It is Christmastime at Orchard Road in Singapore, the "happening street" to reminisce the holiday celebations by everyone.
The century-old tradition of Christmas in Singapore is the most unlikely place.
Singapore does not have snow, no snowman, no reindeer sledge to ride, real Christmas fir trees to decorate with colorful lighting.
The event organisers for Christmas celebrations in a wet and hot country are innovative, creative with imaginations and ideas for the colorful decorative designs and themes to present every year differently with new stuff. One of them many years ago was "Christmas in the Tropics" with Santa Claus riding in trishaws.
The following 3 photos from my personal "Merry Christmas 2005" album collection to share on this blog.
In multi-religious, multi-cultural Singapore, Christmas is celebrated as a festival for all Singaporeans, Christians and non-Christians alike.
Kids love Christmas, like my daughter Maylene in these photos taken in 1986.
Maylene at Orchard Road in 1986
Juxtaposed photos at Orchard Road in December, 2012. The same spot where the photo was taken in 1986.
Same place, same person at different times, different experiences in life adventures and journeys. Strive on heedfully to enjoy your life for peace and happiness, Maylene.
Children's boxing match in 1954. Photo credit: National Archives of Singapore
December 26th is Boxing Day and is a holiday celebrated in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries. Boxing Day originated in England in the middle of the nineteenth century under Queen Victoria.
Perhaps many young Singaporeans are not aware the significance of "Boxing Day" to celebrate in Singapore in the past as a public holiday.
It is not the Sports Day for boxing demonstration or boxing competition matches in schools or public sports complexes in Singapore.
Boxing Day is so called because it was the custom on that day for tradesmen to collect their Christmas boxes or gifts in return for good and reliable service throughout the year.
It is spent with family and friends at open gatherings with lots of food, fun, friendship and love. Food on boxing day usually includes left over turkey from the day before.
In some Canadian provinces, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday that is always celebrated on 26 December.
In Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday, much like the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. It is a time where shops have sales, often with dramatic price reductions.
Many retailers open very early (typically 5 am or even earlier) and offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores.
It is not uncommon for long queues to form early in the morning of 26 December, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales, especially at big-box consumer electronics retailers. Many stores have a limited quantity of big draw or deeply discounted items. Because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, many choose to stay home and avoid the hectic shopping experience.
In Singapore, we have the Great Singapore Sales for one whole month. The local media often cover the event, mentioning how early the shoppers began queueing up, providing video of shoppers, Singaporeans and foreign visitors and tourists queueing their purchased items.
Once a year, malls from Orchard Road to Chinatown deeply slash prices
on all their goods. No product range is immune: fashion, jewelry,
watches and consumer electronics are all covered, and neither budget nor
luxury goods are spared!
Today is the Tomorrow we worried about Yesterday...and all is well. "End of the World" on December 21, 2012 is over and we are still here today.
My blogger friend Jerome Lim of "The Long and Winding Road" wrote here
Today is the best day to begin…again, moving toward your vision for the year. Actually it is the only day you have.
Take the lessons learned from yesterday, letting go of anything that wasn’t wonderful. Expect and anticipate great and exciting outcomes tomorrow, understanding no tomorrows are promised.
Living and acting in the moment is where you find joy, fulfillment, excitement, satisfaction, and the stuff a full life is made of.
Seize the moment…tell your loved ones you love them, communicate appreciation to your co-workers, do something to express your love of yourself and take action on something that will make a difference in the world beyond you.
I love the old quote that says, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift of God which is why it is called the present.” Yes, today is the day to begin…again! Do something!!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2013 to you and your loved ones!
Mr Loh Kah Seng described the historical impact of Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961 .
Date: Sunday Dec 16, 2012
Time: 02:00 PM - 03:00 PM
Venue: Programme Zone in Woodlands Regional Library
From Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire From Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire.
