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.

world cup logos

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

panini world cup italia 90 argentina

panini world cup italia 90 germany

panini world cup italia 90 holland

panini world cup italia 90 england

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.


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.


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.

hotel corridor

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.


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.


  • 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


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

A Tekong Temple’s Journey to Mainland Singapore

I was searching for old photos of Pulau Tekong at the National Archives of Singapore, when I came across a series of coloured photos that featured the resettlement of a Chinese temple from the island to mainland Singapore with the help of SAF (Singapore Armed Forces). Eager to find out more, I paid the Temple of Sun Deity (太阳公庙) a visit, uncoincidentally on a hot sunny morning.

The origins of the Temple of Sun Deity went back to the sixties. For three decades, a Chinese couple had lived on Pulau Tekong, relying on fishing and farming as their livelihood. In 1966, after recovering from a serious illness, the couple decided to pay their gratitude to the Deity of the Sun by setting up a temple beside the lake at Kampong Pasir Merah. The temple soon became popular and attracted many devotees, and was said to be well-known within the Southeast Asian region.

tekong temple resettlement 1992-1

tekong temple resettlement 1992-2

By the late seventies, the islanders were informed that there were plans for Pulau Tekong to be developed into a restricted military training base. After a meeting held in 1984 at the Kampong Selabin Community Centre, the temple’s abbot and committee decided to register their place-of-worship with the government and proceed with the resettlement plan. A small parcel of land at Bedok North Avenue 4 was purchased as the temple’s new home.

tekong temple resettlement 1992-3

Prior to the Second World War, many residents on Pulau Tekong were engaged in the island’s gambier and rubber plantations. Others plied their trades in engaged in fishing and agriculture. Prominent businessman Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961) also set up a brickwork factory on Pulau Tekong, providing employment opportunities for the islanders. The Hakkas, Malays and Teochews made up the largest communities on Pulau Tekong. By the eighties, the island’s population peaked at almost 8,000.

tekong temple resettlement 1992-4

bedok north avenue 4 1992 and 2014

The Temple of Sun Deity was the only Chinese temple left on Pulau Tekong by the mid-eighties. There were once as many as six Chinese temples on the island, the larger ones being De An Temple, Jiang Fu Temple and Tianzhao Buddhist Temple. Most of them had shut down when the island was acquired by the government. When the grand resettlement ceremony of the Temple of Sun Deity was carried out in an auspicious day in September 1986, dozens of former residents of Pulau Tekong returned to participate in the ritual with the temple’s devotees.

The SAF had assigned its military personnel, several 3-tonners and a RPL (Ramp Powered Launcher) to assist in the transportation of the temple’s idols and paraphernalia. It was probably the one and only time the military was activated to assist in the resettlement of a religious place-of-worship. After a 30-min journey, the convoy landed at the Commando Jetty at the end of Old Pier Road. It was another one-hour road trip before they arrived at the temple’s new home at Bedok North.

tekong temple resettlement 1992-5

tekong temple resettlement 1992-6

tekong temple resettlement 1992-7

tekong temple resettlement 1992-8

The Temple of Sun Deity at Bedok North was initially housed in a simple single-storey wooden building. In 1992, it was replaced by a new modern design and was renamed as Tian Kong Buddhist Temple, where it was joined by two other Chinese temples and a monastery in the vicinity, forming a cluster of Chinese places-of-worship within the designated Bedok North industrial estate.

tian kong buddhist temple bedok north

The temple also honoured the God of Tuan (Tuan Kong). A Malay general of the Aceh Kingdom, Tuan died fighting against the Portuguese invaders in the 16th century. In the 19th century, a mysterious elderly Malay man was seen sailing in a boat around Pulau Sejahat. A huge stone was later discovered after his disappearance on the island.

