Saturday, August 1, 2015

Homecoming the Musical: Honouring our Pioneers & Alumni

I had an invitation from Mrs Joyce Lee, head of National Education at Princess Elizabeth Primary School (PEPS) to attend a musical which the school was putting up in conjunction with SG50 and the theme was Honouring our Pioneers and Alumni.

I went with a bit of trepidation knowing that I probably wouldn't know anyone from the school after all these years. Joyce had invited me as I had let them use some of my blog material and photos for their celebration. My fears were unfounded as meeting Joyce, the Principal Mdm Moliah and the Vice Principal Kok Keong, really put me at ease immediately.

I realised there that the function was actually a gathering in celebration of the former PEPS educators and staff from the previous years, which I must frankly say that I don't know any of them as they were all after my years at PEES. The only one I could still recognise was Mrs Kannan, whom I had first met at their Diamond Jubilee Dinner a few years ago. Mrs Kannan never taught me but she had taught my siblings though.

The highlight of the evening was the musical put up by the staff and students. It was colourful and performed to an excellent level. You can see the tremendous effort put into the production. Kudos to all the staff and children.

Here are some photo highlights of the evening.

Guest of Honour was Mr Ramesh Kannan, Judicial Commissioner at the Supreme Court of Singapore.
Ramesh Kannan was an old boy of PEES and is also the son of former teacher Mrs Kannan.
Mdm Moliah, the current Principal, is showing Mr Kannan  the Alumni Wall, a new plaque created to acknowledge prominent alumni of the school.

A rousing standing ovation from guests and parents for the performers!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

More football teams of the 60s.

Football was the one sport that galvanised our estate back in the 60s and 70s.
Blessed with a free and open regulation size football pitch within the estate, several teams were formed from ad-hoc to almost semi-pro status. In those days it was all amateur football but then our estate teams had managed to make a name for themselves winning national and constituency competitions.

Unfortunately for me, football was not in my blood and my only contacts with it was as an evening spectator when all the 'small boys' would gather around the field to watch and pick balls that roll to our sidelines.

But I can recall the Union Carbide team who had their regular training on the pitch after work.
My dad worked at Union Carbide and thus I came to meet people like Quah Kim Choon (one of the Quah family) and Mahat Ambu, Singapore's centre-forward at that time. These two big names were enough to draw crowds to watch their training.

I am at a loss with the number of teams formed or even the team names they call themselves by, so if anyone remembers, please drop me a line in the comments below.

Aswan, whose family lived beside the football pitch, had just sent me 2 photos of some teams that played back in the 60s.
In the first photo, I can identify Glen Hogan in the striped jersey. This would then date the photo to the mid-60s. If you can identify anyone else, please share with us here.

Thanks to Udin Anwar for identifying all the footballers.
This team was called the ASAS FOOTBALL CLUB.

Links to other articles about our estate footballers:

Monday, July 20, 2015

The lost hills around Hillview.

I was just sharing with a nostalgia group on Facebook on the topic of lost hills in the Singapore city. Right in the city long ago were some small hills named Mount Wallich, Mount Erskine and Mount Palmer. These hills are no longer there, having been levelled and the earth dumped into the sea for land reclamation.

While sharing my thoughts about those lost hills, I recalled recently the incredulous looks from some young school children who had invited me to take them on a tour of the Jurong and Bukit Batok areas as part of their National Education programme.

I had done four tours with four different primary schools and each time the kids all had that same unbelieving look. They just can't visualise the area being full of hills in the past!

Since Singapore's Independence, the routine construction method seemed to be 'level everything and begin anew'. The country now seems to be so flat and connected that a whole generation has now grown up not knowing the difficulties of moving around these hills to get from place to place.

When I was growing up in Princess Elizabeth Estate in the 1960s, the furthest we could go along Hillview Ave was just beyond today's Hillview Villas where the track ended. Beyond this was the hills into Jurong and the farm area. It was not only hilly but forested in many parts.

