Coming to the End of Jurong Road

Built in the 19th century, Jurong Road was the oldest road in the western part of Singapore. According to the Monthly Progress Report by the Municipal Engineer in 1886, Jurong Road was largely a rural road with only sections of it covered with proper gravelling.

Stretching over 10 miles (16km) long, Jurong Road was home to many former kampongs, including the westernmost Tuas Village. For over a century, it remained as the main route to Singapore’s undeveloped western side.

In the sixties, Jurong underwent massive industrialisation. Factories and roads were constructed, but Jurong Road continued to play a role until it was replaced in the early eighties by the Pan-Island Expressway’s (PIE) new extension opened between Jalan Anak Bukit and Corporation Road.

The westernmost section of Jurong Road was renamed Upper Jurong Road in 1960. Its continuous route eventually came to an end in the eighties and nineties due to the extension of PIE and the development of Housing and Development Board (HDB) new towns in Bukit Batok, Jurong East and Jurong West. The long Jurong Road was broken up and certain sections of it were expunged for new road networks within the new towns.

At its eastern end, a short section of Jurong Road between Upper Bukit Timah Road and Jalan Jurong Kechil was realigned in the late sixties. The original stretch, renamed Old Jurong Road, managed to survive till this day.

The Jurong Road between Corporation Road and Jurong Town Hall Road was another stretch that had escaped redevelopment for decades, but its existence finally came to an end when it was officially closed to traffic on 27 September 2020.

This stretch of Jurong Road was formerly home to numerous villages such as Hong Kah Village, Kampong Ulu Jurong, Kampong Sungei Jurong, Kampong Ulu Pandan and Ong Lee Village. It also had a Chinese cemetery called Bulim Cemetery. Small roads and tracks, located along the road, led to the inner areas mostly occupied by farms, plantations and schools.

Most of the villages were demolished in the eighties and nineties, with its residents relocated to the newly built HDB towns. Bulim Cemetery was exhumed in the mid-nineties; its site is now redeveloped into a small industrial estate.

The entire area became a forested training ground for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), where public access was prohibited. The network of inner roads, including Lorong Pacheh, Kian Hong Road, Sing Nan Road, Hong Kah Drive, Lorong Putek, Jalan Dedali, Lorong Kerubut and many others, quietly vanished into the history.

As for this stretch of Jurong Road, over the years, it became a forgotten road that were only occasionally used by drivers to avoid the jam in PIE. Bus 174 was the only bus service plying this route.

In 2016, the government announced the development of Tengah New Town, which is expected to consist of five housing districts (Plantation, Park, Garden, Brickland and Forest Hill) with 42,000 homes.

After its closure, Jurong Road will be expunged in the near future to be replaced by the new town’s road network. In addition, a new road interchange will be built at the junction of PIE and Jurong Canal Drive by 2027, providing the Tengah residents a direct link to the expressway.

Published: 01 October 2020

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The Story of “The Cattle King” and his Karikal Mahal Palace

When wealthy Indian cattle merchant Moona Kadir (Kader) Sultan (1863-1937) built his mansion Karikal Mahal at East Coast Road in 1917, it was one of the grandest private residences in Singapore. It was named after his birthplace and native town Karikal (Karaikal) in South India, which was, at that time, a French colony.

An impoverished Kadir Sultan came to Singapore in 1879 as a 16-year-old teenager to seek his fortune. He worked hard at the wharves, earning only about $3 a month, before saving enough to start a small money changing business. Years later, Kadir Sultan managed to venture into cattle trading and established the Straits Cattle Trading Company. From there, his business grew rapidly as he monopolised the trade by buying out his competitors. Kadir Sultan became famously known as “The Cattle King” in Singapore.

30 years of hard work and astute business sense saw Kadir Sultan accumulated a vast fortune. At 54 years old, he built his $500,000 seaside palace Karikal Mahal, housing his many wives and children (six sons and five daughters). It was one of the most exquisite residences in Singapore, consisting of two double-storey Victorian-style buildings, designed with elaborated Corinthian columns, arches and facades, with a breathtaking unobstructed view of the sea.

The Municipal president once jokingly told Kadir Sultan that he should name his grand residence Kambing Mahal instead, due to the expensive meat he was selling. As a respected community leader among the local Indian Muslims, Kadir Sultan was conferred a Justice of Peace. In 1925, he was also awarded with the prestigious Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur by the French government for his charitable acts in Malaya and Karaikal.

Now one of the wealthiest men in Singapore, Kadir Sultan had achieved the “high society” status usually dominated by the Europeans. Prominent political and business figures were often invited to Kadir Sultan’s garden parties at Karikal Mahal, including the retirement and farewell party organised for Captain A. R. Chancellor, the Inspector-General of Police, in 1922.

In 1924, an extravagant wedding was held at Karikal Mahal for Kadir Sultan’s eldest son Mohamed Yusoff, attended by hundreds of distinguished guests from the European, Eurasian, Chinese, Muslim, Indian and Ceylonese communities. His other sons also had grand weddings at Karikal Mahal, but these extravagances began to drain Kadir Sultan’s fortune.

At the same time, his company was facing stiff competition from the Europeans, who had also entered the cattle and meat businesses. To make things worse, Kadir Sultan’s staff were implicated in a murder case in 1933. They had assaulted and killed Fazal Shah, an employee of the rivaling Malayan Live Stock Company, at Kandang Kerbau Market (present-day Tekka Market).

A family tragedy happened in 1936 when Kadir Sultan’s eldest son Mohamed Yusoff committed suicide. In the same year, Kadir Sultan himself landed in deep debts and was made a bankrupt. His prized Karikal Mahal was seized and put up for sale to offset his debts. A dejected Kadir Sultan fell into illness and returned to India, where he died as a poor man in his native Karaikal in 1937, at an age of 74.

In 1939, the former Karikal Mahal became the headquarters and clubhouse of the Malayan Magic Circle, formed in 1935 for performing magic shows to the British military and other organisations in Singapore and Johore. But as the war approached, the club had to give up the clubhouse, selling off its furniture and other fittings to raise funds.

