Blog To Express

A blogosphere learning experience to express with blog

My Photo
Location: Singapore, Singapore

A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Dec 18, 2019

Memories of schooldays past

In a land-scarce country where urban renewal takes place at a breathless pace and buildings are torn down relentlessly to make way for new developments, lone, unoccupied buildings and houses are as rare as they come.  Melissa Lin, Daryl Chin and Kon Xin Hua go in search of them.

[Source:  Straits Times, 4 September 2011]


Along Short Street, the brightly coloured building, shaded by trees, stands out among its modern neighbours.  It is almost half a century old.

The 10-storey Selegie Integrated Primary School was touted as one of the tallest school buildings in South-east Asia when it was first opened in 1963 by the then deputy prime minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye.  It held that accolade till Pearl's Hill Primary School, now Hotel Rel, took over with 12 floors.

Remembering his schooldays fondly at Selegie is Mr Victor Koo, 55.  The civil servant attended the primary school from 1963 till 1968.

He said it was a "mere 15-minute leisurely stroll" from his home in Cheng Yan Place, near Queen Street.

"The 10-storey building certainly looked huge and imposing.  I also had not seen such big lifts before," he added.

The school building had two lifts.  Each lift was big enough to accomodate a complete class of 40 lower primary, or 30 upper primary schoolchildren.

It also had two canteens - one on the ground floor, another on the sixth and a dental clinic on the seventh floor.

It was said to have an enrolment of up to 4,000 eager young minds in the morning and afternoon sessions.

Today, the school still stands tall, its orange exterior decorated with stripes of blue and red.  The premises are out of bounds to curious onlookers, although a peek from the outside shows that the classrooms were recently furbished.

Mr Koo's teacher, Mr Teo Keng Koon, 65, was one of the 100 pioneer teachers, when he was just a month shy of 17.

He said: "Each time I pass by the school, it gives me a deep sense of nostalgia.  The trees are still standing.  The pioneer teachers were the ones who planted the trees in the building."

A teacher all his life, he is currently teaching at a tutorial centre.

He cited a possible reason for the school's closure, saying that with its "dwindling population of students", of about 200 or 300 pupils, it was "not viable to keep the school going".  He added that the remaining pupils then went to Stamford Primary School.

Though it is unknown when the school closed, the premises were used as the holding campus for Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) for a few years until it moved into its new campus in Bencoolen Street in 2004.

Since then, the school building has been left on its own.  Mr Koo feels it "is a waste" to see his school being left abandoned.  "I would like to see the school converted to a hotel."

A Singapore Land Authority spokesman said the building has been scheduled for tender for arts, dance, and drama studio use.

Please check out a related blog about the Selegie Integrated Primary School   here .

Turning into a junkyard
2 Eng Hoon Street

Nestled between a budget hotel and a church on 2, Eng Hoon Street is a building that, at first glance, stands out for its incongruous appearance.

Its art deco-style exterior looks unkempt, a portion of its white pillars turning black.'

When The Sunday Times did a check, it found that the bottom half of the two-storey house was largely covered with white tarpaulin.  The narrow pathway leading to its front door was filled with trash, metal trays and rusty cylinders.

Its main door was locked and it did not look like it was occupied.

While a background check turned up the name of the owner, a Mr Tay Seng Leong, the address which he is registered under was an empty plot of state land.  Neighbours in the area told The Sunday Times that they do not know of such a person.

Meanwhile, surrounding tenants at Eng Hoon Street said that they sometimes see people depositing items at the seemingly abandoned building.

Without any clues on where its owner is, what lies behind its dusty, tinted windows is anybody's guesss.

A little touch of mystery
Chee Guan Chiang House, Grange Road

Dwarfed by trees and condominiums that have sprung up over the years, the house at 25, Grange Road is barely noticeable from the main road.

For years, photography enthusiasts have been attracted to the Chee Guan Chiang House, so called because it was built by Mr Chee Guan Chiang, the eldest son of the first chairman of OCBC group.

It is now owned by investment firm Lee Tat Development.

Designed in the 1930s by well-known Singapore architect Ho Kwong Yew, it comprises a main house and a smaller house within the compound.  It is not known how long they had not been occupied for.  However, poor maintenance, vandalism and the passage of time have reportedly left the houses in a desolate state.  An "investigation" by the Singapore Paranormal Investigators further contributed to its mysterious aura.  The main house was given conservation status by the Urban Redvelopment Authority in 2008.

