Have a Break, Have a Kacang Puteh

When was the last time you had kacang puteh?

It used to be one of the favourite snacks for movie-goers, dating couples at the theme parks and football fans watching an exciting match. Nowadays, there are not many kacang puteh (“white nuts or beans” in Malay; other spelling variations are kacang putih and kachang puteh) vendors left in Singapore.

There is one just outside the Peace Centre though, where the humble mobile stall is manned by a husband-and-wife team since the early 2010s. They offer a wide variety of titbits to choose from – from the usual peanuts – roasted, sugared or salted – to chickpeas (kacang kuda), green peas, cashews, corns, tapioca and even murukku. The customer can choose one type of snack or mix several together. The vendor will then scoop and wrap the titbits with a piece of white paper into a conical shape that makes it easy for the customer to carry and eat. The wrapping medium in the past used to be newspapers or pages torn from old school exercise books, but they are no longer used due to hygiene concerns.

Each cone of kacang puteh is priced between $1 and $1.50, depending on the type of snacks. Back in the sixties and seventies, one could help himself with a kacang puteh treat at anything between 5c and 10c. For example, in 1977, kacang puteh typically cost 10c each. By comparison, a copy of the Sunday Times was 30c and a packet of nasi lemak cost 50c. The price of kacang puteh rose to 30c to 40c by the late eighties.

Kacang puteh vendors of the past mostly came from Tanjore, South India (present-day Thanjavur district). The daily work of a kacang puteh vendor typically started at 5am, when he would use sand to fry the peanuts to bring out the natural flavour of the nuts. This usually took three hours. Firewood used for the cooking would enhance the peanut flavour but the usage of gas became more common by the eighties. When ready, the vendor would make his way to his designated spot outside the cinema to sell his kacang puteh.

Many old kacang puteh vendors dreamt of making enough and returning to their home towns. Some made it, most did not and eventually settled in Singapore. Several, after paying for the rental, accommodation and remittance back home, could barely survive and had to take on second jobs such as the night watchman.

As time changed and the society evolved, kacang puteh vendors also faced different types of challenges. First, the supermarkets all around Singapore offer similar titbits and snacks available in bulks and at lower prices. Also, movie goers’ taste have switched to the likes of popcorns and hotdogs. Moreover, the movie industry entered a slump in the nineties, leading to the closure of many old cinemas.

Food hygiene practices and food safety standards for street hawkers also became more stringent. In 1974, the Ministry of the Environment carried out islandwide checks and inspection, resulting in 180 hawkers, including dozens of kacang puteh sellers, being warned or fined for contaminated food or operating without licenses. A parliamentary session in 1985 debated the public health issue and how the relocation of street hawkers had affected the kacang puteh and rojak sellers.

In 1975, the Ministry of Education disallowed school tuckshops from selling unwholesome food such as prickled and unripe fruits, but kacang puteh, popular among the students, managed to avoid the ban as the food was typically cooked, dry and had low possibility of deterioration.

If you happen to pass by Peace Centre next time, do show your support to this fading trade. You can at the same time relive some of those good old memories with a tasty cone of kacang puteh.

Published: 1 December 2021

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Kay Poh Road… A Busybody Road?

Kay Poh Road is neither a busy road, nor a busybody road. It is a relatively significant minor road currently home to half a dozen condominiums. Located off River Valley Road, it, however, has a history dated back to the early 20th century.

In 1903, the Municipal Commission approved Wee Kay Poh’s request to construct two new roads between Irwell Bank Road and Jervois Road. The new roads would be named Kay Poh Road, after the requester himself, and Seow Kee Road respectively. Seow Kee Road was renamed Shanghai Road in 1915, and both roads live on till this day.

Kay Poh (The Pioneer)

Wee Kay Poh (黄继宝, 1871-undetermined) was a prominent Chinese businessman who graduated at Raffles Institution and served apprenticeship at Messrs. A. L. Johnston & Co. When he was 20 years old, he married Khoo Liang Neoh, daughter of Chinese merchant Khoo Boon Seng, whose influence and network might have helped Wee Kay Poh in starting his own business.

By 1896, the 25-year-old Wee Kay Poh had risen to become the managing partner of trading firm Chop Poh Hin Chan. In the 1900s, he advanced his career further, being appointed as the managing partner of the Singapore Opium and Liquors Farm.

Wee Kay Poh was also into properties and landownership. In 1900, he purchased a 500-acre parcel of land at Bukit Timah Road for $77,000, and acquired another land at Race Course Road for $4,900 three years later. Overall, Wee Kay Poh had owned properties at Tanjong Katong, River Valley Road, Waterloo Street and Change Alley. At 6 Kay Poh Road, he built himself a grand residence which might be where the current condominium The Montana is standing.

Wee Kay Poh’s close relationship with the colonial government also saw him invited to the King’s birthday ball every year as one of the distinguished guests. He had donated generously on several occasions, such as the erection of Queen Victoria’s memorial and the Indian famine relief fund.

Kay Poh (The Road)

At Kay Poh Road, several buildings were built along it by the 1910s; In 1917, a Kay Poh Road’s building and freehold land of about 15,000 square feet (or 1,400 square metres) were sold for $2,300.

In 1952, a mysterious murder case occurred at a house at Kay Poh Road. A 34-year-old newspaper vendor and school teacher Ho Ah Beng was shot three times in his head and stomach. There were more than 30 occupants in the house, but none witnessed the crime and murderer. The case was apparently unsolved.

In 1976, the Internal Security Department (ISD) raided a Kay Poh Road apartment and seized many illegal items such as home-made grenades and denotators, communist pamphlets, checklists and documents as well as photographs of communist terrorists’ training at the Thai-Malaysian border. The apartment had been rented and used by the factions of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) to regroup in Singapore for their new phase of subversion and terrorism.