Speaker: Mr Loh Kah Seng, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University
This talk will provide a vivid account of the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and highlight the historical impact of the fire in Singapore’s journey towards modern housing. More specifically, the talk will illustrate how the fire resulted in a national emergency which led to the re-housing of kampong residents who became the first generation of HDB residents.
About the speaker:
Loh Kah Seng is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University. He works on little-studied subjects in the social and political history of Singapore and Southeast Asia, and his present research investigates the historical dimensions of natural disasters in Southeast Asian cities. Mr Loh is the author of three books, The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity (2012); The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History (2010); and Making and Unmaking the Asylum: Leprosy and Modernity in Singapore and Malaysia (2009). He is presently working on his fourth book Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore.
The final talk in the series of National Heritage Board public talk by Loh Kah Seng entitled "Kampong Fires in Singapore on Sunday, 17 March 2012 at 2.00 pm to 3.00 pm at Serangoon Public Library.
FOYer Lai Chee Kien attended the NHB Public Talk by Loh Kah Seng
Thimbuktu with Alvin Tan, Director, Heritage Institution, National Heritage Board
Group photo (left to right): Alvin Tan, Tan Teng Teng, Loh Kah Seng and Thimbuktu
The first time I met Kah Seng 5 years ago at my home to interview me about Bukit Ho Swee kampong for his book. At that time, I was 59 years old.
For over 4 decades, the memories of Bukit Ho Swee had never cross my mind or mentioned to anybody, even my children about it. It was history about Singapore which many people have forgotten about it.
To be prepared for Kah Seng's interview, I spent many nights to think about how I grew up in Bukit Ho Swee and the defining moments in my life when I was 13 years old in the Bukit Ho Swee fire.
As one event in my life leads to another, I started my first blog 5 years ago. Blogging is now a hobby to travel through personal memories in a "time machine" and an ageing fun activity to share with everyone.
Thanks to Kah Seng for triggering my memories of Bukit Ho Swee, my birth place in Singapore.
In 2008, Kah Seng, Victor Yue and I created the "I grew up in Bukit Ho Swee" group on Facebook here, a social network on the Internet for like-minded friends to share our collective memories of Bukit Ho Swee residents, young and old.
About the "I grew up in Bukit Ho Swee" group:
Bukit Ho Swee comprises an area of about 38.4 hectares bounded by Delta Canal to the north, Tiong Bahru Road to the south, Kim Seng/Outram Road to the east and Lower Delta Road to the west.
If you grew up in Bukit Ho Swee, attended school in the area, or visit the place frequently over the years, keep your fond memories of Bukit Ho Swee and relive them here. Every individual contribution and recollection of personal memories of Bukit Ho Swee is invaluable and help us in reconstructing the collective heritage treasure of the place.
The selected posts shared at the Facebook group with the related topics:
Group photo (left to right): Thimbuktu, Kah Seng, Roy Chan, Tay Ah Chuan
Kah Seng introduced Mr Roy Chan and Mr Tay Ah Chuan to me after his talk at Woodlands Regional Library. They were both former residents of Bukit Ho Swee kampong and were also interviewed by Kah Seng for his book. It was like our old days as we reminisce about Bukit Ho Swee in the past.
The Straits Times - September 21, 2012
By: Jermyn Chow
Scared, yet inspired by inferno to become fireman
Mr Yunnos Shariff was waiting to be accepted into the Singapore Fire Brigade in 1961 when one of the island's biggest fires broke out.
The Bukit Ho Swee fire dampened the then 19-year-old's will to become a firefighter.
Fresh out of school, Mr Yunnos was with friends in the area when they saw the fire. He was terrified by the raging inferno which killed four people and left thousands homeless. "The flames looked like they were jumping so quickly from one place to another... people were helpless and screaming and I had second thoughts about being a fireman," recalled the 69-year- old.
But Mr Yunnos, whose father and two older brothers were firefighters, joined the brigade and went on to serve for 41 years.
"To witness people, many who were strangers, helping one another and even the firemen to put out the fire convinced me that it was the right thing to do," he said.