During the Second World War, the premises of Karikal Mahal was one of the defensive stations used by the Volunteer Corp to defend the beaches stretching from Tanjong Rhu to Siglap. However, after the Fall of Singapore, the buildings were instead used by the Japanese to hold internees after they had rounded up the local European community. Under the detention, the internees produced newspapers to share information which later became known as the Karikal Chronicle.

After the war, the dilapidated buildings were renovated into a 20-room hotel called Grand Hotel. It opened in 1947, marketing itself as a high end seafront hotel with a short walking distance to the seaside. The ownership of the hotel was later taken over by the Lee Rubber Group.

In 1973, due to the land reclamation in the vicinity, Still Road was extended – the extension was named Still Road South. The nearby coastline was altered hundreds of metres southwards, which meant that Grand Hotel was no longer a seafront hotel.

Meanwhile, the hospitality business had not been a consistent profitable business for the Lee Rubber Group. Grand Hotel was eventually closed in 2000, and part of its premises was converted into a temporary storage place for unwanted furniture.

In early 2009, the former premises of Karikal Mahal were put on the conservation list by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) as part of the preservation efforts for the Katong area.

In 2016, the buildings were given a new lease of life when they were leased to Busy Bees, a British childcare provider founded in 1983. Busy Bees spent $5 million to renovate the buildings, and converted them into the Odyssey The Global Preschool and Pat’s Schoolhouse.

The legend of “The Cattle King” may be forgotten over the time, but his legacy lives on with the splendid buildings he had built a century ago.

Published: 21 September 2020

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Back Then When Jurong’s Drive-In Cinema Was All The Rage

Although it was eventually cancelled, the drive-in movie screening at Downtown East has gotten many movie lovers excited. The screening originally scheduled on 8 August 2020 was sold out. The news did, however, bring back fond memories of the good old Jurong Drive-In cinema to many Singaporeans of the older generations.

The seventies was a period of rapid industrialisation for Singapore. The standard of living was improving, and people were looking for better entertainment. Movies had always been one of the favourite leisure and entertainment means for the locals, with many big and small cinemas set up at the city, suburban and even the rural parts of the country. But a drive-in cinema was a novelty. Attending a movie in a car with friends or loved ones was a trendy idea among the younger crowds.

Cathay Organisation adopted the drive-in cinema idea from other countries such as the United States and Australia. In the early seventies, it leased a 5.6-hectare (56,000 square metres) site, located off Yuan Ching Road and near the Japanese Garden, from the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC). Construction of the cinema, estimated to be $3 million in cost, began in early 1971.

A giant screen of 30.5m by 14.3m was set up at the site, installed at a height of 7.6m and tilted at 6.5 degree for the best visual experience. At the carpark lots were mounted stands of 880 speakers to accommodate up to 900 cars, with a maximum of five passengers per car including the driver. In addition, the cinema also allowed 300 people for its walk-in open-air gallery, bringing its capacity to a maximum of 4,800.

Opened on 14 July 1971 by the former Minister for Culture Jek Yeun Thong (1930-2018), the first movie, a 1970 British comedy called “Doctor in Trouble”, was almost a sell-out with 880 cars and 300 walk-in audience packed into the premises.

The Big Boss, the popular Hong Kong martial art film starring Bruce Lee, was even a bigger hit. When it was screened at the end of 1971, Jurong Drive-In Cinema was full almost every night.

Subsequently, throughout the seventies, the cinema mostly put up popular English movies from the United States and Britain as well as the Hong Kong kungfu flicks and action-packed films. The tickets were priced at $2 and $1 for the adults and children respectively, and the movies were shown at the 7pm, 930pm and midnight slots.

Sitting inside the comfort of the cars, with the movies’ audio piped in from the speakers, and munching the kacang puteh and drinks from the mobile vendors was a treat to many movie lovers.

There were, however, problems in the drive-in cinema concept. First of all, Singapore’s tropical climate meant that it could be warm and humid at night, and even more stuffy and unbearable inside the cars. Not every cars of the seventies were equipped with aircon; even if they were, it would be a heavy strain on the cars’ compressors for their aircons to run for two hours while the vehicles remained stationary.

On the other head, during rainy nights, the splashes on the cars’ windscreens made it difficult to watch the movies. The switching on of the windscreen wipers might led to the overheating and burning out of the cars’ ignition systems.

For the popular films, there were often long queues of cars entering the premises, leading to the delays of the movie screenings. Sometimes, gatecrashers added to the disorderliness and chaos. Due to these issues, Cathay Organisation’s plans to open more drive-in cinemas in Singapore never really took off.

Jurong’s Drive-in Cinema enjoyed a decade of popularity and profitability. By the early eighties, however, the fortune started to decline for the cinema. Modern cinemas with affordable ticket prices sprung up in the new towns. Movie piracy and illegal video tapes were also rampant. Moreover, the audience were spoilt for choices with the better programs on TV. And to make things worse, the large drive-in cinema site was often illegally used for car and motorbike racing in the middle of the night after the shows ended.

by 1981, the novelty and popularity of the drive-in cinema had clearly faded, with only 50 to 200 cars at each movie screened, a far cry from its packed days during the seventies. Cathay Organisation tried all means to revive the cinema’s fortune, giving free gifts and offering cheaper ticket prices, but to no avail.

By the mid-eighties, the company decided not to renew the lease and return the site to JTC. Finally, on 30 September 1985, the movies were screened for the last time, and the one and only drive-in cinema in Singapore was closed for good.

After the closure of the cinema, the site was taken over by Fairway Country Club. There were proposals to convert the site into a golf course, but the plans did not materialise. Today, the area is home to the new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats of Taman Jurong.

Published: 15 September 2020

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Jalan Benaan Kapal – A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Singapore’s Ship Repair Industry

Futsal enthusiasts would be familiar with Jalan Benaan Kapal. But for others, even those who frequently visit the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Leisure Park Kallang or Decathlon (Kallang), it is easy to miss this quiet stretch of road.