One landmark at Kay Poh Road is the Kay Poh Road Baptist Church. The Cantonese-speaking church was established at Sophia Road in 1949, before moving to Tras Street two years later. As its members grew, the church decided to purchase a site at Kay Poh Road in 1961 where it stays till today.

Kay Poh (The Busybody)

A misnomer of Kay Poh Road is its inaccurate association with kaypoh (“busybody” in Hokkien), a word popular in Singapore and Malaysia in describing those who are nosy, like to gossip about others, or spread malicious rumours, behind one’s back.

But even kaypoh has a wrong origination. It is unknown when the mistake first occurred, but its inaccurate Chinese translation of 鸡婆 (literally “chicken woman”) has since been widely and commonly used. The pronunciation of chicken in Singapore Hokkien is kuay instead of kay. Hence, the actual correct translation of kaypoh should be 牙婆 (literally “tooth woman”).

Kaypoh, in ancient China, was one of the 三姑六婆, which means, in Chinese, nine types of women who were involved in disreputable or immoral professions, or dodgy trades (two types refer to nuns and priestesses who did not really belong to the dishonourable types but were under social discrimination then).

The kaypoh‘s job was to help wealthy men or powerful officials get their concubines, mistresses or courtesans, either through coaxes, threats or by force. This was a role widely despised by the society, and while it was eventually phased out, the word kaypoh managed to live on, with its meaning evolved from a female human trafficker to a busybody or gossipmonger.

Published: 23 November 2021

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Singapore’s Heritage Tree Series – Purple Millettia

A handsome 35m-tall tree called Purple Millettia stands along the popular Swan Lake at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. A member of the Legume family (Fabaceae), its scientific name is Callerya atropurpurea and is commonly found in Peninsular Malaysia. Its origin in Singapore, though, was once disputed.

Singapore-based English botanist and the Botanic Gardens’ first Director Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956) suggested, in his 1900 Singapore’s flora, that the tree was not native. But the Singapore Herbarium stated that a specimen was collected by James Samuel Goodenough along Sungei Jurong in 1893, where the swampy area was once surrounded by primary forest. So it was unlikely anyone would have planted the tree there in the first place. James Goodenough had worked for the Botanic Gardens, collecting some 800 plant specimens in Singapore in the 1890s.

In 1889, at the west side of Swan Lake, a small plot named Lawn F was designated to plant a taxonomic group called the legumes, which included trees, shrubs and climbers of the leguminous species. This species, nevertheless, are also found at many other parts of the Gardens.

The Purple Millettia at Swan Lake is more than a century old. It was observed recently that this tree has pneumatophore roots – roots that are specialised for breathing in swampy areas. Lawn F was supposedly a swamp before its development after 1866; hence whether this Purple Millettia was originally a native wild specimen or was planted here becomes a mystery.

Evergreen throughout the entire year, the Purple Millettia trees have dome-like crowns with glossy dark green leaves and reddish purple flowers. Their brown pods are hard and thick, each containing one to two seeds.

The Purple Millettia of Swan Lake has been dedicated to the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) in 2014. The Heritage Tree Dedication Award recognises organisations and individuals who contributes to the greening of Singapore or donates at least $500,000 to the Garden City Fund.

Published: 26 October 2021

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Whampoa’s Majestic Long Curved HDB Block

At about 312m long, Block 34 of Whampoa West is one of the longest HDB flats in Singapore, stretching from one end along Serangoon Road to the other end near Bendemeer Road. The 12-storey block, consists of about 500 units, was completed in the early seventies and had its 99-year lease starting on 1 January 1972.

Its location was formerly home to one of the most famous mansions in Singapore in the 19th and early 20th century. Known as Whampoa House, it was a spectacular private residence built in 1840 by Hoo Ah Kay (1816-1880), a prominent and respected Chinese businessman, Legislative Council member and Consul in Singapore for China, Russia and Japan.

Hoo Ah Kay later became well-known as Whampoa, the name of his birthplace in China, and the present-day Whampoa Road, Sungei Whampoa and housing estate are named after him and his famous grand house.

Known for his generosity, Hoo Ah Kay regularly invited guests with warm hospitality to his Whampoa House for gatherings, parties and dinners. The beautiful Whampoa Gardens, fondly known as nam san fa un (南生花园 in Cantonese, named after Hoo Ah Kay’s shop), and mini zoo were also opened to the public during the Lunar New Year.

After Hoo Ah Kay’s death, Whampoa House was sold to another wealthy Chinese merchant Seah Liang Seah (1850-1925), who renamed it Bendemeer House. Bendemeer Road was named after the house, in honour of Seah Liang Seah’s contributions to the community. In the early 20th century, Chinese revolutionist Dr Sun Yat-Sen had lived in the house for a period of time during his exile from China.

After the Second World War, Bendemeer House was used to temporarily accommodate military personnel. It fell into disrepair by the sixties.

In the sixties, Singapore’s State and City Planning Office was studying several concepts to cope with an expected four million population by the turn of the century. The Ring Plan, circling the Central Catchment Area, was eventually crafted, with a series of suitable sites, including Whampoa, selected for public housing projects.

In 1964, the dilapidated house and its 30-acre site were acquired by the Singapore government for $3.8 million. After more than 120 years in existence, Bendemeer House was torn down to make way for the new housing and industrial projects, as part of the greater Kallang Basin’s development.

With the clearance of the site completed, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) proceeded to build a total of 13 flats – numbered 22 to 34. Public amenities such as a hawker centre, market, community centre and children’s playground were also added within the new housing estate.

Interestingly, Block 34 is the only one that carries the address of Whampoa West, whereas the rest of the blocks have Boon Keng Road (for Block 22) and Bendemeer Road (Block 23-33) as their addresses.

