The Lone HDB Block at Moulmein

Standing at the junction of Moulmein Road and Exit 7A of the Central Expressway (CTE), Block 69 cuts a lonely figure, being the only Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in the vicinity. It was an unusual scene, as HDB flats are commonly built in clusters as part of a new town or housing estate.

When Block 69 was first built in the early seventies, the 20-storey point block stood tall among its neighbours, mostly made up of low-rise three-storey Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats. Before the construction of the CTE in the mid-eighties that cut through the vicinity, Block 69 was situated at the corner between Moulmein Road and Norfolk Road; its nearest HDB neighbours were the flats located at Whampoa Drive (built in 1974), Cambridge Road (between 1976 and 1982) and Kent Road (1982).

Block 69 was put up for balloting a couple of months before its completion in 1972. It proved to be so popular that only 10% of the applicants were successful in getting their new flats. There were almost 700 applications received for the block’s 76 four-room units, each with a selling price of $15,500. The finalised figures of the allocation were: 15 units went to resettled residents, seven to HDB staffs, and the remaining 54 units were put up for sale to the public.

The chronological history of Block 69 hence began when its lease officially kicked off in July 1972. Moulmein Court became its immediate neighbour when the freehold condominium was erected beside it in 1981. By the late eighties, the CTE has isolated it from the Cambridge Road housing estate. In late 2018, the former Communicable Disease Centre (CDC), opposite the block, was closed to make way for future private residential development.

In 1999, Block 69 was left out of HDB’s Main Upgrading Programme (MUP), much to the displeasure of its residents. They appealed to their Member of Parliament (MP), and the outcast block was eventually included in the upgrading program. Subsequently, the block’s lifts were also upgraded in 2011 and 2016.

Published: 09 February 2019

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The Idyllic Days of Changi Creek and Villages

Singapore has many rivers and waterways, one of which is Sungei Changi, also commonly known as Changi Creek (creek refers to a narrow, sheltered waterway), a short river situated at the northeastern part of Singapore.

The Changi area, by the pre-war period, was already an established British military base with airfield, colonial barracks and a wide network of roads served by the Changi Bus Company. Pockets of small villages, existed before the British turned Changi into an airbase, continued to flourish by providing supplies to the troops. Most of them would, however, vanish by the late seventies caused by the redevelopment plans and massive land reclamation projects for the construction of the new Changi Airport.

Changi Village was one of those areas that were affected, but managed to survive after its transformation into a small bustling housing estate and recreational centre in the mid-seventies.

With the impending withdrawal of the British, Australian and New Zealand troops in the early seventies, the Singapore government announced the redevelopment plans of the old Changi Village. This was due to the sizable demand for Changi Village’s goods and services by the Australian battalion living at the nearby quarters. Their departure at the end of 1973 would severely disrupt and impact the shops and businesses at Changi Village.

The government also took the opportunity to alter Changi Village’s business model for lesser dependence on foreign demands and more focus in the domestic and recreational sectors. Its rows of wooden shophouses were demolished, and in their place, a small housing estate of more than 350 units of flats, in low-rise blocks, were built.

Completed in 1975 with flats, shops, eateries, a bus terminal, hawker centre and market, the newly-looking Changi Village not only welcomed back many of its original residents and shopkeepers who were initially affected by the redevelopment, but also attracted other Singaporeans to visit it as a stopover point to Changi Beach or Pulau Ubin.

Changi Creek was also transformed. Its banks were turned into a small esplanade with a landscaped park and children’s playground. The narrow waterway, previously filled with dozens of squatter huts, litters and dead animal carcasses, was cleaned up and, at the end of it, a reservoir was built.

The Changi Creek Reservoir, at 2.8m deep and a storage capacity of 80,000 cubic metres, acted as a water collection system for the new Changi Airport premises built in the early eighties. The reservoir’s pumping system, pipping and hydrant lines were completed in 1981 by the Public Works Department (PWD), enabling the reservoir to support the airport’s fire-fighting capabilities.

Leading to the opposite Changi Beach, the iconic foot bridge at Changi Creek has been around for more than half a century. It has been marked in the local maps dated back to the mid-fifties. The boarding and alighting point of boats, the predecessor of the present-day Changi Point Ferry Terminal, also existed back then to provide ferry services to Pulau Tekong, Palau Ubin and Johor.

In 1979, an unexpected visitor – a Vietnamese trawler with 32 refugees – ran aground at Changi Creek due to receding tides. The refugees, made up of Vietnamese men, women and children, were brought by the police to a nearby sailing club while the boat was being repaired for its damages, after which the refugees continued their journey to an undisclosed destination.

