Sunday, October 31, 2010

peacock - pictorial blog

you normally see frontview of the peacock spreading its magnificent feathers. the whole spread of feathers is called the train. have you seen the train from the back?

this view of the back of the peacock was captured at the sri arasakesari sivan temple on sungei kadut avenue.

Friday, October 29, 2010

exclusive foochow temple

on the day we visited the award winning temple at mohamed sultan road, we also visited another temple in the vicinity. its name does not suggest that it is a temple but the structure does. it is called the nanyang sacred union. i took photographs of this temple from across the road some two years ago when i was at hotdog, a place which provides dog grooming services. until then i had not stepped into this temple because the gate appears to be perpetually shut.

i know there are chinese temples started by the different dialect groups, especially the major ones, in singapore, like the hokkien, teochew, cantonese and hainanese but i did not know that the foochows also have a temple. although, we had intruded into the temple compound, we were not chased away. actually, the two persons around at that time extended a cordial welcome to us. we were told that we were free to move around and to take pictures.

i am quite surprised to find out that admission to this temple is exclusive to members. the only time, the door is open to members of the public is on the day they celebrate confucius' birthday which usually falls between late september and october. the main deities in this temple are confucius, lao tse and the goddess of mercy, kuan yin.

most temples in singapore welcome visitors because it is from them that they get the extra donations and revenue to maintain the place.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'bengali' jute bed

picture from national archives of s'pore

i was exploring the mandai industrial estate when i caught sight of this bed. the last time i saw this type of bed was more than 35 years ago. in those days when schools still had watchmen, the sikh 'jaga' in the school, where i started my teaching career, had one of these beds. although the material used is different, the frame and structure have not changed much. in the days when such beds were more common, the ropes were made of jute. the bed frame i saw today was fashioned out of nylon ropes.

the owner of this bed told me that during the japanese occupation, the simple jute bed was not exclusive to the sikhs. it was used by people of all races - chinese, malays, indians and others. according to him, the jute bed was cheap and easy to construct. it was even portable and it could be stored away in some corner when it was not in use. i remember we called it 'bengali bed'. the proper name for it is charpoy.

do you use a mattress with this bed? the person told me that he does. however, if he is just resting on it for a while, then he does not need the mattress. in the past, i have not seen anyone placing a mattress on top of the rope frame.

this reminds me of a kind of game we used to play as kids. we would manipulate a length of string, secured at the two ends, to eventually form a 'bengali' bed. this game of sort involved two players. you could not play it alone because it involved transferring the pattern formed by the string from one player to the other.

Monday, October 25, 2010

unesco 2010 heritage award temple

i used to think that hong san see was some mixed-up version of leong san see and that they were one and the same temple. today, armed with a straits times feature article, my walking buddy took me to visit one of the two temples in singapore that have won the unesco awards for cultural heritage conservation. i found out that although hong san see and leong san see were both started by hokkien groups, they are two distinct temples: one is at mohamed sultan road while the other is at race course road. hong san see received the award of excellence this year while thian hock keng, another temple started by hokkiens, was given honourable mention in 2001.

some people tend to give the name of the temple as hong san see temple. i think the word 'see' or 'sze' is chinese for temple. so, adding the word 'temple' may be superfluous. it is the same with some places with a malay name, like sungei buloh river, gunong tahan mountain, bukit timah hill and masjid sultan mosque. it is like saying 'jalan besar road' when 'jalan besar' will suffice.

hong san see had its beginning on tras street (second picture) in tanjong pagar. the original temple was built in 1829. according to a plaque at the present site, the year is 1836. it was the gathering place for immigrants from the hokkien province of nanan or lam ann. the temple at tras street had to make way for a road-widening project. it was relocated to its present site on mohamed sultan road.

the award winning temple in the river valley area was built between 1908 and 1912. it was built on a hillock that once overlooked the sea. today, this view is blocked by all the high-rise buildings around it. the temple has undergone renovations at least three times. the last renovation was started in 2006 and it was only completed this year.

one feature unique to this temple is the electric lift chair meant for handicapped visitors. it can be used to help the physically disabled move from the base to the hill top where the temple is sited. however, when we visited yesterday, the chair was all wrapped up. the caretaker of the temple explained that the chair was hardly used because it was very slow moving. it would take about half an hour to complete the short distance.

as with all the other chinese temples, like thian hock keng and shuang lin temple, that were elaborately and skilfully renovated, the artisans and craftsmen were brought in from china. i think we do not have the expertise to do that kind of restoration work. most, if not all, of these imported workers are experienced and old.

