Sunday, October 5, 2008

talking about the japanese occupation

i look forward to my morning walk at bukit batok nature park; that is where i usually meet a former physical education lecturer. he is already approaching 80 years old and yet he does more strenuous exercises than i do. for example, i would normally not climb the flight of 121 steps to where the japanese war memorial used to be but he does it unfailingly each time he is at bukit batok park, which is three times a week. on the other days when he is not walking, he swims. sunday is his rest day.

like most oldies, we like to reminisce about the past. the other day, he was relating stories about the japanese occupation period. when the japanese invaded singapore, his whole family chose to move out of their bungalow house at pasir panjang to seek safety and shelter at one of the 'sit' flats at moh guan terrace in tiong bahru.

he related to me experiences which i had read about in history books: how the feared japanese controlled eseential items like rice, sugar and salt; the issueing of ration cards to limit the amount of food for each person; the 'blackmarket', where if you were willing to pay more, you could get certain items which were 'out of stock'; and about how they had to grow their own food crops.

they would grow food crops like tapioca, sweet potato, spinach and other green vegetables. he was designated the 'bucket man'. he had to collect the 'night soil' and buried it in the ground. aside from 'night soil' he also had to collect urine, which was first diluted before being used for watering the crops.

once the crop was harvested, the path between the two adjacent plots would be laid with 'night soil' and covered up. then, they would create another path by clearing earth from half of the existing plots. this way, there was continuity and some form of rotation of the cultivated land.

he was about 16 years old then and managed to find employment as a laboratory assistant at the singapore general hospital. although he was paid a salary, what he and his fellow workers looked forward to at the end of the day was the small tin of rice that was handed to them as they were leaving the workplace after they had cleared the security check.

immediately after the japanese surrender, they went back to their bungalow house in pasir panjang to realise that it had been a mistake to have abandoned the house totally. they found their furniture and other items in the homes of the kampong people who had stayed on during the war and the japanese occupation. the kampong folks had helped themselves to the things in the abandoned house.

kampong houses built on stilts in pasir panjang in the 50s

(photo from national archives of singapore)

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