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 | 8 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 | 3 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

Pasir Ris Red House… A Legend No More

One of the most famous “haunted” places in Singapore is now undergoing redevelopment.

The private residence at 191 Jalan Loyang Besar was once a favourite haunt for thrill-seeking youngsters in their supernatural-hunting activities. Nicknamed the Pasir Ris Red House (or Loyang Red House), the building had been nominated by the local paranormal groups since the nineties as one of the three most haunted “coloured” houses in Singapore; the other two being the White House (Punggol Matilda House) and the Green House (Hillview Mansion).

pasir ris red house redevelopment 2014

Jalan Loyang Besar used to be a narrow and bumpy road that was linked directly to the main Loyang Avenue. A large portion of it was removed when Pasir Ris New Town and Pasir Ris Drive 1 were constructed in the eighties. Today, it is more popularly known as the road leading to the chalets and holiday resorts at Pasir Ris.

pasir ris red house redevelopment2 2014

pasir ris red house redevelopment3 2014

According to API’s (Asian Paranormal Investigators) research, the Red House has a significant past.

It was built in 1938, and was purchased by the McNeice family in the late 1940s. Sir Percy McNeice (1902-1998), well-known for his contributions in housing, family planning and social welfare, was a British civil servant who had served as Singapore’s first president of the City Council. His wife Loke Yuen Peng (1917-2012), also known as Lady McNeice, was the daughter of Loke Yew, British Malaya’s richest man before the Second World War, and sister of Loke Wan Tho, the founder of Cathay Organisation.

The old Pasir Ris was made up of several villages; Kampong Loyang was a fishing village, largely made up of Malay families, that existed until the eighties. Before the establishment of the People’s Association (PA) in 1960, the Red House was used for providing communal services for the villagers of Kampong Loyang.

kampong loyang 1980s

kampong loyang2 1980s

In 1964, the property was sold to CK Tang (Tang Choon Keng, 1901-2000), where the boss of the Tangs department store and his family was said to have lived in the house for a brief period of time. The double-block house once enjoyed a clear sea view of the Johor Straits, before it was blocked by the development of the Pasir Ris Park and the NTUC and UDMC holiday chalets in the late eighties.

pasir ris red house 2012

pasir ris red house2 2012

By the nineties, rumours began to circulate that the house was haunted. It did not help when the property, by then, had been left vacated for four decades and was in a derelict state. The popularity of the nearby chalets and holiday resorts was also a possible reason for the spread of the rumours, as many youngsters sneaked out at nights to “explore” the Red House.

pasir ris red house3 2012

Stories such as the pair of haunted stone lions at the gates, a weeping doll on a rocking chair inside the house, or white shadows spotted within the compound, failed to deter people from going to the house. In fact, more were lured to the place. The rumours, however, did start to fade away in recent years.

pasir ris red house4 2012

With the redevelopment of the Pasir Ris Red House, it spells the end of the legendary “haunted” houses of the past. The Punggol Matilda House has already been converted into a clubhouse, whereas the Hillview Mansion was razed to the ground in the mid-2000s.

Also check out Cavin Teo’s photos of the Pasir Ris Red House in a more dilapidated state several years ago.

Published: 30 March 2014

Posted in Paranormal | 2 Comments

Paintings in the Sky – Unique HDB Murals

Have you ever passed by a HDB flat painted with murals?

There are quite a few such blocks in Singapore; the most famous ones are probably the Hougang rainbow block and the Khatib flat with paintings of giant kites. Not always visually pleasant to everyone, these HDB murals, however, help to add a touch of uniqueness to certain blocks and make them stand out among the rest.