Besides Whampoa West, there are also Whampoa East, Whampoa North (expunged in 2010s) and Whampoa South. The four single-way roads were constructed in the late sixties and early seventies to link between the parallel Serangoon Road and Bendemeer Road. Whampoa East and Whampoa West are located on each side of Sungei Whampoa, whereas Whampoa North and Whampoa South run along Sungei Kallang further down the Serangoon and Bendemeer roads.

Due to its massive size and length, Block 34’s first level is a bustling place, made up of dozens of shops, from hairdressing salons, mini marts and hardware shops to popular chicken rice and Teochew cuisine restaurants. In recent years, the block is injected with new vitality as pubs and cafes moved in to form an interesting mix of old traditional businesses and new shops.

Six lift lobbies, labelled A to F, serve the block. The corridors are unblocked at the lift lobbies which means that one can walk the entire 300m stretch from one end to the other. The residents living at the highest levels can enjoy panoramic views of the Serangoon-Boon Keng area and Sungei Whampoa.

The current blue appearance of the block was painted in the early 2010s. Prior to that, it was entirely white in colour.

There are numerous curved HDB blocks in Singapore, such as Block 158/159 Hougang Street 11, Block 22 Sin Ming Road, Block 310 Jurong East Street 32, Block 157 Toa Payoh Lorong 1, Block 209 Jurong East Street 21 and Block 92 Zion Road (demolished in 2014), but none matches the length of Whampoa West’s Block 34.

The former Block 79 of Toa Payoh Central, torn down in the early 2000s, came close with a length of almost 300m.

New developments have been going on around the area in recent years. The modern Whampoa Park Connector is running along Sungei Whampoa. The old flats at the adjacent Boon Keng Road have been bulldozed and replaced by new 40-storey HDB’s Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats. At the opposite Towner Road and St. George’s Road, new HDB flats are also popping up. But Block 34 Whampoa West remains the iconic landmark of the vicinity.

Published: 15 October 2021

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The Evolution of Singapore’s Street Lighting

For the first half of the 19th century, much of Singapore was covered in darkness at night. Although there were candles, oil and kerosene lamps, they were unable to illuminate large areas and were mostly confined to localised spaces such as houses and offices.

Oil Lamps

The first street lamps were apparently set up in 1824, five years after the establishment of Singapore as a trading post. Coconut oil was used for the lamps, which were lit at bridges, several major streets and important buildings. However, they were of little effect due to poor illuminance. Not only they were incapable of providing sufficient light cover at night, their dim lights instead showed the way to godowns and warehouses, where the goods were stolen by thieves under the cover of darkness.

Oil lamps gave rise to the role of lamp attendants, or lamplighters as they were fondly called. The team of lamplighters would go to every oil lamps to lit them before the night fell, and extinguish the flames during the mornings.

Gas Lamps

The industrial development rapidly changed the cities especially in the Western world. By the late 19th century, Paris streets had almost 20,000 gas lamps installed. The city’s urban planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann – his slogan was “light before all else” – helped Paris in becoming one of the world’s earliest City of Light. Meanwhile, in 1886, Härnösand of Sweden became the first European city to replace all its gas lamps with electric street lighting.

In Singapore, it was only after the establishment of the Kallang Gasworks in 1862 that piped gas could be used to supply to the gas lamps installed at the major bridges and main streets at the downtown and city areas, replacing the not-so-effective oil lamps. It was, however, a costly investment to build and maintain the underground network of gas-suppling pipes.

On 24 May 1864, during the grand celebration for Queen Victoria’s 45th Birthday, Singapore’s first gas lamps were operationalised, marking a significant milestone in the local history of street lighting. By the late 19th century, Singapore had almost 930 gas lamps of 15 candle power each, lighting up some 40 miles (64km) of streets. As for the oil lamps, not all were phased out; many still continued to be used at the less important areas where the gas supply network could not reach. Gas lamps in Singapore would last almost a century until the 1950s.

Coal were burnt in the gasworks and the gas, when combined with oxygen, produced light, heat and carbon dioxide. Although gas lamps were much brighter and reliable than the oil lamps, they were not necessarily of lower maintenance. The lamps still had to be lit every night and extinguished every morning.

So each night, the team of lamplighters, equipped with ladders, would go to the gas lamps to lit them up, one by one. A lamplighter would have to climb up the ladder, and, with one leg curled round the lamp pole, attempt to lit the lamp. They would return the next morning to extinguish the gas lamp, which was easier as they could, without using the ladder, extend a long rod with a hook to put out the light. Other than lighting up and putting out the gas lamps, the lamplighters were also required to clean the glass globes and replace the gas mantles at each lamp periodically.

The burning of coal produced massive amount of carbon monoxide and other byproducts which led to serious pollution. Hence, by the 1870s, there were debates of the advantages of the new electric street lighting compared to the traditional gas lamps.

In the 1890s, the Municipal Commission debated again whether to introduce electric street lighting into Singapore. James MacRitchie, the Municipal Engineer of Singapore from 1883 to 1895, was tasked to do a feasibility study of electrical street lighting in the colony.

The cost was a major concern, as one electric lamp cost almost three to five times more than a gas lamp. But at the same time, it was bright enough to replace three gas lamps. Electric lamps, at 100 yards (about 91m) apart, were sufficient to lit up a particular stretch of road at night. By comparison, for the same stretch of road, one gas lamp had to be installed every 30 yards, or about 27m, in order to have the same illuminance effect.

Mercury Vapour Lamps

By the late 19th century, some private companies in Singapore had already started installing their own electric lights powered by small generators. In 1905, Singapore’s electric tram system started operating; its electricity was supplied by the new power plant at MacKenzie Road, which presented a good opportunity to upgrade the street lighting. Like the gas lamps and its gasworks and piping network, the electric lamps needed to be supported by a power station and network of cables.

