Blog To Express

A blogosphere learning experience to express with blog

My Photo
Name:
Location: Singapore, Singapore

A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Oct 15, 2010

The Making of "Walk Down Memory Lane - Bukit Ho Swee"

A similar "walkabout" on coach instead of a previous one on foot.

Following a previous blog on "Walk Down Memory Lane - 62nd Birthday", I was given a chance to share the participants of the "When Nations Remember" convention on 12 Oct, 2010 for a walk down memory lane to the fire site of the Bukit Ho Swee fire on 25 May, 1961.

The International Convention on Memory was presented by my blogger friends Chun See and Char Lee as mentioned at another blog here .

The "When Nations Remember" for this event was initated by National Library Board (NLB) conducted at Carlton Hotel, Singapore on 11 Oct, 2010 and 12 Oct, 2010.

The participants were shared the "Capturing Memories through blogs" at the international conference jointly presented a paper and facilitated discussions by Chun See and Char Lee.

At the invitation of Ms Nurulhuda Bte Subahan of NLB, I had the pleasure to conduct a coach tour for about 30 participants of the convention.

Mr Bill Jee, the owner and organiser of the tour, "How The City Built Itself" gave me the following briefing:

As part of the conference, there will be outdoor trails conducted in the afternoon on both days.

Mr James Seah, our guest personality to share memories of Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961.

The trail is not the sort conducted for tourists where it is a lot of historical fact sharing. As the theme of the conference is on the gathering of memories of Singapore, the trail will need to include meeting with personalities who can share their stories of Singapore based on their personal experiences.

As such, I’ll like to invite you as our guest personality for this day to share with our guests your childhood experiences growing up in Bukit Ho Swee / Tiong Bahru area.

When arrived at 2.15 pm at Blk 49, Kim Pong Road, I met the warm welcome of Bill, Nurulhuda and the friendly visitors with yours truly, the "guest guide" on a coach tour down memory lane of Bukit Ho Swee.

Photo taken at Kim Tian Road towards Blk 49, Kim Pong Rd

At Blk 49, Kim Pong Road

Photo taken at Blk 49 Kim Pong Rd looking towards the Boon Tiong Ville (former "emergency flats" at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee). Further in the background is the HDB Bukit Ho Swee Estate buildings under construction.

To save the tour time which was too short to tell the story, I distributed the handout "Memories of Bukit Ho Swee Fire" for the visitors to read it at their own convenience.

Same places, different times while on the tour. The scene outside the left of coach window is the Jalan Bukit Ho Swee and Bill holding the old photo of the same place almost 50 years ago.

Story-telling time at Blk 50, Havelock Road, the location 49 years ago for the "Memories of Bukit Ho Swee Fire on 25 May, 1961".
Memories of Bukit Ho Swee Fire – 25th May, 1961

As this is the story of my late mother, here's a link about her blog with her photo.

It was a school holiday, it being Hari Raya Haji. Then, I was still in Primary 6 and was still schooling at Delta Primary School. My mother and I had gone out to visit my second aunt's house at Chin Swee Road that morning. As we were heading home at Beo Lane at about 3.30 pm, there was pandemonium at the junction of Havelock Road.

I saw dark billowing smoke in the sky and the smell was terribly intoxicating. Screams of "Fire! Fire!" was heard and the scene soon became chaotic. It was the first time I had ever experienced such a thing in my life and seen widespread fire burning down houses and places before my very eyes. It was unlike everything that I've read or watched from television or even movies. This time, the Bukit Ho Swee fire was for real. Instead of fearing for danger or for my life, the whole event overwhelmed me with excitement.

People to save tables and chairs...not neighbours...

Lorry to protect mattress...not human lives...

I recalled seeing fire victims carrying bulky cupboards, tables, chairs and pots and pans instead of saving human lives and the domestic animals.

However, there were some compassionate people who carried away fowls, goats and pigs, which they reared, including their beloved pets to safety. Through this crisis, the milk of human kindness was publicly demonstrated.

Ironically, there were a few unscrupulous people who looted the personal belongings of the fire victims.

When we reached home, my mother immediately packed the important documents and took them along. Having gone through the tough experience of the Japanese Occupation when she was young, my mother continued to remain calm and did not panic. She slung a big sarong cloth over her shoulder and dragged me out of the house. Later, I found out that some jewellery and most importantly, our family documents including birth certificates had already been pre-packed for emergency purposes.

