The Vanished Colourful Landmark of Rochor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A walk down the memory lane of Rochor Centre:

Published: 15 April 2019

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

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

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

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

Teochew Cemeteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hokkien Cemeteries

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

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

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

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

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

Other former Hokkien cemeteries in Singapore included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cantonese/Hakka Cemeteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cemeteries of Other Dialect Groups

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

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

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

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

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

Cemeteries on Islands

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

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

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

Choa Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

Columbaria and Others

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

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

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

Individual Tombstones

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

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

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

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

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

Published: 07 April 2019

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Sembawang’s Kampong Mosque and Former Coastal Villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: 24 March 2019

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Singapore Bicentennial 2019 – The Arrivals and Their Contributions

Singapore celebrates its bicentennial year, the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival, in 2019. One of the commemorative events is the setting up of four statues beside the existing Raffles statue along the Singapore River. Although the bicentennial is a significant milestone, Singapore’s history did not begin in 1819, but all the way back to 1299.

Hence, one of the displaying statues belongs to Sang Nila Utama, who stands beside the other three – Munshi Abdullah, Naraina Pillai and Tan Tock Seng – each representing the early pioneers and their significant contributions to the major communities in Singapore in the early 19th century.

Sang Nila Utama (undetermined)

A Srivijayan prince from Palembang, the mythical Sang Nila Utama was said to have arrived and founded Singapura in 1299. The name of the city derived from his most famous story, in which he, after a sighting of a lion on the island, renamed it from Temasek to Singapura (City of the Sea Lion in Sanskrit).

As the ruler of Singapura, Sang Nila Utama assumed the Sri Tri Buana title, which means “Lord of Three Worlds” in Sanskrit. His descendants succeeded his dynasty, ruling Singapura until the fifth king Iskandar Shah was driven out by the Majapahit (Javanese) troops. Iskandar Shah later founded the Malacca kingdom in the 15th century.

In Singapore, the former Sang Nila Utama Secondary School (1961-1988), the country’s first Malay-medium secondary school, was named after him.

Munshi Abdullah (1797-1854)

Known as the father of modern Malay literature, Munshi Abdullah was a man of many talents. A teacher, author and interpreter, Munshi Abdullah was able to speak many languages including Arabic, Tamil, Hindi and English. Through years of studies and hard work, he became an expert in his own mother tongue Malay. He became known as munshi (or munsyi, refers to teacher in Malay) even though his real name was Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir.

The Malacca-born Munshi Abdullah worked for Stamford Raffles as a copyist in 1810. In 1819, when Raffles arrived at Singapore, he hired Munshi Abdullah again, this time as a secretary and interpreter. While working for him, Munshi Abdullah would teach Raffles, and other foreign arrivals, the Malay language.

In his later years, Munshi Abdullah published Hikayat Abdullah, becoming the first local Malay to have his works published. Although there were some inaccuracies in the book, Hikayat Abdullah – Munshi Abdullah’s autobiography that was completed in 1843 – was nevertheless considered an important source of information regarding the social history of Singapore in the 19th century.

Munshi Abdullah Avenue at Teacher’s Estate, Ang Mo Kio, was named after him.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826)

Credited with the founding of modern Singapore, Stamford Raffles arrived in the late 1810s from Calcutta in search of a new British settlement. Malacca had come under the Dutch’s control (it was later ceded to the British in 1824), and the British was eager to find another strategic trading post along the Strait of Malacca.

On 6 February 1819, Stamford Raffles signed an official treaty with Johor’s Sultan Hussien and Temenggong Abdul Rahman in the establishment of a British trading post in Singapore. Under Raffles’ administration, a town plan was drawn, areas in the city were segregated for different ethnic groups and government buildings, roads, bridges and other amenities were constructed. A free port was declared, and a judicial system was also put in place to ensure law and order in the new colony.

Numerous landmarks were named after Stamford Raffles, including Singapore’s commercial centre (Raffles Place), road (Stamford Road), school (Raffles Institution), hotel (Raffles Hotel) and public library (Raffles Library and Museum).

