Monday, 17 February 2014

Is there a Gestetner in the house?

This is how I remember the machine in our house -- hooded in
a grey cover when not in use -- with only the crank sticking out.
WE had one in our home when we were kids. Hence, I could pronounce this three-syllable word even before I learnt to pronounce other simple words in school. (Of course, I could also pronounce Kelvinator, the now rather antique bramd of our fridge, but that would be another story.)

My parents ran a correspondence school in accountancy. Their office was a room at home. And every other night, the sound of the Gestetner hard at work, duplicating copies of lesson notes, could be heard. And later on, we would sit in a circle on the floor to sort out the notes and then staple them into sets. The final touch was stamping the school's "chop" onto the top right hand corner of the notes. The sets of notes would then be inserted into brown Manila envelopes and mailed out to the students.

Gestetner stencils (right) and the box they came
 in (left). These were unearthed by my brother
when he cleaned out his store room.

The Gestetner was easy to use. You first mount the stencil over the roller (this could be the most tricky part for us kids). Then crank the handle manually to even out the ink, set the number of copies you want, punch the "go" button... and the machine would go ke-chung, ke-chung, ke-chung. I remember how mum used a special stylus to write on the stencil (a deep turquoise blue -- which was really the colour of the layer of wax over the paper). The stencils she had were specially designed for Chinese characters as they had grids on them. Mum would write a character in each little box with the stylus. Painstaking. There was a correcting liquid (pink colour and smelt really great) which mum could use to brush over mistakes and then rewrite over the spot.

Once, my teacher (I think it was my primary three teacher) needed to print some notes urgently and the school's duplicating machine had broken down. She made an appeal to the class, asking whether we know of anyone who has such a machine. I raised my silly hand of course. Mum was a bit upset because she said she was busy enough already without having to print Science lessons notes for the whole class.

Anyway, the "ke-chung" sound made by the machine had a rather hypnotic effect on me and I would often drift off to sleep listening to it.

In writing this blog, I learnt that Gestetner has since been acquired by Ricoh. (And I just have to add this, Kelvinator by Electrolux.) But a bigger find was that, in Googling the word "Gestetner", I came across this moving story on the life of an Irish man working with the Gestetner branch office in Singapore (which was then in Cecil Street). He eventually became a prisoner of war held in Changi and later, in Japan. It was told in a fine manner by his grand daughter with a lot of love, and without too much dramatic overtones. Here's the link, if you are interested to give it a read: J B Dunne... A life well lived.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sngapore's old gateways

The gateway to the old People's Association. It is standing strong despite massive road realignment and widening at Kallang.
Gateway to good food -- the entrance to Maxwell Food Centre at 1 Kadayanullur Street. You can still see the old name "Maxwell Market" on the facade. The market was established in the 1950s to serve Chinatown residents -- where pig brain soup as well as turtle soup were flavour of the day. 
Gateway to Sultan Mosque. at Kampung Glam.
IT is very nice of Singapore to retain some remnants of the past -- especially the "gateways" -- entries to a world so different, and for some, so full of memories.

Remnant of the past -- the arc at Great World City at Kim Seng Road. I am not sure whether the arc is a reminiscence or a remnant (original) of the grand past. I remember a similar arc which formed part of the gate leading in to
 the old Great World Amusement Park, opened in 1929 and closed in 1978. 
This gate pillar still guards the site where the
old Nan ChiauHigh School  once stood at Kim Yam Road.
 The building was erected in 1941 as Nan Chiau Teachers'
Training School and became the  Nan Chiau Girls School in 1947,
 admitting boys in 1984. Demolition started around 2001? I am on
the lookout for more "remant" gateways and
 will post the pictures in this blog.
The New World Amusement Park at Jalan Besar also had an arc as part of its gateway. The structure was retained though the site was redeveloped into a condominium and shopping area. Then of course, there's the Gay World (once also known as Happy World) at Geylang Road, next to the old People's Association headquarters (which has moved since 2009). This one did not have an arc though as gateway. And nothing of its past to remind us of its existence. I must go there to take a look soon, to see if I can find any traces which Time did not erase.

