Closure and Demolition of Bedok Swimming Complex

The seventies and eighties saw the rise of Singapore’s public swimming complexes. In almost every new town developed, there was one public pool to serve the residents. In the 20 years between 1970 and 1990, more than a dozen public swimming complexes were built at the heartlands.

Other than Bedok Swimming Complex, the other public swimming complexes built in the period of the seventies and eighties were at Queenstown (opened in 1970), Toa Payoh (1973), Katong (1975), Buona Vista (1976), Geylang East (1978), Delta (near Henderson, 1979), Paya Lebar (1981), Bukit Merah (1982), Ang Mo Kio (1982), Kallang Basin (1982), Clementi (1983), Yio Chu Kang (1986), Hougang (1987), Yishun (1988), Bukit Batok (1988) and Tampines (1989).

Opened in late 1981, Bedok Swimming Complex had four swimming pools – one competition pool and three used for training, wading and practice. The charges were at 60c and 30c for adults and those below 18 years old respectively for a two-hour swim.

In the early eighties, Bedok Swimming Complex was one of the most popular public swimming facilities in Singapore, with about 2,500 visitors daily. It was also one of the earliest in the country to install ticketing machines for payment of entry fees, a pilot scheme initiated in 1982 by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC).

The architectural design of Bedok Swimming Complex did not follow the conventional rectangular shape. Instead, Bedok Swimming Complex, when viewed from the top, had a trapezium shape, and its buildings had roofs in the shape of prisms. Similarly, the Ang Mo Kio Swimming Complex, also built in the early eighties, has buildings with roofs designed in triangular prism shapes.

The design of Bedok Swimming Complex won, in 1983, the outstanding design award at the Singapore Institute of Architects, along with six other Housing and Development Board (HDB) projects – the Zhujiao Centre (later renamed Tekka Centre), Rowell Court, Bedok Town Area Office, Jurong Mosque, Bukit Merah Town Centre and Ang Mo Kio New Town.

In the late eighties, Bedok Swimming Complex was one of the four swimming complexes used for training local sportsmen with potential to represent Singapore in swimming, diving and water polo. It was also one of the public swimming complexes where the National Family Swim was held. In 1997, despite the hazy condition, the mega event, flagged off by Minister of Community Development Abdullah Tarmugi, attracted more than 25,000 participants in more than a dozen pools.

A number of public swimming pools had closed in recent years. Yan Kit Swimming Complex (1952-2001), Jurong Town Swimming Complex (built by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), 1970-mid-2000s), Boon Lay Swimming Complex (mid-1970s-mid-2000s), Buona Vista Swimming Complex (1976-2014), Pandan Gardens Swimming Complex (1978-early-2000s) and Paya Lebar Swimming Complex (1981-2007) were either demolished or redeveloped for other usages.

The new public swimming facilities at Bedok are currently located at the Sport Centre at the integrated community hub Heartbeat@Bedok, opened in February 2018.

Published: 30 August 2018

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Goodbye Kampong Java Park

Come end of August, the 45-year-old Kampong Java Park will be permanently closed.

Once a Christian cemetery bounded by Kampong Java Road and Bukit Timah Road, works were carried out in 1971 by the Public Works Department (PWD) to convert the former cemetery site, exhumed in 1908, into a 22-acre park designed with hillocks and a pond-cum-reservoir as its main attractions. Further plans to add a view tower and restaurant to the park, though, did not materialise.

In November 1971, Education Minister Lim Kim San planted a tree at Kampong Java Park, the tree-planting activity that was launched islandwide by different ministers, to kick start the development of the new park.

Upon its completion and opening in 1973, Kampong Java Park was considered one of the best landscaped parks created by the PWD. Fitted with ornamental lighting, made of steel poles and plastic light covers, along the footpath, the park became the first in Singapore to be installed with such amenity.

Named after the former Christian cemetery, the New Cemetery Road that now ran along the new park became inappropriate in its name. There were different proposals to give it a new name, such as New Scenery Road, New Park Avenue, Park Road or Kampong Java Park Road. The road was eventually renamed Cavenagh Road after Sir Orfeur Cavenagh (1820-1891), the Governor of the Straits Settlements between 1859 and 1867.

In the late seventies, there were also proposals by the Parks and Recreation Department to maximise the use of the park with the addition of a tennis and squash complex. Near the sports complex was the popular Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant, a favourite fast food outlet at Kampong Java Road still remembered by many Singaporeans. Situated beside the park was the large carpark that was built in the mid-seventies. It was also where the City Shuttle Service (CSS) bus stop and Daily Area Licence sale booth were located.

Beside KFC, another popular eating place near the park was the Palm Beach seafood restaurant at Halifax Road. The restaurant had been in business at Bedok for twenty years before moving to Halifax Road in the eighties. However, it only stayed there for a few years before it was forced to relocate again, this time to Kallang Park, after a major fire incident.

In 1981, an exercise corner, with inclined ramps and special equipment, was installed at Kampong Java Park for the benefits of the disabled. Called the Sunshine Corner, the project was built at a cost of $25,000 by the Rotary Club of Singapore.

Kampong Java Park received a VIP visit from U Ohn Kyaw, Burma’s Minister for Labour and Social Welfare, in 1982 when the foreign dignitary visited the park.

In the early nineties, part of Kampong Java Park was acquired for the construction of the new Kandang Kerbau (KK) Women’s and Children’s Hospital. In 1999, the hospital adopted a section of Kampong Java Park, under the adopt-a-park scheme, as a rehabilitation place for its patients, where the lush greenery of the park could aid in their healing.

Not all memories of the park were about its tranquil surroundings. As it was easily missed from the main Bukit Timah Road, the park was relatively little known. In the eighties, a decade after its construction, the park remained largely deserted, especially at night, except for a few courting couples and peace-loving individuals taking a walk in the park. A few spooky tales about the park occasionally surfaced.

In 1984, a tragedy struck when a Malaysian security guard was found drowned in the pond.

Kampong Java Park will be closed permanently in end-August 2018 for demolition as its site is required for the construction of the new North-South Corridor (NSC) tunnel.

Opposite the park, across the carpark, are the rows of pre-war colonial houses of Halifax Road, which also will be likely affected by the NSC development.

Halifax Road, off New Cemetery Road, appeared in the early 20th century, when the new headquarters of the Singapore Girl Guides was established there in 1925.

The colonial houses at Halifax Road were built in the 1930s as quarters and outhouses for accommodation of the Singapore Municipal staff and their families. They were later, in the fifties, used as offices and stores for the electrical and architect departments of the Singapore City Council (later took over by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and Public Works Department (PWD)).

In 1953, it was discovered, buried in one of the houses’ compounds, hundreds of ammunition used during the Second World War including hand grenades, anti-aircraft shells, machine gun magazines and bullets.

When Singapore gained independence in 1965, the Halifax Road colonial houses continued to function as junior government quarters as well as government offices used by the Election Department, Industrial Health Unit and other ministerial departments. In the seventies and eighties, the houses, under the ownership of the Ministry of Finance, were leased to the public as private residences and commercial offices for companies and businesses.

One of the houses was utilised as a childcare centre in recent years, but currently most of the buildings are vacant and are classified as state properties under Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) charge.

Kampong Java Park and the Halifax Road houses are just some of the landmarks affected by the NSC project. Elsewhere, other affected landmarks include the Rochor Centre flats, Toa Payoh Rise apartments, Marymount Convent, Ellison Building, Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home, Victoria Street Wholesale Centre and Nanyang Pho Leng Building.

Published: 25 August 2018

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Understanding Singapore’s Different Types of Street Suffixes

According to the Ministry of Transport, there are more than 9,000 lane-km of roads in Singapore, which takes up the nation’s 12% of land. In the past decades, hundreds of roads had been expunged and demolished in the name of development. But hundreds, for the same reason, will be constructed in the future.

So how are the public roads named? How are they categorised into streets, avenues, drives and lanes? It is interesting to understand the street naming convention in Singapore.

Street Naming Authority

In the late 19th century, the Municipal Council was tasked in the naming of the streets. When Singapore gained independence in 1965, an Advisory Committee on the Naming of Roads and Streets (later renamed Street and Building Names Advisory Committee) was formed. In 1968, the Committee on Street Names (renamed Advisory Committee on Street Names in 1978) replaced its predecessor as the main authority in street naming.

Unlike many other countries, Singapore, after its self governance in 1959, did not go on a massive place and street renaming exercise in an attempt to clear its colonisation history. Instead, in the sixties, it placed more emphasis on local names, particularly the Malay names, during the naming of new streets to reflect Singapore’s allegiance to the Malaysian Federation.

An independent Singapore had a different approach; it now placed importance on a multiracial society. When the new Jurong Industrial Estate was set up in 1968, the roads within the industrial area were appropriately named in Malay or given English names that were translated from Chinese and Tamil. Some examples are Jalan Tukang (Malay), Soon Lee Road (Chinese) and Neythal Road (Tamil).

The Committee on Street Names lasted until 2003 when it was replaced by the Street and Building Names Board (SBNB). The secretariat function of board was handed over, in 2010, from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) .

Street Suffixes

For the street suffixes in the street names, Singapore largely follows the British naming convention, which means streets and roads refer to any thoroughfares between two places, ways for major roads, and avenues, lanes, drives, vales, rises and groves are residential roads.

For paved public walkways, they can be named a promenade, esplanade, parade or simply walk if they are along the coast, seafront or river.

The United States (US) has its own set of street suffixes. For examples, it has roads called turnpike (refers to a road where tolls are collected), freeway (dual carriageway with controlled access) and stravenue (used exclusively in the state of Arizona to refer to a road that runs diagonally between and intersects an avenue and a street).

Under the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the types of roads in Singapore fall under five major categories (refer to the right table).