i had driven past this temple before my friend took me there, but that day i thought i was seeing it for the first time. on reviewing some old photographs, i realised that i had failed to recognise it because the yellow paint on the retaining wall had been removed.

hong san see was designated a national monument in 1978.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

why the name umar pulavar?

where is the umar pulavar tamil language centre, today? for many years, it was tugged away in serangoon road, occupying the premises of the former beatty secondary school. prior to that, the language centre was at st george's road. i have often wondered why the name 'umar pulavar' for a tamil language centre. i found the answer from reading an article about it in the book 'singapore's heritage through places of historical interest' by dhoraisingam s samuel.

the umar pulavar tamil school had a humble beginning at tras street in tanjong pagar. it was established by a group of tamil muslim peons in a shophouse in 1946. in 1950, it moved to a proper building. the chief minister tun lim yew hock laid the foundation stone for the then new school building in april 1959. however, the school was officially declared open in 1960 by the people's action party's minister of education, mr yong nyuk lin. it was the first tamil school in singapore.

by 1960, it had become the umar pulavar tamil high school. i think the new building was on maxwell road, on the site adjacent to the present national development building. the maxwell road school was a 3-storey building with 11 classrooms and one hall. because of dwindling enrolment, the school stopped functioning in 1982.

by the 70s, indian students could offer tamil as a second language in english schools. in fact, the school started english-medium classes in the late 70s.

to remember the school, which was set up by ordinary indians from kadayanullar, the tamil language centre, which started at st george's road, was renamed umar pulavar tamil language centre.

who was umar pulavar? he was a famous tamil poet who lived in the 17th century. the title 'pulavar' is given to poets who are famous.

where is the centre today? it is somewhere between victoria street and kallang road. it occupies the former premises of hong wen school, which has relocated to mcnair road.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

my first published work

pictures taken by peter - blogger with no blog

in a blog posting last month, my blogger friend lam chun see of goodmorning yesterday, mentioned that out of the six persons in the photo accompanying the posting, four of them were published authors. if i had been there, chun see would have mentioned that i would be part of that group soon. i was supposed to be there but i could not make it because i had to lead a small group of friends to melbourne. at that time, the above book, which i co-authored with wee kiat and ivan chew, was in the printing stage. with ivan also away, wee kiat was left alone to go through the final draft with the printer.

last saturday, my group of blogger friends (friends of met again at singapore post headquarters at paya lebar for a 'soft' launch of our stamp book. i asked wee kiat what a 'soft launch' was. as usual, his wry sense of humour showed when he explained that it was a meeting to present autographed copies to the other bloggers, with 'soft' drinks going around. actually, most of us had either coffee or tea.

like ivan, the other co-author, i am grateful to wee kiat for giving me the opportunity to work with him and ivan on this project. both ivan and i, being new to this area, played a supporting role. wee kiat did the bulk of the work. he did the many drafts, applied for the printing permit, liaised with the printer and the sponsors. he also coordinated the writing of the different topics and he roped in victor and his other friends to critique the work.

although i managed to secure a major sponsor in osim international, it was wee kiat who, through his contacts, got the national education branch of the ministry of education (moe) to sponsor the first 1000 copies of the book. i think the moe sponsorship is a significant endorsement of our work.

like james - the one in the second photo holding two books - i also distributed copies of the book to my neighbours and friends. those with school going children gave me the feedback that their children liked the book. this is the reward and satisfaction that comes after working on the project for about a year. incidentally, james has publicized this stamp book in his blog.

when wee kiat first approached me to work with him and ivan on this, his latest book, i had thought that it would entail nothing more than writing something on the assigned topics. what i did not anticipate was the numerous rounds of editing and refining so that the book would be suited for our target readers - upper primary and lower secondary students. victor koo - one of the book advisers -,with an eagle eye for lots of things, was most helpful in spotting a number of minor errors.

when the hard copies were out, wee kiat's work was not over. he still had a lot of legwork to do. he had to send copies to the sponsors, moe and osim. he also distributed copies to the national institute of education, the singapore philatelic museum and the national library board. he was the one who deposited two copies with the legal deposit.

we do not have the intention to sell this book to the general public but i understand you can get a copy for $8.80 at the singapore philatelic museum. many of those whom i gave the book to have asked me if i was a stamp collector. i like wee kiat's answer to this question: i am just an ordinary collector and my stamps are stored in shoe boxes; the serious collectors are called philatelists. i am not a philatelist.

this is wee kiat's 11th children book. on those occasions when he could not find a sponsor for his books, he had dug into his own - not very deep - pocket to pay for the printing. wee kiat has a blog in which the stamps that he has written about are featured.

thank you wee kiat and ivan for the successful completion of this project.

