Tanglin Halt – Where the Trains used to Pass by

Tanglin Halt. This was where the trains used to pass by, exchanging key tokens with the station master in order to receive the authority to enter the correct tracks. Express trains from Kuala Lumpur used to stop regularly at Tanglin Halt, although that would be changed after 1936 when the Federated Malay States (FMS) Railways arranged their trains to run straight to Tanjong Pagar instead.

With the population surging rapidly after the Second World War, Singapore was facing a housing crunch. In 1952, the former Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) kicked off the development plans of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite new town, to tackle the housing shortage issue. Tanglin Halt was one of the five districts within Queenstown that were initially drawn up; the other four being Commonwealth, Duchess Estate, Princess Estate (present-day Dawson & Strathmore) and Queens’ Close.

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A number of low-storey SIT flats were constructed at Tanglin Halt. Built in the mid-fifties, they are currently only seven such three- and four-storey buildings left in the vicinity, serving as hostels for the university exchange students. With only 32,000 units built over a span of thirty years, SIT had proven to be ineffective in its housing development progress. It was eventually dissolved in 1959, and was replaced by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) a year later.

tanglin halt chup lau

In 1962, rows of 10-storey flats were built at Tanglin Halt. Fondly known as chup lau chu (10-storey buildings in Hokkien) to the local Chinese, these iconic blocks, with diagonal staircases at their sides, were featured at the back of the Singapore one-dollar note of the Orchid Series and the Marine Series’ one-cent coin (both first issued in 1967).

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In the early stages of Tanglin Halt’s housing development, the government also planned to introduce a light industrial estate near the flats to provide adequate employment opportunities to the new residents. In 1964, a $1.5 million project was launched by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to build multi-storey factories at the fringes of Tanglin Halt. The objective was to attract 30 or more factories to operate in the five-storey buildings as part of Singapore’s industrialisation program. Such scheme, first tested at Tanglin Halt, would be introduced to other part of the country if proven successful.

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The challenge to develop part of Tanglin Halt into a light industrial estate had yielded positive results. In April 1965, Nippon Paint, formerly known as Pan-Malaysia Paint Industry Limited, opened a $2 million factory along Commonwealth Avenue. The new facility, sitting on a 2-arce site and possessing a tropical research station to study the effects of tropical climate on paints, had demonstrated the Japanese industrialists’ confidence in the future of Malaysia and Singapore.

Local entrepreneurs also began to move into the new vicinity. Well-established Singapore trading company Lim Seng Huat Limited Group opened their knitted garments plant at Tanglin Halt in 1969. Setron, Singapore’s own television maker, also set up a factory to assemble and produce thousands of black-and-white TVs. By the seventies, the industrial estate at Tanglin Halt was bustling with manufacturing and commercial activities with various companies involved in different trades such as electronics, textile, frozen food, chocolate, fiberglass and paper products.

tanglin halt market 1967

Most common public amenities were added to Tanglin Halt by the late sixties. The Tanglin Halt Market was completed and opened in 1967. Tanglin Halt was also said to be the first district in Queenstown to have a public phone installed.

Tanglin Halt Road was constructed in the early sixties but was converted into an one-way street in 1964. Parking was permitted on one side of the road but it affected the traffic conditions as insufficient parking space failed to meet the demands of some 600 cars and a large number of scooters. It also did not help when many street hawkers plied their trades along the narrow road, often causing congestion to the one-directional traffic. The issue was eventually solved with more public carparks built at Tanglin Halt.

tanglin halt 1970s

church of the blessed sacrament 1970s

Tanglin Halt’s two most iconic landmarks are the Church of the Blessed Sacrament and Sri Muneeswaran Temple.

Unique for its blue slated roof and cross-shaped service hall, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, designed by Y.G. Dowsett, was planned in the late fifties but could only be completed in 1965 due to limited funds. By the eighties, the church was able to serve some 7,000 parishioners at Queenstown. In 2005, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament was given the conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for its heritage value and architectural excellence.

old sri muneeswaran temple 1980s

The Sri Muneeswaran Temple, the other iconic place of worship at Tanglin Halt, has a history dated back to the early 1930s, when it was first set up as a railway shrine for the Hindu staffs who lived at Queenstown and worked for the Malayan Railway.

In 1969, the Hindu devotees at Queenstown donated generously to buy a parcel of land from the Malayan Railway Administration for the construction of a temple to replace the aging shrine. The temple, however, had to be moved in the nineties due to a road widening project along Queensway. The new Sri Muneeswaran Temple finally found its new home next to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in 1998.

