Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I remember Singapore

I remember Singapore

when there was no MRT,
and Nicoll Highway was the only expressway
(no ECP, AYE, PIE, CTE ...),
with 2 lanes going one way and one the other,
alternating between morn and evening peak hours

when buses had no AC,
but had conductors whom you paid,...
in exchange for punched tickets

when kids collected colourful bus tickets,
ice-cream sticks, bottle caps,
matchboxes, and if possible,
foreign coins and stamps

when there were no cell phones,
so you arranged meetings carefully,
and kept to them, waiting patiently for the other,
using coin pay-phones as a last resort

when there was no cable TV,
but only two free-to-air local channels,
and two others, courtesy of our neighbours,
all black and white,
with no remote

when there was no internet,
nor computers,
and libraries and books held
the information you needed,
with card indexes the "search engines" of the day

when Jalan Kayu was bordered
by rubber plantations,
and the prata was for 10c just outside
the school gates
(the school is gone and someone moved my prata!)

when Yaohan opened in Plaza Singapura
and half of Singapore went to check out the
Japanese store,
with its novel freshly baked goodies
and many freebies

when City Plaza,
Katong Shopping Centre,
and Beauty world
were the "IN" places
(they still exist but in a different IN)

when Katong Park was much
grander than it is now,
right at the edge of the sea,
now pushed away by reclamation

when Changi beach was the place to be
on weekends,
and planes landed at Paya Lebar Airport
where you could wave at people
from an open balcony

when the Malaysia Cup was
the football event of the year,
with live radio broadcasts
and shouts of "Goooooal"
heard from windows

when RI was at Stamford Road
(where Raffles City is now)
before it moved to Grange Road,
and split into RI and RJC as it moved again to Bishan.
Now I hear it is one RI again...
...but is it the same?

when the University of Singapore (US)
at Bukit Timah
was merged with the Nanyang University (NU)
of Jurong
to form the N-U-S at Kent Ridge
(and then split again into two, but with different names)

when the iconic Robinsons burnt down,
with smoke visible half an island away,
when Hotel New World
came tumbling down
and the Cable Cars got entangled

when NS uniforms were olive green
and needed to be starched,
with boots polished,
and the Singapore River was a truly stinky place

when posters at government departments warned
"you will be served last"
if you kept your hair long
(and when a famous physicist
had a hard time getting in the country to give his invited
talk...because of his long hair).

when cinema seats were hard
(some are re-used now in the Esplanade library)
and tickets cheap,
with huge halls
but not very clean
(chewing gum was still available)

when Yusof Ishak
was the President
and when Benjamin Sheares
was sworn in
as the second President


when Lee Kuan Yew
held court,
mesmerising the nation with
his speeches,
no special effects,
just a man with a mission
to realise a Vision

when an unknown
Chiam See Tong
stole some thunder,
at a little known
Potong Pasir,
and affirmed:
what is good can be better

That is what i remember
of old singapore,
I am sure I will remember more
when i get older,
will tell you then
(unless this simulation ends before
i put pen to paper again)

R .
April 2014
Singapore

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Walkathon One


Thu, Aug 8 2013
A hike through Jalan Besar, Balestiar, Serangoon and Geylang.

(Please click on the photos to enlarge them. Unless otherwise stated all photos were taken by me. The route map is at the end. )

Prologue
We met at the bus-stop outside Lavender MRT, in front of V hotel. Two other adventurers (SJ and SW) had shown up and we three musketeers set off at about 4pm, cutting through the back of V hotel in the direction of Jalan Besar and beyond; the route had been planned in advance. Fortunately, the rain of the day had stopped just in timeJ.

Jalan Besar-Lavender
The Jalan Besar district is described in one of the Heritage trails identified by the National Heritage Board (NHB) so I will only mention here some of the more interesting things that I saw and (mis-) remember. The link to the NHB site is: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/NHBPortal/

The use of the name ``Lavender” for the area of that name was supposedly a joke: A long time ago, the area between the now Lavender Road and Kallang was mostly stinky swampland and a rubbish dump. The cleaning up and re-development of the area led to some creative naming.
In days of yore, Jalan Besar used to be a major throughway: In Malay, ``besar” means ``big” and ``jalan” is “road”. Of course the Jalan Besar Stadium, which in its hey-day was the centre for football, is the main landmark of the area.

The Jalan Besar locale has a large number of roads named after the French or British (Kitchener, Petain, Verdun, Somme, Beatty, etc): The colonial powers of the day felt that it was appropriate to name some streets in their colony after their victorious World War-1 generals, leaders and battles (which happened in Europe).  
There are some colourfully restored shop houses along Petain road and also elsewhere in the area and beyond. I learnt that it was none other than Stamford Raffles who mandated the structure of shop-houses in his Town plan, in particular the requirement that they have a covered five footway (``lima kaki” in Malay). Photo:


(SW indicated to us some activity near Flanders Square, which is opposite Petain Road. It surprised me greatly to learn that it was a licensed nightbirdie reserve (see Geylang below). I have taken a short cut through this area from Mustafa Center several times and had not noticed anything unusual except that it is very quiet.)

