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Nov 15, 2009

Memories of Sembawang

When I first read Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" about 50 years ago, I was around the age of Manolin, the young apprentice of the old man in the story, Santiago.

I'm now the old man...just like changing roles.

It is the touching story of an old fisherman who shares his personal life experience with a little boy.

The lesson: "Learn to fish" (figuritively speaking).

There's a Chinese proverb: "Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime".

In his review of the book, Bob Corbett wrote:

"The Old Man and the Sea" is a magnificent story. At one level it is the tale of a man and a fish, at another, a story of man versus nature, at yet another, the story of the culture of manhood, courage, bravery in the face of existence, and at yet another a history of what life was like when individuals were more the central actors on the human stage and not groups or organizations.

Hemingway's world is not my world. I am no Santiago, no macho man. And the culture of today has little place left for the radical individual whom Hemingway celebrates and Santiago portrays. Yet the power of Hemingway's telling is such that I couldn't help but be on Santiago's side, to admire him, to ache with his loss in the end to forces greater than he.

This great individual, the man who stands alone, is not alone completely by choice. He has developed a friendship, a working relationship, a love with a young boy who began fishing with him when the boy was only five".

The sea has always fascinated me. I've spent a great deal of my time at the seaside during my younger days.

At various times, I have lived near the sea...Sembawang, West Coast, East Coast and Changi Point.

After all, Singapore is an island, surrounded by water. (It sounds strange to state the obvious...but this is just to emphasise the point that water is life).

In my twenties, I was staying alone in a rented room in Sembawang when I was working at Woodlands Road. My buddies and I used to visit the jetty at Sembawang for line-fishing and to catch "flower crabs" during weekends.

This is the picture of the jetty at Sembawang Park as it appears many years ago when I was staying at Sembawang Road 13¼ milestone, near the famous "Patio" food street which was popular among the Australians, New Zealanders and British servicemen of the ANZUK Forces.

The row of bars along Sembawang Road near the "Patio" food street. Photo taken in 1967.

Sembawang, an idyllic, remote village, is located at the northern-most part of Singapore.

Chong Pang was the "town center" of Sembawang. I used to go to the "Sultan Cinema" in the evening to watch movies at only S$0.30. The movies are usually second-run, 2 or 3 months after their first screening in the cinemas in the city.

Photo Credit: Jerome Lim; Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

"My Home Town, Chong Pang" blog by the Story of Bing here .

The village folks in Sembawang are mostly simple, humble people who eke out a living in the Naval Base before its handover to the Singapore government by the British.

Whenever people who live in Sembawang goes to the city, they will say "I'm going to Singapore" if Sembawang is not part of Singapore : )

Perhaps its the proximity of Sembawang to Johor where travelling time is shorter to Johor than to the city areas in Singapore, regarded as a faraway place.

In the 1970s, the villagers of Sembawang were adversely affected by the withdrawal of the British servicemen and naval forces.



Blogger Lam Chun See said...

When our kids were small, we often bring them to parks. Seletar Reservoir was one of our favourites and occasionally we go to Sembawang Park. I rememebr there was a restaurant near the jetty which has both Chinese and Western food.

Sometimes we have dinner at a zhi-char stall at a coffee shop near the Sembawang CC. Do you know where I am referring to? There was only a small cluster of HDB flats there. I wonder if they are still around.

Last year I went to the Sembawang-Canberra area and completely lost my way!!! So much has changed :(

November 18, 2009 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

I've not visited Sembawang for almost 2 years now. The area around Somapah village has changed beyond recognition from what I knew of the place before it became a HDB housing estate.

I don't think the coffee shop at the main Sembawang Rd near the CC is there. I know which one you're referring to. It was once located opposite what is now the Sembawang Shopping Centre. much has changed.

However, younger people prefer the new heartland estates where they enjoy modern amenities and the convenience to study, work, live and play within Sembawang.

Sembawang Park brought back fond memories...its still there!

November 20, 2009 at 1:13 AM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

No. It is not located near Sembawang Shopping Centre. On the way toward Sembawang Park, after you pass Canberra Rd on you left, you will come to this small estate on your left. Just a few blocks. There's a small children's playground. I doubt it is still around.

November 21, 2009 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger yg said...

the restaurant chun see referred to is the beaulieu house at sembawang park. it is still there. the small cluster of hdb flats has disappeared. if it is the coffee shop across the road from the sembawang cc, it is still around.
james, i have also caught flower crabs at the jetty. when i visited my friend in the 70s, his mother also used 'singapore' to refer to the city.

November 22, 2009 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

We are referring to different coffee shops them.

The one beside Somapah Road is located at the Sembawang Road, the main thoroughfare where passengers boarding the "pool" taxis plying on a fixed route from Arab Street to Sembawang will alight.

The fare then was $1.30 per pax I think and the taxi usually move off when there are 4 pax (express service each way); else it will operate like the "pirate taxis" (pah ong chia) picking and dropping off passengers along the way, based on a customised fare table.

The Sembawang residents and business have to adapt to the changes and developments in the area. The coffee shop business is an example. They have been converted into seafood restaurants to cater to a different clientele.

November 22, 2009 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

I just revisited this coffee shop that I mentioned above. It is not the one that YG is talking about.

Will blog about it later.

February 13, 2010 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger lim said...

I wonder whether you could do a blog about the old Marsiling farming area. I just love the Marsiling area when I was doing my National Service outdoor training there. It's so pastoral. The whole place is gone now.

January 10, 2011 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger fighting fish said...

Dear Mr. Thim,

I am Norman Wong, born in 1966 at Teo-Lee Road in Chong Pang village ( or called Westhill village ). I study at Si-Sun primary school and Naval Base for my Secondary. I move to Marsiling Drive in 1978 together with my family.

Last year around February I was diagnosed with a stage 2 stomach cancer, out of a sudden life seems a bit much shorter than usual, since than I always think about those old days when I was young, and how I have go through time to where I am now. I wanted to create a short clip about Old Chong Pang village, as I was lack of the old photos, I have manage to contact two others for their approval to use theor pictures, one local and one British.

So could you allow me to use your images and create the clip ? I will mention you under the " About " of the clip together with all others whom have help to contribute the images.

I look forward for your most favorable reply. Please contact me at

Sincerely yours,

Norman Wong

January 10, 2013 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

I've replied your email, Norman.

Pls go ahead to quote this blog for your video.

Wish you good luck.


January 11, 2013 at 12:03 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

I've replied your email, Norman.

Pls go ahead to quote this blog for your video.

Wish you good luck.


January 11, 2013 at 12:03 AM  

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