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The chup lau chu were placed under the HDB’s Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in 2008, and are now awaiting demolition after most residents had moved out by mid-2014. Another 31 blocks of flats, most of them already half-century old, and the popular Tanglin Halt market, hawker centre, shops and eateries are scheduled to be cleared and torn down by 2021, in what will be HDB’s biggest SERS project to revamp and redevelop the vicinity.

When the time comes, Tanglin Halt, an unique neighbourhood where the trains used to pass by, will never be the same again.

tanglin halt chup lau5

Published: 13 July 2014

Updated: 15 July 2014

Posted in Cultural, Historic | 18 Comments

When the Durians Fall at Pulau Ubin

It is the durian season now.

Often described as a smelly fruit with heavenly taste, a durian’s aroma is so strong that the thorny fruit is banned in MRT trains and the airport. To most locals, however, it is the king of fruits. Many durian plantations used to thrive in Singapore, especially in the early part of the 20th century. Today, one can only find abundance of durian trees on outlying islands such as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

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A colleague of mine has invited me to visit his grandparents’ former home at Pulau Ubin and, perhaps, pick a few durians along the way. So in one hot and humid Saturday morning, we found ourselves on the bum boat to the rustic island that resembles a Singapore of the seventies rather than the modern city it is today.

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Walking around the island was perhaps too tiring and time-consuming in a hot day, so we decided to follow what most visitors to Pulau Ubin do: Cycling. It is an efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transport on the island, where its number of vehicles is kept under control.

Our first stop was the former home of my colleague’s grandparents, who had stayed on the island some twenty years ago before they resettled at the eastern side of mainland Singapore.

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Their old house had already been demolished and only a forgotten flight of steps and a disused water well remained, with the rest slowly consumed by the forest over time. There are several giant durian trees at the vicinity; some are over 50 years old and have grown to heights of more than 10m tall. We scanned around for durians that had just dropped to the ground but unfortunately we could not find any fresh ones.

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The neighbouring zinc-roofed kampong houses are still standing in a mint condition well supported by a water well and electrical generators. Opposite of the kampong houses lie two ponds, which according to my colleague, used to be a fish breeding pond and a dumping pool. In other words, it was a natural toilet.

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Our next stop was the Kampong Sungei Tiga Chinese Cemetery, one of the three Chinese cemeteries at Pulau Ubin, along with the Muslim cemeteries at Kampong Chek Jawa, Kampong Malayu, Kampong Sungei Durian and Kampong Sarau. At this 150-year-old cemetery lies dozens of tombs, one of which belongs to my colleague’s great-grandfather.

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The abandoned burial ground had few visitors even during day time, as most cyclists chose to avoid or ignore the path leading to the cemetery. We thought it was a good opportunity to pick up some fresh durians unnoticed by others. The result was not satisfactory as we came across only two good pieces.

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As we rode on, we came across the kampong house that was in the news two years ago. In late 2012, a durian tree, said to be over 90 years of age, fell and crushed the 4-decade-old house, leaving half of it in wrecked condition. The house, once featured in the National Parks Board’s Pulau Ubin trail, has since been restored, although its owner no longer lives in it.

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So at the end of our three-hour durian-picking and exploration of the island, we had only two good durians to show off. And they were nearly snatched by a family of wild boars.  Already used to human presence, the friendly beasts have all the freedom to roam around the island, becoming one of Pulau Ubin’s main attractions.

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Unlike the “branded” ones such as mao shan wang (cat mountain) or ang hei (red prawn) sold in Singapore, the Pulau Ubin durians are small in their sizes with lesser flesh. But they come with tasty pale-yellow creamy flavour that reminds us of those durian trees that once grew in abundance at Mandai, Nee Soon and Upper Thomson during the olden days. Despite only two durians as our reward, it was still considered a “fruitful” trip, especially for urban dwellers like us.

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Published: 25 June 2014

Posted in Cultural, Exotic | 9 Comments

Gongs, Long Hair and Chewing Gums

What do gongs, long hair and chewing gums have in common?

They were all part of a list of items that were either permanently banned or disallowed in public for a period of time in Singapore. Some banned items contained dangerous elements, while others were associated with excessive contents of sex and violence that challenged the society’s moral standards. Banning of certain publications was common. For example, a Hong Kong comic, popular among Singapore students who would spend their pocket money to buy at the roadside stalls, was banned in 1966 due to its undesirable storyline filled with violence, gangsterism and fantasy.

So other than drugs and gambling, what had been banned in Singapore since the sixties?

Playboy Magazines

As part of the “anti-yellow” drive at the start of 1960, the Playboy magazine and its Playmate calender was officially banned in Singapore. Costing $2.10 per copy, the monthly magazine from Chicago fell under the provisions of the Undesirable Publications Ordnance. It never made it to Singapore shores since.

Three years later in 1963, thirty more “morally objectionable” novels from the United States, with contents mostly describing sex and violence, were banned by the Home Affairs Ministry.