I remember Great World most for its ghost train and merry-go-round. Mum would stay outside as dad went on the ride with me and my brother. I loved the way the skeleton with green eyes suddenly popped out as the train chugged along the dark, dark tunnel. Those days, we never knew that the site was once a cemetery (in the 1920s). Dad put an end to the train rides because he once got his finger snagged by something in the darkness (he didn't quite know what). So, he said, no more train rides. Dangerous.
Charming terraced houses still remain at Kim Yam Road and talking a walk
along the road is close to entering a gateway to the past.

                                                                                                              The Gay World and New World brought back later memories of childhood. Mum and I would take the No. 9 Tay Koh Yat bus from the bus terminus at Serangoon Gardens to the terminus at Geylang. The bus terminus at Geylang was a dark road. We would alight into the darkness  and then walked a short distance to the amusement park. I think it was about 50 cents from Serangoon Gardens to Geylang. Anyway, it was the maximum fare for this bus service. The ticket was a bright orange colour. ( I used to collect bus tickets and the orange tickets were my favourite.)

Those days (60s & early 70s) Gay World was always having "expos" -- and mum would go there to look at furniture, crockery, materials (for sewing)...  There was also a stadium at Gay World where they had basketball matches and boxing. I remembered watching a boxing match with mum -- tickets were courtesy of an old friend of dad. (Mum quite like to watch boxing and sometimes she would watch those late boxing shows on TV.)

The old New World gateway that was preserved at Kitchener Road. It was exactly how I remember it. The cinema was just a short distance from this gate. Much had been written on this amusement park --  opened in 1923 by the two Straits Chinese merchant brothers, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock. They were sons of Ong Sam Leong (who had a road named after him, off Jalan Besar.

We didn't go to New World at Jalan Besar often. But I remember badgering mum to watch Madam White Snake at one of the cinemas there -- starring Linda Lin Dai as White Snake and Tu Chuan as the Green Snake. We missed the first screening at the big theatres (1960s) so this re-run (in the 70s) must not be missed -- come hail storm or floods.

Come to think of it, this old cinema was popular (to us) for its old Cantonese films. Our favourites were, of course, the sword-fighting ones starring Siu Fong Fong, Chan Poh Choo and the older Yu Soh Chow. The "handsome" male star -- inadvertently -- was Jiong Ying Choi (a bit on the fat side, especially obvious in scenes showing him running up mountain paths). He was always the good guy and Chou Tat Wah (who always acted as detective in more modern films) was usually the bad guy. More commonly though, the bad guy was Liu Yan (the villain opposite Kwan Tak Heng in Wong Fei Hung movies).

The gateway to the former People's Association building (which was the former old Kallang Airport) was grand and a bit imposing -- and on a blustery day, one could feel like he or she is walking into Dracula's castle. According to a URA website on the conservation plan for the area, it says that the gate posts and old lamp posts will be retained. But I failed to find these last Sunday when I went to the site... maybe I missed them somehow. What I found was this new road which leads to the construction of the new sportshub. I couldn't find the lovely long walkway to the old building either. Ah well, maybe under wraps -- all to be revealed when completed. Tar-rum!
Update: I was so wrong. I revisited the place yesterday, and ta-rum, the old gateposts , down to the ye ole lamp post are intact. Actually, from where I was the last time, I just needed to walk a bit further towards Kg Bugis, and I would have been able to see the gate posts behind the piles of rubbles, rocks and soil. 

This beautiful tree remains, not sure for how long. The clump of green has been around for the longest time, separating Gay World from the compounds of the old People's Association.

Gay World Hotel along the row of shophouses at Geylang Road is a reminder of  the past. Hope it doesn't change its name though.

