Monday, 31 March 2014

Old gateway II: Malay Film Productions

No 8, Jalan Ampas -- gateway to celluloid days in Singapore.  Established in 1937 by the Shaw Brothers, the studio saw its heydays in the 50s. The studio was closed in 1967. Read this blog for full details:
Part of the informative panel on the old
 studio (by URA) near the gate.
I ONLY came to know of this studio's existence when I took up taichi with the Singapore Tai Chi Association at Balestier Road. My teacher (I think he is in his 70s at least) who lives in Whampoa, told me about the studio. I had earlier wrote about a few old gateways (to memories) in Singapore -- so here's an addition.

Swim like a dragon: Pasir Panjang Park

A canal now runs through where the shoreline used to be at Pasir Panjang Park. When I visited, due to the dry weather, there wasn't much water in the canal. It was a little after lunch time, so the food centre that is just next door was not at all crowded and I didn't have to queue for a plate of char kway teow at the stall that even TV actress, Zoe Tay was said to have patronised. Pictures: 28 March 2014.

If my so-called "photographic memory" serves me right, the railings have not changed.
The crumbling steps which led to the canal. Could these be the same ones which led to the sea once?

THANKS to blogs like Second Shot I found the place where dad used to praise my non-existent swimming skill. "Look, look, she's swimming like a dragon!" he shouted to mum and my brother who were looking from those concrete railings like the ones you see here.

Dad was holding me in the waters, and telling me to kick as hard as I could. So I did -- with a lot of splashing that made dragons proud.

That was in the 60s. But the green sea waters and the concrete railings where mum watched over us as we swam had stayed in my mind's eye all the while. I often wondered where this nice seaside could be. It definitely wasn't Changi beach as there was no such concrete fence at Changi. It wasn't Bedok where there were corals which we could walk on -- far out to sea -- when the tide was low (but no concrete fences). And it certainly wasn't Katong Park where dad said the waters were not very clean (so we wouldn't have swum there).

So now I know, it was the Pasir Panjang Park.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Old wells II: Where generations have trod...

The last well in Chinatown, at Ann Siang Hill. 
    A LINE by the 19th Century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins came to mind -- "Generations have trod, have trod, have trod..." -- when I saw this old well preserved as part of the heritage trail at Ann Siang Park. Certainly, this well had witnessed the toil of generations in Chinatown -- where bullock carts -- and people  "have trod" to bring down water from the hill.

   Yes, our forefathers have worked very hard. 

The well can be found along this trail, along the backlane of Amoy Street. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Land of spiral staircases, balustrades... and one well

The spiral twins at Bt Pasoh Road.
How did Bukit Pasoh get its name? The place got its name from the Malay word "pasoh" meaning flower pots or earthenware for storing water. The area used to make such pots. The hill (bukit) was owned by several people, the last being an opium farmer, Tan Keng Hoon, who died in 1877.
A slightly more modern spiral staircase. Bukit Pasoh.

I WAS really searching for the last well in Chinatown (known as "niu che shui" in the old days -- Chinese for "bullock cart water" -- when water was fetched from many wells on its hills by carts). But I discovered so many other favourite things instead, like spiral staircases and balustrades. The irony was, I couldn't find the well despite walking up and down the heritage trail of Ann Siang Hill Park several times. Googled later and found that it is actually near the entrance to the trail from Amoy Street. Well, well, well... Next time!

Spiral staircase at the back of the row of shophouses at New Bridge Road.
These spiral staircases are at the back of the row of shophouses in Amoy Street.
Aircons and old spiral staircases -- a comfortable anachrony in modern day Chinatown. 
Study in contrast between spiral and square.
The Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club at Club Street has charming balustrades on its roof top. Founded by a wealthy Peranakan in 1891. It has changed quite a bit since its old days -- see PictureSG.
Club Street.

Club Street. 
House with balustrades at the corner of Amoy Street.

And lastly, I would like to leave you with this beautiful building with balustrades on its roof top, the Beijing Tong Ren Tang at South Bridge Road.  