Naraina Pillai (undetermined)

Naraina Pillai was one of the first Tamils to set foot on Singapore, when he left Penang to come to Singapore with Stamford Raffles in 1819. Initially he worked for Raffles as the colonial treasury’s chief clerk, but left soon after a new replacement was hired from Malacca.

Naraina Pillai then established a brick company, becoming Singapore’s first Indian building contractor, to supply to the growing housing demands in the new colony. His business soon expanded to textile and cotton goods, but was hit by a fire disaster that burnt down his bazaar and landed him in debts. Naraina Pillai sought help from Raffles, who assigned a parcel of land for him at the Commercial Square (present-day Raffles Place). With new warehouses constructed, Naraina Pillai was soon able to build his business again.

With aspirations to serve the local Indian community, Naraina Pillai put in much efforts for the construction of a Hindu temple. His dreams finally came true in 1827, when the Sri Mariamman Temple was completed at South Bridge Road. Naraina Pillai also harboured hopes for a new Indian educational institute, but, unfortunately, this plan of his did not materialise. Nevertheless, his contributions earned the respect from his fellow Tamils, and Naraina Pillai was eventually appointed as the chief of Indians from Cholamandalaman.

Pillai Road, off Paya Lebar Road, was named in honour of him in 1957.

Tan Tock Seng (1798-1850)

An entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader, Tan Tock Seng, born in Malacca in 1798, arrived at Singapore in 1819 at an age of 21. Started humbly as a small merchant, Tan Tock Seng, after years of hard work, grew to become a successful businessman and landlord, owning many properties in shophouses and plantations.

In the 1840s, Tan Tock Seng generously donated 7,000 Spanish dollars to the construction fund of the Chinese Pauper Hospital at Pearl’s Hill (the hospital was later relocated a couple of times and renamed after him). Beside the hospital, he also made other charitable contributions, took care of the funeral and burial expenses of poor Chinese immigrants and co-founded Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple.

Tan Tock Seng became the first Asian to be appointed as the Justice of Peace by the British colonial government. He became popularly known as “Kapitan China” (Captain of the Chinese), who had the authoritative powers to settle feuds and disputes among the early Chinese immigrants within the community.

The Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Jalan Tan Tock Seng were named after him.

The statues will be on display along the Singapore River until the end of 2019.

Published: 17 March 2019

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Enter a World of Advertisement in Old Singapore (Part 2)

The National Library’s “Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore” exhibition features many advertising materials from the 1830s to 1960s, with snippets of information about the advertisers and their publications, their dreams and aspirations, as well as the way the changes in the society, over the years, affected their designs, which in turn influenced the society.

Modern advertising agencies started appearing in Singapore in the 1920s. Vibrant and competitive, the early ad industry was dominated by Western expatriates – either based here or had regional firms with headquarters at Hong Kong or Shanghai – who actively advertised their services in publications for the business community.

One of the early modern advertising agencies was the Advertising and Publicity Bureau (APB), established in Hong Kong in 1922 by Beatrice Thompson. In 1931, it became the first regional agency in Singapore when it opened one of its branches here. Advertising for many household brands and prominent firms, APB claimed, in the 1930s, to be the largest advertising agency in the Far East.

For Chinese adverts, picture calendars were common advertising tools used by businesses as gifts to their clients. Featuring Chinese women dressed in the latest fashions, they originated from Shanghai and were extremely popular between the 1920s and 1940s. Many local publication firms were engaged in the design and printing of such picture calendars, often in full colours.

During the Japanese Occupation, most of the advertising agencies were forced to cease their operations. They resumed their businesses after the end of the war, and were joined by many newcomers in the ad industry. The fifties and sixties saw more British, American and Australian advertising firms entering the Asian market, some of which later became leading international firms.