Recently I came across this photo on the net and remembered I had the same copy from my days working at the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

This is a picture of the hill top, where today the Church of St Mary of the Angels is located. It was taken in 1957. The man is Fr Virgil Mennon who built the original church.
Right at the back on the top right is Bukit Gombak. Gombak II was another hill that was part of Bukit Gombak. The private housing estates of Chu Lin and Jalan Remaja would be later built on this smaller hill.

What is interesting to note is that between Gombak II and the church foreground, the hills have all been levelled and today the flats of Bukit Batok New Town are built there. The hills are completely gone !

The old Jurong Road (9m.s.) ran across the picture just beyond the church boundary 10m below the clump of large trees in the valley.
It would be only later around 1960 that Hillview Avenue would be connected to Jurong Road here (somewhere to the right of the picture).

So when I was telling the children about how the soldiers during the war had to climb over hills after hills to escape the Japanese army advancing through Jurong, I usually can see bewildered faces.
They just can't imagine that it took hours to cross Bukit Gombak to get to Bukit Batok, today a 5 minute drive by car.

From this aerial photo map of the Bukit Batok battle area, you can actually see how hilly the area used to be; the lumps and bumps in the photo.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The oldest region of Singapore Island.

My apologies for being rather tardy in updating this blog for a while.
I think some of you may know I took up another hobby in my spare time and have been out in the field photographing birds instead. I guess I should do an update now, if not just to assuage my guilty conscience.

There has been a lot of new developments around the old Hillview area these few years past. There's the upcoming Hillview MRT Station, the new HillV2 mall and of course more condominiums. Apart from the old primary school building, now reincarnated as the United Medicare Nursing Home, nothing structural was left of our old Princess Elizabeth Estate. The land where it once sat on is now flattened and levelled and presumably waiting for new developments.

But did you know that our old estate sat on land that is the oldest piece of rock found in Singapore geologically? Surprised? It sat on what is called the Gombak Norite which is 500 million years old.

If you look up Google Earth and see the continental shelf of South East Asia, you can see a flat area out at sea running from China near Hainan Island going down south along the Vietnam coast, across to Borneo and then south to Java and then following the coast up along Sumatra toward Myanmar.

Eons ago, it was believed that this entire region (excluding the Philippines, Suluwesi and the islands west) was all above sea level and the region was called in geology/geography as Sundaland.

Over the ages, tectonic and other geological forces created the mountains and countries and the melting ice age water made the sea level rise within Sundaland.

Five hundred million years ago, in the area which was to become Singapore Island, a small bulge known as the Gombak Norite arose.
(Norite is a type of rock like granite and is also found at Ponggol end and on Pulau Ubin.)

Another 250 million years would pass again before geological forces pushed up what is now known as the Bukit Timah Granite. Together these 2 rock formations would form the backbone of what would become Singapore Island.

Surrounding this central core, alluvial soil accumulated over the millennia and eventually shaped the island. Alluvial soil meant it was deposited by rivers and it is believed by geologists that the rivers that created the land was what is now the Straits of Malacca and the Singapore Straits before the sea level rose as a result of the melting ice. Interesting theory.

Princess Elizabeth Estate was built directly over this dome of norite rock and many ex-residents will remember the block of flats that they used to live in was built mostly with little foundation as it sat on the bedrock itself.

Photo of the old SIT Princess Elizabeth Estate with Bukit Gombak at its rear.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Photos from ex-residents - Chew Wah Meng (#22)

Regular contributor Wah Meng has again sent me 2 wonderful old photos taken in the old estate.