When The Sunday Times did a check, consstruction work for a condominium was ongoing beside the houses, which could not be seen from the property's gated entrance.  A red mailbox hung from the gate, alongside two signs warning against trespassers and illegal parking on the private property.

The Sunday Times reported in 2007 that the property could be seen only by residents from neighbouring condominiums who used it as a short cut to Orchard Road.

In 2008, Lee Tat won a legal battle to close off the access road that passes through their Grange Road property.

Lee Tat declined to commend on its future plans for the place.

Old movie studio used to make P. Ramlee film
8 Jalan Ampas

The faded yellow aluminium hoarding fence with a sign that reads "8 Jalan Ampas" attracts nary a glance from passers-by.

Tucked between a temple and a condominium just off Balestier Road, the cluster of buildings beyond the fence is hidden from view.

Other than a plaque that gives a brief history of Jalan Ampas Shaw movie studio, there are barely any clue that this place played a central role during what was dubbed the golden age of Malay films in the 1950s and 1960s.

Over a span of 20 years, more than 160 films were produced here.  This was where the legendary actor-director-producer-singer P. Ramlee made his first film.

When The Sunday Times visited the former studio, a few chickens roamed the courtyard next to what looked like a makeshift junkyard.

A faded neon "Silence" sign and a Shaw Brothers crest at the top of a building provide the first indication of its illustrious past.

A mini shrine of P. Ramlee memorabilia stands next to the room where its caretaker for the past decade, Madam Miz Naya, lives.

The 64-year-old P. Ramlee fan said her first husband had worked as an extra in the late actor's films.  She had first taken up the job to stop people from stealing items, like posters, from the buildings.  But these days, she added, it was more for nostalgia's sake.

While there were no visitors when The Sunday Times checked on two occasions, a hastily sprayed "No Paking: (sic) sign at the entrance hinted that this may not always be the case.

Speaking in Malay with a smattering of English, Madam Naya, a widow - her second husband had died - told of how a bus filled with Malaysians would come by thrice a year to visit the place.  Photography enthusiasts would drop by occasionally too.

While visitors used to be able to come in freely, they now have to first seek permission from Shaw Organisation.

Established in 1937, the studio was used by the Japansese to make propaganda films during World War II.

Post-war, it was reopened by Shaw as Malay Film Production in 1947.  The decline in demand for Malay films brought about the studio's demise in 1967.

Shaw Organisation declined to comment when The Sunday Times asked about its plan for the place.


Dec 14, 2019

Christmas spells merry-making

Christmas spells merry-making ... and jangle of cash registers

By Betty Khoo

[Source:  New Nation, 26 November 1971]

Every year the Christmas cheer and celebration seems to get bigger and brighter.  But the true spirit of Christmas has perceptibly grown dimmer.

In Singapore where out of a population of 2.1 million, only 170,000 (8½ per cent) are Christians, Christmas is celebrated on a scale out of all proportion to the adherents of the faith.

Christmas here has come to mean a season of merry-making, feasting and shopping sprees.

It is perhaps difficult to say whether shops, restaurants and nightclubs are cashing in on the "spontaneous" observances of Christmas or, they have by their tinsel allure, directly encouraged the celebration of Christmas by many non-Christians.

One cynic observed dryly:  "Santa Claus and Jingle Bells has come to mean the jangle of the cash register."

The shops are making sure that Christmas will be ushered in with a big, profitable bang.  Some as early as October, put up their Christmas buntings.  They are also vying with one another to put up the biggest Santa Clause and most spectacular Christmas tree.

A leading department store disclosed that "it had increased its stocks in all sections this year.  But with so many new shopping complexes, competition for the shoppers' dollars will be stiff.

It appears that not only are the young, affluent and swinging non-Christians celebrating Christmas but even the Chinese businessmen - the merchants, building contractors - have launched into a whole-hearted, costly celebration of the Yuletide season.

The superintendent of a supermarket said:  "These Chinese business firms spend far more on our gift hampers and spirits during Christmas than anyone else.  They purchase these as X'mas giveaways for delighted clients.