Jalan Benaan Kapal was constructed in the mid-sixties, located at the edge of the former premises of old Kallang Airport. On its opposite, separated by Sungei Geylang, were Kampong Kayu Road and Kampong Arang Road, an area well-known for  their charcoal/firewood businesses and twakows/tongkangs repair shops between the fifties and eighties.

In the early sixties, the Singapore government planned to expand the shipbuilding, ship repair and marine engineering industries. Sungei Geylang, with its suitable width and depth, was one of the choices for the upcoming industry. The former Kallang Airport had closed in 1955, and the vicinity had been converted into a recreation park reserved for future redevelopments.

In 1963, a section of the Kallang Park, along Sungei Geylang, was made available. Within a couple of years, some 22 shipyards and 19 workshops of various sizes set up their businesses here. A road called Jalan Benaan Kapal – its name means “ship building road” (kapal refers to ship and benaan (binaan) is construction in Malay) – was built to provide better accessibility to the firms and its workers. The area also became known as the Shipyard Row.

In 1967, local ship repair and engineering giant Eagle Engineering Co. Ltd invested in a new dry dock and slipway at Jalan Benaan Kapal. Designed and constructed by local engineers and technicians, the dock and slipway could accommodate ships of up to 200ft (61m) in length and 1,000 DWT (dead weight tonnage), and enable repair works to be carried out in dry conditions. Opened by former Finance Minister Lim Kim San, the new facilities were hailed as a major milestone in Singapore’s progress in the ship repair and marine industry.

Beside their $500,000 investment in the dry dock and slipway, and a further $1 million in new machinery, Eagle Engineering also built two $150,000 buildings at Jalan Benaan Kapal. This equipped their 300 workers to operate round the clock for the ship inspections, servicing and repair works. Just a month after the completion of the dry slipway, the company received their first customers for ship inspection and servicing. They were the Slamet Tiga, a 840 DWT Norwegian tanker, and La Ponda, a 667 DWT Indonesian cargo vessel.

The thriving industry and large number of workers meant that food would be in great demand. Hence, by the late sixties and early seventies, Jalan Benaan Kapal was lined by rows of street hawkers selling various kinds of local food and drinks. The increasing poor hygienic conditions and clogged drains at Jalan Benaan Kapal became a concern, prompting the Public Health Division to send officers there to educate the hawkers in proper food waste disposal.

A small canteen also emerged to cater for the daily needs of the shipyard workers. Built in 1968, it has 10 stalls offering drinks, noodles, nasi lemak, mee rebus and others. The small food venue, popularly known as Jalan Benaan Kapal Hawker Centre, continues to survive today. Seems to be forgotten in the passage of time, the food centre is among some of the remnants left behind after the industry in the vicinity had closed and relocated in the mid-eighties.

Besides concerns of poor hygienic conditions, safety and security were also issues for the companies at Jalan Benaan Kapal. Break-ins were not uncommon, and news of thefts often hit the headlines in the newspapers. In 1973, there was also a serious explosion incident at one of the warehouses, resulting in one death and a dozen injuries. The incident was investigated and later determined to be caused by illegal explosives brought in by one of the coppersmiths, ruling out a work-related safety lapse.

Jalan Benaan Kapal’s ship repair firms, in the early seventies, came under the management of the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) which was branched out from the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1968 as a specialist agency for Singapore’s industralisation.

In the mid-seventies, however, the shipyards were concerned by the government’s plan to link Tanjong Rhu to the City, which would cut off Kallang Basin from the sea and turn it into a storage reservoir. The authority even went to the extend to study the feasibility of a drawbridge in order not to disrupt the maritime traffic at the basin and Kallang and Geylang Rivers.

But the uncertainty was enough to put many Jalan Benaan Kapal companies to shelf their expansion plans, as a low level bridge or link between Tanjong Rhu and the city area would block the larger vessels from entering the Kallang Basin and their facilities. Prior to the rumours, several shipyards at Jalan Benaan Kapal had planned to upgrade their docks to accommodate ships of up to 2,000 DWT.

The link did take place in 1981 in the shape of the tall majestic Benjamin Sheares Bridge, part of the East Coast Parkway (ECP), that connect Tanjong Rhu to the city. The once narrow strip of Tanjong Rhu was vastly expanded through land reclamation in the seventies, allowing the construction of the ECP. At the site of the former Kallang Airport runway, a new National Stadium was constructed and completed in 1973, making Kallang a major sporting venue in Singapore.

But it was not the bridge nor the nearby redevelopment projects that led to the downfall of the ship repair industry at Jalan Benaan Kapal. In the late seventies, the Singapore Government embarked on a massive project to clean up the polluted water passageways in the city area, including the Singapore River, Kallang Basin and Sungei Geylang.

The charcoal and firewood trading firms and bumboat repair workshops at Tanjong Rhu, which had flourished for more than two decades, were among the first to be affected. Due to their heavy pollution to the Geylang River, they had to be phased out and demolished.

The Jalan Benaan Kapal ship repair companies, on the other hand, were given the choice to merge into larger shipyards, so that they could pool the resources and reinvent themselves with cleaner and more efficient work systems that comply to the Ministry of Environment’s new set of stringent anti-pollution measures. Otherwise, they would have to be relocated to other sites at Jurong, Woodlands or Senoko.

The companies – many of them were family businesses – rejected the merger proposal in 1982. As their leases would be expiring in mid-1983, some agreed to relocate their trades to the new premises at Penjuru Lane, along Sungei Jurong. Others chose to cease their operations and shut down the businesses. By the mid-eighties, the glorious days of Jalan Benaan Kapal’s Shipyard Row were no more.

What were left behind are the little hawker centre, shophouses and the former buildings of warehouses and workshops. In the mid-2000s, the vacant buildings were given a new lease of life. Named The Cage, they were refurbished, painted with bright colours and converted into futsal courts.