Two prominent post-war advertising agencies were Cathay Advertising and C.F. Young Publicity. The former was founded in Hong Kong by Elma Kelly, an Australian businesswoman, and had its Singapore office opened in 1946. By the sixties, it became one of Singapore’s largest advertising agencies. Cathay Advertising later merged with Australian firm George Patterson and was subsequently acquired by New York advertising giant Ted Bates & Co in the late sixties.

C.F. Young Publicity, on the other hand, was established in 1946 by C.F. Young, who was originally a manager from APB. Also a leading advertising agency, it was later renamed Young Advertising and Marketing, before being acquired by British advertising agency London Press Exchange in 1966 and became LPE Singapore.

Food & Beverage

In the early 20th century, the global revolution in food consumption, aided by the new food-related technology such as aerated water, preservatives, refrigeration and tinned food, meant that there was an increase in locally and foreign manufactured food products, which in turn led to a rise in the demand of their advertising in books, magazines and newspapers.

The advertisements often portrayed imported food products, such as chocolates and biscuits (above), as some form of luxury products, which made their consumption associated with modern, affluent lifestyle. Hence, the adverts would usually be made up of illustrations of happy, well-off families with scrumptious meals.

After the Second World War, especially throughout the sixties, the influx of foods and seasonings from overseas largely altered the local taste and cuisines. Foods such as tomato sauce and margarine became common, and their advertising (below) were targeted mostly at women, who were traditionally in charge of home cooking. Some of the popular advertising platforms for the advertisements of these household staples were female magazines such as Her World.

Coffee and tea (above) were also highly sought-after imported food products. Other beverages such as flavoured drinks and aerated waters were also popular due to Singapore’s hot and humid weather. Many of those drinks were manufactured locally. One of the industry’s early brands was Framroz & Co, founded in 1904 by Parsi businessman P.M. Framroz. Its Orange Smash was so successful that the company was hailed as the “pioneer of fruit juice drinks” in Singapore.

Another household name was Fraser and Neave (F&N). Although it started as a printing and publishing company in 1883, F&N later switched to beverage business by supplying aerated water, lemonade, tonic, ginger ale and beer to clubs, hotels and residences in Singapore.

To reach out to the masses, F&N advertised its products heavily, especially in one of its star products Red Lion (right) in the sixties. Its advertisements of female models sipping cold refreshing Red Lion orange drinks were so commonly seen that F&N earned the colloquial name of “ang sai” (red lion in Hokkien) among the locals.


Food refrigeration had completely changed the way the food was consumed, both globally and in Singapore. Fresh meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables could be shipped and kept fresh for a significant period of time, allowing European residents in pre-war Singapore to maintain their Western lifestyles and diets.

This led to the rise of Cold Storage (established in Singapore in 1903), Fitzpatrick’s (established in 1958) and Fresh Food Refrigerating Company, which became well-known supermarkets with a wide range of fresh imported produce. Prolific and competitive, their advertisements (above) were eye-catching, and were designed with strong emphasis of their fresh supply, convenience and comfort shopping in their air-conditioned supermarkets.

Local retailers were not to be left out. Local trading firm The Borneo Company, which had a long history and had many branches in different parts of Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand, found effectiveness in its active advertising of its trading and distribution services.

By comparing provision shops – it supplied to thousands of provision shops in Southeast Asia, such as Chee Seng Provision Store, the one featured in the full-coloured advert (left) – to the regional equivalent of a supermarket, The Borneo Company highlighted the convenience and the wide range of the products and services that the provision shops provided to its customers.

Supplements & Tonics

From the late 19th century to the early 1920s, the public in Singapore increasingly grew to become more conscious of the relationship between one’s health and his diet. Observed by many advertisers, they marketed their food products based on the people’s desire for a healthy and long life. In the advertisements, many food products were portrayed as tonic food with additional nutrients; others claimed to boost one’s health, strength and energy, or aid in slimming or dieting.

Due to the high infant and child mortality throughout the mid-20th century, mothers’ biggest concern was the health and well-being of their children. As such, advertising of supplements and ointments were common and frequent. Examples were the cod liver oils by Scott’s Emulsion and Seven Seas (below), both of which were heavily advertised for their benefits to pregnant mothers and their children.