Friday, October 15, 2010

markets of the past

market a

market b

market c

market d

market e

market f

market g

recently, i blogged about the people's park market. the hokkiens referred to it as 'chin choo pa sat'. in the 50s and 60s, there were a number of markets which were better known by their chinese or hokkien names.
most of the markets in the above pictures have disappeared from the singapore scene. some are still around but they are no longer playing their original role. more than one has been replaced and relocated. can you match and give the proper names - not the hokkien names of these markets?
their hokkien names, not in order of appearance, are tang leng pa sat; tih pa sat; sin pa sat; lau pa sat; gu chia chwee pa sat; tek kah pa sat; and pek kio pa sat.
in the past i used to hear the name 'tih pa sat' being mentioned but i had not actually seen the place, except in oldhotographs. i am familiar with tek kah pa sat because a close relative used to have a stall in that market. in those days, the market was confined to the building proper; it spilled onto the roads around it. i had been to gu chia chwee pa sat, just for the cooked food; i still visit the place for cooked food. when i was a school-boy, i used to walk past and sometimes visit pek kio p sat. i remember the cows and the dungs outside the market area. i know that tang leng pa sat, sin pa sat and lau pa sat existed but i had not visited these places when they were wet markets.
market a is a giveaway. the answer is clyde terrace market. what about markets b, c, d, e, f and g?
all photos from national archives of singapore

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

malay weddings - past and present

black and white photo from national archives of s'pore

the arrival of the bridegroom is still heralded by the hadrah troupe. the group will beat the hand-held kompang and sing verses from the koran. the groom is flanked by the two bunga mangga carriers, friends and relatives. in the past, they used colour crepe papers to fold the bunga mangga. these days, they use shining aluminium-like papers. bmw and mpv have replaced the modest japanese cars as wedding cars.

in my kampong days, aside from the troupe beating the kompang, there were some who dressed up as warriors and they 'rode' on cardboard horses (kuda kepang). there would also be a small group who performed the malay art of self defence, silat. i also remember watching one performance where the exponents each used a kris. this kind of performances is rarely seen nowadays.

generally, malay weddings were noisy and lively affairs and in this respect, they still are. usually, a malay band would be in attendance. nowadays, instead of kroncongs, you hear more of malay pop songs. if i recall correctly, there were also joget sessions at these weddings during those kampong days. today, some have done away with the malay band. they just hire a deejay to play cds on a karaoke or sound system. all the noise is to add to the merriment for the day.

i have always admired the gotong royong spirit of the malays. friends, neighbours and relatives would all help in the preparations for the big day. they would camp overnight at the venue of the wedding ceremony. the cooking of the food for the wedding feast actually started the day before, usually on a friday or saturday night. even the decorations for the 'banquet' were done by amateurs. nowadays, some make use of the services of event companies to give it that elegant touch and they also use caterers to provide the restaurant type of food. the caterers will come on the morning of the kenduri to cook the food.

though most continue to use the void decks of the hdb block or the community halls as venues for the bersanding, some have moved on to community clubs, restaurants and hotels. in those kampong days, as we, the guests, were leaving, we would be presented with a red egg placed in a small cup or container and a stalk of artificial flower. the name for it is bunga telur. these days, most gifts are commercially prepared and may take the form of a miniature vase, a few pieces of chocolates, a small towel, a piece of fruit cake, miniature cutlery, rolled up handkerchief, an ornamental display set, a glass cup, a crystal plate or a cake of soap. i know a friend who made a trip to bangkok to buy these small gifts for her wedding. the more traditional malays still retain the practice of giving away boiled eggs, some with no colouring. these eggs are restricted to relatives and close friends of the families.

most chinese or indians, when invited to a malay wedding, will normally give the host or hostess an ang pow. back in those kampong days, we would normally wrap a small ang pow, usually not exceeding $5. when i was working and when invited to my malay colleagues' weddings, i normally gave between $10 and $20. today's a reasonable amount would be between $30 and $50, especially if the food is catered and the ceremony is held in a community club or restaurant.

