, was officially opened in 1968 by Haji Ya’acob bin Mohamed (1925-1989), the then-Minister of State and an advocator of Malay interests, language and education in Singapore. Many Muslim residents from the nearby kampongs were invited to witness the opening ceremony.

In 1983, the mosque’s management held its inauguration ceremony together with a sports event at Tech Whye to raise funds for its $30,000 renovation project. Sidek Saniff, the Parliamentary Secretary to Trade and Industry and Social Affairs was invited as the guest of honour. Other fund raising means were also carried out by the mosque, such as a donation drive by students on Hari Raya Puasa in the previous year.

The mosque has largely retained its humble appearance throughout the decades. Its surroundings, on the other hand, underwent gradual changes. The mosque’s neighbour Tengah Air Base was transferred from the Royal Air Force (RAF) to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in the early seventies. The eighties and nineties saw the demise of Choa Chu Kang Road’s many villages, such as Bulim Village, Lam San Village, Keat Hong Village, Kampong Tengah and Kampong Cutforth.

Rural roads branching off Choa Chu Kang Road were also expunged by the mid-nineties. Jalan Dulang, Jalan Sendok, Jalan Parut, Jalan Bungar, Jalan Ara, Jalan Buey and Jalan Mandar were some of the roads that had walked into history, leaving only a few behind today, such as Jalan Piring, Jalan Tapisan and Jalan Lekar.

One side of Choa Chu Kang Road was allocated for local horticultural and aquacultural production and trades, where aquarium farms, plant nurseries and animal sanctuaries were set up in the areas between Jalan Lekar and Sungei Tengah Road. The opposite was reserved for installations by the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), where the Army Logistics Base (opened in 2002), Keat Hong Camp (2005) and Home Team Academy (2006) were built.

Choa Chu Kang Road itself was split into two in the mid-nineties due to the extension of  the Kranji Expressway (KJE). The early phase of KJE ended at Choa Chu Kang Road (present-day Exit 5 near Jalan Lam Sam). The expressway was then extended southwestward to link up with the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), dividing Choa Chu Kang Road into two sections. The road’s western section was renamed Old Choa Chu Kang Road in the 2000s, whereas its eastern section retained the original name of Choa Chu Kang Road.

As for Masjid Al-Firdaus, it launched another charity drive in the nineties for a $100,000 upgrading project. Volunteers sold fried chicken rice and charity cakes to raise the funds. In 1997, the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) issued invitations to interested parties to take part of an open tender for the mosque’s upgrading works. After the renovations were completed in 1999, Masjid Al-Firdaus was able to accommodate as many as 200 people for prayers, classes and other religious purposes.

In 2000, Masjid Al-Firdaus was among the 33 organisations and companies in Singapore to participate in the Skills Upgrading Program, by actively playing the role as an Islamic institution in promoting culture and pursuing knowledge in life.

Other than the mosque, one can still find traces of nostalgia along Old Choa Chu Kang Road today, such as the old street signages and an original vintage bus stop dated back to the seventies. The former Lam Soon Community Centre building was recently demolished in 2021 to make way for the new Animal Quarantine Centre.

Published: 27 December 2022

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Landmarks of Yesteryears – Amber Mansions

Before the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station came into existence in the area between Orchard and Penang Roads in 1987, this was the site of the Amber Mansions, one of the prominent landmarks of the Orchard vicinity.

Designed by Swan & Maclaren architectural firm and built in 1922 (or 1928 according to some sources), Amber Mansions was one of Singapore’s first shopping centres. It was named after its owner Joseph Aaron Elias’ (1881-1949) family’s clan name. Joseph Elias was a well-known local Jewish businessman who also had Elias Road and Amber Road named after him and his family.

Besides the shops, Amber Mansions also comprised walk-up residential apartments and office units, hence it was also considered to be the first block of flats at Orchard Road, and one of Singapore’s earliest flats along with Crescent Flats (built in 1909 at Meyer Road), St Nicholas Flats (at River Valley Road) and Meyer’s Flats (at North Bridge Road). For comparison, the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was established in 1927 and only began building low-cost public flats in the 1930s.