The spirit of giving is there but the motive is profit.

Chinese businessmen are also making Christmas a time for lavish entertaining.  At the prices top spots expect to charge for their Christmas bill-of-fare, it is not surprising that Christmas is increasingly being celebrated on expense accounts.
Christmas cheer is a little less expensive in discotheques and the second-rate nightclubs.  But those who really observe the true spirit of Christmas prefer home gatherings where rousing carols create the atmosphere.

but in spite of the enticing bright lights of nightspots, church attendance has not fallen.  Churches are still packed to capacity for Midnight Mass and the morning after Christmas Day service.  Still, for many church-goes, the service is just a temporary sobering up after which they plunge into another round of party-going.

For many men, Christmas is just one long drinking binge after which some make a thorough nuisance of themselves on the road.

In England, it is reported, the traditional Christmas office party has often beconme an excuse for a wild drinking bout and uninhibited licentious behaviour.  It is significant that office tradition there strictly precludes wives.

The commercialisation of Christmas has also made its observance a costly affair.

A Christmas Eve dinner and dance at the best nightclub used to cost $20-$25 a person in the mid-sixties.  Now it will cost you between $35-$45 a person.

One hotelier said:  "Certainly prices have to go up.  Now you get American-cut beef on the wagon and vintage wines - previously these were not available."

A few years ago $2 could get you a decent present.  Now its upwards of $5 and, the more attractive Christmas gift-wrap the more expensive the gift.

Many Christians and even a number of non-Christians have deplored the crass commercialism of Christmas.  However, one staunch Catholic said: "One is tempted to dismiss the commercialism of Christmas as disgusting.  But if one thinks of it as a season of good cheer when everybody has a holiday, then one can overlook all but the grosser aspects of this commercialism.

Christmas is regarded by everyone as a time of good-fellowship and goodwill.  It is that time of year then people  - non-Christians included, remember friends and relatives and exchange Christmas cards.

It is a pity however, that many Christmas cards, particularly those locally produced do not have any Christmas motif or sentiment.  Some merely depict a Singapore scene with Greeting in four languages.

Nevertheless, despite the commercial overtones, warmth is generated by the sending and receiving of Christmas cards.

And, although Christmas has defintely become very commercialised, those who want to observe its true meaning and significance can still do so - in the privacy of their homes and churches.

It does however, require a strong willpower to resist the manifold temptations.

Please check out this related blog here .

Archived photos of Christmas celebrations in Singapore, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

Evelyn Tan (left) with her sister Rosalind and brother David putting the finishing touches tot he Christmas tree in their home in Tiong Bahru.  Photo date:  24/12/1951.

Elizabeth Taylor buys a stuffed tiger.  She later asked Mrs Run Run Shaw (right) to give it to the underpriviled children for the Shaws' Christmas Tree fund.

Six happy girls "sailing" in their motor boats with a large crowd including the Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye and the Major-General I C Harris, GCO, Singapore Base District looking on at the Christmas party for underprivileged children given by the British army in Great World Park.'
Date:  17/12/1960

Puan Noor Aishah, wife of Yang Di-Petuan Negara of Singapore, Inche Yusof Bin Ishak, bringing Christmas cheers to 72 old people living in Red Cross House at Penang Lane.
Date: 21/12/1961

Puan Noor Aishah distributes gifts to handicapped children during Christmas party at Singapore Red Cross in Penang Road.  Date:  04/12/1965

Christmas Party in aid of St Andrew's Mission Hospital in Jalan Besar Stadium on 20/12/1958

What it means to the non-Christians

[Source:  Singapore Monitor, 12 December 1982]

What does Christmas means to non-Christians?  Is it just another public holiday, or does the spirit of Christmas touch them, too?  Raadhika Mahadevan puts the question to some non-Christian Singaporeans.

Mrs Jenny Ong, (Buddhist), a travel agent in her early 30s who is married with two children:

"We don't celebrate Christmas at home and tend to regard it as just another holiday.

"But I do send Christmas cards to our Christian friends and to clients.  And usually we attend Christmas parties at the homes of friends.

"This Christmas we are planning a two-week holiday abroad."