Beside the foot bridge is the docking point for the unloading of live seafood by the Singapore and Malaysia fish farmers. Numerous boats, filled with fish, prawns and crabs, arrive daily at the dock for their goods to be hauled and transported to the local seafood restaurants.

In 2016, however, the authority considered the permanent closure of the Changi Creek dock due to safety and security concerns. There were also reports of illegal smuggling of cigarettes, narcotics and pets. Plans of the closure of the dock were put on hold after the appeals of the fish farmers and ferry operators.

There are a few old roads at the Changi vicinity. Nicoll Drive, between Tanah Merah Road and Changi Village, was built in the fifties as a coast road with a splendid picturesque view of the Changi beach. The road, at its beginning, was a quiet drive without street lamps and a few houses along its 6.5km-long route, a large difference from what it looks like today. After its completion, Nicoll Drive was named in 1955 after Sir John Nicoll (1899-1981), the Governor of Singapore between 1952 and 1955. The Nicoll Highway in the city area was also named after him.

Telok Paku Road, on the other hand, was better remembered for the government bungalows that functioned as holiday resorts by the sea until their demolition in the late seventies. The quaint-looking pre-war bungalows, some of which were named Annexe, Brighton, Clifton and Hove, were made available for rental to the public since 1962.

Near the junction of Telok Paku Road and Nicoll Drive was a small Malay coastal village called Kampong Beting Kusa (Kusah).

In 1948, an airstrip extension at the Changi airfield led to the British’s acquisition of the nearby lands As a result, two affected villages  – Kampong Beting Kusa and Kampong Tenah Merah Besar – were resettled with a $30,000 compensation. The villagers were moved to Kampong Ayer Gemuroh, another coastal village located near the southeastern coast of Changi. Some Kampong Beting Kusa fishermen continued their trades by moving to the easternmost beach, setting up kelongs and coastal houses near to the Telok Paku government bungalows.

While most of Kampong Beting Kusa and Kampong Tanah  Merah Besar villagers relocated their homes closer to the Changi coast, a number of affected kampong residents chose to move inland by resettling at Kampong Tengah and Kampong Darat.

Most of the kampongs had vanished in the mid- and late seventies when the construction of the new airport took place. Changi and Tanah Merah’s villages and the Telok Paku government bungalows were not the only ones affected; the redevelopment works led to the closure of Telok Paku School (1950-1975) and Ayer Gemuroh Malay School, acquisition of private residences, such as David Marshall’s bungalow, and the relocation of several elderly and children’s homes, including the Cheshire Home (established in 1957 by Captain Leonard Cheshire of the Royal Air Force), Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home, Crippled Children’s Home (established in 1953 by Red Cross Society) and the Children’s Society Convalescent Home (established in 1956).

Published: 27 January 2019

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A Short History of Tampines Road – Busy Junction, Customs Station and Illegal Alcohol

There are a couple of old buildings along Tampines Road, near its junction with Upper Serangoon Road, that seem out of place standing among the new developments in the vicinity. They were the former Customs Station and Quarters, more than three decades ago, functioning under the jurisdiction of the Customs Operations Command Building, or COC, at Keppel Road.

Prior to that, during the Second World War, the wooden houses were apparently warehouses storing gunny bags of rice. After the Customs Station’s operations ceased in the seventies, the buildings were utilised as an Islamic religious school for several years during the nineties. They were then converted into a kindergarten and student hostel in the 2000s.

Today, the vacant buildings, consisting of five single-storey wooden houses and a four-storey block, stand between new private condominiums Tembusu and Stars of Kovan (still under construction). The buildings are part of the list of state properties under the administration of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

The COC, during the sixties and seventies, was the headquarters of the Land Division of the Customs and Excise Department. Beside the Tampines Road Customs Station, it also held the jurisdiction of other Customs Stations located at the old Woodlands Customs Checkpoint, Kangkar, Lim Chu Kang, Changi, Tanjong Pagar and Jurong, which was its latest addition in the seventies.

A customs team, known as the Land Squads, was stationed at the Land Division headquarters, with specific tasks to raid and seize the illegal manufactured samsoo, or samsu (which like toddy, was a type of alcoholic drink once popular among the local community in Singapore and Malaysia), smuggled opium and duty unpaid cigarettes.

The Land Squads was organised into “A”, “B” and “B” teams, with each teams assigned to their designated zones of duty. Often, the teams had to venture into the rural parts to seek the hidden samsoo distilleries and smugglers hidden in the jungles. In 1964, the customs officers busted an illegal samsoo hideout in the thick undergrowth along Tampines Road. Caught with almost 1,800 litres of mash and 80 litres of samsoo, the manufacturer was fined a hefty $9,000.

