S.R. Nathan (1924-2016) – President, Diplomat, Crisis Leader

At his lowest point in life, he almost could not survive out there in the streets. Yet in the later part of his life, he would go on to become Singapore’s sixth and longest-serving President (2011). It was a colourful and amazing life story of ups and downs, and the story belonged to a man called Sellapan Ramanathan (S.R.) Nathan, who was born in Singapore in 1924 to a Tamil Indian family.

sr nathan family late 1920s

During his childhood, Nathan’s family was relocated to Muar, Johor, where his father worked as a clerk in a rubber plantation. The world economy and rubber prices, however, collapsed in the early 1930s, and with his father out of job, Nathan’s family was thrown into a crisis. The family tragedy struck when Nathan was only eight; his father had committed suicide after a series of difficulties in finding new jobs.

By then, Nathan and his family had moved back to Singapore. Under his uncle’s care, Nathan had his studies at Anglo-Chinese School and Victoria School. But in an incident where he was accused of stealing his classmate’s books, a 16-year-old Nathan was forced to leave school. Unable to face his family, he decided to run away from home. To survive, Nathan took up several odd jobs and also worked as an office boy.

sr nathan and lieutenant kokubu japanese occupationIt was the early 1940s, and the impacts and horrors of the Second World War had reached Singapore. During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), Nathan, in a twist of fate, managed to master the Japanese language with the help of an English-Japanese dictionary. At age 18, he started working as an interpreter and translator to a high-ranking officer in the Japanese civilian police.

After the war, Nathan went to work as a clerk at the Public Works Department (PWD). In the early fifties, he pursued his studies and was enrolled at the University of Malaya, graduating with a diploma in 1954.

sr nathan received public service star 1964After graduation, S.R. Nathan began his 40-plus-year career at the civil service, until the late nineties, taking on numerous roles at the Marine Department, Labour Research Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence.

In the eighties, Nathan also chaired the Hindu Advisory Board, Hindu Endowments Board and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), and was the director of the Singapore National Oil Company, Singapore Mint and Times Press Foundation.

S.R. Nathan’s arguably highest-profile accomplishment was the handling of the Laju hijacking incident. On 31 January 1974, four terrorists from the Japanese Red Army and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, after failing to blow up the oil refinery on Pulau Bukom, hijacked a ferry named Laju. Five crew members on the ferry were held hostages.

Serving as the director of the Security and Intelligence Division (SID), Nathan led a team, made up of Internal Security Department (ISD) director Yoong Siew Wah, Marine Police Deputy Superintendent Tee Tua Bah, several government officials and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) commandos, to negotiate with the armed hijackers. After more than a week of intense negotiations, the hijackers accepted the offer of a safe passage to Kuwait.

sr nathan laju hijacking incident 1974

In exchange for the release of the hostages, a team of guarantors, including Nathan himself, would be required to accompany the hijackers and hostages throughout the flight. The incident was successfully resolved on 08 February 1974 when the team of guarantors returned to Singapore unharmed.

S.R. Nathan demonstrated his firm diplomatic skills when he was appointed as the High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to the United States in 1988 and 1990 respectively. During his times as the high commissioner, Nathan had to tackle escalating bilateral issues such as the Malayan railway land in Singapore, Pedra Branca dispute and the visit of Singapore by Israeli president Chaim Herzog.

The Michael Fay case in 1994 was another test for Nathan. Singapore’s decision to convict and cane the teenager for vandalism caused an uproar among the American public. As the ambassador, Nathan had to deal with the immense pressure from the United States government and backlash from the Americans.

sr nathan high commissioner to malaysia 1988

In 1999, S.R. Nathan ran for the candidacy of the presidential post. Being the only eligible candidate, he successfully became Singapore’s sixth President and was sworn into office on the first of September. Nathan would be again re-elected without contest in 2005, bringing his total tenure as the President of Singapore to 12 years.

In 2000, with a vision to build a more caring and cohesive society, Nathan initiated the consolidation of several charity projects into one annual event called the President’s Challenge. Since then, the Challenge has raised, through various fundraising and charity drives, more than $100 million for over 500 beneficiaries. S.R. Nathan stepped down as Singapore’s President in 2011, and was conferred Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek) First Class, the nation’s highest award, in 2013.

sr nathan sworn into office singapore president 1999

In recent years, some had expressed doubts in Nathan’s contributions to the nation, given that the President of Singapore, at more than $3 million a year, is one of the highest-paid leaders in the world. Other less favourable critics included Nathan’s passive custodial role, regarding the nation’s reserves and assets, when compared to his predecessor Ong Teng Cheong (1936-2002). Nathan, however, did his part as the key guardian of the national reserves in 2009, approving a $4.9-billion withdrawal from the past reserves to deal with Singapore’s worst recession since independence.