Gongs and Cymbals

chinese funeral gong 1970sIn early 1960, the Singapore police banned gongs and cymbals at Chinese wakes and funerals. A Chinese tradition for centuries, the shattering noise of gongs and cymbals had been an integrated part of Chinese wakes that were accompanied by bands and funeral music. In the fifties, however, secret societies began to infiltrate Chinese clans and associations that increased the rivalries between one another.

The tensions were especially high during the funerals, where rival societies tried to “out-gong” each other, often resulting in fights and melees. Beside the ban, the police also ordered the funeral bands to take the shortest routes from the deceased’s houses to the cemeteries in order to minimise the possible friction between the gangs. The ban was only lifted many years later.

Firearms

Singapore is a relatively safe place today with the public not allowed to possess any forms of firearms, but it was not the same during the fifties, when post-war Singapore was in the midst of the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). Thousands of weapons and permits were issued to individual private owners for protective purposes.

On 15 July 1960, three days after the official ending of Malayan Emergency, the Singapore police began to cancel the licenses and inform the private firearm owners to hand over their weapons. Those who failed to do so within three weeks had to justify their reasons.

Tikam Tikam

tikam tikam gameThe chance game of tikam tikam was outlawed by the police in 1961. Offenders caught playing the game would be fined $500 and jailed up to 6 months, while the tikam tikam operators faced a fine of $6,000 and a 3-year imprisonment. The harsh punishment, however, failed to deter the the public from engaging in the popular game at places such as Chinatown, Tiong Bahru and New Bridge Road.

At five cents per pick, the punter could pick a piece of paper with a number written on it. With prizes ranging from toys to packets of cigarettes, and sometimes cash, it often attracted many to gather at the tikam tikam stalls outside the schools, markets and Chinese operas. Despite the ban, the game of chance remained popular among Singaporeans until the eighties.

Pirate Taxis

In a major crackdown known as “Operation Taxi” in 1966, as many as 20 illegal taxis were chong gong (confiscated) with their drivers arrested and fined. The problem of pirate taxis had already existed in the fifties, but by the mid-sixties, there were more than 12,000 pirate taxi drivers in Singapore, offering competitive rates and “stealing” an estimated of 6 million ridership from the Singapore Traction Company’s bus services. Many being new drivers without regular driving experiences, they also added to the increasing number of accidents on the roads, complicating insurance matters.

To make things worse, many pirate taxi drivers had the backing of the secret societies, and had marked their territories in areas such as Queenstown, Aljunied and Havelock Road where few licensed taxi drivers dared to venture in to pick up passengers. In March 1966, a riot almost broke out as the illegal drivers protested against the new legislation, almost clashing with the licensed drivers and the bus companies.

In a bid to overhaul the public transport service, the government increased the number of legitimate taxis from 3,800 to 5,000 in 1969. Despite the ban and regular raids, pirate taxis continued to exist in Singapore until the eighties.

Firecrackers

firecrackers 1968The year was 1968. Few had paid attention to the government’s repeated appeals not to let off the rocket-type firecrackers during the Chinese New Year. It resulted in the banning of the rocket-type firecrackers, but that did not stop the public from using other types of firecrackers in strings and packets.

A partial ban of all types of firecrackers was issued after 6 people died and more than 70 were injured from the fires caused by firecrackers during the 1970 Chinese New Year. The final straw came two years later, when two policemen were attacked as they tried to stop a group of men letting off firecrackers at a non-designated place. The firecrackers were totally banned in Singapore in 1972.

Long Hair

In the late sixties, long hair, bell bottoms and psychedelic shirts were largely associated with the hippie culture influenced by the Western world. The Singapore government began to strongly “discourage” male Singaporeans with long hair in 1970. Visitors to the country were turned away due to their long hairs. Students were made to go for haircuts, civil servants who refused to cut their hairs short were sacked and groups of long-haired men were rounded up and questioned by the police.

long hair served last 1972In 1973, the People’s Association launched the anti-long hair campaign in all of its 189 community centres, emphasizing that “males with long hair will have their need attended to last” when they visited government bodies. The definition of long hair was determined as hair reaching below the collar, covering the ears and forehead and touching the eyelashes.

Popular artistes, such as Japanese musician Kitaro and British rock band Led Zeppelin, were also barred from entering Singapore. The baffling rule was eventually, and quietly, lifted when the hippie culture faded away by the eighties.

