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Thursday, January 29, 2015

The War Years


When the first Japanese bomb dropped in Singapore my grandpa evacuated all his families to his rubber estate at Chai Chee, Changi. The rubber estate had a factory processing liquid rubber (latex) into rubber sheets for export. During the war the rubber factory stopped functioning. The two storey rubber smoke house was converted into dwelling for my grandpa’s first two families and my aunts’ family. Nearby on the lower ground was a row of labourers’ quarters. Some of them had moved out and my grandpa’s third family lived there.
The first thing grandpa did was getting the adult members of the family to dig an air raid shelter outside the smoke house. It was rectangular in shape about 6 feet deep with steps going down the air raid shelter. The top of the shelter was camouflage  with coconut leaves. Entrance to the shelter also served as an exit. The shelter could accommodate only 10 persons. When the air raid siren was sounded, women and children ran quickly to the shelter. The men hide under the trees or bushes. As a young boy I was very excited each time the siren was sounded. Lights were off and it was total darkness and silence everywhere. Nobody was allowed to talked in the shelter as if the enemy was around us. We went back to the house when a second siren sounded. The air raid shelter had no drainage system and was flooded when there was rain. The men had to drain away the muddy water before we were able to use it again.
At the rubber estate we heard all sorts of news about the Japanese invasion and their atrocities. The people was very frightened. Then one day we saw Japanese soldiers roaming the rubber estates. We had news  that Japanese soldiers raped young girls at night. I had a few teenager female cousins. At night when there were Japanese soldiers nearby they hid under a pile of coconut husks. When the Japanese government was established in Singapore, grandpa moved all his three families back to Joo Chiat. Built up area was then considered safer than living in the rubber estate where there was no rule of law by the Japanese soldiers.
Joo Chiat after the war was so different from before the war. There was so much changes. Hawker stalls were everywhere along the roadsides, lanes and vacant lands, especially at busy road junctions. In the early stage of Japanese occupation many people were jobless especially the lower income group. Hawking was the easiest occupation and cigarette stalls with little capital proliferated at market place, five foot ways, street corners etc. The lane close to my home became a gambling place like a casino. There were games of dice (si go luck), fan tan (the game started with dealer placing a cup over a pile of seeds.The players had to guess the winning numbers from 1 to 4. Betting stop when the dealer started counting for winning numbers.  Each time 4 seeds were removed and  the last group say only 3 seeds, then number 3 was  declared the winning number) and also çhap ji ki or 12 Chinese characters representing numbers from 1 to 12. The payout was 10 times for betting the winning number. Then there was card games and Chinese domino or Pai Kow. The ‘casino’ operated only at night but it did not last long probably it was illegal.
Hawkers were quick to take over the sidelane and turned it into  a wet market selling from fresh fish, meat, vegetables to food for breakfast. Unlike the cigarette stalls which operated the whole day, the wet market finished at midday and the side lane was back to normal.
I attended the Choon Guan English School at Koon Seng Road which taught Japanese language. Every morning we sang the Japanese National Anthem ‘Kimigayo’. The school then dispersed to their classes. Then class by class marched to the basketball court for exercises. I remember walking round the court perimeter singing Japanese song ‘aruke’ (walking) followed by free hand exercises like stretching and bending your body. The Japanese school ceased functioning when Singapore was liberated.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Family Holidays At Why House

On 15th December 2014 my family of 10 and 10 others in the group were warmly welcome upon arrival by the staff of the boutique hotel known as Why House. It stood on 3 acres of land with a swimming pool and lots greenery. The beach was about 15 minutes walk from  the hotel. In the morning  there were birds and squirrels running around looking for food. During my stay there I saw a peacock on the ground and 2 monkeys up on a tree.


Birds, squirrels, monkeys and peacock


What impressed us most was the friendly and smiling staff ready to give us assistance whenever needed. The food was fantastic. We had fish, prawns, crabs, meat , vegetables, fruits etc.