Hence, a large $1.5 million budget was approved by the colonial government for the new street lighting project. High pressure mercury vapour lamps – a type of gas-discharge lamp that used an electric arc through vaporized mercury to produce light – were used. In 1906, Singapore had its first electric street lighting installed at Raffles Place and Esplanade.

The early electric lamps, however, were unstable, often breaking down due to issues in the electrical supply and cables. In 1907, a shophouse at Kling Street was burnt down caused by the possible fusing of electric light wires. Blackouts were frequent.

Elsewhere in the world, Rangoon had its electrical street lighting installed in 1908. British cities, however, were still using gas lamps well into the 1920s, as their municipal governments had invested heavily in gas lighting and were reluctant to change to the newer and more efficient electric street lighting.

By the 1920s, Singapore’s increased demand in electricity meant that another power plant was needed. The St James Power Station was therefore built in 1927. In 1939, after a successful trial at East Coast Road, Clemenceau Avenue, the section between Cavanagh Road and Newton Circus, became the first road in Singapore to be installed with a set of modern electric street lighting. Costing a total of $13,000, the new mercury vapour lamps, conforming fully to the standards, replaced the road’s old gas lamps.

The rise of automobile in Singapore indirectly led to more electric street lamps installed. Gas lamps were dim, and at some roads, their poor illuminance posed a safety hazard for drivers especially at night. The plans to install electric lamps at more areas in Singapore, however, were derailed by the impending war.

The bombings and air raids during the Second World War severely damaged parts of Singapore’s electric network, throwing many areas of the island into darkness. After Japan occupied Singapore, they carried out several reconstruction programs including the installation of modern street lighting. In 1942, some 43 busy street junctions in the city had their lighting restored.

The Japanese Occupation ended in 1945, The returning British had huge tasks on their hands to rebuild the island and battle the increasing crime rate. In 1947, based on the request of the Police Commissioner to install better lighting at strategic locations, the Singapore Municipality worked out a $170,000 lighting program to replace the street lights at major roads such as Jalan Besar, Serangoon Road, Havelock Road, Victoria Street, Outram Road, New Bridge Road, Bras Basah Road and Beach Road.

By then, there were several gas lamps left in Singapore. The lamp-lighting had become a sunset industry. In 1948, a team of 25 lamplighters remained hired by the Gas Department of the Singapore Municipality. The Electricity Department, on the other hand, had five technician and a foreman to go around switching on and off the electrical lamps. No ladders or climbing were required as the switches were generally situated at the bases of the lamps. It was obvious that gas lamps would be phased out eventually.

The Singapore Municipality purchased hundreds of Class A and B high pressure mercury vapour lamps from England for installation at several main streets. The decline in the crime rate at these streets proved that the brightening of streets at night played an important part in crime fighting. A further $620,000 fund was then approved by the Municipal Commissioners for more high pressure mercury vapour lamps at Singapore’s main streets for the following four years.

At least two types of street lamps were used, made of either galvanised steel or concrete frames. Both the main frames stood vertically from the ground, whereas their lamps were overhung either perpendicularly to the frames, or had curved brackets that resembled a goose neck.

These goose-necked street lamps were a common sight in many parts of Singapore throughout the sixties and seventies. The sturdy frame design was almost maintenance free, and they can still be found at the Seletar and Dempsey areas today, although most of their lights are no longer functioning.

Sodium Vapour Lamps

In the late sixties, the Singapore government introduced the low pressure sodium vapour lamps installed at the junctions, curved roads and accident-prone locations. By the seventies, high pressure sodium vapour lamps were used for street lighting despite their higher costs.

Emitting twice as much light as the mercury vapour lamps, the sodium vapour lamps could replace the mercury vapour ones at a ratio of 2:3 in order to have the same lighting effect. This means the electricity consumption by the lamps could be reduced by a third. Hence, the Public Utility Board (PUB), in 1974, carried out the installation of high pressure sodium vapour lamps at several major roads such as Nicoll Highway, Maxwell Road, Orchard Boulevard Road, Stamford Road and Connaught Drive.

While the mercury vapour lamps gave off a bluish glow, the sodium vapour ones were more of an orangey light.

In 1974, another $48,000-worth of high pressure sodium vapour lamps were used to brighten up Changi, from Tanah Merah Road to Upper Changi Road. The accident-prone Punggol Road was installed with the same type of street lighting in 1983.

There were also variations in the design of street lamp posts; the double arm street lights were typically installed at the centre dividers of major roads to provide illuminance for opposite carriageways.

Singapore’s street lamps today are largely standardised as the octagon (cross section) type, made of the weather and corrosion resistant galvanised steel. Their heights vary between 6m and 14m, depending on factors such as the allowable height limit in the area, nearby structures and the types of trees beside the lamp posts. For example, the street lights at Tanah Merah Coast Road are of a shorter height due to planes taking off and landing at the nearby Changi Airport.

LED Lamps

After decades of usage, the high pressure sodium vapour lamps would eventually become an outdated technology. The familiar orange glow – some found it romantic, creepy for others – would be gone soon. Studies show that in general, people perceive orange-lit streets as darker – and more dangerous – than white-lit streets, but on the other hand, the orange light is more gentle to the eyes of drivers.

After the millennium, the light emitting diodes (LED) became popular. It was not a new product, being invented back in 1927. But it would only be in the 2000s when white LEDs became commercially available for residential use. And as the prices grew more competitive, it soon made its way into schools, offices and hospitals, replacing the halogen and fluorescent bulbs. Comparing to other lights, LEDs fare better in energy saving and are more lasting with less maintenance requirements – they need to be replaced only once a decade whereas sodium vapour lamps have to be changed every three years.

