Thursday, April 29, 2010

old tao nan school

when i was a student, i did not know or care much about the significance of this school - the first dialect school to use manadarin as a medium of instruction. each time i visited the usis library located at hill street, i would walk past this old building. in later years, when i had char kway teow at the coffee shop across the road from this building, i would just give it a cursory glance.

it was much later that i came to hear more about this school. my friend, who lived in marine parade, would mention the long waiting list of children trying to gain admission to this school. another friend of mine told me that his son opted to live in an hdb flat near the school rather than to live in a private property so that his own son (my friend's grandchild) could get a place in the school.

tao nan school was set up by the hokkien huay kuan. it began in 1906 with 36 pupils in 'siam house' in north bridge road. the medium of instruction was hokkien. it moved to armenian street in 1910 and in 1916 tao nan became the first school in singapore to use mandarin as the medium of instruction.

a number of philanthropists have been associated with the school. lee kong chian was once a pupil of tao nan. tan kah kee served as its president for 12 years and oei tiong ham donated money to buy the piece of land at armenian street.

when the school moved to marine crescent in 1982, the neo-classical style building was left vacant for a number of years. after it was refurbished, it reopened as a wing of the asian civilisations museum in 1997. in 1998 the historic building was gazetted as a national monument.

today, it houses the pernanakan museum.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

eca then, cca now

(in today's straits times, my friend santokh singh wrote a piece on 'leaving school sports coaching to teachers. both of us are looking at the same topic but from our own perspective.)

the situation in schools now is so much different from the past when it comes to conducting of cca (co-curricular activities). in those days, it was referred to as eca (extra curricular activities). eca or cca, they refer to the same things. but how they are being administered and carried out have changed over the years.

when i first joined teaching, each of us was assigned an eca or two to either take charge of or to assist. as a matter of fairness, every staff member, with the exception of the principal, was allocated at least one eca. even the senior assistants - one in the morning session and one in the afternoon - were not spared. i remember one senior assistant (in my first school) was taking charge of the chess club and the other, calligraphy. those were the days before the advent of the vice-principal and the heads of department.

there were only a handful of eca where outside instructors were involved. one was the brass band where an instructor from the ecac (eca centre) was attached to the school. the other eca which sometimes had to employ instructors included the ethnic dances, swimming and the chinese orchestra. where the school had the expertise, no outside help was solicited. back then even the school choirs were handled by the school's music teachers.

most teachers learnt 'on the job' when it came to eca. a number of us were assigned eca which we had little or no knowledge of. some of us developed a passion for our assigned eca as we got to know the game/sports more and better. even those who took care of clubs and societies and the uniformed groups could become very committed to their eca. with the experience gained in the school, quite a number of teachers went on to become national coaches in their respective sports or games.

those days, some teachers themselves initiated the eca they wanted to promote. my former colleagues and i introduced the outdoor activities club and canoeing, which went on to become the most popular eca in the school. when the new nation newspaper included a school category for the race walking event, we started race walking as an eca in the school. we were not just taking charge; we were actively involved. we would train together with the students. for example, in canoeing, we went on sea expeditions with our charges.

things started to change in the 90s when schools were flushed with edusave funds. more and more outside instructors were drawn into the school scene. it first started with cca like the choir, gymnastics, rugby, calligraphy, batik painting and those that require some specialised knowledge and skill. today, practically every cca has paid helpers or outside support. the teacher's role in cca has, in most instances, been relegated to that of an attendance marker. in certain schools today, some teachers are not assigned any cca duty.

former students, former colleagues and their spouses

i am still with a group of my former students; we meet on a regular basis. some of them had been in my class but not all. one thing they have in common is that they all were members of the school's outdoor activities club. when i asked them about the greatest (school) impact on their life, the response is the same: the oac and the 10-day school camp.
school camps - for the primary 5 pupils or secondary 3 students - used to be run by the physical education department of the school or the teachers themselves. today, the running of this activity in most schools, if not all, is outsourced to outside organisations. the teachers literally take a backseat (at the campsite). i have come across groups of campers out on orienteering trips or nature walks led by young, part-time instructors without a single teacher in sight.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

old building quiz
in the 50s and 60s, this building used to serve as quarters for policemen

straits settlement police logo still on the building

straits settlement police trainees at thomson road
(picture from national archives of s'pore)

where is this building?