Since then, many young futsal lovers have visited this place and utilised the facilities, but perhaps only a few will know that Jalan Benaan Kapal was once the pioneering ship repair and servicing hub of Singapore.

Published: 07 September 2020

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Reminiscing the Days of Steamboats, Bowling and Arcade at Marina South

For many of those who were youths in the nineties and 2000s would probably remember Marina South fondly. It was a popular and fun place of BBQ and seafood steamboats, bowling, snooker and 24-hour arcade, before its transformation into a highly-rated tourist destination today, made up of integrated resort, hotel, casino and giant steel trees.

Marina’s transformations underwent three stages. Originally a body of water, the area was reclaimed throughout the seventies and eighties, using earth and soil transported from Tampines and Bedok. By the mid-eighties, a 660-hectare (6.6 square kilometres) reclaimed site was created. The new piece of land was divided into Marina Centre, Marine East and Marina South. In 1992, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) launched the first detailed plan of land use for the Marina area.

Since 1985, Marina Centre was rapidly developed, with shopping malls (Marina Square, Suntec City, Millennia Walk) and hotels (Marina Mandarin, Pan Pacific Hotel, Mandarin Oriental) popping up in a matter of years. The opposite Marina East and Marina South, on the other hand, were turned into waterfront parks, although the longer term plans for them were to be developed into residences or places of interest.

Marina South in 1985 was the venue of the 2-day Singapore International Kite Festival, where teams from Singapore, China, Japan, France and six other countries showcased and competed their prized kites. Dozens of fanciful kites could be seen flying above the then-empty Marina South. Other events also held at Marina South included the Tree Planting Day (1986), Singapore Family Fitness Festival (1996) and Carnival at the Bay (2000).

In the late eighties, Marina South was part of a Singapore Entertainment Centre project, where it would have an entertainment complex, hotels and yacht club. The plan, however, did not succeed in taking off.

Instead, a small 30-hectare site at Marina South was converted into a park. Named Marina City Park, it was opened on the last day of 1990. Former Minister for Labour Lee Yock Suan was invited as the guest-of-honour for the opening of the park and unveiling of The Spirit of the Sculptural Fountain.

The park was supposed to last for a few years, as URA proposed a theme park development for Marina South in 1994. But the plan, once again, failed to materialise. Eventually Marina City Park existed for 17 years, before it was closed on 1 June 2007 to make way for the construction of the Gardens by the Bay, the new place of interest that opened in 2012 and continues to attract millions of visitorship each year.

In the following decade, Marina South largely remained as a leisure place for families, couples and friends. Roads leading into the area were built, and horticulture was regularly maintained with rows of planted trees, shrubs and landscaped plants. The large spacious fields were ideal for kite flying, picnics and other activities.

Steamboat restaurants, bowling alleys, snooker saloons, arcade centres and karaoke outlets were also established, becoming the main attractions of Marina South from the nineties to the mid-2000s. Marina Bay MRT Station was already opened since 1989, providing the ease of accessibility to the public who could alight at the MRT station and take a relax stroll to their destinations.

It was common to see many National Service (NS) boys who would book out on Saturdays and gather at Marina South to feast on the all-you-can-eat steamboat buffets. Offered by the likes of Chin Huat Live Seafood Restaurant, Chong Pang BBQ Seafood and Marina Seafood Restaurant, the cost of the buffets typically ranged between $10 and $15, an affordable and worthwhile meal where one could eat his fill. Never mind the hygienic conditions and litters, the outdoor dining areas were almost certain to be packed to the brim especially during the weekends.

The restaurants were also favourite late night supper venues for the clubbers and party-goers at the nearby Canto, a popular local Mandopop and Cantopop discotheque. Another group of frequent visitors were the car clubs and their members’ meetups at Marina South. In the later days, the roads exiting Marina South became a favourite road blocking checkpoints for the Traffic Police (TP) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) enforcement officers to intercept the street racers and their illegal car modifications.

It was time for the entertainment after the hearty steamboat dinners and suppers. The 24-hour arcades boasted the latest popular games such as Daytona, King of Fighters and Virtua Striker, where the competitive teens challenged each other all night long. Sometimes, the games ended in squabbles and, less commonly, fights.

Bowling was the focal activity at Marina South. There were two bowling alleys – Victor’s Superbowl and Superbowl Marina South. Both popular bowling alleys offered multiple lanes and could accommodate dozens of bowlers.

The Marina South bowling alleys were also the venues of the National Schools’ Bowling Championships as well as several international bowling events, such as the 1991 FIQ/WTBA (Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs/World Tenpin Bowling Association) World Championships and Santa Claus Open.

Like the other establishments at Marina South, due to the redevelopment plans, the two bowling alleys had to close in late 2007. That year was not a good year for local bowling enthusiasts – elsewhere in Singapore, the Cathay Bowl (The Grassroots’ Club), Pocket Bowl (Katong Shopping Centre), Plaza Bowl (Textile Centre) and Kim Seng Starbowl (Kim Seng Plaza) had also shut down.

The face of Marina South changed forever after 2008. The steamboat restaurants, bowling alleys and arcade centres were all demolished. The new landmarks in the vicinity are the Marina Barrage (2008), Marina Bay Sands (2010) and the Gardens by the Bay (2012) opened.

Although the entertainment establishments and restaurants of Marina South lasted only a relatively short period of time – slightly more than 10 years – they will forever be the fond memories for the youths of the nineties and 2000s.

Published: 19 August 2020

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Teachers’ Housing Estate – Then and Now

Located near the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Thomson Road, the small quiet neighbourhood of Teachers’ Housing Estate was first developed in 1967 by the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU), a teachers’ organisation that was established back in 1946.

The aim then was to provide the teachers in the sixties an opportunity to purchase their own homes within their income brackets. To make the houses affordable, a 20-acre site for the estate was chosen at the end of Yio Chu Kang Road (near Yio Chu Kang Road 12 Milestone), which was previously occupied by a Chinese kampong known as Hup Choon Kek (合春阁).

