Friday 12 July 2013

A Blast From the Past When Days Were Always Sunny

Dear Readers, this is just an introduction to a much more nostalgic past filled with stories for all to share, especially those in my age group and many more much more older.
It is my fervent desire that these blog will start off as an exchange that would benefit each and everyone. Hopefully, it would also enable the younger ones to understand the situation and scenario of these tiny multiracial island where the Chinese, Malays, Indians and others lived, struggled, suffered and called home. My Singapore that was then.
The British, had once again "liberated" us from the Japanese rulers and were struggling to reinforce their rule on us. However, sad for them, many of the locals were sick and tired of these "so-called liberators" for the memories of the harsh days under Japanese oppression was still fresh on their minds. Those who lost their loved ones in "sook-chings" (organised massacres/pogroms by Japanese) were still smarting from their heartfelt losses. 
The Union Jack was about to set finally on the sprawling British Empire stretching from Aden to present day Zimbabwe. Nationalist movements had sprung up and the British were set to withdraw from India, Burma, Malaya (including Singapore) and parts of the Middle East and Africa. Names like Onn Bin Jaffar, Sukarno, Gandhi and Aung San were common references in conversations.
So please allow me to jolt or rekindle your memories of those wonderful days that I joyfully spent in Kim Chuan Road as a teenager in the mid 50's. I was born in 1950 at the height of the infamous Maria Hertogh (Nadra) Riots.
My late father was the watchman of the former Yew Lian Rubber Smokehouse, a sprawling compound situated at 353-C, Kim Chuan Road. These old godown was bounded by a kampong with quaint zinc and attap-roofed homes. Dogs ran free and the cackling and quacking of feathered domestic fowls was a common feature. Farming and animal husbandry was also another activity. Sights of pigs in oval-shaped rattan baskets bound for the markets for slaughter was also another common sight, not forgetting the stench that the lorry left behind when on it's way. 
Indian cowherds and goatherds move freely on the small road with the herds. Their presence  and the sound of struggling lorries laden with logs chugging uphill and bound for the many saw-mills at Kim Chuan Avenue was another common feature.
Kim Chuan Road started from Paya Lebar Road and went uphill towards Kim Chuan Avenue and all the way straight to the old Paya Lebar Airport and Jalan Haji Karim. It was predominantly a Chinese enclave and we were the only fortunate Sikh family residing there. I further emphasize on being fortunate, as our stay here made us more multi-cultural and enabled us to learn many customs, traditions and taboos of the Chinese. With the passage of time all of us started to speak in fluent Hokkien.
In 1956, I was enrolled into Bartley Primary School - a two storied concrete building, under the command and control of a very fierce but kind Miss Wilkins. She was a stout Eurasian. I still remember our school motto, "Always Your Best".Our school badge comprised of a burning torch.
The other kampong kids and myself had to always pass Lorong Koo Chye towards our school. The school employed a stocky Indian (known as Krishna), as a peon. He also doubled as a "discipline master" and caught and reported the late-comers to the principal. Krishna was always dressed in khakis and resided in the single storey school servant quarters at the end of Lorong Koo Chye, just behind the school tuck-shop.
Our school had lots of "Madras Thorns" trees. We would pluck the sweet juicy fruits from the pods to fill our little stomachs. This was supplemented by bread shavings given us by some kind Hainanese bakers employed by the old Tai Ah Bakery located along the Paya Lebar Road and Pereira Road junctions.The water from the taps filled us further.
Our school classes were filled with four-legged tables and chairs. A huge greenboard was fixed to the wall and that was how we learned. I remember my school teacher, one Mr Simon Chong who was a strict man and would never hesitate to punish erring students by hitting them on the knuckles with wooden rulers. Sometimes the poor students were made to stand on tables outside the class for all to see. What a primitive punishment? But we all went through it. None dared to complain to the parents for we would surely get another sound beating from them as a "bonus".
The poor students were given free text-books and exempted from the school fees. These books were usually distributed late and until it was received we had to share the book with those that had them. This made us understand the importance of caring and sharing with one another. The "physically weak" students were given free milk too. 
Our school field was always flooded during the wet seasons and hence of no use for sports and other games. Thus our annual sports were always held in the field belonging to neighbouring Bartley Secondary School. One of the relays that I enjoyed was the Sack Race and passing of batons. Sports days were also very special to us for we would get coupons for a peice of cake (from Season Bakery) and a cup of Milo or Ovaltine (thanks to A Wander & Sons).
I loved reading and will always remember that the school would always thank Bartley Secondary School for "kindly consenting to the use of their field" in the acknowlegements column of the Sports Magazine.
A common sight was the arrival of batches of Indian boys from the nearby Ramakrishna Mission Boys Home that was along Bartly Road and next to Chung Hwa Girls School. These boys will march to school. They were all a disciplined lot. We also had many Nepali kids residing within the Mount Vernon Police Barracks studying in our school. We became friends with them and used to visit their base for free film shows. Security was then not as tight as today. The Nepali guards on duty would allow us free passage to their camp. During the Dussehra Festival (before Deepavali), these Nepali community would behead cattle in their compound. 
Our recess time was always great for we were all very active and enjoyed playing "hantam-bola" and police and thieves. The school commenced at 0730 in the morning and ended at 1.00 pm. Many of the students walked home. However there were the richer ones that were chauffeured home in sedans like Opel, Pontiac, Morris Minors or Austins of England