Category 1 Roads (Expressway, Parkway, Highway)

At the top hierarchy of Singapore roads are the expressways and semi-expressways (highways), connecting, in Singapore’s context, between new towns or the city area. Expressways are urban motorways designed for high speed vehicular traffic, with no or few traffic light controlled junctions.

There are currently 10 expressways in Singapore, with the eleventh North-South Expressway (NSE) expected to be completed in 2023. The 10 expressways are the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), Central Expressway (CTE), East Coast Parkway (ECP), Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE), Kranji Expressway (KJE), Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE), Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), Seletar Expressway (SLE) and Tampines Expressway (TPE).

The East Coast Parkway is the only expressway in Singapore named parkway.

Singapore’s semi-expressways are called highways; they are designed with lower speed limits, and unlike the expressways, they have traffic light controlled junctions along their routes. The Nicoll Highway, West Coast Highway and Jurong Island Highway are part of Singapore’s semi-expressway network, which also includes the long parallel Bukit Timah-Dunearn Roads.

The Tuas Second Link Highway is, in fact, a bridge that spans across the Straits of Johor between Singapore’s Tuas and Johor’s Tanjung Kupang.

There was also the Bedok Highway, built by the Public Works Department (PWD) in the mid-seventies, that linked Upper Changi Road to East Coast Parkway. The name, however, lasted only a couple of years before the Committee On Street Names, after consultation with the Housing and Development Board (HDB), decided to change it to Bedok South Avenue 1.

During the renaming process, Bedok Plain, Bedok View and Bedok Walk were also changed to Bedok South Road, Bedok South Avenue 2 and Bedok South Avenue 3 respectively.

Category 2 Roads (Boulevard, Avenue, Way)

The Category 2 refers to the major arterial roads in Singapore. They are named boulevards, avenues and ways, and are typically designed in dual carriageways with a physical median between opposite lanes.

Planted with rows of trees along its sides and median, boulevards are wide roads typically found in the city area. Raffles Boulevard, Temasek Boulevard, Central Boulevard, Marina Boulevard, Republic Boulveard and Straits Boulevard are the examples. Others include Airport Boulevard (Changi Airport), Orchard Boulevard, Stadium Boulevard (Singapore Sports Hub), and Tuas South Boulevard (currently the westernmost road in Singapore).

Avenues, on the other hand, are broad roads flanked by buildings and trees. During the eighties and nineties, the main arterial roads within the new towns, such as Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Batok, Chua Chu Kang, Jurong East, Jurong West, Tampines and Yishun, were named avenues.

Many of the older roads, however, were called avenues but they are actually more of local access roads instead of main arterial roads. This is because the older roads were not bounded by the modern naming convention, or their importance as main roads had declined over the decades due to development.

Technically speaking, a way is a small side street off the road. In Singapore, the descriptor is widely used for major arterial roads, with the most famous being Shenton Way. Other less significant examples are Loyang Way, Kranji Way and Sunset Way.

Initially called Queen’s Way, the two words in its name were combined as one, making Queensway one of the few streets in Singapore without any street suffixes.

The first section of Queensway and Queen’s Circus were built in the late fifties, linking Holland Road to the fringe of the newly-developed Queenstown. In the early sixties, Queensway was further extended to Rumah Bomba Circus, where it was connected to Alexandra Road.

Category 3 & 4 Roads (Drive, Road, Street)

Category 3 and Category 4, made up of drives, roads and streets, include the minor arterial roads as well as roads used for primary access. In general definitions, a street is a public road with buildings on both sides, while drives are long winding roads with routes shaped by nearby mountain or lake.

The major roads in Singapore can be named roads, drives and streets, such as Bukit Timah Road, Eu Tong Sen Street, Holland Road, Serangoon Road and Victoria Street.

At the new towns, however, streets and drives often rank below avenues and roads. For example, Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 is the primary road that runs through the Bukit Batok neighbourhood; Branching off Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 are Bukit Batok Street 31 and Bukit Batok Street 52, access roads that lead to the 300-numbered and 500-numbered HDB flats respectively.

Category 5 Roads (Walk, Lane, Link, etc)

The Category 5 consists of secondary roads, minor roads and roads mainly used for local access, which can be single way or dual carriageway of only one or two lanes, without any physical median.

The category is made up of different types of street suffixes such as link, lane, loop and walk. Link refers to road linkages, while close is used for cul-de-sac or dead end roads (which practically is not always true). Loop, crescent and ring typically mean curved roads, whereas a circle is a long curved road that connects from one end to the other end of an estate. Walk is usually used for wide public pedestrian walkways, but in Singapore context, it is also used for minor roads that are for local access.

In a private residential estate, due to the numerous local access roads it may be having, a mixture of name descriptors such as green, garden, place, rise or terrace will also be used. For example, at Bedok’s Eastwood Estate, there are Eastwood Road, Eastwood Drive, Eastwood Green, Eastwood Place, Eastwood Terrace, Eastwood Walk and Eastwood Way.

Likewise, for Springleaf Garden Estate, along Upper Thomson Road, it has a total of 11 local access roads, namely Springleaf Road, Springleaf Avenue, Springleaf Crescent, Springleaf Drive, Springleaf Garden, Springleaf Height, Springleaf Lane, Springleaf Link, Springleaf Rise, Springleaf Walk and Springleaf View.

The naming convention applies to public housing estates too, especially the newer towns such as Sengkang and Punggol. The Sengkang New Town consists of Compassvale Bow, Compassvale Crescent, Compassvale Drive, Compassvale Lane, Compassvale Link, Compassvale Road, Compassvale Street and Compassvale Walk.

Shapes (Square, Circle, Oval, etc)

Street names that have descriptors in shapes, forms and contours are usually based on the configuration of the roads.

For example, Sengkang Square and Woodlands Square are named based on their squarish layouts which border their respective town centres. Sengkang MRT Station, Sengkang Bus Interchange and the Compass One mall are located within Sengkang Square, while Woodland Square forms a squarish perimeter around Woodlands’ MRT station and bus interchange, and the Causeway Point shopping mall.

Other streets that have square as their name descriptors include Flanders Square, off Serangoon Road, and Ellington Square, a private housing estate in Ang Mo Kio. A new Prince Charles Square is also coming up, linking to the existing Prince Charles Crescent off Alexandra Road.

A Circle, on the other hand, describes a long curved road that skirts an estate or vicinity. Cairnhill Circle, Conway Circle (Serangoon Gardens), Pavilion Circle (Bukit Batok) and Lagos Circle (Sembawang) circumscribe their respective private residential estates, whereas Gul Circle is a long boundary road around the large industrial estate at Tuas.

Similar to circle is circus, referring to a roundabout where several streets converge. The Newton Circus is one of the most famous roundabouts in Singapore; others are Serangoon Garden Circus, Piccadilly Circus (Seletar) and Pioneer Circus (Tuas).

Many old roundabouts in Singapore had phased out and were replaced by traffic light controlled junctions. This was because roundabouts often caused traffic confusions that led to accidents. Some of the former circuses that ceased to exist were Alexandra Circus, Delta Circus, Gillman Circus, Hillview Circus, Orchard Circus, Rochor Circus, Princess Circus, Queen’s Circus, Tanglin Circus and Pulau Saigon Circus.

The Rumah Bomba Circus, built in the late fifties, was a large roundabout that linked to Alexandra Road, Queensway and Jalan Bukit Merah. Both Queensway and Jalan Bukit Merah were constructed in the early sixties, a few years after the completion of Rumah Bomba Circus. The roundabout lasted until 1976, when the PWD converted it into a traffic light controlled junction.

The Oval, located in the Seletar vicinity, is a unique name, being the only road in Singapore named after the oval shape. It also has a street prefix of The, which is usually disallowed by the Street and Building Names Board (SBNB) to prevent the impression of the street “monopolising” the area.

The name was retained nevertheless, due to its historical link with the establishment of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Seletar in the late 1920s, when The Oval, along with other British-named roads, were developed as part of the road infrastructure that served the air base and its private residential estate.

In Singapore, there are four roads with the as street prefix. Other than The Oval, there is also The Inglewood at Sin Ming, The Knolls, a small road in Sentosa that leads to Capella Hotel, and The Loop, a minor road previously located between Sembawang Road and Mandai Road but was expunged due to the development of Sembawang Airbase.

Other street name descriptors associated with shapes, forms and contours are bow, circuit, close, court, crescent, cross, junction, loop, ring and turn. Each has its own definition; for example, a court refers to a circle or loop without a throughway, whereas crescent typically describes a curved road that tapers at both ends, much like a semi-circle when viewed from the top. Dakota Crescent and Beo Crescent are two well-known crescent-named roads in Singapore.

Beo Crescent took the name from the nearby Beo Lane, also located off Havelock Road. Beo Lane  – Beo means temple in Hokkien and Teochew – was named in 1907 after the three Chinese temples in the vicinity. The temples were burnt and destroyed in the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire, and the road itself was later expunged.

The fire disaster led to the development of new Bukit Ho Swee HDB flats to house the affected residents. Beo Crescent was built at almost the same period. During its construction, some century-old shophouses along Havelock Road had to be demolished, much to the dismay of the residents who had lived there for generations.

In the 2000s, with the addition of a new multi-storey carpark and other amenities, Beo Crescent was altered and cut short. The Beo Crescent of today no longer looks like a curved “crescent” road.

There are many other roads in Singapore that carry crescent as their street suffix, such as Ayer Rajah Crescent, Commonwealth Crescent, Eunos Crescent and Telok Blangah Crescent. An interesting one is called Moon Crescent, but the road, previously located off Upper Changi Road, was expunged during the expansion of the Changi Prison complex.