The Customs Stations at Changi, Kangkar and Tampines Road came with staff quarters that provided accommodation for the customs personnel. The customs officers stationed at Tampines Road Customs Station were tasked not only to conduct regular checks and raids on illegal alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but also worked as tax collectors for imported eggs and other produce shipped from the Kangkar and Punggol Point fishing ports.

The area near the junction of Upper Serangoon and Tampines Roads used to be known as “lak kok jiok” (referring to the 6th milestone of Upper Serangoon Road) by the local Chinese, particularly the large Teochew community, who had lived there for generations, together with pockets of Malay, Indian and Eurasian families. Between the sixties and eighties, lak kok jiok was a bustling “centralised” area with markets (Simon Road Market and Lim Tua Tow Market), cinemas (Empire Theatre and Zenith Theatre), villages, schools, clinics, provision shops and places of worship.

The Tampines Road Customs Station, after two decades of operations, was closed in the seventies. By the late seventies, its opposite Somapah Serangoon Village was demolished as its site was redeveloped into the (old) Hougang Town Centre. New blocks of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats sprung up in the vicinity by the mid-eighties, and Jalan Hock Chye became Hougang Avenue 1. Jalan Hock Chye did not disappear into history, though, as a short section of it was retained and used as an access road to private residences today.

Published: 14 January 2019

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From Old Cemetery to Vibrant New Town; A Peck San Theng Heritage Gallery

After two years of conceptualisation, and supported by the National Heritage Board, the Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng Heritage Gallery was officially opened in June 2018, showcasing the history of Peck San Theng Cemetery, and its transformation into the vibrant Bishan New Town.

Early Cantonese Cemeteries

The early Cantonese and Hakka communities in Singapore had their roots traced back to the early 19th century, when they arrived in batches from China’s seven prefectures – Guangzhou, Huizhou, Zhaoqing, Jiaying, Fengshun, Yongding and Dapu.

In 1824, the Cantonese and Hakkas built the Fuk Tai Chi Temple, a place of worship that also served as the headquarters of the two communities. Over the years, their populations grew, leading to higher demands for burial grounds. Hence, between 1820s and 1870s, three Chinese cemeteries were established. They were the Cheng San Teng (青山亭) Cemetery, Loke Yah Teng (绿野亭) Cemetery and Pek San Theng (碧山亭) Cemetery. The three cemeteries were located at present-day Maxwell Road, Bukit Ho Swee and Thomson Road areas respectively.

The Teahouse

After the Second World War, until the 1970s, Peck San Theng Cemetery had covered a large 324-acre (1.31km2) area, almost equivalent to 180 football fields and two-thirds of present-day Bishan New Town. The cemetery was also home to Kampong San Teng, which was largely made up of Chinese families as well as a small number of Indian and Malay residents. The village itself was self-sufficient; there were provision shops, a soy sauce factory, clinic, school, wayang stage and a large coffee shop named Peck San Tea Pavilion.

Also known as Peck San Teahouse, the coffee shop was housed in a single-storey building with distinctive tapered roof that modelled after the teahouses in rural China. It mainly served as both an eating and gathering place for the residents of Kampong San Teng.

Peck San Tea Pavilion was particularly bustling during the annual Qing Ming Festival, when the members of the extended families came together for drinks and meals before their tombsweeping activities at the cemetery. One of the popular dishes the coffee shop was selling were their steaming hot dim sum.

Kampong San Teng

The Kampong San Teng residents lived scatteredly beside the Peck San Theng Cemetery, which was demarcated by 12 pavilions. The Cantonese families stayed around Pavilion 1 to 3, while the Hokkiens and Teochews’ homes were located between Pavilion 4 and 7. At Pavilion 8 was another small number of Hokkien families. Most of the villagers’ homes were attap houses; the better off families lived in wooden ones with zinc roofs.

The kampong residents mostly worked as farmers at the small plots of lands beside their homes. Others reared and sold livestock such as chicken, ducks and pigs at the nearby markets. A small number of skilled craftsmen also resided at Kampong San Teng, engaged in specialised jobs such as tomb inscription for the cemetery.

In the sixties and seventies, many young men from Kampong San Teng preferred to venture out of their village, travelling further to work at the electronic factories, Sembawang shipyard and Sembawang Naval Base.

For much of its history, Kampong San Teng had inadequate amenities and a lack of proper sanitation. Accessibility was also an issue for those residents living at the inner parts of the kampong, a long walking distance away from the village’s entrance. Overall, life was difficult but generally safe and simple. By the early seventies, Kampong San Teng reached its population peak of about 1,000 residents.