The Holy Trinity Church with unique architecture and history is on Hamilton Road. Here is a photo:
 (photo from Google Street View)
 
Opposite the intersection of Petain and Serangoon Roads is the Indian temple from which the annual Thaipusam walk starts (ending at the Tank Road temple). SW told us that he has been doing the walk for years with a pot of milk balanced on his head, but without the skewers. Photo:
 
We went behind the HDB flats on the right and found ourselves on Race Course Road. The Sakya Muni Buddhist temple (of ``1000 Lights”) was just shutting its doors when we reached. Diagonally opposite it was another landmark, the Leong San temple. Photo of 1000-lights temple:

 
 
We headed down Race Course Road and turned north along Balestiar Road passing by the sports and recreation clubs on our left. SW turned out to know a lot about trees and told us how to identify many of those on the roadside. Photo:
 

(Oh, there used to a horse racing course along Race Course Road. That explains its name.)

Balestiar
The Balestiar trail is another marked by the NHB. I happened to pick up a booklet on it a few days ago at a public library and had browsed through it on my bus ride to the start point of the Walkathon.

Mr. Balestiar was the first American Consul to Singapore. In addition to being a consul, he owned some sugar plantations which bordered the current road named after him.
The official NHB Balestiar Trail starts after the intersection with Moulmein Road. We walked along the left-side of the road and could easily spot the heritage markers for the temples and some Art Deco buildings and restored shop-houses.  Photo:

 

Balestiar Point is a building which apparently made a wave in the 1980’s for its cubist design though I doubt anyone notices it much now. Photo:

The Shaw building marks the location of the Malay movie studio (which apparently still exists, dormant, at the back.) where some of P.Ramlee’s movies were shot; I remember watching some of those movies on TV as a kid.  
 
We did not explore the side streets of Balestiar, some of which apparently have traditional bakeries, but we did notice some possibly famous eateries (e.g. chicken rice) along the main road. Other than eateries, Balestiar Road is supposedly THE place to go if you need lighting and related fixtures for your home. There were also many shops specialising in bathroom fixtures.
However, for me, the most interesting sight was the Zhongshan Park next to the Sun Yat Sen Villa. The unique landscaping of the park and the panelling of the adjacent buildings gave it an unusual, almost exotic, atmosphere. This extract from Wikipedia perhaps some light on the mystery: ``Zhongshan Park (traditional Chinese: 中山公園; simplified Chinese: 中山公园; pinyin: Zhōngshān Gōngyuán) is a common name for Chinese parks, in honour of Sun Yat-sen, better-known in Chinese as Sun Zhongshan, who is considered by many to be the "Father of modern China". Currently there are more than 40 Zhongshan Parks in China, and some in overseas areas.”
Photo: Through the park towards the SunYatSen Villa. The spire of the Burmese temple is in the background.

 
A path in the park heading in the direction of the Sun Yat Sen Villa highlighted some historical milestones and mentioned the name of Mr. Lim Nee Soon. There used to be a place called Nee Soon in the north of Singapore named after the person who owned some land there (more on this below).
Adjacent to the Sun Yat Sen Villa is a three-story Burmese Buddhist temple with very well maintained gardens and a Bodhi tree. Interestingly, the temple is still called the Burmese temple, as indicated also by the tourist markers along the main road and the NHB booklet, -- rather than a ``Myanmarese” temple. Photo:


(Similarly, Ceylon Road in Joo Chiat is still Ceylon Road though the country is now Sri Lanka.)
But, due to the change from dialect to Mandarin, the locale that for eons was Nee Soon in Singapore is now Yishun (I have since discovered that the community centres in Yishun still use ``Nee Soon” in their name. Hmm, a compromise?)

Novena-Thomson
We headed back to Ah Hood Road, crossed through the Ramada hotel and Balestiar Road to go up Irrawaddy Road.

The name ``Irrawaddy” triggered some memories of school geography lessons --which in the good old days required us to memorise tons of facts about other countries. I remembered it to be a river in Burma. Was it a coincidence that a Burmese temple was nearby?

But then I noticed Shan Road. That too reminded me of Burma and wait, Rangoon Road was not far away! The dots began to connect. A check with the NHB guide confirmed that the area had a Burmese connection, with many other road names (including Moulmein!) being of Burmese origin.

So those ancient geography lessons finally came in useful.
What is on Irrawaddy Road? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some hospitals (SW and SJ admired some flowers by the fence of the Ministry as two policemen watched. The sign only said ``No photos or videos”.)