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Old wells

A disused well found in a temple I visited recently -- currently
used more as a "wishing well" as I found a lot of coins
nestled in its muddy bed (and no water).  The one in the foreground
is a well-like enclosure for burning offerings.
I WONDER whether there are still functional wells in Singapore? Well, there is one (much blogged about) at the Sembawang hot spring at Jalan Gambas. But the water's too scathing hot to be your normal everyday well. Anyway, it's locked up. Apparently, there's one deep in the forests of MacRitchie too, where the Shinto shrine is.  One or two which I have stumbled upon in the past were disused and have been covered up. The structures were left intact though, signifying underground water sources in the area: "Here be Water!" (along
I can't be sure. But this looks like an old well (now filled up) at
Jalan Ampas near Balestier Plaza.  
the lines of "Here be Dragons"). Aside: There were several studies done on the Sembawang hot spring, and one study traced its hot water as coming from faults of the "Bukit Timah granite"!

There's a sad childhood incident associated with wells which I will always remember. I was waiting for my turn at Yang Clinic (corner of the row of shophouses at Kensington Park Road, think it is still there) when a truck rolled up and the doors swung open urgently. A man jumped out carrying a child, desperately shouting in Hokkien, "Make way! Make Way! Fell into well!". The child was wet and muddy. So was the father who must had jumped into the well to try and save the child. But it was too late. Minutes later, the father emerged from the consulting room, sobbing uncontrollably, carrying the lifeless body of his child. All of us at the clinic felt his pain and grief. Many were shaking their heads in sympathy. The father must be from a kampung nearby -- there were many kampungs (and probably wells) near Serangoon Gardens in the 60s.
Another well at an old building along Balestier Road. It has been filled up.
 Probably was a washing area before.

On a lighter note, there's a story which I enjoyed telling my friends, even up till today. It originated from my eldest brother. Here it goes:

"Have you heard the story of three wells? No? Well, well, well."

Monday, 24 March 2014

Old balustrades II

I AM very fond of vase-shaped balusters. In my last blog, I did say I was going to take some pictures of those belonging to Raffles Hotel. So here they are. Also happened to chance upon nice white ones at Geylang.

Afternote (5 April 2014): And also nice ones belonging to the Peranakan Museum at Armenian Street.

Raffles Hotel's trademark palm green balustrades  Close up of those vase-like balusters below. Raffles Hotel was established in 1887.  Pictures: March 2014.

These balustrades fence the compound of THK Building, a light industrial estate at  Lor 23 Geylang. A nice surprise! Pic: March 2014.
THK Building's balustrades.
Vase-like balustrades (similar to those of Raffles Hotel) gracing the rooftop and verandas of Peranakan Museum. The building built between 1910 and 1912, was previously the Tao Nan School.  It was designed in the Eclectic-classical style with features of the French Renaissance. See Wilkipedia's writeup:
Pictures taken on 5 April 2014, a very rainy day.

These belonging to an old house at Hullet Road, are less squat than those belonging to Peranakan Museum and Raffles Hotel. But very charming, nevertheless. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Scaredy Cat, an extremely busy cat

JUST in case you think I am skiving, I am actually a very busy cat. These are my activities for the day -- seven days a week. Let it go down on records, lest anyone accuses me for not earning my keeps.

Lick and clean the cushions, form morn till set of sun.
Be vigilant always.
Check all corners.
Don't forget the windows.
Phew. Just taking five.. A cat's work is never done.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Pre-U at Tg Katong Girls

The badge which
 we had to wear
 on our ties during
 school assembly day,
 but on the left hand
 side of our blouse
on other days.
I SPENT two years at Tg Katong Girls' School. My best friend from secondary school (who was also my best friend from primary school) decided that she wanted to do her A levels at this school. So I followed her. However, we were split into different classes when we eventually started school there.

I did feel a little like an outsider at first. Most of the girls in my class were from Tg Katong Girls Secondary (interesting blouse with fine green stripes and a green pinafore). So they were family. I was from Parry Secondary and nobody heard of this school much. Luckily, there were a few girls who came from other schools such as Crescent Girls (liked their uniform, a pale yellow blouse with light blue pinafore).

But I soon got to know the Tg Katong girls. There was Rosie who sat beside me. She was very bubbly and as bad as I was in Economics. We bonded when we both had to stand for the rest of the class when we couldn't answer questions on National Income. We were totally lost when it came to formulas and charts. But we totally understood the Law of Diminishing Returns. We loved this law to bits.

