Saturday, October 31, 2009

do they reduce their number?

i have sometimes wondered how they keep the number of wandering monitor lizards at the sungei buloh wetland reserve under control. in one of many walks at the reserve, i thought i stumbled upon the answer. i had accidentally wandered off the beaten track when i came across many metal cages set up to catch these enormous lizards.

the diet of monitor lizards includes carrion - dead and rotting meat. to trap these monster lizards, they leave parts of a dead chicken hanging from a hook in these huge rectangular cages. one trap was so huge, it could be used to trap adult crocodiles. the trap works like a rat trap. when the monitor lizard gets into the cage and tugs at the piece of chicken, it will dislodge a rod, which in turn will cause the mouth of the trap to snap shut.

i had wandered off the designated track when i came upon more than 10 of these cages or traps, of varying sizes, laid out over a one kilometre stretch. some still had the bait hanging in the cages but some did not have any thing inside - no bait and no captured animal. in fact, i did not come across any trapped animal.

from what i have gathered, this is part of a research programme held in collaboration with the national institute of education (nie). when the reptile was captured, they would first syringe some blood from it. the lizard would be put to sleep with a lethal injection. in the laboratory, they would dissect the big lizard to study the content in its gut.

on the topic of catching monitor lizards, my friend nah once told me that the foreign workers, especially the thais, used a simple loop to trap the monitor lizards that lived on the banks of the kallang river. they would set up the trap overnight and collect their booty the next morning. the thai workers did not catch the monitor lizards to keep as pets. i have been told that the meat of the lizard tastes better than chicken's meat.

another friend of mine, who served as a camp instructor on pulau tekong some 30 years ago, claimed that the taste was akin to that of chicken meat. one of the islanders would trap the lizard and cook it himself. he added some herbs were used to get rid of the fishy taste.

a former student of mine told me that commandos in the army were trained to capture and have the meat of the monitor lizard as part of their jungle survival diet.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

michael jackson medley - sam tsui

a cappella style

what was the cinema that was here?

the cinema that used to be here was known by two different names at different period of time. the cinema was still around until the mid 90s. i cannot disclose the location otherwise it will be too easy to find the answer (by googling).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

answers to
where are these one-storey terrace houses?

the answers can be found here and here.

i had thought that most people would have missed this place because it is off the main road. if you drive, you will just whizz past it with no chance of a second look.

however, all four - victor, peter, chun see and nah - knew exactly where they are and why they were built that way. i am surprised though that peter does not know about the many massage joints at roxy square.

Monday, October 26, 2009

yeung ching chinese school @ club street

b & w photos from national archives

my regular walking kaki told me that there was a school located at the end of club street in the 50s. he attended gan eng seng school nearby and that area was his playground. today, we wandered along club street and ang siang hill but found no evidence of the school. looking up the 1969 street directory, i found out that the school was called yeung ching chinese school.

yeung ching chinese school was set up by 8 cantonese businessmen in 1905. its first classes were held at park road. it was also around this time that the different dialect groups in s'pore set up their own schools. the hakkas set up yingxin and khee fatt; the hokkien, toh lam (tao nan); the teochew, tuan mong; and the hainanese, yoke eng.

because of the increasing enrolment, yeung ching went through a few extension and expansion programme until eventually it occupied a 5-storey bulding. in 1985, yeung ching merged with telok ayer and peck seah primary schools. it retained its name. the school celebrated its 60th anniversary in the 5-storey building with 48 classrooms.

it surprised me to learn that the school is still around today, in a different location and under a different name. in 1988, it moved to serangoon avenue 3 and became a government school. yangzheng primary school celebrated its 100 years of existence in 2005.

alumnis of this former cantonese school included the late story teller lee dai soh. victor koo blogged about it here. tang liang hong, who stood as a workers' party candidate in the 1997 general election and who now resides in australia, was also a pupil of this school.

although we could not be sure if any of the existing buildings was the former yeung ching chinese school, we came across a number of other interesting buildings and interesting people at club street. we found two barbers plying their trade in the backlane of club street.

club street got its name from the various chinese clubs sited on this street. some say the street got its name after the chinese weekly entertainment kee lam club, which was sited on this street at the end of ann siang road. the club was formed in 1891 and was the leading straits chinese club for several decades. others believe the street name was derived from the chui lan teng club which existed there for more than 90 years.

club street was predominantly a hokkien area. hokkiens living here came from three villages in the tong ann county in fujian province of china. club street was known for its sandalwood idols.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

where are these one-storey houses?

these single-storey terrace houses should really be classified as one-and-a-half storey houses because the rooms are raised above ground level. i was attracted to these houses by the decorative motifs and the out-of-the-ordinary structure of the building, including the edge of the roof.

i believe this row of houses, together with some other houses, was featured in two years ago.

quiz questions:

1 what is the address of this row of houses?