Despite the controversial opinions, S.R. Nathan’s contributions to Singapore and the public service should not be denied. In July 2016, S.R. Nathan was taken to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after suffering a stroke. He passed away on 22 August 2016, at an age of 92, leaving behind his wife, a daughter and son, and three grandchildren.

sr nathan 1924-2016

Published: 25 August 2016

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tuas of Yesteryears – A Fishing Village and Seafood Restaurants

Before the eighties, Tuas Village was one of the westernmost points of Singapore. Made up of largely Chinese Teochew and Malay families, the bustling fishing village was said to have existed since the 1880s, founded by one of the pioneering gambier planters named Zheng Wan Bao.

tuas village map 1978

Jurong Road

Tuas Village was hardly accessible by land, reachable only via Jurong Road. The road, connecting to the 7th milestone of Bukit Timah Road more than 15km away, had been present since the mid-1930s, but, until the eighties, was a narrow and poorly lit dual-lane carriageway that was frequently bothered by traffic jams and motor accidents, especially after the official opening of Nanyang University in 1956 (the entrance road to Nanyang University was at Jurong Road 14½ milestone).

jurong road map 1958

Along the long Jurong Road were many small villages such as Lokyang Village (Jurong Road 16th milestone), Huat Choe Village (14th milestone), Jurong Village (13½ milestone), Hong Kah Village (12th milestone), Kampong Ulu Jurong (12th milestone), Kampong Sungei Jurong (11th milestone), Kampong Ulu Pandan (10th milestone) and Ong Lee Village (10th milestone). Tuas Village, located at Jurong Road 18th milestone, was the farthest village in the west.

Jurong Road’s importance as the main route to west Singapore was gradually reduced after the construction of the western section of Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), running parallel to Jurong Road, in the late seventies.

kampong house at jurong road 1980s

barber shop at jurong road 1980s

Fishing Village

Situated by the sea, Tuas Village naturally had several small rivers running around it, such as Sungei Tuas, Sungei Che Mat Gun and Sungei Piatu. Sungei Tuas had disappeared during the land reclamation, while the latter two became part of the Tengah Reservoir when it was dammed in the early eighties.

To the local Teochews and Hokkiens, Tuas Village was also known as zhap buay kok (十八块), a reference to its approximated location at Jurong Road 18th milestone (joo long zhap buay kok 裕廊十八块 in full). In Malay, the name Tuas was possibly evolved from menuas, referring to an old fishing method where Malay fishermen, after using coconut leaves and fishing nets to create floating shady traps, “hauled up” the catches. The Chinese name for Tuas was first directly translated into 都亚士, before changing to a modern 大士.

tuas village 1980s

tuas village6 1980s

The fishing and prawn farming industries in Jurong thrived in the sixties, thanks to plenty of riverine areas and muddy beaches in the vicinity. Tuas as the bustling fishing village peaked in the seventies, with more than 200 fishing boats docked daily at the jetty to unload their catch for the fishing port and the nearby seafood eateries. But situated by the sea had its risks. For instance, in 1984, pirates lurked around the waters near Tuas Village, stealing several boats and outboard motors.

tua jetty entrance 1970s

Temples and Churches

One of Tuas Village’s landmarks was its popular Tua Pek Kong Temple (named Tuas Pek Kong Keng). It was founded in 1944 by eight residents of Tuas Village, who sought divine protection for the village during the Japanese Occupation. The 2,000-odd families living at Tuas Village had been terrorised by the war that already seen 39 villagers killed. The place of worship soon became popular; its wayang attracted even the Japanese soldiers.

By the mid-fifties, the temple was upgraded from a modest attap hut to a brick-and-tile building. When the government acquired much of the lands at Tuas in the seventies for industrial development, many of the villagers were resettled at Boon Lay. In 1983, the Jurong Town Council granted a plot of land at Boon Lay Drive for the relocation of the Tua Pek Kong Temple. The temple was later opened in 1987 much to the delight of the former Tuas Village residents.

tuas ma cho temple

tuas ma cho temple wayang stage

The Ma Cho Temple was another place of worship at Tuas that had a large following, especially the Chinese fishermen. It was dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea whom the devotees believed would protect the fishermen and seafarers.

Beside the temples, there was also a Chapel of Fatima at Tuas Village. A simple wooden single-storey chapel, it was established in 1958 by Father Joachim Teng to cater for the Catholics living at Tuas. Italian priest Father Thomas di Pasquale was one of the early preachers at the chapel. The Catholic Welfare Services, in the mid-sixties, had also set up a welfare centre at Tuas Village to distribute rice and food to the needy, provide medical facilities and conduct useful courses such as sewing, domestic science and literacy.