Topography (Basin, Grove, Ridge, etc)

Topography-related terms are common road name descriptors, often used to describe the terrains and landscapes that are in close proximity to the streets. These include basin, crest, field, garden/gardens, green, grove, height/heights, hill, island, mount, park, peak, plain/plains, ridge, rise, summit, vale, valley and view.

Hill is a common street suffix – there are roads in Singapore named Binjai Hill, Claymore Hill, Goodwood Hill, Leonie Hill, Paterson Hill, York Hill and many others.

Other than the land-related topographic terms, there are also water body-related descriptors used in the street names, such as bay, coast, cove, island and marine.

The island-named roads are all located at Sentosa, where the new private residential developments have named their inner roads Coral Island, Paradise Island, Pearl Island, Sandy Island and Treasure Island.

Locational (Central, Place, Terrace, etc)

The road name descriptors and street suffixes under the locational context include boundary, central, centre, concourse, edge, gate, parade, perimeter, place, point, terrace, town, view, village and vista. Also, at designated industrial, commercial and business parks, the inner roads can be named business park, estate, industrial park, mall, plaza or sector. For instances, there are roads named Ang Mo Kio Industrial Park 3 and Woodlands Industrial Park E3 within the Ang Mo Kio and Woodlands industrial parks respectively.

Directional descriptions are a part of the street suffixes with locational context. They can be east, west, north, south, central, upper and lower. The last two are actually street prefixes instead of suffixes.

Upper Changi Road East, Admiralty Road West, Pioneer Road North and Still Road South (formerly Karikal Road) are the extensions of the main road – Upper Changi Road, Admiralty Road, Pioneer Road and Still Road.

Directional suffixes can also be found in some of the older housing estates. When Toa Payoh was developed in the mid-sixties, its main roads were simply named Toa Payoh East, Toa Payoh West and Toa Payoh North. A flyover called Toa Payoh South Flyover was later built to link to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). Likewise, there are Whampoa East, Whampoa West, Whampoa North (expunged) and Whampoa South.

In some cases, street prefixes of upper and lower are used instead, such as Upper Paya Lebar Road, Upper Serangoon Road and Lower Delta Road, to indicate the continuation of, in these examples, Paya Lebar Road, Serangoon Road and Delta Road.

Non-English (Jalan, Lorong, etc)

A large number of roads in Singapore are named in Malay. Both jalan and lorong generally refer to roads in English. Non-English names for streets, however, are not encouraged anymore after the 2000s with the establishment of the SBNB.

The better known jalans are Jalan Besar, Jalan Kayu, Jalan Bahar, Jalan Ampas, Jalan Bahagia and Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim. Some jalans have incorporated Chinese dialect names, such as Jalan Tua Kong, off Upper East Coast Road, and the expunged Jalan Ang Siang Kong, off Tampines Road, where the Golden Palace Resort once stood.

Sometimes, the road names could be so long that they were shortened in maps and street directories. Jalan Gagak Selari Timor and Jalan Gagak Selari Barat, the extensions of Jalan Bukit Merah, became Gagak Selari Timor and Gagak Selari Barat on the maps, before they were, in the seventies, renamed Jalan Bukit Merah and became part of the entire stretch of the road.

While most other new towns named their roads avenues, streets and drives, Toa Payoh, Singapore’s second satellite town, largely use lorongs for its road names. Within the town are Toa Payoh Lorong 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Another vicinity with many lorongs is Geylang, where the odd- and even-numbered lorongs are located on both sides of Geylang Road.

In 1980, there were suggestions to the Advisory Committee on Street Names that all the jalans and lorongs in Singapore be renamed to English’s roads and avenues. Fortunately, this was rejected by the committee, as it was deemed that the original names could better reflect the heritage of the streets. Also, the names of the streets were already familiar to most Singaporeans, and any alterations would cause inconvenience and confusion.

Like the jalans, there are lorongs assigned with Chinese dialect names, such as Lorong Lew Lian and Lorong Ong Lye at the Upper Serangoon vicinity, possibly named after the durian and pineapple plantations there in the olden days.

Other Malay street suffixes are bukit (hill), kampong (village) padang (field), taman (garden/park) and tanjong (cape). There are only a handful of such roads. Bukit Ayer Molek (near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve), Padang Jeringau (off Kallang Road), Padang Chancery (off Thomson Road), Taman Bedok (off Bedok Road), Taman Ho Swee (at Bukit Ho Swee estate) and Tanjong Penjuru are some of the examples.

The lengkongs (curve/crescent in Malay) can be found within the Kembangan district, where there are Lengkong Satu, Lengkong Dua, Lengkong Tiga, Lengkong Empat, Lengkong Limi, Lengkong Enam and Lengkong Tujoh (Tujuh), named after the numbers one to seven. Lengkok also means curve/crescent in Malay – there are Lengkok Angsa, Lengkok Mariam, Lengkok Merak.

One unique Malay-named road was Persiaran Keliling at MacPherson housing estate, where the road formed a loop around the HDB flats built in the sixties. It was renamed Circuit Road in the early seventies.

Roads that had street suffix of kampong were usually the main roads to the villages they named after, for example Kampong Bugis, Kampong San Teng (expunged), Kampong Wak Hassan and Kampong Wak Tanjong (expunged).

Kampong Wak Hassan is located at the end of Sembawang Road. The Malay village Kampong Wak Hassan was demolished in the nineties, but the road name stays on. In the vicinity, there are other minor roads named after the village, such as Wak Hassan Drive and Wak Hassan Place.

Types of -way

Beside expressway, parkway and highway, there are other roads in Singapore that use -way as their name descriptors, such as causeway, gateway and farmway.

Causeways are raised roads above a broad body of water or wetland. The Causeway, also known as Woodlands Causeway or Singapore-Johor Causeway, was opened in 1923, forming a 1.05km link between Singapore and Johor Bahru.

At the south of Singapore are the Brani Causeway (links to Pulau Brani) and Sentosa Gateway (links to Sentosa). The latter is the vehicular link to Sentosa, which was opened in December 1992 as a 380m-long causeway. The second causeway to Sentosa is a bridge, built in 2009 by the Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), serving as an one-way incoming route to the island.

Gateway can also be used to refer to start-point or entrance, at strategic locations, to a district. One example is the new one-north Gateway near Fusionopolis.

The farmways, uniquely named in Singapore, once refer to the rural tracks that led to the vegetable, poultry and pig farms located at the northeastern and northwestern parts of Singapore.

Previously, there were Seletar East Farmway, Punggol Farmway, Cheng Lim Farmway, Buangkok North Farmway and Buangkok South Farmway, but all of them were expunged during the development of the Sengkang and Punggol New Towns in the late nineties and early 2000s. Today, the only farmways still exist in Singapore are the Seletar West Farmway, Pasir Ris Farmway and Murai Farmway (Lim Chu Kang).


Other rural roads, simply named tracks, used to be found along major roads such as Mandai Road, Punggol Road and Yio Chu Kang Road. They were long muddy trails that provided accessibility to the villages, farms and plantations. Most had been expunged, with a few like Jurong Road Track 22, Mandai Road Track 16 and Old Choa Chu Kang Road Track 14 still manage to survive till today.

At the Choa Chu Kang cemetery sites, the roads leading to the different sections of burial places are named paths, such as Admadiyya Cemetery Path 1, Chinese Cemetery Path 7, Christian Cemetery Path 2, Hindu Cemetery Path 1 and Muslim Cemetery Path 10.

For roads with street suffix of quays, they are largely located in the downtown or by the sides of the Singapore River. Examples are Boat Quay (converted into pedestrian walkway), Clarke Quay, Collyer Quay, North Boat Quay, Raffles Quay and Robertson Quay.

Without Street Suffix

Only a few roads in Singapore have no street suffixes. Most were located at the old Seletar vicinity. Half-Moon, a short curved road, was expunged when Seletar Aerospace was developed. There were also Chowringhee (named after a place in India), Haymarket and Knightsbridge (both named after places in Britain), roads that were lost during the changes in Seletar in the past few decades.

Today, the roads without street suffixes are Bishopsgate (Tanglin), Piccadilly (Seletar) and Queensway. Off Bishopsgate was a short lane named Bishopswalk. but it was absorbed into the premises of private condominium Bishopsgate Residences upon its completion in 2012.

One and Only

Some of the street suffixes have only been used once, such as alley (Sembawang Alley), bow (Compassvale Bow), concourse (Tampines Concourse), field (Punggol Field), grande (Tampines Grande), ring (Stagmont Ring) and wood (Saint Anne’s Wood).

Meanwhile, Seletar Court, off Yio Chu Kang Road, is the only court-named road after Colombo Court was replaced by Supreme Court Lane. Although Cross Street is a well-known road, Rhu Cross is the only road with street suffix of cross. But the road itself is a straight road instead of a cross-like junction.

At Woodlands Checkpoint, the inner lanes are named Woodlands Crossing, the only set of roads in Singapore with crossing as its street suffix. And Kim Seng Promenade, the curved road between Great World City and Singapore River, is the only road named promenade.


Published: 15 August 2018

Updated: 18 February 2020

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Memories of Bedok’s Princess

One by one, the good old (or bad, depending on your memories) cinemas of the eighties and nineties have closed down; their sites redeveloped or demolished. Bedok once had four cinemas – Bedok, Changi, Liwagu and Princess/Raja – at its town centre and within walking distances from the old Bedok Bus Interchange.

After their respective closures in the late nineties and 2000s, Changi and Bedok Cinemas were demolished and their sites redeveloped into the new shopping mall Bedok Point, whereas the building of the former Liwagu Cinema was first taken over by Geylang United Football Club and later used as a church premises for Bethesda Community.

By the late 2000s, the last old Bedok cinema standing was Princess, but even then it could not escape its eventual fate of closure. After screening Chinese movie Painted Skin in September 2008, Princess Theatre officially walked into history.