Traditional Layang-layang

Standing opposite the Khatib MRT Station, it is unlikely that one will miss this prominent block with its four gigantic murals of kites.

khatib hdb kite murals

Location: Block 838, Yishun Street 81

Cheerful Rainbows

The rainbow block has been an iconic fixture along Hougang Avenue 7 since the early eighties.

hougang hdb rainbow mural

Location: Block 316, Hougang Avenue 7

bedok reservoir road rainbow flat

Location: Block 609, Bedok Reservoir Road

Cupid’s Love

Commuters on the SMRT East-West Line used to see this adorable Cupid mural when their trains passed by Block 210 of Jurong East. Painted in 2005, the mural no longer exists today after the block underwent an upgrading program a few years back.

jurong east hdb mural

Location: Block 210, Jurong East Street 21

Blooming Orchids

Since 1981, Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ has been chosen as the national flower of Singapore, so it is natural to see them used as representative murals on some of the old HDB flats, such as the ones at Tanjong Pagar Plaza and Yishun. The orchid murals, however, had been removed when the blocks were given fresh coats of painting in recent years.

tanjong pagar hdb mural 2009

Location: Block 2, 4 & 5, Tanjong Pagar Road

yishun hdb mural

Location: Block 740, Yishun Avenue 5

Sturdy Bamboos

khatib hdb mural3

Location: Block 790 & 798, Yishun Ring Road

khatib hdb mural4

Location: Block 796, Yishun Ring Road

Trees of Life

khatib hdb mural5

Location: Block 800 & 804, Yishun Ring Road

Symbolic Singapore

Another tree mural can be found on a HDB block at Hougang. It belongs to a cluster of four identical blocks that are painted with symbols and pictures representative of Singapore. These include attap houses, public housing, racial harmony, Merlion and the national flag.

hougang hdb mural3

hougang hdb mural6

hougang hdb mural5

Location: Block 661, 662, 665 & 667, Hougang Avenue 4

hougang hdb mural7

Location: Block 917 & 923, Hougang Avenue 9

Healthy Lifestyle

Playing sports is a good way to keep a healthy lifestyle, and football, tennis and cycling are some of the favourite sports here in Singapore.

khatib hdb mural

Location: Block 855, Yishun Ring Road

khatib hdb mural2

Location: Block 858, Yishun Ring Road

hougang hdb mural

Location: Block 309, Hougang Avenue 5

Kampong Days

Painted at the ground floor, instead of the top level, of Block 105D of Edgefield Plains, the murals depict the former appearances of Punggol, when it was still a rustic and peaceful fishing village before the eighties.

punggol hdb mural

punggol hdb mural2

Location: Block 105D, Edgefield Plains

Published: 23 March 2014

Posted in Cultural | 6 Comments

20 Most Memorable SBC (Channel 8) Dramas of the 1980s

TV used to be a big part of our life. It still does, except that there are more choices in the programs nowadays and its influence is being affected by internet, smartphones and other entertainment devices. Like many others, SBC dramas, especially those from Channel 8, used to accompany me in my childhood and teenage years.

The Early Days of SBC

sbc logoThe eighties and a large part of the nineties were undeniably the golden periods for SBC, the predecessor of Mediacorp (and TCS). SBC, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in full, was established in February 1980 as a statutory board, after the corporatisation of Radio and Television Singapore (RTS).

Back then, the sources of Chinese dramas were mainly from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The dramas, many of them in Cantonese and Minnan (Taiwanese Hokkien), had to be dubbed in Mandarin for Singapore audience. After its establishment, SBC decided to invest and produce Singapore’s own Chinese drama series.

star search 1990In 1978, Hong Kong’s entertainment realm was hit by the collapse of Commercial Television and the change in ownership of Rediffusion Television (now Asia Television Limited). The two incidents provided opportunities for SBC to recruit some of the top talents in Hong Kong scriptwriters and producers.

The early eighties also saw the first batch of local artistes recruited through drama training classes. This lasted a decade before it was eventually replaced by the Star Search competition in 1988, which produced the likes of Zoe Tay, Aileen Tan and Chew Chor Meng. In 1982, the successful production and broadcast of “Seletar Robbery” signified the birth of local Mandarin dramas.