A team of cooks. For Mary have kitchen will cook. We had sambal udan from her.

                                               Friendly staff were there to bid us farewell

                                                                              Yummy!!!

At Why House adults and children played together in the pool. A friend Isabel was thrown into the pool fully dressed. I was too slow to snap a picture. Kids liked swimming in the sea too. My grandson, Guy went surfing for 2 days. Emma and Mark took surfing lessons. They enjoy it so much and I believe they would be back next year. For me I enjoy the cool beer by the beach watching my grand-children surfing.

                                                    Adults and children played at the pool

                                                           


                                                            Kids playing ball game over the net


    



The ladies had their share of fun too. They went shopping in a convoy at the Rampart which was a Dutch fortified area in the colonial era. They liked the jewellery shop Orchid House so much that they visited the shop again and again including a last minute shopping before leaving for home.

                                                         Ladies shopping galore

                                                              Emma and the horse
                           

Why House has very good comments in the guests book and as well as in the Tripadvisor reviews. No wonder it was awarded Certificate of Excellence for 2013 and 2014

Welcome to Why House and the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

http://www.whyhousesrilanka.com/images/fb.jpg

http://www.whyhousesrilanka.com/images/tripadvisor.jpg

A stunning private villa providing a bespoke holiday and experience for its guests. With the feel of a boutique hotel but with more of a personal and family orientated touch. It’s a unique property - a home away from home, providing a concierge service where no request is too small.
This beautiful home is situated within a beautifully landscaped three acre private walled garden of tropical plants, fruit and spice trees – and is only a short walk from the beautiful beach of Wijaya and a fifteen minute drive to the world heritage site Galle Fort.


Beautiful hotel, wonderful hospitalityHenrietta and her staff, the stunning room, pool and grounds and the amazing foodWe had a wonderful 3 nights here. We loved the very welcoming staff, especially the manager Henrietta, who went out of her way to make sure we had a fabulous time. The food was probably the best we had in Sri Lanka. We were travelling with 2 small children and there needs were well catered for. Couldn't recommend this place highly enough. had a great stay at why house: intimate hotel well located off the stream of beach hotels but yet at a walkable distance from it, with a beautiful swimming pool and garden full of squirrels and birds. henriette was very welcoming and we felt like at home, if not better with the always nice and helpful staff!! thank you!


An outstanding place with a wonderful,staffThe place itself, the staff, the lovely managerWe had a great time from start to finish: the welcome, the discovery of our room, the discretion of the although omnipresent staff, the fantastic and lovely manager, with a heart as big as the house, the food, drnnks and brownies. I could go on and on as everything single moment or glimpse deserves a special review. The pool was huge and welcoming. The house is on a nice lane away from the beach and the main road but everything is close at hand. The House has two tuk tuks for the guests' use and a car. You are minutes away from Galle. Henrietta, the manager, will share with you her best addresses, with a smile and enthusiasm. Just go for it. The food was excellent on our two evenings there. Actually, don't book for two nights only but for more. It is a perfect ending of a holiday, specially after a tour of the island. You will be pampered. That's guaranteed.Beautiful tranquil hotel, with outstanding serviceLovely rooms, stunning pool and restaurant, fantastic food and very friendly, helpful staffWe had a fantastic few days at Why House. We were totaly taken care of by the team there. The hotel is in a really beautiful location, calm and tranquil and yet not far from Galle and Unawatuna.






Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tg Rhu HDB Estate Then & Now

Jalan Batu HDB Estate

I like to go back in time for it evokes fond memories of yester-year. The time was more than fifty years ago in 1962 when I moved to Tanjong Rhu HDB estates. There were 6 blocks of 10 storey 3 room rental flats neatly arranged in a row. One side of the flat faced Mountbatten Road (see map). There were 12 units at each level. The ground floor had no void deck. Each block had only one lift at the centre  with a staircase. Block 1 was reserved for police officers and Block 2 to 6 were let out to the public. A couple of years later HDB decided to sell the flats and gave priority to sitting tenants. The sale price was $6.200 per unit. I bought my unit 149-J Jalan Batu which was at level ten. In those days each floor level had an alphabet denoting each level. It started with letter 'A' for ground floor and 'B' for second floor and so on. Letter J instead of letter I was used for level ten.