However, the market was soon flooded with so many different types of health food products that the public was often confused by their factual information. In the sixties, the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Ordinance was introduced by the authority to put an end to the advertisements of those products without the backing of authoritative researches.


Alcoholic beverages in Singapore had a long history, ranging from imported beer, liquor, whiskey, gin, port and brandy. Overseas brands often tried to attract local drinkers by associating themselves with local cultures. For example, Carlsberg, with its signature green bottles, referred itself as “Carlsberg hijau” (green in Malay). Others advertised themselves as the alcohol used in famous local inventions such as the Singapore Sling and the “stengah” (a cocktail mixed of whiskey and soda). Local beers did not come into the picture until 1932, when the locally-brewed Tiger Beer was launched.

Until the 1960s, it was common for beer adverts to feature vibrantly coloured images of beer served in cold, similar to those soft drinks adverts, giving the readers an impression of a perfect drink in Singapore’s tropical climate.

One of the popular alcoholic drinks was Anchor Beer (right), produced by the Archipelago Brewery Company, a German company that started brewing beer in 1933 at their Alexandra Road factory. The company was bought over, after the Second World War, by Malayan Breweries, the brewery that had produced Tiger Beer.

Electrical Appliances

When electricity became an integral part of the household, so were the consumer products in electrical appliances. In general, the ones heavily advertising the electrical appliances were the department stores, local dealers and major brands such as National (below), General Electric Company, Morphy-Richards and others.

At the start, electrical appliances were affordable only to the better-off families. For example, an electric iron in 1947 cost $11.50, equivalent to a factory worker’s two-month salary. However, by the fifties and sixties, the electrical appliances would become more affordable and accessible to the middle-class households. This led to their more extensive advertising, which tried to infuse the concept of a “modern home” equipped with the latest home gadgets and home entertainment.

A significant number of women in Singapore had entered the workforce by the 1950s and 1960s. The advertising companies understood that the new-age females had the tedious task of juggling between their jobs and housework. Therefore, many of their advertisements, for household and domestic goods such as electric fans, fluorescent lighting, gas burners and sewing machines (right), highlighted the convenience that the products could bring for the working women.

Other electrical appliances included radios (below), televisions, record players and other home entertainment that were considered luxury items at first, but later become household staples enjoyed by the family members together. Radios and televisions, especially, grew to dominate the media and communication industry, and their channels became important platforms used extensively by the advertising agencies to reach out to a much larger audience.


After the Second World War, cars in Singapore became more of a norm due to improved roads and more affordable cars. The huge popularity of the Singapore Grand Prix held at Old Upper Thomson Road in the sixties and early seventies also helped to spur the public’s interest in cars.

Many car manufacturers rode on to the competition’s popularity by sponsoring the drivers and advertising their brands, parading their car models in front of thousands of fans at the start of each race. For those car models or brands that won the races, it provided further advertising opportunities for the car companies to highlight their prized car’s speed, power, control and efficient fuel consumption.

For instance, the Datsun Bluebird of Nissan Motor was heavily advertised (right) in the late sixties, where its achievements (winner of Australian economy race, winner of Kenya’s Rift Valley Rally, 4th place in 36th Monte Carlo Rally, 4th & 5th place in 1967 Singapore Grand Prix) were proudly listed.

In Singapore, cars have always been used to symbolise wealth and prestige. Hence, even as cars became more affordable over the years, the car companies made it a marketing strategy by categorising their car models into “economy” and “luxury” cars, which catered to different groups of audiences.

For “economy”, or “family”, cars, their advertisements (above) often portrayed car ownership as part of a happy family. The car’s safety features, interior spaciousness, fuel efficiency and an affordable price tag gave an impression of a family’s perfect ride that clearly appealed to the masses.


In 1872, Englishman Thomas Cook brought a group of tourists on a world tour, going to America, Middle East and Asia that included a two-day stay at Singapore, before returning to England. Since then, global tourism had become popular with more and more tourists making inter-continental travels.