While my mother was busy salvaging whatever lightweight personal items she could get hold of during the rush, I only managed to grab my school bag including my school textbooks and stationery set.

I was so dazed that I did not even realise that it was going to be the last time that I would ever see our Bukit Ho Swee home. It didn't dawn upon me that this was not a fire drill exercise. I even managed to exchange my slippers for a pair of shoes, which I had worn to my second auntie's house thinking that I could return back to the house later on..."

"Blown in the fire, whatever's gone...life is impermanence. But where there is life, there is hope". This elderly fire victim pondering while watching the fire scene in apprehension and uncertainty of the future.

"What to happen to our lives in future...was it the end of the world?" This is not a scene from the movie...its a photo shot from real life during the Bukit Ho Swee fire.

We then ran as fast as we could to escape ourselves from the burning houses. We witnessed a stampede and saw the older and weaker people being carried by the younger and stronger ones. I even remembered seeing my neighbour's daughter kneeling down to pray, staring hard at the darkened sky of smoke.

Once we reached Havelock Road, we walked towards Delta Circus for safety. After some time, my mother turned to me and asked me which way to go. That was when I realised that she was also lost.

At the junction of Prince Philip Avenue, a car suddenly stopped in front of us. We found out that the driver was our distant relative who had come upon hearing the tragic to help anyone in need.

It was fortunate of us to have met our saviour!

Once in the car, we were driven to the Kim Seng School, which was located opposite the Great World Amusement Park. By then, a centralised camps for victims of the tragedy had been set up at several schools along Kim Seng Road and River Valley Road.

The school compound was crowded with thousands of fire victims, police, military personnel, Red Cross, St John Ambulance Brigade, doctors, nurses, volunteers and helpers. Tents had been erected to help register the tragedy victims and supply cooking utensils, provide meals including biscuits, beverages as well as to distribute blankets and clothings that had been donated by generous sponsors and donors. There was also milk powder for the babies.

Every victim was issued with an aluminium mug and tiffin holder, spoon and fork (similar to those provided during my National Service days).

There was a long queue for toilets and bathrooms at the school day and night.

Visit by Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Bin Ishak to the fire victims.

My mother and I settled at a corner of the classroom, together with about 30 families or more. Endless announcements were made over the loud speakers in four official languages and dialects with the purpose of reuniting the fire victims with their families and friends.

My father rushed to the school camp from his shop in Chinatown. With the help of my three elder sisters who found our registration record, our family was reunited. We sighed in relief and were happy to be reunited that evening at the school camp.

I recalled sitting on the floor of the classroom to complete my homework after dinner and slept on the concrete floor that night while some children ran around the school to play games with their newfound friends.

Throughout the night the floodlights at the school compound were switched on. To a young boy who was only eleven years old at that time, I could barely comprehend the tragedy that left 12,000 people homeless. I left my future including the search of a new home to be handled by the adults.

It was surreal.

The following day, my family visited the fire site and was shocked by the aftermath of the fire. My sister informed me that victims of the fire did not have to attend school. However my father and sisters returned to work a few days after the incident.

Within a week, we were allocated a 2-room flat at Margaret Close for temporary rental flats while the Bukit Ho Swee fire site was under construction.

The HDB "emergency flats" at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee under construction.

Opening ceremony of the first phase of the Jalan Bukit Ho Swee emergency flats by HDB.

Speech by Minister Mentor (then Prime Minister) Lee Kuan Yew nine months after completion of the HDB flats at Bukit Ho Swee, to deliver his promises to the fire victims.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) flats were built a few months later at the same site where the fire had taken place and my family and I were transferred to a 1-room emergency flat at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee.

THE END
The "Walk Down Memory Lane - Bukit Ho Swee" tour guide was most enjoyable and to meet friendly and "memory friends" to share with them.

At the end of the tour at the playground beside Blk 50 Havelock Road, Bill introduced the traditional top spinning game enjoyable during the kampong days.





We acknowledge with thanks the photos credit of andrew hO of drewphotography for the photos taken during the tour.

These photos (above and below) with thanks to courtesy of National Library Board, Singapore.