The Sixties

Like many other kampongs in Singapore, Tuas Village in the sixties had been frequently bothered by water shortages and rations. The wooden houses, even though many had switched from attap roofs to zinc roofs after the war, were still prone to fire outbreaks. Life was simple but tough. To improve the life of the villagers, a community centre was opened at Tuas in 1960. Equipped with sports and reading facilities, it also occasionally screened movies arranged by the Ministry of Culture.

opening of tuas community centre 1960

Many families, however, were impoverished. Hence, it was not unusual for a boy living at Tuas Village in the fifties and sixties to know how to catch mud crabs and monitor lizards to sell for extra incomes for the family. Dead corals washed up onto the muddy beach was useful and profitable too. Coral rocks, when mixed with water, could be used for painting walls white.

Public Schools

Not all children had the chance to study. For the large and less well-to-do families at Tuas Village, the priority in studying were often given to the boys rather than his sisters.

Among the schools in the old Jurong vicinity were Joo Koon Public School (公立裕群学校), Joo Hwa Public School (公立裕华学校), Sin Nan Public School (公立醒南学校) and Joo Long Public School (公立孺廊学校). Funded by the community leaders, businessmen and the residents, the schools were established in the 1930s to provide primary education, in Chinese medium, for the children living in the kampongs.

joo hwa public school 1961

The public schools, like the villages, were built along Jurong Road. Joo Hwa was located at the 10th milestone of Jurong Road, whereas Sin Nan and Joo Long were established at Jurong Road 12th and 13½ milestone respectively. Joo Koon Public School, situated at 17½ milestone, was a short distance away from Tuas Village and therefore was the main school for the children living at Tuas.

The primary schools were halted during the Second World War, but were reopened and expanded after the war due to an increase in the population. Most of the rural schools were housed in simple single-storey buildings or shophouses, and had small classrooms and inadequate facilities. Sometimes the students had to make use of the village wayang as their temporary classroom.

sin nan public school jurong road

joo long public school 1980s

The development of Jurong in the seventies and eighties had affected the rural schools; many were either shut down or relocated. Their names were also changed to the hanyu-pinyin format, due to the Speak Mandarin campaigns launched in the late seventies and early eighties.

In 1983, Joo Hwa Primary School (its name was changed from Joo Hwa Public School to Joo Hwa Primary School in 1981) was branded as Yuhua Primary School after its relocation to Jurong East. Joo Koon Public School, on the other hand, was closed in 1976 and was reopened in 1984 as Yuqun Primary School. However, due to declining enrollment of students, the two schools were merged in 2002 as the new Yuhua Primary School.

Sin Nam Public School was shut down at the end of 1987. In early 1988, a new primary school at Jurong West was opened. Named after Sin Nan, it was called Xingnan Primary School. Likewise, Joo Long Public School was shifted to a new premises at Jurong West in 1985 as the new Rulang Primary School.

Seafood Haven

The construction and opening of the Nanyang University in the fifties had brought life to the vicinity and offered opportunities to the villagers, who could earn additional incomes by providing the labours, domestic works and food. In the sixties and seventies, Tuas Village was popular among the groups of Nantah students, who would, after classes, take the bus from the university to the fishing village to feast on seafood and other local delights.

tuas village seafood restaurant 1978

tuas jetty 1970s

Several larger seafood restaurants sprung up at Tuas Village in the early seventies. Its image as a faraway fishing village had briefly transformed into a seafood haven. Food lovers would come from other parts of Singapore for the fresh seafood. They were well-received by the National Service (NS) personnel of the seventies too, who loved to dine at Tuas Village before bidding goodbye to the “civilised” world and booking-in to the camps that were situated at the western end of Singapore.

Industrial Development

Jurong as Singapore’s new industrial town was the government’s most ambitious project in the sixties. As early as 1960, large plots of land at Choa Chu Kang, Tuas and Peng Kang were acquired. Swamps, forests, farms and plantations were cleared. Investors, local and foreign, were invited to set up mills, factories and manufacturing plants. By the early seventies, the industrial development had reached Tuas, and many residents were resettled at the new public housing estates.

tuas village2 1980s

tuas village5 1980s

As the Jurong Town Corporation’s (JTC) earth-moving machines made their way into Tuas, the fishermen, farmers and other villagers had no choice but to accept the government’s payments and move out. The shop owners at Jurong Road were offered alternate nearby locations to carry on their businesses, such as the new Boon Lay Shopping Centre, or the shops at Taman Jurong, Teban Gardens and Ulu Pandan housing estates.

By the mid-seventies, there were only three thousand plus residents at Tuas Village, a far cry from its 10,000-strong population in the late sixties. Many fishing boats could be found deserted at the jetty. Gone were the days when the jetty was overcrowded with boats filled with fish, waiting to be unloaded.

Tuas Village turned lively in the seventies when it became well-known as a seafood haven. The Tuas Seafood restaurants had enjoyed brisk businesses, but even that was short-lived. By 1978, it was clear that time was up for the seafood restaurants. Some struggled to hang on for another couple of years before their eventual forced closure or relocation.

tuas village4 1980s

tuas village3 1980s

Land reclamation projects at Tuas were started in the eighties. Before the land reclamation, Singapore had an approximate landsize of only 590 square kilometres. The first phase of the land reclamation, between 1984 and 1999, added some 10.2 square kilometres of land. The second phase, from 2000 to 2008, saw an increase of 19.1 square kilometres. Today, Singapore is about 719 square kilometres large.