Next, we cut through the Velocity mall and landed on Thomson Road heading south towards Serangoon Road. It is here that I was surprised to learn (from SW) that some Mahogany trees grew along our roads! They have huge pods which burst to disperse their unusual winged seeds.
Along Thomson Road we saw a building belonging to the ``Red Swastika Society”. Most people probably don’t know that the original swastika symbol is of ancient origin and has some positive symbolic significance in Hinduism and Buddhism. On the other hand, the symbol used by an infamous extremist organisation during WW2 to promote their ideology was actually a mirror-image of the traditional swastika. Photo:

 (photo from Google Street View)

We reached the location of the KK hospital, the place which delivered many Singaporeans. The original KK hospital building is across the road from the current building and is now used by the LTA. ``KK” is short for the original name “Kandang Kerbau”, which literally translated means ``Buffalo Stable” (kerbau means buffalo in Malay. The wish to dis-associate from buffalo stables is what probably led to the name truncation for the new hospital).  The photo shows the original KK building on the left (behind trees) and the new one on the the right:


(photo from Google Street View)

Some of you might know that there is not only a Kerbau Road further down but also a Buffalo Road! Why so much reference to buffalos? There used to be buffalo stables in the area. Indeed some side streets off Serangoon Road still have the stables which have been converted to other use now.

Serangoon Road
As we headed in the direction of Little India MRT, we passed the open field bordering Hampshire Road. As it was a public holiday (Hari Raya) the atmosphere was similar to a Sunday, the area being full with foreign workers socialising and having meals seated on the ground.

An aside: Little India has remarkably few street names of Indian origin. Also the origin of the name ``Serangoon” seems obscure---see wikipedia.
We stopped for a while to look at the only North-Indian temple in the Serangoon area, the Shree Lakshminarayan Temple, and then took a meal break at a restaurant around the corner from Tekka market. (At one point in time Tekka market was re-named Zhujiao centre until public unhappiness caused the return of its dialect name ``Tekka”.)

During the meal ,conversation turned to the different ethnic groups and how to identify where people came from. SJ enlightened us on the dress sense of young ladies from China: Different places were influenced by different cultures e.g. European or Korean.
After the meal we walked down the main Serangoon Road taking in the sights and crowds. The intersection with Kitchener Road, leading to the City Square Mall, has a gateway which originally belonged to the New World amusement park in the Jalan Besar area (closed in 1987).

Just after the intersection with Lavender Street is the Kwong Wai Shu Hospital. It sits on the grounds of the original Tan Tock Sen hospital (which is now in the Novena District). Photo:

(photo from Google Street View)

Lavender-Kallang
We headed down Lavender Street and turned into Kallang Road in the direction of Geylang. On the right is an old temple (1888) built by workers from the gas-works which used to be located near there. I remember the huge blue cylindrical structure (25 storeys!) dominating the skyline in those days.  See photos here
The gas-works were shut down in 1998 but parts of the dismantled structure were made into art-work and are visible in the nearby secluded Kallang Riverside Park. This park is the only one I know which has signs in a particular foreign language (not one of Singapore’s official languages). This is because the park is popular with foreign workers of a certain country. (Discovered this fact one day when I was cycling through the area).

After passing the Kallang River, Singapore’s longest!, we turned into Geylang Road. The restaurants at the initial stretch were doing roaring business with tables spilling onto the road.  

Geylang.
We detoured from the main road and walked through some side-streets where some nightbirdies were to be seen. Some of the nightbirdies were probably not independent, as their handlers were probably nearby, but in any case these street nightbirdies, of varying plumage, were unlicensed, as opposed to those residing in the official nightbirdie reserves.

The houses which served as official nightbirdie reserves were clearly marked to distinguish them from private residences nearby. For example, the former had `Welcome” signs on the front, with gates open and the porch brightly lit (often with one of the lights being red). In some cases a smiling birdie-assistant would be outside inviting passer-by’s inside. We also noticed that all the official nightbirdie reserves proudly displayed the national flag (it being National Day soon).
The unlicensed nightbirdies on the other hand seemed to congregate near budget hotels which were probably used for privacy when a nightbirdie admirer was found. However the economies of supply and demand seemed to have created other options, with some unlicensed lodgings in neighbourhoods being used by unlicensed nightbirdies and their admirers.
It being a public holiday, the nightbirdie areas were very busy with birdies and admirers of all sorts. At some point we saw some of the nightbirdies scatter quickly as nightbirdie-catchers were seen to approach.

(Earlier in the evening, at around 4pm, when I was on my bus ride to the Lavender meeting point, I passed the main Geylang Road and noticed nightbirdies very obviously posing at several doorways of the shop-houses. It seems that some  nightbirdies have adapted to sunlight, or was it a case of the early birdie catching the worm?)

We got back onto the main road and continued walking. Two thirds of the way down Geylang Road it became quiet and we stopped for a drink at a kopitiam before proceeding down to the Paya Lebar intersection.
At City Plaza the other two musketeers decided to call it a day and left by bus and MRT, leaving me to continue the adventure.

(Earlier in the evening, when I was on the bus ride towards Lavender, the City Plaza area was packed with holidaying foreign workers. Now at 10pm on a holiday, it was deserted. City Plaza was a popular place in its hey day a few decades back. Now it is a speciality mall, containing  mostly fashion wholesalers though they probably sell retail too). Photo:
(photo from Google Street View)
 
Joo Chiat-East Coast Park
I cut through Haig and Onan Roads to make my way south along Joo Chiat Road. Near Joo Chiat Place there were a few nightbirdies socialising with their admirers but otherwise the road was quieter than usual.