Princess was once a common name for cinemas and theatres. In the sixties and seventies, there were Princess Theatres at London, United Kingdom, as well as Kampar and Sungei Siput at Perak, Malaysia.

Bedok’s Princess Theatre began as Princess/Raja that was officially opened on 11 February 1983. It featured a dual screen cinema at the 1200-seat Princess Hall and 800-seat Raja Hall. In the eighties, the Princess Cinema was mainly used to show Chinese blockbusters while Raja Cinema screened a mixture of Chinese, English, Malay and Indian films.

The Malay movies, in particular, were popular among the large Malay communities living at the eastern side of Singapore. In 1990, Indonesian film Isabella stirred up some interest – a 10-second kissing scene between the male and female leads had been censored – when it was screened at Princess/Raja.

In 1995, after a year of renovation, the Princess/Raja Cinema was converted into a three-screen cinema and became known as Princess Theatre. The original cinema hall of Princess was split into the smaller Princess 1 and Princess 2, whereas Raja hall was refurbished to become Princess 3.

Movie goers of Princess Theatre in the nineties would remember that the cinema, by then, had relatively poorer amenities compared to the newer cinemas in the city area. The seats were cramped and squeaky, never mind that some were even broken due to lack of maintenance and had been left unattended for years.

If there was something positive about the cinema, it was the movie ticket prices, relatively cheap by the standards then. Weekday movie ticket prices were charged at $5, while watching a movie at Princess during weekends cost $7 each. Another “positive” thing was the cinema’s lax regulations. Outside food and drinks could be dabao (packeted) into the cinema halls for consumption. Hence, it was not uncommon to see some movie goers eating their favourite McDonald’s burgers or even Hokkien mee while watching the movies.

Things got unruly in the eighties and nineties, when the cinema premises became a favourite haunting place for teenage gangs and school dropouts in the Bedok neighbourhood. Fights and extortion occurred occasionally. In 1983, a robber gang overpowered the cinema’s watchman and got away with tens of thousands of dollars from the manager’s office. In 1997, the Bedok residents were shocked when a 14-year-old boy was killed by a youth in a fight at the cinema lobby.

After its closure in 2008, the cinema building was leased out to be used as recreational club, karaoke bar, LAN game shop and billiard saloon. McDonald’s, the longtime tenant at Princess Theatre, lasted another eight years until 2016.

The same year also saw Princess Theatre, previously owned by OCCB International, being mentioned in the news as a potential redevelopment target. True enough, it was redeveloped, and completed in 2018, as the new Djitsun Mall, a Golden Village cineplex equipped with six screens and 600 seats. After a 10-year gap, the Bedok residents can enjoy a movie in a cinema in their neighbourhood once again.

25 years of blockbusters, kungfu flicks, comedies and horror movies at the former Princess and Raja cinemas had become nostalgic recollections for the Bedok residents. It is now replaced by the new cineplex, which will provide another set of memories perhaps 20 or 30 years later.

Published: 16 July 2018

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Singapore Monuments in Lego @National Library

The National Heritage Board (NDB) collaborates with My Little Brick Shop in the Building History: Monuments In Bricks And Blocks exhibition, which display Singapore’s eight national monuments made with more than 110,000 Lego pieces. The exhibition is currently held at the National Library, after which the miniature landmarks will make their appearances at the public libraries at Jurong, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang and Choa Chu Kang.

Central Fire Station

Still in operation today, the Central Fire Station is Singapore’s oldest surviving fire station. Built in 1909, it was also the first fire station in Singapore to be equipped with modern fire engines and fire fighting equipment. The firefighters from the Central Fire Station played important roles in the nation’s history; they were activated and involved during the Bukit Ho Swee fires (1961) and the Hotel New World disaster (1986).

Gazetted on 18 December 1998 by the Preservation of Monuments Board as one of Singapore’s national monuments, the Central Fire Station’s striking red and white facade symbolises “blood and bandage”, representing the firemen’s roles and commitment in their rescue and life-saving jobs. The tall lookout tower is the station’s another iconic feature, where it was used in the past by the firemen to spot fires and smokes in the city area.

Sultan Mosque

Built in 1932, the current Sultan Mosque is the second version, replacing the original mosque that had its history dated back to 1824, when Singapore was ceded to the British East India Company. As part of the agreement, a parcel of land was reserved near Istana Kampong Glam for the construction of the mosque.

As the former royal mosque of Singapore, Sultan Mosque’s grand design was largely influenced by the Indo-Saracenic architectural style, a mixture and blending of traditional Islamic, Indian and European architectural styles. The most recognisable part of the mosque is its twin large onion-shaped domes, while its other features include minarets at each corner of the building, decorative cresting along the roof and around the arched window bays.

On 8 March 1975, Sultan Mosque was gazetted as one of Singapore’s national monuments.

National Museum

The National Museum of Singapore’s history dated back to 1887, when it was built and served as a library and museum of Southeast Asian natural history. Located at Stamford Road, the oldest museum in the country was gazetted on 14 February 1992 as part of Singapore’s national monument list.

The National Museum was designed in typical Neo-Classical style, which, based on ancient Greek architectural style, consists of symmetry in the building layout, even spacing of the window bays, and the inclusion of large triangular pediments at the corners of the building. There is also the striking large dome at the centre of the museum building, which has numerous glass windows to allow natural light to enter the central atrium area.

Thian Hock Keng Temple

Built in 1842 as a place of worship for the local Chinese Hokkien community as well as the immigrants from China, the Thian Hock Keng Temple is currently one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore. It was also within the temple premises that saw the establishment of Hokkien Huay Kuan, a clan association that promotes and provides education, culture and social welfare among the local Chinese.

There are three traditional main temple halls designed for Thian Hock Keng, where each main hall is linked to smaller halls via covered walkways. The temple’s typical Chinese architectural style is also displayed through its curved roofs with sweeping ends, decorated with dragon ornaments, and the large incense burners in its courtyards.

Thian Hock Keng was added to the national monument list on 28 June 1973.

Jurong Town Hall

The Jurong Town Hall looks futuristic now even though it was built in 1974. The building is a reminder of Singapore’s rapid industrial development and economic progress between the sixties and seventies, during which the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) was established to oversee Singapore’s industrialisation projects as well as develop and manage the nation’s newly-built industrial estates.

As JTC’s headquarters, the Jurong Town Hall has the modern architectural style that emphasises the industrial character of the building. From the sky, it looks like the capital H, while the unique building looks like a ship when viewed from the side.

The Jurong Town Hall was gazetted on 2 June 2015 as a national monument.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

Opened in 1931 and gazetted as a national monument on 8 April 2011, the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has played an important role in the transport and railway history of Singapore. Once the key transport hub linking Singapore’s port to the Malay peninsula, the railway station, upon completion, was a modern station fitted with many facilities for passenger comfort such as hotel, hair salon and restaurant.

Designed in Art Deco style, the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station’s most iconic features are the four sculptures on its facade, which represent the four economic sectors – agriculture, commerce, transport and industry – of colonial Malaya.

Former Nanyang University Library

Built in 1955, the former Nanyang University (Nantah) was founded to provide education for the Chinese community in Singapore. Singapore’s second university after the National University of Singapore, the construction of Nanyang University was funded generously by the local Chinese from all walks of life, while the land it was sited on was donated by the Hokkien Huay Kuan.

The former Nanyang University library and administrative building has become the Chinese Heritage Centre of Nanyang Technological University today. It is largely designed in Chinese National style, which comprises a traditional Chinese roof on top of a modern concrete building. On 18 December 1998, it was gazetted as one of Singapore’s national monuments.

St Andrew’s Cathedral

A reminder of the English, Scottish and Indian influences during the colonial era, the St Andrew’s Cathedral is currently Singapore’s oldest Anglican place of worship, in existence since 1861. It is also the last major building constructed by the Indian convict labourers.

Gazetted on 28 June 1973 as a national monument, the grand cathedral possesses a Neo-Gothic architectural style, made up of a cross-shaped floor plan, sharply-pointed lancet windows and high arches. The tall tapered spire on top of the main building and large stained glass windows behind the church altar are also some of the unique features of St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Published: 24 June 2018

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Toa Payoh Rise’s Past and Present

Relatively undisturbed for the past 50 years, Toa Payoh Rise may see a big change in the coming years, due to its location being one of the areas that will be affected by the construction of the North-South Corridor, Singapore’s 11th expressway.

Located off Thomson Road, Toa Payoh Rise was initially called Toa Payoh Road, but due to the similarity in the name with Jalan Toa Payoh in the same locality, the then-City Council decided to rename it Toa Payoh Rise in 1961. In the early seventies, the secluded road got many taxi drivers confused about its location, as many of them thought it was situated within Toa Payoh estate.

In 1973, the Singapore Association for the Blind even wrote to the authority, suggesting to change Toa Payoh Rise to Jalan Buta (buta refers to blind in Malay), Blind Rise or White Cane Road. The name “white cane” would raise awareness to the motorists, so that they could take extra care of the numerous blind pedestrians in the vicinity. The Committee on Street Names, however, ruled that the name Toa Payoh Rise would not be altered.

Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped

Founded in 1951, the Singapore Association for the Blind was one of the establishments at Toa Payoh Rise in the early seventies, where it set up its industrial centre and workshop for the visually impaired to learn various skills in carpentry, baskets making and other handicrafts. The association was renamed Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped in 1987.

The junction between Toa Payoh Rise and Thomson Road was once an accident-prone area due to speeding vehicles and a lack of road safety features for both the pedestrians from the Blind School and patients from Thomson Road Hospital. Safety First Campaigns had to be introduced in the seventies to create awareness for the motorists approaching Thomson Road and Toa Payoh Rise.