Nunchaku

Nunchaku, the martial art weapon made up of two hard wood rods linked together by a chain, was made popular by Bruce Lee’s films in the early seventies. It was used in karate classes in Singapore, and was even advertised in newspapers.

nunchaku advert 1973

But by 1972, it was deemed as an offensive weapon and was banned in Singapore, believed to be part of the cracking down efforts of secret society members. In 1975, a 23-year-old man named Sethupillay Rajaretnam became the first man in Singapore to be jailed and caned for possessing nunchaku. Several youths carrying nunchaku were also subsequently arrested and charged in the court.

Hell-riders

“Black Coffins”, “Jacky’s Trails”, “Scorpio”, “White Snake” and “Hell’s Angels”. These were the names hell-riding groups had given themselves in the early seventies. More than just public nuisance, many hell-riders were involved in gambling, drug-taking, gang fights and, worst of all, fatal accidents. In 1982 alone, almost 80 died and more than 4,500 were injured in motorcycle accidents. In the high-speed races, it was not uncommon to read in the newspapers that a Yamaha Daytona had crashed and dragged to the roadside, with its owner lying elsewhere in a twisted manner.

After the new anti-hell-riding laws were passed in the early eighties, the Singapore police carried out a major crackdown in October 1984 at Nicoll Drive, checking on some 500 vehicles in the four-hour operation. Popular illegal racing spots at Changi and Jurong were kept quiet for more than a year, leading to the police to proudly declare that organised hell-riding was a thing of the past.

Breakdancing

breakdancing 1984The eighties saw the rise of funky youths dressed in outrageous outfits and carrying portable hi-fi sets at Orchard Road. Popularly known as the Far East Plaza Kids, McDonald’s Kids or the Centrepoint’s Kids, they could be spotted hanging out outside the popular shopping malls, sometimes in groups of hundreds.

In June 1984, police task-force troops were called in to disperse a huge group of youngsters at Far East Plaza. A breakdancing performance had been organised by a record shop, attracting as many as 3,000 youngsters to gather and cheer. A week later, the police officially banned breakdancing in public places.

Chewing Gums

One of the most well-known items banned in Singapore, chewing gums were deemed as a public nuisance after repeated cases of disruptions to the MRT trains and buses. Every night, more than 400 globs of chewing gums, on average, were removed from the seats inside the MRT trains.

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In November 1989, chewing gums were officially prohibited in MRT trains and stations. The ban was extended to nationwide in January 1992, due to the increasing cost of removing discarded gums stuck on pavements, lift doors and other public places. The majority of the Singaporeans felt that the ban was too harsh, although many would agree that chewing gum was an irritation and public nuisance. It would take many years before certain gums were allowed to be sold in Singapore as medical products.

Published: 19 June 2014

Posted in Cultural | 63 Comments

The World Cup Craze and Memories

The World Cup is here again.

The biggest football tournament, held once every four years, is again expected to cause many sleepless nights among the local football fans. During Mexico ’86, the 10-year-old me always wondered why my father stayed up every night to watch some TV programs. By the time Italia ’90 was held, I was already a converted football fan and had joined my father in catching the biggest show on football scene, marvelling at the brilliant skills of Gary Lineker, Marco van Basten, Roberto Baggio, Rudi Voller, and of cos, Diego Maradona.

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The World Cups on TVs

Since 1966, Singaporeans were able to catch the World Cups in black and white on the free-to-air Channel 5, broadcast by the Radio Television Singapura (RTS). Few had the luxury to watch at home though, since in the sixties, less than 5% of the Singapore’s population owned a television set.

In the seventies, imported brands such as Sharp and Telefunken cost as much as $3,000 per TV set, several times than that of the monthly salary of an average Singaporean. Setron, a local TV manufacturer established since 1965, was able to provide a cheaper alternative to Singaporeans with their TV prices tagged close to $1,800.

setron tv 1960s

There was a breakthrough in early May 1974, when colour tests were run successfully just in time for the final of World Cup 1974 between Holland and West Germany. Hence, the first telecast of the World Cup in full colours would be presented via satellite to Singaporeans that year. When the news was out, more than 2,000 colour TVs were snapped up islandwide. Crowds also gathered outside Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket to catch the final live.

world cup final 1974 live at fitzpatricks supermarket

Singapore and the World Cups

Singapore did not have the chance to participate in the early World Cups. Southeast Asia was generally under colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century, although that did not stop Indonesia from becoming the first Asian country to participate in the World Cup 1938 when they travelled to France as Dutch East Indies. In Malaya and Singapore, the football associations were administrated by the British, and the biggest football event to the fans was the Malaya Cup.

world cup qualifier group 1978After its independence, Singapore remained inactive on the international stage, preferring to concentrate in the regional competitions such as the Asian Games, Malaysia Cup, Merdeka Cup, Ovaltine Cup, the King’s Cup in Thailand and the Merlion Cup.

