27 July 2008

Behind Capitol Building - Through The Years

I got the idea for this post from Icemoon.

I have no idea whether Icemoon is a gentleman or a lady. With a gender-neutral nick like "Icemoon", it could be either. However, from the highly investigative and analytical style which the blog is written in, I believe that Icemoon is very likely to be a man. Call me sexist if you like but implicit in that statement is that I think men are naturally better investigators and analysts. You may agree or disagree with me but I think that a man is better in reasoning and logic. (Here, I am using the same reasoning and logic to guess Icemoon's gender.) So I shall assume that Icemoon is a gentleman unless someone produces irrefutable evidence to prove that I am wrong.

Icemoon calls his blog "Second Shot - Same Place Just Different Time". In some of his posts, like this one, he uses the following technique (in his own words) - "find a source, scout the location today and snap the second shot". He even has a name for it - "precision heritage photography".

The effect that he created is absolutely stunning, I must say. The 2 photos in the post were of the same scene but taken more than 60 years apart! They look so similar and yet so different. Very clever.

Inspired by what Icemoon has done, I am trying my hand at "precision heritage photography". I took a photo of Capitol Building today from a similar angle as that of the two photos (taken in the 1950s and 1960s) in my earlier post, and here are the results:

I am sorry if my photo is not as precise as it should have been - I am a newbie and this is my maiden effort after all. (Pardon me for using the word "maiden" although I am a man but hey, that's a saying which I can't change, can I? :p)

Anyway, the point is that you could see that everything behind Capitol Building has changed throughout the years. The tall building in the last photo is Peninsula Plaza. The shorter building behind it is Peninsula Hotel/Shopping Centre and further behind is Funan Centre (a famous computer and IT hub) and The Treasury. Even the trees have grown quite a bit and the one on the right is obscuring part of the Capitol Building.

If the Capitol Building were to be torn down, then it would not be an exaggeration to say that this place would be totally unrecognisable.

21 July 2008

My Second Book

This post is about a month late but still, it's better late than never. The book I co-wrote with Wee Kiat (main author) and Noel has finally rolled off the press.

I blogged about the book before here and if you are interested, you can read the e-copy of the whole book starting from this page.

The cover of the book is in purple. I think it's more refreshing than the maroon colour of the previous book, don't you think?

Oh yes, you can also read the e-copy of the previous book starting from this page.

14 July 2008

Those Who Know Buy National

Singapore's National Day is around the corner and I am reminded of a tagline "Those Who Know Buy National". No, that's not a call for you to be patriotic during National Day. (Shouldn't you be patriotic every day?)

National was a very popular brand of electrical products in Singapore from the late 1950s till 2003 when the brand name was changed to Panasonic. Did you know that the tagline for National used to be "Those Who Know Buy National"? (Now it's "Panasonic Ideas For Life".)

The following information about the history of the National brand name was obtained from the company's website:
The company that started the National brand name in 1927 is Matsushita Electric, Japan. The brand became a very popular household name in Japan as well as in overseas markets. The new brand name Panasonic was first introduced in 1961 in the US where the National brand name had been registered by others and therefore, could not be used. The company started using the new brand name in Europe in 1979 and in other regions in the late 80s for products other than home appliances for which the National brand name continued to be used. The brand name for all home appliance products in Southeast Asia (including Singapore), the Middle East and China were changed to Panasonic by the end of March 2004. The National brand will, however, continue to be used in Japan where the brand was originally born.
I remember my family bought our first electric rice cooker in the 1960s. It was a National, of course, and it looked like this:

The rice cooker was the first National product to be introduced in Singapore in 1958. The inner pot was made of aluminium and was not teflon-coated. (Teflon probably had not been invented then.) There was also no inner lid but there was a 4-inch concave (or convex, if you look from inside) piece of glass in the centre of the lid. If you had nothing better to do, you could look through the glass and watch the rice bubbling beneath. (I don't know why we kids liked to do that then. Isn't it just about as exciting as watching paint dry?)

The lid had a plastic black-and-white handle. This handle cracked up quite often (maybe due to the heat) and had to be replaced. Luckily, you could find many neighbourhood shops selling spare handles and it was easy to replace the handle yourself.

There was also a prominent landmark along North Bridge Road, just behind Capitol Theatre where a car park now stands. I could see it from the balcony of my 4-storey SIT flat in Cheng Yan Place every night. From where I was looking, it was located just behind the Empress Hotel at the Middle Road and Victoria Street junction.

Circa 1950s - The steel structure was not erected yet

Circa 1960s - The prominent structure behind Capitol Theatre was up

An aerial view of the structure from Empress Place

A closer view of the structure in 1965- the tagline "Those Who Know Buy National" is visible. (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan.)

It was almost a 10-storey tall steel structure which was lighted up with red and white neon lights at night. (Hmm... was that by sheer coincidence? Those are also the colours of our national flag.) At night, the National red neon logo looked very prominent against the white vertical sweeping neon lights. It was indeed a powerful and attractive advertising structure.

The National signboard at night. What's not obvious from this photo are the vertical sweeping neon lights of the signboard which I remember very distinctly. (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan.)

Now I bet readers below 30 years' old didn't know that the steel structure once existed.

I can't remember this but according to my friend Peter Chan, at the bottom of the steel structure was a National showroom. Peter said that steel structure and showroom was torn down in the mid-1970s.

A National advertisement in the newspaper at that time using the same tagline. (Hagemeyer was the local agent for National products.) The 2 products in the picture - a transistor radio and an open-reel tape recorder - are now considered as collectible items, if not antiques.