Several large facilities have been built at Tuas. In late seventies, its $70-million shipyard was completed. The Tuas Incineration Plant, at a cost of $200 million, became operational in 1986, and in 1994, Tuas Naval Base was officially opened. For the next two decades, the Tuas Terminal will be developed to become Singapore’s megaport.

tuas map 2016

tuas south boulevard1 2016

tuas south boulevard2 2016

The rustic, carefree and idyllic Tuas of yesteryears had long vanished. Today, it is a vibrant industrial district. In the future, it will be a busy port that never sleeps. As for the most western part of Singapore, it was no longer Jurong Road 18th milestone. Instead, Tuas South Boulevard is currently the country’s westernmost road.

Published: 15 August 2016

Posted in Exotic, Historic, Nostalgic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Singapore Trivia: A TV World at Tuas

Little known to many, there is a Television (TV) World at the end of Tuas, situated just beside the Tuas Second Link checkpoint. Looking like a rundown theme park from the outside, it was mainly used by the Television Corporation Of Singapore (TCS) in the nineties as the production venue of local period dramas.

tuas tv world01

Occupying a land size equivalent to about four football fields, the TV World was created in 1990, completed about two years later, to look like Singapore of the fifties and sixties. It was designed with buildings that resemble old cinema, railway station, fire station, church, mansions and traditional shophouses. Three main streets run around these buildings.

There was also a man-made river within TV World for filming purposes. In the past, the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) artistes, if required in the scripts, were made to jump or swim in the Singapore River.

tuas tv world02

Using the nostalgic props and backgrounds at TV World, the TCS would produce many memorable Chinese dramas for Channel 8, such as Strange Encounters 3 奇缘3 (aired in 1995), Tofu Street 豆腐街 (1996), The Price Of Peace 和平的代价 (1997), Wok Of Life 福满人间 (1999) and Hainan Kopi Tales 琼园咖啡香 (2000).

In 2001, TCS was restructured and became Mediacorp TV. The TV World was subsequently given up probably due to high maintenance costs. Also, Mediacorp had decided to cut down on the production of local period dramas. Instead, if required, they would be filmed at Caldecott Broadcast Centre, Malaysia or China.

tuas tv world03

After its closure, the premises of the TV World was taken over by the Singapore Police Force as their Tactical Training Village for special forces. In 2012, Mediacorp did, however, return to the TV World for one more production of drama series – Joy of Life 花样人间 – for the 30th year of production of local Chinese dramas in Singapore.

tuas tv world road

tuas tv world04

Check out more old photos of Tuas TV World here.

Published: 31 July 2016

Updated: 20 August 2016

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Sarimbun Beach Landing and Jalan Bahtera

On 8 February 1942, in a quiet and dark night at Lim Chu Kang, the worst nightmare had arrived at Singapore as the Japanese invaders crossed the Straits of Johore and landed near the Sarimbun Beach.

sarimbun beach landing 1942

Sarimbun Beach Landing

It was not unexpected, as Malaya was already lost to the Japanese since end-January 1942, after the invaders swiftly swept through the peninsula in only two months. Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival (1887-1966), the overall commander of the Allied Forces, decided to deploy his strongest defensive troops at the eastern side of causeway in anticipation of an imminent Japanese attack via Singapore’s northeastern coastline. His strategy would later prove to be disastrous.

The Australian 22nd Brigade was tasked to defend the northwestern side of Singapore. On the night of 8 February 1942, the Japanese began to bombard the Lim Chu Kang area with heavy artillery. Under the cover of darkness, the 5th and 18th divisions of the Japanese army crossed the Johor Straits in small assault boats and landed on Sarimbun Beach. Despite twice repelling the enemies, the Australian brigade was eventually overrun by the numerical superiority of the Japanese forces.

sarimbun beach landing heritage marker1

Almost 13,000 Japanese soldiers landed in batches at the northeastern coastline of Singapore that night. The Allied troops had to be retreated to the Jurong-Kranji defence line; the following day, on the 9th of February 1942, Tengah Airfield fell into the hands of the Japanese.

The Battle of Singapore lasted only a week. By the mid of February 1942, the supposedly impregnable British fortress of Singapore had fallen. On 15 February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival and the British delegation officially surrendered to the Japanese at the Ford Factory at Bukit Timah.

sarimbun beach landing heritage marker2

Jalan Bahtera and the Camps

The Sarimbun area was made up of forested and farming areas before it was designated as a military premises in the seventies. It once had a small network of rural tracks at the 19.5 milestone of Lim Chu Kang Road, which consisted of Jalan Bahtera, Jalan Perahu, Jalan Kapal and Jalan Rakit. Bahtera, perahu and kapal all refer to “boat” in English, probably to reflect the vibrancy of the local fishing trade at Lim Chu Kang in the past.

