Looking back at time, many say that the eighties was a golden era in Singapore.
It was a period of stable economic growth and peaceful society with racial and religious harmony. Inflation was low, as seen in the relatively cheap HDB flats, public transport or vehicle ownership. The manufacturing sector was on the rise, attracting foreign investment and providing plenty of job opportunities for the Singaporeans. With their incomes on a steady rise, the middle-class was contended in starting small families. Social tensions between locals and foreigners were almost unheard of.
Hidden in the corner of my storeroom for many years, my long lost primary school textbooks of Social Studies (1983-1988) finally came to light during one of my housekeeping efforts. Inside the six textbooks, there are many photos portraying the Singapore of the early eighties. Social Studies were excellent educational materials for primary school kids to understand more about our nation, history and society.
We can never go back to the eighties, but for the very least, we can reminisce the lifestyles back then.
The tallest building standing in the skyline of CBD (Central Business District) in 1980 was OCBC (Oversea-Chinese Bank Corporation Limited) Centre. Built in 1976 and towering at 198m high, it easily dwarfed other skyscrapers.
Its title as the tallest building at CBD, however, has since been taken over by One Raffles Place (completed in 1986; 280m tall), UOB (United Overseas Bank) Plaza One (completed in 1995; 280m tall), Republic Plaza (completed in 1995, 280m tall) and One Raffles Quay (completed in 2006, 245m tall).
In the early eighties, the Singapore River was filled with sampans, and rows of old shophouses lined up along its banks. It was an interesting mix between the old and the new downtown core.
More than two decades later, Boat Quay would become a popular dining place filled with pubs and seafood restaurants.
The white statue of Sir Stamford Raffles has witnessed tremendous changes in the development of the areas along the Singapore River.
It was a rather quiet day on the roads at CBD in 1980 as compared to today.
The street name signs were made up of black wordings in white backgrounds, and had four-digit post codes listed after the names.
Four-digit postal code began in Singapore in 1979 and lasted until 1995 when they were replaced by the six-digit system. Before 1979, Singapore had 28 postal districts, and each was represented by a single- or double-digit code.
As for the format of the street name signs, it was changed to green background with white letters in Rotis font in the early 2000s.
The construction of of luxury hotel Westin Stamford Singapore began in the early eighties. It would be completed by 1986, becoming the tallest hotel in Singapore at 226m tall. It was renamed as Swissôtel The Stamford in 2002.
This is a scene at the straight road of Shenton Way/Raffles Quay, where Hong Leong Finance Limited has now replaced the Japanese bank of The Mitsui Bank Limited seen in the background.
A traffic policewoman was helping the children to cross the road in front of Victoria Memorial Hall.
The picture here shows a now-defunct white-top blue cab and an old bus, numbered 173, that had been in service since the seventies.
This was the public bus running on Singapore roads in the early eighties. Non-aircon, bumpy and cramped but its fares were definitely much cheaper. The fare of a feeder bus would cost 15c in the eighties, while that of a normal service was anything around 50c.
The old shophouses in the city did not stay around for too long before they were demolished to make way for the development of the prime area.
Telok Ayer Market was the first market in Singapore to be located at the southern bank of the Singapore River. Its history went back all the way to the early nineteenth century, when it began in 1825 as a simple wooden building.
In 1973, Telok Ayer Market was converted into a hawker centre, but was shut down in 1986 due to the tunneling works of the new SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transit) line. The market would be reopened in 1991 as Lau Pa Sat.
The Satay Club has been in existence at many locations but most Singaporeans would remember fondly the one at the Esplanade. It was 1970 when the Satay Club moved to the Esplanade from Beach Road, where it had stayed popular among Singaporeans for a full 25 years.
The Satay Club was demolished in 1995 to make way for the construction of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
It was just another day at Beach Road in the year of 1980. The tall white building was Shaw Towers, built in 1970. The colonial building on the left side of Beach Road has become the refurbished Evershine & Century Complex.
Orchard Road in 1980 looked more like today’s Lavender Street.
Yellow-top black taxis were already plying their trades on the road. They would last more than 30 years till now. The tall white building in the background was the hotel of Meritus Mandarin Singapore (now Mandarin Orchard Singapore). Completed in the late sixties, it was the first hotel to be built at Orchard Road.