The first is one of Wah Meng with his brothers as well as with some friends and neighbourhood kids. This was taken in front of the Sin Wah Hin Provision Shop (block 16 Prince Charles Rise)


The second is of the PEE Youth Group organised by the estate community centre.
The CC Organising Secretary is Mr Ronald Lim who is pictured in the front row extreme right.
Ronald Lim was also a PEE resident and lived at the 7-storey block ground floor (Blk 23).
Back Row: XX, Kim Huat, Szeto Fun Hio, XX, XX Johar Anuar, Balbir Singh, XX, XX, Aswan Suri, XX

dle Row: Chok Kor (Sin Wah Hin eldest son), Jumain Bakri, Binhan, Wong Par (No13 Provision shop son), Ang Beng Kong - Ang Beng Huat's youngest brother(?), XX, Woo Eng Lee(with watch), John Sim, Cheng Wee, Ang Beng Huat .

Front Row: XX, Sulaiman, Yao Hung, XX, Kampong Boy, Johnny Tan, Ronald Lim

 The pictures were taken around 1957. This would make most of them in their 60s today.
Can you recognise anyone in the photos? I'd love to hear your comments.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Photos from ex-residents (#21) - Estate Footballers

Chew Wah Meng, who contributes regularly to my blog, has sent me another photo he found stashed among his hidden treasures.
This is of our estate footballers taken during a competition at Boys Town school field in 1978.

Chew Wah Meng is standing at the back row 4th from right. However, he is unable to identify most of the other players in the photo now. Perhaps, some of you can identify them. They would probably be in their fifties now and we would like to credit them even now for their representation of our football-crazy estate residents then.

Click on photo to view full size.

For a full story of how football crazy our estate was those days, you can read an earlier article about our footballers here.

Update: Thanks to friends and readers from the PEES facebook group, a good number of the footballers have been identified as follows:-

Standing Back Row (L-R)
2. Zainnuddin Abdul Samad
3. Dino Pereira
4. James Yeo
5. Abdul Rahim
6. Chew Wah Meng
7. Buang Rawi
8. Roger Bulner
9. Mr Choo (PEES PE teacher)

Front Row (Squatting L-R)
1. Tan wee Long
2. Yang Lee ?
3. Arriffin Selamat
4. Nasir Hj Ali
5. Sithamby
6. Yunos
7. Salim
9. Tan Wee Koon

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tien Tor Long

A documentary series was recently broadcasted on Channel New Asia called Days of Disaster.
Last Sunday, March 8, there was an episode titled Megafloods which covered the floods of Singapore over the past few decades.

I was asked to watch this episode by my blogger friend, ex-schooltecher Mr Yeo Hong Eng.
 Yeo Hong Eng is the author of The Little Red Cliff, a book in which he tells of his young days living in rural Bedok.  Hong Eng was featured in the episode in an interview about his days when Bedok was severely flooded in 1954.

During the show, a picture flashed on the screen for about one second but it immediately caught my eye! It had nothing to do with floods but it was shown as an example of industrialisation in Singapore.

The picture they used was the Union Carbide factory at Hillview Road.
Screen capture from Channel News Asia.

Many of the early residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate would be closely associated with this factory as many of them worked there. These include both my father and my mother who were once employed by Union Carbide. I have previously blogged about the factory in an earlier posting here.

People living in the vicinity of Hillview will know the factory as the Eveready battery factory or Tien Tor Long in the local dialect. Tien Tor means battery and Long is factory in Hokkien.

It was a landmark at Upper Bukit Timah in those days because of its tower which can be seen from far away.
At the top of the tower was a huge model of an Eveready Silver battery which was lit up at night and acted as a beacon. It could be seen from far off coming up or down Upper Bukit Timah Road.

In the picture you can spot Princess Elizabeth Estate in the background at the base of Bukit Gombak. The private estate beside it does not seem to have been built yet so I surmise that this picture was taken before 1965. If so, then the factory would have been known as National Carbon and not renamed as Union Carbide yet.

From the angle of this picture, I reckon that it was shot from the top of Fuyong Estate which lies across the main Upper Bukit Timah Road. Most probably from the slope where today the St Francis Methodist School lies.