In 1976, part of Jalan Bahtera was repaired in a gotong royong effort by the volunteering Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers, boy scouts and the Chua Chu Kang Citizens’ Committee members. Jalan Bahtera and Jalan Perahu still exist today, but have been absorbed into the restricted compounds of Sungei Gedong Camp.

jalan bahtera lim chu kang junction

jalan bahtera

jalan bahtera trees

A stretch of Jalan Bahtera is still accessible to public, one that leads to the three Sarimbun campsites –  the Ministry of Education (MOE) Adventure Centre, Singapore Scout Association Sarimbun Camp and the Singapore Girl Guides Association Camp Christine. Unpaved and laid with gravel, it is otherwise known as the Bahtera Track, and is linked to the junction of Lim Chu Kang Road and Lim Chu Kang Lane 5.

jalan bahtera02

Scouting in Singapore, also called the Boy Scouts Movement, was inaugurated in 1910. It had its first campsite, named Purdy Camp, at Changi’s Wing Loong Road between 1932 and 1953. In 1954, the association purchased a 27-acre plot of land at old Boon Lay Road as the boy scouts’ new campsite, and named it Jurong Park. In 1960, it had another campsite leased from the government at Nicoll Drive in Teluk Paku. Situated by the sea, it was suitable for water sports and activities and was named Jubilee Camp after the Golden Jubilee of Singapore Scouting.

When the Jurong Park campsite was earmarked for industrial development in 1965, the government granted the Singapore Scout Association another 20-acre land at Jalan Bahtera. It became known as the Sarimbun Camp, and was used in 1970 to hold the Diamond Jubilee Camp as the commemoration of Singapore Scouting’s 60th anniversary, where boy scouts from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Pakistan and Nepal were invited.

campfire at sarimbun scout camp jalan bahtera 1971

In 1985, a new Sarimbun Scouts Camp, equipped with dormitories, multi-purpose hall and central kitchen, was built to replace the old one. It was completed a year later at a cost of $1.7 million with a grant by MOE. A 7-storey rock wall, A-frame huts and campfire circles were added in 1994. Since then, the camp has been used as the venue for the National Scout Jamborees, National Camps, leadership courses and pre-National Service camps.

In 1988, Camp Christine, of the Singapore Girl Guides Association, was opened opposite of the Sarimbun Scouts Camp along Jalan Bahtera. The Singapore Girl Guide Movement, like the Singapore Scouts Movement, also has a significant long history. The Singapore association was started in 1917 as a District of the Malayan Girl Guides Association. It had its first headquarters, fondly known as “The Hut”, built at Buyong Road in 1941. After independence, the headquarters of the association, named the Guide House, was relocated twice, first at Clemenceau Avenue and later at Bishan.

jalan bahtera moe adventure centre1

jalan bahtera moe adventure centre2

jalan bahtera moe adventure centre3

In the mid-eighties, a fruit tree resource centre owned by the Primary Production Department was set up at Jalan Bahtera. In the vicinity, clusters of wild durian, rambutan, jambu and jackfruit trees were abundant. The resettlement plans in the late eighties and early nineties saw many villagers moved out of Lim Chu Kang, and, as a result, many ownerless fruit trees were either bulldozed by the authority or plucked empty by outsiders during the weekends.

jalan bahtera end

The end of Jalan Bahtera is now fenced up with high security gates and barbed wires. As it is only about 1km from Johor, it was speculated that Mas Selamat bin Kastari had used this route to make his escape from Singapore in 2008. He, however, escaped via the Johor Straits near Woodlands and was captured in a small village at Johor in 2009.

Due to this incident, the jetty at Jalan Bahtera end, a makeshift structure which the fishermen at Lim Chu kang had used for more than 10 years to load and unload their catches, was forced to shut down in 2009. The Sarimbun Beach is now prohibited to public access.

Date: 17 July 2016

Updated: 21 July 2016

Posted in Exotic, Historic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Final Farewell to the Good Ol’ Underwater World

Once the largest tropical fish oceanarium in Asia, the Underwater World will be walking into the history books today, after 25 years of operation at Sentosa.

underwater world sentosa

It took more than two years, between 1988 and 1991, and $20 million to build the Underwater World on the western end of Sentosa island. The idea of a marine oceanarium in Singapore to boost tourism was mooted in the late seventies, prompted by the success of Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, opened in 1977.

