30 August 2009
How did it all begin?
I think it had to be Mr. Adam Hing’s Christmas Party at his Jalan Buloh Perindu house. Adam Hing was our favorite form teacher and his teacher-wife graciously arranged for a dozen girls from St Nicholas Girls School. I sheepishly took my place in the boys’ row of chairs facing the giggly girls. Minutes ticked without any boy daring to walk across the wide expanse of the living room to ask the girl for a dance even though Mr. Hing selected the best from his extensive collection of singles:
“Sugar Sugar” by the Archies
“Yellow River” by Christie
and “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry
I suppose those hot numbers were not enough to stir interest on a Sunday at 4.00 pm.
Fast forward to 1970 when dancing was preceded by Pimm’s #1 for the guys and Pussyfoot for the girls - two “in” drinks before Bacardi Coke became the rave. This time the girls (more like women) were more exciting. The lights went out, the boys pressed against the girls, the girls were clutching boys in the 1970s version of slow-dancing and French kissing was a must. Things in Singapore were a bit wilder then - rules were meant to be broken - and this might have contributed to our early maturity. The youth sub-culture was very much adult-oriented. We dressed like adults - guys in jersey material shirts with huge 6” collars and 28” bell-bottomed pants. The girls were dressed in elegant evening dresses - Maidenfoam wired bras (to give that big jug look) and stiletto heels from Bibas of London. Guys, if you did not sport long hair nor had a Benson & Hedges cigarette between your lips, you were not the groovy type*. No wonder we could slip pass the bouncers at “Talk of the Town”.
Photo 1: Left - “Talk of the Town” in High Street spread over 3 levels and you needed to climb a spiral staircase to get to the top floors. Right - The PUB at Hotel Malaysia.
Social outings first innocently started with house parties. From house parties it progressed to town for more dancing. “Double dating” was a common practice then. By the time our Senior Cambridge Examination results came out in March the following year, many would have patronized most of the discos in town. One method of minimizing expenses was to take a bus to your date’s house. Then you impressed her mother by calling for a yellow-black taxi to get to the discotheque. You made sure your date was not the “thirsty sort” or else you would burn a hole in your pocket buying her that second drink at $3+ including service tax; first drink @$5++. What’s left was usually good enough to cover for the “after midnight” taxi fare to send her home first and then to your house. This all required careful planning and you made sure you didn’t have to date someone who “lived in the ulu” unless you had “wheels”. Of course you had to make sure your “father’s wheels” was a/c and sporty. No Morris Minor, Benz or Volkswagen Beetle please!
Orchard Road’s nightscape was so different from Clarke Quay or Boat Quay. The entertainment strip began at Hotel Malaysia – The PUB, then GINO’S A-GO-GO on Tanglin Road on the second floor, passing Ming Court Hotel’s BARBARELLA, THE EYE at Cuscaden House and Singapore Hilton’s SPOT SPOT. Was that all? Nope, there was BOILER ROOM at the basement of the Mandarin Hotel and MAXIM’s over at the Cockpit Hotel in Penang Road. The discotheques were complemented by more adult-oriented clubs such as DANNY’S LOUNGE at Wisma Indonesia. EL AMIGO or PINK PUSSYCAT.
CLUB 3-9-2 just across the road from the former Singapore Forum Hotel (now Forum Galleria) offered a different kind of experience – no dancing but a live band to keep pubbers happy. The late Michael Isaac was the lead singer. This was where one learnt a new word: “prostitute”, all because the “USS America” came to town and pretty white boy was doing his bit to support our tourism industry. Such was the height of the popularity that it later spread to Orchard Towers where you found strange women with Adam’s apples and speaking in a low voice at the TOP TEN. MOONSHINE at the Ocean Park Hotel in Katong was located out of town and probably the only seaside discotheque in Singapore. The ambience was vibrant like those you find in Kuta Beach Bali. When festive occasions came, even restaurants were temporarily converted into discos, such as the KELONG at the Cathay Restaurant in the Cathay Building.