Monday, October 11, 2010

from beauty world town

to beauty world centre/plaza

photos from national archives of singapore

i remember reading about the old beauty world in this blog posting. in the 70s, when my wife was teaching at pei hwa presbyterian school nearby, i visited beauty world town a few times. it was like a maze, and therefore a fire-trap; however, in this place you could find stalls selling all kinds of stuff, much like chin choo pa sat (people's park market).

after the last fire in 1977, the old stallholders at the gutted site were offered shop units or food stalls at bukit world centre and the beauty world plaza and bukit timah food centre. those who moved out earlier had moved to clementi and west coast road. beauty world town had been plagued by at least five outbreaks of fire in the 60s. the attap shacks not only housed hawkers but also gambling stalls.

some of the stalls and shops that moved to beauty world centre and beauty world plaza are still in these two complexes. i rarely go to beauty world plaza but i visit the food centre at beauty world centre quite often.

i had heard about the char kway teow stall at the fourth level food court of the beauty world centre. i have always been eating from the stall that faces the stall that sells tarts, tau sar piah and kueh. a check with my friend, who has lived in that area for more than 30 years, made me realise that i should be eating from the other stall. however, it does not matter because i like the char kway teow from the 'wrong' stall.

the same friend who seems to keep a tab on some of the former hawkers at old beauty world tells me that some of the small-time businessmen and hawkers are quite well-off. some of them own more than one private property and some of their children have gone overseas for their higher education.

the site of the former beauty world town will, in a few years' time, become one of the stations for the downtown line 2.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

people's park market

people's park complex is a 31-storey commercial-cum-residential building on eu tong sen street, within the chinatown area. the shopping centre was completed in 1970 and the residential block in 1973. it was then the largest shopping complex in singapore and it was the first to have an atrium within a shopping centre. the developer was a gan eng seng alumnus called ho kok cheong.

what was here before the complex was built?

photo from national archives of s'pore

the people's park complex was built on a site that started off as an open public park at the foot of pearl's hill. the park later became the people's park market. the hokkiens called it 'chin choo pa sat', the pearl's market. there were outdoor stalls selling textiles, sundry goods and food, much like the former beauty world town at 7th mile upper bukit timah road.

'people's park market used to be singapore's oldest pasar malam (night market) housed in pre-war zinc sheds'....caption for the national archives' photo.

however, the difference was that people's park market was set up and managed by the municipality or the city council. it was more organised and there were concrete pavements around the stalls. beauty world at 7th mile was more like a maze, with stalls, some in attap shacks, set up in a haphazard manner.

the outdoor stalls at people's park market were arranged in rows, just like those in a covered market, but they were packed closer together so the place was rather warm and stuffy. some referrred to it as singapore's version of hong kong's 'ladies street'. it was patronised by people of all races. tourists were also attracted to this market. the day market sold fresh food and vegetables. the night one was more like an open-air restaurant, selling cooked food and drinks. there was always the bargain offers of dresses, textiles and household goods.

both people's park market and beauty world town suffered the same fate - they were destroyed by a big fire. fire gutted the people's park market on 24/25 dec 1966. the loss amounted to a million dollars. in the case of beauty world market, there were about 5 fires, the last one being in 1977.

after the big fire at people's park market, the former stallholders were given places in a temporary shopping centre along the same road.

in my next blog post, i will feature the beauty world market.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

another lamp-post quiz

this is my third lamp-post quiz. it is not like i like lamp-posts a lot but i just seem to notice their different designs. and i am not one of this kind, hor. my first lamp-post quiz was this, posted on 13 november 2008. this was the other quiz, posted on 17 april 2009.

the lamp-post - the one in the foreground - is not a functional one. i figure it must have been around for more than half a century.

i hope my blogger friend charlee will not be the first one to give the answer. this young man, a happy wanderer like myself, goes around singapore looking for and at heritage sights and he seems to know and recognise more old stuff than many senior citizens.

just one question for this quiz. where can you find this lamp-post?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

bukit panjang to upper peirce reservoir

today, i finally accomplished what i had wanted to do for sometime - go on a hike from chestnut avenue to upper peirce reservoir. actually, i started the hike from my home at bukit panjang. the building in the above picture can be seen from the dam at upper peirce reservoir. a former student of mine, who had gone with us on the trek to the shinto shrine deep in the macritchie reservoir, offered to show us the route but some how we never got around to doing it. there was another occasion when keith initiated an attempt to use the same route to get to lower peirce reservoir but at the last minute because of inclement weather, it had to be called off.

at the chestnut avenue waterworks, i asked the person manning the gate if there was a track leading to the upper peirce reservoir. apparently, he has not gone on any hike around that area, and his answer: ''it is very wide". i also approached a mountain biker waiting for his buddies but he could not help me either because he was unfamiliar with that area. he told me that he would be using track 15; must have been referring to some mountain biking route. since i was already there, i had no choice but to 'plunge in'.

at the initial stage, there were many fallen trees across the track. they must have fallen like dominos. sawn off tree branches were used to cover the soggy track. the paths were quite well marked except for a few spots where you had to detour because of the fallen trees. as usual, i did not meet any walker during the entire hike but i did meet the cyclist whom i had approached earlier for help.