Most of the non-street lamps in Singapore are managed by Singapore Land Authority (SLA), Housing and Development (HDB) and National Parks Board (NParks). The street lamps at public roads, totalled 95,000, came under the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

In the early 2010s, LTA conducted a trial of 17 LED street lights at Little India’s Northumberland Road and Tekka Lane. In 2014, some 4,000 street lamps at lower-traffic 500 roads were converted to LEDs. It is expected that Singapore can save $10 million annually after all of its street lamps are retrofitted with LEDs by 2022.

In 2017, the concept of “smart” lamp posts was introduced under the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP) initiative. These street lights are fitted with sensors to detect, collect and transmit various data such as vehicular traffic, temperature and humidity.

From the oil lamps to gas lamps, and from the gas lamps to electric lights, different generations of street lighting often overlapped each other and coexisted during transition periods that could last for decades. Here is a summarised timeline of Singapore’s street lighting:

Types of Street Lighting in Singapore


Oil Lamps

1824 to early 20th century

Gas Lamps

1864 to 1955

Electric Lamps (Mercury Vapour)

1906 to late 1970s

Electric Lamps (Sodium Vapour)

1969 to Present (expected to phase out by 2022)

Electric Lamps (LED)

2014 to Present

Street Lamp Trivia

Trivia 1 – Street lamps of different designs can be found at various residential estates and historic districts, such as Chinatown, to reflect their unique identities. Below are some of the different street lighting designs:

Trivia 2 – A street lamp at Tuas South Boulevard has risen to much popularity in recent years among local cycling groups. Known as Tuas Lamp Post 1, it marks the end of the long road and represents a checkpoint or milestone for many cyclists, who will paste stickers on the lamp pole to signify their achievements.

Trivia 3 – Many old lamp posts of Seletar Camp are refurbished and converted into street signage posts, reflecting the history and heritage behind this former British air base.

Published: 24 September 2021

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Reminiscences of the Old Lam Soon Community Centre

The kampong house that used to stand at the junction of Old Choa Chu Kang Road and Jalan Lekar was the former Lam Soon Community Centre. It has just been demolished to make way for a new Animal Quarantine Centre.

Lam Soon Community Centre was opened in the mid-sixties, shortly after Singapore’s independence, to serve the residents living in the rural vicinity. Its location was commonly known as the 13¼ milestone of Choa Chu Kang Road in the past.

The community centre’s building was constructed using the funds donated by members of the Choa Chu Kang Citizens Consultative Committee. But soon after its completion, the community centre was vandalised by a group of anti-national people who splashed red and white paints onto the walls and pavements. Offensive slogans were also drawn on the building. The deliberate act angered the committee and villagers, prompting the police to step in to investigate.

In 1971, Lam Soon Community Centre was one of the venues visited by former President Benjamin Sheares (1907-1981) as part of his islandwide tour of the People’s Association and community centres.

Like many other old community centres in Singapore, Lam Soon Community Centre was multi-functional. It conducted many courses, exhibitions, road shows and ceremonies, and even organised outings and tours to places such as Pulau Tekong, Desaru and Kukup. In the early seventies, it also held National Service (NS) send-off parties for newly enlisted recruits and their families and loved ones. During the general elections, the community centre also functioned as a polling station.

After almost three decades, the old Lam Soon Community Centre was closed in the early nineties, and the building was left abandoned and occasionally used as a storage place.

In 1994, a new Lam Soon Community Centre was set up at Block 421 Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4, becoming one of the few void deck community centres in Singapore. It would continue for another 24 years before it officially walked into history in 2018, after which its role in serving the residents was replaced by the new Keat Hong Community Club.

Other than the former community centre and new animal quarantine centre, Jalan Lekar is also home to The Animal Lodge, ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) Wildlife Rescue Centre and Qian Hu, one of Singapore’s well-known fish farms. The road currently still bears the old black font-white background street signage.

Animal quarantine centres in Singapore include the Sembawang Animal Quarantine Centre (SAQS) and Changi Animal & Plant Quarantine Station (CAPQ), which are used for inspection and quarantine of imported pets, mammals and birds. Both are managed under National Parks Board’s (NParks) Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS).

Published: 20 August 2021

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Creative and Unique National Day Parade Floats Procession Through the Years

Floats procession was one of the highlights of Singapore’s National Day celebration event. Starting from 1967, various local organisations, ministries and statutory boards would spent tons of efforts to design their floats, wowing spectators with different flashy, creative and sometimes unique appearances. In the early days, the floats also aimed to send messages and promote slogans to the public.

1969 – A float by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) displaying a large merlion at the front. First designed in 1964, the merlion became STPB’s trademark two years later with exclusive rights for its usage.

1969 – Under the Ministry of Health, the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board (SFPPB) was established in 1965 to oversee family planning in Singapore under the government’s Five-Year Family Planning Program (1966–1970). Its float here advocated the “small families” slogan, as well as commemorated Singapore’s 150th anniversary (1819-1969).

1969 – This float designed in the shape of the iconic National Theatre (1963-1984) was the efforts by the National Theatre Trust, which managed the funds raised from the general public and organisations for the construction, operations and maintenance of the theatre.

1969 – The Adult Education Board (AEB), under the Ministry of Culture, was established in 1960 to provide adult education through language proficiency, vocational, technical and general courses. It was later evolved to become ITE (Institute of Technical Education) in the early nineties.

1972 – The Singapore Police Force (SPF) float displayed its crest, embeded with the “Polis Repablik Singapura” (Republic of Singapore Police in Malay) name that was adopted in 1968. The police force also saw another big change in 1969, when its grey flannel shirts and khaki shorts were replaced by the modern navy blue shirts and pants.

1972 – The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) float depicted Singaporeans from all walks of life, working together for the nation’s industrial development and towards a better life.

1973 – A beautiful float by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) with the “Garden City” slogan.

1974 – The Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) was converted into a statutory corporation by the government in 1972 so that the bank could improve its operations by having more flexibility and freedom in management.