Believed that the elderly man was the guardian of the sea, the Hakka and Teochew villagers decided to honour and worship the stone after Tuan, conducting grand rituals every mid-Decembers of the lunar calender for the safety of those who plied their trades on the waters.

tian kong buddhist temple bedok north2

Every year, the temple comes to life with rituals and other bustling activities during the birthday of the Sun Deity, which falls on 19th of March of the lunar calender. Otherwise, it enjoys a quiet moment at the junction of Bedok North Avenue 4 and Street 5. Its interior still displays many photos of Pulau Tekong of the eighties, including Kampong Selabin and its old shophouses, that act as a constant reminder for the former islanders of their life before the resettlement.

tian kong buddhist temple bedok north3

tian kong buddhist temple bedok north4

tian kong buddhist temple bedok north5

tian kong buddhist temple bedok north6

Published: 04 May 2014

Posted in Cultural, Exotic | 4 Comments

A Forgotten Past – A Bank Run Incident in Singapore

It was early October 1974.

The world economy was still suffering from the wide-spreading shocks caused by the global oil crisis that occurred a year earlier. Singapore, affected as well, posted its worst set of economic data after enjoying a double-digit growth rate since its independence in 1965. The economic uncertainty was likely one of the factors in the starting of the rumours, which spread quickly like wild fires that the financial health of the banks in Singapore had taken a big hit. Chung Khiaw Bank Limited, then part of The United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB) Group, was rumoured to have faced a severe liquidity position and could run out of money soon.

chung khiaw bank run 1974

The Incident

In the morning of 3rd of October, crowds began to gather outside several branches of Chung Khiaw Bank. Its branch at Geylang Lorong 24 saw long lines of queues formed. Facing the increasingly anxious crowds that were growing larger in numbers, the police had to be called in to maintain order. A number of Chung Khiaw Bank branches had to extend their opening hours beyond their normal operations between 10am and 3pm. Chung Khiaw Bank’s Jalan Kayu branch was opened until 7pm, while its Geylang branch allowed its customers to withdraw their cash until 10pm.

chung khiaw bank run geylang lorong 24 branch 1974

By 8pm, there were still 300 people outside Chung Khiaw Bank at Geylang Lorong 24. A Cisco van arrived at Geylang with more money after the branch manager requested a requisition of $3 million cash for further cash withdrawals. Bank officials had to constantly reassure the crowds not to panic but it was not until 1030pm before the last customer made his successful withdrawal of deposits.

The Reassurance

The following days saw Chung Khiaw Bank releasing an official statement, citing the positive financial health of the bank. With an excess of $700 million in the form of government securities, treasury bills and physical cash, and a healthy loan deposit ratio of 63%, the bank hoped to quash the rumours and convince the people of its strong liquidity position. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also pledged that the UOB group of banks was safe and well-protected. After further appeals by the Association of Banks, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Singapore Bank Employees Union, the size of the crowds queuing up to withdraw their savings finally began to ease by the fourth day since the bank run incident started.

chung khiaw bank run katong branch 1974

The Establishment

Chung Khiaw Bank Limited was established in February 1950 by Aw Boon Haw (胡文虎, 1882-1954) to tap into the credit and loan sectors for businessmen of the smaller-scale companies. Aw Boon Haw, famous for his Tiger Balm ointment brand and Har Paw Villa, had a vast business empire ranging from traditional medicine and gold mining to banks and newspapers. He was also a generous philanthropist who had donated millions to charity causes.

chung khiaw bank run bukit timah branch 1974

Ahead of its times, Chung Khiaw Bank was fast growing and innovative in ways and services to increase its market share in the banking sector. It managed to report a fixed asset of nearly $35 million just five years after its establishment. In 1956, it launched the “mobile bank” scheme, where its vans were deployed to different parts of Singapore to bring banking services to those in need. A valet service was also introduced at its head office at Robinson Road, so that car owners visiting the bank would not be hindered by the limited parking lots.