what is its present use?

the building is at 195 pearl's hill terrace. it has been given the name 'the station' and it is now a commercial building.
the present building occupies the site of the first tan tock seng hospital, built by john turnbull thomson (government surveyor, 1841 - 54) in 1844 - 6. in 1858, it was requisitioned by the military authorities to provide accommodation for the european artillerymen coming to man fort canning. after proper quarters had been built for them, the site was used for some years for the commissariat store and arsenal. the hill was first called mount stamford, after sir stamford raffles. its present name comes from lt. james pearl. r.n., owner and commander of the indiana, the vessel in which raffles sailed from penang in january 1819, on the expedition that culminated in the founding of singapore. in may 1822, pearl purchased the hill from chinese gambier and pepper planters, some of whom, at least, must have settled there before 1819. in 1828, his agents sold it back to the government for rs. 10,000, after he had retired to europe, but his name has remained associated with it. it was purchased for use for the military cantonments, but in the end these were placed on the neighbouring high ground, which is still known as sepoy lines.
(from singapore guide and street directory, 1969)

Monday, April 19, 2010

foochow food in kuching

it was not difficult to persuade my regular walking kaki to join me on a makan trip to kuching, the capital of sarawak. (however, i have not been successful in getting him to visit melbourne with me.) the purpose of our 4-day trip was to savour some local dishes like kolo mee, sarawak laksa and midin. when one of my walking kakis from the balestier group heard that i was going for kolo mee, she cautioned me about the amount of msg they add to the dish.

my friend's wife was especially interested in foochow food. we could have opted for a 3-day stay but the return fare was cheaper on the 4th day. it was rm$120 on monday but rm$30 on the next day. that is the advantage of being retired: your plan can be so flexible.

my friend's wife is a foochow. i think she came from sitiawan in perak, west malaysia. she was keen on visiting kuching because she had heard that the foochow was the predominant chinese dialect group in sarawak. this is true, especially in bintulu and sibu. my relative was telling us that if you were a non-chinese working in bintulu, you could be forgiven for thinking that all chinese names began with 'wong'.

the first foochow dish we tried in kuching was the chow chai beehoon. normally, the beehoon used for this dish is the thicker type (chor beehoon) but this particular stall uses the variety that we are more familiar with. i did not taste the soup but my friends like it. the chow chai (preserved vegetable) gives it a sweet and sour taste.

for lunch, we were taken to another coffeeshop in the bdc area. we ordered three types of foochow food - kampua mee, ginger chicken and foochow hamburgers. each hamburger costs rm$0.70. the crispy hamburger was stuffed with minced meat. unlike the kampua mee, you will not find this dish at every foochow stall. as my friend observed rightly, every coffee-shop in kuching seems to have a stall selling foochow food.

the kampua mee - a foochow speciality - is quite similar to the hakka's (or teochew's?) kolo mee. the ingredients used in kampua mee include lard, msg, spring onion and fried shallots. according to another friend, who hails from sibu, the best kampua mee can be found in sibu, not kuching.

while my friends had the msg-laden kampua mee, i went for the ginger wine chicken. in singapore, this dish is called the hong zhao ji (red wine chicken). i like the kuching version because the soup was not so bloody (in colour) and the ginger, not the wine, was the dominant taste.

i think kuchingnites do not like their balls to be too big. one foochow dish - which is popular in s'pore - does not seem to be available in kuching. i am referring to the over-sized foochow fishballs. my friend from sibu told me i would be able to get it from some stalls in sibu; not every stall sells this dish.

we were so well treated and feasted by my in-laws in kuching that the three of us spent slightly over rm$150 during our stay in kuching.

footnote: in singapore, my travelling companions (to kuching) usually go to roxy square basement ii for foochow food.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

suck harder! and it will come out

this trip to kuching, i ate something which i have not had for about 50 years. i ate siput sedut at a seafood restaurant in kuching. in singapore, we call these snails chut-chut. the last time i ate these river or mangrove snails was under the wayang stage at lorong sinaran when i was about 12 years old. those days, these snails must have been quite cheap. i remember we had to use the bent end of a safety pin to dig out the flesh.