It was not until 1977 when Singapore debuted in its first ever World Cup qualification games. The inauguration of the World Cup qualifying stage in the Asian zone took place in the new National Stadium, completed just three years earlier. Finishing second in the First Round qualifying group, Singapore met Hong Kong in the playoff for the Final Round, but was knocked out with a 1-0 defeat. Iran would later emerge as the winner of the Final Round to gain a berth at the 1978 World Cup at Argentina.

Goal 2010

In 1998, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, in his National Day Rally speech, visualised a dream for Singapore. That was to qualify for the World Cup finals in 2010. Citing the success of the French national team as the example, Goh Chok Tong emphasized on the importance of importing foreign sport talents to help raise the standard of the Singapore football.

The ambitious dream, which had initially excited the local football fans, came to an end when Singapore crashed out in the group stage with 2 wins and 4 losses in the 2010 World Cup Asian Qualifying Tournament.

First Singaporean Referee

Singapore did have one representative in the World Cup. It was not the national team but George Suppiah (1930-2012), the first Singaporean, and Asian, football referee to officiate in the World Cup finals. He was appointed as the man-in-charge of the first-round match between Poland and Haiti at the 1974 World Cup held in West Germany, and was also later selected as the linesman for the Sweden-Bulgaria and Brazil-Holland matches. A 25-year between 1953 and 1978 career saw him refereed a total of 43 international ‘A’ matches.

world cup 1974 referee george suppiah

Panini Sticker Albums

Many would perhaps remember the popularity of the Panini sticker collections sold in Singapore in the eighties and nineties. One of their legacies was the World Cup sticker albums, which served as memorabilia for football fans. Selling at $1 per packet of 5 stickers at the convenience stores, it was a craze back then among the students who bought the stickers with their pocket money and swapped among one another in the schools.

Today, Panini continues to launch their new series of the World Cup sticker albums, but its popularity in Singapore seems to have waned as compared to other countries.

panini world cup sticker albums

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This will be the 7th World Cup I am watching. Will there ever be a chance in my lifetime to witness Singapore’s participation in the World Cup finals? Let’s certainly hope so.

Published: 08 June 2014

Updated: 10 June 2014

Posted in General | 7 Comments

Moths, Durians and Other Local Old Wives’ Tales

It is the “moth season” in Singapore recently, with hundreds, even thousands, of moths spotted all over the island. Known as the tropical swallowtail moths, they are the second largest species of moths found in Singapore, and are generally flying around in larger numbers between May and August.

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Many cultures around the world believe moths are the symbols of death. In Singapore, there is a popular belief that that moths are the spirits of the dead who have come back to visit their loved ones. Another local old wives’ tale of moths is that the powder that coat their wings can cause blindness, and kids are often warned not to disturb these winged insects. In reality, the “powdery” wings of the moths are made up of thousands of tiny modified hairs called scales.

Other than moths, there are dozens of old wives’ tales and taboos in Singapore. Some may sound illogical, while others are probably originated from superstitions and folklore. The purpose of this article is not ridicule but to explore this interesting aspect that has been part of our Singaporean culture for many generations.

How many of these have you heard of?

Durians Have Eyes

Old Wives’ Tale: Ripe durians will not fall on anyone’s head.

Possible Explanation: There are probably not many reported accidents of anyone hit by falling durians. But such accidents do happen every now and then. In 2001, a Malaysian newspapers reported that a 49-year-old man was knocked unconscious by a falling durian in a plantation.

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Cutting Fingernails at Night

Old Wives’ Tale: Many Singaporean mums would prohibit their kids from cutting their fingernails at night. For the Malays, cutting nails at night may shorten one’s lifespan, while the Chinese believes the kids will develop a phobia of the dark.

Possible Explanation: As most kampongs had dim lighting, fingernail-cutting might be a little dangerous in the past, especially with scissors at night. You won’t want to accidentally cut your fingers instead, so it would probably be more advisable to cut the nails during daytime.

A Lizard’s Tail

Old Wives’ Tale: A frightened house lizard’s tail will jump into your ears

Possible Explanation: House lizards are commonly found in homes. When feeling threatened, a lizard will drop its tail off. It is a defense mechanism known as autotomy. A new tail will be regenerated in a couple of weeks. However, the chances of the broken tail jumping into one’s ears are extremely low.

Three’s a Crowd

Old Wives’ Tale: Taking photographs of three people is a no-no. The one in the middle will die soon.

Possible Explanation: The origin of this taboo is undetermined. A similar old wives’ tale also exists: when walking in a group, three people should not walk side by side. Like the taboo mentioned, the one in the middle will suffer an early death.

Sweet Floral Scent

Old Wives’ Tale: The smell of frangipani indicates the presence of a spirit nearby.

