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Aug 31, 2015

Memories of Woodlands - Jessica Bong

At the launch of the Woodland SG50 Commemorative Book and Ebook "Heart Choices" at the Woodlands Community Centre on 30 August, 2015, I met Jessica Bong again after over a year.

I was assigned by the Singapore Memory Project as a Memory Corps volunteer to interview Jessica Bong and to share her memories of Woodlands, the place of heart choices.

Daughter of the vegetables farmer of Hock Choon Village

Ms Jessica Bong, 62-year-old, was born in 1952 at a vegetable farm in Lorong Chikar of the Hock Choon Village in Woodlands, Singapore.  She lived all her life in Woodlands and is residing in a 5-room HDB flat now.  Her 43-year-old daughter lives in Woodlands and another daughter and 2 grandchildren stay in another housing estate.

Jessica's father was a farmer from Kwangtung Province, China and migrated to Singapore in the 1940s.  Her mother was from Malacca and her parents were married in Singapore in 1945 during the Japanese Occupations.  Jessica is the fourth child and the parents have 12 children - 4 boys and 8 girls.  The eldest brother is now 68-years-old.

Jessica's mother is now 86 years old, still active and healthy.  Her father passed away a few years ago at the ripe old age of 100.

Jessica Bong's father at his vegetables' farm 

Photo (left to right):  Jessica's mother, her father and the two gentlemen are their visitors.

The house which Jessica's father built and owned at Hock Choon Village, was made of attap roof and the walls from wooden planks.  In front of the house, there was a small plot of land for vegetable farming.  The vegetables were then sold when harvested.  There were about 15 to 20 families at Hock Choon Village. They were all farming for a living.  There were poultry farmers who rear chicks, ducks, pigs and fresh-water fishes for food.  It was a tightly-knit community and the neighbours and their families live together in harmony.

The former Hock Choon Village Community Centre at the end of Lorong Chikar , now known as at Woodlands St. 13.   It was the first rural community centre opened by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 19 November, 1962.  Photo credit:  National Archives of Singapore. 

Jessica's father and their neighbours, 楊丕時 and 楊順  were community grassroots leaders at Hock Choon Village.

Jessica attended Primary 1 to Primary 6 at the Nan Chiau Public School (公立南僑学校) from 1959 to 1964.  (Please refer to her photo with the Primary School Leaving Examination certificate).

It was a school building with zinc roof and wooden plank walls.  She had to walk to and from the school daily and each trip took her 30 minutes.

Her favourite school subject was Mathematics and her favourite teacher is Mr. Lin.

For school extra-curricular activities, her favourite sports was basketball and she played in the school team.  When the school team had to compete with other schools, they travelled in lorries arranged by the school for the participants.

Jessica completed her school certificate examinations after attending Secondary 1 to Secondary 4 at Bukit Panjang Government School from 1965 to 1968.

She helped her father on the vegetable farm since her young days.  Farming as a livelihood was meaningful and had given her a sense of satisfaction to help the family.  It was hard work to toil on the land under the sun and rain.

Sometime in the 1950s, the vegetable farm as a cash crop of local vegetables of "chye sim", brinjal, "kangkong" and other varieties sold through wholesalers in the markets in Singapore and Johore.  In the mid-70s, many farmers started to farm tobacco leaves.  Her father then decided to switch to farming tobacco leaves as it was a lucrative business and earned more than the sales of vegetables.  The tobacco leaves had to be harvested, dried and processed to be sold to one of the tobacco companies in Singapore.

However, after a few years later, the Government banned the farming of tobacco leaves for manufacturing of cigarettes.  Hence, Jessica's father went back to farm vegetables.

Jessica remembers her young days when her father would tell her stories and legends from China while they worked together on the farm.  Those educational stories with moral inspired and influenced her.  Her favourite story was [西游记], the Chinese classic "Journey to the West".

For recreation in the evening, she went to Hock Choon Community Centre to learn dressmaking and sewing and became a qualified tailor.  She then later build a career in the garment industry.