For the travellers between Europe and Asia or Australia, Malaya usually became one of the stopover destinations. Hence, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Malaya was often advertised as an exotic Orient – a land of tropical climate, magnificent scenery, multicultural society and rich in resources – with great potential business opportunities.

In 1901, the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) was established. Its Malay Peninsula’s west coast rail, made accessible by the 1910s, played an important role in promoting Malaya as a progressive place where the tourists could travel in style and comfort. FMSR was further connected to Siamese State Railway in 1918, making travel by rail between Singapore and Bangkok possible. This gave rise to the adverts (above) featuring the exotic images of both Malaya and Siam (Thailand).

The rapidly-growing tourism industry also boosted airlines and hotels. Malayan Airways made its maiden flight in 1947, and the airline soon carried tourists commuting between Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. Its flights later expanded regionally to include Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Sarawak and Hong Kong.

Cathay Hotel was one of the luxury hotels in Singapore that was heavily featured in the advertisements (right). The Cathay building, Singapore’s first skyscraper, was built in 1939, housing a cinema, restaurant and luxury apartments.

In the fifties, the Cathay Organisation, already a thriving entertainment business by then, moved to convert its luxury apartments into a hotel. The new Cathay Hotel was equipped with air-conditioning, telephones and private bathrooms. Within the building, there were also squash courts, cinema and shopping arcade.

Other hotels were determined not to be left behind in the booming tourism industry. Located at Eu Tong Sen Street, the six-storey Great Southern Hotel, also commonly known as Nam Tin Hotel, claimed in its advertisements that it was the most reputable hotels in Southeast Asia. Its Southern Restaurant and Southern Cabaret, located at the hotel’s top two floors, were its star attractions.

Another major attraction for tourists would be the local cuisines. Restaurants and eateries had their own advertising, usually on printed media such as posters, newspapers or magazines. Examples included the Jubilee Cafe & Restaurant that served Muslim food, curries and nasi biryani, Komala Vilas, one of Singapore’s oldest Indian vegetarian restaurants, and Cold Storage Creameries and their extremely popular Magnolia ice creams, also known as “milk bars” (below).


The rapid development in trade and commerce in British Malaya in the mid- and late 19th century led to the rise of department stores. Singapore, being a major commercial hub and port of call, had the largest number of retail establishments.

One of Singapore’s most prominent department stores was Robinsons, established as a small retail outlet called Spicer & Robinson at the Commercial Square (present-day Raffles Place) in 1858. By the early 20th century, Robinsons had become one of the leading department stores here. It continued to flourish after the war, and was dubbed as the “handsomest shop in the Far East”, with regular promotion of its “Malaya’s Sale of the Year” – the equivalent of its successful Robinsons Sale in the later years.

John Little was founded even earlier, in 1845, as a retailer and auctioneer. In 1910, it opened its signature Raffles Place mall that was filled with wines, provisions, home furnishings, watches, books and men’s and ladies’ fashion. Rivaling Robinsons, John Little proudly declared, in many of its advertisements, that it was the “Finest Store East of Suez”. It, however, was acquired by Robinsons in 1955.

Another prominent department store was Whiteaway Laidlaw. Established in Calcutta, India in 1882, the British retail giant expanded its business throughout India, China and Southeast Asia. It opened its Singapore branch in 1900, and the department store was described as the “Whiteleys of the East”, referring to the famous London department store of the early 20th century. In Malaya, it was not until 1905 that the first non-European-owned department store – Chow Kit & Co – opened at Kuala Lumpur.