Taking charge of the housing project, it was difficult for STU at first, as it had no prior experience in managing housing projects and contractors. Moreover, the teachers would need loans in order to purchase the houses. For this, STU managed to negotiate with the Ministry of Finance to extend a $5 million loan to the teachers.

256 terrace houses at Teachers’ Estate were completed by 1968, and were available for prices between $23,000 and $25,000. Even for these “low” prices, as compared to other terrace houses in other parts of Singapore during the same era, they were still large sums of money for the teachers, whose average monthly salaries ranged between $325 and $690. Most of the teachers had to apply loans up to 80% of the houses’ asking prices. Eventually, more than 70% of the houses were sold to the teachers, while the remaining were put up for sale to the public.

The success of the Teachers’ Estate was well-received. In 1970, they even became one of the places in Singapore toured and studied by a Japanese delegation made up of union leaders and teachers.

By 1984, the STU planned to develop another similar teachers’ housing estate at Bukit Timah. There would be around 70 terrace houses, priced between $550,000 and $600,000, at the new site. The project, however, fell through when the developer sold the freehold land to other bidders.

In the late sixties and seventies, several kampongs, such as Yio Chu Kang Village (Yio Chu Kang Road), Hainan Village (Upper Thomson Road), Lak Shun (Lentor Drive) and Boh Sua Tian (Yio Chu Kang Road), existed near Teachers’ Estate.

As the teachers were teaching at the schools during the day time, they often depended on babysitters and washerwomen from these nearby villages. There were also no provision shops or markets at Teachers’ Estate; the nearest were the villages’ grocery stores. Sometimes, the residents would buy their groceries from mobile grocery vans that dropped by the housing estate.

The Yio Chu Kang Road of the sixties and seventies was narrower and more winding as compared to the road today. It was a dual carriageway of single lanes, flanked by wooden houses with zinc roofs on its both sides. The traffic was particularly busy at certain sections of Yio Chu Kang Road where the larger villages were located.

Due to the development of Ang Mo Kio New Town, Yio Chu Kang Road was realigned and widened in the early eighties. A short section of the road, located just beside the Teachers’ Estate, was retained and renamed Old Yio Chu Kang Road.

The Teachers’ Estate had its fair share of issues in the early seventies. As most of the teachers were out working during the daytime, their middle-class estate and houses became an attractive target for thieves and burglars. Break-ins were common, and many residents resorted to security alarm installation for their homes. Due to the frequent sounding of the alarms, the housing estate became commonly known as the “Whistling Estate”.

A row of double-storey shophouses were built at Teachers’ Estate in the seventies, providing some convenience to the residents. Minimarts and even Fitzpatrick’s, a popular supermarket chain, had their outlets opened here. The shophouses are still around today; they are currently made up of a bakery and confectionery shop, cafe, pet store and even a church.

In October 1971, former Education Minister Lim Kim San was invited for the official opening of a recreation park called Teachers’ Park at the estate.

At the same time, he also officiated the laying of the foundation stone for the new $2-million Teachers’ Centre. Located beside the park, it was a multi-purpose building designed with offices, hall, swimming pool, library, coffee house and an auditorium that allowed seminars and courses to be held regularly.

Part of the building fund for the Teachers’ Centre was collected through the monthly contributions by the teachers. Another portion of the amount was raised through a series of fund-raising campaigns in walkathon, trishaw rides and film premiers, organised by the teachers between 1971 and 1973.

The Teachers’ Centre lasted until the early 2010s, when it made way for a new 99-year leasehold private housing development called Poets Villas.

The most unique feature of Teachers’ Estate is the names of its inner roads. Named after famous poets, writers and philosophers in history, the roads’ names added a literary touch to the housing estate during its initial development. The roads are called:

  • Munshi Abdullah Avenue/Walk – Named after Munshi Abdullah (1797-1854), known as the father of Malay literature.
  • Omar Khayyam Avenue – Named after Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), a Persian poet and philosopher.
  • Kalidasa Avenue – Named after Kalidasa, a 4th-century Sanskrit writer regarded as one of the greatest in India.
  • Tagore Avenue – Named after Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali poet, writer and Nobel Prize winner in literature.
  • Iqbal Avenue – Named after Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), regarded as the national poet and spiritual father of Pakistan.
  • Tu Fu Avenue – Named after Du Fu (杜甫) (712-770), a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty.
  • Li Po Avenue – Named after Li Bai (李白) (701-762), who, together with Du Fu, was regarded one of the greatest Chinese poets.
  • Tung Po Avenue – Named after Su Dong Po (苏东坡) (1037-1101), a Chinese poet, writer and calligrapher of the Song Dynasty.

The Teachers’ Estate has largely remained the same quiet neighbourhood in the past decades despite the changes in its surroundings. Most of the nearby villages were gone by the eighties, and public flats and private condos began to pop up in the vicinity.

A little trivia happened in 1986, though, when numerous residents of the Teachers’ Estate got into a publicised row with the neighbouring Green Meadows Condominium. The flare-up was caused by the closure of a private access road, linking Upper Thomson Road to Tagore Avenue, by the condo management. The Teachers’ Estate residents had been using this access road as a shortcut to their homes, and its closure meant they would need to take a longer route, via Yio Chu Kang Road, to get home.

In 2004, the Teachers’ Housing Estate, being the oldest private estate in the Nee Soon South Division, was given an Estate Upgrading Program (EUP) funded by the government. The upgrading project cost about $1.2 million.

Published: 28 July 2020

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Adam Park and its WW2 Past

Adam Park was developed as early as the 1920s. Between 1925 and 1929, colonial houses were built at Adam Park by the municipal council as housing quarters for the senior officers in the British government. Three types of residences – type A, B and C – were built to accommodate the officers of different seniority. For the benefits of the residents, garages, outhouses and even tennis courts were also approved for construction by the municipality. A substation was erected in 1930 to provide electricity for the Adam Park area.

