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Jan 17, 2020

Traditional Chinese New Year Celebration


What is the difference of traditional Chinese New Year celebration and modern Chinese New Year celebration?

Although Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is celebrated by Chinese Singaporean in Singapore, it is a celebration for everyone.  The greetings "Wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year" is not intended for the Chinese Singaporeans only.

Chinese New Year Greetings "Keong Hee"

By K.S.Chia [Source:  Singapore Free Press, 29 January 1949]

"Chinese New Year! Ang Pows!"   These magic words have been on the mind of my ten-year old daughter ever since Jan 1.  She has been counting the days and her excitement is mounting as Jan 29.  Chinese New Year Day, draws near and nearer.

I asked my wife the other night if Chinese New Year held as much romance for her when she was ten as it does for her daughter now.  She reflected, with a happy smile, that in her young days, New Year was in fact a greater event than for the present-day girls.

In those good old days, girls went about all bedecked in jewelleries, from the top of their "aeroplane" coiffure down to their feet, where around their ankles rested inch-thick gold anklets.

Chinese New Year was an occasion for the display of wealth then.  Brilliant hair-pins of a type called "suan hua" (diamond flowers) usually worn by little girls some dressed in embroidered coats to look like bridesmaids.

Then too girls put on the coloured muslim long "nonya" dresses, held together in front by more jewelleris - a set of three locket-like ornaments called the "krosangs."  They were pendants, star-shaped and diamond - studded, and lockets swinging from gold necklaces, to make the wearer a-glitter with wealth.  On the fingers were rows of rings and on the writs bright, bejewelled bracelets.

In those days if a girl did not have a "bodyful" of jewelleries, she was not considered properly dressed for the New Year.


The old-world girls wore lovely batik sarongs and, on their feet, gold and silver buillion slippers flashed to vie with the simmering gold anklets they wore.

That was in the early 1920s when gharries were still in vogue.

For my daughter, Chinese New Year holds forth a somewhat different rejoicing.  For generation it is accent on new fashionable frocks, plain coloured lambskin or tigerskin with beautiful lacy flowers sewn on in front, or gaudily-coloured linen, or frocks coloured linen, or frocks with stylish smokings and trimmings.

Or the three-quarter cheongsums for the older girls, now so popular among Chinese women.  My daughter goes for the new style shoes too, to match her frocks, though, of course.  I frown upon such extravangance and let her have only a pair, one that can match any dress.
She has her mother's taste for jewelleries, but here again, she has to be content with what her mother allows her to wear - perhaps a locket, a pair of bangles, and a pair of clip earrings.

There will be no costly hairpins for my daughter - a new perm will be her crowing glory, as a new hair-do is for the modern miss.

Whereas in the days gone by, her mother shyly wished her relatives "keong hee, lives to an old age," and even more shyly secreted the packets in her dress, my daughter will gaily sally forth with her plastic handbag in which to stuff her red packets!

If a girl in 1920 had carried even a small straw purse when she went visiting relatives on New Year Day, the elders would have remarked she was anticipating many red packets, but with the modern miss, plastic handbags swing from press shoulders every day.  It is just the fashion.

About the only significance a gift of an orange on New Year Day would mean to my daughter is that it is a seasonable fruit from China, and very refreshing too, after a series of "keong hee" to  the elders. For my daughter, however, the joy of firing crackers will be available.  Though a girl, she spent quite a few cents last year, letting off crackers for the thrill of hearing them go "bang."

I asked my wife if she had, in her young days, let off a cracker or two, she replied she wasn't the tomboy her daughter ius, but I have a feeling she must have sneaked a cracker or two from her brother's pack and let them off in the backyard.

Modern girls still go for evening drives during New Year time, but not to the same extent as girls in the 1920s did.  Then, there were streams of cars gharries slowing honking their way from one street to another.
Today, with the horn ban on also, they will hear no honking, but there will be those long piercing whistles from young men.]

We didn't know the "wolf call" in those days, but it was much the same thing even if young men then only emitted "ohs" and "ahs," - just a breathe apprecation of beauty.