Photo 2: The PUB at the former Hotel Malaysia which later became the LONDON SCENE (circa 1971). Hotel Malaysia was sold and renamed the Marco Polo Hotel. The PUB was in the basement level below this bunch of musicians. Where is yours truely?
When business people saw more opportunities, competition spread. More up-market discotheques opened at the Shangri-la Hotel – LOS HORIZON, PETE’S PLACE at the Hyatt (the former bowling alley), the ROOFTOP at the Oberoi Imperial Hotel and KASBAH at the top of the Mandarin Hotel. I am quite sure that KASBAH had an Arabian Night theme for its decor. I was pleasantly surprised that after many decades of inactivity, the previous hotel management of Mandarin Hotel did not tear down the decor until the recent upgrading program at the Meritus Mandarin Hotel.
One hot spot for the “under-20something” was BARBARELLA. It was popular with the Singapore students as well as the Singapore American School and St John’s Comprehensive School expatriate students. BARBARELLA was housed in the now-defunct Devils Bar of the Orchard Parade Hotel. Its interior had a space-age theme with dark blackout curtains for the ceiling to floor windows. Smoochers preferred the “capsules” surrounding the dance floor but no advanced reservations could be taken. One had to queue up early as 8.00 pm which was well before the opening hour. This was the place where “Steven Koh” befriended “Baby G” from the Singapore American School. OMG, the Americans were physically much more matured compared to Asian girls; you never could guess a 15-year-old girl could look like a 19-year-old girl. The British girls were a bit snooty but the American girls were easy-going and less demanding on the wallet. If “Baby G” liked you, you got an invitation to swim at the American Club.
Photo 3: Left – The ROOFTOP at the Imperial Hotel. Middle - Ming Court Hotel’s unique doormen. Right - BARBERALLA Discotheque (circa 1970).
Then the bad news came. It was time when the Singapore Government became harsh with the rapid spread of marijuana, LSD and the keeping of long hair by males. The police were hot on local male youths sporting long hair below the collar and covering the ears. Not surprisingly that on Saturday nights, you could find youths running in different directions down in Orchard Road whenever a police car came along. They confiscated your ICs and detained you at the police station until you got a decent haircut. By 1974, discotheques closed and the entertainment scene shifted to Kuala Lumpur such as the TIN MINE at the KL Hilton.
Photo 4: - Left - Review of jazz singer from the Hyatt Hotel. Right – The Mezzanine Floor at the Mandarin Hotel (circa 1982).
Supper clubs, hotel music lounges and pubs appeared, replacing the discotheques. There were TIARA SUPPER CLUB, NUTMEGS, WEST END CLUB and PEPPERMINT PARK. “Live bands” were replaced by DJs like Brian Richmond who began at the WEST END CLUB at the Goodwood Park Hotel and ended at STUDIO M at the Hotel Merlin.
I wonder how things are today. Honestly I don’t know. “Under-20somethings”, you keen to help? You see, the last time I stepped into a discotheque must have been more than a decade ago at the PITSTOP in Jakarta, or was it JJ MAHONEY in Hong Kong? Hmm, cannot remember; so long ago.
* - Alfred Dunhill, the cigarette brand, even bought advertising hours on local TV showing a swanky Chelsea discotheque with psychedelic lightings and spotlights beaming to a rotating globe-shaped crystal ball above the dance floor. Guests to discotheques were even handed 45 rpm records of the theme song and a complimentary packet of the cigarette. Such was the power of cigarette brands that in later years, they were sponsors for various international sports.
27 August 2009
I have written about bra humour before here. In today's New Paper, there is an article on bra humour too.
For the past 3 weeks, the 2 lifts of Block 752 Pasir Ris St 71 sometimes have an unmentionable item hanging from the lifts' ceilings. It is a pair of bra.
The perpetrator may think that it is funny. Or maybe he/she is simply sick (in the mind). What really caught my attention was
Dear BrA-HAnging person,Now I just hope that the guilty person could read and understand English. But then again, if he could, he should be quite educated and probably wouldn't commit such a perverted act? Hmm... maybe he might as even highly educated people sometimes commit crimes. What if he is mad? Perhaps a pictorial sign like the one below would be more appropriate:
Thank you for
your kind efforts of
decorating the lifts
of this Block.