It is one of the clearest picture I have yet seen of Tien Tor Long.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Photos from ex-resident & ex-PEES teacher (#20)

Through the kind effort of James Chan from Canada, I received a set of old PEES photos that belonged to Ms Rosy Fernando. Known by all as Teacher Rosy, she was also known as "Akela" by her cubs being the scoutmaster during her teaching days there. Rosy lived at Blk 21 which was just beside the school

I have not gotten full details of the photographs yet but am very eager to share it immediately.
I will update the details once I have them but am guessing that the photos were taken in the late 1960s.
Do look carefully and see if you can recognise anyone. I found two of my old senior schoolmates and some of the teachers and of course Mr George Catherasoo, the Principal.
You may even recognise some as your siblings or even parents when they attended PEES in those days.

Do share your comments here with us and remember to sign off with your name or url instead of selecting 'anonymous' in the comment section.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Another aerial view of our old estate - 1958.

Recently, the National Archives of Singapore began releasing a large number of documents and photographs that till now have been kept out of reach from the public. I have been spending hours browsing their website for little gems, especially of those relating to our old estate.

Here's one taken by the Royal Air Force 81 Photo Recon Squadron in 1958. Coincidentally, I had recently spent some time with an ex-RAF 81 Sqn member, Mr Al Taylor, who was in Singapore to catch up on old times.

Photo source: National Archives of Singapore.
(click on photo to see a large view)
The photo appears to have been taken above Dairy Farm looking towards the southern end of Bukit Gombak ridge, which was being cleared then for the new Hillview, Popular  and Bamboo Grove private estates.

Most of the places in the photo above would have an article written about it earlier in my blog. So I will not bore you with more descriptions but would like to hear from you instead.

Do drop a line in the comment box below and share with us all your old memories of that place.
(By the way, please select Name/URL and enter your name, instead of selecting 'Anonymous' in the comment box. It would be nice to know who is writing in. Thanks)

Just to pique your curiosity or interest, look for the 2 circular sediment tanks and also the battery tower with the huge model of an Eveready battery.

One last point of interest, Hillview Avenue at that time ended just near the left edge of the photo.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bokokang - a village from our past.

Bokokang is a place you probably would not have heard of; much less know that it was in Singapore! 
Its heydays were between the 1840s, a couple of decades after Raffles founded Singapore, to the 1870s. Sadly by the early 20th century, it fell into obscurity and was hardly heard of anymore.

1852 map of gambier farms in Northern Singapore.

Bokokang, (or variously spelt Bookoh Kang, Buko Kanka, Bookoh Khan) was a Teochew  village located on the Kranji River .  It was one of the ‘Chu Kangs’ of the day much like Lim Chu Kang and 
Chua Chu Kang.  The Bukoh clan founded it before 1840 but the exact date is unknown. It was originally known as Bukoh Chu Kang but shortened to Bokokang as time passed, and the name became anglicised in the official records. The earliest record of this name was by government surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson, in 1844.

A Chinese village around 1900s. Bokokang would typically look similar.
(Photo source: National Archives of Singapore)

So what is so interesting about Bokokang?
Despite being unknown to most people today, even to those studying local history, Bokokang featured prominently in the early days of Singapore. There were several reasons for its pre-eminent status.

Bokokang had a kangkar, or village centre, in that gambier and pepper-growing region of northern Singapore that became the most important trading port for that region. Its location was always marked on early maps of Singapore. 
Bokokang was located where today the Yew Tee and Sungei Kadut Estates are.

Photo source: National Archives of Singapore

I first heard of Bokokang about 30 years ago when I was doing a study of the early catholic church missionary activities and the early gambier farmers in Singapore.