Possible Explanation: This originated from the Malay belief that a pontianak gives off a strong smell of frangipani when she is close to her victim.

Hot Bus Cushion Seats

Old Wives’ Tale: Hot bus cushion seats give your piles

Possible Explanation: In the old days, we often see the elderly spanking the bus leather seats vigorously before sitting. Many of them believed that the seats warmed by the previous commuters would give them piles. There is no such problem today, especially with the buses fully air-conditioned and fitted with new fabric seats.

old bus cushion seats

Eyelids’ Twitching

Old Wives’ Tale: There will be good fortune if one’s left eyelid twitches, while right eyelid twitching symbolises bad luck.

Possible Explanation: Its origin is unknown, but this old wives’ tale is not unique in Singapore. It is a popular belief in many other countries, just that it exists in different variations. In medical explanation, the twitching of eyelids indicates the tiredness, stress or allergies of the eyes.

Night Swims

Old Wives’ Tale: Avoid swimming at night. The water spirits will make you drown and claim your soul.

Possible Explanation: In the past, the mothers would warn their kids to discourage them from playing at the rivers or longkangs (canals) after sunset.

Finish Your Food!

Old Wives’ Tale: Finish all your rice, or else your future husband/wife will be mo peng (face scarred by pimples)

Possible Explanation: A good tactic used by the mothers to ensure their kids do not waste any food.

Pointing Finger at the Moon

Old Wives’ Tale: A warning from the elderly: “Don’t point your finger to the moon, or your ear will be cut“.

Possible Explanation: In many religions and beliefs, the moon is as much-respected as the sun. Probably that is why it is considered rude to point at the moon.

urban legend - moon

Bad Luck Underwear

Old Wives’ Tale: It is unlucky to walk under the undergarments hanged at the rear of HDB flats.

Possible Explanation: This perhaps originated from another popular belief: If you wear a panty on your head (why will anyone do that?), you will get bad luck for 7 years. In any case, it is still not advisable to walk at the rear of HDB flats due to the chances of falling bamboo poles that are used for hanging clothes.

Peeping Tom’s Punishment

Old Wives’ Tale: You will get stye (commonly known as eye needle or ba zham in Hokkien) if you peep someone bathing. In the fifties, people used to use a few grain of rice to rub their affected eyes as the cure for stye.

Possible Explanation: Peeping at someone bathing is immoral and illegal. In medical explanation, stye is caused by the bacterial infection of the skin around the eye, and probably has nothing to do with peeping.

Painful Head

Old Wives’ Tale: Use your fist to knock against the bottom of your jaws gently if you are hit on the head.

Possible Explanation: Perhaps in doing so, it may have a psychological effect in soothing the pain. Just like hopping on the spot after being hit on the groin.

“Excuse Me”

Old Wives’ Tale: Mumble “excuse me” when peeing near a tree.

Possible Explanation: In the olden days when there were more jungles and plantations than public toilets, people often had to answer their nature’s calls by the trees, but they were afraid of offending the tree spirits. This practice is still common among the NS personnel today, especially during the jungle trainings. In any case, it is good to respect the nature too.

Knock Knock!

Old Wives’ Tale: Always knock on the door before you enter your hotel room or any other empty rooms.

Possible Explanation: It is to warn any spirits or other unknowns lurking in the room beforehand, and hope they will not disturb the one who is going to stay in that room.

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Nailing Disallowed

Old Wives’ Tale: No nailing during pregnancy

Possible Explanation: The Chinese, especially the Cantonese, believe that nailing during pregnancy will cause deformities to the unborn baby. In fact, drilling and shifting of furniture should also be avoided.

Tiger Cure

Old Wives’ Tale: Write the Chinese character of “tiger” (虎), preferably by an adult born in the year of Tiger, onto the swollen cheeks of the child who is suffering from mumps.

Possible Explanation: Mumps are commonly known as the “swelled face” (猪头皮) in Chinese. Pigs, naturally, are afraid of tigers, and therefore in the olden days, this was a popular folk remedy when professional medical assistance was not easily available.

Tooth Fairy

Old Wives’ Tale: When his/her baby tooth dislodges, the child must stand up straight and throw the fallen tooth out of the window, so that the new replacement tooth can grow well.

Possible Explanation: A possible local variation of the western folklore Tooth Fairy?

Clocks as Gifts

Old Wives’ Tale: Giving clock to others, especially the elderly, is strictly prohibited

Possible Explanation: Giving a clock as gift, to the Chinese, sounds like providing a burial to the parents (送终). Which is why the elderly are particularly pantang (superstitious) about this.

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Bad Gossips

Old Wives’ Tale: If you suddenly sneeze, or have an itchy ear, or accidentally bite your tongue, it means someone is talking bad of you, or gossiping about you

Possible Explanation: Nil.