The walk home was always a memorable one. Lorong Koo Chye was rumoured to be infested with gangsters and a place where many shady activities were conducted. The older people even told us that police land-rovers did not dare enter the kampong. However, I found the place to be just like any other kampongs of those days. No one bullied me or my friends. 
In the centre of Lorong Koo Chye stood a permanent "wayang" stage that had shows on the life of the the three Princessess as depicted in Lady Precious Stream. When these wayangs were staged, many kampong folks used to sit infront to watch the perfomers dressed in colourful robes. The ladies (some of them men) wore thick make-up and the male actors (some women) sported long beards.
One of our "rich" friend stayed in a house with Magnolia billboards. His father was the owner of many Magnolia Ice-cream vans. He used to give us free ice-cream.
A middle-aged Chinese widow used to sell "goreng pisang" or banana fritters. Her kids were known to us and we used to be treated by her too. Sometimes we would pack pieces of leftover fritters scooped from the frying pan and eat the crispy peices.
A small building stood opposite these stall and it housed the kampong fire-fighting equipment. The emergency number for the Singapore Fire brigade then was 2811. Next to it was a barber shop.
At the end of these was a basket-ball court, a common stand-pipe and a lovely Chinese temple. I believe these temple is now housed at Arumugam Road known as the Tua Pek Kong Temple. Further down the road was a provision shop called "Koh Tia Hong". The shop-owner and his wife, a very kind couple, had around seven kids. The elder one was Ah Beng, a very hardworking young man.
At the end of Lorong Koo Chye was a karang-guni man who was called Ah Oo. Sometimes we would sell copper, iron and other saleable metals to him. The extra money earned was used to gamble on "tikam-tikam" and other game of chance at the many shops set up by Indians on five-foot way where cigarettes, sweets and other toiletries were sold.
Paya Lebar Road was a busy thoroughfare. We did not have the luxury of the then common man with the round metal sign, "STOP School Children Crossing" and had to cross the road safely. Traffic accidents were not that many as the kampong folks would beat the living daylight out of any driver that hit anyone, especially the kampong people like us. These was the street justice of those good old days.   
Once home, I will have a quick simple lunch and set out with friends to catch spiders, long-kang fishes or "rush for kites"severed by the glassy thread of another kite-flyer. It was fun chasing kites but it was also a very dangerous game. Many of the kids were armed with long bamboo-poles and sometimes stray onto the busy road.
At the end of the smoke-house which employed my dad, was a small gate that led to the former Lorong Kalui on which stood the Lam Choon Rubber Smokehouse. As one emerged from these rear gate and turn left, there was a small dirt track that led to a hilly area towards a heavily wooded kampong close to the old Upper Air Observatory, where a white balloon was released in the evenings. This observatory was manned by only three staff. The ballon was kept in a high aluminium zinc-roofed store.
Next to this Observatory was a huge open field belonging to the old Singapore Telephone Board (STB) where many Indian staff used to reside with their families. On the left of the path that led to this quarters was a rounded concrete tower facing Kim Chuan Avenue. Many swallows had their roosts on the top of these tower. Another small dirt track led to the the old Rose Cinema or Mor-Tse Tien. It was surrounded by tall coconut trees and ponds. Beyond these was Lorong Tai Seng.
The shows were screened at night. Outside the cinema were rows of stalls selling drinks, tid-bits and food. My school buddy's dad, a lame Chinese man ran a Yong-Tau-Foo stall. I used to help his wash the bowls and was rewarded by a huge bowl at the end of the night. 
One day, Rose Cinema screened the show entitled, "Secrets of Child-Birth" or "Rahsia Kejadian Anak". It was meant for adults only.  , the son of the Tong-Tau-Foo man and I managed to see it by scaling the tall coconut trees outside the red zinc walls of the cinema. It was more a documentary. We descended from the trees with abrasions on our chests. Shiook but we both had different ideas!!
Those living in the old hamlets or kampongs of Singapore in the 50's will remember the days when the Mobile Ambulance would visit the village and dispense free medicine to the people. A long queue would form up and the "dresser" would be the one dispensing the medicine. The most common medication was the whitish lotion that was given in tiny paper cups with a wooden scoop - just like the present day ice-cream. This was to cure us of our pus-filled blisters, other insect bites or bruises sustained by us in chasing after kites.  
Life in those days was truly fun-filled. We were poor but very contented. We had joys and fun. We were not the people that we are today. Deeply divided and filled with many foreigners.
More nostalgic tales will follow.
So please readers let us start by exchanging our past ideas so that many of us will get a chance to get back to the past when 5 cents could buy us lots of grub........



  1. The above is indeed a true history lesson that the youths of this Generation must be taught in Schools

  2. Thank you Libran 1035. I agree with you that history, and that too should be the true history and not some "propaganda" for or against anyone, ought to be taught to our kids in schools. The students of our times, sad to say are not au-fait with the true course of history and are like lost sheep. We, the generation from the past who are fortunately still breathing ought to teach our grandchildren the true account of history.
    Thank you for your response.

  3. I was in Bartley Primary from 1956 to 1961. Still get touch with many of them. would love to meet of some of the school mates.

    1. This is Joon Tong, here. I was in Bartley Primary School '2' from 1956 to 1961, too.

  4. Those were my childhood memories i was staying in Kim Chuan n studying in Bartley primary school too..