At that period, the only similar attraction was the Van Kleef Aquarium at Fort Canning Park, which was built by the municipal government in 1955. The construction funds of the aquarium came from the estate proceeds owned by Dutch businessman Karl Willem Benjamin van Kleef, who, before his death in 1930, bequeathed them to the government for “the embellishment of the Singapore town”. The aquarium was hence named in honour of him.

construction of underwater world late 1980s

In the late eighties, the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) collaborated with the Western Australia Development Corporation and New Zealand company Marinescape Corporation in a joint venture to develop the Underwater World. When the new attraction was completed and opened in May 1991, it became an instant hit. As many as 200,000 people visited it in just the first month of its opening. A year later, the Underwater World received its first millionth visitor, and by 1996, almost nine million had paid their visits to the oceanarium.

The success of the new Underwater World also meant that the Van Kleef Aquarium had to face even stiffer competition. The aging aquarium was already having difficulties sustaining its business after its visitorship rapidly declined in the eighties. In just two weeks after the opening of the Underwater World, Van Kleef Aquarium was closed for good.

underwater world sentosa1 1991

The interior layout of the Underwater World is made up of a main hall, mid foyer and an observation tunnel. Inside the main hall are exhibits of living fossils, marine reef tanks and a stingray feeding pool. The mid foyer showcases interesting marine life such as spider crabs, seahorses, giant octopuses, cuttlefish and different species of fishes.

The star attraction of the Underwater World is its iconic 83m-long underwater observation tunnel made up of thick acrylic panes. A travelator brings the visitors round the tunnel where they can have close-up views of sharks, rays, groupers, snappers, eels and turtles swimming in three million litres of filtered sea water.

underwater world sentosa2 1991

Over the years, the Underwater World has been actively involved in the conservation of the marine life and environment. It had collaborated with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the coral conservation, and worked in research projects with other regional aquariums, such as the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium of Japan, in the protection of Hawksbill Turtles. In 2005, it also sponsored the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve marine fish program.

underwater world turtle viewing chamber2

underwater world turtle viewing chamber3

underwater world turtle viewing chamber4

Many political leaders of other countries had paid visits to the Underwater World. In 1994, Jiang Zemin, then-President of the People’s Republic of China, was invited to a tour at Sentosa’s Pioneers of Singapore & Surrender Chamber Museum (present-day Images of Singapore) and the Underwater World.

The oceanarium’s other distinguished guests-of-honour in the nineties also included Nursultan Nazarbayev (President of Kazakhstan), Gyula Horn (Prime Minister of Hungary), Tiit Vähi (Prime Minister of Estonia), Henri Konan Bedie (President of Ivory Coast), Isaias Afwerki (President of Eritrea), Joaquim Alberto Chissano (President of Mozambique) and Tran Duc Luong (President of Vietnam).

underwater world turtle viewing chamber1

underwater world shark sculpture

In 1992, three Tan brothers, Chwee Lye, Chwee Lee and Chwee Chye, splashed $25 million to take over the Underwater World. It would again change ownership, three years later, when the oceanarium was bought by Haw Par Brothers International (now Haw Par Corporation) for $56 million. The company would pay another $32 million during its full acquisition of the Underwater World at the end of the nineties.

underwater world sentosa galleries1

The Underwater World established one of its milestones in 1999 when it added six pink dolphins at its new Dolphin Lagoon. Despite being one of the more popular features at the oceanarium, the Dolphin Lagoon had constantly attracted criticisms from the animal rights groups for its captivity of the dolphins. In 2014, the Underwater World was also put on negative headlines when one of its pink dolphins was found suffering from skin cancer.

underwater world sentosa galleries2

On 26 June 2016, the Underwater World, a place that has provided fun and childhood memories for many Singaporeans, will be permanently closed. The new Southeast Asia (SEA) Aquarium, built by Resort World Singapore in 2012, is currently the main oceanarium attraction at Sentosa.

Just like how the older generation would fondly remember Van Kleef Aquarium, the Underwater World will probably be also remembered next time by the Gen X and Gen Y Singaporeans as one of their childhood haunts.

A last look at the good ol’ Underwater World before its closure:

underwater world tickets

underwater world sentosa galleries4

underwater world sentosa galleries5

underwater world sentosa galleries6

underwater world sentosa galleries7

underwater world sentosa galleries3

underwater world tunnel1

underwater world tunnel2

underwater world tunnel3

underwater world tunnel6

underwater world tunnel4

underwater world tunnel5

underwater world koi pond

underwater world closure

Published: 26 June 2016

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Lost Cause and Forgotten Ruins of Fort Serapong

Built between the 1870s and 1890s, Fort Serapong, together with Fort Siloso, Fort Connaught and the Imbiah Battery, formed an integrated part of the British’s southern coastal defence at Pulau Blakang Mati (present-day Sentosa). The fortifications, along with Fort Pasir Panjang on the southern part of mainland Singapore, were aimed to protect the colony’s flourishing port, possibly against the Dutch East Indies, pirates or other enemies.

sentosa fort serapong ruins01

The forts were not the first fortifications built by the British against sea attacks. Fort Fullerton, located at the mouth of the Singapore River, was built in 1830 to defend the town of Singapore. By the 1870s, its location, however, was deemed unflavourable by the colonial government because during an invasion, the fort would instead attract fire from enemy ships, which in turn could destroy the booming Commercial Square (now Raffles Place). Hence, in 1873, Fort Fullerton was demolished to be replaced by a General Post Office.