His story will be one of a few first-hand accounts to be told of the inferno in an exhibition from the end of this year.
The showcase, which is curated by the National Heritage Board (NHB), aims to teach people values such as fighting spirit and resilience through Singapore's major historical events or crises.
The Bukit Ho Swee display, which will feature multimedia presentations and a slew of public talks, is the second in the board's Resilience Through Heritage series.
The first, on the Hotel New World collapse in 1986, was launched in June this year and is making its rounds islandwide.
The month-long display will be put up in five venues, including the libraries in Geylang East and Bedok.
NHB's heritage institutions director Alvin Tan said that of the 30,500 visitors to the first exhibition who were polled, 97 per cent said it helped them to understand the importance of national resilience.
Also in the pipeline is a display on how Singapore bounced back from the Sars outbreak in 2003, added Mr Tan.
Group photo of my friends at Woodlands Regional Library on 9 December, 2012.
My friends in the photo (from left to right): Ng Koon How, Lina-Catcat, Thimbuktu, Lam Chun See, James Tann and Tay Choon Kwee.
This blog is posted with the courtesy of Lina-Catcat, Lam Chun See and James Tann who posted their photos to "Thimbuktu on Facebook". With thanks and acknowledgement for publishing them on this blog.
Special thanks to Lina-Catcat, a friend on Facebook whom I met for the first time in person at the "Bukit Ho Swee Fire" Public Talk at the Woodlands Regional Library on 9 December, 2012 at 2.00 pm. With her creativity and skillful art of photography, she has captured a video clip and selected photos of my moments of nostalgic memories during the sharing session of the event. I was not aware of her camera skills to take the unsolicited photos ; )
The National Heritage Board's flyers for the event.
I would like to thank Mr Alvin Tan, Director of Heritage Institution, National Heritage Board who kindly invited me to share my personal experience about the Bukit Ho Swee fire about 51 years ago.
According to Mr Alvin Tan in My Paper published on 6 December, 2012:
"The whole purpose of this series is to look at milestone events in Singapore's history that showcase how Singaporeans rallied together in times of crisis. We hope that members of the public, especially the younger generation would learn a lot and better appreciate how Singaporeans worked together in such times".
Mr Alvin Tan, Director, Heritage Institution, National Heritage Board
The importance of fire prevention was highlighted in the message of
the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) which are shown in the
presentation slides during the talk:
is a good servant but a bad master": You must be careful to use fire
wisely and under control so that it will not hurt you and others.
Why was the news about the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961 in Singapore suddenly the spotlight in the recent national news media?
Who cares about this little known kampong in Singapore to young Singaporeans today?
When I asked the audience at the public talk to raise their hands if anyone knows about the Bukit Ho Swee fire, only one young lady did. She heard about it from her grandmother because she was not yet born in 1961.
The National Heritage Board, with the support of the Ministry of Home Affairs' Heritage Development Unit and the National Library Board, organised a series of public talks in conjunction with the launch of its exhibition on the Bukit Ho Swee fire of 1961.
As I reel back the mental video of my personal memories of the Bukit Ho Swee fire which happened 51 years ago, I have to close my eyes and the stories to be told in mixed feelings...sometimes funny, sometimes silly, sometimes naive to have the first experience of real life fire in first person narration. I did not try to dramatise or exaggerate the situation in my family calamity and 16,000 homeless.
It may look like fun while watching a "Towering Inferno" movie...
I have to tell the truth that I was not frightened while watching the dark smoke as my mother held my hand tightly and we rushed towards Beo Lane from Beo Crescent at the junction of Havelock Road. I was dumb-striken on the spot to watch as a curious spectator.
Had not been my mother's calmness and experience during the Japanese Occupation to control herself, we could not have been able to escape from the fire in 10 to 15 minutes flat to run towards Prince Philip Avenue (near Delta Circus) for safety.