Chinese Public School

Peck Shan Ting School was established in 1936 by the Kwong Wai Siew Federation to provide free education for the children of Kampong San Teng and the nearby villages. Lee Min, one of the school’s founders, wanted the poor families’ kids to have access to education so that they could have better prospects in life.

The students of Peck Shan Ting School were taught their subjects in Chinese. In 1956, the school built a new single-storey building with six classrooms to accommodate morning and afternoon classes. A year later, Peck Shan Ting School was incorporated into the national education system, becoming a government-aided school like most other Chinese public schools in Singapore.

The school premises had its own basketball court and running track. Beside studies, the students engaged in many sports and games. Hence, the school’s Sports Day was an important annual event.

Many former students would fondly remember their carefree schooldays; each day was made up of games such as five stones, fighting spiders, catching games at the small hills and pavilions, or flying layangs (kites) at the cemetery areas.

Peck Shan Ting School had three long-serving principals in its 45 years of history. The last principal was Kwok Ming, who witnessed the closure of the school in 1981 due to the resettlement of the kampong residents resulting in a dwindling number of students.

12 Pavilions

There were 13 burial hills at Peck San Theng Cemetery. The burial hills were named after “xin jia po guang hui zhao bi shan ting yu lan sheng hui” (新加坡广惠肇碧山亭盂兰胜会), which referred to the Singapore Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng Ullambana Festival. There were 13 characters in the Chinese name; hence, each burial hill was named after the characters in sequence.

The 12 symbolic pavilions were built at the open areas between the burial hills, serving as stopovers or resting points for the visitors. The pavilions were named one to ten, with the additional New Pavilion 5 and New Pavilion 7. Constructed in different periods, the pavilions had distinctive architectural styles. The older ones were simple shed-like structures, whereas the newer ones, such as New Pavilion 5, had elaborated hexagonal roof.

Pavilion 10 and New Pavilion 7 were built in 1957. Among the 12 pavilions, two were named after distinguished figures – New Pavilion 5 was also known as Wong Fook Hill Pavilion (named after Wong Ah Fook), while Pavilion 9, or Loh Poh Lum Pavilion, was named after Loh Poh Lum.

Pavilion 4, previously located beside the present-day Bishan Stadium, was the last surviving structure of the former cemetery. By the eighties, it was in a dilapidated state. Moreover, numerous haunted tales regarding the pavilion ran rife, spooking the new town’s residents who eventually requested the pavilion to be demolished.

Exhumation of Cemetery

As for the cemetery itself, its 100 years of serenity and tranquility finally came to end with the redevelopment plans arriving at its doorstep. The lands occupied by the cemetery were included in the government’s proposed town plans for Toa Payoh and Bishan. By 1973, the government had stopped all new burials at Peck San Theng. The cemetery was officially acquired in 1979, with a compensation of $4.9 million to Kwong Wai Siew. The exhumation of Peck San Theng Cemetery kicked off three years later, in 1982.

Kwong Wai Siew tried to initiate negotiations with the government for the preservation of its temple and the establishment of new crematorium and funeral parlour. After several rounds of negotiations, the government eventually granted Kwong Wai Siew a 3-hectare land with a 99-year lease for the construction of a new columbarium. It could also proceed to preserve its ancestral temple. The new modern-looking columbarium was officially opened during the Qing Ming Festival in 1986.

Notable Personalities

The establishment of Peck San Theng Cemetery could not have succeeded without the efforts of numerous influential Chinese community leaders, such as Whampoa Hoo Ah Kay (胡亚基), Boey Nam Sooi (梅南瑞), Ng Sing Phang (吴胜鹏), Yow Ngan Pan (邱彦宾) and Boey Ah Sam (梅湛轩). Together, they were involved in the donations, fund-raising, land purchasing, planning, construction and development of Peck San Theng.

A handful of notable persons were buried at Peck San Theng Cemetery, including Wong Ah Fook (黄亚福) and Cao Ya Zhi (曹亚志). Wong Ah Fook (1837-1918) was a famous contractor in the late 19th century, involving in Singapore and Johor’s building projects such as the Victoria Memorial Hall and Istana Besar. Jalan Wong Ah Fook, a street in Johor, was named after him.

As the founding member of Kwong Wai Siew federation, Wong Ah Fook was buried at Peck San Theng Cemetery after his death in 1918. His tomb, located near Pavilion 5, was the grandest of all.

Cao Ya Zhi (1782-1830), on the other hand, had a disputed existence. It was said that he was a Chinese carpenter working on Sir Stamford Raffles’ ship that arrived at Singapore in 1819. Raffles assigned him to led a reconnaissance team to find out about the hostility of the natives and whether the island had been occupied by the Dutch. Cao Ya Zhi successfully completed his mission and raised the Union Jack on the top of Fort Canning Hill, signalling to Raffles’ ship to make its official landing on Singapore.