Umbrella Taboo

Old Wives’ Tale: Opening an umbrella inside the house may attract a ghost (Chinese beliefs), or a snake will appear from the inner center of the umbrella (Malay beliefs).

Possible Explanation: This is not unique to the local Chinese and Malays. The Egyptians also believe opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck. Anyway, few will do it unless it rains inside the house.

Choking Remedy

Old Wives’ Tale: If a person chokes while eating, knock a pair of chopsticks (upright) against an empty bowl held slightly above his head.

Possible Explanation: This old wives’ tale seems to have originated from Hong Kong, where the Cantonese believe in doing so, it will clear the windpipe and ease the choking.

Others

  • Do not take photographs of someone sleeping, as his soul may be trapped.
  • A mirror placed in front of the bed will confuse your soul when it returns to your body upon waking.
  • Some local Chinese and Indians believe that if your palms itch, you will receive some wealth or good fortune soon.
  • A young girl, according to Malay beliefs, should avoid singing in the kitchen or else she will marry an old man as her husband.
  • Whistling while walking home at night may attract ghostly presence.
  • Hearing a cat cries at night spells bad omen.

Published: 01 June 2014

Posted in Cultural, Paranormal | 7 Comments

Singapore Music – The Rise and Decline of Local Bands

It all started in the fifties when Radio Malaya’s popular singing competition Talentime attracted a huge fan base in Malaysia and Singapore. This inspired many wannabe-singers and led to the formation of local bands in producing homegrown music. It was then followed by a remarkable decade of live music, deafening crowds and successful albums.

The Sixties – A Golden Era

The sixties were arguably the golden era for local bands. In 1961, British singer Cliff Richard and his rock group The Shadows performed at the Happy World Stadium together with a local band called The Stompers. It was a defining moment, as the performance inspired and motivated many young music lovers to form Singapore’s own homegrown bands.

singapore music 1960s

The local music scene began to flourish, represented by the likes of The Crescendos, The Quests, The Trailers and The Thunderbirds, who made their debuts between 1962 and 1964 with several chart-toppers and record-breaking singles. The Crescendos, in particular, was the first Singaporean band to be signed by an international record label when they signed with Philips International in 1962.

In 1964, The Quests’ “Shanty” knocked The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” off the top of the local charts and stayed at the number one spot for 12 weeks. It was the first time a local band had such a spectacular achievement. Several Singaporean bands became so popular that they were invited to perform overseas at Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong.

jeffridin and the siglap five 1960sMalay bands also hit the heights in the sixties. Pop yeh-yeh, a new music genre with a mixture of Malay rhythms and classic rock and roll, had emerged and influenced the likes of The Rhythm Boys, The Jayhawkers and Malay R&B outfit The Siglap Five, who had toured Malaysia and performed for the Perak Sultan. Sweet Charity, a Malay rock band established in 1964 and led by the legendary Ramli Sarip, had successes lasting into the seventies and eighties.

The Seventies – Rapid Decline

By the late sixties, most Singapore bands faced a decline in their popularity. A number of factors had contributed to the decline that muted the local music scene for more than a decade.

Singapore had achieved its independence in 1965. With the gradual withdrawal of the British troops between the late sixties and early seventies, there was a lesser demand for local bands to perform at the camps and clubs. At the same time, the Singapore society was starting to be influenced by the rising popularity of hippie culture from the West. Long hair-styles and bell bottoms became fashionable. A bigger concern, however, was the mixture of drugs and casual sex-related messages associated with the hippie culture. The alarmed Singapore government began to “strongly discourage” male Singaporeans sporting long hair.

The need to control the “bad” western influence led to the barring of British rock band Led Zeppelin into Singapore in the early seventies. In 1972, Bee Gees were allowed to hold their concert at the National Theatre, but they were requested to leave the country immediately after that. Locally, the Singapore bands faced a period of uncertainty and unsustainability in their music careers. Many disbanded and settled for more secure jobs. Others looked for opportunities at overseas.

The Eighties – Within You’ll Remain

In 1985, “Within You’ll Remain” by Tokyo Square surprised the local music scene when the song made it to the Rediffusion’s Top 10 list for five straight weeks. Although not locally produced; the song was actually written and first covered in 1983 by Donald Ashley of Chyna, Hong Kong’s leading rock band, “Within You’ll Remain” managed to charm many with its new instrumentation that was blended with guzheng, a Chinese plucked zither.