Since you have no intentions of
we would appreciate
if u consider something else instead
of always the
Black & WHITE Bras.
PS: We are bored of
the Black & White Bras already
Do consider the aesthetics of this block,
They do not match the
Outlook of the lifts.
Do those belong to your sis or mom?
Cos they look rather cheap.
Have you considered
triumph or la senza?
Or maybe a model in the lift?
- Residents of Block 752 who appreciates your hardwork.
I would like to suggest an appropriate punishment for the offender if he is ever caught for the unmentionable crime. (Here I am assuming that the offender is a man.) I recall an episode from the recent Mediacorp TV series Fighting Spiders in which a prostitute-visiting bully was shamed publicly by making him run in public wearing a pair of bra. Maybe the offender should be made to do the same?
Do you have any suggested punishment if the offender turns out to be a woman instead? Run in public without wearing any bra? No, that would be too indecent a proposal. Besides, it would be a depressing sight indeed if what you see are shriveled and sagging...
23 August 2009
Here are the answers to Old Singapore Quiz (10):
Q1. Where is this gate located? Provide the nearest road name.
A1. It is located near to Jalan Mempurong.
Q2. Name 2 nearby landmarks.
A2. Any 2 of the following landmarks would have been correct:
i. Bottle Tree Village
ii. Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang
iii. People's Association Water-Venture (Sembawang)
YG got all the answers correct. But nobody could provide the answer as to why the gate was left standing when everything around it had disappeared. My 1983 street directory showed a Malay settlement used to occupy this location:
A map and Google Earth comparison:
Photos of landmarks in this locality:
Bottle Tree Village (1)
Bottle Tree Village (2)
A comparison with this woman gives you an idea on how TALL the Bottle Tree is...
While a comparison with this woman gives you an idea on how, er... WIDE the Bottle Tree is
Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang
People's Association Water-Venture (Sembawang)
15 August 2009
On my way to the Thai Immigration & Customs Checkpoint, I briefly conversed with Anan. After many decades, this would be the first time I was using my “pasar bahasa”. Anan is of ethnic Malay descent but holds Thai nationality**. He makes a living by fetching passengers on his 100cc Honda across the Malaysian-Thai border crossing at Padang Besar, Perlis.
Anan: “Kenapa awak mau datang ke-Padang Besar?”
("Why do you want to come to Padang Besar?")
Me: “O, macham ini-lah. Lebeh 35 tahun dulu, ada enam olang Singapore naik keretapi sampai ke-Padang Besar. Mereka nak pergi Thailand dari Padang Besar…….”
("O, it's like this. More than 35 years ago, there were 6 Singaporeans who boarded a train to Padang Besar. They wanted to go to Thailand from Padang Besar......")
Anan: “Berapa hari di sini? Sekarang nak chari apa? Ini tempat sangat sengep. Semua orang sini chepat tidor”
("How many days you plan to stay here? What are you looking for? This is a very sleepy town. All the people here go to bed early.")
Padang Besar is located at the north western corner of Peninsular Malaysia and happens to be an important border-crossing and rail connection between Malaysia and Thailand. I dare to make this trip after spending 2 years of planning, researching and analyzing the information. The background work faced many shortcomings because I relied on information from backpackers, Malaysians and Thais - people who visited Padang Besar but with very little knowledge of the 1970s era. I even turned to motoring road maps and street directories but none were available on this remote Malaysian town. Literatures from Tourism Malaysia were vague.
The break-though came about three months earlier when an important parcel arrived from England. It contained a 1: 63,360 topographical map of the Padang Besar area prepared under the direction of AD Survey, Far East Land Forces and revised by the Survey Department of Malaya. This excited me because “Survey Department of Malaya” was something I could connect with. Back in the 1980s, I had worked for an American IT vendor which supplied the software mapping package to the Survey Department of Malaysia, now called JUPEM. JUPEM is responsible for land surveying, mapping and aerial photography. Why didn’t I think of this “Malaysian Kawan” right from the start?
