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Oct 6, 2013

Where was the "Red Lantern" in Singapore?

Who would ever believed that this same place in Singapore over 80 years ago was commonly known as "Red Lantern" (红灯)?  This blog is not about the recent "Lantern Walk" at the Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival 2013".

View along Collyer Quay, looking north towards Johnston's Pier, with the Exchange Building standing out at the far end. Named after George Chancellor Collyer, then chief engineer of the Straits Settlements, Collyer Quay was built by convict labour through land reclamation and completed in 1864. It served as an important landing point for the unloading and storage of goods transported along the Singapore River. The rickshaws seen here were hand-drawn taxi-cabs that served as a major form of public transport for early Singapore.

Built in 1933, Clifford Pier was a landing point for immigrants and other sea passengers. A red oil lamp used to hang from the pier as a guide to seafarers, earning the pier the name Red Lamp Pier (Chinese: 红灯码头).

The pier was later used as a terminal for travellers to Singapore by sea who boarded small boats and ferries heading for the Southern Islands. During the annual pilgrimage season to Kusu Island, regular ferries departed from Clifford Pier to the island. Clifford Pier ceased operations on 1 April 2006, and was replaced by the Marina South Pier.

Clifford Pier, an embarkation and disembarkation pier, on Collyer Quay.  It was named after Sir Hugh Charles Clifford, Governor of the Straits Settlements (1927 - 1929), and was officially opened by Governor Sir Cecil Clementi K.C.M.G. on 3 June 1933.

Measuring 240 ft long by 110 ft wide, it was built to replace Johnston's Pier (1854-1933) which was situated opposite Fullerton Square. Clifford Pier is sited opposite Change Alley, slightly further along Collyer Quay from where Johnston's Pier stood. A red lamp used to hang at the end of Johnston's Pier, warning ships as it entered the harbour. Thus Johnston's pier was popularly known as "lampu merah" (Malay) for red lamp.  Names die hard, so, "ang teng" (Hokkien) and "lampu merah" also became the name for Clifford Pier.
Come on down to Clifford Pier(left side of the Fullerton Bay Hotel entrance) and visit the exhibition “Clifford Pier – A Place in Our Hearts”. The exhibition chronicles the different roles the pier played in the socio-political landscape of Singapore from 1933-2006, as well as features the winning entries from the irememberCliffordPier contest.

Story of a Singaporean who first met his father off Clifford Pier by Ho Yew Cheong.

"I first saw my father in a bumboat against the backdrop of Clifford Pier.  It was over 50 years ago but I remembered the day as if it was yesterday.  I remembered my mother tellingme, "This is your father.  Come, call him Papa".  I called Papa and as I did my father hold my hand.  For six years old boy born in China this was a real exciting moment.  Until then I have not seen my father before except on photographs.

I remembered it took about half an hour or less for the boat to ferry us from the ship anchored off Singapore as a majestic building standing by the sea.

I saw the building from the sea, a distinctive white strong structure that seemed to be pulling our boat in as we approached.  As I stepped off the boat I remembered the black wet wooden planks that formed the steps to the building.  From the steps we reached the building; with the distinctly well polished granite floorings that reflected the daylight and illuminating the tall building in bright white.  A big clock was mounted centrally on the building.  I remembered the time was about one o' clock noon.

It took us about 5 minutes of walking with our heavy luggage to leave this majestic building that connected the land to the sea.

From that moment after landing in Singapore in early January 1957, I began my life as a Singaporean.  In 1960 I learned from my Primary Three English teacher Mr Tay at Park Road Primary School that the majestic building by the sea was called Clifford Pier.

Ho Yew Cheong
Date of memory:  28/01/1957


Was this like an experience of "Night at the Musuem" movie?

At the end of the short museum trip, a pleasant surprise -  "One on the Bund Restaurant".

The Fullerton Heritage is an exquisite masterly planned dining and hospitality complex consisting of The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Waterboat House, The Fullerton Pavilion, One Fullerton, Clifford Pier and Customs House.

Singapore waterfront in 1970

Singapore waterfront in 2013

Some "cynic" (not scenic) people said that the transformation of Singapore over the decades are artificial, cosmetic or merely "physically superficial" of the buildings and places.  What differences and changes had a small place with so many generations of Singaporeans in so little a time done?  We will know and learn from the "many stories ... one Singapore" of the human dramas of different races, different religions, different cultures to struggle together as one to be One People, One Singapore!



Blogger FL said...

Thanks for the interesting article and photos of Clifford Pier areas. Yes, the locals called the place "red lantern (or lamp)harbour". My most nostalgic moment I remember is one evening around 1966/1967, my classmates (about 5 or 6) and I went to there just "jalan jalan" and we had our beef noodle at one of the many food carts (hawkers) just outside the Clifford Pier carpark along Collyer Quay. In the day, it was a carpark and in the evenings it was a huge hawker centre then. You could see the numerous ships and boats at close range. What a sight then !

October 10, 2013 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thank you, FL for sharing the fond nostalgic memories of the Clifford Pier areas in the 1960s.

The nostalgia friends who have remembered and stored these happy childhood memories in their "memory bank" and will never forget in a lifetime. Its wonderful to use "memory-aids" of photos, videos and other documentary records to share memories which the young generations have not experienced in old Singapore.

October 11, 2013 at 11:47 AM  

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