2 why was it built this way - with the living area raised above the ground?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

the chinese wayang

wayang stage in 1988 (picture from national archives of singapore)

wayang stage in 2009 ( picture taken at bendemeer road area)

if you compare the wayang stage in the 80s - or for that matter, in the 60s, with the wayang stage of today, you will realise that things have remained more or less the same. they still use bakau wood for the frame and tarpaulin for the roofing and the sides. in the very early years, they could have used attap sheets for the roofing.

the horn loud-speaker - seen on the left of the stage - used about 40 years ago is still in use today. i am sure the props have also survived all those years of use. the floor of the stage is constructed using planks, just like in the good, old days. the musicians would be seated on the two sides, at the front of the stage.

if you look at the dimensions, they have neither grown nor shrunk over the years; they are still the same in size. the raised stage is still six feet or, in today's unit of measurement, about 1.80m above the ground.

however, if you look close enough, you will notice a bit of changes. in the past, they used strips of rattan to fasten and hold the poles together. today, they use some material made from plastic. in the place of a wooden ladder, they now have one with a metal frame. i do not know about the microphone but in the past it was a rectangular piece that was suspended.

when i was young, i enjoyed going to places which staged wayangs although, most of the time, i could not follow what was going on. i was there for the fringe attractions - the bright lights, the gaming stalls, the food and the excitement.

i know of three dialect groups which staged wayangs - the teochew, the hokkien and the hainanese. there was only one place where hainanese wayang was staged and that was at lincoln road. i used to go with my hainanese neighbour to the wayang site but i cannot recall what i did there. i understand there is also the cantonese opera but i never had the experience to watch one.

in the old days, permanent stages were quite common in the bigger kampongs. the permanent wayang stage would usually go hand in hand with a temple. today, there are not many of these permanent wayang stages - the one directly below is at balestier road and the bottom one is at pulau ubin - which prompted chun see to ask here (where have all the wayang stages gone to?). i am sure philip chew knows of some defunct wayang stages; i read about one in his blog, the joo chiat story.

although i had never sat through an entire performance, i have picked up certain points from watching snatches here and there. there were two performances each day, one in the afternoon and the other, at night. the day performance was usually played to a sparse audience. it was at night, with the glaring lights, that everything seemed to come alive.

i know that the 'good' soldiers wore red while the 'bad' ones wore green. from the facial expression, the tone of the voice and the make-up, you could tell the good characters from the bad. but, not all those who painted their face black were necessarily bad characters.

to show that the person was travelling on a horse, the actor would carry and wave a stick in his hand. to indicate that a character was entering a place, the actor would lift his leading leg just a little bit higher as he appeared to cross a threshold.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

are there still alley markets in s'pore?

i remember my visit to guangzhou two years ago. i got up at dawn and wandered away from the 5-star hotel to a residential area nearby where the local people live. at 6.00 a.m., one of the narrow alleys was alive with activities. it was reminiscent of our some of our roadside markets in the 50s and 60s, the alley vendors had their ware laid out on trays and containers on the ground. they catered mainly to housewives doing their morning marketing, and sold produce like meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.

if you have been to hong kong, you may have visited the market alley at sheung wan in the evening. i like exploring these places to see how the ordinary people go about their lives. in vietnam, you will also be able to visit one of these make-shift markets if you are an early riser. in some countries, like taiwan, the alley markets come alive in the evening.

some of these alley markets are permanent features (like this one in bangkit, bukit panjang) but some like those in vietnam and the one i chanced upon in guangzhou exist for a couple of hours only, in the morning. if you are a normal tourist, you will be unlikely to be aware of their existence.

of late, wet markets have been in the news. one of them is the fajar wet market which serves some of the residents in bukit panjang town. the alley market at bangkit can be an alternative to the one at fajar. unlike other alley markets where you can get only dry produce, over at the bangkit alley, you can buy your fish, vegetables, meat and grocery from the stalls and the shops.

when i took my walking kakis to this place at bangkit, they were quite fascinated because 'such kind of places' are now rare in s'pore. in choa chu kang, near teck whye, there is also a narrow passage way where you have stalls and shops selling similar stuff.