Peter said that the showroom also exhibited black-and-white TVs. (TV was introduced in Singapore in 1963.) Every weekend, the showroom would be crowded - people turned up to watch free TV because not many could afford to buy one. The typical TV at that time looked like this one:

Our nation certainly has come a long way since then. Now our nationals not only watch Nationals but dozens of other TV brands as well. We even have a true national brand for electrical products now - Akira. The tagline of Akira to Singaporeans could well have been "Those who know buy national". But instead, its tagline is "Akira makes life better".

Happy 43rd National Day, Singapore!

06 July 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

I just read an article in yesterday.sg about the destruction of an old landmark in Tiong Bahru. (The original article appears on Tiong Bahru Estate blog and is about the destruction of the red gourd burner in Tiong Bahru estate.)

Oh soooo sad... sob, sob.

In the article, Noel laments:
"Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any pictures of the red gourd burner before it was destroyed. Perhaps someone has an image that can be shared on yesterday.sg or the Tiong Bahru Estate Blog?"
Well, fret not, Noel. I have had the foresight of taking a photo of the burner in January last year. Here it is:

Another old Singapore landmark that will soon disappear is The New 7th Storey Hotel. (The word "new" in the hotel's name is actually quite a misnomer - the hotel is 55-year-old as it was built in 1953. Even the order "7th" is inaccurate - I will tell you why later.) It has just been announced that the hotel will make way for a Downtown Line MRT station. According to the Land Transport Authority, the owner and occupants of the hotel, who will have to move out of the building by end December, will receive "compensation pegged at market value". (Note, not "nostalgic value" hor.)

So you (not just Noel) better go take some good photos of the hotel before it disappears from our island forever. I have already done so. (Please see photos below.) And if someone asks me for the photos again, I am going to charge. :p

The hotel was the tallest building around that area at that time. I counted the number of storeys - there seems to be 8. Hmm... can you count again for me? According to the hotel's website here, it actually has 9 storeys. Oh dear, now we are short of one, unless you count the rooftop as well.

Ah okay, if you look at the backside (pardon the language), it indeed has 9 storeys.

And if you peep at the right side of the backside, a very exciting feature is revealed - a quaint and retro-looking spiral staircase!

The very inviting hotel entrance.

An even more inviting restaurant entrance. Hmm... does anyone know if Ban Leong & Co was the original owner of the hotel?

Inside the restaurant. Erm... why there were no diners present was because it was...

10.40 in the morning lah. (A clock frozen in time, just like the hotel. Haha.)

The very warm receptionist. (No, not that he's feeling warm - the hotel is air-conditioned.)

They are also computerised and even have BIG LCD screens that obscure faces.

The last surviving cage-lift in Singapore but it would soon be gone too.

Isn't the hotel cute? Instead of just taking photos, it would be even better if you could stay a few nights in the hotel. I bet you'll never ever have the chance again to have the same experience after this December.

Footnote about blog title:

Another One Bites The Dust is the title of a 1980 funk-rock hit song by British rock band Queen which you don't expect people of my age to know. But hey, I do. ;) You can refer to the song's lyrics here.

03 July 2008


I don't know how many of you read the bilingual tabloid called My Paper. I always try to get a copy each of Today and My Paper every weekday morning. As many of you know, they are given out free. As they say, you don't get many free things these days anymore, other than the air that you breathe. So enjoy it while it lasts, alright?

And should copies run out before you could get hold of them (as they always do), you can still read them here - Today and My Paper.

The 1st July 2008 edition of My Paper carried a nostalgic article on Rediffusion. Reproduced below is the English portion of that feature:
64-year-old Liew Kim Foong has a 40-year long lasting relationship with one of the oldest broadcasters in Singapore, which is Rediffusion.

As Rediffusion celebrates its 60th anniversary with an upgrade to Digital Audio Broadcasting + (DAB+) service, offering better sound quality and 13 more channels, My Paper spoke to long time subscriber, Madam Liew, who shared with us fond memories of her life with Singapore's only subscription-based cable radio.

She was introduced to its broadcast when she married in 1967, and had to visit her in-laws daily. "There was a Rediffusion set at my mother-in-law's house and it was never switched off."

Dialect programs spanning from Chinese operas to tales narrated by famous storytellers Lee Dai Sor and Ong Toh, soon became her favourites.

In its heyday of the 1970s, Rediffusion had 100,000 subscribers. However, moving into the 1980s, Rediffusion faced a ban on dialect programs, and coupled with the loss of the privilege to wire up new and upgraded HDB flats, its subscriber numbers dwindled to the current 10,000.

Though Madam Liew and family had remained loyal listeners throughout these years, Liew's married children admitted that they have not subscribed to Rediffusion in their own homes. "The PC is a much more powerful source of entertainment," said her youngest son.

Moving forward, CEO of Rediffusion, Leong Kwok Seng has plans to attract more young subscribers below the age of 45.

"Rediffusion has a very unique branding that means a lot to Singaporeans. We hope to maintain its legacy."
You can refer to the photos and the Chinese portion of the article in the PDF files here and also here. (There are several nice photos showing how the Rediffusion "speaker box" has transformed over the years, from 1950s to date. Definitely worth a look.)


As for me, my parents were subscribers of Rediffusion even before I was born (in 1956). When we moved into our new flat in Haig Road in the mid-70s, we stopped subscribing to Rediffusion altogether because there was no line available there.

You can read other articles about Rediffusion in this blog via the following links:

1. I Remember Rediffusion

2. "Grandfathers Telling Stories"

3. Big Fool Lee