1974 – The Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce’s float had participants portraying Hindu mythology of Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi.

1974 – Probably one of the “strangest” float designs ever, but it was clear that the new nation needed to boost productivity and enhance efficiency and effectiveness. The National Productivity Board (NPB) was set up in 1972 under the Ministry of Labour for this purpose.

1975 – In the 10th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, a float was created by a local Chinese opera troupe and participated in the National Day Parade.

1975 – The float of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board (SFPPB) was simple in design yet bold and clear in its “Two is Enough” message.

1980 – The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) was formed in 1974 for the long term planning of Singapore’s land usage. Its float, consisted of several iconic skyscrapers, promoted the importance of a well-planned city in the eighties.

1980 – A national confederation of trade unions, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was formed in 1961. Its float here displayed the Chinese wordings of “Marching into the Eighties”.

1980 – The float by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) probably would not win any prizes in design but it did carry an encouraging message of “Better Homes for a Better Life”.

1980 – The Sentosa Development Corporation’s (SDC) float displayed a cannon, representing one of its main attractions Fort Siloso, which was opened in Sentosa in 1974 as a military museum.

1980 – The National Courtesy Campaign kicked off in 1979, and was promoted here in a mock up double decker bus. Singapore had its first fleet of double decker buses in 1977. Meanwhile, iconic mascot Singa did not appear in the courtesy campaign until 1982.

1980 – The Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) was established in 1964, and as its slogan on the float implied, it would begin to leverage on technology to automate and computerise its port operations in the eighties.

1980 – The Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) was formed in 1974 as a statutory board to manage and administrate all the domestic and international telecommunications of Singapore.

1982 – Established in 1963, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) had been advocating the conservation and usage of water in Singapore.

1982 – Singapore’s fast progress in the early eighties was likened to a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), conceptualised here as the design of the float. The MRT would become a reality for Singapore when it officially operationalised in 1987.

1982 – A unique float designed in the shape of a giant red clog. Clogs were once popular footwear in Singapore, especially among the hawkers, housewives and residents living in Chinatown, where many clog shops flourished.

1984 – The People’s Association’s (PA) float commemorated Singapore’s 25 Years of Nation Building (1959-1984).

1984 – Private organisations also sponsored floats to participate in the procession, as shown here in a smurf-themed float by Cardinal Points Pte Ltd. It proved to be popular among the kids.

1984 – This unique float by the Handicraft Centre won the Most Creative Float award.

1987 – The national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) started in 1972 after the split and cease of the former Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). Its logo of a golden bird spreading its wings has since become a renowned symbol of SIA.

1987 – Raffles City, the new landmark opened in 1986, consisted of a shopping complex,  hotel, offices and a large convention centre.

1987 – The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) was formed in 1984 as a regulator of civilian air traffic and also to promote Singapore as an international air and aviation hub.

1991 – The Public Works Department (PWD) was a long-time government agency in-charge of public infrastructure projects. It was incorporated in 1999 and become CPG Corporation today.

1991 – The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) was set up in 1987 for the train operations and maintenance. The MRT system was widely accepted by the public, and by the early nineties, more new stations were opened at the extended North-South and East-West lines.

1991 – The Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) proudly displayed the wordings “World’s No. 1 Container Port” on its float. Indeed, a year earlier, its annual throughput had reached 5.2 million TEUs (cargo capacity term of “twenty-foot equivalent unit”), helping Singapore to become the busiest container port in the world.

A happy 56th birthday to Singapore!

Photo Credit: All photos are sourced from the Ministry of Information and The Arts (MITA) via the National Archives of Singapore.

Published: 9 August 2021

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The Small Quiet HDB Estate of Lorong Lew Lian

The small quiet neighbourhood of Lorong Lew Lian today is located near the meeting point of three old major roads – Upper Serangoon Road, Upper Paya Lebar Road and Yio Chu Kang Road. Also known as Upper Serangoon (or Hougang) 5 milestone (gor kok jio in Hokkien or ngoh kok jio in Teochew), this area was previously a large Teochew cemetery called kwong yik sua (广义山), under the ownership and management of Ngee Ann Kongsi.

A small village called Kampong Lew Lian, made up of dozens of attap and wooden shacks, existed at the edge of the cemetery. There were also several funeral parlours, small temples and clan associations around the cemetery. One of the prominent ones was Nanyang Neo Clan Association, who had their clan temple built at Kampong Lorong Lew Lian in 1928.

In 1974, Nanyang Neo Clan Association moved to Kovan Road after the lands of Kampong Lew Lian were acquired by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for public housing development.

Off Upper Serangoon Road, a dirt track of the same name led to Kampong Lew Lian. It lied right behind the former Paya Lebar Police Station. Built in the 1930s, its colonial office and quarter buildings were demolished and gave way in 2017 to a new condominium named Forest Woods.

Despite its close proximity to the police station, Kampong Lew Lian appeared in the wrong headlines in the fifties after a couple of high profile murder and armed robbery cases.

It is assumed that Kampong Lew Lian (and later Lorong Lew Lian) and the neighbouring Lorong Ong Lye were named after durian and pineapple (lew lian and ong lye mean durian and pineapple in Hokkien), two of the locals’ favourite fruits. But it remains questionable if there were ever durian and pineapple plantations in the vicinity in the past. In Singapore, other than Kampong Lew Lian and Lorong Lew Lian (and Lew Lian Vale, a minor road adjacent to Lorong Lew Lian), there is also a Jalan Durian at Pulau Ubin.

Kampong Lew Lian grew modestly in the fifties, while the dirt track of Kampong Lew Lian was upgraded in 1957 to a proper road. It was then renamed Lorong Lew Lian, and served as a short linkage between Upper Serangoon Road and Paya Lebar Road (present-day Upper Paya Lebar Road) via Lorong Ong Lye.