In the early days, she watched Chinese movies at the open-air theatre in the village with her parents and siblings.  She fondly remembers the theatre called Mei Lu Cinema which was located near the current Woodlands checkpoint.

The nearest indoor theatre was at Sultan Theatre at the Chong Pang village in Sembawang.

Her favourite movies were [七仙女] and [甲午风云] in the 1970s.

They also do not have television sets at home.  The family watched TV at the community centre in the evening.

The family did not have Rediffusion at home.  The radio programmes broadcast on Radio Singapura on portable radios from which they regularly listen to dialect stories by Lee Tai Soh in Cantonese, Ong Toh in Hokkien and Ng Chia Keng in Teochew.  Her lessons from dialects were listened from the radio.

Jessica's favourite hobby is reading the Chinese newspapers [南洋商報] daily.  She was a frequent contributor to the newspapers and saved newspaper cutting collection over the decades.

The newspaper article published on 18 December, 1977 in the [我的得意] feature entitled [试种包菜成功]. [Translation: Experiment of cabbage planting with success].  It expressed how Jessica's father experimented the planting of cabbage with seedings from Malacca and grew on his vegetable farms i n 1977.

The 'king-sized cabbage' experiment attracted the attention of the Primary Production Department of Singapore and was reported in the local newspapers.

Resettlement of Hock Choon Village for public housing developments

 Hock Choon Village and the precincts of Woodlands was considered 'ulu' or rural but has undergone major changes since post-independence. The resettlement plan outlined new towns to house the rapid growing population that was expected to follow as a result of industrialization in the north.  Rural settlements or kampongs in the way of industrialization and new towns in Woodlands were cleared.;

In early March, 1994, about 23,000 HDB units were built in Woodlands.

Jessica and her family were offered resettlement compensation and allocation of flats by HDB. They prefer to stay in Woodlands where they had their roots for their three-generation family.  She would like to share her personal memories of two unforgettable memories in Woodlands.

1.  Rumours are dangerous.  Do not listen to rumours.

This happened on 21 July, 1964 during the race riot in Singapore.  Jessica's father heard rumours that Malays would attack the village and to kill the villagers.  The birth certificates of the family were stored and packed to bury in the nearby forest.  All female villagers would hid at the forest until further notice.  The male villagers would prepare sharpened wooden sticks as weapons.  They stayed awake to guard the village from dangers throughout the night.

As it turned out, there was no attacks.  The rumours were fake.  Peace and order was then restored.

2.  Water is Priceless.  Do not waste water.

In 1962, Singapore and southern Johore suffered a severe drought.  Rain did not fall for months.  The well in Jessica's family farm was running dry.  The natural elements would affect the vegetable farmers as they depend on water for their crops to grow.

To help save the water for the vegetables and plants.  Jessica and her brothers and sisters would not use the water from the well.  However, when they need to shower and wash their clothes, they would cycle to their friends' house which is about 30 minutes away.

This is the learning experiences on the importance of water in Singapore which Jessica would never forget.

Interview by James Seah, Memory Corps volunteer in collaboration with Woodlands Galaxy Community Centre.  Photos contributed by Jessica Bong and her family album to share on this blog.

Jessica Bong's Family Vegetable Farm

Jessica Bong's father, Mr Bong Fu attending to the Chinese cabbages planted at his vegetable farms. Photo Credit:  Singapore Press Holdings and courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

Mr Bong Fu and his son harvesting the "king-sized" Chinese cabbages.  Photo Credit:  Singapore Press Holdings and courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

Jessica's father carting his locally-grown Chinese cabbages.  Primary Production Department ( PPD) through research and experiments has enabled farmers to grow this temperate vegetable. Credit: Singapore Press Holdings and courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.


Blogger lim said...

Your blog brings back memories of my time spent training in the Woodlands area during my 2 and a half years spent in NS. I simply love the Woodland area of the 70s.

August 31, 2015 at 9:51 PM  

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