Channel 5, Suria and Vasantham

Malay programs found their ways to TV as early as the sixties. “Pak Awang Temberang” (Uncle Awang Tells Stories) was the first Malay-language drama series aired in 1966. The seventies were the golden era for Malay dramas; many were produced and directed by Bani Buang (1929-1996), popularly known as the father of Singapore’s modern Malay dramas.

masters of the sea 1994Locally-made Tamil dramas soon followed. “Ippadiayam oru Kudumbam” (What A Family), aired in August 1980, was the first Tamil-language drama series produced in Singapore.

Ironically, Singapore did not produce its own local English dramas until the nineties, even though Channel 5 was the first TV channel debuted in April 1963. The much-criticised “Masters Of The Sea” became the first local English TV drama series aired in 1994.

20 Most Memorable SBC (Channel 8) Dramas

Between 1982 and 1990, SBC produced close to ninety Chinese drama series for Channel 8; many were forgettable, some became classic, along with their theme songs which were tailor made to suit the storylines of the dramas. Creativity was at its peak as SBC explored different types of drama genres, such as mystery, horror, comedy, science-fiction and wuxia (pugilistic/martial arts).

RemSG sorts out its list of 20 most memorable Channel 8 dramas. Which of these were your favourite ones?

1. Seletar Robbery 实里达大劫案

seletary robbery 1982Period: 24 July 1982

Episodes: 1

Genre: Thriller

Main Cast: Huang Wenyong (黄文永), Chin Chi Kang (钱治钢), Lim Sin Ming (林生民), Steven Woon (云昌凑)

Plot Summary: It was a police and thief game as three robbers got away with a $300,000 loot from a construction company.

Trivia: Although it had only one episode and lasted only 90 minutes, “Seletar Robbery” was considered the first locally-produced Chinese drama. It took less than a month to finish the filming of the drama.

Memorable Scene: Chin Chi Kang as the undisputed villain.

2. Army Series 新兵小传

army series 1983

Period: 14 March 1983 to 06 May 1983

Episodes: 6

Genre: Military

Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Wang Yuqing (王玉清), Lin Liyun (林丽云), Ang Puay Heng (洪培兴), He Qitang (何其糖)

Plot Summary: Everything seemed well for the much-respected officer who was getting married and was just promoted to the rank of lieutenant, before an accident at the training ground cost his life.

Trivia: “Army Series” was the first true drama series produced by SBC, with a total of six episodes. It was also the first local production depicting the NS life, long before the movies of “Army Daze” (1996) and “Ah Boys to Men” (2012) were screened in Singapore. Its theme song “A Measure of Strength” (一份力量), sang by the SAF, was used as one of the National Parade songs in the late eighties.

Memorable Scene: Huang Wenyong, as the caring officer, was killed in the blast while saving his nervous recruit in a grenade-throwing training exercise.

flying fish 19833. Flying Fish 小飞鱼

Period: 12 August 1983 to 30 September 1983

Episodes: 8

Genre: Sport/Youth

Main Cast: Wang Yuqing, Maggie Teng (邓妙华), Chen Bifeng (陈碧凤), Wang Xiangqing (王相钦)

Plot Summary: A teenager who aspired to become one of the best swimmers, but was pressured by his father to abandon his interest and instead study hard for the examinations.

Trivia: “Flying Fish” was introduced shortly after the 1983 National Day. Dubbed as Singapore’s first idol drama, it catapulted Wang Yuqing to stardom. The production also invited Singapore swimmer and SEA Games gold medalist Ang Peng Siong to guide the actors and actresses in their swimming styles.