As I passed one foot-massage establishment an assistant on the sidewalk asked me if I needed a massage for my tired feet. I was tempted but I decided it would be better to keep my momentum and moved on.
There was a bigger crowd as expected near the intersection of Joo Chiat Road and East Coast Road, with people having a late night snack or tea. I took a P break at the corner mall and then continued on south, through the underpass to the East Coast Park.

There were still quite a number of people at the park, some enjoying a barbecue or fermented veggie/fruit juice.
I headed east and when I was close to the next underpass I got a call from MK who wanted to know if I was planning to night-cycle (it was part of the original tentative plan). However as it was getting very cool and windy, with red skies, suggesting the coming of rain, and me feeling slightly tired, I decided to call it quits and headed home, reaching at about 11.15pm.

Epilogue
Except for the Balestiar-Thomson stretch, in previous adventures I have cycled through each of the other locales mentioned in this walkathon summary. I think I might revisit the Balestiar area by cycle one day, maybe through the Whampoa river connector, to explore some of the side streets I missed on this walkathon.

Overall, the walkathon was enjoyable and we hope to make this a regular event, exploring different neighbourhoods of the little red dot.
Numbers
Stage 1:       Lavender-Balestiar-Serangoon –Lavender Loop :  8km

Stage 2:       Lavender-Kallang-Geylang-Paya Lebar Stretch:  5km

Stage 3:       Paya Lebar-East Coast Park:  3km
 

Total time for stages 1+2:   6 hours, inclusive of 1.5 hours break

Total time for stage 3:  1 hr


Route Map

The red line starting at ``A" (Lavender MRT) shows stage 1 (see above). The black line shows stages 2 and 3.


(map from Google Maps)
 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Jalan Kayu Primary School (JKPS)—In Memorium

As promised in my first blog post, here are some of my memories of my primary school, JKPS, which no longer exists.
Entry
Apparently, someone forgot to register me for primary school and so there was a mad dash to get me admitted somewhere as the year started. Unfortunately, all the ``popular” schools within a few kilometres* were already full and so I was sent to JKPS which happily accepted me. (Of course I had no clue then why some schools were popular and some weren’t).
(*Actually, “few miles” rather than ``few kilometres” would be historically accurate since the metric system was just about to be implemented then: In fact we spent quite some time memorising the conversion between imperial and metric units in primary school…memorised them so well that I still remember the numbers!)
JKPS was a mixed school. The boys wore white shirts with khaki shorts while the girls had a khaki pinafore with a white blouse. Cloth school badges were sewn onto the shirt pocket/pinafore.

The Students
It was a “neighbourhood school”: Many of the students came from nearby farms, rubber plantations, shop-houses or the few housing estates. Other than one or two “mat sallehs (=ang mos)” and other rarities, the rest were all local Malay, Chinese or Indian kids.
I remember the school bus would take a long winding trip through all sorts of exotic places as it dropped off its passengers. It was like an adventure trip everyday.
I also recall once visiting some of my classmates who lived in a kampong in the middle of one of a rubber plantation within thirty minutes walking distance of the school. You had to follow a dirt trail from the main road (Jalan Kayu) for some distance before it suddenly opened into a clearing which had some atap huts. Water came from wells and kerosene lamps were used for lighting. I believe the ponds nearby were used for washing and swimming.

Discipline
Some of the boy students were quite rough and rowdy, getting into all sorts of mischief, some even joining gangs which engaged in harassment, extortion, petty theft or vandalism.
But this was the ``good old days” and the teachers did not hesitate to dish out ``appropriate” physical punishment, or refer the matter to the feared discipline master. The punishments ranged from a whack on the knuckles with a wooden ruler, caning on the palms, caning on buttocks in the principal’s office, to public caning on the buttocks during school assembly for the most serious offences such as vandalism or theft.
One short lady teacher was greatly feared for her temper and rather unexpected forms of punishment. There was another male teacher who also had an unusual punishment: He loved (I guess) to twist, with both hands, the cheeks of ``naughty” boys.

The Teachers
There were some very good teachers there who tried their best to teach the students, and also cared for their welfare. I recall one art teacher who used to complete some of the art projects of the students if they could not meet the deadline; I think it was meant as encouragement.
Some teachers even gave tips to the students for running errands, such as staying back after school to tidy the class-room or help with some minor administrative stuff.
I recall a teacher, who had a craving for fish and chips, asking me once to get her a packet from across the road during recess. Of course we were not supposed to go out of the school compound but I think there was a minor thrill in breaking the rules with the complicity of a teacher. The gate might have been closed during school time but there were loop-holes (I don’t recall if I got a tip.)

Subjects
Mathematics, English, Science and Second Language were the examinable subjects. I took Malay as my second language because it was the easiest among the three choices (none being my native language) but I had to struggle through it. I still have memories of not understanding most of what was said by the Malay teacher in one of my early classes: In the end I survived, even did well, by pure memory work.
We also had classes on other topics like art and music. We were made to buy and learn to play the ``recorder”, a windpipe that could be dismantled (photo in first games link below). ``Mary had a little lamb” is all that I remember and can still play J.
I enjoyed mathematics but didn’t get excited about science until Pr5 when I made a shocking discovery, described below.