For the young people and the children especially, the Chinese New Year today, despite the change in celebration, still holds forth its magic - its irrestible charm of brnd new dresses and shoes, of continuous eating of sweet cakes and fruits, its delightful red packets with their brand new coins and crisp, crinkling notes.

How I wished I were young again and reaping my harvest of red packets instead of worrying how much of my month's pay would vanish within red paper this New Year Day.

'Ang Pow Etiquette:  What You Should And Shouldn't Do When Giving Or Receiving


Prepare your pockets, boys and girls!

Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and you know what that means.

Time to reap in those 'ang pows'!  Or for those who are married, it also means that it's time to break out the bank and stuff red pakcets.

However, unlike giving out and receiving treats on Halloween, there is a set of rules you need to abide to when it comes to giving and receiving 'ang pows'.

Here are some things you need to keep in mind:

1.  Never, ever use white 'ang pow' envelopes

2.  Always receive an 'ang pow' with both hands

3.  Work out a budget

4.  Never open an 'ang pow' in front of the giver

5.  Give an 'ang pow' with an amount being even number

6.  Use new banknotes (if not, clean ones)

7.  Know your audience

While it's OK for an unmarried, working adult to give an 'ang pow' to their parents or their nephews/nieces, it's not compulsory for a married adult to give an 'ang pow' to their older, unmarried siblings or friend.

8.  Never give an 'ang pow' without an 'ang pow' envelope

9.  Don't put coins in an 'ang pow'

[Source:  Rojak Daily]

Find out the 10 myth of Chinese New Year here .

Happy New Year! - And It Was
[Source:  The Straits Times, 3 February 1946]

Singapore's first postwar Chinese New Year was welcomed in customary fashion in the early hours of 2 February 1946 morning when Chinatown, bathed in blaze of lights, let off thousands of dollars' worth of crackers to shatter the midnight silence.  To many Chinese still, the maximum amount of noise is conducive to the greatest enjoyment.

All-night mahjong parties, celebrations in the amusement parks and cabarets, crowds at the cinemas, men, women and children in new suits happily milling in the streets were principal indications that the Chinese were making enjoyment their sole building enjoyment their sole business for the day.  The sight of so many new and colourful dresses leads an observer to wonder if there is any cloth shortage in this country.

The biggest, and, to many, the most sacred, day of the year.  Chinese New Year meant to thousands of shop assistants which hardly know the meaning of a holiday closed shops, a mild flutter, and a round of amusements.  Business districts were all quiet although in the residential areas continuous cracker firing by children, competing to make the most noise, meant anything but quiet.

Chinese New Year proper lasts five days.  The celebration may continue until the 15th night when special significance is given to the first full moon of the year and, if visible, crowds take to the open to admire it.

The archived photos of Chinese New Year celebration in Singapore, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

Seven ladies stepping out in their new new frocks on the first day of Chinese New Year on 31 January, 1957 (above).  Another seven ladies at the Botanic Garden on Chinese New Year Day (below).



Firecrackers set off during Chinese New Year celebrations at Smith Street in Chinatown.  Date: 9 February, 1959.


Street processions, especially the Chingay procession at Chinese New Year, were familiar scene in Singapore during the early 1900s.


Lion dancing to usher in Chinese New Year at Smith Street in Chinatown.  Date: 21/02/1959.





Scene at Haw Par Villa during Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa.  Date: 03/02/1965.



Jan 2, 2020

Countdown 2020 at Our Tampines Hub



When I was a child in the 1950s in Bukit Ho Swee kampong where I was born, I have not heard about the 'New Year End Countdown'.

The New Year End (NYE) countdown celebrations is very meaningful for every Singaporeans, young and old, all races, rich or poor. 

I made it a point to celebrate the NYE countdown and blog about it to share with my friends and my children.  The event is different every year and my feelings, my thoughts and experiences are never the same.  For as long as we grow in Singapore, a home with peace and harmony, political stability and the different races, different religion and culture as a community work, play and live together as Singaporeans.

Like the "windmills of my mind" of the many young children with happy faces at the OTH Countdown, I reminise the excitement and opened mouth awe-inspired expression to watch the fireworks for the first time at the Singapore waterfront in 1953 here .