I have never seen a burning house anywhere before, never watch any movies or video on television (there was no TV in Singapore in 1961). I was as curious to find out something exciting...there was no time or fire drill to learn.
As reported in TODAY on 5 December, 2012 as "History Showcase - Bukit Ho Swee fire of roving exhibition", I was a 9-year-old Bukit Ho Swee boy. As I was sleeping one night in 1959, I was awaken by a loud commotion outside our bedroom. There was shouting of "fire, fire" and my parents and the neighbors quickly ran out of the house.
Later awhile, we were told that actually there was house-breaking in one of the houses. A quick-thinking young man said that if he had shouted "thief, thief", most likely the womenfolks would not dare to affront an armed thief, to avoid trouble.
However, everybody would come out of the house, and the crowd could arrest or scare the thief away.
From the screen slide on the photo, that was the lesson I learn from the Bukit Ho Swee fire.
Next, I spoke about my personal childhood memories of kampong life at Bukit Ho Swee in the 1950s.
To avoid repeating the older stories posted on my previous blogs, here's my untold stories stored in my "memory bank" to share at this public talk.
I must clarify that I was not a sole survivor in the Bukit Ho Swee fire or had done any heroic acts of bravery to save people. Like other fellow fire victims, my mother and I were escaping away from the fire to save our very own lives.
We learnt later that many able-bodied Singaporeans with community kampong spirit volunteered to help with donations in cash and kinds. Many of the volunteers were from everywhere in Singapore and we are thankful to them, especially the philanthropists, for their generosity and compassion.
After the fire, my family and the 16,000 fire victims were homeless, found us in a situation and circumstances of hopelessness and hearts were too weak to think about the future...at those depressed moments of uncertainties, it was like the end of the world for us to expect us for the worst of our parents' lives and the lives of the young children. Further down the blog, please watch a video-clip "Promise - the Bukit Ho Swee Story" and look out for the poignant photo of an old man with only his clothing and watching at the fire, and another archived photo of a man with his wife and a crying daughter, pointing towards the houses in fire...
Do you believe that I was a timid little boy when I was growing up in Bukit Ho Swee?
The name "Bukit Ho Swee" was associated with "pai kia", secret society gangsters and a notorious place where no decent people would want to raise their children in the 1960s if they can afford to have an alternative better place to live.
I was born in a poor family with no inheritance of landed properties from my grandparents in prestigious areas of Singapore. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to know that I was born in Bukit Ho Swee.
Who to be born poor or born rich; die poor or die rich are not choose our parents at birth? Wherever we are born in a country of birth would be the pride of as our country built by every citizens for peace, harmony and prosperity. Bless God thy Motherland, thy Father and thy Mother! Be thankful and grateful for our children to live in a land of opportunity, in our country with our next generations for hope, home and heart.
When I was a young boy at Bukit Ho Swee, my mother taught me to look at the road while walking, don't stare or glare at other people. In the kampong, there were many gang clash incidents because of "staring sessions". Mostly started with questioning "Li chit toh si mi. Kua nin peh chor si mi?" (What gang group do you belong. Why are you looking at your father?). I survived Bukit Ho Swee by playing dumb and did not pretend to be brave or belong to any secret societies. The gangsters have grown old just like us.
The only society I belong to in school was the Red Cross Society and the motto is "Serve One Another".
Regardless of big countries, small countries or "the little red dot on the map", the powerful treatment of elements by Nature versus Man are equally powerful to wipe off the faces from the earth God created mankind against bullies...be it fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, tornado or the tinnie tiny virus called SARS. Be kind to all humanity, strong or weak, big or small, who are fragile as human and never to take life for granted to live in peace and harmony in a borrowed time, borrowed world.
Man cannot fight against the phenomena of Nature, but the strength of the human spirit to revive, restore and rebuild the community with the help of the concerned authorities, the government and everyone to survive, the ways the Bukit Ho Swee fire victims have adapted and survived in 5 decades.