Games
Naturally, before the start of the school day, during recess, and after school ended, we played games; and sometimes even in the classroomJ.
A popular group game which did not require any props but involved lots of running and yelling was ``Police and Thief”. Some games which used ``props” included various games of marbles (glass or the white stone types), ``mini” cards, chapteh, and football. A game popular with the girls was ``five stones”. None of the games required batteries!
Here are some links to photos and descriptions:

Health and Social education
Once in a while we were made to brush our teeth in school, in front of our teacher. We had to bring our toothbrush and toothpaste, line up in front of a long drain and get into it with the teacher reminding us how to do it right and why we had to do it.
Subsidised milk was also provided as nourishment. It came in plastic packets and you had a choice of plain, strawberry or chocolate flavours.

Becoming a School Prefect
The prefects were mostly girls because, I think, compared to the boys there were many more of them who were well-behaved and so made suitable candidates. But probably, to ensure ``gender equality” or to handle the rowdier boys, the powers-that-be did try to make some of the boys into school prefects. One day, my next-seatmate and I were suddenly deputised and given red ties.
As I recall, we two were not keen, but since we didn’t have much of a choice, we got on with our task. I think our main duty (or so I remember) was asking others to pick up litter anytime we noticed any (there was a lot within the school compound). The other occasional duty was to raise the flag during anthem time.

Shocking Discoveries
The first four years or so were completely carefree. I don’t recall studying for anything and I think we were reminded just a day or two before any test/exam to bring our pencil/eraser etc.
But I noticed that prizes were awarded a few weeks after final exams to students who had done well and an obvious pattern emerged: The winners were all girls and usually always the same few!
One day I overheard a conversation between two of them which shed much light on the mystery: One of the top students was asking the other on how much she had studied for the examination. This was shocking news to me: The idea that one studied for an examination!! That thought had never occurred to me, and no one, no parent or teacher (as far as I recall) had even suggested such a possibility.
So I decided to give it a try in Primary 5, spending a few days before the examination going through the textbooks (studying!). The result was miraculous: I made it to the top three in class. This came as a surprise to everyone and upset the status quo, as no boys had previously ventured anywhere near the top of the class.
Very quickly, studying and the associated rewards and attention became addictive. In hindsight, I might have over done it in the following few years (decades?)J.
I made another shocking discovery around the same time (in Pr 5 or 6) as my discovery of ``studying for exams”. One Saturday, when we were having our ECA (=extra-curricular activity, nowadays renamed as CCA= co-curricular activity), me and my friend decided to investigate a very quiet classroom, whose windows and doors were mysteriously shut, but into which we had noticed some students enter. We pried open a window to spy and were surprised to find many girls quietly sitting at desks reading books: We had just discovered the school library!
I never knew the school had a library. When I approached the teacher in-charge to be admitted into the library she was somewhat hesitant, as I recall: No boys had ever shown any interest in the library before and she might have suspected that I was up to some mischief. Eventually she did let me in and I happily indulged myself in the books I found there.
There were so many exciting things to read, especially the books on science and discovery that had exciting subjects not in the boring school texts. Some of us even spent long hours copying, verbatim and in long-hand, important passages from such books; photocopying was unheard of in those days (the first time I used a photocopy machine was in secondary school and it cost about 20 cents a page then—about the cost of a roti-prata meal.).

Exit
PSLE was a big deal then, as it is now. As part of the process, we were asked to choose in advance, in order of preference, four or so secondary schools as options. My parents told me to ask the form teacher for suggestions. My form teacher, Mrs. Ong, suggested I apply, as my first choice, to the ``boys-in-white” school which was then at its new campus at Grange Road (It has since shifted to a ``newer” campus).
I was told it was the best boys school, so naturally I thought that for my second, third etc choices I should choose other top ranked schools. But my dad had a different logic: He said that if I could not get into the top school then there was not much point trying for all those other top-rank schools which were so far from home; I would just have to settle for some school nearby.
So the stakes were high, so to speak. However, inhabiting a small pond, I was pretty confident of myself and could not imagine there being many other applicants (I had to imagine, as I had no experience of the reality). Yet, Malay was my weak point and gave me some pause.
Soon word spread among the teachers of JKPS that ``some student had chosen THE school as an option”. I had become a curiosity. I remember one of them asking me whether I was really capable and reminding me how difficult it was and that I might be taking a big risk in putting THAT school as my first choice.
Even the school principal was curious enough to come over and talk to me one day (yes, remarkably, she came over). I began to realise how big a deal it was: Apparently no one (I think) had made such a brazen application before in JKPS.
So I got down to it: I studied, studied and studied, making my own revision notes, assessment sheets (inspired by the limited ones available) and a study timetable. (Tuition was rare in those days and my parents were not pushing).   
I remember results day. Something was in the air. Someone hinted that he heard something from the school clerk but it was vague and unreliable. Each class got their results and posting read out to them from the form teacher. I waited as each name was read out. It was not in any order I could discern. I was still confident but getting a bit nervous. Mrs. Ong made me wait till the end for the news. It was good.