Adam Park, and the main Adam Road, were named after Frank Adam (c.1855-1925), the former managing director of The Straits Trading Company. Established in 1887, the company specialised in tin mining and had developed the Pulau Brani Tin Smelting Works. Frank Adam, a Scot, dealt with sugar business in Java before he arrived at Singapore in 1901. In the next 15 years, he worked his way up at Straits Trading Company, and retired in 1918. Frank Adam returned in 1923 as the chairman of the company, but retired again in the same year, and went back to Scotland for good.

In the late 1930s, the municipal government earmarked a $1 million budget to upgrade the road networks in Singapore. From the city area, the “inner” and “outer” rings of roads were connected to provide better accessibility to the suburban areas. Adam Road and Adam Park were part of the “outer” ring network, which were linked to Farrer Road, Lornie Road and Braddell Road.

The municipality also acquired four houses at Adam Park for $90,000 in early 1940, but war broke out two years later. The road-facing house, 7 Adam Park, was converted and functioned as the field headquarters of the 1st Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment. The battalion was stationed at Adam Park in February 1942, ordered to hold the defensive line against the invading Japanese army.

It was near Adam Park, at the intersection of Adam Road, Sime Road and Lornie Road, that saw one of the fiercest battles in Singapore during the Second World War. The intensive fighting was nicknamed “Hellfire Corner”, referenced after a famous battleground in First World War. It resulted in heavy casualties and several Adam Park houses damaged in the bombings. At 4pm on 15 February 1942, the Cambridgeshire Regiment battalion received a cease-fire order. The British had surrendered to the Japanese that evening.

Following the Fall of Singapore, Adam Park was used to house the prisoners-of-war (POWs). Between March 1942 and January 1943, some 1,000 British and 2,000 Australian POWs were locked up at the Adam Park POW Camp. Despite the hostile conditions, the POWs managed to have a small chapel, canteen and hospital at Adam Park. Many of them, however, were forced labourers, paid 10c per day, at the MacRitchie Reservoir for the construction of the Syonan Jinja shrine.

In late 1942, about 900 of the British and Australian POWs were sent to construct the Siam-Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway. Up to 250,000 Allied Forces’ POWs, captured in other regions, were shipped to construct the railway. An estimated 40 to 55% of the POWs did not survive the horrific working conditions filled with torture, hunger and malaria.

After the war, the municipal commissioners approved a $50,000 budget in 1948 for the repair of the damaged houses at Adam Park and other areas. But the area remained short of electrical supply and lighting in the early fifties.

In the late fifties, some of the vacant bungalows at Adam Park, Tanglin Road, Swiss Cottage Estate and Woodleigh Park were made available for rent to the senior officers of the Singapore City Council. Others were leased out to the highest bidders via public tenders. Over the years, various groups had also occupied the Adam Park houses, such as the Singapore Cage Bird Society, British High Commission and Asian Women’s Welfare Association. By the early seventies, the monthly rental fee of an Adam Park bungalow cost as much as $3,500.

Adam Park remained secluded over the decades but things began to change in its surroundings after the sixties. In the early seventies, the construction of the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and Adam Flyover cut it off from the nearby Adam Drive and Sime Road. A neighbouring kampong was cleared and demolished during the massive project, in which the Public Works Department (PWD) used explosives to blast open the rocks at the junction of Adam Road and Adam Drive.

In 1987, 7 Adam Park was refurbished and opened as the Guild House of the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS). It was NUSS’ fourth Guild House, after the ones at Dalvey Estate, Evans Road and Kent Ridge. It lasted until 2014, when the Adam Park Guild House was closed after NUSS opened their new Guild House at Suntec City.

Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper started the Adam Park Project in 2009, sponsored and contributed by many organisations such as the National Heritage Board (NHB), National University of Singapore (NUS), National Library of Singapore, National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Heritage Society. Through his years of researches and site surveys, more than 1,000 valuable artifacts of the Second World War have been unearthed and discovered. These included military badges, coins, Christian murals and even a counting-down calendar scribbled on a wall by a former POW.

Published: 15 July 2020

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The History of Singapore’s Night Soil Bucket System

The modern liveable city of Singapore today has a complete sanitation system supported by a network of sewers and water reclamation plants. Since 1997, Singapore has achieved 100% accessibility to the modern sanitation system.

Toilets of modern sanitation system used to be a luxurious amenity. They were usually fitted at the colonial houses, villas or office buildings in the city areas. But for the suburban and rural parts of Singapore, at the villages and shophouses, most of them were served by the night soil bucket system.

The night soil bucket system was not unique to Singapore. It was also commonly used in other parts of Asia and Europe. In Singapore, the history of night soil bucket system began in the 1890s. Before that, it was unregulated and largely depended on Chinese coolies to go around collecting faeces from houses and transporting them to plantations to be used as fertilisers. However, the wooden buckets storing the faeces often could not be sealed properly, resulting in seepage and stenchful situations.

To improve the situation, the municipal government passed a law in 1889 to restrict the operating hours of night soil collection. Two years later, they banned the wooden buckets, and replace them with galvanised iron buckets. Cesspits were also disallowed. House owners were instead required to place pails or jars on solid grounds for their excrement. Meanwhile, the municipal government also built more public toilets in the late 1890s.

By the turn of the new century, the municipal government wanted to implement a better sanitation system for Singapore. But the progress was slow and ineffective. In 1909, they hired G. Midgeley Taylor, a British sanitation engineer to design the new sewerage system. Robert Peirce (1863-1933), the British municipal engineer based in Singapore between 1901 and 1916, took Midgeley Taylor’s design and improved it further.

In the early 20th century, a treatment plant was built at Alexandra Road to extend a sewerage network to parts of the downtown area. The treated waters were eventually disposed into the Singapore River. As the new Alexandra Sewage Disposal Works served only a small portion of the municipality, the night soil bucket system had to be continued.

The Alexandra Sewage Disposal Works soon could not cope with the rapidly increasing population. An examination at the Singapore River showed that half of the discharge into the river was crude sewage. The Alexandra facility was later upgraded and expanded, but more installations were needed by the 1930s. A Municipal Sludge Disposal Works was built in the late 1930s at present-day Lorong Halus, along Sungei Serangoon.