Rosie always made fun of my economics textbook (the one written by Hanson). It was passed down by my dad to my brothers and then to me. The cover was cloth-bound (a washed out royal blue) and its pages had oxidised brown spots. All the rest of the class had the paperback version! I was very happy when we progressed to the one written by Lim Chong Yah as nobody in the family before me owned an old version, I got a paperback, just like everybody else.

There was Literature and Rose was constantly nudging me when the teacher "got sentimental" during Shakespeare's Othello. "Look, look, she's crying..." whispered Rosie fiercely when the teacher was reading out Desdemona's part (the bit when Othello accused her of making him a cuckold). I looked hard and didn't see a single tear drop rolling down the Lit teacher's face. But I appreciated Rosie's added drama as I was never one for Shakespeare.

Short cut to play

We soon formed the "ape" family -- it started when I was called "ape". I fell off from my bike one day and broke my left collar bone. I had to keep this itchy kapok bandage wrapped round my shoulders for about three months. I did look a bit apish. Rosie became the "monkey" and another good friend of ours became "chimpanzee".

Anyway, we three apes soon went places. There was one day in the week (was it Thursday?) when we had no lessons for the last period. So we would take the short cut through an opening in the fence behind the school which led to Haig Road -- and from there we fled to Katong Shopping Centre.

Sometimes, we would go to Rosie's place for lunch. She lived in Geylang -- a wooden house with zinc roof standing on stilts on the edge of a marsh. Rosie's mum was a great cook. The other girls in the class lived nearby too -- at Wilkinson Road and Branksome Road. Then there was a row of shophouses opposite the school with a few Indian stalls selling magazines and comics. While waiting for my bus home (No. 72), I could flip a few pages of some of the magazines stealthily.

Chain survey and rift valleys

Rosie's maths was better than mine. But still, like me, she didn't quite like chain survey (part of Geography). Until today, I only knew that it was a form of measuring the landscape. We spent a few days dragging the chains around...but I really didn't know what was going on.

I was ok with contours. In fact, I like contours. I am ok with physical  geography too. Remember Monkhouse? This was another cloth bound book (green) I inherited from my brother. Rift valleys, faults, fjords... volcanoes... oxbow lakes... I like them all.

Biology's ok too, especially when I had friends who reminded me that the diagram of the heart with all the ventricles and stuffs is shaped like a "soon kuay". Come to think of it, wouldn't it be more of an upside-down pomelo?

Kim, the air hostess

Among the Ape family, Kim was a "celebrity". She certainly spoke very well in class, with a lot of confidence. She was a national swimmer when she was in secondary school. And she was the first one among our group who had a boyfriend. Her mum was a tailor but she was always complaining about her mum's sewing. She would say "Aiya, I wanted this and she sewed for me this..." I looked at the nice mini velvet skirt that her mum had sewn and found nothing wrong with it at all. Her dad used to have a bicycle shop at Joo Chiat Road. Kim became an air hostess when she finished her A levels. Wow!

I discovered later that several of my classmates were already dating. (And here I was, still wearing socks with my go-out shoes.) One got married even before she finished schooling. Sometimes, she got picked up from school by her boyfriend. "I wished he wouldn't drive a purple car. Purple is an ok colour for a pen, but not for a car," she would go. But we were all envious. Her hair was always cut the latest style -- she started the "moon look" -- rounded fringe framing the face. Then Rosie got the moon look too. Then me. It's the rage in the 70s.

Neema, the dancer

She can dance. There was a school concert and she got us all dancing to the song "Long, Cool Woman in a Black Dress". We were rehearsing in secret corners of the school almost every other day. I could remember the moves for years after. I have forgotten the steps now, but I could still remember how Neema (who is very tall) moved to the grooves. By the way, none of us eventually performed -- after all those rehearsals. Neema did a solo.

High school drama

There was another classmate who got into an accident. She was absent for weeks. And when she came back, she got stitches on her face. But when she narrated the incident to us, there was a happy glint in her eyes. The driver who knocked her down had become her boyfriend.

Such were the stuffs school life was made of then... good enough for a drama serial, no?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Old balustrades

Balustrade outside temple  (Tong Sian Tng Temple, built 1870) at Devonshire Road. Pic taken March 2014. I remember there was a little sandy short cut near this temple which I took to my night classes at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when it was at St Thomas Walk. That was way back in the early 80s. The path led  up a slope through a little enclave. But now, the place is filled with posh condos. I remember Shui Hing was still in Orchard Road then and if I were early, I would window shop there before I go for my graphic art class (which I never got to complete and graduate with a diploma). 

