Blog To Express

A blogosphere learning experience to express with blog

My Photo
Location: Singapore, Singapore

A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Aug 1, 2019

A Village Remembered - Radin Mas 1800s - 1973

On 1 September 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched the book "A Village Remembered: Kampong Radin Mas 1800s - 1973" which specially for former residents of Kampong Radin Mas.

The birthplace of many Malay-Muslim institutions, Mr Lee said Radin Mas also produced leaders who made important contributions in politics, as well as in arts and culture.

"How did Radin Mas produce so many talented people?  Some people said it's because of the 'air pancur', the spring water, which flowed from Mount Faber to the kampung.  Others said maybe it was the ice ball kaching or the kuti kuti and the kana," he said.

"But everybody agrees that the 'gotong royong' spirit had a lot to do with it, where people help one another, where everybody knew everyone be else and each spurred the others to go on and do their best.

Former Minister Haji Othman Wok was born in Radin Mas and he helped at the 'gotong royong' projects (photo above).

With his wife Lin in 2012 (photo below).

He added: "Even today, when we are in Housing and Development Board flats - much bigger towns, not a few hundred thousand people, but hundred thousand people perhaps - it's still necessary for us to maintain that strong community spirit for us to do well."

Kampong Radin Mas is believed to be among the oldest villages in Singapore. 

The book documents life in the Radin Mas village before it was demolished in 1973 to make way for a satellite town.

The Lim Brothers

Lim Soon Heng (above) and his brother Soon Leng grew up in their grandfather's house in Kampong Radin Mas from the time they were little.  Their grandfather Lim Keng Cheow had come to Singapore from Amoy, China in the early 20th century looking for work and found his niche supplying coolies for the Singapore Harbour Board (now Port of Singapore Authority or PSA).  The elder Lim's house was one of the few Chinese homes in the kampong, where he lived with his wife Tan Swee Lian.  The couple adopted six children, including the mother and the father of the two Lim brothers.  Soon Heng, the older of the two brothers by six years, was born in 1944.  There are five other siblings:  Ah Swee, Kim Swee, Gek, Soon Hock and Soon Huat.

Soon Heng's earliest and most enduring memory of life is the kampong is that of his father Lim Seng Chiang working very hard.  A serang (junior supervisor) at the Singapore Harbour Board, he worked three shifts a day on most days including Sundays.  Said Soon Heng, "At daybreak my father would already be riding on his trusty bicycle to Gate 5 for the first shift at 6.30am.  At 11.30am he would head home with a food container of food rice provided free by his employer, this helped to supplement the family's meals.  After his meal and a short break, he would be off again to work at 1pm for the second shift.  His day did not end with the setting sun, as he often worked the third shift loading and unloading cargo."

The many trips out of the kampong and back could not have been easy.  Their house was farther up the hill slope of Mount Faber, deep within the kampong.  Said Soon Leng:  "There were only about six Chinese house making up a sort of mini Chinese kampong within Kampong Radin Mas.  We were about one kilometre from the main road where the school was, and the walk out took twenty minutes.  For a young boy like me, the journey seemed to last forever.  What made the walk even more difficult was that towards our side of the kampong, the mud road was very uneven and surrounded by tall lallang and bamboo; snakes were quite common."

The upside of these natural surroundings was that their part of the kampong was filled with fruit trees, more noticeably durian, papaya, pomelo, jackfruit, rambutan and cempedak as well as the pink variety of guava and mata kucing, which is now a rarity.   "In our younger days, we did not have much food to eat but we were never short of fruits.  We had about ten durian trees in our compound, all yielding some of the best variety of the fruit I have tasted," added Soon Leng.

Another brother Lim Soon Hock (left) with his cousin William Lim in front of 77-T Kampong Radin Mas, a sub-division of their grandfather's house at 97-3.

Soon Heng at his favourite spot in the kampong

Lim Soon Heng in front of the black-and-white house at the foot of Mount Faber, a short distance from where Kampong Radin Mas used to be.  By a strange twist of fate, his house became his living quarters when he was a management trainee at Keppel Shipyard in 1969.  He said:  "For a kampong boy, this was dizzying luxury."  Above, Soon Heng at his favourite spot in the kampong.

