Tales of Kampongs at Old Upper Thomson Road

In the sixties and seventies, the long meandering Old Upper Thomson Road was well-known as a racing circuit for the popular Singapore Grand Prix. A lesser known fact is that it was also home to some long forgotten villages, some of which had been there since the 1910s.

map-of-hainan-village-at-old-upper-thomson-road-1975The village was situated at Jalan Belang, off Old Upper Thomson Road. The short road began as a track and was later upgraded to an asphalt road. By the early nineties, Jalan Belang was expunged after the village was demolished. Remnants of the road could still be observed today.

The name Belang means stripes in Malay, which refers to the wild tigers that once roamed on this island. There were reports of a man killed by a tiger at Thomson Road in 1890, while the last wild tiger went extinct in Singapore when it was shot at Choa Chu Kang Village in 1930.

Jalan Belang was also linked to Lorong Pelita (pelita means light in Malay), another minor road off Old Upper Thomson Road 9 milestone, where they shared a common exit to the main Upper Thomson Road. Like Jalan Belang, Lorong Pelita also became defunct by the early nineties.

Upper Thomson Road, originally known as the New Upper Thomson Road, was constructed in the mid-fifties. After its completion, it served as the major route between Nee Soon and the downtown area.

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In the 19th century, there were large plots of gambier plantations at Upper Thomson, owned by famous Teochew businessman Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883). Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dense Upper Thomson forest became part of a rubber plantation, according to the pre-war Survey Production Centre (Southeast Asia), but it was abandoned during the Second World War. By the fifties, the vicinity had been largely reclaimed by nature, although some parts of it were used for sundry cultivation.

When the Hainanese village settled at Jalan Belang, the vegetation was cleared for residential houses, rambutan plantations, small factories, warehouses and several fish ponds that were used for breeding turquoise discus and other freshwater fish.

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In 1971, a group of Public Utilities Board (PUB) workers, while clearing the vegetation to lay a water pipe inside the forest at Old Upper Thomson Road 8 milestone, discovered nine century-old graves. The blurred Chinese inscriptions on the tombstones showed that they were put up in the middle of the 19th century, and were owned by the Ong, Tan, Lee and Soh families. This suggested that several Chinese villages might have already been established at Upper Thomson since the 19th century.

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There were around 500 residents from 80 families living at Lorong Pelita in the mid-seventies. The kampong, largely made up of pig and poultry farmers, had existed at the old Upper Thomson vicinity since the early 20th century. The village huts were scattered along Lorong Pelita and, for many years, it was extremely inconvenient for the residents to make their way to the main Upper Thomson Road. On the other hand, postmen and the PUB meter readers also found it difficult to locate the villagers’ houses.

In 1976, the Lorong Pelita village was in the news when its residents stopped a bulldozer from demolishing a laterite track that linked the village to Upper Thomson Road. The land where the track ran through had been purchased by a private owner, but the villagers needed the track to access to the main road.

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Today, the remnants of the Hainan village at Jalan Belang could still be found. They are mostly the ruins of concrete walls and structures, and have been hidden and consumed by nature for several decades. But the abandoned structures may see the light soon, as they will be part of a new nature trail. The 50-hectare Thomson Nature Park will be developed in 2017 and is expected to be completed by next year.

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Published: 08 January 2017

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34 Responses to Tales of Kampongs at Old Upper Thomson Road

  1. abbaskhan says:

    A wonderful entry.. My mother used to stay in the kampong at Lorong Sunyi.. I believe the address was 8 3/4 miles Upper Thomson Road.. My mother’s maternal grandfather was a migrant from then British India and tended to the rubber plantations in that area.. The towkay made a house for him and married him off to a Teochew lady.. Who owned the rubber plantation there in the 1920s to 1940s? Any ideas?

  2. Tracy Richard says:

    Ah Yang, our wash amah of the 1970s and early 1970s lived in Lorong Pelita. She traveled a very long way by bus every day first to Tanglin Road and later to near Upper Bukit Timah after we moved and refused to live in. I always felt very sad for her when my mother was not available to take my brother and I to swimming lessons and she rode in a taxi with us to the Island Club on Upper Thomson and back home. It would have been kinder to drop her off but my mother would not allow this (or us children to have the taxi money). I’ll never forget her shouts when rain started falling before the laundry was dry on the outdoor lines. “Ai yah! Lok yee lai la!”

    When my mother purchased a Braun juicer she was very excited as the pulp from carrots and other vegetables that remained in the machine once the juice was extracted was the very best food for her chickens. A relative of hers was our chicken and egg hawker, she came by every morning selling fresh eggs from baskets on a pole and taking orders for fresh chickens to be delivered in the afternoon. One day when we expected dinner guests, we asked for two chickens. The hawker arrived later with only one. My mother asked what happened. She replied, “Oh Missy. I so sorry. I try to catch chicken but fly away.”

  3. Daymon says:

    Remember Thomson Shopping Center beside Long House, along Upp Thomson? It was known as Hainan Hill (海南山). Now that explains why.

  4. nikhil says:

    this place is in Malaysia? or in singapore

  5. Din says:

    My address was 3B Jalan Belang SPORE 2076..We lived in the longest house some call it Rumah Panjang,with many rambutan trees.My late grandad a Javanese man worked for the Chinese lanlord as a gardener.

    • Fabian Wee says:

      Hi Din, Do you know of Rohbani? Who use to study Sembawang hills primary school?

      • Joyce Foo says:

        Fabian Wee, is your full name Wee Fook Kheng? I stayed in Jalan Belang too. I am also looking for a Ms Fernandez who stayed in Jalan Belang.

      • Saharudin Bin Sarginin says:

        He was my late uncle…my late dad younger brother..they were both from Sembawang Hills Estate school..me too..

  6. Din says:

    Thank you so much.I used to live at Jalan Belang as a kid…it was 3B Jalan Belang Spore 2776..the longest house(rumah panjang) with many rambutan trees.My late grandad was a well respected Javanese man in the kampung..who worked for the Chinese landlord.

  7. Diana Say says:

    My family lived in 53 Lorong Pelita. We had many rambutan and durian trees and it was fun to invite our city dwellers friends and relatives to enjoy the bounteous supply of the fruits. Childhood days was fun in the kampong, less stress.

    • Jon Foo JN says:

      Hello Diana Say,
      I just can’t believe to discover your message here at “Lorong Pelita “ . I used to come to your place for durian and maken, your sister Joe was closer to me and like to call me Ah Di , that was nearly 50 years ago. I hope we can meet up in SG one day. Please text me 13801995010 , Shanghai.

      • Diana Say says:

        Hi Jon, sorry for the late reply as I just revisit this page after my brother, Chin Fatt mentioned the kampong recent activities yesterday. I’m now residing in Melbourne and would one day like to return back to my roots.

        Keep in touch

  8. Fabian Wee says:

    All the Say and Foo, I use to hang out in Lorong Pelita. I am the Mafia from 14 and 15 Jalan Belang. Say., Foo, Wee ,, Wong , all the Kampong Hainanese clique.

    • Steven Foo Jong Hung says:

      Hello Fellow Jalan Belang & Lorong Pelita Old Kampong Kakis,
      Lunar New Year Greetings To All Our Chinese Friends
      Glad To Find This Chat Site.
      My Name Is Steven Foo Jong Hung From 50, Lorong Pelita, Singapore 2678.
      Jon Foo Is My Brother.
      Diana Say Is My Close Neighbour In Lorong Pelita.
      Fabian Wee & Joyce Foo Are My Jalan Belang Neiighbours.
      Jon, Joyce & Myself Are Volunteers Serving On Pelita Belang Heritage Preservation Project Assisting NParks On The Thomson Nature Park Which Is Scheduled To Open
      In October 2019.
      We Still Need Interesting Old Photos Of This Village And Do Share Your Memories With Us Soonest.
      My Email : stevenfoo@asiapam.com or whatapps 65 96239902

  9. btw, Old Upper Thomson Road has been converted to one way street since July 2018

  10. jaitun says:

    I was at 11 Jalan Belang – the house at the lowest point of the valley.Beautiful memories of purple hyacinths in ponds and terrifying ones of black cobras in our field!

    • Annette says:

      Were you at the cane factory?

      • jaitun m hassan says:

        hi …we were two doors away from the cane factory…

      • Annette Fox says:

        Ah, yes – I know the house. There was a large pond there as well. Going up the hill away from Old Upper Thomson Road there was a big house with reddish iron gates. Do you remember them?

      • jaitun says:

        Yes,that house with the pond in front – that was our home no.11.And,yes that house with the gigantic gate was our neighbour on the right side.Yes,we knew them.You belong to the Fox family . Are you one of 2 girls I had seen ever once in a while in the house with the spiral staircase on my way to buy eggs from the egg seller near your house?

      • Annette Fox says:

        Yes, I’m one of the 3 girls, actually. I often think of that egg seller – 40 cents for 7 cracked shell eggs or 20 cents for 3. The spiral staircase is still standing, though the entire house has fallen down around it. It’s now a government preserved heritage site, of all things.
        That house with the gigantic gates had two children who died in a road accident in the early 60s. There was also another Eurasian family living in the row of houses on the hill across from that house with the large gates.
        I’m sorry but I can’t place you at all. There was a girl who was in my class for a couple of years at SHES, but although I remember her as being quiet, kind and magnanimous, I can’t remember her name – surname Wee.