Gambier was already being farmed here by the Chinese even before Raffles established a trading post in Singapore. Then they were mainly used for medicinal or personal consumption. However, when it was discovered that gambier could be used for tanning and dyeing, the demand from Europe was so overwhelming and the profits from it so lucrative that every farmer wanted to plant gambier. Gambier became the cash crop that fuelled the early economy of Singapore.

Photo source: National Archives of Singapore
It was to the industrious Teochew farmers who sought and opened up the lands in the ‘unwanted’ jungle areas to capitalise on this demand. Concessions known as chu kangs were setup in the North, West and North-Eastern areas of Singapore. These chu kang lands came to be known by the name of the headman (the kangchu) who held the concession. Thus, major farm areas came to be known as Choa Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang, Yeo Chu Kang, Tan Chu Kang, et cetra.

By the 1850s, there were more than 26 major chu kangs known to the colonial administration. All these chu kangs grew gambier and pepper with many of these farms being sub-divided and tenanted to smallhold farmers.
In 1855, a survey done for the purpose of adminstering taxes, showed that the biggest chu kang in Singapore then was Bokokang, which had 426 coolies working on its lands.

A government survey map (1900) of the Bokokang area showing farm boundaries.
Source: National Archives of Singapore

Bokokang by then was an established trading kangkar and commerce was all by river boats that had to travel around the coast to the city merchants to trade.  Travel across the island was not practical due to the dense jungle as well as the threat of man-eating tigers.

The first cross-island overland passage
In 1845, government surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, who was also at that time the appointed Superintendent of Roads, conducted a mapping survey from Bukit Timah Village heading towards the village of Bokokang. Together with his companion, Dr Robert Little, they marked out a route that was previously known to the local villagers towards the north coast of Singapore Island. It was said that they took 4 days to map and mark the 7 mile route to Bokokang. This route would eventually became the road known as Upper Bukit Timah and Woodlands Road.
From Bokokang, JT Thomson proceeded to survey the route towards the coast at Kranji, thus claiming the title of being the 1st to make a cross-island passage from the city to the northern coast.

From John Thomson's map of Singapore published in 1846.
The map marks Bokokang as "Chinese Village"
(This map was added to the blog on 27 April 2015)

The first outstation church in Singapore
In 1846, the Catholic Church established a small church at Bokokang called St Joseph Chapel. A French missionary, Fr Mauduit, was sent to minister to the immigrant Chinese Catholics who farmed around Kranji. This was the first Christian church to be set up outside of Singapore City and Fr Mauduit was so successful in his mission that by 1851, there were more than 300 Catholic converts at Kranji.

The anti-Catholic Riot of 1851
As the British colonials had a laissez-faire attitude towards activities outside the city, the rural farmlands were mainly controlled by the Chinese triads, especially by the notorious Ghee Hin Huay secret society. 
One way for the local farmers to avoid the threats and intimidations of the triads was to convert to Catholicism. By doing this, they could look to the ‘foreign’ church for protection and they no longer were required to pay tithes or protection money to the triads.

The increasing defection to the Catholic Church angered the triads so much that on 15 Feb 1851 the secret society declared war on the Catholic farmers. For a whole week, catholic-owned farms were pillaged, burnt and destroyed and the fighting was finally put down through the intervention of the military forces sent by the colonial government to quell the riot. The riot began at Bokokang and spread to other predominantly Catholic areas like Serangoon. This incident was known as the Anti-Catholic Riot of 1851.

The decline of Bokokang
Gambier was the major cash crop grown in Singapore between the 1830s to its peak in the 1870s.  However, gambier was a plant that was not self sustaining nor was it environmentally-friendly. Gambier leached the soil of all its nutrients so much so that within 15 years most of the soil became infertile. 
Further more, in order to process gambier, three times the amount of firewood in volume was required. The farmers had to constantly chop trees to fuel the cooking process. This resulted in devastating deforestation. In fact, by the turn of the century, it was reported that 75% of the tree cover in Singapore had been deforestation due to this agriculture. This alarmed the authorities so much that the central Bukit Timah region was declared ‘out-of-bounds’ to farming and made into a Nature Reserve to preserve what little was left of the primary forest.