Cao Ya Zhi settled permanently in Singapore and founded the Ning Yeung Wui Kuan (Ningyang Benevolent Association), which later collaborated with other clans to form Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng. He died in 1830 at an age of 48, and was buried at one of the early Cantonese cemeteries before his grave was shifted to Peck San Theng.

Another legendary tale at Peck San Theng was the seven Cantonese heroes who sacrificed their lives protecting the cemetery and defending the interests of the local Cantonese community. Previously buried at a common grace, their urns are now placed at the columbarium’s pavilion for visitors to pay their respects.

Second World War

Not known to many, Peck San Theng Cemetery was one of the sites where intense fighting took place during the Second World War. After invading Singapore from Peninsula Malaya, three divisions from the Japanese’s 25th Army were rapidly advancing from three sides – Jurong, Bukit Timah and Thomson – to capture the city area.

On 13 February 1942, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Peck San Theng’s “Hill 90” (present-day Raffles Institution), where it was defended by the British’s 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment, 5th Royal Norfolk Regiment and 5th Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. Both sides suffered considerable casualties and damages, but the British would eventually surrendered two days later.

After the brief intense battle, the Japanese withdrew and did not return to the cemetery, possibly due to their reluctance to disturb the dead. As a result, Peck San Theng became a refuge place, not only for the Cantonese, but also for the nearby Hokkien, Teochew and Hakka communities who would hide among the tombs to evade the Japanese brutalities. However, it was not entirely safe. There was an occasion when the Japanese aircrafts flew and dropped their bombs on Kampong San Teng, killing dozens of lives.

A New Town

The development of Bishan New Town began after 1983, with the construction of new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats at Shunfu, its first neighbourhood. A temporary bus terminal with several bus services was established; it was later replaced by the new $5.5-million bus interchange in 1989. Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system included Bishan in the first stage of the North-South Line. The Bishan MRT Station, opened in 1987, was initially called San Teng MRT Station.

Junction 8, the popular shopping mall that was opened in 1994 beside the MRT station, had its name inspired after N8, Bishan MRT Station’s original code. Bishan MRT Station’s code was changed to NS17 in 2001.

During its early development, there were worries that the new Bishan town would not be popular as it was built over a former cemetery, but the concerns proved to be unfounded as Bishan quickly became one of Singapore’s up and coming new residential estates. It remains popular today, after 30 years. The former old cemetery has successfully transformed into a vibrant new town.

The Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng Heritage Gallery is opened between 930am and 4pm daily, and from 930am to 1pm on public holidays. Admission is free.

Published: 23 December 2018

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Gone Were the East Coast Park Chalets

Before staycation became a trendy word, chalets have always been a popular choice among Singaporeans, for barbecue sessions, or a short get-together with families or friends during the holidays. And the chalets at East Coast Park were pretty popular in the nineties and 2000s.

The familiar red-bricked chalets at East Coast Park were gone, being demolished last year as part of the redevelopment plans for a cyclist park. There were 197 chalet units then, occupying a stretch of 4-hectare (40,000 square metres) area at the middle section of the 15 km-long East Coast Park. Carpark D3 was its main parking space.

Before 2006, it was known as the Costa Sands Resorts, under the NTUC Club. And in the eighties and nineties, they were called UDMC Chalets, owned by the Urban Development and Management Company, which also had another chalet complex at Pasir Ris, built in 1987. Costa Sands Resorts closed in January 2006 after the expiry of its 30-year lease. The chalets were, by then, quite run down. Together with the limited amenities, the resort attracted many negative online reviews.

After NTUC Club left, the vacated chalets were temporarily handed over to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). In 2007, the new tenant Island Park Resort, under Goldkist International, bid successfully to take over the chalets. After a $5-million makeover of the units and their amenities to resemble those of the beachfront English cottages, it was hoped that the popularity of the chalets would be revived, serving as a weekend getaway among friends, a corporate retreat venue or an adventure camp for students, for prices of $100 to $135 a night.

It barely lasted a decade, when the company, facing stiff competition from the newer and better equipped chalets and bungalows at Pasir Ris, Loyang, Changi Fairy Point, Changi Coast Walk and Boon Lay Way, as well as the impending redevelopment plans of the vicinity, decided to call it a day.

The demolition of the chalets had brought along those notorious hearsay of overnight carouses, hanky-panky affairs and ghost sightings. For many middle-aged Singaporeans, it was another lost piece of memory of their teenager days, when the likes of East Coast Park chalets, Marina South bowling and Parklane arcades were among the trendiest hangouts during the nineties.