P.S.

Looking back, I feel the time at JKPS  was relatively carefree, enjoyable and  exciting.
For various reasons, I have not put down all my memories of JKPS and have not provided all details. Maybe they will be in another post somewhere, someday day :).

Photos

After completing this entry I discovered a site with many photos of old Jalan Kayu and the school:
Photos of Jalan Kayu Primary School



Monday, 21 January 2013

From the Straits of Singapore to the Straits of Johor, Overland

The Ulu-ness Scale
In the 1970’s most people would have considered Jalan Kayu an “ulu” place. Remember, there were no expressway’s then and the only way there was by the long Yio Chu Kang Road. Also, the initial stretch of Jalan Kayu then was bordered on both sides by rubber plantations, giving it a truly rustic feel.
However, even in those days Punggol was probably considered much more ulu than Jalan Kayu --at least it was to me. I had heard the place mentioned but have no childhood memories of going there and so in Ocober 2012 I decided it warranted a cycle trip before that place was totally re-developed. (Yes, I have heard of Punggol mee-goreng, and have tried the version served in food-courts, but as I had no clue where to try it in Punggol I was not driven there by that desire. But I do wonder if every ulu, or formerly ulu, place has some famous food associated with it J )
The Start
As I was heading for a destination that was new to me, I planned it using streetdirectory.com and brought along a smartphone so I could consult the map on the go. I found that I could very much stay on park connectors this time.  (All maps and images below are from Google Maps and Street View)

From Marine Parade I headed to Jalan Eunos as before and then turned and kept going up along Jalan Eunos which at some point becomes Eunos Link. The initial stretches are bordered by HDB flats which later give way to industrial buildings and many car show rooms on the left side. (The right side is apparently part of the Kaki Bukit Industrial estate while the left is the Ubi Industrial area).
At the intersection with Airport Road, on the left, is the Driving Centre which looks like it has been there for a long time. Beyond the intersection the road changes name to Hougang Avenue 3. (A place I had ended up on during my return trip from Jalan Kayu). Continuing straight on beyond the intersection with Bartley Road East (a “new” road extending Bartley Road), cycling uphill; one see a SBS bus depot on the right.
First Part of Trip

Defu Industrial Estate
At this point I decided to turn right into Defu Avenue 1 (it more or less runs parallel to Hougang Avenue 3) which cuts through the Defu Industrial estate. On the left is the Singapore Girls Home and after that it is pleasant downhill free-wheeling for a very long stretch until the intersection with Tampines Road.
Defu Industrial estate is an old estate with mostly low-rise buildings and it was in the news recently: It will be upgraded. So catch the scene before it is gone.


Serangoon and Buangkok Park Connectors
After the intersection with Tampines Road, Defu Avenue 1 gets renamed Hougang Avenue 7. Just to the right, after that intersection, is the start of the Serangoon Park Connector which runs along Sungei Serangoon The right facing view along this connector is forested area (not sure how long it will last) while the left has HDB flats and some upcoming condos.




At the intersection of Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Pinang there is a fork in the connector. The left fork is still called the Serangoon Connector while the right is called Punggol Promenade. I took the left path and would eventually return later that night by the right one, completing a very big loop.
So, the Serangoon connector now passes the edge of Punggol Park (although the park is really on the edge of Hougang) and then becomes a trail that passes through a HDB estate, crossing several roads. You have to look carefully for the fading signs at intersections to keep on the official track. At some point the Serangoon Park Connector becomes the Buangkok Park Connector which doesn’t have any parks along it, unless once counts the sprawling grounds of the Institute of Mental Health which it borders, buts eventually it leads to one.
When the Buangkok Connector hit Yio Chu Kang road I recognised the place: I had arrived there by a different route during my Jalan Kayu trip. This time I turned into Gerald Road around the corner and continued that way to join the Punggol Park Connector


Punggol Park Connector
A lovely connector along Sungei Punggol, with lots of pristine greenery on the right side when you start, and much open space (as of writing) on both sides. After a long ride one reaches the inviting Sengkang Riverside Park. This looked like a nice place to explore but since I was determined to reach Punggol Point I decided to skip that distraction (but only after stopping for a snack at the Sports and Recreation centre next to Anchorvale community club.)
Pushing onwards along the connector one comes to another alluring distraction: “My Waterway at Punggol”, which provides a short-cut through this tip of North-Eastern Singapore. I left it for another day and proceeded along the coast, going around the Marina Country Club to eventually reach Punggol Jetty.
Just opposite, the view is of various industries along the Johor coastline. As it was already getting dark I didn’t stay around to explore more of the Punggol beach and jetty area, though there were lots of people hanging around.