There was no SMRT in Singapore in 1980, not until seven years later. Commuters largely relied on public buses, taxis or personal transports. But there were no COE (Certificate of Entitlement, implemented since 1990) and ERP (Electronic Road Pricing, implemented since 1998) either.
This was the early appearance of the popular Ang Mo Kio Central, with its iconic fountain. Oriental Emporium had just opened its branch here in 1980. In the early eighties, a typical three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio cost about $10,000 to $13,000.
Children who grew up living at Ang Mo Kio might remember this little traffic garden at the the town centre. Designed with road signs, traffic lanes and zebra crossings, kids could drive small rented motorised cars or bicycles here, which was probably modeled after the Road Safety Park at East Coast.
This was Marine Parade at its infancy stage. The new town was built on the reclaimed lands in the southeastern part of Singapore. ECP (East Coast Parkway) was officially opened in 1981, after a decade of construction.
East Coast Lagoon became a popular venue for families’ picnics during the weekends.
Benjamin Sheares Bridge, the longest bridge in Singapore at 1.8km long, was completed in 1981. The total construction cost was $177 million.
This flat became a popular landmark at Hougang with its eye-catching rainbow painting. It is still standing proud at Hougang Avenue 7 today, but with a new gigantic rainbow painted.
New blocks of flats also sprung up at other parts of Hougang, decorated with different designs of facade paintings.
The residents living at Bedok, already a bustling new town in 1980, welcomed the new swimming complex.
Hawker centres were built in the residential neighbourhoods since the early seventies to provide affordable and hygienic food for the people. Ang Mo Kio is the new town with the most hawker centres, numbered at nine, while Toa Payoh comes in second at six.
This was a playground in Clementi town centre designed in the shape of a dove.
Many of these locally-flavoured designs, such as the dragon playgrounds and the pelican playgrounds, were the masterpieces of HDB’s in-house designer Khor Ean Ghee in the late seventies.
The areas around the Causeway (seen in the background) were aggressively developed into residential and industrial estates since the early eighties. It would become the present-day Woodlands new town, inclusive of Marsiling and Admiralty.
The other parts of Singapore, such as Punggol and Ulu Sembawang, were still… ulu. Kampong with many attap houses and large areas of farms had existed throughout the eighties.
This was the scene of the busy Central Fish Market at Jurong.
When Jurong Fishery Port and Central Fish Market became overcrowded in the mid-eighties, the government developed the Punggol Fishing Port and Fish Market Complex. Punggol Fishing Port itself was replaced by Senoko Fishing Port in 1997.
A kopitiam operated its business in an old shophouse. Still a common sight today, it has been one of Singaporeans’ favourite venues for meals.
Loud cheers could be heard at the National Stadium (1973-2010) at Kallang during one evening of 1980, when Singapore beat Selangor 2-1 to claim the Malaysia Cup. The winner was scored by a 18-year-old Fandi Ahmad.
Opened since 1973, the Singapore Zoological Gardens was already a well-known place of interest in 1980, attracting countless of tourists and locals. Animal shows and train rides around the zoo were the favourite activities for the children.
The Singapore Cable Car system between Sentosa and Mount Faber was opened in 1974, and was the first aerial system in the world to span a harbour.
In 1983, a Panamanian-registered oil rig hit the hanging cable, resulting in a disaster that claimed seven casualties when the two cable car cabins plunged into the sea from a height of 55m.
Kranji Way was built across the mouth of Sungei Kranji (with the smaller Sungei Peng Siang, Sungei Kangkar and Sungei Tengah) to turn the freshwater river into Kranji Reservoir. The barrage was built between the small island, which was developed into Kranji Reservoir Park in 1985, and the mainland of Singapore.
In 1980, the NS (National Service) personnel wore Temasek olive green uniforms and armed with AR-15 rifles for their trainings. The uniforms were changed to the camouflaged type in 1985.
The RSAF (Republic of Singapore Air Force) had been using the A-4 Skyhawks since 1973 as the main fighter-bomber role of the air force. The project was upgraded to A-4SU Super Skyhawks in the late eighties. The iconic aircraft was eventually retired in 2005.
Published: 26 June 2012
Updated: 05 November 2012