In the sixties, the bank rolled out their coins “piggy” banks, in shapes of different animals such as pigs, rhinos and kangaroos, which proved extremely popular among the kids. Its strategy to reach out and woo the common folks and child depositors reaped spectacular results, earning the bank with a reputation of being a “small man’s bank”. By 1970, Chung Khiaw Bank had opened as many as 32 branches in Singapore; the latest were at Toa Payoh and High Street.

chung khiaw bank run alexandra branch 1974

The Acquisition

UOB, established since 1935, remained a relatively small player in the Asia Pacific region after Singapore’s independence. After achieving its public listing on the Singapore and Malaysian stock exchanges in 1970, UOB proceeded with a series of aggressive acquisitions. Chung Khiaw Bank was its first target. A stake in Chung Khiaw Bank was acquired in June 1971, but it would take 16 years before UOB was able to buy up all of the shares in Chung Khiaw Bank and take full control. By 1999, the brand of Chung Khiaw finally ceased to exist when its operations in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong were merged into UOB.

UOB went on to acquire other local banks: Lee Wah Bank (in 1973), Far Eastern Bank (1984), Singapore’s Industrial & Commercial Bank (1987) and Overseas Union Bank (2003). Today, it is part of Singapore’s “Big Three” banks, along with DBS (The Development Bank of Singapore Limited) and OCBC (The Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited)

Published: 22 April 2014

Posted in Historic | 3 Comments

Searching for Singapore’s Last Water Wells

Water wells were once part of the essential amenities for the residents in Singapore. Its water supply was used by the villagers for cooking, drinking, washing and bathing purposes. It took more than four decades before they were totally replaced by piped and tap water supplies. A few, though, are still standing around, serving as a reminder of our difficult past.

The Last Water Wells in Singapore

The most famous well that still exists today is perhaps the century-old water well near Chinatown. Preserved but forgotten at the quiet Ann Siang Hill Park (established in 1993), the well was once one of the important water supply points in the late 19th century. Back then, there was limited fresh water for the residents of Chinatown. They had to regularly collect their water supplies from the bullock-drawn carts from several wells at Ann Siang Hill. This later gave rise to the name gu chia zhui (Bullock Cart Water).

ann siang hill well

ann siang hill well2

One of the water wells which the bullock carts drew water from was located near the junction of South Bridge Road and Neil Road. A nearby spring had its water flown into the well, and this later gave rise to the name of the road in that vicinity as Spring Street.

Another famous well is the one located at the Sembawang Hot Spring, which has its history dated back to the early 20th century. The well, as well as water pipes, could have been installed to tap the resources; a factory was also set up to manufacture bottled spring water. The facilities no longer exist today, except for the well that has seen the surrounding changes throughout the decades.

sembawang hot spring7

In 1985, the land where the hot spring and well were located was acquired by the government for the expansion of Sembawang Air Base. Today, the hot spring and well are opened to the public daily, although they remain under the ownership of Mindef. The historic well, over the years, has its fair share of rumours (of a child falling into it) and is now locked in a small red-bricked building.

sembawang hot spring8

sembawang hot spring well 1947

The third century-old well is located at Jalan Gelenggang, off Upper Thomson Road. It has been preserved and is part of a restaurant today.

A Popular Well at Upper Serangoon

It is not common in Singapore that an ordinary water well became a landmark or was well-remembered by the community.

The one at the former Upper Serangoon’s Somapah Village, though no longer existing today, had the glory to have its own commemorative plaque and replica installed at Hougang Street 21 since 2005. The well, fondly known as tua jia kar (Bottom of the Big Well), had been a good and consistent supply of clean water to the villagers, hawkers and and the nearby market. Although piped water were later installed at Somapah Serangoon Village, many villagers still preferred to draw water from tua jia kar.

hougang street 21 tua jia kar

By the seventies, tua jia kar had evolved to become a focal point for gatherings and communal activities for the villagers at Upper Serangoon. Its surroundings were bustling with staged Chinese wayang and people listening to tales told by storytellers. The well was later demolished due to the development of the vicinity, but its legacy remains fondly remembered by the Teochew community living at Upper Serangoon and Hougang.

A Brief Record of Wells, Reservoirs and Piped Water Supplies in Singapore

1857 – Businessman and philanthropist Tan Kim Seng donated S$13,000 for the construction of Singapore’s first waterworks and piped water supply.