4. The Awakening 雾锁南洋

the awakening2 1984Year: 06 February 1984 to 07 May 1984 (Part 1), 06 August 1983 to 12 October 1983 (Part 2)

Episodes: 27 (Part 1), 26 (Part 2)

Genre: History/War

Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Xiang Yun (向云), Chen Shucheng (陈澍承), Huang Peiru (黄佩如), Wang Yuqing, Chen Bifeng, He Jie (何洁), Chen Tiansong (陈天送), Chen Tianwen (陈天文), Huang Yuling (黄毓玲), Liu Qiulian (刘秋莲), Ke Shafei (柯莎菲), Li Huiyan (黎惠燕), Chin Chi Kang

Plot Summary: “The Awakening” came in two parts and four major stories; the arrival of the early Chinese migrants at the start of the 20th century, the Japanese Occupation, the independence of Singapore and the country’s rapid economic development in the seventies and eighties.

Trivia: The first local blockbuster drama cost a total of $500,000 in production fees, and involved more than 200 artistes and calefares. It managed to gain 800,000 in viewership, helping Huang Wenyong and Xiang Yun in cementing their statuses as the leading actor and actress in SBC. “The Awakening” also became the first SBC drama to be bought by TV companies overseas.

Memorable Scene: The Chinese migrants who arrived at Singapore in an overcrowded junk.

the awakening 1984

5. Men From The Past 大侠吴三奇

men from the past 1985Period: 08 February 1985 to 03 March 1985

Episodes: 12

Genre: Pugilistic/Martial Arts/Fantasy

Main Cast: Chen Tianwen, He Jie, Liu Qiulian, Xia Chuan (夏川), Lina Yeo (杨丽娜), Yan Bingliang (严丙量)

Plot Summary: One of the earliest “time travel”-themed dramas in Asia, “Men From The Past” featured an ancient martial arts expert and his nemesis who brought their feuds to the modern society after travelling through time.

Trivia: “Men From The Past” was the first SBC production that had travelled overseas for some of their filming scenes. It was also the first SBC production that, instead of using voice dubbing, recorded the actual dialogues between the actors and actresses during the filming. This, however, received criticisms from the public that the acting crews’ pronunciations were not up to standard.

6. Son of Pulau Tekong 亚答籽

son of tekong4 1985Period: 13 June 1985 to 26 July 1985

Episodes: 26

Genre: Society

Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Lin Mingzhe (林明哲), Chen Bifeng, Chen Xiuhuan (陈秀环), Huang Peiru, Liu Qiulian, Chen Guohua (陈国华)

Plot Summary: Two young men, leaving behind their innocent and carefree days at Pulau Tekong, struggled for their respective new life on mainland Singapore.

Trivia: The 26-episode drama “Son of Tekong” was well-remembered due to its locally-flavoured name (which literally means “attap seed”), beautiful theme songs and a storyline that struck a resonance with the previous generation who had experienced the resettlement from kampongs to HDB flats. The drama also showcased the rustic lifestyle of Pulau Tekong before it was converted into a militarized zone.

Memorable Scene: The RPL (Ramp Powered Lighter) that ferried the islanders and their belongings.

son of tekong3 1985

7. The Coffee Shop 咖啡乌

Period: 16 December 1985 to 04 February 1986

the coffee shop5 1985Episodes: 30

Genre: Comedy

Main Cast: Lin Mingzhe, Chin Chi Kang, Xiang Yun (向云), Huang Yiliang (黄奕良), Hong Huifang (洪慧芳), Hong Peixin (洪培兴), Ke Shafei, Li Huiyan, Dai Peng (戴鹏), Wu Weiqiang (邬伟强), Steven Woon

Plot Summary: A particularly “grassroot” drama, “The Coffee Shop” talked about the incidents and people around the kopitiam, and the everyday life of the families living in the nearby housing estate, including the braggart stallholder and his four younger sisters, the gossip aunty and the hardworking coffee shop assistant.

Trivia: The drama’s theme song “Connection of Emotions” (情感联络站), sang by Eric Moo with the familiar phrase “kopi O kopi O“, became an instant hit overnight. “The Coffee Shop” was the first local drama to hit one million average viewership.