The same year saw five Singaporean bands Tokyo Square, Gingerbread, Zircon Lounge, Speedway and Heritage releasing a compilation named Class Acts. Selling more than 10,000 copies, it was the first time a local English music album had performed so well. In early 1986, another thousand copies were sold in Thailand, with “Within You’ll Remain” taking the top spot of the Thai pop charts.

class act album 1985

The popularity of the song soon saw it targetted by music piracy. Just two months after the official album release, “Within You’ll Remain” and “Silent Talk”, another song by Tokyo Square, were picked up by music cassette pirates in their “Sentimental Hits of 1985″ sold in the market. This was the first time the songs of a local band were affected by piracy.

The Nineties – Non-Mainstream Music

In the early nineties, a local indie rock band called The Oddfellows recorded a groundbreaking achievement when their single “So Happy” became the first Singaporean song to top the chart of local radio station 98.7FM.

oddfellows teenage head 1991Formed three years earlier, The Oddfellows were perhaps the pioneers in “do it yourself” music in the local context. They produced and financed their debut album Teenage Head before record label BMG picked it up for distribution in 1991. The album was a commercial success, selling a respectable 2,000 copies in Singapore and catapulting the underground band to fame in the mainstream.

The Padres, another Indie rock band, became the first Singapore English band to sign for Rock Records in the early nineties. Throughout the decade before the millennium, several bands formed by the names of Sideshow Judy, Force Vomit, Humpback Oak, Sugarflies and Concave Scream experimented in punk, garage rock and other types of non-mainstream music genres.

For more than three decades, due to music piracy, the lack of local support and other reasons, no Singaporean bands could ever hit the peak of the sixties that Singapore was once proud of.

Published: 19 May 2014

Posted in Cultural, Nostalgic | 7 Comments

The Former Changkat Changi Schools at Changi Road 10th Milestone

In the mid-sixties, shortly after Singapore’s independence, a new primary and secondary schools named Changkat Changi were built at Changi Road 10 milestone. Changkat Changi Secondary School, an integrated secondary school, cost a hefty $1.4 million in its construction, furniture and equipment. Well-equipped with 24 classrooms and laboratories, it offered three streams in English, Malay and Chinese to some 2,000 students a year from Changi, Tampines, Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

former changkat changi schools

In 1988, Changkat Changi Primary School left its old campus and was relocated to Simei Street 3. It did, however, return for two years between 2002 and 2004 during the upgrading program of its school premises at Simei. Changkat Changi Secondary School, on the other hand, stayed at Jalan Tiga Ratus for 35 years until 2001 before it too moved to Simei Street 3. Since then, the premises have been left empty, except for a brief period of occupation by Junyuan Primary School in 2009.

former changkat changi schools2

former changkat changi schools3

With the kampong days at Changi Road 10 milestone gone, the only remnants that still remind its former residents of the old days are the former campuses of these two schools, which are still standing on the same small hill that has given rise to their names (Changkat means small hill in Malay).

Jalan Tiga Ratus used to be a long winding road that extended to where the Simei MRT Station exists today. That was also the location of Nong Min School, a humble rural school started by a group of merchants and farmers at a warehouse left behind by the Japanese after the war. It was closed in 1977, along with Min Zhong Public School at the old Somapah Road. Wan Tzu (Red Swastika) School, another school in the Somapah vicinity, was relocated to Bedok North in 1981.

former changkat changi schools4

former changkat changi schools5

The former Somapah Changi Village was where Tropicana Condominium is standing today, while Kampong Harvey and Gulega Village had disappeared decades ago. The expunged Lorong Gulega Kechil, Lorong Lodeh, Wing Loong Road and Jalan Somapah Timor were replaced by the current Singapore Expo, Changi North industrial estate and the new eastern campus of the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

former changkat changi schools6

Changkat

When Simei was developed in the mid-eighties, neither Somapah nor Changkat was used as the name of the new town. It was a decision that baffled many, especially the non-Chinese ethnicity who were confused by the hanyu-pinyinised street names. Changkat did, politically, exist as a short-lived SMC (Single Member Constituency) between 1984 and 1988, represented by its only Member of Parliament Dr Aline Wong, before being split and absorbed into Changi and Tampines GRCs (Group Representation Constituencies).

former changkat changi schools7

There was even a Changkat Day, a carnival-like event held at Tampines Street 22 in September 1986. The grassroot organisations hoped to promote neighbourliness and a sense of identity among the residents of the new constituency, formed from part of Tampines and Bedok estates. Ironically, Changkat would “cease to exist” just two years later. There was also a Changkat Community Centre, first started in 1985 as a void deck office at Block 138 of Tampines Street 11. It was modelled, along with 11 other similar concepts at Fengshan, Hong Kah, Eunos and Yuhua, after the first void deck sub-community centre at Hougang Avenue 1. In 1992, it moved to its new standalone building, and was renamed as Tampines Changkat Community Centre.

former changkat changi schools8

Published: 14 May 2014

Posted in General, Historic | 24 Comments