In 1941, new pumping and disposal stations were built at Rangoon Road and Kim Chuan Road respectively, and sanitation systems were made available at Kampong Kapor, Kampong Java, Geylang, Katong, Siglap and parts of Bukit Timah and Balestier. During the Japanese Occupation, many prisoners-of-war (POWs) were forced by the Japanese to carry out the night soil collection.

After Singapore’s independence, the government rolled out the Sewerage Master Plan in the late sixties. Singapore was divided into six regions, including the Kranji, Bedok, Jurong and Seletar areas, where the sewage was collected and pumped to a centralised treatment station. The waste water was then treated according to international standards before being discharged into the sea.

In 1972, the Ministry of the Environment (ENV) was formed with the staff recruited from the Public Works Department (PWD) and Environmental Public Health Division. One of its main tasks was to greatly improve the efficiency in controlling the environmental health and pollution of Singapore.

Singapore of the seventies was still largely rural and unsewered. Under ENV, hundreds of night soil collection workers worked daily to clear the buckets from the villages and shophouses’ toilets. By the early eighties, additional sewage treatment plants were added and the sewerage network was massively extended. In more than two decades, $1.6 billion had been spent on the sewerage system to improve the living standards of Singapore.

Public health and hygiene were further enhanced through various other means. Thousands of street hawkers were relocated and housed at the hawker centres and markets. Slums and squatters, with their latrines hanging over the rivers, were cleared and demolished. Pig farming was phased out. A 10-year cleaning program, from 1977 to 1987, was also carried out at the once murky and foul-smelling Singapore River and Kallang Basin.

By 1984, almost 90% of Singapore had modern sanitation system. It was time for the night soil bucket system to be phased out. The night soil collection centres at Albert Street, Toh Tuck Road and Jalan Afifi (off Paya Lebar Road) were subsequently closed in the eighties. More than 15,000 night soil buckets were disposed of.

On 24 January 1987, Singapore’s last night soil collection centre, located at Lorong Halus, was officially shut down. As the century-old night soil bucket system walked into history, the remaining 78 night soil workers were redeployed as cleaners or retrenched. The famous night soil collection trucks, fondly known as the 32-door trucks, also vanished after plying on the roads of Singapore for decades.

At the closing ceremony of the Lorong Halus’ night soil collection centre, the last night soil bucket was cleaned and retained by the ENV as a reminder of Singapore’s obsolete night soil bucket system. It was also a tribute to the thousands of former workers who had contributed to Singapore’s public health and hygiene through this manual and laborious job. An replica of the night soil bucket is currently one of the exhibit items at the Sustainable Singapore Gallery at Marina Barrage.

Since 2000, the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) has been developed as Singapore’s new sewerage system in the 21st century. Managed by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), it will gradually replace Singapore’s existing sewerage network and waste treatment and disposal facilities, with the residential and industrial used water channeled through three main networks to the water reclamation plants at Changi, Tuas and Kranji.

Published: 7 July 2020

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The Old Gate at Jalan Selimang and the Legacy of the Former Cycle & Carriage Chairman

At the end of Jalan Selimang stand the old remnant of a gate made up of brick walls, wooden doors and a tiled roof. It was said that the gate was the former entrance to a grand seaside bungalow owned by Chua Boon Peng (1918-2005), the chairman of Cycle & Carriage from 1957 to 1985.

There is nothing left of the bungalow today, while the gate has been forgotten and hidden in the thick vegetation located between the Sembawang coastline and Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang.

Chua Boon Peng was a legendary figure in the local business realm. He clinched the Mercedes-Benz sole distributorship in Malaya, awarded by Germany’s Daimler-Benz, back in 1951, when Cycle & Carriage was still a small family business owned by the Chua family.

Cycle & Carriage started as Federal Stores, a sundries shop, in the late 19th century, and was renamed in 1899 as it ventured into the business of selling bicycles, motorbikes and cars. In the first half of the 20th century, Cycle & Carriage survived both the Great Depression and Second World War, and went on to expand and open branches at Orchard Road as well as Malaya’s Penang and Ipoh. But its biggest break was its successful deal of the Mercedes-Benz franchise that propelled the company to greater heights.

Chua Boon Peng became a extremely successful and well-respected businessman, and owned many properties at Oei Tiong Ham Park, Sembawang and Hillview (the incompleted Hillview Mansion was also owned by him). The seventies and early eighties represented another new golden period for Cycle & Carriage, as the company grew rapidly after its listings on the Stock Exchange of Malaysia and Singapore (1969) and Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (1977).

In 1983, the company snapped up a large parcel of land at the Bukit Timah area, worth $29 million, to build a modern office-showroom-workshop complex.

However, the 1985 recession hit the demands, turning the company’s years of profits into heavy losses. To make things worse, the collapse of plastic manufacturing giant Lamipak Industries and Panther Pte Ltd in 1985 chalked up debts of $140 million.

The major shareholders of Panther Pte Ltd were Lamipak Industries and Chua Boon Peng. As the chairman and guarantor of the many loans to Panther Pte Ltd, Chua Boon Peng faced two suits totalled $19 million, forcing him to liquidate many of his properties, including his Oei Tiong Ham Park house that was auctioned and sold for $1.5 million.

Facing bankruptcy, Chua Boon Peng stepped down as the Cycle & Carriage chairman in 1985 – the move that ultimately weakened the Chua family’s control of the company.

As for the exclusive seaside villas of Sembawang, there were four to five such houses at the end of Jalan Selimang area built possibly in the sixties, including Chua Boon Peng’s bungalow.

In the early eighties, there were newspaper advertisements portraying them as seafront bungalows with three large bedrooms, American designed kitchen with modern appliances and a patio overlooking a matured landscaped garden. Occupying a floor area of around 1,115 square metres (12,000 square feet), their selling prices ranged between $800,000 and $1.1 million.

However, by the late eighties or the early nineties, the site was acquired by the government and all the houses were subsequently demolished, except for the forgotten gate that stands till this day.