Map of Jalan Batu HDB Estate

A 3-room flat had only 2 bedrooms. My one year old daughter had one room to herself. Then came a son, followed by a daughter and another son. I bought 2 double deck beds for 4 of them. Climbing to the upper deck to sleep was quite fun to the two older children. 

Tanjong Rhu HDB estate had a 2 storey wet market cum food centre. A basket-ball court between Block 7 & 8. Jalan Batu was an access road between Kampong Arang Road and Kampong Kayu Road. The blocks with double digit numbers were all one room rental flat. There was no four or five room flat then.

                    Children playing at common corridors and staircases

The estate had no playground and children played at common corridors as well as at the side staircases. Kallang Park was nearby and during week-ends I drove them there to play the swings, merry-go-rounds, slides, sand pit, wading pool etc. Every Tuesday night there was pasar malam (night market) at Jalan Batu. There were a variety of goods and food stalls. Every stall was crowded with people haggling for a good bargain. I could feel the festive atmosphere among the crowd. Most of the residents liked pasar malam and looked forward to Tuesday night.

Kampong Spirit

There was kampong spirit at Tanjong Rhu HDB estate. They were not only friendly but also helpful too. Our doors were seldom closed. Children moved freely to each others flat. They also helped to look after our children when needed.
I remembered all my neighbours. An Indian family lived beside the lift. The man’s young sister-in-law had a Chinese boy friend. Next to him was a Chinese couple with a daughter. The little girl's father was a  bus conductor. My immediate neighbour had 2 children. Their father worked  in the postal service. The other immediate neighbour was a police inspector. His brother was a teacher. I entrusted my 2 older children with the teacher for outings. The neighbour at the end of the block owned a fancy fish shop. His flat had many fish tanks with colourful fishes.  My children like to admire the fishes and visited the neighbour a few times a day.

On Tuesday 4th November 2014 I paid a nostalgic visit to Tanjong Rhu HDB estate. I was looking for the ‘lo mee’ stall in the food centre to have my lunch. The hawker stall was not there anymore. All the stallholders were new to me. I remembered there was a coffee shop at Block 8. After lunch I walked there but could not find it. Many shops had changed trade. But the famous Tanjong Rhu ‘pau’ shop was still at Block 8.

The Jalan Batu link road between Kampng Arang Road and Kampong Kayu Road had been converted into a walkway. The basket ball court is now a mini amphitheatre with a circular pool in the center. There were many covered walk ways. Tanjong Rhu HDB estate had indeed changed since I moved out in 1975.

                                    Mini Amphitheatre

                                    My former home at No 149J


I went up to my former flat unit No. 10-149 (then 149-J) at level 10.  I found the door and windows closed. On further inspection I noticed more than 90 percent of the flats had their doors and windows closed too. Perhaps it was due to security. Thinking backwards, I remembered we used to sit at the common corridors chatting with neighbours and also with those at the opposite block. As hearing was difficult because of the distance we used sign language with our hands. We laughed trying to make the opposite neighbours understand our body language. Those were the days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Battle For Merger

                                                    Original copy printed in 1962

                                                     Reprint copy 2014

The reprint of the book The Battle For Merger  was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on the morning of 9 October 2014 at  the National Library. The book contains  a series of radio talks about  the Communist  threat  in Singapore by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1961.


I was invited to an exclusive guided tour of The Battle For Merger exhibition at 12.15 pm the same day. The exhibits consisted of 12 panels and each had a story to tell accompanied by pictures. 