Thomson Road Hospital/Toa Payoh Hospital

The most prominent landmark at Toa Payoh Rise was the former Thomson Road Hospital, officially opened on 19 May 1959 by former Minister for Health Armand Joseph Braga (1900-1968).

Built for the chronic sick, the hospital was established to meet the increasing public demands for medical services in Singapore, which, by the late fifties, were struggling as the then-Sepoy Lines General Hospital (present-day Singapore General Hospital) could not accommodate the large number of patients.

Thomson Road Hospital’s foundation was laid on a small hill at Toa Payoh Rise in 1957, and its construction took about two years, at a cost of $4.5 million. At the start of its operation in 1959, it had a medical team made up of only two doctors and seven nurses.

The sixties saw Thomson Road Hospital rapidly picking up in both its capabilities and reputation. Postgraduate clinical training was given to local as well as overseas physicians. This was followed by formal nursing training when the hospital established the School of Nursing for Pupil Assistant Nurse in 1965.

In the same year, Thomson Road Hospital also added a new extension block with 500 beds and other facilities. It aided the hospital, in the next several years, to become capable in providing general and specialised medical services such as neurosurgery, obstetrics, gynaecology, neonatology and orthopaedic surgery. In 1968, it was renamed Thomson Road General Hospital, Singapore’s second general hospital after Singapore General Hospital.

The hospital continue to grow in the seventies. In 1975, it changed its name again – this time to Toa Payoh Hospital, named after the new satellite town in its close proximity. Toa Payoh Hospital, by the eighties and nineties, was operating in almost full capacity due to the development and maturing of nearby new towns in Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Yishun. A new site had to be sourced as it was obvious that Toa Payoh Hospital could no longer cope with the demands.

On 15 February 1997, the 38-year-old Toa Payoh Hospital officially ceased its operations. A year later, it was merged with Changi Hospital to become Changi General Hospital located at Simei. The old premises of Toa Payoh Hospital was initially intended to be taken over by Ren Ci Community Hospital, but the plan did not materialise. They were eventually demolished in the late nineties.

In the seventies, there were appeals by the public to construct another road to Toa Payoh Hospital, which was accessible only via the narrow Toa Payoh Rise. The traffic condition was sometimes made worse by the congestion at its junction with Thomson Road. To ease Thomson Road’s traffic issues, the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1979 constructed a new three-carriageway Marymount Road that included a flyover across Braddell Road. An overhead pedestrian bridge was also built across Thomson Road, at the bus stop near its junction with Toa Payoh Rise.

Marymount Convent

Another landmark at Toa Payoh Rise was Marymount Convent, which had its roots linked to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd originated in France.

One of the Good Shepherd Sisters named Mother Ligouri Burke came to Singapore in 1939, and was given a plot of land along Thomson Road in 1947 by the British government to start the Convent of the Good Shepherd. The convent, upon completion, was officially opened on 29 May 1950 by the Governor of Singapore Sir Franklin Gimson.

In late 1950, the Catholic premises was in the spotlight when Dutch girl Maria Hertogh (also called Nadra) was temporarily placed in the convent’s Girls’ Home during the high profile custody battle. The arrangement sparked off a riot and resulted in hundreds of protesters trying to force their way into the convent. The police had to step in to prevent the forced intrusion. The authority later relocated Maria Hertogh and her biological mother to St. John’s Island, before sending them to Kallang Airport where they boarded the plane to Holland.

In 1958, a convent school, with a kindergarten, was established at Marymount Convent, with Maurice O’Neil appointed as its first principal. Many of the girl students received their educations at Marymount Convent School since young, starting from the convent’s kindergarten until the completion of their primary and secondary school classes.

In 1971, the school added a Home Economics unit in 1971 for cookery and sewing classes. By the mid-nineties, Marymount Convent School became a sole primary school after its secondary school classes were phased out. Going through a rebuilding period in the late nineties, the school was reopened in its new premises at 20 Marymount Road in 1999. Today, the school has more than 1,400 students in 40 classes.

Lions Home for the Elders

Situated next to Marymount Convent was formerly a vacant single-storey building about 830 square metres in size. A solid bunker that had saved many lives during the Second World War air raids, the building was forgotten over the years, and was “illegally” used by Chinese worshippers to release snakes after their prayers for their loved ones at Toa Payoh Hospital.

In 1983, the former bomb shelter was finally put into good use when the Ministry of Social Affairs collaborated with the Lions Clubs of Singapore to convert the building into a nursing home for the elderly and aged sick.

The Lions Clubs, which was in charge of a convalescent home at Ang Mo Kio, raised about $300,000, half of the total cost, to renovate the bunker, giving it fresh coats of paint and installing new windows, kitchen and dining hall. Medical equipment and beds were also procured for the home’s capacity of 60 patients.

The Lions Home for the Elders was officially opened in November 1985 by Suppiah Dhanabalan, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Community Development.

Toa Payoh Rise Apartments

Tucked by the side of a quiet minor lane off Toa Payoh Rise is a row of four blocks of apartments that used to serve as housing quarters for the Toa Payoh Hospital’s medical staff. When Toa Payoh Hospital was closed and demolished in the late nineties, the three-storey apartments were left vacated for a period of time before being leased out as private apartments.

In 2011, the Circle Line’s Caldecott MRT Station was completed and opened beside the apartments, but the vicinity remained secluded. The apartments are some of the buildings at Toa Payoh Rise that are affected by the development of the North-South Corridor. The tenants of the apartments have since moved out, as the empty buildings are awaiting for their demolition, expected to begin in mid-2018.

Other Toa Payoh Rise landmarks included the former Toa Payoh Girls’ Home, previously located beside the Singapore Association for the Blind (Visually Handicapped), First Toa Payoh Primary and Secondary Schools and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks of 164, 165, 166 and 167 (the HDB flats and schools had been demolished).

Established in 1967 to replace the Girls’ Homecraft Centre at Yorkhill, the social welfare home, consisted of several blocks of flatted dormitories, served as a rehabilitation centre for juvenile girls with family, relationship and other social issues and difficulties.

Toa Payoh Girls’ Home was closed in the 2000s, with its operations shifted to Singapore Girls’ Home at Defu Avenue. Its old vacant buildings at Toa Payoh Rise were subsequently demolished by local construction company Leong Hin Seng.

Published: 15 June 2018

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Memories of Ah Meng, Inuka and Other Singapore’s Favourite Animal Stars

Many Singaporeans visited the Singapore Zoo to catch the last glimpse of their favourite Inuka, after learning about the news of its declining health. The world’s only tropical polar bear was eventually put down on 25 April 2018 by the zoo on humane and welfare grounds.

The fourth polar bear to be kept at the Singapore Zoo after Nanook, Sheba (its parents) and Anana, Inuka lived till 27 years old, equivalent to the age of seventies in human terms. The average life expectancy of polar bears is between 15 and 18 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.

Born just a day after Christmas in 1990, Inuka was part of the childhood memories for many students in the nineties during their school excursions to the zoo. Many would remember watching the adorable polar bear cub playing with her mother Sheba, which was also a 14-month-old cub when she came from Germany in 1978.

Sheba, in the her early thirties, suffered from illness that resulted in the loss of strength in her limbs, and weeks before her eventual death, the polar bear could no longer take in food. In November 2012, Sheba was put to death at an age of 35, and her body was preserved as a specimen.

With the death of Sheba and Inuka (as well as Nanook and Anana in 1995 and 1999 respectively), the Singapore Zoo has announced it will not bring in any polar bears in future.

Ah Meng

The Singapore Zoo today has one of the largest display collections of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans in the world. The reddish brown primates remain as one of the zoo’s attractions and visitors’ favourite animals since the establishment of the orangutan enclosure in the early seventies.

But one stood out among the rest. Ah Meng, a Sumatran orangutan, was the poster girl representing Singapore’s tourism and conservation efforts between the eighties and nineties, when numerous foreign dignitaries, movie stars and famous sports celebrities visited the zoo to catch a glimpse of her.

The orangutan was born in Indonesia in 1960. She was smuggled to Singapore and was kept as a pet until she was discovered and confiscated in the early seventies (there were other disputed sources about her background). Displaying high levels of intelligence and friendliness, Ah Meng soon became the crowd favourite, and had her own events such as “Breakfast with an Orangutan” first organised in 1982 by the zoo.

The mild-tempered orangutan had her tantrum-throwing moments. In the filming of a tourism promotion video in 1982, Ah Meng climbed up a tree and refused to come down. It stayed there for 3 days before falling down from the tree and breaking its arm. Then in 1992, it attacked a female French student, believed to be caused by a fit of jealousy.

In 1992, Ah Meng became the first and only non-human recipient to receive the “Special Tourism Ambassador” award from the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB). Thousands of zoo visitors had their photos taken with her, including notable personalities including Prince Philip, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Bjorn Borg.

Locally, Ah Meng had been a household name and Singapore’s favourite animal for almost two decades. One of the reasons for its fame was perhaps its localised name, a common and easy-to-remember name that resonated with those who had grown up in the eras of the eighties and nineties.

Ah Meng died naturally on 8 February 2008. The durian-loving ape had lived to a ripe old age of 48, equivalent to a 95-year-old human being. As many as 4,000 people visited the zoo’s Garden with a View to bid their farewells. Its legendary status as the zoo’s mascot lives on with her own bronze statue, a restaurant named after her, and one of her granddaughters handpicked by the zoo to represent and continue her legacy.

Singapore Zoo

The Singapore Zoo was officially opened on 27 June 1973 under the name of Singapore Zoological Gardens. Occupying an area of 28 hectares near the edges of Upper Seletar Reservoir, it was also fondly known as the Mandai Zoo.

The idea of Singapore having its zoological garden, built within the greenery at the country’s central water catchment areas, was first mooted in 1968 by Public Utilities Board (PUB) chairman Dr Ong Swee Law.

