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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Jul 28, 2011

First Trip To Singapore City in 1953

Clifford Pier c 1958. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

An aerial view of the Singapore waterfront c1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

This "First Trip to Singapore City in 1953" third dimensional (3D) blog is a testbed, a platform for experimentation with a variety of "memory aids" for the unseen, unheard, untasted, unexpressed emotion, undreamt not imagined even in a dream, extrasensory perception (ESP) as a reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses but sensed with the mind and beyond human imagination like Harry Potter-style magic, mystery and fantasy. The flippant description is somewhat exaggerated crazy ideas just for fun and amusement.

Seriously, the purpose of the experiment is to learn something new or rather something old.

Aerial photo of Singapore City c 1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Aerial photo of Singapore City c 1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Aerial photo of Singapore City c 1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Aerial photo of Singapore City c 1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

I would like to take a page or two from the book "Son of Singapore", The Autobiography of a Coolie by Tan Kok Seng - rendered into English by the author in collaboration with Austin Coates (Page 32 to 33)and to share the experience and story of the author; and then blog to express an almost similar place, times or our respective personal first trip to Singapore city using different routes:
One day in April, after my twelfth birthday, my father suddenly said to me:

"Ah Nam, you must go and get yourself as identity card."

This was the law. From the age of twelve one needed an identity card.

But I was a real frog at the bottom of a well. Where to go to get my identity card? It must be somewhere in the city. The longest journey I had ever made in my life (on foot) was with my father to the small rural market at 6th Mile - one and a half miles from my home. If I was to go to the city, someone would have to take me.

Shortly after, I took a day off from school. My mother would take me to the identity card office. This, as I was to discover, was a case of the blind leading the blind.

Whether it was the first time my mother had ever been to the city on her own I do not know. If it was, she didn't let on. And I suspect it was. Looking back, I suspect she was just as perplexed and awed by our adventure as I was.

It was the first time I had passed through the farm gates to go to the city. My mother and I had to walk half a mile to the main road, where we took a small yellow bus running from Ponggol Point to 5th Mile, Upper Serangoon Road. There we changed into an S.T.C. (The Singapore Traction Company, which held the franchise for all bus transport within the city zone) bus, taking us into the city.

Singapore Traction Company (STC) buses into the city. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

"City of Singapore" arches at the Municipal Building along St Andrews Road. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

"City of Singapore" arches shows the Padang on the right of above photo. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

A clan association float to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II c 1952. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Gradually, stop by stop, it drew nearer and engulfed us. No trees. Buildings standing high up like obstructive forces on a dream - something one dismissed as being untrue, entirely unrelated to life as I knew it to be.

The bus brought us to the front doors of the Cathay Building. At that time the highest building in Asia, it towered up enormous into the sky above us. It was Singapore's most famous landmark, the only place my mother knew how to ask for in the city. From there my mother thought a taxi-driver would know how to reach the identity card office.

We stopped a taxi, and asked for the office.

The driver replied:

"Sure, I know the place. But it's far. It'll cost five dollars."

My mother protested.

"That's too much! Five dollars to the identity card office?"

"It's far," the driver repeated.

So my mother paid, and we got in.

The driver took us down to where we could see the sea and hundreds of merchant ships. It was, as I now know, Collyer Quay.

Collyer Quay with merchant ships in the background c 1958. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Clifford Pier c 1958. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Collyer Quay c 1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Clifford Pier carpark c 1958. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Clifford Pier carpark c 1958.Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Victoria Memorial Hall c1900. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Victoria Theatre under renovation c 1957. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Municipal Building, Singapore renamed as City Hall c 1951. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

There he turned, and heading inland agin, finally deposited us at the correct office, which was in Stamford Road. As we descended from the taxi outside the office, we saw the Cathay Building less than three hundred yards away. Only then did we realize we had been cheated.

Orchard Road turning into Cathay Building c 1955..Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Cathay Building c 1963.Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Cathay Building c 1957, photo taken from Bras Basah Road opposite Saint Joseph Institution. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Cathay Building c 1955. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

An incident of this kind is small, but it leaves a deep impression. From that day onward I determined that when I grew up I must learn the streets of Singapore thoroughly, so as to be able to move from place to place without being cheated.

When I made that resolution, I little knew under what tough conditions I was one day going to fulfil it.
Looking at these photos as a form of "memory aids" for resources and research on this blog as our selective memories, my first trip when I was 7 years old on a trip downtown to Chinatown, Collyer Quay, Clifford Pier and the waterfront, the Padang, Bras Basah Road where I saw the Cathay Building the first time in my lifetime in Singapore. On that day, I was like a tourist visiting Singapore for the first time...a "country bumpkin" or "suaku" (translated as 'mountain tortoise' in Hokkien).

From the 16mm video clip of W.H. Park uploaded on YouTube by Michael Fogge on Dec 7, 2010 of Old Singapore 1951 .

Unlike Kok Seng who visited the identity card office with his mother when he was 12 years old, my first trip to new places in Singapore city was made in 1955 to "go kai kai" ('for a walk or sightseeing' in Hokkien).

It was also my mother's first experience in peacetime Singapore with a 7-year-old son, old enough for him to walk steadily on his own. This was a rare occasion for mother to go downtown with no purposes to leave the house. She was usually busy day to night to be occupied with household chores.

We took public buses and travel on foot as we were too poor then to travel by taxi.

The first time after the Japanese Occupation when she could walk on the roads in Singapore safely without fear and harassment after the war. My mother always remind me the importance of a world with peace and security for everyone.

Victoria Memorial Hall light-up during the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

My mother and I did not have any planned routes and we just walked and walked those buildings and places on a little or big streets in Singapore which are still recognizable today. Although we were tired at the end of the trip from about 7.00 am to nightfall, happiness was written all over her face as I could remember.

If my mother were to be alive, she could have remembered my first trip to Singapore city in 1953 as the happiest and unforgettable day for mother and son in our lifetime.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Andy Young* said...

I always remember the tram cars with their long 'grasshopper feelers' striking the intervals of large knobs on the black cables above the streets.

August 14, 2011 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Andy Young* said...

Congrats James. You've made it on national news and with your photograph too.

Your story about the big Singapore fire has made you hot property!

August 15, 2011 at 9:22 AM  

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