Celebration of NYE Countdown 2020 at Our Tampines Hub


Suhaimi Yusof (Fly Entertainment Artiste) and Belinda Lee (Cross Ratio Entertainment Artiste) entertain the audience throughout the evening to scream and shout, blew whistles, made happy noises which the kids like to join their parents.

According to the 'Our Tampines Hub anOTHer experience' Programmes:  Fun & games all day & night for everyone! Special Merdeka Generation Showcase.  Food Village at Festive Drive.  Live Concert featuring popular local artistes.  Spectacular fireworks, wave flames & laser display showcase.  Free access to various facilities, party gifts & more.  Admission is FREE, all are welcome.  There were tips for a great time at OTH's Countdown to 2020.

Thanks to the organising committees of this special events for their splendid efforts to plan, prepare the props and interesting programmes for many months.


I have the pleasure and privilege to attend Countdown 2020 at Our Tampines Hub to have the opportunity for the first-time experience with my Tampines friends, neighbours and colleagues on 31 December, 2019.  Thanks to Mr Baey Yam Keng to request Ms Nur Asykin Binte Ismail, Senior Manager (Communications & Marketing) of Our Tampines Hub to issue me an official pass.

In the past, I attended the year-end countdown at Marina Bay to absorb the wonderful atmosphere and join thousands of people (Singaporeans and overseas visitors and tourists) to watch the spectacular fireworks here .



For about 3 hours before the countdown at midnight, the full-house capacity audience at the Town Square were entertained by many entertaining stage performances by The Pyro Man, Tay Kewei and Alfred Sim and the Malay acapella group.



The Tampines GRC Advisors (photo from left to right) Ms Cheng Li Hui, Mr Baey Yam Keng, Mr Heng Swee Keat and Mr Desmond Choo were interviewed by Suhaimi Yusof and Belinda Lee


It was a very enjoyable, memorable and successful Year-End Countdown 2020 at Our Tampines Hub.

Happy New Year 2020!

Dec 18, 2019

Memories of schooldays past


In a land-scarce country where urban renewal takes place at a breathless pace and buildings are torn down relentlessly to make way for new developments, lone, unoccupied buildings and houses are as rare as they come.  Melissa Lin, Daryl Chin and Kon Xin Hua go in search of them.

[Source:  Straits Times, 4 September 2011]

SELEGIE INTEGRATED PRIMARY SCHOOL, SHORT STREET

Along Short Street, the brightly coloured building, shaded by trees, stands out among its modern neighbours.  It is almost half a century old.

The 10-storey Selegie Integrated Primary School was touted as one of the tallest school buildings in South-east Asia when it was first opened in 1963 by the then deputy prime minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye.  It held that accolade till Pearl's Hill Primary School, now Hotel Rel, took over with 12 floors.

Remembering his schooldays fondly at Selegie is Mr Victor Koo, 55.  The civil servant attended the primary school from 1963 till 1968.

He said it was a "mere 15-minute leisurely stroll" from his home in Cheng Yan Place, near Queen Street.

"The 10-storey building certainly looked huge and imposing.  I also had not seen such big lifts before," he added.

The school building had two lifts.  Each lift was big enough to accomodate a complete class of 40 lower primary, or 30 upper primary schoolchildren.

It also had two canteens - one on the ground floor, another on the sixth and a dental clinic on the seventh floor.

It was said to have an enrolment of up to 4,000 eager young minds in the morning and afternoon sessions.

Today, the school still stands tall, its orange exterior decorated with stripes of blue and red.  The premises are out of bounds to curious onlookers, although a peek from the outside shows that the classrooms were recently furbished.

Mr Koo's teacher, Mr Teo Keng Koon, 65, was one of the 100 pioneer teachers, when he was just a month shy of 17.

He said: "Each time I pass by the school, it gives me a deep sense of nostalgia.  The trees are still standing.  The pioneer teachers were the ones who planted the trees in the building."

A teacher all his life, he is currently teaching at a tutorial centre.

He cited a possible reason for the school's closure, saying that with its "dwindling population of students", of about 200 or 300 pupils, it was "not viable to keep the school going".  He added that the remaining pupils then went to Stamford Primary School.