The zoo, designed with a unique open concept where the animals could roam freely in their spacious enclosures, became part of the government’s plan to develop Singapore’s tourism sector together with other new attractions such as Sentosa and Jurong Bird Park in the early seventies. Prior to the establishment of the Singapore Zoological Gardens, there were small-scaled private zoos owned by individuals located at Punggol, Pasir Panjang, Serangoon and other parts of Singapore.


Omar the white Bengal tiger was another famous resident at the Singapore Zoo. A subspecies of Bengal tiger, white tigers are extremely rare, with only one in 10,000 born without the orange pigments in their skins.

Omar arrived from Indonesia in 2001 together with its sisters Jippie and Winnie as tiger cubs. An animal exchange program between the two countries, the three white tigers were the Singapore Zoo’s latest attractions and also its celebrations to mark the Year of the Tiger. Omar and its siblings, however, were not the first white tigers in Singapore; the zoo had presented in 1998 two white tigers loaned from the United States’ Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

A tragedy occurred in 2008 when a 32-year-old zoo cleaner leaped into the tiger enclosure. He was later mauled to death by the tigers.

Jippie and Winnie died in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Omar survived until June 2017, when he was put to death after suffering from melanoma and arthritis for several months. The Singapore Zoo currently has two white tigers named Pasha and Keysa, imported from Indonesia in 2015.

Other Animals

Other animal celebrities at Singapore Zoo include Astove the tortoise. The 300kg Aldabra giant tortoise, which came from Seychelles in 1989, is currently the oldest animal at the zoo at age 80. Previously, there was also Tommy, a giant Galapagos tortoise given as a gift by the Honolulu Zoo.

Congo the hippopotamus, Anusha the elephant and Matilda the wallaby were some of the early animal residents at the Singapore Zoological Gardens in the seventies. Others included several big cats, such as the tiger siblings named Adeline, Supee and Mathu, and a pair of jaguars acquired from the United States called Cleveland and Ohio.

In early 1974, Congo the hippo made a daring escape and hid in the thick vegetation of the Upper Seletar Reservoir for almost 50 days before it was lured back to captivity by the zoo staff using bananas and sweet potatoes.

Throughout the zoo’s history, numerous animals managed to break free. A year before Congo’s escape, a black panther and several sun bears escaped. The police was alerted as the panther posed a threat to the public, and a massive manhunt was carried out. The black panther eventually died during the process of its recapture.

In the early 2000s, a chimpanzee named Ramba, Medan the orangutan and a jaguar ran off from the zoo. Ramba unfortunately drowned, whereas the jaguar was caught. Medan hung around the top of the trees, a repeat of what her mother Ah Meng did in 1982, before coming down the trees, tempted by the fruits offered by its zookeepers.

During its opening in 1973, the Singapore Zoological Gardens had about 300 animals of 70 species. By 1990, the collection grew to 1,600 animals of 160 species. Today, the Singapore Zoo (rebranded in the mid-2000s) displays more than 2,800 animals of 900 species, and enjoys an average of 1.7 million visitorship each year.

Published: 22 May 2018

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Singapore Trivia – Old Dragons of Whampoa and Toa Payoh

Two dragons have been standing tall at the heartlands of Whampoa and Toa Payoh for more than 40 years. Both of them were built in the late sixties and early seventies, as landmarks and identities for the upcoming housing estates and possibly also for good fengshui for the new neighbourhoods.

The dragon fountain at Whampoa and its surrounding flats were completed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1974. The 4.8m-tall dragon instantly became a symbolic feature in the vicinity. During its early days, the dragon fountain was also accompanied by a park, but it had to give way to the construction of the Central Expressway (CTE) in the eighties.

The scaled body of the surging dragon is made up of hundreds of red, green and pink porcelain pieces similar to those Chinese rice bowls. It used to spout water until its pump system became defective in the mid-nineties. It has remained dry since then.

A lesser known dragon stands at the entrance of a carpark along Toa Payoh Lorong 3. Entwining a red pillar of about 4m tall, the Chinese-style dragon has been a distintive marker in front of Block 91 since the late sixties after the development of the housing estate was completed.

Over the years, the dragon and its pillar have been subjected to the constant exposure to sun and rain. Today, they appear neglected with faded colours and peeling paintwork. Nevertheless, the 50-year-old dragon will continue to guard its post, perhaps until the day arrives for the redevelopment of this old Toa Payoh estate.

Published: 19 May 2018

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The Beginning of Singapore’s Expressways

The first blueprint of Singapore’s expressway network began in 1968, when it was mapped out as part of the State and City Planning Project. The authorities recognised that expressways were the best method to provide better and faster travel in the land-scarce Singapore.

Before the completion of the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) in 1981, it was unimaginable to drive from the Changi Airport to the end of Jurong in under 45 minutes. The road network then was made up of the major roads (Bukit Timah Road, Jurong Road, Upper Changi Road, Mandai Road, Tampines Road, Punggol Road, etc) that were marked by milestones, an old system that found its roots in Singapore since the 1840s.

Expressways would significantly improve the traffic conditions and travel time; an estimate of 1,800 to 2,000 vehicles could move along an expressway lane per hour.

Dual three-lane carriageways were the preferred initial designs, although several upgrading and widening projects in the 2000s and 2010s meant that some of the current expressways have more than three or four lanes to resolve the traffic congestion issues; for example, there are upgraded six-lane carriageways for PIE towards the Adam Flyover exit.

Today, Singapore has a total of ten expressways. They are PIE, East Coast Parkway (ECP), Central Expressway (CTE), Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), Tampines Expressway (TPE), Kranji Expressway (KJE), Seletar Expressway (SLE), Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE). The eleventh North-South Expressway (NSE) is expected to be completed in 2023.

Except for KPE and MCE, the naming of the Singapore expressways is derived from the first letter of the first two syllables followed by the first letter of the last word. Therefore, for examples, Ayer Rajah Expressway is known as AYE instead of ARE, and Bukit Timah Expressway is called BKE, not BTE (although it was initially named BTE when it was planned in the early eighties).

1. Pan-Island Expressway (PIE)

At 42.8km long, PIE is currently Singapore’s longest expressway, spanning across the island from Changi to Tuas.

It is also the oldest expressway in Singapore, having first started in its construction by the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1966 as a mean to link up the existing and new satellite towns and industrial estates between Toa Payoh and the Kallang Basin. This included the widening of Whitley Road from Mount Pleasant to Jalan Kolam Ayer and Paya Lebar Way.

The early seventies saw the continued extensions of PIE. Toa Payoh Flyover and Thomson Flyover were built in 1970 and 1971 respectively. Part of Jalan Toa Payoh became integrated with the expressway, and more than 1,700 graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery were exhumed to make way for the construction.

The second and third phase of PIE were subsequently completed in 1975 and 1980. Towards the west, the expressway was extended to Jalan Anak Bukit, and at the east side, PIE was stretched from Jalan Eunos to Changi. PIE was considered completed when the extension from Jalan Anak Bukit to Corporation Road finished in 1981. By then, it was about 35km long and had 21 flyovers and one viaduct.

In the nineties, PIE was further extended to connect to the new KJE. It also linked up with the AYE, which itself was extended westwards to create a direct route to the newly-opened Tuas Second Link.

Currently PIE is linked to all other expressways in Singapore with the exception of SLE. It is also the expressway with the most number of flyovers – 31 in total – in Changi Flyover (linked to ECP), Upper Changi Flyover (linked to TPE), Simei Flyover, Tampines South Flyover, Bedok Reservoir Flyover, Bedok North Flyover, Eunos Flyover, Paya Lebar Flyover, Aljunied Flyover, Aljunied West Flyover (linked to KPE), Woodsville Flyover, Whampoa Flyover (linked to CTE), Kim Keat Flyover, Toa Payoh South Flyover, Thomson Flyover, Mount Pleasant Flyover, Adam Flyover, Eng Neo Flyover, Chantek Flyover (linked to BKE), Anak Bukit Flyover, Clementi North Flyover, Toh Tuck Flyover, Toh Guan Flyover, Jurong East Flyover, Bukit Batok Flyover, Hong Kah Flyover, Tengah Flyover (linked to KJE), Bahar Flyover, Nanyang Flyover, Pasir Laba Flyover and Tuas Flyover (linked to AYE).

In 1979, the construction of PIE towards Changi was temporarily suspended due to the collapse of the 4.8m-tall Eunos Flyover. A crack was found in the concrete structure that eventually led to the flyover’s collapse. It took more than a year in the investigations and reconstruction before a new flyover was erected. Another similar mishap occurred in 2017 when a PIE’s viaduct near Upper Changi Coast Road collapsed, resulted in one death and 10 injuries.

Fun Trivia: PIE’s exit (26A) to Dunearn Road/Clementi Road is the only rightmost lane exit designed on a Singapore expressway.

2. East Coast Parkway (ECP)

The construction of ECP began in the early seventies on the reclaimed lands of the southeastern coast of Singapore. Taking almost a decade to complete, the coastal expressway was opened in 1981, the same year as the Changi Airport.

ECP is the only expressway in Singapore named a “parkway”. Its western end was originally linked, via the majestic Benjamin Sheares Bridge, to AYE near Shenton Way. In 2013, ECP is no longer directly linked to AYE after the opening of the new MCE underground tunnels.

Named after the second President of Singapore, 1.8km-long Benjamin Sheares Bridge was opened in September 1981 at a construction cost of $110 million. Being the longest and tallest bridge ever built by PWD, the splendid views of the Singapore skyline charmed many motorists so much that, when the bridge was opened, many cars stopped by the sides of the bridge for the scenery and photo takings.