A larger Paya Lebar Village was located on the opposite side of Kampong Lew Lian, divided by Paya Lebar Road. After the war, Kampong Lew Lian enjoyed a peaceful period of 20 years, but several development projects were slowly inching towards it. By the late sixties and early seventies, the private residential estates of Barley Rise Estate and Wonder Grove had been built a short distance away from the kampong and cemetery.

There was also a row of shophouses built at Lorong Lew Lian. It was made up of shops, eateries and a well-known beauty parlour with a vintage signage hanged at the entrance of its doorway. Together with the police station, the shophouses were torn down in 2017 and replaced by the new Forest Woods condominium.

The end of Kampong Lew Lian eventually came in the mid-seventies, when the Housing and Development Board (HDB) decided to build a housing estate at Lorong Lew Lian. It would be the first HDB estate in the vicinity, and the only HDB estate in the former Paya Lebar constituency in the seventies.

The construction of the Lorong Lew Lian flats began in February 1976, with almost 1,000 units and shops housed in eight HDB blocks, numbered 1 to 8. The blocks were completed one-and-a-half year later, and a balloting ceremony was officiated by Tan Cheng San, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Paya Lebar, in June 1977. It was the 31st ballot for the sale of flats since HDB started the Home Ownership Scheme, in which the lower income groups were able to pay their homes through their savings in the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

The Lorong Lew Lian flats’ 99-year leases kicked off in May 1978. More than four decades have since passed.

Despite the development, some remnants of Kampong Lew Lian stayed on into the early eighties – there were still nine inhabited Kampong Lew Lian houses by 1982, causing some confusion to the postal services where postmen mixed up their deliveries between the similar Lorong Lew Lian and Kampong Lew Lian addresses.

Aimed at making Lorong Lew Lian a self-sufficient estate, many public amenities were added shortly after the completion of the flats, including a kindergarten (in 1978), a community centre (between Block 2 and 3) and a public basketball court (also in 1978) to promote a healthy lifestyle for the youths.

Rows of shops at the first floors of the blocks provided convenience for the residents of Lorong Lew Lian, although many of them, at the start, still preferred to visit the nearby Lim Tua Tow Road market and shops for their daily purchase of groceries.

Today, one of the estate’s oldest shop tenants is Lim’s Dentist, whose appearance looks particularly nostalgic with its old-fashioned signage, gates, floor tiles and chairs.

The Chinese cemetery, on the other hand, was acquired in 1981 by HDB for further public housing development. The tombs were exhumed, with many of the remains transferred and interred at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

By the late eighties, the cemetery was cleared and its site was used for the construction of another cluster of HDB flats, numbered 401 to 427. Completed in 1988, these flats were zoned under Serangoon Central.

The Lorong Lew Lian flats underwent an upgrading exercise in 1994 and the housing estate became known as Lew Lian Gardens.

In November 1995, the national campaign of Clean and Green Week was launched, and during one of the Tree Planting Day events, several species of durian trees were planted at Lorong Lew Lian. Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and other ministers and MPs were invited to plant the durian saplings around the housing estate.

The planted durian trees have since grown tall and are still around today, reminding us of this neighbourhood’s unique name and heritage.

Published: 6 August 2021

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Goodbye to the Iconic Landmarks of Shaw Tower and Liang Court

The downtown area saw a couple of changes this year with the demolition and redevelopment of long-time landmarks in Shaw Tower (also known as Shaw Towers) and Liang Court.

Shortly after Singapore’s independence, particularly in the seventies, it was an era of rapid development. Dozens of new multi-million buildings and skyscrapers were springing up at the downtown and city areas, including the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) building, United Industrial Corporation (UIC) building, Robina House, Shenton House, Shing Kuang House (at Shenton Way), Hong Leong Building, Central Provident Fund (CPF) building (at Robinson Road), United Overseas Bank (UOB) building (at Raffles Place), Chung Khiaw Bank building (at Cecil Street), Straits Trading building, Cecil House (at Battery Road), Peace Centre (at Selegie Road) and Textile Centre (at Jalan Sultan).

One set of buildings particularly caught the eye due to their daring Brutalist architectural designs. Built between the early and mid-seventies, they were the Golden Mile Complex, People’s Park Complex and Shaw Tower.

Upon its completion in 1975 at a cost of $36 million, Shaw Tower was one of the tallest buildings in Singapore, standing at 36 storeys and 134m tall. The record was short-lived though, as it was broken a year later with the completion of the 198m-tall OCBC Centre.

Owned by the Shaw Organisation, Shaw Tower became a well-known landmark at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road with its waffle-like appearance. After the nineties, with the rise of internet, its appearance reminded people of a block of ethernet ports.

But just two years after its completion, the Business Times reported that Shaw Organisation was looking to sell Shaw Tower for $60 million. The Capitol Building, another property owned by the organisation, was also put up for sale but without success.

Shaw Tower consisted of a double-storey podium made up of 242 units for shops, coffee houses and restaurants. It also housed two popular cinemas – Jade and Prince Theatres – which were located on different levels and at the opposite ends of the building.

The 1,952-seat Prince Theatre – its original name was Pearl Theatre – had the largest cinema hall in Singapore. It mainly screened popular movies, whereas the smaller 844-seat Jade Theatre was used for the release of new movies. In 1976, the newly-opened Prince Theatre screened Jaws, one of the biggest US blockbuster movies during that time. It raked in a record $940,000 in just 74 days.

Both Jade and Prince Theatres enjoyed their best periods in the eighties, with almost 9,000 patrons visiting both cinemas each day. However, by the late eighties, the cinemas began to lose their popularity. Hence, in 1988, in order to give the cinema-goers a wider choice of movies and also to prevent the large cinema halls from having too many empty seats, both Jade and Prince Theatres were split into two smaller cinemas, called Jade 1 and 2, and Prince 1 and 2.