Memorable Scene: The clash between the “red” (wedding) and the “white” (wake) at the void deck.

the coffee shop 1985

happy trio 19868. The Happy Trio 青春123

Year: 06 February 1986 to 11 March 1986

Episodes: 20

Genre: Youth

Main Cast: Chen Bifeng, Yang Libing (杨莉冰), Huang Wenyong, Hu Shuxian (胡淑贤), Wang Yuqing, Chen Shucheng (陈澍承), Huang Peiru, Zhu Houren (朱厚任), Anna Tan (陈安娜), Jin Jugong (金举拱)

Plot Summary: “The Happy Trio” touched on the life and difficulties faced by three teenage girls, such as family, love, friendship and studies.

Trivia: The drama’s catchy opening theme song was sang by then-upcoming xinyao singer Yan Liming (颜黎明).

9. Men of Valour 盗日英雄传

men of valour 1986Year: 13 March 1986 to 02 May 1986

Episodes: 30

Genre: Pugilistic/Martial Arts/History

Main Cast: Hugo Ng (吴瑰岸), Xiang Yun, Lin Mingzhe, Chen Liping (陈莉萍), Lin Meijiao (林梅娇), Huang Yiliang, Huang Shinan (黄世南), Li Huiyan (黎惠燕), Xia Chuan, Chen Tianwen

Plot Summary: It was a chaotic era during the early South Song Dynasty. Famous Song general Yue Fei led his army to resist the invasion from the barbaric Jin troops, with the help of several righteous swordsmen.

Trivia: A major attempt by SBC to produce a drama series with a storyline that derived from China history. One of its filming locations took place at the Chinese Garden. Taiwanese diva Feng Feifei was invited to sing the drama’s theme songs.

Memorable Scene: The massive battle between the Song city and the Jin invaders.

10. The Samsui Women 红头巾

the samsui women 1986Year: 05 May 1986 to 13 June 1986

Episodes: 24

Genre: Nostalgia

Main Cast: Zeng Huifen (曾慧芬), Hong Huifang, Huang Wenyong, Li Yinzhu (李茵珠), Li Wenhai (李文海)

Plot Summary: Another locally-flavoured drama series produced by SBC after “Son of Tekong” and “The Coffee Shop”, “The Samsui Women” described the life and difficulties of three samsui women working in Singapore after the war.

Trivia: The opening theme song, sang by Taiwanese songbird Sarah Chen, became a classic hit. The drama also brought fame to its leading actresses Zeng Huifeng and Hong Huifang.

11. Neighbours 芝麻绿豆

neighbours 1986Year: 07 July 1986 to 03 October 1988

Episodes: 510

Genre: Comedy

Main Cast: Cai Pingkai (蔡平开), Chen Guohua (陈国华), Duan Weiming (段伟明), Lina Yeo, Fang Hui (方辉), He Jie, Zhou Shiqiang (周世强), Jin Yinji (金银姬)

Plot Summary: Like “The Coffee Shop”, “Neighbours” was a “grassroot” drama series that had a day-to-day storyline revolving around a kopitam and its stallholders of different characters.

Trivia: The daily half-hour “Neighbours” was the longest running drama series produced by SBC, with a total of 510 episodes and lasted more than two years. It brought fame to veteran actress Cai Pingkai, as her character “Er Gu” (Second Aunt) became a household name. The opening theme song “Voices From The Heart” (小人物的心声) was included in the Ministry of Communications and Information’s “Sing Singapore” booklet in 1988.

12. Five Foot Way 五脚基

Year: 16 March 1987 to 24 April 1987

five foot way 1987Episodes: 30

Genre: Nostalgia/Society

Main Cast: Huang Wenyong, Wang Yuqing, Ye Sumei (叶素梅), Huang Peiru, Huang Shinan, Bai Yan (白言), Liang Tian (梁田), Tang Hu (唐琥), Chen Meiguang (陈美光), Li Yinzhu, Wang Xiuyun (王秀云)

Plot Summary: Sharing a common space, the different families living at the row of shophouses showed their cooperative and helpful nature for one another. The story spanned over more than two decades, from the late fifties to the early eighties.