Since 2017, several sites along East Coast Parkway, such as the former Big Splash and Raintree Cove, had been torn down and their sites rebuilt for new playgrounds, open lawns, food joints and other amenities. As part of East Coast Park’s redevelopment plans, the site of the former East Coast Park chalets will be transformed into a bicycle park designed with circuits and trails for different groups of cyclists.

Published: 19 November 2018

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End of Era for Normanton Park, and other HUDC Estates

The Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) scheme was started in 1974 to suit the aspiration of the middle-income residents in owning private homes, and to give the owners more control in the management and maintenance of their properties.

Construction of HUDC flats began in 1975, and in the next 12 years, a total of 7,731 units in 18 HUDC estates were built. Four stages of development were carried out, with Phase I and II built and managed by HUDC Private Limited, followed by Phase III and IV, handled by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) after 1982. The HUDC scheme lasted until 1987 and was eventually phased out due to declining demands.

In 1995, the government gave the go-ahead for the privatisation of HUDC estates. A year later, Gillman Heights and Pine Grove became the first HUDC estates to be privatised. Gillman Heights was then sold for $548 million in 2009; its former site now replaced by The Interlace. Meanwhile, the 660-unit Pine Grove, located near Ulu Pandan Road, has been attempting for collective sale in 2008, 2011 and 2017, but without successes. In 2007, Farrer Court clinched the sale record for a HUDC estate when it was sold for a $1.3 billion.

Normanton Park was an unique HUDC estate, built in 1977 exclusively for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel and their families. Located near Kent Ridge Park, its residents had enjoyed many years of serenity and splendid views of vast areas of greenery around their estate.

Made up of 13 blocks and 488 units, completed with amenities such as swimming pool, tennis courts and kindergarten, the estate was sold to SAF officers at prices ranging from $37,000, for high rise units, to $65,000 for the walk-up apartments.

Officially opened in April 1978 by former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Goh Keng Swee, the building of Nornanton Park was intended to provide SAF officers a decent and low-cost condominium-like housing. It was one of the Defence Ministry’s many ways of fostering camaraderie among the officer corps.

Normanton Park was not the first housing estate where an organisation’s colleagues became neighbours. Since 1972, government and statutory boards had started their own housing schemes with the view of retaining civil servants and employees in service. Other similar examples included the Farrer Road’s executive flats for Housing and Development Board (HDB) staffs, and the Spottiswoode Park flats for Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) employees.

Normanton Park added a new neighbour in the early eighties, when the Singapore Science Park, the nation’s new technology corridor, was developed.

Privatised with the status of a condominium in 2012, Normanton Park was put up for collective sale twice, first in 2015 and then again in 2017. The 40-year-old estate was eventually sold for $830 million in the second sale bid. By October 2018, most of Normanton Park’s residents had vacated the premises.

In recent years, there was a flurry of collective sales for HUDC estates. Between 2016 and 2018, Shunfu Ville, Raintree Gardens, Rio Casa, Serangoon Ville, Florence Regency, Eunosville, Tampines Court and Chancery Court were sold.

The demolition of the 34-year-old Raintree Gardens, located at Potong Pasir, and Shunfu Ville, built in 1986 at Shunfu Road off Marymount Road, kicked off between early and mid-2018. The two HUDC estates were sold for $334 million and $638 million respectively, after their privatisation in 2013 and 2014. Raintree Gardens and Shunfu Ville’s former sites will be redeveloped for new private residences named The Tre Ver and Jade Scape.

Meanwhile, another HUDC estate Eunosville has been hoarded up and is ready for demolition. One of the last HUDC estates built before the phasing out of the HUDC scheme in 1987, Eunosville, located between the parallel Sims Avenue and Changi Road, had 10 low-rise blocks and 330 units. It was sold in 2017 for $766 million, and in its place will be a new private residential development called Parc Esta.

The history of HUDC was not without controversy. In the late seventies, the angry buyers of Amberville sued the company for their revised plan to build a 13-storey block which would deprive the owners of their panoramic views of the sea, which was the original selling point of new HUDC estate. Others were also unhappy with payment issues using the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and subsequent price hikes in the maintenance fees.

In March 2017, the 918-unit Braddell View became the last HUDC to be privatised, marking the end of the HUDC era that spanned over four decades. Currently, there are five HUDC estates – Pine Grove, Ivory Heights, Lakeview, Laguna Park and Braddell View – that have not been sold and redeveloped. It will be another chapter in Singapore’s housing history when the day finally arrives for the complete ceasing of existence of HUDC estates.