Photo 1: Left - Topo map of PD vicinity (circa 1960). The black line across the map is the Butterworth to Bangkok railway track. The old Padang Besar Station is the black rectangular box below “2102”. Center - In the background is the border which is shared between Malaysia and Thailand. In the foreground and right of the track is the old Padang Besar Station which was completed in 1957. The future new railway station would be to the left of the Padang-styled roof. Photo courtesy of Chayaphiwat . Right – The border areas between Malaysia and Thailand were closed between 6pm and 6am as shown by these border security signboards (circa 1970s). This explains our predicament at the Padang Besar Station which housed both the Malaysian and Thai immigration & customs facilities.
The topo map corrected any previous perceptions which I had of the landscape and the relative positioning of prominent landmarks such as the old railway station, the railway siding and the “bukits”. When the topo map was superimposed over Gogglemap, I could see that the entire landscape has radically changed. For example, an important building, the old Padang Besar Station has disappeared to inside the inland KTM Bhd. container-yard. The railway siding is now the roundabout. Some landmarks did not change: the single railway track across the border, the Chinese temple in Pekan Siam, and the highway to Sadao. The new landmarks that appeared included the semi-concrete security fence, a PETRONAS gas station, Bazaar Padang Besar, and of course the new Padang Besar Station - entirely in a new position carved from the former hilly terrain.
So why do I attach so much significance to this trip?
There were six of us who made the trip on July 20, 1974. All of us turned 20 that year and so a trip to Haatyai was meant to be a celebration. Of the six who went, Michael Chua passed away in 2000 due to terminal illness. It was sad to hear of his demise but the spirit has to continue because of a pact we made; that by the time we reach our golden years, we would come back for a reunion and make a commemorative trip for old time sake. You see we all knew that we would part ways after NS. We were also aware that each of us had to pursue a career and possibly even settle down with families. That would have meant we would never “talk shop” or do things like we once did as “young cocks”. Only See Kit and I kept in touch; each time we met he would ask for the others; Rennie Wee, Mohan Raj and Teo Wee Kiang. Thirty-plus years is a very long time and the fear is whether people and places change. So in a way it was my “baby” to make sure our forthcoming commemorative trip at the end of this year will turn out well. Today this trip was a reconnaissance mission. Now I like to share with you on the legacy of this project.
Photo 2: The group of six with the late Michael Chua as the camera man. We stood in front of the newly opened Sukhontai Hotel (now Novotel Centera Haatyai). We travelled with the Nam Ho Travel bags and a shared Samsonite suite-case. Besides the Sukhontai Hotel, the other top-rated hotel in Haatyai at that time was the Montien.
About 8pm we arrived at the Padang Besar Railway Station in a hired taxi from Butterworth. It was certainly the wrong time to come because the Thai and Malaysian immigration counters inside the railway station area were closed for the day and there was no way we could cross the international border nor find hotel accommodation in Padang Besar because it was an “ulu town” (and it has ever been since thy kingdom come). We were dejected until a dark tanned figure appeared and told us he could take us into Thailand the very same evening for a fee of M$10 per person. Anan is the modern version of that dark tanned figure of 1974 except for one major difference. He does it with official approval from the Thai and Malaysian authorities. Unlike foreigners, Anan does not need a passport or show letters to cross the checkpoints. Incidentally, Anan was once a runner fetching people across the border in the 1970s.
It can be very difficult for me to explain the route we got into Thailand. Firstly there was no moon that night and no street lights, secondly no map and thirdly no camera to take any photos; if we did we had no camera-flash. However there was something good which has stood the test of time – our memory.
“Face the Padang Besar Station’s main entrance from the main road, kekanan pusing and chepat jalan 250 meters until you come to a concrete-paved open space. Walk in a 1 o’clock direction and cross a railway track. Belok kanan until 2 o’clock position and walk for 100 meters before reaching a fence with plenty of shrubs and lallang. Get down on all fours and crawl through the hole in the fence. Bediri dan chepat jalan 150 meters, then berhenti.”
How does this look on a map? Let’s examine Fig 1 closely.