Trivia: Many veteran SBC artistes were involved in the production of “Five Foot Way”, which brought back many old familiar memories of Singapore such as tikam, chap ji kee and firecrackers. Its popular theme song “My Life Is Here” (我的生活在这里) was also recorded in Sing Singapore 1988.

13. Strange Encounters 奇缘

strange encounters 1987Year: 26 October 1987 to 27 November 1987 (Part 1), 19 December 1988 to 27 January 1989 (Part 2)

Episodes: 25 (Part 1), 30 (Part 2)

Genre: Mystery/Horror/Fantasy

Main Cast: Wang Yuqing, Chen Bifeng, Zheng Wanling (郑宛玲), Jin Jugong, Li Wenhai, Chen Shucheng, Huang Peiru, Lin Mingzhe, Desmond Sim (沈金兴), Ye Sumei, Lina Yeo, Anna Tan, Huang Shinan, Lin Meijiao, Chen Huihui (陈慧慧), Huang Wenyong, Huang Yiliang, Chen Xiuhuan, Liu Qiulian, Zoe Tay (郑惠玉), Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮)

Plot Summary: “Strange Encounters” was made up of several short stories (seven in Part 1 and nine in Part 2) in paranormal, strange tales and Chinese legends.

Trivia: There was also a Part 3 of the drama series. It was produced by TCS and telecast in 1995.

14. On The Fringe 边缘少年

Year: 18 April 1988 to 20 May 1988

Episode: 25

Genre: Youth

on the fringe 1987Main Cast: Li Nanxing (李南星), Yang Libing, Chen Bifeng, Zheng Wanling, Duan Weiming, Zheng Guoping (郑国平), Huang Yiliang, Lin Meijiao

Plot Summary: A group of rebellious youths gradually fell into the dark side of the society after losing their directions in life.

Trivia: In 2011, Mediacorp produced a 20-episode “remake” of “On The Fringe” (边缘父子), also starring Li Nanxing. It was Channel 8’s first PG (Parental Guidance) drama series.

15. Mystery 迷离夜

mystery 1988Year: 29 August 1988 to 07 October 1988

Episodes: 30

Genre: Horror/Mystery

Main Cast: Madeline Chu (朱乐玲), Zeng Huifen, Lin Mingzhe, Chen Xiuhuan, Yang Libing, Wang Yuqing, Li Wenhai, Pan Lingling (潘玲玲), Zheng Wanling, Chen Shucheng, Huang Wenyong, Xiang Yun, Tang Miaoling (汤妙玲), Angela Ang (洪昭容), Edmund Chen (陈之财), Zhu Houren, Huang Shinan, Chen Meiguang, Cai Pingkai, Tang Hu

Plot Summary: “Mystery” was made up of eight short mysterious stories, namely “Butterfly” 蝶, “Piano” 琴, “Infant” 婴, “Beauty” 美, “Dream” 梦, “Caution” 戒, “Soul” 魂 and “Puzzle” 迷.

Trivia: A Part 2 was produced and telecast in 1992.

Memorable Scene: Madeline Chu, in the first story “Butterfly”, aged rapidly after bitten by a butterfly.

teahouse in chinatown 198816. Teahouse In Chinatown 牛车水人家

Year: 10 October 1988 to 18 November 1988

Episodes: 30

Genre: Nostalgia/Society

Main Cast: Li Nanxing, Chen Liping, Lin Meijiao, Zhu Houren, Fu Shuiyu (傅水玉), Zhang Shuifa (张水发), Liu Quilian, Tracy Wong (王裕香), Sean Say (成建辉), Chen Tianwen, Steven Lim, Wu Weiqiang, Jin Yinji

Plot Summary: “Teahouse In Chinatown” described an ordinary family; an aging couple who was constantly worrying about their five children, each with a different character.