The Benjamin Sheares Bridge was downgraded from part of an expressway to an arterial road after the opening of MCE.

The opening of ECP eased the increasing traffic congestion issues at the city area in the eighties. For instance, the traffic volume at Nicholl Highway had lowered by 20% during the peak hours, and Robinson Road and Cecil Street were better managed with lesser traffic jams.

Much of ECP is flanked on both sides by mature tropical trees and palm trees. Towards Changi Airport, motorists will also pass by a scenic stretch where rows of beautiful potted plants make up the median strip. The hundreds of removable potted plants used to function as an emergency landing runway, but it had never been used or tested, and its secondary function had since been decommissioned.

Serving as a fast route from the airport to city area, the new Changi Airport and the well-landscaped ECP with colourful bougainvilla blooms and other shrubbery gave many visitors and tourists a good impression of Singapore as soon as they landed in the country.

ECP has Changi Flyover (linked to PIE), Tanah Merah Flyover, Laguna Flyover, Marine Parade Flyover, Tanjong Katong Flyover and Tanjong Rhu Flyover, running past the residential districts of Bedok South, Marine Parade, Siglap, Katong and Tanjong Rhu.

Fun Fact: In 1998, ECP became the first expressway to be tested and installed with Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantries.

3. Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE)

Completed in the mid-eighties, BKE runs from north to south, providing the link between Woodlands and PIE. At its northern end, it joins directly to the Woodlands Custom and Causeway. Along its 11km-long route, the expressway is connected to three other expressways in SLE, KJE and PIE.

The opening of BKE – it was initially known as BTE – at the end of 1985 provided much convenience and accessibility to the Woodlands residents who needed to get to their workplaces at the southern and western sides of Singapore. Likewise, the newly developed Woodlands got a boost as it became easier to reach the new town from other parts of Singapore.

The construction of BKE began in 1983 in two stages – Woodlands to Mandai Road, and then Mandai Road to PIE. The step-by-step construction of the expressway and the changing landscape of its surroundings were, for the first time, recorded in a 30-minute filmlet.

The project also saw one of the largest land acquisitions in the eighties – more than 2.8 million square metres of private lands at Bukit Timah, Mandai and Sembawang were acquired by the government for national development. Almost half of the lands acquired were owned by the family of local tycoon and hotelier Khoo Teck Puat (1917-2004).

Designed with six-lane dual carriageways, the expressway has seven flyovers – Woodlands Flyover, Mandai Flyover, Gali Batu Flyover, Zhenghua Flyover, Dairy Farm Flyover, Rife Range Flyover and Chantek Flyover. In 2003, a section of BKE was converted into four-lane dual carriageway for better linkage to SLE.

Fun Fact: Spanning over BKE near Rifle Range Road is the Eco-Link @BKE, a 62m-long bridge built just for wildlife, the first of its kind in South-east Asia. With its opening in 2013, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve are linked once again, allowing animals to cross over to either sides.

4. Central Expressway (CTE)

CTE connects the northern and central parts of Singapore to the city area, running through numerous new towns in Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Toa Payoh. At the north, it is linked to SLE and TPE, and AYE at the Radin Mas Flyover at its southern end.

By the mid-eighties, Singapore had two completed expressways in PIE and ECP. In addition, the first phases of the construction of CTE, AYE and BKE had commenced. Four more expressways – Seletar Expressway (SLE), Tampines Expressway (TPE), Kranji Expressway (KJE) and Kallang Expressway (KLE) – were planned to link the major areas of activities and allow more rapid travels across the island. A total of nine expressways, at 134km long, was targeted to be part of a developed road network in conjunction with the new transport system in the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).

Before CTE came into the picture, a Sembawang Expressway was proposed. Running from Nee Soon, via Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, to Jalan Toa Payoh, it would then be connected to CTE, which started from Jalan Toa Payoh and ended at Lower Delta Road. The plan, however, did not materialise, as CTE was later designed and built as the main expressway between Yio Chu Kang Road and the city area.

The CTE project had three phases. The first phase was to construct an expressway from Yio Chu Kang Road to Bukit Timah Road. This section of CTE was completed in the late eighties and officially opened on 17 June 1989.

Its second phase was to link to AYE at Radin Mas, starting from Chin Swee Road at the Chinatown area. The final stage of the CTE project was also the most difficult in its construction. Two tunnels, Singapore’s first expressway tunnels, under Orchard, Fort Canning, the Singapore River and Outram were built to link the first and second sections of CTE together.

CTE was completed in 1991, reaching a total of 15.5km in length and $500 million in cost. The expressway has 12 flyovers, starting from Seletar Flyover (linked to SLE and TPE) to Yio Chu Kang Flyover, Ang Mo Kio North Flyover, Ang Mo Kio Central Flyover, Ang Mo Kio South Flyover, Braddell Flyover, Whampoa Flyover (linked to PIE), Moulmein Flyover, Kampong Java Flyover, Outram Flyover, Bukit Merah Flyover and ending at Radin Mas Flyover (linked to AYE).

In the late 2000s, projects to widen CTE were carried out to ease the persisting congestion problems, due to the residential development in the northern and northeastern parts of Singapore.

Fun Fact: CTE was the first expressway tunnels in Singapore, and the first expressway to be charged with evening ERP (since 2005).

5. Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE)

Originally named Jurong Expressway, the plan was to build another coastal expressway, similar to ECP, along West Coast. The new expressway was later named AYE instead, after Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate which was developed by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) in the early seventies.

The AYE project, comprising of a length of 14km at the start, was carried out in two phases – a Keppel Viaduct between ECP and Kampong Bahru Road, and the upgrading of the existing Ayer Rajah and Upper Ayer Rajah Roads to become parts of the new expressway.

The Keppel Viaduct, standing on 60 spans, was completed in 1985 after two years of contract tenders, planning and construction. Costing $60 million, the 2.1km-long viaduct, with its dual three-lane carriageways, was built to ease Keppel Road, congested with almost 3,000 vehicles during the peak hours.

The second phase of the AYE project was the conversion of Ayer Rajah Road and Upper Ayer Rajah Road, two existing roads that laid down as the foundation routes for the expressway. Ending at Jurong Town Hall Road, the construction of AYE was by 1988 fundamentally completed. The ECP-AYE link had become the second east-west route in Singapore after PIE.

In 1994, AYE was further extended to the western side of the island to connect to the new Tuas Second Link, with Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim upgraded to become a section of the expressway. The extension project was eventually concluded in 1998, stretching AYE to a total of 26.5km in distance.

There is a total of 16 flyovers along AYE – Kampong Bahru Flyover, Radin Mas Flyover (linked to CTE), Lower Delta Flyover, Henderson Flyover, Gillman Flyover, Portsdown Flyover, Buona Vista Flyover, University Flyover, Clementi Flyover, Pandan Flyover, Teban Flyover, Corporation Flyover, Jurong Hill Flyover, Pioneer Flyover, Benoi Flyover and Tuas Flyover. In addition, AYE also has an underpass (Tuas West Underpass) and another viaduct (Tuas Checkpoint Viaduct).

Fun Fact: The Keppel Viaduct, with Keppel Road running underneath it, was the first two-tier road system in Singapore.

6. Tampines Expressway (TPE)

Tenders were called in 1986 to build the first phase of TPE, which at the start stretched from PIE at the eastern side of Singapore to Elias Road.

The project included the conversion of a 4km-long section of Tampines Road into an expressway of dual three-lane carriageways, and the building of a large interchange that linked Loyang Avenue, Upper Changi Road East and Tampines Avenue 7.

In September 1987, TPE became Singapore’s sixth expressway when its completed section was opened to traffic. The same year saw its second phase of construction kicked off – the continuation of the expressway westwards from Elias Road to Lorong Halus. The second extension was completed and opened by May 1989.

The third stage of TPE, linking between Lorong Halus and CTE, finished in 1995, although the 8km-long final section was opened only a year later. Overall, it took nine years and $125 million to build the 14.5km-long TPE.

The construction of TPE coincided with the development of Tampines New Town in the eighties. When it was fully completed in the mid-nineties, TPE, however, was the least utilised expressway, as it cut through the largely rural northeastern parts of Singapore. TPE’s usage rate only increased after the new towns of Sengkang and Punggol became more developed in the late nineties.

In 2008, TPE was linked to KPE near Lorong Halus, when the new underground expressway opened after six years of construction. Currently, there are 11 flyovers along TPE – Upper Changi Flyover (linked to PIE), Loyang Flyover, Pasir Ris Flyover, Api Api Flyover, Tampines Flyover (linked to KPE), Punggol East Flyover, Punggol Flyover, Punggol West Flyover, Seletar Aerospace Flyover, Jalan Kayu Flyover, Seletar Flyover (linked to CTE and SLE).

Fun Fact: Api Api Flyover was named after the nearby Sungei Api Api. The river itself was named after Api Api (mostly Avicennia alba), a type of tropical mangrove growing along the river banks that attracts fireflies. Api means fire in Malay.

7. Kranji Expressway (KJE)

The construction of KJE began in 1990, as part of the government’s plan to develop the northwestern part of Singapore into vibrant residential and industrial districts.

At 8.4km long, the construction took about five years; some kampongs at old Choa Chu Kang such as Kampong Cutforth, and several long dirt tracks had to make way for the construction of the expressway. KJE was eventually inaugurated in March 1995.

KJE, linking between BKE and PIE, provided a more convenient and direct route for the residents of Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Batok, Jurong and Bukit Panjang to commute between Woodlands and the western side of Singapore.

KJE currently has five flyovers – Gali Batu Flyover, Yew Tee Flyover, Choa Chu Kang East Flyover, Choa Chu Kang West Flyover, Lam San Flyover and Tengah Flyover.

Fun Fact: KJE is one of the first roads in Singapore to be built with anti-skid surfacing.