Though it is unknown when the school closed, the premises were used as the holding campus for Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) for a few years until it moved into its new campus in Bencoolen Street in 2004.

Since then, the school building has been left on its own.  Mr Koo feels it "is a waste" to see his school being left abandoned.  "I would like to see the school converted to a hotel."

A Singapore Land Authority spokesman said the building has been scheduled for tender for arts, dance, and drama studio use.

Please check out a related blog about the Selegie Integrated Primary School   here .

Turning into a junkyard
2 Eng Hoon Street



Nestled between a budget hotel and a church on 2, Eng Hoon Street is a building that, at first glance, stands out for its incongruous appearance.

Its art deco-style exterior looks unkempt, a portion of its white pillars turning black.'

When The Sunday Times did a check, it found that the bottom half of the two-storey house was largely covered with white tarpaulin.  The narrow pathway leading to its front door was filled with trash, metal trays and rusty cylinders.

Its main door was locked and it did not look like it was occupied.

While a background check turned up the name of the owner, a Mr Tay Seng Leong, the address which he is registered under was an empty plot of state land.  Neighbours in the area told The Sunday Times that they do not know of such a person.

Meanwhile, surrounding tenants at Eng Hoon Street said that they sometimes see people depositing items at the seemingly abandoned building.

Without any clues on where its owner is, what lies behind its dusty, tinted windows is anybody's guesss.

A little touch of mystery
Chee Guan Chiang House, Grange Road


Dwarfed by trees and condominiums that have sprung up over the years, the house at 25, Grange Road is barely noticeable from the main road.

For years, photography enthusiasts have been attracted to the Chee Guan Chiang House, so called because it was built by Mr Chee Guan Chiang, the eldest son of the first chairman of OCBC group.

It is now owned by investment firm Lee Tat Development.

Designed in the 1930s by well-known Singapore architect Ho Kwong Yew, it comprises a main house and a smaller house within the compound.  It is not known how long they had not been occupied for.  However, poor maintenance, vandalism and the passage of time have reportedly left the houses in a desolate state.  An "investigation" by the Singapore Paranormal Investigators further contributed to its mysterious aura.  The main house was given conservation status by the Urban Redvelopment Authority in 2008.

When The Sunday Times did a check, consstruction work for a condominium was ongoing beside the houses, which could not be seen from the property's gated entrance.  A red mailbox hung from the gate, alongside two signs warning against trespassers and illegal parking on the private property.

The Sunday Times reported in 2007 that the property could be seen only by residents from neighbouring condominiums who used it as a short cut to Orchard Road.

In 2008, Lee Tat won a legal battle to close off the access road that passes through their Grange Road property.

Lee Tat declined to commend on its future plans for the place.

Old movie studio used to make P. Ramlee film
8 Jalan Ampas


The faded yellow aluminium hoarding fence with a sign that reads "8 Jalan Ampas" attracts nary a glance from passers-by.

Tucked between a temple and a condominium just off Balestier Road, the cluster of buildings beyond the fence is hidden from view.

Other than a plaque that gives a brief history of Jalan Ampas Shaw movie studio, there are barely any clue that this place played a central role during what was dubbed the golden age of Malay films in the 1950s and 1960s.

Over a span of 20 years, more than 160 films were produced here.  This was where the legendary actor-director-producer-singer P. Ramlee made his first film.

When The Sunday Times visited the former studio, a few chickens roamed the courtyard next to what looked like a makeshift junkyard.

A faded neon "Silence" sign and a Shaw Brothers crest at the top of a building provide the first indication of its illustrious past.

A mini shrine of P. Ramlee memorabilia stands next to the room where its caretaker for the past decade, Madam Miz Naya, lives.

The 64-year-old P. Ramlee fan said her first husband had worked as an extra in the late actor's films.  She had first taken up the job to stop people from stealing items, like posters, from the buildings.  But these days, she added, it was more for nostalgia's sake.

While there were no visitors when The Sunday Times checked on two occasions, a hastily sprayed "No Paking: (sic) sign at the entrance hinted that this may not always be the case.