Punggol Promenade
Beyond the jetty the trail continues as Punggol Promenade but it is unpaved. On that day it was wet and at places muddy. It was a very long ride along that part of the coast with no developments nearby. However, as along previous stretches of the Punggol Connector, one could see signs that something would someday be constructed not far away.
Eventually the promenade joins up with the Serangoon Park Connector and one completes a loop on the north-eastern tip of Singapore. From here, it was just a matter of reversing through the early part of the journey to get home.
One interesting observation from the Promenade: I noticed bridges to other lands but as it was dark I did not explore those then. On reaching home I checked to find that one of them leads to Lorong Halus and thus provides a short-cut between Punggol and Pasir Ris—an adventure for another day !

Making the loop around Punggol


Summary
The whole trip was about 40 km long and took about 5 hours. I managed to cover a larger distance than the Jalan Kayu trip, even though I took two makan stops, because I could go faster on the deserted park connectors.
There is much left to explore along this route, so I will be back!
(In fact, Singapore’s last remaining Kampung is apparently just near Gerald Drive.)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Destination Jalan Kayu

Prologue
I chose this as one of my targets, in Oct 2012, not for the roti-prata, as some of you might think, but because that is where my primary school used to be---though in the end I did try the roti-prata; more on that later J
I chose a route from Paya Lebar to Jalan Kayu that I used to travel by bus in the old days. Indeed some of the SBS buses, 70 and 103, seem to pretty much run the same route even now! (In another posting I will describe an easier way to get to Jalan Kayu from the East Coast)
Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures but you can use the wonderful Google Street View [1] to see the current sights along the roads described below. I have also included links to some older pictures at other websites and blogs.
The Start
As usual, my starting point was Marine Parade. First it was down the Siglap Park Connector to Kembangan MRT. Along the way one passes various schools and the ``hidden” Telok Kurau Park (located at the end of Joo Chiat Place if you are coming that way). The Siglap Connector continues behind Kembangan MRT and leads you to Bedok Reservoir, but I will describe that adventure another day.
At this point I got off the connector and went west on Sims Avenue, heading towards Paya Lebar. To avoid traffic I prefer to cut into the private housing estate at Lorong Marican, and then Jalan Kechot, which brings me to Jalan Eunos. Crossing at the traffic light one continues along Eunos Crescent and then beyond to the Eunos Industrial estate: Taking Eunos Ave 5 brings you to Paya Lebar Road.
Cycling through an industrial estate on weekends is actually quite nice, there being almost no human or vehicular traffic, and one can take in the sights of some of the small industries there.

Paya Lebar Road
Turn right at Paya Lebar road, heading north. This road, like many others in Singapore, has been totally transformed compared to my memories of the 70’s. Now it is sandwiched between huge industrial complexes that have sprung up. The only landmark that I recall at the lower end of Paya Lebar Road is the former Geylang fire station, at the intersection of Sims avenue (PHOTO1) :It is Singapore’s second oldest and  has been conserved by the URA.
Heading north on Paya Lebar one comes to the intersection with Airport Road, so called because it leads to the restricted Air Base, which in the 70’s was the location of our main civilian airport before it shifted to Changi. In those days passengers alighted from the plane onto the tarmac and one could wave at them from an open balcony as they walked (PHOTO2,PHOTO3 ).
Cycling along Paya Lebar Road, some uphill stretches provide good exercise. Near the intersection with Bartley Road the shop-houses on the left look like they have been around since the old days. Bartley school is still around though the campus is new and it is now co-ed, again: In my memory it was a boys school in the 70’s, but I was surprised to learn from its website that it was co-ed when it started in the 50’s, then sent its female students to the newly formed Cedar Girls School in 1956.
Beyond that intersection there are more neighbourhoods that have survived modernisation. At the intersection of Upper Paya Lebar Road and Upper Serangoon Road there is an old (police?) camp that I recognise though it is not clear what it is used for now.

Yio Chu Kang Road
Turn right at the intersection then left, up along Yio Chu Kang Road (more uphill exercise), another road which has undergone a massive change in scenery. The Serangoon Sports Complex on the left is new to me, though beyond that many old housing estates, and some petrol stations, provide familiarity. (It seems to me that the petrol stations in Singapore last longer than most other landmarks.)
Keep going and you notice the HDB estates of Serangoon, Ang Mo Kio and Hougang, and the associated roads leading there: None of these estates existed in the 70’s, and as far as I can recollect the land there was mainly vacant or greenery.