8. Seletar Expressway (SLE)

Built in two phases, from 1992 to 1998, the 12-km SLE links with TPE and BKE at both ends, and also CTE at Yio Chu Kang area.

The first phase of the SLE project was carried out between Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Thomson Road, whereas the second phase was more complicated, as it included the construction of the expressway from its interchange with BKE to Upper Thomson Road via Woodlands and Mandai. The final stage of SLE was eventually wrapped up in 1998, and the new expressway had an official opening on 22 February by the Minister of State John Chen.

There are seven flyovers for SLE – Woodlands South Flyover, Marsiling Flyover, Ulu Sembawang Flyover, Upper Thomson Flyover, Lentor Flyover, Seletar Flyover and Yio Chu Kang Flyover

The completion of SLE in 1998 meant that the loop was closed at the northern part of Singapore, and the country’s expressway network was considered fully connected. This provided greater convenience for the residents of Woodlands, Sembawang and Yishun.

Fun Fact: The construction of SLE resulted in the largest clearance of roads. Lorong Gambas, Lorong Handalan, Lorong Lentor, Lorong Selangin, Lorong Hablor and many other roads and dirt tracks were expunged.

9. Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE)

When Singapore’s ninth expressway KPE was opened in September 2008, it smashed several records. At 9km, it was the longest underground road in Singapore as well as Southeast Asia. It was also the most challenging and expensive road project undertaken by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), topping $1.7 billion in total construction cost.

KPE was actually made up of Kallang Expressway (KLE) and Paya Lebar Expressway (PLE), two expressway concepts that were mooted by the government in the late sixties and mid-eighties respectively. KPE itself was planned as early as 1991, but the massive project only kicked off in 2001 after the government acquired lands at Geylang, Airport Road and Upper Paya Lebar Road.

Due to its underground tunnels, KPE is fitted with several facilities, such as a 24/7 operation control centre to monitor the traffic conditions, heat detectors, fire alarms, carbon dioxide sensors and ventilation exhaust systems. KPE is 12km long, inclusive of 3km surface roads and 9km underground tunnels. It is linked to three existing expressways – TPE at the north, PIE, and ECP at its southern end.

Fun Fact: KLE was supposed to be a 3km-long link that began from PIE near Sims Avenue and Geylang Road, and soared over Nicholl Highway, Mountbatten Road and Fort Road to link up with ECP in the south. It would be the shortest expressway in Singapore if it was built.

10. Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE)

MCE’s construction began in 2008 as one of LTA’s most ambitious projects. At $4.1 billion, it is currently Singapore’s most expensive expressway. The dual five-lane expressway, 5km long with a 3.6km underground tunnel, was officially opened in December 2013.

Functioning as a link between ECP and AYE, the expressway has the widest and deepest underground road tunnel in Singapore. During construction, almost 3 million cubic metres, about the size of 1,200 Olympic swimming pools, were excavated. Part of MCE is a 420m-long section under the Marina Bay Channel, the first such underground sea tunnel built for vehicles in Singapore.

The completion of MCE also downgraded the Benjamin Sheares Bridge from an expressway viaduct to an arterial road.

Fun Fact: The word “coastal” was added to the name MCE to better reflect its route along the southern coast of Singapore in the Marina area.

11. North-South Expressway (NSE)

NSE’s role is to provide residents and motorists living in the north with a high speed and time-saving link to the city area, at the same easing CTE’s congestion issues. Its planned connections to the SLE, PIE and ECP are also expected to enhance the overall efficiency of Singapore’s expressway network.

The 21.5km-long expressway will also become the first integrated transport corridor in Singapore, designed with continuous bus lanes, for express bus services between Sembawang, Woodlands, Yishun, Ang Mo Kio and the city area, as well as designated cycling routes that are connected to the Park Connector Networks (PCN).

The newest expressway is expected to be completed in 2023, at a recorded construction cost of $7 billion.

Published: 29 April 2018

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Roads Named after Cargo Boats, and the Vanished Charcoal/Firewood Trade at Tanjong Rhu

The Tanjong Rhu area once had four roads of interesting names – Twakow Place, Tongkang Place, Sampan Place and Mangchoon Place. They were named after the local cargo boats that plied the rivers of Singapore for decades. The boats, also known as bumboats, lighters or flat-bottomed barges, were mainly used for transportation of traded goods.

Operated largely by the local Chinese and Indians, the designs of the twakows and tongkangs were typically in bright colours with the striking painting of an “eye” at the front of the boats. They also came with rubber tyres installed around their wooden bodies acting as protective fenders. The sampans, on the other hand, were simple skiff-like wooden boats used by Malay fishermen or for short-distance transportation of passengers.

Named after a Chinese boat, Mangchoon Place, was well-known for its small-boat building industry between the mid-sixties and mid-eighties. The boat building businesses originated from Beach Road, where they owned by several generations of skillful tradesmen from Kinmen (or Quemoy), Taiwan. The industry continued to flourish after their relocation to Mangchoon Place in the sixties – at its peak, there were more than 20 boat builders at Mangchoon Place. By the late eighties, however, there was only a handful left.

The four parallel roads of Twakow Place, Tongkang Place, Sampan Place and Mangchoon Place were bounded by the main Kampong Kayu Road and Kampong Arang Road, whose names mean wood and charcoal in Malay. The wood here refers to firewood, which, like charcoal, was widely used by Singapore households for cooking before the seventies. These two items were the main shipments from Malaysia and Indonesia. Charcoal, in particular, was delivered from the main supply centre at Selatpandjang of East Sumatra.

There was also a short Jalan Batu – batu means stone in Malay – that lies between Kampong Kayu and Kampong Arang Roads.

Before the fifties, most of the charcoal and firewood imports went through the jetties at Beach Road. After the reclamation of Beach Road, the goods were delivered straight to Sungei Geylang, where the twakows and tongkangs berthed along the river banks for the unloading.

During its heydays, there were more than 20 charcoal importers at Tanjong Rhu, where they imported hundreds of tons of charcoal each month. The charcoal were then sold in bulk to wholesalers who in turn supplied to a large retail network in Singapore. The booming charcoal business in the vicinity led to Tanjong Rhu nicknamed “dan zhui ho” (charcoal river) by the local Hokkiens and Teochews, due to the polluted Sungei Geylang blackened by the charcoal ashes.

Custom-made in Singapore, the tongkangs was 300-strong in the fifties, actively plying between Singapore and the neighbouring countries. In the sixties, the number dropped to 200, affected by the Konfrontasi (1963-1966) and halt in the trade with Indonesia. Although some tongkangs were diverted for Thailand trades, many others fell into disrepair and were abandoned.

The import trade of charcoal and firewood continued to decline and never recovered to its previous levels, even after the end of Konfrontasi hostilities. This was largely due to the steady urbanisation and public housing development of the country, resulting in more households switched to electricity and gas for their cooking. By the mid-seventies, the number of tongkangs at the Singapore rivers numbered less than 60.

In the seventies, a team of tongkang crew members would be paid $250 to $300 each for a round trip to Indonesia. A longer voyage to Thailand would cost more; about $300 to $400 per crew member.

The shore labourers were paid much lesser, about 60 cents per katis of charcoal they unloaded. The work was tedious and physically demanding, as each unloading work started at 6 in the morning, and lasted until 5pm. During the unloading, the labourers had to use changkuls to heap the charcoal into wicker baskets. The loaded baskets were then carried ashore by other labourers via a wooden plank.

The charcoal were distributed into gunny sacks and loaded onto the lorries. It was a collective team effort, and the hard-earned money was shared among each group of labourers. On average, each of them earned about $11 a day.

Besides than charcoal, firewood and piling logs importers, Tanjong Rhu also had other factories and godowns of different trades. One of which was Kim Teck Leong, a factory that supplied cables, ropes and marine hardware. At Tongkang Place, a Ng Guan Seng manufacturing house specialised in wooden and cardboard boxes.

Until the late seventies, the manufacture and repair of sampans and other lighter vessels remained a niche industry along the Geylang River. Several specialised workshops, together with their neighbouring paint and lubricant suppliers, held on to their businesses until the vicinity was eventually redeveloped in the mid-eighties due to the urban renewal projects.

Tanjong Rhu’s network of boat- and fuel-named roads reflected the unique blend of cultures and languages in Singapore. The names of Sampan (舢板), Tongkang (舯舡), Twakow (大䑩) and Mangchoon (万春) originated from the Chinese language and dialects, while arang and kayu were Malay words. Sampan, derived from the Chinese’s “three wooden boards”, first appeared as an English word in the 17th century. It then made its way, together with tongkang, into the Malay language, referring to boat and barge respectively.

At the vicinity also existed a boys’ school named Tanjong Rhu School, which was founded in 1950 and stood between Kampong Arang Road and Tanjong Rhu Road. The same year also saw Tanjong Rhu Girls’ School established at Meyer Road. In the sixties, Tanjong Rhu Girls’ School moved in to share the premises with Tanjong Rhu (Boys’) School.

In 1984, both Tanjong Rhu Boys’ and Tanjong Rhu Girls’ Schools were merged to form Tanjong Rhu Primary School. The primary school ceased its operations in 1989, and had its former site taken over by Dunman High School in 1995.

The small Tanjong Rhu housing estate, along Mountbatten Road, was developed in the sixties by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). By 1969, the new blocks of emergency flats were ready for residents to move in. In the mid-eighties, several blocks (Blk 10 to 14) in the housing estate were converted from one-room emergency units to three- or four-room flats in a major HDB upgrading project.

Twakow Place, Tongkang Place and Mangchoon Place were eventually expunged in the early nineties, leaving Sampan Place as the sole survivor today to tell the story of Tanjong Rhu’s forgotten charcoal and firewood trade.

Published: 25 March 2018

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