Published: 23 June 2020

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The Disappearance of the Historic Ellenborough Street

Ellenborough Street was laid as the road to the Ellenborough Market, built in 1845. Both were named after Lord Ellenborough, Edward Law (1790-1871), who served as the Governor-General of India between 1842 and 1844. The early Ellenborough Market, located by the southern side of the Singapore River, soon had a number of structural integrity issues, when cracks appeared on its walls.

In 1899, a cast iron structure from Scotland was purchased and added to Ellenborough Market as a building extension. The new market became known as “pasar bahru” by the Malays, while the local Hokkiens and Teochews called it “sin pa sat” (new market). The Teochews began populated the place, trading and selling fish, seafood and dried products. This gave rise to the naming of Ellenborough Street’s adjacent roads as Tew Chew (Teochew) Street and Fish Street.

The Ellenborough wet market was a bustling focal place of trades and activities for the local community in the vicinity for many decades. The rows of pre-war shophouses and warehouses along the streets were mostly used for small businesses and accommodation.

There was, however, a dark period when Ellenborough Street was plagued by widespread gambling and opium smoking by the Chinese immigrants and coolies. Until the sixties, thefts, robberies and gang fights were also rampant in the area.

Despite the chaotic conditions, businesses flourished at Ellenborough Market and Ellenborough Street. The large variety of goods and items, ranging from fish, rice, fresh produce to different types of household products, attracted huge crowds everyday. The bustling scene lasted until 30 January 1968, when a big fire, happened during the Chinese New Year, swept and destroyed the market. Hundreds of stalls went up in smoke; the total damages were estimated to be around $250,000.

The remnants of the burnt market was demolished soon after the disaster. A smaller market continued to thrive at the junction of Tew Chew Street and Boat Quay.

At the site of the demolished Ellenborough Market, two blocks of flats (Block 1 and 3) and a three-storey podium extension (Block 2) were built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Block 1 was a 22-storey point block, whereas Block 3 was a 17-storey slab block sitting on a three-storey podium that was connected to Block 2. Due to this redevelopment project, Fish Street had to make way, becoming the first of the three parallel roads to be expunged.

The “new” Ellenborough Market was housed at the three-storey podium at Block 2. In the late seventies, a building extension, costing $920,000, was added, making it one of Singapore’s largest markets, comprising 235 market stalls, 72 cooked food stalls and two iced water stalls.

At the third floor was the hawker centre well-known for its row of Teochew stalls that sold delicious Teochew-style dishes ranging from braised goose and hay cho (prawn rolls) to steamed pomfret, hee peow (fish maw) and other seafood. The Teochew-Nonya crayfish fried in sambal was also a popular dish among the customers.

The hawker centre became one of the favourite haunts for taxi drivers in the eighties, who would often stop for a break, a cup of kopi and a hot bowl of fish porridge.

In the mid-eighties, to relive traffic congestion and improve the physical environment of the downtown and city areas, the vegetable and preserved food hawkers at Ellenborough Street, Tew Chew Street, Johore Road, Rochor Road, Maxwell Market and Clyde Terrace Market were relocated to the centralised market at the new Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.

A hot topic among the coffeeshop talks in the eighties was the spectacular collapse of Chop Hoo Thye, one of Singapore’s largest dried seafood wholesalers. At its peak, the firm had shops located at Ellenborough Street, Clarke Street, Jurong and Pasir Panjang.

Established in 1946, Chop Hoo Thye rose to prominence through decades of hard work by the father and son of the Ng family, both famous as the “Abalone King”. The elder Ng was well-known for being a respectable and humble community leader who built his business from scratch. 

But in 1984, the firm racked up a $100 million unsecured debt to some 20 banks in Singapore, possibly caused by a global slowdown in demands as well as the Ng family’s heavy losses in the stock and commodity markets. The Ng father and son later fled the country and left their company bankrupted. The bad debts suffered by the banks caused a plunge in the Singapore stock market, leading to the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) involvement in investigating the case.

In 1985, the street hawkers at Wayang Street, in front of Thong Chia Medical Institute, were relocated to Ellenborough Street Hawker Centre and Hill Street Hawker Centre, where additional stalls were added and allocated to them by the HDB.

In 14 years, since 1971, some 17,800 street hawkers had been cleared from the roads and relocated to the new and more hygienic markets and hawker centres. Around 500 hawkers were still plying their trades on the streets in Singapore by the mid-eighties.

Until the early nineties, one could still drive to Boat Quay, via Ellenborough Street and Teo Chew Street, and cruise along the Singapore River. He could then cross over to the northern side of the river using the Read Bridge, and then divert to either Read Street, Clarke Street, Clarke Quay, North Boat Quay or Canning Lane.

However, the safety of these roads became a hot topic when three cars plunged into the river between 1989 and 1993. As there were no barriers along the river, drivers who were unfamiliar with the area or were going too fast and could not anticipate the sharp turns might drive straight into the waters and put themselves in extreme dangers.

Hence, between 1993 and 1995, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay became pedestrianised, and were out of bounds to vehicles. The conserved shophouses were restored and turned into restaurants, cafes and pubs, as the vicinity was rejuvenated and transformed into a new dining enclave and nightspot. A four-star 476-room Merchant Court Hotel (present-day Swissôtel Merchant Court) was opened in 1997, situated along Tew Chew Street. The hotel has a Ellenborough Market Cafe; its name pays homage to the former popular market.

The Ellenborough Street HDB Flats were en-bloc in 1995 and, together with the Ellenborough Street shophouses and warehouses, were subsequently demolished to make way for the tunneling works of the North East Line (NEL) and the construction of Clarke Quay MRT Station (opened in 2003).

Ellenborough Street, a road of 150 years’ history, was expunged in the early 2000s, when a new shopping mall called Clarke Quay The Central (opened in 2007) was built. Out of the three parallel roads of the former Ellenborough Market, only Tew Chew Road remains today.

Published: 15 June 2020

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