Being towards the tail end of the kampong also meant that the standpipe was a good 200 metres from their house.  They would connect a rubber hose to the pipe to collect enough water for a day's supply in their cement tank.  From this large cement tank, they used a hose to drain the water into a smaller tank in their bathrooms for washing clothes and for bathing.  They lived without the convenience of piped water for years until the kindly teacher stepped in to help.

"Mr Khoo Boo Eng taught me English and Music at Radin Mas School," said Soon Heng.  "Whe he hard how the family went to such great pains to collect water, he wrote a letter to the Public Works Department (now Public Utilities Board or PUB) and requested for a standpipe to be erected nearer our home.  I will always be grateful for Mr Khoo's concern."

The brothers' fond memories of kampong life are marred by two incidents.  While the family was living in the kampong during World War II, the Japanese rounded up Chinese men, including their grandfather and uncle.  Their grandfather was shot dead but the uncle was released.  More than twenty years later, their father was accosted by Malay youths in teh kampong during the 1964 race riots.  He was pushed from his bicycle and took a bad tumbler, breaking his jaw and losing all his teeth in the process.  He was hospitalised for a few days.

The Lim family.  Front row from left:  Soon Heng, matriarch Ng Guek Eng, patriarch Lim Seng Chiang and Soon Leng.  Back row from left:  Soon Huat, Kim Swee, Ah Swee, Gek and Soon Hock.

Soon Heng with his mother Madam Ng at his graduation in 1968.

"The whole family was traumatised," said Soon Leng.  "Fearing for our safety, we moved to a relative's house in Silat Road.  Looking back, we are sure that those Malay youths who pushed our father were not from our kampong but some troublemakers who had been seen loitering there, I am confident our kampong friends would never do such a thing.  They were all very nice and helpful, almost like family." Soon Heng and Soon Leng moved out of the kampong when they were in secondary school and today lead different lives.

Soon Heng lives in Singapore but travels around the region as a shipyard consultant.  He is married to Gaye and has two children, Joyce and Max.  Soon Heng has retired to New Zealand, after having worked in cities like New Delhi, San Francisco and Sydney.  He is married to Siew Hoon and has three children, Herman, Heidi and Simon.

Having found success in their careers, the brothers are grateful for the sacrifices their parents made, including putting them through university.  Said Soon Heng:  "Those were simple days and parents had just one simple, unyielding ambition - to see to it that their progeny had better days ahead of them than they did.  In that our parents did admirably well, despite having so many mouths to feed.

"Before my brothers and sisters came along and on the rare days when my father was not working, I would be given the occasional treat of a film show and makan.  As the number of my siblings grew - at the average rate of one every two years - the little 'luxuries' became a strain on my father's pocket.  The growth of his family simply outpaced his wages.  Inspite of the hardship, my parents raised seven children who have turned out well.  It is quite sad that a few years before my mother's dealth at ninety-five years of age, dementia had gradually robbed the memories of her achivements."

Visit of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to Radin Mas in 1964

Archived related photos of Radin Mas with courtesy of the book publisher,  National Archives of Singapore and generous contributers of other sources:

Mr Ong Kim Seng, hailed as Singapore's foremost watercolourist, attended Radin Mas School from 1954 to 1958.  The school, which was a stickler for rules and believed in corporal punishment, was a big influence on him, he said, and he credited it for nurturing his talent for painting.  He remembered in particular a Eurasian man he knew only as Mr Edmund, his class teacher in Primary One and Primary Two.  He said:  "Mr Edmund was a very nice, encouraging teacher.  He was one of those teachers who did not need a cane to instil discipline in us.  We loved and respected him.  He was the first one who recognised my talent for painting.  I won a picture colouring book as school prize for having the best piece for Art & Handwork in Primary One.  Now and then he would give me special art papers to draw on; they were hard to come by in those days.  This was a big encouragement for me.

Besides attending Radin Mas School, Kim Seng has ties with Kampong Radin Mas through his maternal grandparents, Mdm Bay Eng and Mr Goh Siang, who were among the few Chinese residents living in this predominantly Malay enclave.  The kampong had been their home since the early 1910s until they were resettled to Silat Road in 1973.  All their children, including Kim Seng's mother, Mdm Goh Choon Hoon, were born in Kampong Radin Mas.  Later, she and her husband Ong Teng Kee moved to Silat Road and this is where the young Kim Seng grew up.  He continued:  "My grandparents were simple kampong folk.  My grandfather was a sailor and would be away from home for long stretches at a time.  Yet I'd never known them to lock their doors.  Everyone knew everyone, and everyone helped everyone.  My grandparents spoke Malay and got along very well with their Malay neighbours.  At Hari Raya, their Muslim friends would invite them over for lunch and give them all sorts of kuih to take home and at Chinese New Year, my grandparents would offer them oranges and soft drinks.  I remember a favourite with the young kids was F&N Sarsaparilla, which we called Sarsi.