Speaking in Malay with a smattering of English, Madam Naya, a widow - her second husband had died - told of how a bus filled with Malaysians would come by thrice a year to visit the place.  Photography enthusiasts would drop by occasionally too.

While visitors used to be able to come in freely, they now have to first seek permission from Shaw Organisation.

Established in 1937, the studio was used by the Japansese to make propaganda films during World War II.

Post-war, it was reopened by Shaw as Malay Film Production in 1947.  The decline in demand for Malay films brought about the studio's demise in 1967.

Shaw Organisation declined to comment when The Sunday Times asked about its plan for the place.

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Dec 14, 2019

Christmas spells merry-making


Christmas spells merry-making ... and jangle of cash registers

By Betty Khoo

[Source:  New Nation, 26 November 1971]

Every year the Christmas cheer and celebration seems to get bigger and brighter.  But the true spirit of Christmas has perceptibly grown dimmer.

In Singapore where out of a population of 2.1 million, only 170,000 (8½ per cent) are Christians, Christmas is celebrated on a scale out of all proportion to the adherents of the faith.

Christmas here has come to mean a season of merry-making, feasting and shopping sprees.

It is perhaps difficult to say whether shops, restaurants and nightclubs are cashing in on the "spontaneous" observances of Christmas or, they have by their tinsel allure, directly encouraged the celebration of Christmas by many non-Christians.

One cynic observed dryly:  "Santa Claus and Jingle Bells has come to mean the jangle of the cash register."

The shops are making sure that Christmas will be ushered in with a big, profitable bang.  Some as early as October, put up their Christmas buntings.  They are also vying with one another to put up the biggest Santa Clause and most spectacular Christmas tree.

A leading department store disclosed that "it had increased its stocks in all sections this year.  But with so many new shopping complexes, competition for the shoppers' dollars will be stiff.

It appears that not only are the young, affluent and swinging non-Christians celebrating Christmas but even the Chinese businessmen - the merchants, building contractors - have launched into a whole-hearted, costly celebration of the Yuletide season.

The superintendent of a supermarket said:  "These Chinese business firms spend far more on our gift hampers and spirits during Christmas than anyone else.  They purchase these as X'mas giveaways for delighted clients.

The spirit of giving is there but the motive is profit.

Chinese businessmen are also making Christmas a time for lavish entertaining.  At the prices top spots expect to charge for their Christmas bill-of-fare, it is not surprising that Christmas is increasingly being celebrated on expense accounts.
Christmas cheer is a little less expensive in discotheques and the second-rate nightclubs.  But those who really observe the true spirit of Christmas prefer home gatherings where rousing carols create the atmosphere.

but in spite of the enticing bright lights of nightspots, church attendance has not fallen.  Churches are still packed to capacity for Midnight Mass and the morning after Christmas Day service.  Still, for many church-goes, the service is just a temporary sobering up after which they plunge into another round of party-going.

For many men, Christmas is just one long drinking binge after which some make a thorough nuisance of themselves on the road.

In England, it is reported, the traditional Christmas office party has often beconme an excuse for a wild drinking bout and uninhibited licentious behaviour.  It is significant that office tradition there strictly precludes wives.

The commercialisation of Christmas has also made its observance a costly affair.

A Christmas Eve dinner and dance at the best nightclub used to cost $20-$25 a person in the mid-sixties.  Now it will cost you between $35-$45 a person.

One hotelier said:  "Certainly prices have to go up.  Now you get American-cut beef on the wagon and vintage wines - previously these were not available."

A few years ago $2 could get you a decent present.  Now its upwards of $5 and, the more attractive Christmas gift-wrap the more expensive the gift.

Many Christians and even a number of non-Christians have deplored the crass commercialism of Christmas.  However, one staunch Catholic said: "One is tempted to dismiss the commercialism of Christmas as disgusting.  But if one thinks of it as a season of good cheer when everybody has a holiday, then one can overlook all but the grosser aspects of this commercialism.

Christmas is regarded by everyone as a time of good-fellowship and goodwill.  It is that time of year then people  - non-Christians included, remember friends and relatives and exchange Christmas cards.

It is a pity however, that many Christmas cards, particularly those locally produced do not have any Christmas motif or sentiment.  Some merely depict a Singapore scene with Greeting in four languages.