certain sections of the track hug the edge of the water. the water level was quite high; if it should rain a bit more, i think the track will be obliterated by the rising water. that is one of the reasons why some trekkers can get lost in our water catchment areas; the rising water covers the track and forces them to move away from the marked (well-used) track.

i did not see any 'sign of civilisation' until i came to the dam. all the way, it was the forest and no sign of human or human activities except for some plastic water bottles, wrappers and some markers left behind by earlier hikers. it was at the dam that i came to realise that the upper peirce reservoir is the nearest reservoir to bukit panjang because i could see the blocks of flats that i had walked past earlier.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

follower of teochew porridge stall

whenever i think of teochew porridge, i think of chye buay (preserved cut vegetable), steamed fish, hae bee hiam (chilli fried with dried prawn) , chye poh (salted radish) omelette, tau kee (beancurd strip) with stewed chicken feet, the bland watery, grainy porridge and owen road.

owen road in the 60s and up to the 80s used to be the place where people would zero in for teochew porridge, just like you will head for beach road and geylang for steamboat buffet, lau par sat for malay satay and upper thomson road for roti prata. in the past, we would also head to middle road for steamboat and waterloo street for indian rojak.

the authentic teochew muay or porridge stalls at owen road had a spread of many dishes, some stalls as many as 60 varieties for you to choose from. most, if not all, of these dishes that went with the bland porridge were salty. if it was not salty, like the steamed fish, then you would have to dip it in soya sauce or the fermented bean sauce to make it salty.

in those backlane and low-stool days, there were as many as three shops or stalls selling teochew porridge along that short stretch of owen road between worcester road and race course road. it was so popular that some of the shops/stalls had extensions to the back lane, especially the shops at the two ends. yes, we did sit on low stools sometimes but we did not squat or place our feet on the stools.

we were so besotted with the chye buay at one particular owen road stall that, up to today, whenever or wherever we eat teochew porridge, we will order this dish. if this dish is not available, it just seems that something is missing and that the teochew porridge meal is not complete.

after that owen road stall moved, we looked for teochew porridge elsewhere and found a good replacement at the former lakeview housing estate. one day, while i was at dunlop street, i was happily surprised to find the same man who had been manning the owen road's stall. from then on, we had the option of having teochew porridge at either lakeview or dunlop street. somehow, we preferred the dunlop street stall, the one that had originated from owen road.

the porridge stall at dunlop street moved again. we made enquiries and found out that it had moved to sam leong road, off jalan besar. the quality remained unchanged although the number of dishes appeared to have dwindled.

one day, while having porridge at the stall, we overheard the owners talking about quitting the business. alas, it was not long before we discovered that the stall had been replaced by a bak kut teh stall.

i have been resigned to not having my favourite chye buay and hae bee hiam till the other day when i went to explore geylang. after eating bak kut teh, we were walking to the bus-stop when i saw my 'old friend' at the corner teochew porridge stall at lorong 17. i went up to him to ascertain that he was the same person who had been at owen road, dunlop street and jalan besar.

looks like i would be renewing my acquaintance with my favourite teochew porridge stall.

teochew porridge in the past used to be the fare of the working class although it was not uncommon to see towkays coming in mercedes to join the labourers, trishaw riders and blue collar workers in their overalls at the stall.

today, a bowl of fishball noodle or a plate of wanton mee is cheaper than a teochew porridge meal. today, we pay $16.00 for four bowls (two bowls each) of refreshing porridge with fish (sea bass), hae bee hiam, chye buay and tau kee at the geylang lorong 17 stall.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

car washing in melbourne

yes, in australia, they do wash their cars too. yes, they also drive it to a petrol station to have it done. the difference between australia and singapore is that most australian drivers do the washing at the petrol kiosk themselves. nevertheless, there are a few places where you can get a 'hand wash' by a team of workers. you can even have your dog shampooed at the same car-wash, at a different area. because of water restriction in the state, you are not allowed to wash your car at home.

with the minimum wage policy and consequently, a higher labour cost, the petrol kiosk or station is mostly a self-service place. in australia, if you know how to drive a car, you must know how to operate the pump at the petrol kiosk. there is no pump attendant to do it for you. similarly, at the car-wash, do not expect anyone to serve you.

how much you spend at the car-wash may also depend on how many kinds of cleaning you want and how efficient you are. for the most basic wash, my son-in-law, ian, usually spends about $2 to give his car a wash whereas my daughter, ivy, feeds the machine $5 or $6 to get the same thing done. if you want a more thorough cleaning job, with waxing, thrown in, you may have to spend more than $10 at the coin-operated car wash.