A photo gallery of the “Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore” exhibition and other featured advertisements:

A simple black and white advertisement of Brand’s Essence of Chicken (above) in 1950

A full-coloured Medical Office poster (above) in the 1930s, designed in the popular Shanghai “picture calendar” style for a prominent local pharmacy at North Bridge Road

“Your dream comes true” – the motto for a 1964 National electric fan advert (above)

Advertisements promoting the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn children were common, as shown in this Nespray Milk ad (above) in Her World magazine in 1968

A Bata Shoe Company’s festival advertisement (above) for the Lunar New Year in 1951

Ocean liner adverts (above, left to right) in the 1930s – The Royal Dutch Mails, Danish East Asiatic Line, Peninsula & Oriental and British India Lines

(Editor’s Note: Most of the information in this article was referenced to the “Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore” exhibition at the National Library)

Also read Enter a World of Advertisement in Old Singapore (Part 1).

Published: 24 February 2019

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The Lone HDB Block at Moulmein

Standing at the junction of Moulmein Road and Exit 7A of the Central Expressway (CTE), Block 69 cuts a lonely figure, being the only Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in the vicinity. It was an unusual scene, as HDB flats are commonly built in clusters as part of a new town or housing estate.

When Block 69 was first built in the early seventies, the 20-storey point block stood tall among its neighbours, mostly made up of low-rise three-storey Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats. Before the construction of the CTE in the mid-eighties that cut through the vicinity, Block 69 was situated at the corner between Moulmein Road and Norfolk Road; its nearest HDB neighbours were the flats located at Whampoa Drive (built in 1974), Cambridge Road (between 1976 and 1982) and Kent Road (1982).

Block 69 was put up for balloting a couple of months before its completion in 1972. It proved to be so popular that only 10% of the applicants were successful in getting their new flats. There were almost 700 applications received for the block’s 76 four-room units, each with a selling price of $15,500. The finalised figures of the allocation were: 15 units went to resettled residents, seven to HDB staffs, and the remaining 54 units were put up for sale to the public.

The chronological history of Block 69 hence began when its lease officially kicked off in July 1972. Moulmein Court became its immediate neighbour when the freehold condominium was erected beside it in 1981. By the late eighties, the CTE has isolated it from the Cambridge Road housing estate. In late 2018, the former Communicable Disease Centre (CDC), opposite the block, was closed to make way for future private residential development.

In 1999, Block 69 was left out of HDB’s Main Upgrading Programme (MUP), much to the displeasure of its residents. They appealed to their Member of Parliament (MP), and the outcast block was eventually included in the upgrading program. Subsequently, the block’s lifts were also upgraded in 2011 and 2016.

Published: 09 February 2019

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The Idyllic Days of Changi Creek and Villages

Singapore has many rivers and waterways, one of which is Sungei Changi, also commonly known as Changi Creek (creek refers to a narrow, sheltered waterway), a short river situated at the northeastern part of Singapore.

The Changi area, by the pre-war period, was already an established British military base with airfield, colonial barracks and a wide network of roads served by the Changi Bus Company. Pockets of small villages, existed before the British turned Changi into an airbase, continued to flourish by providing supplies to the troops. Most of them would, however, vanish by the late seventies caused by the redevelopment plans and massive land reclamation projects for the construction of the new Changi Airport.

Changi Village was one of those areas that were affected, but managed to survive after its transformation into a small bustling housing estate and recreational centre in the mid-seventies.

With the impending withdrawal of the British, Australian and New Zealand troops in the early seventies, the Singapore government announced the redevelopment plans of the old Changi Village. This was due to the sizable demand for Changi Village’s goods and services by the Australian battalion living at the nearby quarters. Their departure at the end of 1973 would severely disrupt and impact the shops and businesses at Changi Village.

The government also took the opportunity to alter Changi Village’s business model for lesser dependence on foreign demands and more focus in the domestic and recreational sectors. Its rows of wooden shophouses were demolished, and in their place, a small housing estate of more than 350 units of flats, in low-rise blocks, were built.

Completed in 1975 with flats, shops, eateries, a bus terminal, hawker centre and market, the newly-looking Changi Village not only welcomed back many of its original residents and shopkeepers who were initially affected by the redevelopment, but also attracted other Singaporeans to visit it as a stopover point to Changi Beach or Pulau Ubin.