Published: 12 November 2018

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10 Types of Vehicles that Had Disappeared from the Streets of Singapore

The advancement in transportation technologies has brought convenience and efficiency, and their rapid evolution saw the human- and animal-powered sedan chairs, rickshaws, bullock carts and gharries replaced by motor vehicles on the roads in the early 20th century. Different types of vehicles made their appearances throughout the decades. Many had already walked into history, while some are gradually vanishing from the streets of Singapore, such as the classic blue pickups and yellow-top taxis.

Below were 10 iconic transportation vehicles that had disappeared from the streets of Singapore.

1. Rickshaw (1880-1947)

First introduced into Singapore in 1880, rickshaw was a type of hand-pulled transportation vehicle originated from Japan. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, rickshaw-pulling became a primary source of income for tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants.

The relatively low charges for rickshaws indirectly led to the demise of the more expensive gharry, a type of horse-drawn two-wheeled carriage available for hire. In the 1920s, the rise of motorised vehicles prompted the British government to gradually phase out rickshaws – by then, there were almost 30,000 rickshaws in Singapore – due to many safety-related incidents.

The life of a rickshaw puller was both physically demanding and prone to accidents. By 1947, rickshaws were banned, on humanitarian grounds, and were replaced by the bicycle-powered trishaws.

2. Trams (1880s-1927)

There were once two types of trams operating in pre-war Singapore – the steam trams and electric trams – used for ferrying of passengers and carrying of cargoes. In 1882, the Singapore Tramway Company was established, and tramways were constructed mainly at the city, wharves and docks and major routes to the suburban areas.

The costly fares of steam trams meant that demands often could not cover the operating costs. The tram operation managed to stay afloat for slightly more than a decade, before the company called it a day and ceased its operation in 1894.

Electrical supply’s rapid growth and stability in the early 20th century led to the increased feasibility in the implementation of electrical trams. Once again, infrastructures were constructed, and the operation of electrical trams debuted in 1905.

Ridership stood at 32,000 in 1909, but by the 1920s, the conditions of many tram tracks had deteriorated to the extent that the Municipal Commission refused to extend the tramway concessions. In 1927, the last electrical trams were decommissioned, having replaced by the trolleybus system.

3. Mosquito Buses (1920s-1930s)

Mostly converted from Ford cars of Model T, the mosquito buses proved to be popular among workers and students as they were fast, cheap and comfortable. At the start, the mosquito buses plied mostly between the city and its outskirts, often being the only public transport available at the rural areas in the 1920s and 1930s.

Able to ferry up to seven passengers, the mosquito buses were small and highly manoeuvrable, and could weave in and out of the traffic without stopping. By 1930, there were more than 450 mosquito buses in Singapore.

Issues arose due to their reckless driving and speeding, high accident rates and heated competition against the rickshaws and trolleybuses for passengers. More stringent regulations were imposed by the Municipal Commission, and with the stopping of Ford’s Model T production, the mosquito buses  were eventually ceased in their operations by the end of the 1930s.

4. Trolleybus (1926-1962)

The demise of trams saw the rise of trolleybuses in the 1920s. Trolleybus was a type of bus that was electrically powered from overhead wires by means of a trolley pole. The trolleybus operation, owned by the Singapore Traction Company, was meant to replace the tram system, with the trolleybuses covering the similar routes left behind by the trams.

Trolleybuses were more successful than the trams, in terms of ridership and popularity among the masses. However, the accident rates involving trolleybuses were high due to overcrowding and cases of passengers boarding or alighting the trolleybuses while they were still in motion.

By 1933, the trolleybus operation in Singapore was one of the largest in the world, with a fleet of over 100 buses plying in a 40-km long network. After the Second World War, the “slow and noisy” trolleybuses began to fall out of favour, and were gradually replaced by motor buses in the early sixties.

5. Mobile Library Van (late 1950s-1991)

The idea of a mobile library services came from Britain and was introduced into Malaya and Singapore in the fifties by the People’s Education Association in a bid to improve literacy of the people, especially those living in the rural areas. After the Second World War, the Raffles Museum and Library resumed operations and was reopened to the public. The Raffles National Library was established in 1958, with branches set up at the suburban areas, and mobile library services launched.

At the start, three mobile library vans were introduced, one of which was a gift from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The mobile library vans, converted from old army vehicles, were stocked with English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil books. The mobile libraries were later upgraded to larger buses, which could carry more than 2000 books during their fortnightly visits to primary schools at Nee Soon, Tampines, Sembawang, Jurong and Bukit Panjang.