in kuching, they call these snails 'the midnight kiss'. when my host started making smooching noises while sucking at the meat, i realise that the name was quite appropriate. initially, i had some problem getting at the flesh. my friend chided me for my lack of experience in kissing. she said the right way was to suck at the tail end before working on the front. i was able to eat more after receiving that instruction.

another person who was eating with us commented that cleaning and preparing the snails for the dining table entails a lot of work. it is so tedious that she seldom wants to cook this dish. i remember in those bygone days the chut-chut was not cooked this way. after cleaning and knocking off the tail end, the chut-chut was simply dumped into a pot of boiling water.

i remember the hawker who sold these snails also sold clams, vinegar crabs and some big mangrove snails which were as long as 8cm.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

where was keramat habib ismail?

i have blogged about keramat habib noh located at palmer road, near the former singapore polytechnic. do you know that there was another keramat, bearing also the name of habib, located at upper bukit timah road, diagonally opposite the ford motor museum.

just before construction work started on the downtown line 2, i still saw evidence of faithfuls visiting the keramat. a new piece of yellow cloth was wrapped around the stone. wonder where they have moved it to.

a much frequented keramat which is said to be most potent in helping couple who desire children, or who have young children in poor health. syed ismail is described as an arab of great piety, who died about eighty years ago.

'singapore guide and street directory, 1969'

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

of sculpture and structure

picture from national archive of singapore

if you walk around kallang riverside park, you will come across a sculpture and a structure which remind you of the important part played by the kallang gasworks in the development of singapore.

the history of the kallang gasworks dates back to 1861 when piped gas first produced primarily for street lighting, and later for commercial and domestic uses. gas in those days was produced using coal as a feedstock. kallang gasworks' location by the bank of the rochor river was an ideal choice for easy delivery of coal by boat from neighbouring countries.

in 1958, kallang gasworks made headlines by being the first in the region to switch to heavy fuel as feedstock. the gasworks commissioned three modern catalytic heavy fuel oil gasification plants that were considered the most modern in the gas industry. naphtha, a clean and more efficient feedstock was introduced in 1966. this led to the phasing out of heavy fuel oil plants in 1980.

the completion of senoko gasworks in 1997 to meet the long term needs of singapore saw the relocation of gas production operations from kallang to senoko. kallang gasworks ceased operations on 23 march 1998 and the event was officiated by bg (ns) george yeo, then second minister fro trade and industry. kallang basin, the site where the gasworks used to stand as a prominent landmark of the area, has been earmarked for development.

the structure that stands as a reminder of the important part played by the kallang gasworks in the economic development of singapore is gasholder no.3

although the plants, equipment and structures in kallang gasworks have been dismantled, the supporting pillars and girders of gasholder no.3 have been preserved and erect ed on the plaza that lies in front of you.

commissioned in 1901, gasholder no.3 is the oldest remaining structure of the former kallang gasworks. the gasworks bear testimony to singapore's development from a fishing village to a cosmopolitan city.

refurbished in a shade of blue that is close to the original, this gasholder was preserved and installed at kallang riverside park as a tribute to kallang gasworks' contribution to singapore's economic development and a testament to our industrial past.

to-date, town gas remains widely used in singapore's homes, commercial establishments and industries since its inception over 140 years ago.

the sculpture is called 'spirit of kallang'. some of the materials used in the construction of this sculpture came from the old kallang gasworks.

spirit of kallang

this sculpture was official unveiled by minister for information and the arts and second minister for trade and industry, brigadier-general (ns) george yeo at the official retirement of kallang gasworks on 23 march 1998.

the spirit of kallang incorporates materials from kallang gasworks. its design symbolises the hardworking ethos and enduring spirit of the early pioneers of singapore who worked hard to establish a better life for future generations.

kallang gasworks (1861 - 1998) this sculpture was commissioned by singapore power limited and created by mr lim leong seng.

when i was doing a search on the internet, i discovered that my blogger friend has done a similar posting sometime ago.