Changi Creek was also transformed. Its banks were turned into a small esplanade with a landscaped park and children’s playground. The narrow waterway, previously filled with dozens of squatter huts, litters and dead animal carcasses, was cleaned up and, at the end of it, a reservoir was built.

The Changi Creek Reservoir, at 2.8m deep and a storage capacity of 80,000 cubic metres, acted as a water collection system for the new Changi Airport premises built in the early eighties. The reservoir’s pumping system, pipping and hydrant lines were completed in 1981 by the Public Works Department (PWD), enabling the reservoir to support the airport’s fire-fighting capabilities.

Leading to the opposite Changi Beach, the iconic foot bridge at Changi Creek has been around for more than half a century. It has been marked in the local maps dated back to the mid-fifties. The boarding and alighting point of boats, the predecessor of the present-day Changi Point Ferry Terminal, also existed back then to provide ferry services to Pulau Tekong, Palau Ubin and Johor.

In 1979, an unexpected visitor – a Vietnamese trawler with 32 refugees – ran aground at Changi Creek due to receding tides. The refugees, made up of Vietnamese men, women and children, were brought by the police to a nearby sailing club while the boat was being repaired for its damages, after which the refugees continued their journey to an undisclosed destination.

Beside the foot bridge is the docking point for the unloading of live seafood by the Singapore and Malaysia fish farmers. Numerous boats, filled with fish, prawns and crabs, arrive daily at the dock for their goods to be hauled and transported to the local seafood restaurants.

In 2016, however, the authority considered the permanent closure of the Changi Creek dock due to safety and security concerns. There were also reports of illegal smuggling of cigarettes, narcotics and pets. Plans of the closure of the dock were put on hold after the appeals of the fish farmers and ferry operators.

There are a few old roads at the Changi vicinity. Nicoll Drive, between Tanah Merah Road and Changi Village, was built in the fifties as a coast road with a splendid picturesque view of the Changi beach. The road, at its beginning, was a quiet drive without street lamps and a few houses along its 6.5km-long route, a large difference from what it looks like today. After its completion, Nicoll Drive was named in 1955 after Sir John Nicoll (1899-1981), the Governor of Singapore between 1952 and 1955. The Nicoll Highway in the city area was also named after him.

Telok Paku Road, on the other hand, was better remembered for the government bungalows that functioned as holiday resorts by the sea until their demolition in the late seventies. The quaint-looking pre-war bungalows, some of which were named Annexe, Brighton, Clifton and Hove, were made available for rental to the public since 1962.

Near the junction of Telok Paku Road and Nicoll Drive was a small Malay coastal village called Kampong Beting Kusa (Kusah).

In 1948, an airstrip extension at the Changi airfield led to the British’s acquisition of the nearby lands As a result, two affected villages  – Kampong Beting Kusa and Kampong Tenah Merah Besar – were resettled with a $30,000 compensation. The villagers were moved to Kampong Ayer Gemuroh, another coastal village located near the southeastern coast of Changi. Some Kampong Beting Kusa fishermen continued their trades by moving to the easternmost beach, setting up kelongs and coastal houses near to the Telok Paku government bungalows.

While most of Kampong Beting Kusa and Kampong Tanah  Merah Besar villagers relocated their homes closer to the Changi coast, a number of affected kampong residents chose to move inland by resettling at Kampong Tengah and Kampong Darat.

Most of the kampongs had vanished in the mid- and late seventies when the construction of the new airport took place. Changi and Tanah Merah’s villages and the Telok Paku government bungalows were not the only ones affected; the redevelopment works led to the closure of Telok Paku School (1950-1975) and Ayer Gemuroh Malay School, acquisition of private residences, such as David Marshall’s bungalow, and the relocation of several elderly and children’s homes, including the Cheshire Home (established in 1957 by Captain Leonard Cheshire of the Royal Air Force), Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home, Crippled Children’s Home (established in 1953 by Red Cross Society) and the Children’s Society Convalescent Home (established in 1956).

Published: 27 January 2019

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