A memorable photo taken with the MCA Shophouse at Havelock Road after the completion of the walk down memory lane of Bukit Ho Swee.

Labels:

11 Comments:

Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Hey. I too just blogged about the WNR conference. Will post a link here.

October 15, 2010 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Hey. I didn't know that there is a Facebook site for this event. Thanks. I shall add another link and also let the folks there know about my blog article.

October 15, 2010 at 7:30 PM  
Blogger Ivan Chew said...

Larger and larger tour group, eh James? Nice.

October 15, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger unk Dicko said...

Well Done James!

October 15, 2010 at 11:40 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Ivan.

Pls help your friends and Bukit Ho Swee Kampung blog here

Cheers!

November 6, 2010 at 4:55 PM  
Blogger sim hui hwang said...

It's a very informative and touching story. It does sound surreal and the part about being accommodated in the school seems vaguely familiar - didn't the victims of the earthquake in China get accommodated this way? Nowadays, workplaces talk about standard operating procedures. How did the coordination work so fast during the immediate aftermath of the fire? I suppose when there is an emergency, people just know how to respond, whether SOPs are in place or not. Thanks very much, Mr Seah, for this very vivid account of the fire. That point about your mom stashing all the important documents in a centralised place was practised long ago. Nowadays, we tend to be very complacent and I don't think people bother to stash all this in a centralised place. Now, everything is digitalised and there is no fear that you will never get to see your birth cert again.

November 7, 2010 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger sim hui hwang said...

It's a very informative and touching story. It does sound surreal and the part about being accommodated in the school seems vaguely familiar - didn't the victims of the earthquake in China get accommodated this way? Nowadays, workplaces talk about standard operating procedures. How did the coordination work so fast during the immediate aftermath of the fire? I suppose when there is an emergency, people just know how to respond, whether SOPs are in place or not. Thanks very much, Mr Seah, for this very vivid account of the fire. That point about your mom stashing all the important documents in a centralised place was practised long ago. Nowadays, we tend to be very complacent and I don't think people bother to stash all this in a centralised place. Now, everything is digitalised and there is no fear that you will never get to see your birth cert again.

November 7, 2010 at 8:47 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Hi Miss Sim,

Thank you for sharing your insightful comments.

The photo of the classroom appears to be the former Kim Seng Primary School or River Valley Primary School which were located opposite the former Great World Amusement Park.

I believe the various social agencies, military, police, workers brigade and volunteers were very well co-ordinated. Army trucks were utilised to ferry fire victims to be housed in temporary HDB flats wherever available.

People volunteered spontaneously to help and donated cash and kinds to the fire victims. Even hawkers raised their fire relief funds with own earnings to donate for several days.

My family and I was allocated vacant flats at Margaret Lane until the Jalan Bukit Ho Swee "emergency flats" were completed nine months after the fire.

Many kampung dwellers, including Bukit Ho Swee, are ever conscious of fire hazards and ever ready for an emergency. Most of them learnt these lesson like my mother during the Japanese Occupations in Singapore.

Nowadays, Civil Defence training for Singaporeans are prepared for national emergency crisis and terrorist attack evacuation,etc through the community centres programmes in every constituency.

November 9, 2010 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger lim said...

That b/w photo of the fire in the background and a mother with her bag of belonging with a crying child beside her is a powerful image. I could imagine I was around the child's age at that time. Memories like that can help to foster a greater social consciousness among the young today.

July 19, 2011 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger FL said...

I was 11 then when the Bt Ho Swee kampong (kg) fire broke out. My family & others were at our kg at the end of Tg Pagar Rd area. I can still recall as a kid, I saw it myself thick dark smoke bellowing in the sky from our kg. In those old days, there were very few tall buildings blocking the Singapore's skyline, hence, you could see the smoke clearly in the sky from afar. I also remember the adults in our kg were very excited & emotional, and they kept talking about "haw soi san" (Bt Ho Swee)on fire in Cantonese.

October 9, 2011 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thank you for sharing memories of the tragedy of the Bukit Ho Swee fire. At about your same age at that time, I know nothing about fear, sadness or danger which adults realise. Fortunately, the fire hazards of attap settlement in the past and replaced with bricks and mortar for the safety of Singaporeans today.

October 9, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home