Another southern coastal fortification was Fort Palmer, or the Mount Palmer Defence Battery, constructed in 1855. It was strengthened in 1878 on fears of a war with Russia, but the fortification was eventually demolished in 1905 when Mount Palmer was levelled. Fort Tanjong Katong, existed between 1879 and 1901, was also part of the series of the defensive batteries and fortifications built in the late 19th century.

sentosa fort serapong ruins03

sentosa fort serapong ruins04

The newly-built Blakang Mati forts, armed with 7-inch guns and 64 Pounders, became primarily responsible for Singapore’s southern defence after the demolition of Fort Fullerton, Fort Palmer and Fort Tanjong Katong. From the 1900s to 1930s, heavy gun practices were regularly carried out. Large red flags were raised on Mount Serapong during the exercises and vessel owners were notified by the Royal Artillery to avoid entering the nearby waters.

The weapons at the Blakang Mati fortifications were later upgraded through the arming of 10-inch guns, which had more firepower and longer range, and observation posts and battery plotting rooms were added in the 1930s to strengthen the forts’ defence capabilities. Some of the buildings on Mount Serapong today still bear the stone signage embossed with the year 1936.

sentosa fort serapong ruins09

sentosa fort serapong ruins10

sentosa fort serapong ruins11

The monster naval guns of the Blakang Mati forts and batteries, however, were never put to test against any attacks from the south. In early 1942, the Japanese invaded the northwestern side of Singapore from the Malay Peninsula. The guns had to be turned 180 degrees inland and, for three days, fired all their ammunition at the Jurong and Bukit Timah areas. But it was of little effect in stopping the advancing enemy forces.

With the impending fall of Singapore, the guns were then used to destroy the oil tanks at Pulau Sebarok and Pulau Bukom. After that, the guns and the batteries on Pulau Blakang Mati were also destroyed or broken up to prevent them from falling into the enemies’ hands. The island itself was then captured by the Japanese and Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks were used as a prisoner-of-war camp.

sentosa fort serapong ruins14

After the war, the Blakang Mati forts and batteries were handed over to a number of military forces, including the Royal Navy, Royal Artillery, Malay Coastal Battery and the Gurkha Contingent. Fort Serapong was still in use in the fifties – a 21-gun salute was fired by the Royal Artillery from Fort Serapong in August 1958 to mark the birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900-2002).

With the withdrawal of the British forces starting in 1967, the fortifications came under the command of the Singapore Armed Forces. The buildings were used as storage for several years before the government decided in 1972 to redevelop the island into a tourist destination. During the redevelopment, Fort Siloso was restored and converted into a military museum to display its past and antique coastal guns that were moved from the island’s other forts and batteries. Fort Connaught, on the other hand, was demolished to make way for the Tanjong Golf Course. As for Fort Serapong, it remains in ruins and abandoned state till this day.

sentosa fort serapong ruins16

sentosa fort serapong ruins17

Today, the long upsloping Serapong Hill Road that leads to the ruins of Fort Serapong is also the road to the Sentosa Service Reservoir, a small protected water catchment area managed by the Public Utilities Board (PUB). At the top of the hill, one can have a splendid panoramic view of the city.

sentosa fort serapong ruins19

A Summary of the British’s Coastal Fortifications and Batteries in Singapore:

Fort Fullerton (1830-1873)
Fort Palmer (1855-1905)
Fort Canning (1861-1907)
Fort Faber (1859-1862)
Fort Teregah (1861-1942)
Fort Tanjong Katong (1879-1901)
Fort Connaught (1878-1942)
Fort Serapong (1885-1942)
Fort Siloso (1898-1942)
Fort Pasir Panjang (1898-1942)
Fort Silingsing (1901-1942)
Targem Fort (1939)
Beting Kusah Battery (1939)
Changi Battery (1939)
Johore Battery (1939)
Buona Vista Battery (1939)
Pasir Laba Battery (1939)
Labrador Battery (1939)

sentosa fort serapong ruins02

sentosa fort serapong ruins05

sentosa fort serapong ruins06

sentosa fort serapong ruins07

sentosa fort serapong ruins08

sentosa fort serapong ruins12

sentosa fort serapong ruins13

sentosa fort serapong ruins15

sentosa fort serapong ruins18

Published: 06 June 2016

Posted in Exotic, Historic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Red Butterfly – Girl Terrors of the Sixties

The name Red Butterfly may sound harmless and nothing unusual in Singapore today. In fact, in Chinese legend, it is viewed as a bringer of good fortune and happiness. But back in the sixties and seventies, it represented a dark side of the streets of Singapore – the name of an all-girls gang that once terrorised the streets with assaults, intimidation and extortion.