Now, this gate (the green one) is reminiscent of the gates I know during my childhood. Our house used to have a gate that's like this -- low and with those curly-wurly things on top. I would swing along one side until mum scolded saying that I would bring the gate down from its post. Sure remember the times when we had to help give it a new coat of paint -- usually silver. Painting a gate is no joke. You need a thin paint brush to painstakingly reach all the curves and corners of the patterns.  I am happy to find an old-fashioned gate like this at Brighton Crescent. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Singapore's old spiral staircases

This spiral staircase was taken in 2005, belonging to the Baba House at Neil Road  before renovation took place. Ever wondered why staircases need to be spiral? Well, they are space savers -- and they are supposed to give defenders an edge over right-handed intruders wielding swords and rushing up the staircase. Their right-hand movements would be hampered by the way the spiral staircases are structured. In Singapore, spiral staircases made their appearances in the 1920s and according to Ghetto Singapore, Heritages and Places, they were for night soil carriers to collect the buckets from different households (on each floor) from the backlane, without entering the premises. So, they were for a very practical reason -- other than a means of fire escape. 
The spiral staircase of the old Baba House (before renovation)
led to a small courtyard.
ABSOLUTELY thrilling, those spiral staircases of the past. You can still see some of these now in back alleys. Among the spiral staircases of my childhood was one belonging to a shophouse at Serangoon Garden Way -- among the row where the famous late Dr Fernandez had his practice. I believe they are there still. (In the old days, shophouses each sport a spiral staircase at the back, as a fire escape.)
View from a spiral staircase.

My old primary school friend used to live in one of those shophouses with her mother and younger brother. She became the top girl the moment she started school. But I got to know her only in primary six when I was good enough to be in her class! I have heard of her fame even when I was in primary 4. Her mother was fantastic in knitting sweaters and scarves -- aided only by a hand-operated machine that I remember, had combs with wool interwoven among their long teeth. She only need to move the combs and the wool would form into patterns and get longer and longer. Until this day, I am not sure how that machine works. My friend was very good at knitting too, besides her studies. (I think she went into medicine after her A levels.)

I visited her quite often and we would enact scenes from Enid Blyton's Famous Five or Secret Seven. We would pretend to sneak out of the house, using the spiral staircase -- and into the backlane -- out on another secret mission.

Whoops, the spiral staircases I used to know behind the row of shophouses at Serangoon Garden Way have gone into hiding. But they are there, behind these extensions in the backyard -- I saw a glimpse of one peeping out from the top. But I was unable to capture it as someone was smoking in the back alley and rather upset that I was disturbing his moment of solitude. 
Another spiral staircase that emerged from even deeper memories, belonged to a shophouse whose owner must be some dealer in Chinese medicine as he was always giving my dad a supply of things like Tiger balm, Bobo tan (Bobo pills that have this fat baby as trademark on the label) and Jin tan (small, rounded silver pills that have a peppermint taste). While my parents were chatting with him (must be an old friend), I vaguely remember looking out of the window into a small courtyard which the spiral staircase led to -- and this fascinating sky well that let in shafts of sunlight forming patterns on the wooden floor.

And each time we visited, the boss would give us trinkets -- pendants and chains made from plastic. One was in the shape of a one-inch square, with a picture of a windmill. The surface was gritted and gave the illusion of the windmill blades moving. On the back of this pendant was an advertisement for Bobo pills.

Each time I see spiral staircases, I have only good memories.

Back of the row of buildings between the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) near MacDonald House at Orchard Road. Taken from Handy Road. Pic: May 2013.
Spiral staircases at a backlane off Geylang Lorong 6, near Oxley Hotel.
The row of shophouses at Geylang Lor 6,  from the front.
Old spiral staircases just don't look good in blue and red...the attempt to jazz them up only adds to the sleaze factor. That's just my opinion, of course. 
The quaint spiral staircase at the end of this lane survives -- not sure for how long.
Spiral staircase at the back of a row of houses along Lavender Street.  

Glimpse of two spiral staircases -- one at the white house on the left and the other belongs to the house behind the tree. Picture taken from Veerasamy Road, Feb, 2014.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Scaredy Cat's busy CNY

What, no ang pow?
Well, maybe I'll make some money as a lamp stand. 
Ahhh, Give up. Let's call it a day.