But stiff competition from emerging new cinemas in the nineties continued to chip away the businesses of Jade and Prince Theatres. After having their ownership changed several times, Prince Theatre was eventually shut down in 2008 and was leased out to churches for holding religious events. Jade Theatre, on the other hand, was acquired by Indian cinema chain Carnival Cinemas in 2017.

In 2018, the tenants of Shaw Tower were alerted of the building’s redevelopment plan. By mid-2020, most of the tenants had moved out, and the 45-year-old landmark began its demolition process. A new Shaw Tower, 35-storey and 200m tall, is expected to be erected at the original site by 2024.

Another downtown’s landmark that was recently demolished was Liang Court at Clarke Quay. Opened in 1984, the complex with the iconic brownish twin towers by the Singapore River were a mixture of hotels, service apartments, offices, department stores, supermarkets, restaurants and lifestyle shops.

Catering largely to Japanese expatriates and the Japanese community in Singapore, there had been numerous Japanese shops and restaurants at Liang Court over the years, including the likes of Kinokuniya and Meidi-ya. But Liang Court’s first anchor tenant was the immensely popular Japanese department store and supermarket Daimaru, which was opened two months prior to the complex’s official opening.

Towering over the mall were the 25-storey twin towers used as hotel and service apartments, called Hotel New Otani and Liang Court Regency respectively.

Entering the millennium, with many other shopping and mixed complexes established in Singapore, Liang Court was increasingly facing competition and pressure. Hotel New Otani was then sold and became Accor Hotels (later renamed Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay), whereas Liang Court Regency became known as Somerset Liang Court Singapore. The mall also changed ownership several times, in 1999, 2006 and 2019. Daimaru could not survive, closing down in 2003 and exiting the Singapore market.

Long-time tenant Kinokuniya eventually closed in 2019, while the rest of Liang Court’s tenants – shops, hotel and service apartments – ceased their operations by April 2020. The entire Liang Court complex was torn down in July 2021, making way for a new development called Canninghill Piers, a residential-and-commercial complex expected to be ready by 2024.

Published: 23 July 2021

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Remnants of Singapore’s Lost Roads – Boh Sua Tian Road

Along Yio Chu Kang Road once existed a Boh Sua Tian Road that extended into the rural parts of Seletar. The road was named after the nearby wireless station, which was formerly owned by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Seletar in the fifties and sixties. The name boh sua tian (无线电) means wireless in Hokkien and Teochew.

A Yio Chu Kang Village, also known as Kampong Boh Sua Tian, once existed at Yio Chu Kang Road 10th milestone (near the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Boh Sua Tian Road) as early as the 1930s. The large village, having a postal code of 28, was a bustling and self-sufficient one made up of hundreds of residents, attap and wooden houses, provision shops, vegetable and pig farms, durian orchards and fish ponds.

At the other end of Boh Sua Tian Road was another kampong called Kampong Pengkalan Petai, a Malay village that was located along Sungei Seletar (developed into Lower Seletar Reservoir in the late eighties).

In 1958, the Singapore Auxiliary Fire Services held its first fire-fighting course at Kampong Boh Sua Tian. The aim was to teach the residents of the safety measures such as fire prevention, as well as the methods of using fire extinguishers, water and sand buckets to fight fires. The course was also launched at other villages at Sembawang, Changi, Jurong, Bukit Panjang and Pasir Panjang.

A People’s Action Party (PAP) branch, named the Jalan Kayu-Boh Sua Tian Sub-branch, was opened in 1966 to serve the communities living between Boh Sua Tian Road and Jalan Kayu.

Boh Sua Tian Road was further developed in the seventies. It became longer and was branched off to other roads – mostly dirt tracks – named Lorong Gemilap, Lorong Anchak, Lorong Jirak, Lorong Andong, Lorong Selangin and Lorong Hablor.

At its peak, Boh Sua Tian Road was home to numerous community centres, temples and schools, such as Sin Cheng Chinese School and Kong Hwa Chinese School. A Seletar Sewage Treatment Works was also installed at the junction of Boh Sua Tian Road and Lorong Andong in the seventies.

Like many other villages in Singapore, Kampong Boh Sua Tian also faced various issues such as poorly maintained roads, defective street lights, illegally dumped rubbish, clogged drains as well as gang fights and harassments. The history of the village eventually came to an end with the development of the Central Expressway (CTE). With the lands of their home acquired by the government, many of the residents, by the early eighties, had moved to nearby flats at Seletar Hills and Ang Mo Kio. Lorong Gemilap, the access road to the village, was expunged in 1988.

yio chu kang village house 1980s

In 1984, the expansion project for the Lower Seletar Reservoir resulted in many trucks and heavy vehicles taking their daily routes via Boh Sua Tian Road. Due to the intensive usage of the road, Boh Sua Tian Road was filled with potholes, causing inconvenience to the remaining residents still living in the vicinity.

The first phase of the massive CTE project (between Yio Chu Kang Road and Bukit Timah Road) was completed in 1989, after which the development of the expressway was continued to be linked to the Seletar Expressway (SLE) and Tampines Expressway (TPE). In 1990, the direct link between SLE and CTE was officially opened for traffic.

Boh Sua Tian Road remained accessible in the early nineties, with an underpass constructed at the slip roads to the expressway. But by 1995, the road and its accompanying network of minor roads and tracks were closed to vehicular access and erased from the official maps. Their locations are now occupied by the interchange between the three expressways (CTE, SLE and TPE).

Today, a short remnant stretch of Boh Sua Tian Road (and the underpass) still exists, albeit forgotten over the years, under the slip roads (from Yio Chu Kang Road to CTE) and Yio Chu Kang Flyover.

Published: 30 June 2021

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