The new iconic National Library was opened at Stamford Road in November 1960, and mobile library services were extended, throughout the sixties, to both adults and children at many community centres at Nee Soon, Chong Pang, Bukit Timah, West Coast, Tanjong Pagar, Paya Lebar, Taman Jurong and Bukit Panjang.

The year 1970 saw the opening of Queenstown Library, the National Library’s first full-time branch. By the late seventies and eighties, the mobile library services were in declining demands, due to the establishment of library branches at the new towns. For instance, the Joo Chiat mobile library service ended in November 1978 due to the opening of the new Marine Parade branch library.

National Library’s mobile library services eventually ceased in 1991. In 2008, the National Library relaunched “Molly the Mobile Library” to bring reading pleasures to special-needs schools, orphanages, senior citizens’ homes and selected primary schools.

6. Sentosa Double Decker Bus (early 1970s-early 1980s)

After Pulau Blakang Mati was renamed Sentosa in 1970, the newly-formed Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) introduced a bus service as part of the development plans for the new island resort. Consisting of a fleet of green London-style double-decker buses, the Sentosa bus service was mainly used for ferrying tourists and visitors to the island’s attractions at Fort Siloso, Coralarium and the Maritime Museum.

The double-decker buses were phased out by the early eighties when the monorail started operating in 1982, although the single-decker buses continued plying the routes on the Sentosa island.

7. Lorry-Bus (1974-late 1970s)

In 1974, under the Singapore government’s supplementary transport Scheme B service, lorries were allowed to operate as private buses. Known as lorry-buses, they were retrofitted with service number plates, stepladders and wooden benches to transport factory and office workers. The lorry-bus operators were also required to display a Registry of Vehicles (ROV) disc at the back of their vehicles.

Each lorry-bus typically could carry up to 16 passengers – 1 sitting at the front of the vehicle that had no doors, and 15 at the rear. As many as 34 routes were initially approved for these lorry-buses to ply, together with other private buses, as the authority sought ways to relieve the overcrowded public buses and congested roads during the morning and evening peak hours.

The service, however, was generally unpopular, especially among women passengers who had difficulties climbing up and down the vehicles in their dresses. The lorry-buses became a history on Singapore streets just a few years later.

8. 32-Door Truck (1970s-1980s)

The nightsoil collection truck was also commonly known as 32-door truck due to its unique design of 16 compartments on each side of the vehicle that were used to store the nightsoil buckets.

In the seventies, many of Singapore’s public and private latrines were still using nightsoil buckets. The workers would collect the nightsoil buckets, two at a time, from the latrines and swapped them with empty ones. The filled nightsoil buckets were then deposited into the 32-door trucks, where they would go to the nightsoil collection centres at Albert Street, Lorong Halus and Jalan Afifi off Paya Lebar Road for disposal.

In the eighties, the government invested $600 million to improve Singapore’s sewage and sanitary network. Newly built housing estates were also mostly fitted with modern sanitation. Data showed that in the 10 years between 1971 and 1981, modern sanitation at homes jumped from 65% to 81%.

Nightsoil collection was gradually phased out by the mid-eighties. As the system officially walked into the history in January 1987, so were the famous 32-door trucks.

9. Volkswagen Police Car (1973-1980s)

In the early seventies, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) patrol cars were mostly made up of brands such as Land Rover, Toyota and Ford (Falcon, Cortina, Escort). In 1973, the SPF made a bold introduction to the public of their new fleet of Volkswagen “beetle” patrol cars. The new police cars were said to have completed their assemblies in Singapore with special modifications to their engines and internal compartments.

Painted blue and white, with the word POLICE printed on their bonnets and side doors, the new police cars were attached to Pearl’s Hill Police Radio Division, where each Volkswagen patrol car was assigned to two policemen of the radio patrol crew team. Internally, the cars were fitted with wireless sets at the luggage compartments, with the radio mouthpieces wired and extended to the dashboards.

The iconic Volkswagen police patrol cars were phased out in the eighties.

10. Tricycle (1960s-1990s)

Except for the licensed ice cream vendors, most of the street hawkers have since vanished from the streets of Singapore. It was a common sight in the seventies and eighties to see different street vendors riding on their tricycles from one place to another, peddling a wide range of items from food, milk and bread to masks, brooms, cooking pots and other daily necessities.

By the late eighties, many street vendors – those who had remained in this line – switched from tricycles to motorcycles installed with modified sidecars that functioned like mini stores. One example was the street rojak hawker, who would go around the HDB neighbourhoods in the eighties and nineties selling his rojak that was cooked directly from his mobile food stall.

Today, one can still spot a few old rusty tricycles parked by the roads, but they are no longer used for street hawking.

Published: 29 October 2018

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