Watching the video-clips during the presentation, thinking along with memories of the Bukit Ho Swee fire.
As mentioned in the blog above, the "Promise. The Bukit Ho Swee Story" video with acknowledge and thanks to Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Committee which was presented on the Tree Planting Day at Havelock View on 4 December, 2012 as a homage to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
The second video was updated by "sittinginpictures" Director Chang Soh Kiak for "Foodage" on Okto TV with thanks and acknowlegement. With appreciation to Dick Yip and Peter Chan for helping us in this episode about the Bukit Ho Swee fire and the 1-room emergency flats at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee.
Thanks to Unk Dicko's blog: "Walking back 50 years...Tiong Bahru, Bt Ho Swee" here . It makes me laugh at Unk Dicko's comment on the communal toilets for the tenants to do their "big business to attend" at the emergency flats.
In conclusion, I asked them: "Did anyone know why the attap, zinc-roof wooden houses are no longer found in Singapore today?" and showed the following slide on the screen.
A young boy who sat in the front row of the hall raised his hand and said: "Oh yes, I heard "The Three Little Pigs" story from my teacher in school.
The story of "The Three Little Pigs" and the big bad wolf who wanted to eat up the three little pigs.
The moral of the story: "The big bad wolf is like the fire. The houses in straw and wood could be easily destroyed. Houses built of bricks would provide better safety against fire (and the big bad wolf)!
The message: "Prevention is better than cure. Fire prevention is better than fire-fighting"!
TERBIT is an info-ed of how Singaporeans overcame major crises since its independence. Told through the personal stories of the people involved – survivors, journalists and the people who were there to render assistance, Terbit shows how Singaporeans came together to help other fellow Singaporeans during the Spyros Fire, the SARs, the recessions, the New World hotel collapse, and even the Tsunami where Singaporean perished.
Some people may ask why is the need to remind TV viewers about fire in Singapore. Its already the history of Singapore so long ago and gone to be forgotten. Time has healed and memories of the fire was over. The fire victims are no longer emotional or sadness. Its the past.
On the day of the Bukit Ho Swee fire, my mother and I did not stay longer than necessary at the fire site. We were running away to find safer places with other fire victims at the Relief Centers. I learned more from this Suria TV about the fire engines, the newspaper reporters and various activities to help at Bukit Ho Swee in many ways.
This blog continues with the "Memories through Melodies" to sing, dance and be merry at the "Singing Festival 2012" at Kovan Hub on November 24, 2012.
Every precious memorable moments are captured with the camera...miss them and they are gone forever.
I love watching kids in their natural, candid, unposed photos in their happy moods when they are happy and their unrehearsed moments of enjoyment. No scripts by directors. Childhood is at their best time of pure, innocence joy!
I was not at the community event to be a talent scout for MediaCorps.
I snapped the following photos of two young girls which held me my attention with amusement and was astounded. An impromptu performance of the little girls while their auntie was singing on the stage.
Initially, I thought the girls were playing with the colorful confetti on the floor...
Wow...the little girls started to dance on stage with style...
A surprise showtime entertainment for the audience responded with loud applause for their enjoyment.
Talent is ageless. The young children are talented to express their talents in dance, sing, musical instruments,drawings, paintings and other forms of the Arts. Please do not stop them from these happy expression and be "ageist". "Ageist" refers to the young and elders when we discriminate people.
When everyone dance, sing and be merry, please give them vent to their feelings to forget about stress and so called "pressure" by other people if any. Never mind if some neighbors were singing too loudly in the bathrooms...
Parents at home to be the childrens' audience and let them entertain you!
The not-so-young enjoy themselves at the "Singapore Festival" here:
An excerpt from the song "Run Free"...
Run free and wild lose your mind,
Escape your inhibitions,
Taste the wind,
Let your hair down,
Throw your hands up
Go, go, go,
But don't forget the consequences
Go, go, go,
Let go, running free
A great community evening for young and old, guy and gals, everyone...Enjoy!