Nevertheless, despite the commercial overtones, warmth is generated by the sending and receiving of Christmas cards.

And, although Christmas has defintely become very commercialised, those who want to observe its true meaning and significance can still do so - in the privacy of their homes and churches.

It does however, require a strong willpower to resist the manifold temptations.

Please check out this related blog here .

Archived photos of Christmas celebrations in Singapore, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.


Evelyn Tan (left) with her sister Rosalind and brother David putting the finishing touches tot he Christmas tree in their home in Tiong Bahru.  Photo date:  24/12/1951.


Elizabeth Taylor buys a stuffed tiger.  She later asked Mrs Run Run Shaw (right) to give it to the underpriviled children for the Shaws' Christmas Tree fund.


Six happy girls "sailing" in their motor boats with a large crowd including the Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye and the Major-General I C Harris, GCO, Singapore Base District looking on at the Christmas party for underprivileged children given by the British army in Great World Park.'
Date:  17/12/1960


Puan Noor Aishah, wife of Yang Di-Petuan Negara of Singapore, Inche Yusof Bin Ishak, bringing Christmas cheers to 72 old people living in Red Cross House at Penang Lane.
Date: 21/12/1961




Puan Noor Aishah distributes gifts to handicapped children during Christmas party at Singapore Red Cross in Penang Road.  Date:  04/12/1965

Christmas Party in aid of St Andrew's Mission Hospital in Jalan Besar Stadium on 20/12/1958


What it means to the non-Christians

[Source:  Singapore Monitor, 12 December 1982]

What does Christmas means to non-Christians?  Is it just another public holiday, or does the spirit of Christmas touch them, too?  Raadhika Mahadevan puts the question to some non-Christian Singaporeans.

Mrs Jenny Ong, (Buddhist), a travel agent in her early 30s who is married with two children:

"We don't celebrate Christmas at home and tend to regard it as just another holiday.

"But I do send Christmas cards to our Christian friends and to clients.  And usually we attend Christmas parties at the homes of friends.

"This Christmas we are planning a two-week holiday abroad."

Mr R Velayudhan, (Hindhu), a 25-year-old airlines steward:

"Christmas has no special meaning for my family.  We send cards to friends but that's all.  We don't attend Christmas parites or go on special Christmas visits to friends.  And this year, on Christmas Day, I'll be busy at work."

Mrs Suseela Karunasena, (Buddhist), a 51-year-old widowed housewife and mother:

"As every Christmas approaches, I get that Christmasy feeling.  It's in the air.  Even though I'm not a Christian I go out Christmas shopping to buy gifts for my Christian friends, and I even put up a Christmas tree because it's so beautiful.  I also send out piles of cards to friends both local and overseas.

"Christmas Day is always special.  I spend it with Christian friends, sharing their turkey lunch and all the other special trimmuings that come with the day.  And even before Christmas I usually help one or two close friends decorate their Christmas tree.

"I see Christmas as a national celebration with the spirit of the seasson cuting across all cultures."

Miss Sandra Sin, (Buddhist), a 22-year-old social worker:

"Christmas for me usually passes like any other public holiday or off-day.

"I get myself involved in my usual activities such as meeings and functions of the Singapore Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Association.

"I don't send Christmas cards, go on special visits or exchange gifts with friends."

Mr Ahmad Suhaimi, (Muslim), a 28-year-old husband and father who works as an embassy official:

"Chrisstmas Day to me is like any other public holiday - a time to play with my little son, a day for the family to be together at home.  We enjoy the special programme on radio and TV and usually visit close Christian friends.  We send these friends Christmas cards but we don't exchange gifts.

"This year we might be organising a holiday trip to Malaysia, but we haven't finalised things yet."

Mr K Sekvam (Hindu), a 31-year-old husband and father who works as a technician:

"Although we are Hindus, we also do believe in Jesus Christ.  Son on Christmas Eve we offer special prayers to him.'

"Christmas Day itself, however, is like any other public holiday to us.  We don't have a Christmas tree or anything like that.  This day on which we hold a special celebration is Deepavali Day."

