This is my second attempt at a "2nd-shot". (The first one is in the last post.) I hope that you find this effort a better one.
I have blogged about North Boat Quay here before (although at that time, I mistakenly called it Clarke Quay).
The following 2 photos show the same view of the Singapore River from Read Bridge. The first one is a video-grab from the movie Saint Jack which was filmed entirely in Singapore in 1979. (Chun See blogged about the movie here.)
As you can see, before the 80s, Singapore River had a lot of bumboats. These bumboats carried all sorts of goods - rice, flour, beans, copra, coffee, sugar and other dried goods. The goods would be unloaded from the bumboats typically by Chinese bare-bodied coolies. Each coolie usually had a towel hung around his neck for two purposes - one was to wipe off perspiration - unloading 100-kati sacks is certainly hard labour in Singapore's hot and humid weather. In fact the word "coolie" came from the Chinese words "ku li" (苦力) which mean "hard labour". Do you know what is the second purpose for the towel? (The answer will be revealed by next weekend.)
The bumboat would be moored next to the river bank. Two long planks, each about 10-foot long and 6-inch wide would be placed side-by-side in such a way that they span the gap between the bumboat and the river bank. The coolie would walk skillfully over these planks to get to the boat, lift a heavy sack onto his shoulder and then walk back over the planks to the bank again. You could see the planks bending and vibrating more when the coolie was carrying a heavy load.
In the early 80s, I used to stay overnight quite often at a very good friend's house which was one of the old houses you see on the left of the photo. During those days, one of the coffeeshops in the row of old houses on the left sold very good bak chor mee (minced pork mee).
Many things have changed since then. Comparing the 2 photos, it should be quite obvious to you that the old buildings have mostly been rebuilt. (So much for the conservation of our old buildings.) The fact is that our nation has undergone many changes in its landscape in just under 30 years. And it is not only on the banks of the Singapore River that you see renewal and development - you see them everywhere on this tiny island. But just from the second shot, you can tell that there are many more buildings in the background now. In 1979, you could only see Hill Street Police Station (now MITA Building) and Peninsula Hotel. Today, you could also see (from left) Raffles City Tower, Excelsior Hotel, Peninsula Plaza, Swissotel the Stamford (the tallest building in the photo and formerly known as Westin Stamford), The Treasury, 3 of Suntec City's 5 towers, among other buildings.
I am not going to do a review of Saint Jack as you can read very good reviews of the film on the Internet, one of them here.
Update on 5 Aug 2008:
Two of my readers seem confused over the names and locations of Clarke Quay and North Boat Quay. Perhaps a map of this area from my 1963 "Singapore Guide And Street Directory" will help clear up this confusion. (Unlike the buildings, the roads in this area and their names have largely remained unchanged till this day.)
The road in front of row of houses on the left of the photo is highlighted in yellow in the map - it is North Boat Quay. The camera was on Read Bridge and its lens was pointing in the direction of the red arrow. Clarke Quay is on the left hand side of the map while Boat Quay is on the other side of the Singapore River.
Update on 6 Aug 2008:
Here is another shot of the bumboats on the Singapore River. Judging from the view - Asia Insurance Building in the background - the photo was probably taken from Elgin Bridge in a south-easterly direction. It looks like an image on an old postcard. I got the image from a (mass?) email sent by a friend some time ago.
Hmm... maybe this will be my third 2nd-shot? :)