1868 – The first reservoir was constructed at Thomson Road. It was named MacRitchie Reservoir in 1922.

1904 – The High Service Reservoir was built at the top of Pearl’s Hill to supply water to Chinatown. It was later renamed as Pearl’s Hill Reservoir.

1910 – Kallang River Reservoir was built, and was renamed as Peirce Reservoir in 1922.

1920 – Seletar Reservoir was completed in the central catchment area.

1927 – The Municipal Commissioners of Singapore signed an agreement with Sultan Ibrahim of Johor for the supply of raw water from Gunong Pulai.

public water pipes in kampong 1950s1952 – The Singapore City Council ruled that the polluted wells in areas fitted with piped water supplies must be closed. It was a decision that affected the livelihoods of many towgay (bean sprouts) farmers at Rochore, Kallang and Geylang areas who depended on the water wells.

1953 – Singapore Rural Board implemented a $200,000 scheme to install water mains at Changi, Loyang and Jurong so that thousands of rural residents relying solely on wells could have piped water supplies.

1959 – The British engineers embarked on a $400,000 project to bring piped water to Pulau Brani and Blakang Mati (Sentosa today). The undersea pipelines would provide fresh water to the hundreds of residents living on the two islands, who previously had to rely on rain and water boats for their water supply.

1961 -The Singapore City Council signed the Tebrau and Scudai Rivers Water Agreement with the state of Johor for a 50-year supply of raw water. A year later, it signed another Johor River Water Agreement for a 99-year supply of raw water.

water rationing by district zones 1963

1963 – A prolong dry spell forced Singapore to endure its longest record of water rationing. A 12-hourly suspension of water supply was first implemented in April according to different district zones. The water rationing was later extended to the rest of the island, and lasted throughout the year.

1960s – The Rural and Urban Services Advisory Council implemented a water and electricity supply scheme at several kampong areas in Singapore, but they were subjected to the population density and the possibility of the installation of the amenities. Not all villages had enjoyed the benefits. Kampong San Teng, for instance, did not get its piped water supply until the late sixties. Some villages, especially those at the lesser accessible locations such as Jurong Road and Tanjong Kling, waited for more than a decade before they could get their piped water supplies.

well at old tampines 1970s

1972 – The Public Utilities Board (PUB), established in 1963, started laying piped water supplies to villages such as the one at Jalan Kong Kuan, off Upper Bukit Timah Road. The projects, often costing as much as $18,000 each, were aimed to replace the usage of wells, whose water was easily polluted. During droughts, the wells were also dried up and residents had to fetch their water from the public standpipes situated far from their homes.

1976 -The government kicked off the Pulau Tekong Water Supply Scheme, which cost as much as $7.3 million and three years in the construction of water catchment areas, filters and storage plants on the outlying island. When the project was completed in 1979, the 4,000 residents living in Kampong Selabin, Kampong Pahang and Kampong Ladang on Pulau Tekong could finally give up their buckets, wells and the dependence on rains.

During the 1972 droughts, Pulau Tekong was hit especially hard as the wells on the island ran dry and the residents had to rely on PWD (Public Works Department) waterboats for their supply of fresh water. The cost of the water, at its peak, rose to as much as 20c per kerosine tin.

nee soon village well 1985

well and toilet at kampong bugis malay village 1986

1981 – Four reservoirs were constructed at the western catchment area. They are the Murai, Poyan, Sarimbun and Tengeh Reservoirs.

1986 – Bedok Reservoir became operational.

2008 – The Marina Barrage became Singapore’s 15th reservoir upon its completion.

2011 – The PUB identified “Four National Taps” to increase the water supply in Singapore. These taps are the expanding of local catchment areas, importing water from Johor, NEWater and the desalination of seawater.

PS: This is an article extension from From Villages to Flats – The Kampong Days. Please feel free to contribute if you are aware of any water wells still existing in Singapore.

Published: 19 April 2014

Posted in General, Historic | 8 Comments