The exhibits evoked memories of  tumultuous days and the radio broadcasts by Mr Lee. His radio talks were captivating and I listened to most of them. During that period there was the domino theory of communism spreading from China to Singapore. China became a communist country in 1949, North Vietnam in 1954 and war continued in South Vietnam with the Vietcong. In Malaya the communist waged violent armed insurgency in 1948 with the British and continued after  Malaysia’s independence in 1957.

I am English educated but lived in a Chinese educated environment. Most of the people I knew then was leftist and some was active grassroots. The fear  that Singapore might become a communist state was so real and listening to Mr Lee’s radio broadcasts made it  more frightening.

I have one original copy of the book The Battle For Merger printed in 1962 and I treasured it to this day. It reminded me of Singapore’s critical period. At that time I dread to think that Singapore would become  a communist state. 



The Battle For Merger is now history. I was wondering how the younger  generation  felt after viewing  the exhibition. On Saturday 11 October  I went to the exhibition to interview some of them. The students viewed it as Singapore’s history. The adults said they heard about it from their parents when they were young. The response from them reminded me of my family’s history. My great grandfather came to Singapore from China without a penny in his pocket. He worked hard to make a fortune for himself and died leaving a legacy in Joo Chiat. My grandmother  told me the story when I was young. Like the people I met at the exhibition, I did not feel the hardship and struggle my great grandfather went through during his early years in Singapore.




Singapore’s history is taught in our secondary school but their history book do not have the story  Battle For Merger. If we want this critical part of our history be known to our students, copies of Battle For Merger should  be made available in the school library and teachers should encourage the students to read the book.


Merger with Malaysia helps Singapore from becoming a communist state. Getting out of Malaysia is a blessing or Singapore would not be what it is today.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pioneer Health-care


 
 
Staff of Ministry of Health at Palmer Road 1959
The red arrow points to me

 
 
Health-care Pioneers

“As we look back over the last five decades, no matter how big or small you think your role has been, the progress and achievement we have today is a result of the dedication and hard work from each one of you.”
Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong
 
On Saturday 23 August 2014 I attended the Pioneer Health-care lunch hosted by Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong at Mandarin Orchard Hotel, Grand Ballroom. More than 400 people were at the function. Majority of them were seniors and former staff  of the Ministry. There were music, songs and dances during the seven-course lunch
 
 
The Health Minister paid tribute “to the sweat, the tears and sometimes the blood” that pioneer health workers had shed.

His speech was appropriate as far as the public health inspectors were concerned. During our outdoor site inspections especially in the hot sun, we did sweat a lot especially during a survey for mosquito breeding. Checking open ground was alright but inspecting a septic tank for mosquito breeding was all sweat plus a “bonus”. I had to remove the heavy concrete slabs that covered the tank so that I could check for mosquito larvae. I spent some time to remove the concrete slabs and later to put them in-place again. It was not an easy job and I sweat a lot.

But you had the “bonus”!

A septic tank needed to be de-sludge regularly. A contractor was engaged to do the job. After the septic tank was de-sludge the contractor was supposed to take it away from site. Instead he dumped the sludge as well as the fresh faeces beside the septic tank. After some time vegetation and grass grew over the dung. So, on my way up the septic tank I stepped on the smelly faceas and sludge. On the way down, I also jumped onto the dung. That was my “bonus” that I did not want.

At another incident I was nearly stabbed by a pair of scissors from an illegal hawker at Circular Road. Fortunately a colleague saved me. The street was crowded with people looking for bargain and illegal hawkers setting up stalls on the road. The five-foot way was obstructed by crates and bales of textiles. We were there with police escorts to clear the obstructions and the illegal hawkers. It was so crowded with people that we were separated and I was on my own. That was when an illegal hawker attempted to stab me with a pair of scissors. He did not had the opportunity to plunge the scissors onto my body and disappeared  in the crowd.

A colleague of mine was not so lucky. He was stabbed by a butcher at Cambridge Road market while on duty. So blood was shed. The culprit was arrested and charged in Court. He was found guilty and jailed.

There were a few other life threatening incidents, but I was just doing my job.