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May 9, 2013

Jalan Bukit Ho Swee - Then and Now

Once upon a time in the 1960s, Bukit Ho Swee kampong in Singapore was well-known as a notorious place.

The residents in the kampong were associated with Chinese triad society, attap and wooden huts, poverty, frequent gang clashes and mostly illiterate and uneducated Singaporeans.  It is a blessing for me to have survived through Bukit Ho Swee in the early years in Singapore.

It was a very different society in Singapore where there was lawlessness; daylight public gang-clash in the streets without law and order like the "wild wide west" using long parangs and other weapons but not rifles.  As a young boy at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, I had personally witnessed a few of these horrendous "pia chwee" (gangland lingo for clashes by different groups such as "08", "24" and others).

Jalan Bukit Ho Swee (Bukit Ho Swee Road in English) wasn't born until after the Bukit Ho Swee fire on 25 May, 1961 when the homeless fire victims need public housing built as "emergency flats".

Bukit Ho Swee derives its name from Tay Ho Swee (1834-1903), a prominent figure in the Chinese community in 19th century. In the early days, the landmarks of this area included a disused Chinese cemetery and a large number of squatter huts. Gradually this area became one of the most crowded attap slums in Singapore. Here, the poorest population of Singapore – hawkers, labourers, members of the secret societies and the unemplayed – found shelter.

As a former Bukit Ho Swee fire victim who grew up with my family since I was born in 1948 , I could tell the stories in the first person on this personal blog to share.  I do not have stories and intimate memories to tell about other places in Singapore though.

What has transformed Singapore almost 5 decades since her independence on 9th August, 1965?

On a sunny morning on Sunday, 4 May, 2013 with nothing much to do, I took an unscheduled walk down memory to Jalan Bukit Ho Swee as I happened to be in the Tiong Bahru area.

The route from Blk 2, Taman Ho Swee (Point A) to Jalan Klinik (Point B) as marked blue on the above map.  The route on foot from Point A to Point B along Jalan Bukit Ho Swee was short; but the nostalgic childhood memories to travel the journey over 50 years is full of learning experiences to remember.

The stretch of Jalan Bukit Ho Swee shown on the left of the photos above are beyond recognition.  There was a lot of greenery, tall trees and and also a shady park and playground for recreation by the residents.  The neighbourhood was tranquil and peaceful.  Not this way in the 1960s when the 5 blocks of "emergency flats" was over-crowded with full of activities like an "urbanised kampong".

For these same spots about 50 years ago, I could not describe in words in any language for our young readers to imagine how the place was like.  Many of them wasn't born yet, they told me.

With the help of archived juxtaposed photos posted here on the blog from elsewhere on the Internet and especially the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) and contributors with thanks and acknowledgement.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Jalan Bukit Ho Swee HDB flats in 1965

I  vividly remember the staircase from Block 7 to climb up to Block 9 where I once lived in the 1-room "emergency flat" at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee.

These "emergency flats" were demolished in 1988 (thanks to Facebook friend Choon Lee for additional information) and replaced by the high-rise, upmarket HDB apartment renamed as "Boon Tiong Apartments" in the following photos.

Blk 8C Boon Tiong Apartment was formerly Blk 9, Jalan Bukit Ho Swee

Thanks to Larry Lee for the YouTube video on Bukit Ho Swee to share here.  The same stories about Bukit Ho Swee with different perspective and focus on different memories and different journeys for everyone.

Block 4, Taman Ho Swee - Then

On 23 September, 1961, guests and Bukit Ho Swee fire victims at the official opening of five blocks of 1-room "emergency flats" by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.  In the above archived photo (Photo credit: NAS) was Blk 4, Taman Ho Swee under construction.

Block 4, Taman Ho Swee - Now

Shops at Blk 4, Taman Ho Swee

I had coffee at Sin Lee Coffee Shop with the proprietor, Mr Thiang Boon Hin, 66 years-old with a chat.  He is the original tenant rented from HDB since the shop at Blk 4, Taman Ho Swee was completed over 50 years ago. He was formerly staying at Tiong Bahru and now stays with his family above the shop.

The elderly stall-holder, a veteran selling prawn mee and "lor mee" was also at the shop for as many years.

Many friends who grew up in Bukit Ho Swee shared fond nostalgic memories of the kind and friendly lady's stall at Taman Ho Swee since they were children.

The location of the former Bukit Ho Swee Community Centre in 1982 (below)
New apartment blocks opposite Equation are under construction.

The 3 blocks of HDB flats built at Jalan Klinik under Phase 3 of Bukit Ho Swee estate in 1960s.

I ended the route at Point B towards Bt Ho Swee Link which leads to Tiong Bahru Plaza, at the basement of the Tiong Bahru MRT Staion.

A walk down memory lane at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee which is unforgettable to share on this blog.

Reminisce the past is different from living the past.  To share fond nostalgic memories of our places, people and events which are stored in every individual's "memory bank" to inspire, to encourage and to motivate.

Personally speaking, the past is gone and is history.  I cannot repeat the Bukit Ho Swee fire over 5 decades ago.  A lesson to be learnt from past experiences which happened beyond the control of circumstances of natural calamities such as tsunami, earthquakes, typhoon, etc.

We can only live the present as Jalan Bukit Ho Swee which younger generations of residents to make it a better place for the future with hope and work together peacefully in Singapore.  A better vibrant community to live harmoniously.

"Keep all special thoughts and memories for lifetimes to come.  Share these keepsakes with others to inspire hope and build from the past which can bridge to the future" - Mattie Stepanek, BrainyQuote .

The old Bukit Ho Swee which people knew  is the close of a chapter of Singapore's unglamorous history of notorious places in the past such as Toa Payoh the "Chicago of Singapore", Lorong Tai Seng and some parts of Chinatown ganglands.   The heartlands in Singapore today for a better society of the future.



Blogger FL said...

Thanks for rekindling the happy memories of Bukit Ho Swee (BHS). For me, it was very nostalgic as a teenage boy then. I grew up in BHS from 1963 until 1975. My family stayed in one of those flats in a 6-storey block (Block 19). Mind you, there was no lifts at our block ! Blk 19 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee was located at the current Tiong Bahru Plaza. I am quite well-versed with the BHS estate as most of our kampong neighbours from Tg Pagar had also moved into this estate in 1963.

May 11, 2013 at 12:43 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for sharing happy nostalgic memories of Bukit Ho Swee with us, FL. Its nice to know our like-minded friends are on the blog here to remember the times of our lives.

May 11, 2013 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Tania said...

I live in a block at taman Ho swee, moved here 3+years ago....most of my neighbors have been here for the longest time. I love the quaintness of the place. If you walk along the common corridors of the old flats, you will still come across original cement floorings, old wall tiles, old doors, window grills....very interesting for the younger generations to see how flats looked like back in the late 60s/early 70s.

July 28, 2013 at 9:55 PM  

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