Trivia: The drama’s opening theme song was sang by Eric Moo.

17. The Last Applause 舞榭歌台

the last applause 1988Year: 25 July 1988 to 16 August 1988

Episodes: 40

Genre: Society/Romance

Main Cast: Zeng Huifen, Lin Mingzhe, Xiang Yun, Huang Wenyong, Chen Tianwen, Li Wenhai, Liu Qiulian, Lin Meijiao, Huang Peiru, Lina Yeo, Edmund Chen, Jin Jugong

Plot Summary: One of the blockbusters produced by SBC in the late eighties, “The Last Applause” talked about the life of different getai (stage) singers who faced numerous challenges and discrimination. Many years later, an aspired singer became famous and popular, leading to a misunderstanding with her lover.

Trivia: The drama’s popular theme songs “When The Curtains Falls” (落幕的心情) and “Gentle Night” (温柔的夜) were sang by local singer Maggie Teng.

18. Good Morning, Sir! 早安老师

good morning sir 1989Year: 22 May 1989 to 16 June 1989

Episodes: 20

Genre: Society/Comedy

Main Cast: Li Nanxing, Chen Liping, Madeline Chu, Aileen Tan (陈丽贞), Zhu Houren, Hong Huifang, Hong Peixin, Lin Tianlong (林天龙)

Plot Summary: A young passionate lady took up a teaching role at a local kampong school in the sixties, inspiring her students with new teaching methods. She later fell in love with a Chinese physician in the village.

Trivia: Along with its catchy opening theme song, “Good Morning, Sir!” was a big hit, as Li Nanxing and Chen Liping emerged as SBC’s new leading actor and actress. “Aiyoyo” also became Chen Liping’s nickname.

Memorable Scene: The kampongs and farming areas in Singapore that still existed in the eighties.

a mother's love 198919. A Mother’s Love 亲心唤我心

Year: 1989

Episodes: 35

Genre: Kinship

Main Cast: Wang Xiuyun, Li Nanxing, Wang Yuqing, Zoe Tay, Zeng Huifen, Zheng Guoping, Fu Shuiyu, Xie Shaoguang (谢韶光), Ye Shipin (叶世品), Chen Fengling (陈凤凌)

Plot Summary: A mother got separated from her five young children after she was sentenced to prison. The siblings were eventually reunited with their aging mother many years later, after a series of hardships, conflicts and misunderstandings.

Trivia: “A Mother’s Love” was popularly regarded as one of the most touching SBC dramas in the late eighties. The drama also saw the debut of Xie Shaoguang.

20. The Finishing Line 出人头地

the finishing line6 1990Period: 1990

Episodes: 30

Genre: Society

Main Cast: Li Nanxing, Zoe Tay, Edmund Chen, Aileen Tan, Liang Weidong (梁维东), Tracy Wong, Hu Shuxian

Plot Summary: “The Finishing Line” described the life and friendship of three good friends in Singapore in the eighties. Growing up together in a kampong at Sembawang, each of them had chosen a different career after their National Service.

Trivia: The drama catapulted Edmund Chen to stardom.

Memorable Scenes: A glimpse of Singapore’s thriving financial centre at Shenton Way in the late eighties.

Other Notable Dramas

star maiden 1988Other memorable SBC Channel 8 drama series of the eighties also include “Takeover” 人在旅途 (1985), “The Bond” 天涯同命鸟 (1986), “Paint A Rainbow” 调色板 (1987), “Painted Faces” 戏班 (1987), “Moving On” 变迁 (1987), “Star Maiden” 飞越银河 (1988) (SBC’s first ever science-fiction drama), “Turn of the Tide” 浮沉 (1989) and “Two Different Lifes” 金兰结 (1989).

Published: 10 March 2014

Posted in Nostalgic | 22 Comments