Friday, October 16, 2009

answers to 'new use for old buildings' quiz


1 police station (joo chiat)

2 86 east coast road

3 katong village

mr philip chew and victor koo gave the correct answers to all three questions. chun see remembered visiting the place last year with three other bloggers, so he was able to provide the answers to the first two questions.

2 wedding dinners, organised differently

if we compare how the two wedding dinners - the one in kuching and the other in singapore - were organised, it would be like comparing how wedding dinners were organised between my time and my daughter's.

back in the 70s, when i got married, wedding dinners seemed much easier to organise. there was no reception table and the system of allocation of seats was unheard of. it was generally a free-seating arrangement - you could choose to sit at any table as long as it was not at the bridal table.

there was no display of photographs of the bridal couple. there was no pre-dinner cocktail session. when you arrived at the dinner's venue, you made your way to a table of your choice, plonked yourself down and patiently waited and waited for the rest to turn up.

in singapore, one thing that has not changed much over the decades is that the dinner never starts on the time stated in the invitation card. if it says 7.30 p.m., it is reasonable to expect a delay of more than an hour; dinner will actually begin at 8.45 p.m. however, what happened in kuching caught some of us by surprise.

the wedding dinner in kuching, held at four points on 19 september, was organised the laisser-faire way. except for a few designated table reserved for the bride's family, the groom's family and certain relatives, the other tables were open to all. the ballroom was divided into two sections - one section for relatives and one for friends and colleagues.

what was pleasantly surprising in kuching was that most of the guests arrived before the scheduled time for the dinner. at 6.30 p.m. a large crowd had already gathered outside the ballroom, waiting to be ushered in. by 7.00, the stated time on the invitation card, most of the invited guests were already seated.

in singapore, we had drawn up the guest list and, using some computer software, organised the invitees into tables of ten. we started with 33 tables of guests and as the responses came in, this was whittled down to 30 tables. so, we had to make continuous adjustments to accommodate all the guests in 30 tables.

on the day of the dinner, we had the assistance of two teams (of relatives and friends) to help the guests with their assigned places. problems arose when some had almost identical names and some who were referred to simply as 'third uncle' in the list. then there were the proxy cases - like when a cousin represented an uncle or aunty.

what is the verdict? which method is more successful in getting the tables to be optimally occupied. if we go by these two dinners, both methods achieved quite similar result. in kuching, where the community is more closely-knit, the free-seating arranged worked without a hitch. in singapore, although some names required some sorting out, eventually eveyone was suitably settled in his place.

coincidentally, the number of tables was the same at both venues - 30 tables.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

replacing a punctured tyre

i had thought every driver, especially male ones, would know how to replace a puntured tyre until i came upon this young man struggling in vain to remove the wheel nuts holding the 'injured' tyre. seeing that he needed help, i asked if he had a jack. he did but he was not sure where to place it. he asked if he could place it on the exhaust pipe. i told him he had to find somewhere where the metal was re-inforced, somewhere strong enough. in every car, in the undercarriage there are lift points, strong enough for the jack to hold the car up.

he finally got the car jacked up. as he started to work on loosening the nuts, i realised that he was not applying the principle of mechanics to remove the nuts. the angle was wrong and he was not using his body weight to work on the unyielding nuts. he had positioned the wheel nut wrench at too acute an angle and although he was using all his strength, it would not budge. it would seem to me that those nuts had never been loosened since the day they were put in place.

i helped reposition the wrench at a less acute angle and showed him how to use the body weight to advantage. i have often watched car mechanics doing it - stepping on the handle with their foot. using this method, he managed to loosened all the nuts. then, it started to rain and i left him to fend for himself.

after this, he would have to jack up the car a bit more so that the affected wheel was not in contact with the ground. this way, he could dislodge the wheel with the punctured tyre and replaced it with the spare tyre.

in the past, most cars came equipped with a four-way wrench called a spider. today, most cars come with a simple l-shaped wrench.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

registration of bicycles

i came across this bicycle with a registration plate outside 7th mile bukit timah food centre. it is indeed rare to see a bicycle with a registration plate on our road. with the recent spate of bicycle thefts, some people have been clamouring for the re-introduction of mandatory registration of bicycles.