The building that's next to the temple also sports a nice balustrade on its roof top.  

Corner house at the 'mouth' of Kim Yam Road, just as it meets River Valley Road.. Nice balustrades, no?
NEXT to old spiral staircases, I like the old balustrades of Singapore. Aside from the word which has a nice ring to it (I think Phua Chu Kang would love to include this in his vocab aside from his fa-ca-dei and par-quat), I like the old fashioned vase-like shape of the baluster, very unlike those skinny and arty ones of today gracing staircases and balconies. The word itself, was derived from the name of a flower (balausta) -- wild pomegranate flower. Or rather, the bud of one -- half open and definitely plump.

If I remember rightly, Raffles Hotel has some nice green ones along its verandas and parapets. Shall go and take some pictures soon. Meanwhile, some balustrades of yore, taken way back in the 80s of houses along Adis and Sophia Roads.

This grand house at Adis Road with grand balustrades. Pic: 1982.

This old house (gone now probably) along Adis Road did not have those vase-like balusters but very charming nevertheless.

Now, this one did. Nice, stout ones.  Picture was reproduced from contact prints salvaged from my S'pore Monitor days as a reporter  in the early 1980s.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Airview dining at 'tin yut keng'

Somehow, I feel those red awnings are not quite in-sync with the old-school Chinese feel -- until you walk into Moi Lum Restaurant (founded in 1920s in Chinatown but only moved to Airview Building in 2008). This restaurant is as Chinese and as Cantonese you can get. Famous for its crispy chicken -- and yes, it has the old-school taste especially when you dip it into "wa-yim" -- salt slightly fried with five spices.  Pic taken in Dec 2013. Here's how it looked in the old days.:

Airview Building is co-owned by Yeung Ching Foundation and Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital. Built in 1924, it was initially leased out to New Asia Hotel, owned by a Cantonese businessman. It was a very well known hotel in those days, with a Cantonese restaurant on the rooftop, popular for weddings. But it too had to go in the face of stiff competition. In 1974, the hotel was refurbished into a commercial building for letting.
The Yeung Ching Foundation (2nd building, left) at
 Club Street, Chinatown.

Both the name Airview Building (Tin Yut Keng in Cantonese) and Kwong Wai Shiu were familiar to us during our childhood. The names often cropped up in conversations between mum and dad. Dad probably had some "kakis" he knew in Kwong Wai Shiu. And once in a blue moon, we would have tea at Tin Yuk Keng with some of his friends. It was grand -- indeed a place with a view -- and the greatest fun was going up the old-fashioned lift with the iron gate.

If mum and dad were around, they probably won't recognised Airview Building today. Well, perhaps only on close scrutiny of those arches. But they would be perfectly at home dining at Moi Lum. Recently, when we were there for lunch, the whole restaurant was filled with Cantonese banter. Old ladies dressed in floral samfoos reminding me of mum's friends in my childhood days, were clacking away.

When I called earlier to make a reservation, I started out in Cantonese (to the extent of saying "wei" instead of  "hello") -- and the reply came back in rich and thick Cantonese. I visualised a cook in white singlet talking on the other line, with a huge paunch. And when my Cantonese petered out to English, equally fluent English came from the other end. My vision of the chef became one dressed in starched white, and well, maybe a smaller paunch.

I recognised the thick, throaty Cantonese when we finally went there for lunch. He was indeed a bit plump and cheery. And he spoke in perfect English. Wonder if he was the boss -- by now, second generation?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Evening, best time of the day

Past 6pm... A lone bell sounding from temple (Kallang Gasworks Sivan Temple), summoning devotees to prayers. A very serene Sunday evening, 2 March, 2014. 
The setting sun gives a peaceful, rosy hue to everything. All's right with the world. I always prefer the evening to morning. There's the promise of rest, comforts of home... a nice, piping hot dinner. And yes, TV. 

Even this construction scene (and the one below) are touched by the serenity of the evening sun.

Not too far away from the temple... this peaceful spot, touched by the same setting sun.

 A lone chair under the banyan tree... Sewer pipes not withstanding, the scene is still serene.

Nice crumbling old wall. Hope it will be preserved as well, somehow.

Balek kampung? However, the little path does not lead home, but to a construction site.