Woodbridge

The intersection with Gerald Drive starts to look familiar again. The housing estate on the left, Seletar Hills, has not changed much other than the usual expansion of some houses into multi-story units. The church and petrol station nearby are still there.
But some names have changed! Gerald Drive used to be called Jalan Woodbridge and led to the Woodbridge Hospital which used to treat and house people with mental health issues. I remember that sometimes the male patients used to “escape” and wander around the neighbourhood. They were recognisable from their distinctive uniform which included brown shorts.
The Woodbridge hospital has since moved further away to what is now called Buangkok (I don’t think that existed then either) and it has been renamed the Institute of Mental Health. (The name “Woodbridge” had a certain stigma attached to it so perhaps that is the reason for the name changes of the roads and Hospital).
Jalan Kayu
Keep going along Yio Chu Kang Road and you reach the intersection with Jalan Kayu, where there used to stand a Post Office and Polyclinic. They are both gone [2] but you can see some photos here.
In the old days both sides of Jalan Kayu [3], for a long stretch, were occupied by rubber trees as far as the eye could see (PHOTOS). The rubber plantations have been cleared and new farms and flats (Fernvale/Sengkang East HDB estate) occupy that land. All those branching roads on the right leading to the Sengkang estate obviously didn’t exist then. Instead there were narrow dirt trails leading to the interior of the rubber plantations. I will write more about the insides of the rubber plantations in my next post, so let us continue down the road looking for remaining landmarks.
It is not until I passed the Esso station on the left that things started to look familiar again: The original narrow Jalan Kayu, with shop-houses on the left and some residences on the right. There are many more restaurants now compared to those days, and I am not sure how many of the other shops are still doing the same business as in the days of yore. The “parking” space in front of the shop-houses was not as crowded then, and on Friday nights there used to be a very popular “Lelong” (night market) along that stretch (PHOTOS).
The church at the intersection of Lorong Samak is certainly a familiar landmark but on the left, where the concrete row of shop-houses now end (before Jalan Tari Lilin), a row of other shop-houses existed (maybe wooden), continuing till the edge of the then Jalan Kayu Primary School (JKPS).
JKPS is extinct. The gates of the school used to be near the exit to the TPE now . The lanes of the expressway run through what used to be the school field. Indeed the landscape there now is similar to the layout of the school then: Entrance at a high-level going downhill to the school building and then even lower down to the school field .(My memories of JKPS will be described in another post!).

The photo below (captured from Google Street View) shows the approximate location of the extinct JKPS entrance:
A roti-prata shop used to be very close to the school gates but now it seems to have moved further down the road (in the direction we just came from). In those days the roti-prata cost just about 10-20 cents, as I recall. It is now $1 a piece I think. I had no idea in those days that it was anything special and that it would one day become famous: Then it was just there, it was edible, and it was cheap.
Across the road from JKPS there used to be a Fish and Chips place and another row of shophouses (also probably wooden), all of which are gone now. Indeed, many of the original shops there used to cater to the British and other personnel who used to occupy Seletar Camp. The Fish and Chips then cost about 50 cents.
As I recall, some of those wooden shop-houses did not have modern toilet facilities and still relied on “night soil” men for clearing. The parking lot in front of those shop-houses was just an unpaved clearing with a teh-tarik hut at one corner. Sometimes some enterprising youths would promise, for a small fee, to “look after” a car that was parked there. (I wonder if the current parking lot there is the same location as the dirt lot in those days).

Getting Lost in Sengkang
Well, I had my prata and decided to head back home by a different route. I thought I could cut across the new (to me) Sengkang estate and maybe join up with Yio Chu Kang road again. I took one of the Sengkang avenues going east but got disoriented (No, I didn’t have a smart phone, so had no maps) . At one place I asked for directions but still didn’t seem to be getting anywhere I could recognise.
Finally I stopped at a bus-stop to look at the routes of the buses there and found one which was going somewhere I recognised and decided to follow that route. Eventually through many twists and turns I found myself on Hougang Avenue 3 which continues on as Eunos Link. But I thought, wrongly again, that I could save time by cutting through one of the Ubi Avenues.
When I cut through the very quiet and deserted Ubi Industrial estate, I arrived at the other end, to my surprise, at the same Paya Lebar Road I had been on earlier in the day: My mistake was in thinking Eunos Link was heading east and so I thought Ubi Avenue was heading south. It turns out that Eunos Link was mostly going south and so Ubi Avenue led me westwards again!
Anyway, I was on familiar ground again and so cycled on down till I found Tanjong Katong Road, then turned left onto Mountbatten/East Coast Road, cut through Joo Chiat Road and back to Marine Parade and home. (Explorations of the Katong/Marine Parade region will appear in a future post).
Epilogue
Overall it was a good trip although it drizzled on and off on that day, forcing me to take occasional refuge at some bus-stops when the rain got heavy. The adventure took about 5 hours (5pm to 10pm) round-trip, including makan time, and I covered an estimated distance of 30 km.
According to Google Maps you can walk from Marine Parade to Jalan Kayu in about 3 hours but I think that’s at a brisk pace, not a casual walk. Anyway I couldn’t cycle fast on most stretches as it was off the park-connector. However there were some downhill stretches that somewhat compensated the uphill ones I mentioned.

The map below (from Google Maps) shows a red-trail that approximately represents my outward journey and the black trail my wandering way back.

Footnotes:
1. Google Street Views: Get on Google Maps and choose a road. Drag the “orange man” from the top left of the map and place him on the road you are interested in. That activates the street view. You can then use the orientation button on the top left to see different directions and elevations while the white arrows on the road allow you to move along that road.

2.
Since the photos in Google Street View were taken some time ago, you can still see the Jalan Kayu Post office there though it is gone physically. 

3. You can read more about the Jalan Kayu area and see more photos at this blog.