Mr R Velayudhan, (Hindhu), a 25-year-old airlines steward:

"Christmas has no special meaning for my family.  We send cards to friends but that's all.  We don't attend Christmas parites or go on special Christmas visits to friends.  And this year, on Christmas Day, I'll be busy at work."

Mrs Suseela Karunasena, (Buddhist), a 51-year-old widowed housewife and mother:

"As every Christmas approaches, I get that Christmasy feeling.  It's in the air.  Even though I'm not a Christian I go out Christmas shopping to buy gifts for my Christian friends, and I even put up a Christmas tree because it's so beautiful.  I also send out piles of cards to friends both local and overseas.

"Christmas Day is always special.  I spend it with Christian friends, sharing their turkey lunch and all the other special trimmuings that come with the day.  And even before Christmas I usually help one or two close friends decorate their Christmas tree.

"I see Christmas as a national celebration with the spirit of the seasson cuting across all cultures."

Miss Sandra Sin, (Buddhist), a 22-year-old social worker:

"Christmas for me usually passes like any other public holiday or off-day.

"I get myself involved in my usual activities such as meeings and functions of the Singapore Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Association.

"I don't send Christmas cards, go on special visits or exchange gifts with friends."

Mr Ahmad Suhaimi, (Muslim), a 28-year-old husband and father who works as an embassy official:

"Chrisstmas Day to me is like any other public holiday - a time to play with my little son, a day for the family to be together at home.  We enjoy the special programme on radio and TV and usually visit close Christian friends.  We send these friends Christmas cards but we don't exchange gifts.

"This year we might be organising a holiday trip to Malaysia, but we haven't finalised things yet."

Mr K Sekvam (Hindu), a 31-year-old husband and father who works as a technician:

"Although we are Hindus, we also do believe in Jesus Christ.  Son on Christmas Eve we offer special prayers to him.'

"Christmas Day itself, however, is like any other public holiday to us.  We don't have a Christmas tree or anything like that.  This day on which we hold a special celebration is Deepavali Day."

Last-minute shoppers pack stores

[Source:  The Straits Times, 24 December 1989]

Traffic jams, long queues and rain no deterrent

Last-minute shoppers yesterday went all out to get their Christmas purchases done, come rain or shine.

An evening downpour failed to stop them from packing the stores in the Orchard Road area and elsewhere for their 11th-hour buys.

Traffic james were not only on the roads; the throngs queued up patiently in front of payment counters and changing rooms and milled almost cheek-by-jowl in the more popular department stores.

The most harassed were obviously the cashiers and counter-girls who never stopped wrapping and packing throughout the day.  They kept their cool  and plodded on.

Shops along the Orchard Road stretch reported brisk business with some expecting a 30 to 40 per cent rise over the weekend.  Extra sales staff were on hand on each shift to cope with crowds.

At Robinson's in Centrepoint, store manager Philip Wee said that the crowds had been getting larger over the past week with the biggest rush this weekend.

The special draw at Metro in Paragon was the 30-minute sale specials during which certain items were offered on reduced prices for half-hourly periods.  These times were announced at intervals during the day over the store's public address system.

But queves at the store's sales counters moved at a fairly steady pace, thanks to the new bar-coded price tages that are instantly read by a scanning device.

This saves the cashiers from having to manually type in each product's code and price.

The store manager said that they expected a 30 to 40 per cent rise in business today.

For shoppers like Miss Geralyn Ong, 24, a sales co-ordinator, Christmas shopping would not be the same with the crowds and queues, especially when she was out hunting for gifts just a day or two before Christmas.

"It is all part of the atmosphere of a Singapore Christmas," she said, adding that by getting one friend to queue at the sales counter and another at the gift wrapping counter, she still managed to get everything done on time.

Other last-minute shoopers likes Mrs S.C. Chua, 38, a secretary, were picking up gifts for others rather than for themselves.

"I did all my shopping earlier, but the children wanted to get some presents so we came here," said Mrs Chua, who was at Metro Paragon with her two children.

The extended shopping hours at all the major department stores, with Tang's Studio being the latest to close at midnight yesterday was another draw for late shoppers.

But Tangs and Tang's Studio will be closed today.

Most stores siad they expected their tills to ring a lot luder today.  Experience from previous years tells them that when ther is still a little time left, Singaporeans will be out in force to buy, buy and buy.

Happy shopping!  Merry Christmas!