Fig 1: My mental map of Padang Besar reinforced by fresh inputs from topo maps and street-level photographs. The orange colour indicates the route taken by us from the railway station through the border fence. Inside Thai territory is the Pekan Siam to Sadao Highway which we traveled to get to Haatyai. This is the same highway which connects to Danok and Batu Kayu Hitam.
After emerging from the other side of the fence, technically we were on Thai territory. The unmistakable sound of the percussion instruments and someone singing “Lol Lol Krathong” was the evidence. It didn’t strike us that we were doing the wrong things because the runner had assured us everything was above board. We thought it wise to organize ourselves just in case something unexpected was to happen. Walking in a section battle formation of “1-Up”, we walked down a narrow track, lallang on one side and trees on the other. The further we walk; the lights in Padang Besar became smaller and dimmer. We came to a wooden hut and waiting for us at the steps was another tanned-looking fellow (only this time he was a fat one) dressed-up in a sarong and white Chinaman singlet. Our runner whispered into his ears and on his signal, we handed-over six Singapore international passports to him with M$10 neatly tucked inside. Our passports were returned to us. There was something unusual about our passports; the passports were not rubber-stamped but carried hand-written signatures and the date of entry. Of course we were suspicious but language difficulties prevented further probing. A short while later a big beige 1960s Chevrolet appeared which took us for a 1.5 hour drive to Haatyai. We did talk about it in the car, whether the endorsements in our passports would be valid on our return trip into Malaysia but the long journey up from Singapore – by train and taxi - simply drained all our energies. That issue was the last thing on our minds. Whilst one or two of us kept awake, the others fell asleep. An hour and the half drive would not be considered long by any standard but in southern Thailand and the only car on the road at this hour of the night did give rise to concerns. What happens if we were kidnapped? Can the Thai driver be trusted – he was always so polite and laughing? He didn’t speak English, we didn’t speak Thai. The only light was the car’s headlights beaming weakly into the dark.
We (honestly) didn’t know that we were on the “Old Smugglers Trail” when we crossed the border. It is only after much reading and getting comments from others that we know what we did 35 years ago. Some commended us on our courage. Smuggling along the Thai-Malaysian border was very rampant in the 1970s, comprising rice, fuel, sugar, fire arms, cigarettes and the vice trade. You can imagine the consequences if we were detained by the authorities or worse still by the smugglers. Beside the smugglers, there were also fear of the Communist Terrorists (CTs) and armed bandits. Today, Malaysian Rangers from the 8th Infantry Bde are deployed on the Malaysian side of the common border because of militant secessionist movements.
Now try and guess where did we enter Thailand in today’s context?
Photo 3: (A) 2.4 meters high border fence beside the railway track. (B) The empty plot of land on the Thai side of the border viewed from a passing train heading into Malaysia. We came through the gap between the two parked trucks and continued walking to the tree on the right. Behind that tree is now a metalled road and a row of 2-storey houses. (C) The view of the parked truck and the border fence from the metalled road. Behind me on my right is the Chinese temple. (D) The road beside the railway track where container trucks enter/leave Thailand for the KTM inland container-yard. This container-truck is heading back into Thailand.
Photo 4: (E) The semi-concrete security fence when it was under construction (2002). Photo courtesy of Jasa Kepada Rakyat Malaysia. On the left of the fence is Malaysia, the building right of the fence belongs to the Thai Immigration & Customs. The “Bukit” in the background is at the spot height of 660 feet. The security fence begins from Wang Kelian in Perlis to Rantau Panjang in Kelantan. (F) The same Thai Immigration & Customs building today. (G) The Maybank branch was the spot where a road led to the old Padang Besar Station.Photo 5: Left - Anan brought me to this location to see a recently discovered secret “smugglers trail”. Grey colored markings on the rubber trees and tree trunks buried in the sand serve as direction indicators. After its discovery by the Malaysian authorities, this trail was shut-down. What is the clue to this location? Look out for places (along the border) with rubber cultivation. Right – A typical hole in the fence. Notice there is no concrete wall below the fence unlike today’s border fence.
The next time when you visit Padang Besar, look out for those places I have mentioned. Just picture this as a young adult’s adventure which only can happen once a life-time. On the other hand should you think that is inappropriate, try to imagine then as a “Then & Now” thing; i.e. you are into heritage trail stuff. Next time I might consider writing the next episode of our return journey from Sadao (Thailand) to Changloon (Malaysia).