Monday, April 5, 2010

the feature article in the life section of the straits times on 30 march makes me re-visit my photo album (of our switzerland tour) so as to share our experience. we actually visited three countries - switzerland, liechtenstein and italy. in the case of italy, it was just crossing from lugano in southern switzerland to tirano in italy. it is like crossing the causeway from singapore to johor bahru town.

ours was a 14-day tour - yes, a bit too long - and we travelled by train all the way, except for the return trip to lugano from tirano (in italy) when we were put on a postal coach. our starting point was zurich. this was our itinerary: zurich - st gallen -vaduz (in liechtenstein) -st moritz - tirano - lugano -lucerne - interlaken - montreux - zermatt/matternhorn - zurich.

we had no choice but to travel by train. driving would have posed a number of problems. first, you had to get used to driving on the right side, just like in the usa. the other problem was that the road signs and information signs were either in french or german. train is the better alternative.

we had to travel lighter than normal. each of us carried a slightly bigger than cabin-sized bag. as it was summer, we did not have to pack thick woollens, long johns, scarves and gloves. however, up in the mountains, it could get quite cold. the alps are covered with snow all year round.

from interlaken we took the cogwheel train to jungfraujoch, the highest train station in europe. of all the places in switzerland, zermatt left the deepest impression in me. i like zermatt, where you can see the majestic matterhorn, for its smoke-free environment - no petrol driven vehicles.

yes, if you do not enjoy being herded around in a conducted tour group, travelling by train on your own is a good way to see switzerland. you do not need two weeks; one week is enough for you to take in all the touristy places.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

04, 08, 18, 21, 24 and 369

scene of a gang fight - picture from national archive of s'pore

do these numbers make any sense to you? no, they cannot be toto numbers because the last one has 3 digits. there might have been other numbers but these were the ones i can recall. if you grew up during the 50s and 60s, you would have known someone who secretly or openly declared that he belonged to one of these numbered gangs. among my schoolmates and kampong kids were some who claimed allegiance to one of these secret societies.

each gang had its own so-called trade-marks. hand gestures and tattoos were two clear ways of identification. i was told that those who belonged to the 24 gang had two birds, i think they were either swallows or swifts, tattooed on one of their shoulders. i have heard of the butterfly gang - a woman gang in which members had the tattoo of a butterfly on their body.

gangland clashes were common in the 50s and 60s, even right up to the 70s. in the late 50s or early 60s, during the school holidays, i used to stay over with some relatives at dunlop street, a hotbed of gangland activities. a number of times, in the middle of the night, the silence would be broken by the sounds of bottles being smashed, shouting and heavy running footsteps. i was told not to venture out. these clashes, in which parangs, iron pipes and broken bottles were used, usually ended as quickly as they had started.

secret society members seemed to have scant respect for the living as well as the dead. in those dark days, fights at funerals and wakes were not uncommon.

my former neighbour in the kampong, who attended the same primary school as i, started young. at primary 3, he was already relieving me of my pocket money - ten cents each day. this went on for sometime and i cannot remember how and when it finally ended. extortion was one of the ways the gangsters derived some form of income. the other was collecting protection money from shops, hawkers, food stalls, bars and gambling dens.

this particular neighbour of mine ended up as a big-time gangster. i learnt that he was involved in a murder for which he was detained 'at the president's pleasure'.

some gangsters 'retired' after they had set up their own families but they continued to work in the background. they could still be called upon to help negotiate at 'settlement talks' but they would try to keep their hands clean by not getting involved in fights or clashes that might arise out of any failed talk.

not all gangsters were pimps or people who engaged in shady or underground activities. some held respectable jobs. these people would keep a low profile but their trade-mark - the tattoo - that they wore on their bodies might be a giveaway of their past connections.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

old taxi stand quiz

a number of these taxi stands, which have apparently outlived their usefulness are still around. i wonder why taxi stands like this one seem to have been accorded conservation status. the one at sembawang hills estate, which chun see blogged about, is still around although you hardly see any taxi near the stand.

some taxi stands have been relocated but they still retain their original names just like some schools today. for example, do not expect to find tanglin secondary school (its former name is tanglin technical school) anywhere near tanglin. it is at west coast road. likewise, beach road taxi service operates from ang mo kio and not beach road.

there are around nine such taxi stands found in different locations in singapore. today, with large taxi companies having their own communication network, i thought all these radio taxi services would have become obsolete but they are still in operation. or are they?

where is the taxi stand shown in the picture above?