Last-minute shoppers pack stores

[Source:  The Straits Times, 24 December 1989]

Traffic jams, long queues and rain no deterrent

Last-minute shoppers yesterday went all out to get their Christmas purchases done, come rain or shine.

An evening downpour failed to stop them from packing the stores in the Orchard Road area and elsewhere for their 11th-hour buys.

Traffic james were not only on the roads; the throngs queued up patiently in front of payment counters and changing rooms and milled almost cheek-by-jowl in the more popular department stores.

The most harassed were obviously the cashiers and counter-girls who never stopped wrapping and packing throughout the day.  They kept their cool  and plodded on.

Shops along the Orchard Road stretch reported brisk business with some expecting a 30 to 40 per cent rise over the weekend.  Extra sales staff were on hand on each shift to cope with crowds.

At Robinson's in Centrepoint, store manager Philip Wee said that the crowds had been getting larger over the past week with the biggest rush this weekend.

The special draw at Metro in Paragon was the 30-minute sale specials during which certain items were offered on reduced prices for half-hourly periods.  These times were announced at intervals during the day over the store's public address system.

But queves at the store's sales counters moved at a fairly steady pace, thanks to the new bar-coded price tages that are instantly read by a scanning device.

This saves the cashiers from having to manually type in each product's code and price.

The store manager said that they expected a 30 to 40 per cent rise in business today.

For shoppers like Miss Geralyn Ong, 24, a sales co-ordinator, Christmas shopping would not be the same with the crowds and queues, especially when she was out hunting for gifts just a day or two before Christmas.

"It is all part of the atmosphere of a Singapore Christmas," she said, adding that by getting one friend to queue at the sales counter and another at the gift wrapping counter, she still managed to get everything done on time.

Other last-minute shoopers likes Mrs S.C. Chua, 38, a secretary, were picking up gifts for others rather than for themselves.

"I did all my shopping earlier, but the children wanted to get some presents so we came here," said Mrs Chua, who was at Metro Paragon with her two children.

The extended shopping hours at all the major department stores, with Tang's Studio being the latest to close at midnight yesterday was another draw for late shoppers.

But Tangs and Tang's Studio will be closed today.

Most stores siad they expected their tills to ring a lot luder today.  Experience from previous years tells them that when ther is still a little time left, Singaporeans will be out in force to buy, buy and buy.

Happy shopping!  Merry Christmas!




Nov 14, 2019

Our Forgotten Zoo


Singapore's first zoo, housed on the grounds of a family bungalow, had so many exotic animals like seals, tapirs, zebras and orang utans that even a visiting Albert Einstein was impressed.



By Yuen Sin



[Source:  New Paper, 15 July 2012]

Mention a local zoo and the world-renowned Singapore Zoo, established in 1973, is probably the only one come to mind.

Yet, back in the early part of the last century, a collection of animals here was already making waves around the world.

It was situated on the grounds of a large family bungalow in Upper Serangoon Road in the 1920s.  A wealthy animal; trader of Indian descent, Mr William Lawrence Soma Basapa (1893-1943), had housed an extensive private collection of 200 animals and 2,000 birds there.


It came to be known popularly as the Ponggol Zoo.


After it began to pull in the crowds on the weekends, an entry fee was charged, and it had to move to a 10-ha plot near the Punggol seafront in 1928 to accomodate the large number of both animals and visitors.

It was later renamed the Singapore Zoological Gardens and Bird Park (not related to the current zoo).  It was offficially granted a licence by the now-defunct Rural Board in 1937.

Mr Lawrence Basapa, 66, grandson of the late Mr W.L.S. Basapa, recalls tales about the famed zoo as told by his family.

"They told me that many people came on the weekends - locals from all walks of life, and British expatriates because they like nature," says Mr Basapa, a corporate director on the board of two private companies.

"My father had fond memories of weekends at that house by the sea, swimming and watching the crowds."

Mr W.L.S. Basapa was a flamboyant character who knew how to live life to the fullest, says his grandson.

"He owned a Bengal tiger called Apay (ah pek) and it used to follow him around like a dog.

"He loved animals, lived in a carefree way and was able to make a living out of what he loved," says Mr Basapa.