After the 1850s, the soil around Kranji was no longer fertile enough to sustain the gambier growth. Farmers began to look for land elsewhere. The Bukoh clan uprooted and sought new lands around Batu Pahat and Muar in Johore State.

In 1858, a priest from St Joseph Church led a group of 25 Catholic farmers from Bokokang to new lands in Johor.  They set up a new settlement on a river that was given to them under a Surat Sungei concession from the Sultan of Johore.
The new settlement was called Pontian Kechil. The 25 farmers started the small town and the Catholic priest, Fr Augustin Perie, himself was instrumental in creating the road from Pontian Kechil to Ayer Hitam in Johore.

With the steady departure of farmers for new farms in Johore, Bokokang went into decline. Additionally, with the opening of the trunk Bukit Timah Road, river transport became a slower and less viable option. The kangkar was no longer required for transporting the processed goods to town.

Its demise was sealed with the establishment of the Tank Road-Kranji Railway in 1903 that totally bypassed the village. Through natural attrition, Bokokang was not heard of since.

Map of Kranji area showing the gambier and pepper farms

Monday, September 22, 2014

Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre - Redux

More than 2 years ago, I wrote a summary of how the community centres started at our old housing estate. From the 1st in 1952, to the 2nd at the shophouse, the 3rd and most familiar one built by People's Association in 1963, and finally, the one at the new Hillview Estate in the 1980s. (article here)

At that time of writing, photographs of the old community centres were extremely difficult to come by. Fortunately, in the past year, the National Archive of Singapore had begun to periodically release old records, maps and documents for public access. This has resulted in more pictures of our old estate being available for viewing.

I have collated some pictures in relation to the old (3rd) community centre for easy viewing here.
If you were in PEE sometime between 1963 to the 1980s, you would have known this building which was the focus of all social events at our estate then.

The first set of pictures is of the laying of the foundation stone by the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 5th May 1963. This was done during his constituency visit around Singapore in relation to the referendum of merger with the Federation of Malaya.

This is followed by some pictures of the official opening of the community centre by Haji Ya'acob Mohd, the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM's Office, on 11 September 1963.

Finally, a few photos of the 8th Anniversary Celebration of the Community Centre on 24th June 1972. This last set of pictures has special significance for myself as my father and sister are featured in some of them!

1. Laying the foundation Stone - 5th May 1963

On the right of this photo, you can see the mangosteen trees, remnants of what used to be the small  orchard that surrounded 2 badminton courts upon which the new CC was built.
The block in the rear is Blk 17 Prince Charles Rise.

2. Official Opening by Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Ya'acob bin Mohd on 11th Sep 1963.

(Some that I can identify as follows:- Right to Left)
Mr Chua Tong Nee, Quah Baba, Mr Koh Keng Kwee, Mrs Michael Wong, ?, Mrs Kim Swee, Mr Kim Swee, Mr Ya'acob Mohd, Leong Kai Ngin, Dr Rajah, Mr Lee Teck Hup, ? ? ? ? ? ?.

It is interesting to note that during the early years of the community centre, the management and running of the place were all done by unpaid resident volunteers. Only the Organising Secretary, Mr Ronald Lim, who was also a resident of PEE, was employed by the newly established People's Association.

3. The CC 8th Anniversary Celebration Dinner on 24th June 1972.

Mr Lee greeting members of the CC management committee.
Beside Mr Lee is Mr Chor Yeok Eng, MP for Bukit Timah, on his right is Mr Chai Chong Yii, later MP for Bukit Batok and beside Mr Chai is my dad, who was the Management Committee chairman at the time.

The old Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre.

If you are able to identify anyone else in the above photos, perhaps your parents, uncles, aunts or even yourself!, please drop me a comment below.

Photo source: National Archive of Singapore.