this was the ministry of transport response:

as to whether we should re-introduce mandatory registration of bicycles, the ministry of transport is of the view that such a move would not only be regressive but unnecessarily subject bicycle owners to onerous requirements. bicycles have been exempted from registration requirements since 1982 as they are increasingly used for recreational purposes rather than as a mode of transport. developed countries like uk, japan, usa, eu countries, australia and new zealand also do not require bicycles to be registered.

developed countries like those mentioned also have many cases of stolen bicycles?

quiz question:

when the british were around, registration was compulsory. however, the bicycle number plate did not have the word 'singapore'. what were the letters that preceded the number on the plate?

Friday, October 9, 2009

new use for old buildings

in singapore, a lot of old buildings are re-energised and adapted to new uses. one example is the the former victoria school building at tyrwhitt road. now, it is the headquarters of the people's association.

many old buildings in singapore which used to be occupied by the government agencies have been converted into schools, eateries, hostels and offices. in most cases, the facade of the original buildings has been retained and whatever renovations or refurbishments needed are mostly done to the interior.

quiz questions:

1 what was the original purpose of the building?

2 where is it located?

3 what is the name given to the area in which this building is located?
'before hdb made its presence here' quiz

the two photographs in the last quiz showed changi village in the late 60s. they were sent to me by the brother of my guest blogger, mdm ow.

among the many photographs of changi he sent me were also these three. one showed two unidentified caucasians at a roadside stall. the second picture showed the changi yacht club and the changi beach club. the third picture was an aerial view of changi in the early 70s.

john (jollygreen), peter and icemoon gave the right answers. victor, using the method adopted by some beauty queen, managed to answer correctly.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

customary practices have been modified

some traditional practices related to a chinese marriage are still retained but others have been changed and modified over the years. i have just started reading a book titled 'mao's last dancer' by li cunxin and the wedding ritual described in the first chapter of the book, which took place in 1946, was most archaic. no, i am not going to go so far back; what i am going to compare are the practices during my time and my daughter's.

prior to the day of the actual wedding, the groom's side would have a representative to deliver some gifts and angpows to the bride's parents. my time, i remember one of the required items was the roast pig. ivy was clamouring for this delectable item but we told her this was no longer in fashion, what with swine flu and malaysian pork not being allowed into s'pore. in place of a roast pig, we received two packets of bee chun hiang roast minced pork.

these food items came together with four red packets (angpows). the usual practice is three red packets but ian's grandmother, being more traditional, insisted on including a fourth one. apart from the bak kwa, there were oranges, two bottles of liquor, one packet of dried red dates and one packet of dried logan.

there is quite a bit of diplomacy involved when it comes to dealing with the angpows. the biggest anypow, also known as the 'thor lui' (table money) is meant for the wedding dinner. the amount is just a portion of the total cost of the dinner. however, the bride's parents do not pocket all the money. a token sum is kept and the rest returned to the groom's side. i heard of a case in which the amount was too meagre and receiver felt so slighted that he/she pocketed the full amount. this, in turn, caused the giver to be upset.

another angpow in which a token sum is kept by the bride's parents is the 'peng kim' or the dowry money.

the other two angpows are meant for the sustenance of the bride when she was a baby (nee boo) and another for cleaning up after the baby (chit sai juoe). the bride's side will normally accept the full amount contained in these smaller angpows.

on the bride's side, we had to purchase the tea-set for the traditional tea ceremony. this same set would be used for serving tea to the relatives on the groom's side. so, the set was packed carefully and taken over to kuching. it returned with us to singapore for us to hold the tea cermony on 21 september.

as with all chinese practices, you cannot just take and take; you have to take and give or give and take. the receptacle that held the oranges, brandy, whisky, packets of dates and logans, was not returned empty. besides returning a portion of the ang pow money, the bride's side also presented the other party with oranges, some dried food and candies (kong trng) wrapped in red papers and two bottles of (fraser and neave) oranges crush. we were supposed to return some of the bak kwa which we inadvertently forgot.

the dowry money (peng kim) in the past was used to purchase jewellery, usually gold ornaments, for the bride to take to her new home. however, in this new age, the practice is to select a number of pieces which the bride has acquired over the years and place these items in a display box.

what i have described is the hokkien custom. i am sure there are differences among the ways practised by the different chinese dialect groups.