** There is a difference between an ethnic Thai Muslim and an ethnic Malay Muslim of Thai nationality.
The Smugglers' Express
10 August 2009
Today's quiz is about another old gate. (Earlier quiz here.) However, I must confess that I do not know who used to occupy the premises behind this gate, why the gate was constructed and why only the gate is left standing? Perhaps you could provide the answers to those questions? The gate seems to lead nowhere.
Q1. Where is this gate located? Provide the nearest road name.
Q2. Name 2 nearby landmarks.
The gate is located near the sea in the northern part of Singapore.
02 August 2009
Let's begin with a photo from NAS' PICAS. It shows an SIT block of flats in the 1950s.
The block in Cheng Yan Place that I stayed in from the mid-50s till the mid-70s looked similar to this one. However, there are 2 differences:
a. My block did not have a zig-zag facade like this one; and
b. The partition between the balconies of 2 adjoining flats in my block was a wall and not mesh-wire like what you see in some of the flats in the above photo.
(At this point, perhaps I should throw in a quiz question for which I don't know the answer - if not in Cheng Yan Place, then where was this block located?)
The coffeeshop was directly below my flat. Its boss was someone we called Ah Dong (阿东). He had a wooden counter with a glass/wooden cabinet for displaying packets of cigarettes for sale. Among the popular brands then were Navy Cut, Lucky Strike, Camel, Matterhorn and Abdullah 37．Most of these brands are no longer available today. But I digressed as cigarette is not the "snack" that I am talking about today.
Lining the top outer edge of the wooden counter were several large glass jars that looked something like the one below. (My sincere apologies if it looks more like a milk bottle to you. Now you know why I did not end up being an artist.)
Thanks to Frannxis who has a miniature version of the glass jar, I have this picture to show you:
The cylindrical jars were at least 15-inch tall and about 9-inch in diameter. They each had a tin cover with a knob. The tin covers were lined with tracing paper to ensure that the jars were kept air-tight. The jars were never empty but were always filled with yummy-looking and irresistible snacks, at least to children like me. (Little wonder why my dental health could have been better today.) Some of the snacks were arranged very neatly in the jars. Most of the snacks were peanut-based. I recall the following types:
Kong thng. This one literally crumbles and melts in your mouth.
Peanut candy. You must have very strong teeth to eat this as it is hard as a rock. Be careful, if you break off a piece of "peanut", be very sure that it is not one of your molars.
Peanut "cake" like these but without the curvy edges.
The peanut "cake" looked really like a carrom seed, only bigger and thicker.
Peanut biscuit that looked somewhat like the one on the left but actually more like the one on the right.
Choi ma fa (脆麻花) that looked like a girl's braided hair.
And a final one for which I don't know the name. You may be put off by the "not very appetising" brown pattern on the biscuit but just wait till you taste it. I think this biscuit is still available today but in miniature form while the one we had at that time was almost palm-sized.
Do you remember the above snacks?
Update On 3 Aug 09:
Alexander commented that the last photo showed an "ear biscuit". I googled and found the following types:
Picture from source. This one is called "yee chai pang" in Cantonese or "spiral ear biscuit". It is also another type of biscuit that I was familiar with as a kid. However, the ones I ate then had 4 biscuits joined together like a butterfly, hence it was also called the Butterfly Biscuit, as Chun See had pointed out.
Picture from source. This is a thinner type and is called "pig ear cracker biscuit".
Picture from source. This is yet another type and is called "cow's ear biscuit".
Still, I don't think any of the above types of ear biscuit is exactly the same type as the one that was sold in the coffeeshop. As mentioned by YG, it was flat, thin and large. The brown spiral portion tasted like ginger biscuit.
Update on 4 Aug 09:
Thanks to YG. He went as far as his neighbourhood shop (which is not really that far) to buy this biscuit so that he could provide the correct photo for this blog:
Yes, this is it! What will I do without friends like Frannxis and YG? Now, what is it called? Elephant ear?