It began in the late fifties, when some 20 young girls, aged between 16 and mid-20s, got together, probably prompted by sense of insecurity and the need to protect themselves, to form a fearless gang called Red Butterfly, or Ang Hor Tiap in Hokkien. These girls, working as prostitutes, bargirls and dance hostesses, would then terrorise their victims, usually other bar waitresses and prostitutes, for protection money.

red butterfly2Dressed in black tight-fitting clothes, the woman gangsters often used their belts to whip the victims into submission. Sometimes, they would brutally attack the victims’ faces using stone-removed ring prongs as jagged-edged weapons. Those who refused to pay them money were disfigured and maimed.

But the biggest source of the Red Butterfly’s income was their lucrative “service” to women who wanted to teach a lesson to their cheating husband’s mistress or girlfriend. For a fee, the gang would track down the mistress, threatening them to leave the unfaithful man or else suffer the “consequences”.

Recruitment was harsh and cruel too; those who refused to join the Red Butterfly would be beaten up severely. Resentful women who were jilted by their lovers, or had unpleasant experiences with men, were favourably recruited as new members.

With their influence growing strong, the Red Butterfly became affiliated with the notorious 108 secret society. To be their sworn “sisters”, initiation ceremonies were held where the girls drank the rooster’s blood mixed with their own blood. The women gangsters often pak tor (dated) with the secret society members, or they would keep their own men whom they called Romeo. When they got tired of a Romeo, they would set gangsters on him.

All members of the Red Butterfly gang wore butterfly tattoos on their shoulders or thighs. The butterfly tattoos came in different colours – red, black and blue. Only the leader was qualified to own the red butterfly tattoo, and she was respectfully known as Madam Red Butterfly by the underworld realm.

Organized crime, secret societies and gang fights were rampant between the fifties and seventies. Each secret society controlled its own territory tightly, operating illegal businesses like chap ji kee (a lottery game), gambling dens, opium dens and brothels. It also gained other sources of income through protection money, extortion, robberies and kidnapping. Clashes over territories, interests or revenges were so frequent that they were almost like daily affairs.

The major secret society groups in the sixties were the 108, 24, 32 and 36. Over the years, they expanded so fast and large that they often had branches or small triad groups under them. For example, the Pek Kim Leng (White Golden Dragon) was under 108, and it controlled territories from Chinatown to Bugis.

Different areas in Singapore were “owned” by different secret societies and gangs. The Tiong Bahru vicinity was, for example, “ruled” by Ang Peh Hor and Hai Lock San, whereas Ang Soon Tong was the active triad around Nee Soon and Sembawang Road. See Tong, affiliated to the infamous drug-dealing Ah Kong gang, made their presence felt at North Bridge Road, Seah Street and Beach Road. Sio Oh Leng, Leng Hor San and Sar Ji each established their respective “strongholds” at River Valley Road, Havelock Road and Boat Quay.

former secret society member killed new bridge road 1973

The Red Butterfly did not vie for territories with other secret societies; they were mainly active at the nightclubs and bars around Cecil Street. But they did often get into fights with other women gangs at Clifford Pier, Geylang, Jalan Besar, Sungei Road and near the Capitol Theatre. Police arrested the Red Butterfly gang members several times but could not bring charges to them as there were either not enough evidences or the victims were too terrified to testify against them.

But the lawless days of the Red Butterfly did not last for long. The police invoked the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Ordinance, and by the mid-sixties, thousands of secret society members and gangsters were detained without trial. Some were put into custody at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters; others were locked up at Changi Jail and Pulau Senang.

arrest of ang soon tong leader 1973By 1972, it was estimated that there were still 20,000 secret society members and gangsters in Singapore. A year later, in 1973, the CID detectives made headlines by successfully tracking down and arresting the head of Ang Soon Tong. This led to the decline of one of Singapore’s remaining secret societies that still held triad rituals, initiation ceremonies and blood oaths of allegiance.

Six members of the Red Butterfly were put on police supervision for two years, and the seventh, a Malaysian, was banished. In 1968, the Red Butterfly tried to make a comeback with a new leader and 30 gang members. This time, their main tactic was to seduce unsuspected men and robbed them. But again, they were swiftly busted by the police. The rest of the Red Butterfly members then lied low but remained active till the seventies.

The eighties saw the rise of several rebellious girl gangs, such as the Yong Sisters and Mother Ang’s Brood, who were largely involved in shoplifting, stealing and robbing of the elderly, children and other girls. There were teenage girl gangs in the nineties too, such as the ones with cutesy names like Xiao Ding Dang and Xiao Tian Tian, who spent their time fighting one another and extorting the others. But despite the defiant nature of these girl gangs, they were nothing like the infamous and vicious Red Butterfly.

Also read Roland Tan Tong Meng and the notorious Ah Kong Gang.

Published: 01 June 2016

Updated: 20 June 2016

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments