Singapore Bicentennial 2019 – A Note to Remember

The Singapore Bicentennial commemorative $20 note was launched in June 2019, marking Singapore’s long 200 years of journey in becoming a vibrant city and a nation. It also pays tribute to the many generations of Singapore’s forefathers, who arrived from different lands, sank roots here and laid the foundations for modern Singapore.

The back of the commemorative note features the faces of eight pioneers who had made significant contributions to the various aspects of Singapore’s nation building, including defence, philanthropy, social works, education, sports and others. The eight pioneers were Munshi Abdullah, Henry Nicholas Ridley, Tan Kah Kee, P. Govindasamy Pillai, Teresa Hsu Chih, Alice Pennefather, Adnan Saidi and Ruth Wong Hie King.

Munshi Abdullah (1797-1854)

The Malacca-born multilingual Munshi Abdullah came to Singapore as Sir Stamford Raffles’ secretary and interpreter in 1819. An expert in Malay, he taught the language to Raffles and many other foreigners. Munshi Abdullah was the first local Malay to have his works published. His autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, completed in 1843, became an important source of information depicting Singapore’s society and culture in the 19th century. The road Munshi Abdullah Avenue, located at Ang Mo Kio’s Teacher’s Estate, was named after him.

Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956)

Henry Nicholas Ridley was Singapore Botanic Gardens’ first director, arriving at Singapore in 1888 for his appointment which lasted until 1911. During his stay, Henry Ridley explored much of Malay Peninsula for botany specimens, but his greatest contributions were his tireless research in improved tapping of latex and promotion of rubber trees as a valuable commercial commodity. This largely led to Singapore and Malaya’s booming rubber trades in the early 20th century, earning Henry Ridley his distinguished reputation as the father of the rubber industry. Ridley Park was named after him in 1923.

Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961)

Tan Kah Kee was a prominent local businessman in the early 20th century, with investments in various industries such as rubber, newspapers, rice, manufacturing and shipping. Although his business empire was later severely impacted by the Great Depression, Tan Kah Kee remained a well-respected community leader and philanthropist. A firm advocate of education, Tan Kah Kee contributed to the establishment of many schools in Singapore, including Tao Nan, Ai Tong and Nanyang Girls’ Schools. He also led Singapore’s, as well as China’s, war efforts against the Japanese during the Second World War. Downtown Line’s Tan Kah Kee MRT Station was named in honour of him.

P. Govindasamy Pillai (1887-1980)

Successful South Indian businessman, property owner and philanthropist P. Govindasamy Pillai first came to Singapore in 1905 as a poor youth, slogging at a provision shop for years. When the shop closed down, Govindasamy Pillai took a leap of faith and bought over it with his savings and borrowed money. The Second World War made him lost almost everything, but he was able to revive his business after the war and further expanded it to Johor and Malacca. Govindasamy Pillai’s contributions were well-remembered, especially his generous donations to Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and welfare organisation Ramakrishna Mission.

Teresa Hsu Chih (1898-2011)

Born in China to a poor family, Teresa Hsu and her family moved to Penang after her father had abandoned them. With no formal education, she managed to gain knowledge by joining the children’s classes at the convent she worked in. In 1933, she left to work in Hong Kong, learning English and typing at night. After the war, Teresa Hsu, at age 47, studied nursing at London, and participated in voluntary services to help the poor and needy. She arrived at Singapore and founded the Home for the Aged Sick in 1965. Singapore’s Mother Teresa continued her selfless and tireless efforts in helping the impoverished and destitute even after she became a centenarian in the 2000s.

Alice Pennefather (1903-1983)

Alice Pennefather – her full name was Alice Edith Wilhemina Patterson – was one of Singapore’s pioneering sportswomen, winning multiple badminton championships in Singapore and Malaya from the 1930s to 1950s. Equally good in tennis, she was crowned champion of the Singapore Ladies Tennis for three consecutive years in the late 1930s. The all-round Alice Pennefather also captained the Girls’ Sports Club hockey team from 1931 to 1958. During its 50th anniversary in 1980, the Sports Club hailed her as “The Grand Old Lady of Sport”. She was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

Adnan Saidi (1915-1942)

A war hero, Lieutenant Adnan Saidi led his Malay Regiment’s 1st Battalion men in the defence of Singapore during the Second World War. Born in Selangor, Adnan Saidi joined the Malay Regiment in 1933 and was posted to Singapore in 1941 to defend Pasir Panjang. At the intense Battle of Opium Hill (Bukit Chandu) on 13 February 1942, Adnan Saidi and his men put up fierce resistance against waves of Japanese attacks. Outnumbered and undersupplied, the brave troop fought to the last man. Adnan Saidi was captured and brutally tortured, before killed by the Japanese. His valour and loyalty would always be remembered in history.

Ruth Wong Hie King (1918-1982)

Singapore’s pioneering educator, Ruth Wong Hie King was credited with the revolutionary transformation of teacher training in Singapore. As the first woman principal of the Teachers’ Training College (later became Institute of Education) in the early seventies, Ruth Wong introduced a disciplined approach to the training of new teachers and enhanced their curriculum. This greatly aided in the professional competence of the teachers and indirectly improved the growth of the students under their charge. Singapore’s educational standard of teachers and students, as a whole, had therefore risen significantly.

Published: 29 June 2019

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From Nee Soon Village to Springleaf Park

Taking a stroll at the quiet tranquil Springleaf Park today, it is difficult to imagine that 30 years ago, this place was a bustling centre of activities. The well-known Nee Soon Village had once existed here, along Sungei Seletar, at the junction of Upper Thomson Road, Sembawang Road, Mandai Road and Nee Soon Road.

A stone’s throw away was Nee Soon Camp, a important source of demand for goods and services that provided significant incomes for the many residents living in the vicinity. By the sixties and seventies, the Nee Soon Village area resembled a self-sufficient town with many amenities such as post office (Nee Soon Post Office), police station (Nee Soon Police Station), schools, community centres, workshops, clinics and places of worship.

Nee Soon Village’s predecessor was a kangchu system called Chan Chu Kang, established along Sungei Seletar in the mid-19th century. The kangchu system was an important social-economic system that existed in Johor, Riau as well as Singapore in the 19th century. Via the system, the Malay rulers could effectively control the influx of Chinese immigrants and, at the same, gain economic development in the rapidly growing spice industry.

In Singapore, there existed several kangchu systems. A couple of the larger ones had their names retained till this day, such as Lim Chu Kang, Choa Chu Kang and Yio (Yeo) Chu Kang. Others faded into history. By the late 19th century, the likes of Tan Chu Kang (located at Sungei Mandai Kechil), Lau Chu Kang (Sungei Mandai) and Chan Chu Kang (Sungei Seletar) had all but vanished.

Headed by Chan Ah Lak (曾亞六, 1813-1873), Chan Chu Kang’s name literally means the “House of Chan at the river”. Chan Ah Lak served as the headman of a kangkar (“foot of a river” in Teochew), who usually managed a large piece of land around a river for the cultivation of gambier or pepper. Chan Chu Kang was also commonly known as Chia Zhui Kang, which in Teochew refers to a “freshwater river”.

The processing of gambier was labourious and tedious. Besides the large number of Chinese coolies, the kangchu also hired the Orang Seletar, who were the indigenous people of the Seletar river. Although they mostly lived on houseboats and engaged in fishing, some worked at the kangkar’s bangsal (gambier-processing houses). Orang Seletar had called Sungei Seletar home for more than a century, until they moved out and resettled at Johor between the sixties and eighties.

The gambier and pepper industries eventually declined and lost much of their values by the end of the 19th century. Rubber quickly became an important commodity and export for Malaya and Singapore in the early 1900s. The vast northern part of Singapore, from Sungei Seletar to Mandai, soon became dominated by rubber estates and pineapple plantations, most of them owned by Lim Nee Soon (1879-1936). In 1930, Chan Chu Kang was renamed Nee Soon Village in honour of his contributions to the development of the Nee Soon area.

Although Nee Soon Village was the dominant village and centre of commercial activities, there were many other pockets of settlement in the Nee Soon-Mandai vicinity, such as Puah Village, Hup Choon Kek Village, Hainan Village (at Old Upper Thomson Road), Kum Mang Hng Village, Mandai Tekong Village, Pineapple Hill Village, Chye Kay Village, Kampong Jalan Kula Simpang and Kampong Telok Soo.

Nee Soon Village enjoyed decades of undisturbed peace and development until the seventies, when the government launched the Yishun New Town project. By 1977, batches of residents of Nee Soon Village had started to move out. Some of the secondary forest vegetation was cleared, and a number of tracks, namely Lorong Handalan, Lorong Persatuan and Lorong Sunyi, were expunged. The resettlement and demolition lasted throughout the eighties, and by the early nineties, Nee Soon Village was completely gone.

The once busy Nee Soon Road, named after Lim Nee Soon in 1950, became the main access road to a new private residential estate called Springleaf Garden. Over the years, the vegetation slowly claimed back the areas along Nee Soon Road that were previously home to the former village. Springleaf Garden was completed, in the late eighties, with rows of new semi-detached houses that fetched prices between $589,000 and $700,000.

The Nee Soon Bridge, spanning over Sungei Seletar, was constructed by the Public Works Department. Its predecessor was a wooden bridge built by Lim Nee Soon’s associate Koh Chin Chong. Sections of Sungei Seletar were straightened into a canal, and a new park connector, named Springleaf Nature Park, was developed and opened to public in 2014.

Over the decades, many landmarks of the Nee Soon vicinity had vanished. There was a popular market called Nee Soon Market situated between Nee Soon Road and Thong Aik Road. Initiated by Koh Chin Chong in 1947, the market lasted until 1979 when it was destroyed in a fire. A makeshift market was erected but it was demolished together with the village in the late eighties.

Expunged in the early nineties, Thong Aik Road was named after Thong Aik Rubber Factory, a rubber-processing factory established by Lim Nee Soon in 1912. It was renamed Nee Soon and Sons Rubber Works in the 1920s, before Lim Nee Soon sold it in 1928 to Lee Kong Chian (1893-1967), who named his new investment Lee Rubber. The red-walled facilities became a prominent landmark at the junction of Nee Soon Road and Sembawang Road, but was eventually torn down in the late eighties.

But one can still catch some glimpses of older Nee Soon today. The former Nee Soon Post Office building still stands at the junction of Upper Thomson Road and Mandai Road, having refurbished and converted into a pet sanctuary in recent years.

The old shophouses at Thong Bee Road (named after Lim Nee Soon’s company Thong Bee at Beach Road) and Chong Kuo Road (named after Lim Nee Soon’s eldest son Lim Chong Kuo) remain intact. So are the shophouses and popular eateries along Upper Thomson Road. There is also Meng Suan Road, with its rows of old charming Mandai Garden houses and overhanging cables.

Transit Road, however, underwent tremendous changes in the past two years. The Nee Soon Camp’s main access road has seen its rows of shophouses demolished and replaced by new private condominiums. A new Springleaf MRT Station is also being constructed in the vicinity, as part of the new Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) network.

National Cadet Corps (NCC) members of the nineties would remember the Springleaf Camp, which was opened in 1990 by Dr Arthur Beng, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Fengshan. The 2.1-hectare camp’s School of Cadet Training was specially catered for the secondary schools’ NCC members, who previously had their trainings at Nee Soon Camp. Springleaf Camp, however, was demolished in the early 2000s. The site remains a vacant patch of land today.

Home of the indigenous people, a gambier and pepper-growing kangchu system, rubber and pineapple plantations, a dominant village and a nature park today. The Sungei Seletar area has indeed evolved drastically in the past 200 years.

Published: 09 June 2019

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The Architectural Legacy of Pearl Bank Apartments

Located on top of Pearl’s Hill, the Pearl Bank Apartments was built in 1976, and designed by local architect Tan Cheng Siong in a unique horseshoe shape when viewed from the above. At 113m tall, the building offered its residents a breathtaking panoramic view of the Outram and city areas. There was a total of 288 residential units and 4 shops (at ground floor) in the 41-storey Pearl Bank Apartments, which also had amenities such as clubhouse, kindergarten, gymnasium, multi-purpose hall and a multi-storey carpark.

When completed, the Pearl Bank Apartments scored a number of records in Singapore. It was the first residential development built on a designated Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) land instead of a Housing and Development Board (HDB) one. It was the tallest apartment block not only in Singapore, but in the entire Southeast Asia. With almost 2,000 residents living in 288 units, Pearl Bank Apartments also represented the one of the highest urban density for a residential building in Singapore.

The name Pearl Bank was not original to the apartment tower. There was a former primary school in the Outram vicinity called Pearl Bank School. It was one of the three schools – the other two were Park Road School and Pearl’s Hill School – located beside Pearl’s Hill Park.

Both Pearl Bank School and Park Road School, located side by side, were formerly known as Sepoy Lines School 1 and Sepoy Lines School 2, before they were renamed in 1954. They later merged to become Pearl Park Primary School. In 1995, they merged again, with Pearl’s Hill School, but were eventually closed in 2001 due to dwindling student population.

With bold, geometric lines in simple structural designs, often made up of exposed concrete or brick facades, the Brutalist architecture, or Brutalism, became popular in the fifties and sixties, and was largely used as the architectural style for many institutional buildings around the world.

In Singapore, Pearl Bank Apartments, together with Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex, represented the finest examples of the post-independence modernist buildings that were built during Singapore’s urban renewal periods in the seventies. The trio was also the first large-scale public-private and mixed-use buildings entirely designed by Singaporean architects.

The Pearl Bank Apartments’ residential units were aggressively marketed through different means in the early seventies. For example, a two-bedroom split-level unit was offered by its developer Hock Send Enterprise in 1972 as the first prize for the National Sports Promotion Board’s donation. In 1975, the almost-completed units were put up for sale at prices ranging between $130,000 and $180,000.

However, the completion schedule of Pearl Bank Apartments was almost one and a half year late. The delayed completion led to Hock Seng Enterprise’s downfall, as it went into receivership, burdened by the mounting debts due to many unsold units in a depressed residential property market in Singapore in the mid-seventies.

Hence, in 1978, the Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC), the government’s middle-income housing development arm, moved in to buy 38 Pearl Bank Apartments units, making them available for HUDC applicants. URA also purchased eight penthouses in 1979, after which they were offered to interested civil servants and statutory board employees.

Due to inadequate servicing support from the developer, Pearl Bank Apartments had suffered from maintenance issues for years. Shortly after its completion, the building’s passenger and service lifts had failed in their operations. In 1978, seven of the nine lifts broke down, leaving only two working lifts for the entire block of residents. In 1986, a freak incident occurred as a metal chain plunged from heights and crashed through the roof of a stationary lift at the apartment block. Plasters from the walls started peeling off in the early nineties.

The Pearl Bank Apartments was put up for collective sale several times since 2007. The sale was successful for the fourth time, when it was eventually sold in February 2018 to CapitaLand for $728 million. In 2015, 90% of its residents applied for a conservation order for Pearl Bank Apartments, in order to declare it as a conservation site. The move, however, fell short of the 100% criteria set by URA.

The eventual demolition of Pearl Bank Apartments will bring along with it a vital piece of Singapore’s architectural history. In its place, nevertheless, will be a new cylindrical-shaped One Pearl Bank that hopefully can continue the Pearl Bank legacy for another 40 years.

Published: 20 May 2019

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Nostalgic Coloured Photos of Former Chong Pang Village

Chong Pang, the name of a bustling neigbourhood at Yishun, reminds the older generation of Singaporeans of another lively village of the same name, a forgotten one that used to exist near the present-day Sembawang MRT Station.

The renaming of Westhill Estate as Chong Pang Village (including Westhill Road to Chong Pang Road) was made official by the Singapore Rural Board in 1956, to commemorate Lim Chong Pang (1904-1956) who was involved in public service and had served on the Rural Board for almost a decade.

Son of rubber tycoon, businessman and community leader Lim Nee Soon (1879-1936), and son-in-law of Lim Choon Guan (1868-1924), another well-established businessman and co-founder of the Chinese Commercial Bank, Lim Chong Pang himself was also successful in his business empire, particularly in the film industry.

The old Westhill Estate, located at Sembawang Road 13½ milestone, was established by Lim Chong Pang in the 1930s on his father’s former rubber plantation. Divided into several plots of land, he leased them out to the Indian labourers who were hired by the British in their construction of the naval base at Sembawang.

From the late 1930s to the early 1940s, the Indians made up the majority of the population at Westhill Estate; the others were Chinese rubber tappers and Malay fishermen. The relatively isolated Westhill Estate never had more than 100 families. Life was difficult for the residents. Water had to be hauled home from long distances. Mosquitoes and malaria were rampant. Dirt tracks were the only accessible routes to Westhill Estate, which back then was truly a scene of rural backwardness.

In 1939, Lim Chong Pang built the Sultan Theatre as a source of entertainment for Westhill Estate’s residents. It was the first roofed theatre at Singapore’s rural districts – the others had their films screened in open-air. Hindu and Tamil movies were showed on weekdays, while the theatre screened Chinese films during the weekends.

During the Second World War, Westhill Estate became deserted as its residents fled from the invading Japanese. Sultan Theatre was taken over and used as a storage place for minerals and raw materials for war production, while Westhill Estate’s shophouses were converted into a red light district serving the Japanese army.

After the war, in the mid-fifties, Westhill Estate, by then known as Chong Pang Village, saw an influx of Chinese residents resettled from Paya Lebar, where its lands were acquired for the construction of a new airport. The Chinese then became the majority of the village’s population until Chong Pang was demolished at the end of the eighties.

The late fifties and sixties saw Chong Pang Village constantly troubled by secret societies, gang fights and extortion. There were no police stations nearby and phone lines or other communication means were not available for the residents to call the police for help. It was not until 1965 that a new police station was built at Chong Pang Village to tackle the gangsterism issue and maintain order.

Electricity supply came to Chong Pang Village in 1960. Until the end of the eighties, most of Chong Pang Village’s business and residential activities were centered at the rows of its shophouses, largely made up of provision shops, kopitiams, motor workshops and hardware shops. Many of the shops imported goods from the West to cater for the British servicemen from the naval base.

In the sixties, the government also built clinics and an outpatient dispensary at Chong Pang Village, serving the medical needs of its residents. These were added to the already existing community centre, cinema and schools, helping Chong Pang Village to rapidly evolve into a self-sustaining residential nucleus.

The withdrawal of British forces in 1971 greatly affected the businesses at Chong Pang Village. The conversion of the naval base into Sembawang Shipyard also left many jobless, particularly the Indian workers. Many returned to India, leading to the dwindling of Chong Pang Village’s Indian population.

By the mid-eighties, the residents of Chong Pang Village had received notifications of new redevelopment plans for the lands they had lived for generations. Chong Pang Village was eventually demolished in early 1989. In its place today is the new town of Sembawang.

When the Chong Pang City of Yishun was completed in 1984, numerous residents and shopkeepers of the old Chong Pang Village made the crossover to the new Chong Pang housing estate for a fresh start in life.

A pictorial gallery of Chong Pang Village in the eighties:

(All photos above are credited to National Archives of Singapore)

Published: 30 April 2019

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The Vanished Colourful Landmark of Rochor

The colourful Rochor Centre flats, previously bounded by Rochor Road, Ophir Road and Queen Street, had seen their demolition completed. Motorists could no longer see the eye-catching landmark on their ways along the busy Rochor Road and Ophir Road.

The Rochor-Selegie vicinity had seen vast changes in the past 150 years. Largely a land of spice plantations in the early days, it became a transport hub of jinrikisha by the end of the 19th century, where thousands of rickshaw pullers would gather at Rochor Canal Road. In the 1920s, the growing Indian immigrant community made Selegie and Rochor Roads their venues for performance of traditional dances and cultural shows. In fact, the Tamil name for Rochor means “old Hindu theatre”.

The first double-storey shopshouses at Rochor appeared as early as 1836. Numerous other landmarks, over the decades, emerged in the vicinity; the Rochor wet market at Sungei Road was established in 1872, The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes completed in 1888, the famous Thieves’ Market in the 1930s, and the Singapore Ice Works, Singapore’s first ice-making plant, in the fifties.

After independence, the eighties saw the rapid rise of retail and office towers at the Rochor area, among them were the Sim Lim Tower (opened in 1980), Fu Lu Shou Complex (1983) and Sim Lim Square (1987). OG Albert Complex was completed in 2000.

In the seventies, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) embarked on a massive project to increase the public housings at Singapore’s central area. Public housings were not new to the areas around or within the city. The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats had already been standing at Tiong Bahru, Upper Pickering Street and Prinsep Street for years. The Selegie House was completed by the HDB back in 1963.

Under HDB’s plan, new multi-storey complexes and plazas would be constructed at Tanjong Pagar, Kreta Ayer, Jalan Besar, Kampong Glam, Anson, Havelock, Telok Ayer and Rochor. The government’s aim was to raise the residential population at the Central District from 220,000 in the mid-seventies to 280,000 in the mid-eighties.

The design for the central area’s flats typically consisted of features such as podiums made up of commercial units, shops, supermarkets, banks and post offices. On top of the podiums would be the residential flats of mostly three-room units. In the late-seventies, these units were priced between $12,800 and $19,500.

Besides the necessary amenities, HDB also incorporated different elements to the various housing projects in order to enhance their distinctive designs, which included children’s playgrounds and pockets of green areas. By 1977, the HDB had successfully completed Rochor Centre (with four blocks of 481 three-room and 91 four-room units), Tanjong Pagar Plaza (924 three-room units) and Kelantan Complex (281 three-room units).

Many more flats were built, between the late seventies to mid-eighties, at Albert Street, Jalan Sultan, Kitchener Road, Blanco Court, Bras Basah, Boat Quay, Cantonment Road, Hong Lim and Anthony Road, bringing the total number of HDB’s residential units at the central area to almost 10,000.

The residents of the Rochor Centre flats enjoyed the convenience of the amenities almost immediately after the completion of their flats. At the podium were hardware shops, electronic stores and music schools. The new post office was opened at Block 4 in 1977, replacing the Kandang Kerbau Post Office. In the same year, the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) also added its 11th branch at Rochor Centre. The once-popular Oriental Emporium moved in in the early eighties.

Rochor Centre was a popular venue too, for different community and social events in the late seventies and eighties. Rochor constituency’s carnivals, Talentime contests, blood donation drives, unions’ ceremonies and National Day celebrative dinners were regularly held at the podium of the new Rochor Centre.

By the mid-eighties, Rochor Centre became a go-to shopping paradise for the foreigners, especially the Malaysians. It was a golden period for the 200-plus shops at Rochor Centre, which offered a wide range of affordable products from textiles and clothing to leather goods and household utensils. There were also half a dozen of goldsmiths and jewellery shops, profiting from the booming business supported by the Malaysians, Indonesians, Thais, Indians and Sri Lankans.

Although the Queen Street Taxi Terminal and Bus Terminal were established only in the mid-eighties, taxis and buses between Singapore and Johor had been plying their trades at Rochor Road for many years, fetching passengers from the other side of the causeway to patronise the shops and businesses at Rochor Centre. By the early eighties, Rochor Centre became popularly known as “Little Johor”.

The good times did not last, however, as some shop owners saw their rental costs jumped from $1,100 to $2,800 after their five-year leases expired. When Singapore fell into its first recession in 1985, many at Rochor Centre were hit hard. Sales slowed, and the shops saw an estimated decline of 30% to 50% in their businesses.

Rochor Centre also faced other social issues in the eighties. Lift robberies and thefts at the shops and carparks happened every now and then. But none of the crimes shook the headlines as much as the $1.2 million break-in burglary of a goldsmith shop in 1986. The burglars were said to have broken into the shop through a hole they created in the toilet floor of a company directly above it. Using ox-acetylene torches, they cut open the vault doors and safes, stealing all the jewellery and cash.

In 1988, another goldsmith shop at Rochor Centre suffered massive losses from a robbery, committed in blatant audacity. This time, four robbers, in red masks, barged into the shop when it was about to close. Armed with hammers and parangs, they smashed the showcases and scooped the valuables, before getting away in a stolen car with $500,000 worth of jewellery.

In 1994, 99% of Rochor Centre’s residents voted for the $5.5 million Interim Upgrading Programme (IUP) which would enhance their estate’s appearance and amenities. Each of the four blocks were given fresh paint coats in vibrant blue, green, red and yellow, transforming them from the normal-looking flats into the appealing colourful Rochor icons for the next two decades.

In 2011, it was announced that Rochor Centre would have to make way for the upcoming North-South Corridor. The residents moved out by end-2016, and demolition works began in June 2018. By April 2019, the 40-year-old multi-coloured trademark blocks of Rochor were gone.

A walk down the memory lane of Rochor Centre:

Published: 15 April 2019

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Past and Present Cemeteries of Singapore (Part 1) – Old Chinese Graveyards

The Chinese Tomb Sweeping Festival, or Qing Ming, is here once again. It is a period when tens of thousands of local Chinese make their way to the major cemeteries and columbaria to pay their respects to the deceased.

Today, land-scarce Singapore still has several plots of cemeteries remaining. But comparing to four or five decades ago, the older Singapore was a land of cemeteries, where large and small burial grounds were scattered all over the island. By 1978, there were still as many as 213 cemeteries in Singapore, occupying 3.7% of Singapore’s land size.

The early Chinese were segregated into major dialect groups with their own clan associations, ancestral temples and burial grounds. Those burial grounds were mostly named san/suah (山), teng/ting () and tiong (塚), referring to the burial hills, pavilions and tombs respectively, features that were typically found in the old Chinese cemeteries.

Teochew Cemeteries

For the Teochew community, they were represented by Ngee Ann Kongsi, established in 1845 to look after the needs of early Teochew immigrants, including their religious beliefs, ancestral worships and funeral rites. The kongsi (company in Teochew) later became the largest owner of Teochew burial grounds in Singapore, owning some 363 acres of burial lands by 1933.

The first cemetery set up by Ngee Ann Kongsi was Tai Suah Ting (泰山亭). In 1845, the kongsi bought a large piece of land, bordering present-day Orchard Road, Patterson Road and Grange Road, from the East India Company. Tai Suah Ting lasted more than a century, until 1957 when it was cleared for commercial and luxury residential development. The site was later leased to the Orchard Theatre, Mandarin Hotel and Wisma Indonesia. A 10-storey Ngee Ann Building was also built at the former site of the cemetery.

Ngee Ann Kongsi, throughout the rest of the 19th century, purchased many plots of lands to be used as burial grounds. The six main ones were:

  • Kwong Yik Suah (广义山) at Serangoon Road 5 milestone
  • Kwong Siu Suah (广寿山) at Bukit Timah Road 7½ milestone (present site of Ngee Ann Polytechnic)
  • Kwong Hou Suah (广孝山) at Woodlands Road 12 milestone (near present site of Gali Batu Depot)
  • Kwong Teck Suah (广德山) at Sembawang Road 12 milestone
  • Kwong Ying Suah (广山) at Upper Changi Road, near former Mata Ikan Village
  • Kwong Eng Suah (广恩山) at Thomson Road, near Tan Tock Seng Hospital

Many of the Teochew cemeteries gave way to urban redevelopment after the Second World War. Kwong Eng Suah was exhumed in 1956, while Kwong Hou Suah was the last to go in 2009. Another cemetery Kwong Teck Suah, established in 1909, was closed in 1977. Most of the remains in the cemetery were exhumed and, along with the remains from other Teochew cemeteries, relocated to the 6-acre Yishun Memorial Park along Yishun Ring Road.

At the memorial park are two obelisks, erected in 1953 and 1962, to commemorate the overseas Teochew pioneers and the early Teochew migrants who arrived in Singapore in the 19th century and early 20th century. Yishun Memorial Park was refurbished in 1986, and is one of the places in Singapore where Qing Ming rituals and prayers are held annually.

In addition to the Yishun Memorial Park, Ngee Ann Kongsi also built the Teochew Funeral Parlour in 1989. Other places for the Teochew’s ancestral worships and performance of gong teck (rituals) would be the temples and siang tng (charitable halls), which also act as columbaria for housing of urns and ancestral tablets. One of the better known siang tng in Singapore is the Toa Payoh Seu Teck Sean Tong Temple, founded at Boon Teck Road in 1942 and shifted to Toa Payoh in 1958.

Other Teochew cemeteries elsewhere in Singapore included the Wah Suah Teng (华山). It had two burial grounds at Upper Changi Road 10 milestone and Upper East Coast Road 8½ milestone. Wah Suah Teng was established in the late fifties, together with the Hokkien Hock Suah Teng (福山), to serve the Teochew and Hokkien residents living at the Somapah Changi area.

The plot of Wah Suah Teng cemetery at Upper East Coast Road was situated beside a Muslim cemetery that provided the burial needs for the Muslim residents living at the kampongs around Jalan Bilal, Jalan Haji Salam, Jalan Greja and Jalan Langgar Bedok. Both burial grounds were accessible by a small road called Hwa San Road (expunged), named after the Chinese cemetery.

Wah Suah Teng and the Muslim cemetery were later exhumed and their sites redeveloped into Kew Green Condominium in the late nineties.

A short distance away from Wah Suah Teng and Hock Suah Teng was a smaller cemetery called Lui Chwee Suah (雷水山), located near Jalan Lembah Bedok (expunged). Lui Chwee Suah was one of the many cemeteries in Singapore closed in 1973 by the government for redevelopment purposes.

Hokkien Cemeteries

The Hokkiens also had their large parcels of burial grounds in old Singapore, the most famous being Bukit Brown Cemetery. Also known as Kopi Suah (coffee hill), probably named after the coffee plantations at Mount Pleasant, the site was bought in the late 20th century by three wealthy Hokkien businessmen Ong Kew Ho, Ong Ewe Hai and Ong Chong Chew.

The municipal government acquired the land in 1919 and opened it three years later, as a public cemetery for the local Chinese community, especially the Hokkiens. Over the decades, Bukit Brown Cemetery grew to contain 100,000 graves, making it the largest Chinese cemetery outside China. It reached its full capacity and was closed in 1973, accepting no new burials since then.

In 1965, some of cemetery’s graves were exhumed due to the realignment of Lornie Road. Part of the cemetery was affected again in 1971 for the construction of the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). More than 1,700 graves, off Lorong Halwa and Kheam Hock Road, had to make way. In 2018, many of Bukit Brown Cemetery’s graves, once again, were removed for the construction of the new Lornie Highway.

Kheam Hock Road, which cut through Bukit Brown Cemetery, was also known in the past as the venue for plots of cemeteries named Tai Guan Suah (太原山) and Hokkien Lao Suah (福建老山).

Kheam Hock Road, Upper Serangoon Road and Choa Chu Kang were home to some 20 tombstone makers in Singapore in the sixties and seventies. The inscription engravings on granite or marble tombstones using the hammer-and-chisel method were extremely laborious and tedious; by the eighties, there were less than 10 tombstone makers left in Singapore.

Other former Hokkien cemeteries in Singapore included:

  • Bu Lim Suah (武林山) off Old Jurong Road (until 1996)
  • Seh Lim Suah (姓林山) at Bukit Merah (1890-1967)
  • Hong Lim Suah (芳林山) at Bukit Merah (1870s-1960s)
  • Leng Kee Suah (记山) at Leng Kee Road (1885-1963)
  • Hiap Guan Suah (协源山) at Telok Blangah (1882-1967)
  • See Kar Teng (角(脚)) at Jalan Membina, Tiong Bahru
  • Heng Suah Teng (恒山亭) at Silat Road (1828-1941)
  • Sin Heng Suah Teng (新恒山亭) at Toa Payoh (1880s-1920s) 
  • Phuah Pak Tiong (剖腹塚) off Yio Chu Kang Road (until 1970s)
  • Hock Suah Teng (福山) at Upper Changi Road 10 milestone (1950s-1990s)

Heng Suah Teng (恒山亭), located at Silat Road, was a century-old Hokkien cemetery that was exhumed during the early 1940s due to the expansion of the Singapore General Hospital.

The nearby Tiong Bahru was also a large cemetery, established in 1859. The name itself means New Cemetery in Hokkien and Malay, taking reference to its older neighbour Heng Suah Teng, which became known as Tiong Lama (old cemetery). Part of the Tiong Bahru cemetery was exhumed in the late 1920s, when its burial hills, swamps and squatters were demolished and replaced by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats.

The Tiong Bahru-Bukit Merah vicinity, in fact, was made up of many Chinese cemeteries, consisting of Seh Lim Suah, Leng Kee Suah, Hong Lim Suah, See Kar Teng, Heng Suah Teng, Hiap Guan Suah and Loke Yah Teng. Some of these cemeteries were privately-owned, such as the Hiap Guan Suah, also known as the Seh Yeo cemetery, which was used for the burial of many members of the Yeo Clan in the early 20th century.

Located at Stirling Road was another private cemetery named Hong Lim Suah. Established in the 1870s, it was owned by the family of wealthy businessman Cheang Hong Lim (1841-1893) until the mid-sixties when the 41-acre burial ground was acquired by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Most of its 9,000 graves were exhumed and re-interred at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

Present-day Plantation Avenue, off Yio Chu Kang Road, was home to the former Phuah Pak Tiong (剖腹塚) cemetery. It was used, during the early 20th century, as a burial ground for Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where the bodies of the poor and those died of tuberculosis (TB) were transferred from Moulmein Road after their postmortem cases. This history gave rise to its Hokkien name, which literally means “cut open stomach tomb”.

By the fifties, Phuah Pak Tiong was no longer used by Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and it became a private Chinese cemetery. A village was established beside the cemetery, even though the residents hated its inauspicious name. In 1951, the Singapore Rural Board renamed Jalan Phuah Pak Tiong, the road leading to the village and cemetery, to Plantation Avenue. The cemetery was exhumed in the seventies, making way for the new public flats at Serangoon.

Cantonese/Hakka Cemeteries

Peck San Theng (碧山亭) was one of the most well-known former cemeteries in Singapore, due to its legacy and association with the Bishan New Town today. The cemetery, along with the other two burial grounds in Cheng San Teng (青山亭), at Maxwell Road, and Loke Yah Teng (绿野亭), at Bukit Ho Swee, were established in the mid-19th century by the early Cantonese and Hakka communities.

One of the earliest Chinese cemeteries, Cheng San Teng once housed the tombstones of Singapore’s first batch of Chinese settlers – 31 of them were said to have already settled on the island before Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Located at Tanjong Pagar’s Peck Seah Street, the cemetery was surrounded by small hills – Duxton Hill, Mount Wallich and Scots Hill – which were later levelled for the Telok Ayer reclamation.

Cheng San Teng lasted until 1907 when its site was acquired by the British colonial government. The remains of the 31 Chinese pioneers, along with the others, were then re-interred at the Hokkien Heng Suah Teng cemetery near Tiong Bahru.

The other Cantonese/Hakka cemetery Loke Yah Teng was set up in 1840 on a piece of land, near present-day Bukit Ho Swee, awarded by the colonial government. Part of Loke Yah Teng was acquired in the 1910s for the construction of railway tracks. In 1957, the cemetery was bought by the Singapore government, resulting in the exhumation and relocation of its 11,518 graves to Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery.

As for Peck San Theng, the burial ground was utilised for more than a century before it stopped receiving fresh burials in 1973, after which the site, stretching from Thomson Road to present-day Bishan, was acquired by the government. Exhumation began after 1982, with the tombs making way for the development of Bishan New Town. Most of the remains were later stored at the Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng Columbarium built in the mid-eighties.

Loke Yah Teng, a Cantonese-Hakka collaboration, became full in 1880, and new burials at the cemetery were no longer possible. By then, the rapid increase in their respective populations meant that the Cantonese and Hakka communities had to part ways and seek and establish new sites for their own burial needs.

Hence, the Hakka moved on to set up the Fung Yun Thai Cemetery (丰永大坟山) in 1882 and Shuang Long Shan (双龙山) in 1887. Both Hakka cemeteries were located off Holland Road, where there was a sizable Hakka population living in the vicinity.

Also known as Yu Shan Teng (毓山亭), the 142-acre Fun Yun Thai Cemetery, with about 20,000 graves, was acquired and exhumed in 1975, and has been left vacant till today. The ancestral temple Sanyi Ci (三邑祠) was retained, and in 1991, a columbarium was built to store the niches of the remains from the cemetery.

Over the years, the columbarium has been given a series of renovations; the latest was completed in 2015 with a new appearance that resembles a tolou, a type of Hakka earthen building in China. The new design is aimed to reflect the Hakka culture in Singapore.

Shuan Long Shan used to have massive burial grounds with an ancestral temple. In 1966, the government acquired its burial grounds for the development of the Commonwealth and Buona Vista housing estates. The remains were exhumed and consolidated in urns, and were stored at the new cemetery and columbarium. Ying Fo Fui Kun (应和会馆) Cemetery is currently the last Hakka cemetery in Singapore.

Cemeteries of Other Dialect Groups

The smaller dialect groups of the local Chinese community, such as the Hainanese and Hock Chew, had their own burial grounds too, although they were not as large and numerous compared to the Teochew, Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka ones. The Hock Chew had its cemetery at Hock Chew Suah (福州山), formerly located at Lim Chu Kang. Much of its 110-acre land was purchased by the government in 1970. By 1987, the cemetery was fully acquired and exhumation began in the early nineties.

The Hainanese, on the other hand, established the Yu Shan Ting (玉山亭) at Thomson Road. Also known as Hai Nam Suah (海南山), there were two Hainanese cemeteries along Thomson Road; the original one was set up at Thomson Road 5 milestone in 1862. 30 years later, in 1891, a new extension of the cemetery was established at Thomson Road 5½ milestone. Both cemeteries were exhumed in 1980.

Hock Eng Seng Cemetery (福荣山) was a private cemetery at the Bukit Timah Road 6 milestone area. Located at Lorong Panchar (expunged), off Sixth Avenue, the cemetery contained some 600 graves, many of those belonged to the Chinese patriots and victims during the Second World War. In the fifties, plots of its burial lands were sold, often at discounts, to the local Chinese communities.

The government bought over Hock Eng Seng Cemetery in the nineties, due to its location within the prime Bukit Timah district. Many of its remains, including a well-known Second World War tomb memorial, were exhumed and re-interred at Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery.

Chye Teng Teoh Cemetery was another private cemetery near Bukit Timah Road 6 milestone. It was located at Anamalai Avenue.

Cemeteries on Islands

The Chinese populations living on the outer islands of Singapore, such as Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin, had their cemeteries as well. Pulau Tekong, before its demarcation into a restricted military training zone in the eighties, used to have numerous Malay and Chinese villages with thousands of residents.

Running self-sufficiently, the island villages had their schools, provision shops, markets, places of worship as well as burial grounds, which numbered as many as 18 at their peak. Many were exhumed and demolished after the resettlement of the residents to the mainland. In the early eighties, there were eight cemeteries left at Pulau Tekong, all of which were gone by 1985.

Like Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin has its own burial grounds – both Chinese and Muslim cemeteries – for the various kampongs that once flourished on the island. One of the Chinese cemeteries, Kampong Sungei Tiga Chinese cemetery still exists on Pulau Ubin till this day, situated on a gentle slope and under the dense cover of durians trees.

Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery

Opened in 1947, Choa Chu Kang Cemetery occupies almost 318 acres of lands at the western side of Singapore, along Old Choa Chu Kang Road, Lim Chu Kang Road and Jalan Bahar.

The huge burial area is made up of Chinese, Muslim, Ahmadiyya Jama’at, Christian, Hindu, Parsi, Jewish and Lawn cemeteries, and is the only cemetery in Singapore still opened for new burials. However, since November 1998, the cemetery’s burials are limited to a period of 15 years, after which the remains will be exhumed and cremated.

Today, the Chinese section of the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery has about 35,000 tombs. Along Track 14, off Old Choa Chu Kang Road, is another smaller plot of Chinese cemetery. Beside the burial grounds are military camps, fish farms, factories and warehouses. In 2017, the government announced that the graves of Choa Chu Kang Cemetery will be progressive exhumed. A third of the cemetery will be making way for the expansion of the Tengah Air Base.

There is a well-known Second World War tomb memorial at the Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery. The memorial was erected to commemorate the Chinese victims who perished in early 1942 at a village near Bukit Timah 5½ milestone’s Little Bamboo Lane (竹仔巷). It was estimated that about 2,000 to 3,000 Chinese were killed in this horrifying massacre committed by the Japanese invaders.

The victims were buried in mass graves, and their remains were rediscovered in 1962. They were exhumed and given a reburial in six large urns at the Hock Eng Seng Cemetery at Sixth Avenue, near the 1942 massacre site. Hock Eng Seng Cemetery was acquired in the nineties; the remains of the victims were then relocated in 1996 to Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

Columbaria and Others

Since the implementation of the burial limitations in 1998, many local Chinese preferred the cremation option and had the niches or urns of their dead family members stored at private or government-run columbaria, such as Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium Complex and Choa Chu Kang Columbarium.

Previously, there was also the Mount Vernon Columbarium and Crematorium, but its services were ceased in late 2018 after almost 50 years of operation.

Temples, charitable halls and monasteries, including the well-known Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery and Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery (Siong Lim Temple), also offer the storage of niches. As cemeteries become fewer in Singapore, it is more common, nowadays, for the local Chinese to pay their respect and offer their prayers at the columbaria instead of cemeteries during the Qing Ming festival.

Individual Tombstones

There are numerous individual Chinese tombstones in Singapore. While the large Bukit Brown and Choa Chu Kang cemeteries are the final resting places for many prominent pioneers, leaders and public figures, others have their private burial grounds. Some have been isolated and undisturbed for decades, waiting to be rediscovered.

At a small slope along Outram Road is the grave of famous pioneer, businessman and philanthropist Tan Tock Seng (1798-1850). When Tan Tock Seng died in 1850, he was buried in an unknown location. His son Tan Kim Ching (1829-1892) acquired the Outram Road plot in 1877 as a family burial ground.

Tan Tock Seng’s remains were later exhumed and re-interred at the Outram Road burial ground, which also contains the graves of his daughter-in-law Chua Seah Neo (wife of Tan Kim Ching) and granddaughter-in-law Wuing Neo.

At MacRitchie Reservoir Park is the tombstone of war hero Lim Bo Seng (1909-1944), who helped to set up Force 136, a resistance group, to fight the Japanese during the Second World War. He was later captured, tortured and died in a Perak jail. After the war, his remains were brought back to Singapore and reburied on a small hill at MacRitchie Reservoir.

In 2012, the grave of early Teochew pioneer Seah Eu Chin was discovered by tombstone hunters Raymond Goh and Charles Goh. It was located on a small hill known as Grave Hill at Toa Payoh West, next to the Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Also read Past and Present Cemeteries of Singapore (Part 2) – Malay/Muslim Burial Grounds.

Published: 07 April 2019

Updated: 01 September 2019

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Sembawang’s Kampong Mosque and Former Coastal Villages

Located in the secondary forest at the corner of Sembawang is an old mosque called Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang. Built in 1963, the mosque served as a place of worship for the Muslim community living at Sembawang.

Prior to that, the Muslims, most of them living in kampongs, prayed at suraus (a Malay prayer house) or at the former Masjid Jumah Sembawang along Sembawang Road. Masjid Jumah Sembawang was established in the 1920s by Indian Muslims working in the naval base. It lasted for more than seven decades before it was demolished in 1995.

The northern coast of Singapore was populated by the Malay community in the fifties and sixties. This area became known as the Malay Settlement, or Petempatan Melayu Sembawang. In the early sixties, with the villagers yearning for a place of worship, fundraising for the building of a new mosque was carried out. The public and residents of the nearby villages actively donated, and together with the monetary contribution from the Lee Foundation, the committee was able to raise $10,000 for the construction of a new mosque.

The new place of worship was called Masjid Kampong Tengah upon its completion in 1963, but was later changed to Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang, naming after the nearby Malay Settlement. In the seventies, the mosque continued its fundraising activities for the upgrading of its building, including the addition of a mosque tower.

Still surrounded by a vast area of lush greenery, the old charming kampong mosque today still retains its sense of peace and quietude, except during weekends when it conducts the madrasah and religious classes, and during festivals such as Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Puasa.

Other than Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang and Masjid Jumah Sembawang, another old mosque – Masjid Naval Base – once existed at Sembawang. Masjid Naval Base, located at Canberra Road, began as a surau and was upgraded to a mosque in 1968 to cater for the increasing number of Muslim workers at the dockyard. It was opened to the public in 1972 after the withdrawal of the British forces, but was closed in the mid-2000s.

Jalan Mempurong and Jalan Selimang are the two minor roads leading to the mosque. There is another short road named Jalan Inggu that serves as a link between Jalan Mempurong and Jalan Selimang. All three roads are named in Malay after common fish found at the Sembawang coast. Mempurong means herring, selimang is barb and inggu refers to the tomato clownfish.

Today, there is a long canal called Sungei Simpang Kiri in the vicinity. Before the winding river was aligned and converted into a canal, Jalan Mempurong was linked to several inner tracks named Jalan Ketuka, Jalan Tanjong Irau (named after Kampong Tanjong Irau), Lorong Nibong, Lorong Balai and Lorong Resam. These tracks were later expunged when Kampong Tanjong Irau was demolished in the late eighties, and Jalan Mempurong was cut short and ended just before the canal.

By 1965, main water supplies had arrived at the isolated Malay Settlement and other Sembawang villages. Other infrastructural works, during the sixties and seventies, still very much relied on the various gotong royong activities. For example, in 1968, some 250 National University of Singapore (NUS) students toiled under the hot sun to lay the granite foundation for a road running through Jalan Mempurong, Jalan Inggu and Jalan Selimang, so as to provide better accessibility and convenience to the residents.

Other government services and benefits were extended to the Sembawang villages by the late sixties, such as the mobile library services for the children and the free movies by the Mobile Film Unit.

The Sembawang coast used to be bustling with kampong life, where zinc-roof wooden houses and coconut trees stood beside the sea. As many as six villages – Malay Settlement, Kampong Tengah, Kampong Tanjong Irau, Kampong Lobang (Lubang) Bom, Kampong Hailam and Kampong Wak Hassan – coexisted within short distances of one another.

By the eighties and nineties, however, many of the villages were vacated and demolished due to redevelopment plans. Kampong Wak Hassan was the last kampong at Sembawang that survived until the late nineties. Today, there is a short road along Sembawang coast that still bears the name of this former kampong. Built in 1966, its original name was Jalan Kampong Wak Hassan.

Kampong Wak Hassan had a long history. It was established in 1914 by a former policeman called Wak Hassan bin Ali, who had bought large parcel of lands and plantations near Sungei Sembawang. The land was later acquired by the British for the construction of their naval base, and Wak Hassan’s village was relocated to where Kampong Wak Hassan is today.

At Kampong Wak Hassan, the village had survived the war, flourished in the sixties, and eventually declined by the eighties. Its demolition in 1998 meant that Sembawang’s kampong history officially walked into history.

Kampong Tanjong Irau was another village along the Sembawang coast. Situated near Tanjong Irau Beach, it was the most isolated settlement among the various Sembawang villages, as it was accessible only by Jalan Tanjong Irau, a track that was not being upgraded into a proper road until the late seventies. Even after the upgrade, Jalan Tanjong Irau was so narrow that two cars, side by side, had difficulty passing through.

Kampong Tanjong Irau, by the sixties, had grown to about 50 families. Due its relative inaccessibility, the village had its own community centre and even a surau, a small zinc-roof wooden building that could accommodate 150 t0 200 people during the Friday prayers and religious festivals.

To many of its residents, it was just another day at Kampong Tanjong Irau, a familiar home made up of gaily-painted houses, some of them standing on stilts, surrounded by many washing lines of laundry fluttering in the breeze. Coconut trees were abundant here, but there were also trees of mango, guava and betelnut.

Even under the hot sun, there was a sense of tranquillity in the surroundings. Time seemed to pass more slowly here; one could easily engross in the peacefulness of the surroundings that were accompanied by a mixture of natural sounds from the swishing waves, rustling leaves, chirping crickets and the clucking free roaming chicken, ducks and geese.

At any day in the eighties, the kampong was usually filled with children playing, with their grandparents chatting nearby. The young men and women in the village, by then, would have already gone to work in the factories and city area. But once in a while, one could spot a weather-beaten fisherman mending his net by the shore, or an elderly carving a gasing, a kind of spinning top enjoyed by the Malay community.

Facing the jungle-clad Johor, Tanjong Irau Beach was home not only to Kampong Tanjong Irau. Along the idyllic shore, in the eighties, once existed a yacht club, owned by an American, named Yacht Marina. Standing nearby was a blue and white bungalow, home to famous local footballer Quah Kim Song, who used to play football on a large field at Kampong Tanjong Irau when he was a kid.

In the early sixties, there was also the Kampong Tengah holiday camp, a chalet built by the People’s Association (PA). Opened in 1961 by then-Health Minister Inche Ahmad bin Ibrahim, it was the third of its kind in Singapore, after Pulau Ubin and Tanah Merah youth camps. Designed with bedrooms and kitchens, the $31,000 Kampong Tengah holiday camp was opened to the public, especially the less privileged, so that they could enjoy the recreational facilities by the sea.

Like the Malay Settlement and Kampong Tengah, Kampong Tanjong Irau was affected by the proposed redevelopment of Sembawang in the eighties. Many of its residents, by the late eighties, had moved out of the village and resettled in the new HDB towns.

In July 1981, about 80 families of Kampong Tengah and Kampong Hailam were served notices to vacant their homes. The lands they were living on had been identified by the government for redevelopment for industrial use (although the plan of a new Sembawang Industrial Estate in the vicinity did not materialise). New flats at Nee Soon and Jurong were allocated for the displaced residents, who voiced their displeasure for having to leave their homes of many generations.

Walking along the secluded and tranquil Sembawang coast today, one can hardly imagine, that more than three decades ago, here was the home to many bustling kampongs.

Published: 24 March 2019

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