"I would say kampong life was full of activity, and there was never a dull moment.  Kampong residents were always ready to help one another.  For instance, whenever the kampong got flooded and left a hugh mess, we would all clean it up.  If we didn't. who would?  We never thought about gain or loss, as we were all equally poor!  We looked out for each otheer, we knew who was sick and needed help.  This system of sharing drew us together and made ours a cohesive community.

"But change has to come.  Kampong people may have fond memories of what life was like back then, but they would not want to go back to those days.  Now we live in nice, comfortable homes; there's modern sanitation, piped water and reliable power supply.  Everything works.  We like to observe the kampong but we would not want to live in one anymore.  That's probably why so many of us like to visit kampongs in other regions.  But to live under those conditions again ... that's something most of us would find hard to accept."

Memories of Bukit Purmei before the kampong was resettled by HDB

In the 1970s, I was working as a part-time enumerator for the Census of Population in the evening after work at the Outpatient Services at Maxwell Road.   

It was the household survey undertaken in Singapore, collecting information on key characteristics of the population and households.  I was assigned to conduct the census once at Bukit Purmei where I have never been there before.  Other areas I had assigned to Bedok, Lucky Height, Tampines, Katong and a few places I have forgotten.  As the records were confidential to submit to the Census of Population, I did not keep any private records and information.

I found that the Bukit Purmei kampong was similar to where I grew up in Bukit Ho Swee kampong.  The conditions and environment of the kampongs where the residents were mostly poor.

The road was pitted with pools of muddy water.  There was no signboard or house numbers and both sides were attap houses, some of which had lavatories near the road.  Residents said mosquitoes were disturbing their sleep.  Bukit Purmei was originally a track for bullock carts which used to bring goods.  It was interesting to note that the church and a temple were located side by side.

With courtesy of NewspaperSG excerpted article of Berita Harian, 4 December 1980 to learn about the resettlement of Bukit Purmei to be developed and built as a new HDB estate in Malay.

Bukit Purmei jadi estet perumahan baru, 2,300 unit flat siap dlm 1981/82

Pemohon-pemohon flat Lembaga Perumahan dan Pembangunan (HDB) di estet perumahan Telok Blangah akan berpeluang mendapatikan flat di kawasan yang berhampiran.

Sebuah estet baru di Bukit Purmei (gambar atas), sedang dalam pembinaan.  Terletak di pinggir bandar, estet baru ini dibina di sebelah Bandar Baru Telok Blangah dan hanya lima hingga tujuh kilometer dari pusat bandar. Ia akan mempunyai 2,300 unit flat bila siap seluruh pembinaannya.  Buat masa ini, 878 flat tiga bilik, 1,284 flat empat bilik dan 135 flat lima bilik sedang dalam pembinaan.  Flat-flat ini dijangka siap pada akhir 1981 atau awal 1982.

Estet seluas 20 hektar ini akan mempunyai kawasan seluas 14 hektar untuk bangunan dan 6 hektar untuk kemudahan-kemudahan yang biasa terdapat di estet-estet perumahan HDB.

Estet ini termasuk dalam Zon Jurong yang mempunyai empat bandar baru dan empet estet perumahan iaitu Bandar Baru Telok Blangah Clementi, Jurong Timur, dan Jurong Barat.

Purpose to share old books on the blog

The book, "A Village Remembered, Kampong Radin Mas 1800s - 1973", was published in 2013 and the readers may buy it at the bookshop if still available. However, if the book is already sold out or out of stock and not reprinted, please loan it from the National Library [Call No: 959.57 VIL].

This is not a book review and not the whole book is reproduced on the blog. 

The purpose is to share related topics which nostalgic memories which are note-worthy and meaningful to the readers.  The photo entitled 'Where the kampong people gathered' with courtesy of the the book supported by the National Heritage Board as gifts to the National Library for the readers' knowledge and to learn more about Singapore.

Present-day Bt Purmei Rd

Where the Radin Mas community gathered and still active


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home