Amber Mansions after its opening brightened up a section of Orchard Road; a remarkable moment considering much of the undeveloped Orchard Road remained in darkness when night fell. A 1923 newspaper article reported that Amber Mansions’ ground-floor tenants Sime Darby and Malayan Motors, with their flashy lightings throughout the night, added considerably to the brightness of the verandah footways and public roads outside the building.

Amber Mansions, before the Second World War, was well-known for its exquisite boutiques that showcased the latest fashion trends and provided high-end shopping experiences to the elite class in Singapore. European women were lured to Amber Mansions’ popular Maison Martin in the 1930s to get their facial and hair treatments and manicures done.

Other than the luxurious shops, Amber Mansions was also home for many expatriate families, whose men went to work in the city area by carriages or rickshaws, and the women played tennis at the Ladies Lawn at Dhoby Ghaut, where Indian dhobies did their laundry.

At three storeys tall, Amber Mansions’ front façade attractively followed the curve of Penang Road, with its ground level shops facing the road and architects and lawyers’ suites occupying the upper floors.

Prominent local architect Lee Kip Lin (1925-2011) once described its elegant architectural style as possibly one of the best-designed post-World War I buildings in Singapore.

The glory days of Amber Mansions never quite recovered after the Second World War. Instead of the uptown stores and boutiques, it began to offer office spaces to the small and medium businesses, such as the Straits Photo Studio which operated there from 1945 to 1955. Others were the likes of travel agencies, course providers and interior design firms.

Non-commercial organisations, such as the Singapore Employers Federation and Singapore Society of Accountants, also set up their offices and conference rooms at Amber Mansions in the sixties and seventies. The British Council, which started their operations in Singapore in 1947, moved their office from Raffles Museum and St Andrew’s School to Amber Mansions in 1968, where they stayed for several years before shifting to Cathay Building in 1972.

Amber Mansions was the hosting venue for galleries too, such as the Swan Tea House and Swan Art Gallery opened in 1971.

Other well-known tenants of the Amber Mansions included the Celestial Room, a popular place in the sixties and seventies among the youngsters who would turn up in their bell-bottoms and miniskirts for Sunday tea dances with off-beat cha-cha.

The iconic old English-flavour Fosters Café and Restaurant, with their signature steaks, mushroom pies and pork sausages cooked by Hainanese chefs, had been operating at Amber Mansions for 20 years since their opening on 1 April 1963.

The restaurant’s founder Stanley Foster, was the buddy of Chiam Heng Luan, who set up the popular Berkeley Restaurant at the Tudor-style Sloane Court Hotel at Balmoral Road. Both men had served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the fifties – one as a sergeant-major and the other a Hainanese seaman-bartender – and became the best of friends.

Fosters Café and Restaurant continued their fare at the nearby Specialists’ Shopping Centre after Amber Mansions was torn down.

Situated just opposite of the MacDonald House, Amber Mansions was also affected by the shocking terrorist act that killed three victims on 10 March 1965. A week later, an anonymous person claimed to have planted a bomb at Amber Mansions. The police quickly cordoned off the building and its surrounding areas, but fortunately it turned out to be a hoax.

Amber Mansions was owned by the Singapore Building Corporation in the seventies. To develop Orchard Road into a popular shopping belt and also to construct Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit’s (MRT) North-South Line (NSL) tunnels, the government began to acquire more than 20 acres (82,000 square metres) of lands at the Orchard area. Other than the Singapore Building Corporation, the major land and property owners affected were Wearne Brothers, Shaw Foundation and the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) group.

In December 1978, Amber Mansions was acquired by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). It had to make way for the building of Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station. Amber Mansions’ last tenants – Harrows Department Store, University Bookstore, Singer, Benjamin boutique and a number of families – were notified to move out by March 1983. The vacant building was eventually demolished in 1984.

Sri Sivan Temple, Amber Mansions’ immediate neighbour, was also affected by the MRT project. First built in 1821 next to the Jewish Cemetery, it was one of Singapore’s oldest places of worship. Its Orchard Road temple was established in 1850, and had existed there for more than a century. After the acquisition, Sri Sivan Temple was relocated in 1983 to a temporary temple at Serangoon Road for about a decade, before it moved to its present-day site at Geylang East Avenue 2 in 1993.

Published: 29 November 2022

Updated: 12 December 2022

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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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