      • jaitun says:

        Ahh.I was thinking of TOWARDS and not away, from Old Upper Thomson Rd.I attended SHES too..me and my brothers…I was there from 1970 – 75.
        Other Eurasians -Yes, a Fernandez ? I was thinking perhaps she may be the teacher in the grey bungalow?

      • jaitun says:

        That indeed is weird isn’t it to have the site of our old homes declared a heritage site!Still,it is great that we can stroll through our old world once in a while now that the park is there.I had no idea about the 2 children and the accident.Terrible indeed.We moved to Jalan Belang around the years 1967..thereabouts.

      • Annette Fox says:

        There was Mrs Fernandez in that grey bungalow, but there was a Vincent Mosbergen who was married to a Malay lady – Halimah. They had two daughters, one of whom left when she got married in 1967. Up from their house was a Haninanese family – their son Nai Kwang – was in my sister’s class in SHES.

      • jaitun says:

        Was the Malay lady really an Indonesian lady?We had a regular visitor from your side of the hill ..a well to do Indonesian lady..often dressed in a kebaya who was married to a Westerner.Her house was located up a slope before fernandez house i think..but definitely up a steep slope around there or near that slope after your house.

  11. Annette says:

    I lived at no. 31 Jalan Belang, opposite the Leo family.

    • jaitun says:

      I think my sister may know Sandra..she met Thomas Fox during the preview ..would be nice if we could meet for coffee one day …by the way..as a kid,I imagined your house was a toymaker’s house filled with all kinds of toys n that pleasant old gengleman at the table we often see,was Santa Claus! seriously.

  12. Annette Fox says:

    Yes, Halimah was from Indonesia. Vincent Mosbergen was of Dutch heritage. They were in that house on the slope as you describe. She was very well-dressed, very warm and friendly, and never without red lipstick.
    Ha-ha! Our house was indeed filled with toys from October onwards, as part of my dad’s Santa Claus business.

    • jaitun says:

      Haha,so I was right- we had a Santa Claus in our village!And yes again,that Indonesian lady always had on make up – a very sweet lady,as you mentioned,warm and friendly.
      I understand from my sister Zarina that Sandra visited us. Sandra is your sister right?

  13. Singapore’s seventh nature park opens in Thomson, with site of former village on its grounds

    11 October 2019
    CNA

    The 50-hectare Thomson Nature Park was officially opened on Friday (Oct 11), becoming Singapore’s seventh nature park.

    Located east of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and buffered by Old Upper Thomson Road, the park houses the ruins of the former Hainan Village, offering visitors a glimpse into life in Singapore in the 1960s.

    The park is also home to a number of rare and endangered animals, such as the Raffles’ Banded Langur. A subspecies of the banded leaf monkey, the animal can only be found in Singapore and southern Peninsular Malaysia and is listed as critically endangered.

    With the opening of the new park, the National Parks Board (NParks) hopes to reduce “visitorship pressure” on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve by providing the public with an alternative venue to enjoy nature-related activities, it said in a press release.

    First announced in 2014, the Thomson Nature Park complements existing nature parks such as Chestnut, Springleaf and Windsor, extending the green buffer for the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

    Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said: “Establishing Thomson Nature Park is an important part of our efforts to conserve our natural heritage and native biodiversity. It is the fifth buffer park that we have planned as a ring around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

    “The buffer parks that we have progressively opened over the past few years not only protect our nature reserves, but they also provide Singaporeans with more green spaces.”

    Biodiversity surveys have found that animals, including the Raffles’ Banded Langur, frequently move between the nature reserve and Thomson Nature Park using trees, culverts or directly across the road, said NParks.

    With this in mind, trees with spreading canopies have been planted and rope bridges installed along the road to facilitate the safe movement of some of these animals.

    “NParks worked closely with the Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group to situate the rope bridges where langurs have been observed to habitually cross,” it said. “Small mammals such as pangolins and porcupine also move across the road safely through culverts.”

    In addition, Old Upper Thomson Road has been reduced from a dual lane to a single lane road, said NParks. To ensure that the area is more “conducive” for nocturnal animals, there are plans to close Old Upper Thomson Road to vehicles from 7.30pm to 6am daily.

    Along with NParks, the Land Transport Authority has also launched a 12-month trial of the Roadway Animal Detection System along Old Upper Thomson Road.

    The system, which is the first of its kind, uses video analytics to detect animals when they are near the road and alerts incoming motorists to their presence through flashing road signs.

    The system has been in place since the start of the month.

    “I hope that more Singaporeans will have a greater appreciation for our biodiversity and green spaces,” said Mr Lee. “Such collective efforts help ensure that our natural heritage is protected for future generations to enjoy.”

    https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/thomson-nature-park-opens-former-hainan-village-animals-11991072

  14. Visited the new Thomson Nature Park and former Hainan Village ruins today









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