Famed scientist Albert Einstein visited in 1922.

According to press reports of the time, Einstein was in Singapore to raise funds for the Hebrew University.  He noted in his travel diaries that he came across "a wonderful zoological garden".

Today, little remains of this amazing, if little-known, part of Singapore's history.

In 1942, just before the Japanese invasion, the zoo was ordered by the British to close and the authorities were given just 24 hours to clear the area of birds and animals.

The dangerous varieties of animals were killed, while harmless ones were released into the forest.

The skins of some of these animals were donated to the then-Raffles Library and Museum (now the National Museum of Singapore).

Around 80 of these were moved to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore in the 1970s.  And they are still there, says the museum's collections manager Kelvin Lim.

"The specimens have been preserved for scientific use and research," he says.

The land, inherited by trustees after Mr W.L.S. Basapa's death in 1943, was sold to a private investor in 1948.

The site has now become part of the Punggol Promenade (photos below).


Says Punggol resident of 10 years Chew Xin Yu, 20:  "It's hard to imagine that such a zoo actually existed in this fast-paced environment, and though I've lived here for so long, I never really heard about it."

For Mr Basapa, who lives in East Coast, retaining the memory of places that once existed is an important step in nation-building.


"It's part of our heritage, for us to remember our roots and what the Asian immigrants contributed to Singapore," he says.

"People of humble backgrounds from China, India and the Middle East came, and in the process we built a nation."


First zoo in Singapore rated 'wonderful" by Albert Einstein
By Melody Zaccheus

[Source:  Straits Times, 6 April 2013]

Albert Einstein

Nation's status as a hub for animal collectors is featured in exhibition

Singapore's first zoo, which had its beginnings at a family bungalow in Serangoon Road, has at least one unique bragging right.

Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics, was among the first visitors to the private zoo, which was run by animal lover William Lawrence Soma Basapa from 1920 to 1922.

His zoo and the history of Singapore's status as a hub for animal collectors in the late 18th and early 19th century, are part of a travelling exhibition by the National Heritage Board.

The month-long exhibition, held in conjunction with the Singapore Zoo's 40th anniversary, was launched on 5 April, 2013.  It will include the Woodlands and Jurong regional libraries and Central Public Library.


The board's director of heritage institutions, Mr Alvin Tan, said it hopes to raise public awareness about Singapore's "little known early zoos".

According to press reports from the period, Einstein was in Singapore to raise funds for The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  He had written in his travel diary that he had come across " a wonderful zoological garden".

With its role as a trading centre, Singapore was the port of call for collectors and officials from zoological societies in Britain and the US who traelled here to source rare local specimens.

Zoological enthusiasts included Singapore-based Chinese businessman Hoo Ah Kay, who kept rare animal and bird species at his mansion at Whampoa Gardens in the mid-1800s, and Haji Marip, who ran an exotic animal trade shop from 1880 to 1915.

But it was Singaporean-Indian landowner Basapa, who captured the hearts of local residents.

Basapa, who was often accopanied by a full-grown Bengal tiger named Apay, moved his collection of animals and birds from his Serangoon home to an 11ha seafront estate in Punggol.

Networking with international zoos, he was the first in Singapore to import seals.  He also brought in Arabian cames, black wans and Shetland ponies from South Africa, America and Australia respectively.


With a collection of 200 animals and 2,000 birds, Punggol Zoo became a major attraction both nationally and internationally in pre-war Singapore.

The zoo which cost $35 a day to run, charged visitors 40 cents.



But Badapa's foray into zoo-keeping was short-lived.  At the start of World War II, the British moved their forces to the north of Singapore in anticipation of invading Japanese forces.

Basapa was given 24 hours to relocate his animals and birds.

The time-frame was too tight so the British took the land, released the birds, and shot the rest, said his grandson Lawrence Basapa, 66, a company director.

"It makes us very sad till today that the animals were slaughtered and sacrificed.

"My grandfather died a broken-hearted man."

He said, however, that he is glad the efforts of Singapore's pioneers are being remembered.

"It's a good way to refresh our memory of what our zoos used to be like - simple but with a lot of heart."




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