30 October 2009

Old Singapore Quiz (13)

This quiz is really for the oldies. Why? Because the above photo was taken in the early 60s. By mid 60s, the building looked completely different. So if you are above 50-year-old, you might just remember this building. Of course my quiz is still open to young people like Icemoon. But to prevent his uncanny ability to read very small signs, I have doctored out all the telltale signs, including what little remaining background the photo still has. However, I have decided to let the "No Parking" sign remain as I don't think it will give the game away. Can you spot it? (Sorry, this is not a quiz question.)

I am sure people like Peter Chan should have no problem with the quiz though. Hmm... should I bar people like him from taking part?

Quiz questions:

Q1. What was the name of the building at that time?

Q2. What was it used for?

Q3. Where was its location?

Q4. The building changed ownership in the 60s. Who took over the building?

Clues if you need them:

C1. The building was in town.

C2. It is no longer around.

26 October 2009

Phoenix Aerated Waters

Following my last blog article on Framroz's Aerated Waters, I am writing about Phoenix Aerated Waters this week.

Photo of Mr Navroji R. Mistri (1885-1953) by courtesy of Mr & Mrs Noshir Mistri. Originally published in National Heritage Board's newsletter here.

Phoenix Aerated Waters was started by Mr Navroji R. Mistri in 1925. Mistri was trained as an engineer. From 1913-1923, he was working in a fellow Parsi's company Framroz Aerated Waters as a manager. Relation between Mistri and Framroz soured as the former had signed an undertaking not to start a similar business after leaving Framroz. The matter was brought to court which ruled in Mistri's favour.

Mistri was also a philanthropist. In 1952, he donated a princely sum of $950,000 to the government. The money went towards the erection of a 4-storey building for sick children in Singapore General Hospital which was named Mistri Wing in his honour. Sadly, Mistri passed away a year later. Today, the Mistri Wing houses the National Heart Centre.

Phoenix Advertisements in the Newspapers:

22 Feb 1930 Straits Times:

"Delightfully different, Phoenix Orange Pop made entirely from best California oranges. Healthful and refreshing. Phone 3463 for your trial order. Phoenix Aerated Water Works, Singapore."

5 Nov 1930 Straits Times:

"Have you tried our new fresh fruit drink? Phoenix Aerated Water Works Singapore. Trademark. Guaranteed made from fresh California lemons. Product of The Phoenix Aerated Water Works."

However, the most classic advertisment of all must be this one from a Chinese newspaper dated 10 Mar 1926:

The following information is revealed in the last advertisement of Phoenix Aerated Water Works:

1. Its tagline was "There's joy in every glass!"

2. Its contact details were - "Office and Works, 63 Anson Road, Singapore. Telephone 3463, Telegram Phoenix."

And the piece de resistance is a kind contribution by "Anony-mouse" - a 1957 photo of him sitting on stacked-up crates of Phoenix bottles:

Hmm... how come I've never played with such a cute face mask when I was a kid?

And they certainly don't make such strong glass bottles anymore!

Further Reading:

1. Infopedia entry on Navroji R. Mistri

2. National Heritage Board (NHB) publication Flame of the Faith - An Insight into the Parsi Zoroastrian Tradition.

3. Street Directory's Entry About Parsi Road

4. A Story about Rival Parsi Water Sellers

5. The Parsi Community in Singapore

18 October 2009

Framroz's Aerated Waters

My interest in Framroz's Aerated Waters was aroused when I came across 3 different old photos recently with the name "Framroz" on them. The first photo is an entry from someone called Krishna Kumar which was displayed at the "Then & Now" photo exhibition at Orchard Central in August this year:

Krishna said, "Could this really be Jalan Besar Stadium? You could be forgiven for not recognising it, as in its place today stands a modern stadium with state-of-the-art facilities that easily eclipses this nondescript image of a bygone era, with its ill-attired athletes reverberating the nonchalance of a period long forgotten."

Well, I certainly didn't forget this place as my secondary school was just next door. In the early 1970s, Jalan Besar Stadium was usually the venue where the Victoria School football team played most of their matches against other schools.

But I digressed. Notice the building with the big word "FRAMROZ" at the right of the photo? It was located at the plot of land bounded by Jalan Besar Road, Allenby Road and Tyrwhitt Road, i.e. the photo was taken in a north-westerly direction. Incidentally, Framroz in Jalan Besar was mentioned in ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) newsletter of Aug 2000 to be already equipped with "some kind refrigeration plant with cooling tower or evaporative condensers" in the early 1950s.

The second photo was taken by Michael Frost circa 1948:

I didn't realise that it was a scene from Orchard Road - more precisely, Emerald Hill or Peranakan Place - until Icemoon blogged about it here. You can't miss the "Framroz's Aerated Waters" sign in the above photo.

The third photo was taken from this blog by Singeo. The original photographer was a Czech by the name of Dr Baum who took this photo of what is believed to be Framroz's shop at No. 87 Cecil Street in 1929:

Framroz Aerated Water Factory was started in Singapore by a Parsi named Mr. Phirozshaw Manekji Framroz in 1903. I don't know how long the company lasted but in Mar 1973, Framroz (Pte) Ltd was awarded SISIR's Quality Award for Soft Drinks. Several congratulatory advertisements appeared in the Straits Times of 10 Mar 1973. Hence, Framroz must have lasted well into the 1970s.

In its heydays, Framroz must have produced millions of bottles of aerated water annually. Yet would you believe that I couldn't even find a single photo of a Framroz bottle to show you? All I managed to find are photos of 2 ashtrays and a drinking glass which bear the Framroz logo:

From the above objects, you could tell that the Framroz logo was a crown. Hence I believe that the Cantonese used to call this drink 皇帽汽水 or "Crown Aerated Water". (I couldn't find any information to support this belief. Can someone please help to confirm this?)

Have you noticed that almost nobody uses the term "aerated water" nowadays? Instead, people prefer to use the term "soft drink". And the reason, according to this link is as follows:

"As flavored carbonated beverages gained popularity, manufacturers struggled to find an appropriate name for the drinks. Some suggested 'marble water', 'syrup water', and 'aerated water'. The most appealing name, however, was 'soft drink', adapted in the hopes that soft drinks would ultimately supplant the 'hard liquor' market. Although the idea never stuck, the term soft drink did."

Of course, as Chun See pointed out, the Cantonese called soft drinks "hor lan shoi" (荷兰水) which means "Holland Water". I surmised that the term actually originated from a Hokkien who while entertaining a visiting guest, called out to someone in the house to "hor lan chui" which means "serve the guest water". Chun See had dismissed my story as plain nonsense. What do you think?

I end this post with an anonymous comment reproduced from Icemoon's blog:

"The signboard "Framroz's" sure brought back memories.

During Christmas each year, for a number of years I recall, a family friend, would present us with two cases of Framroz aerated drinks. It was a delight to receive this gift, for such drinks were then considered a luxury.

However, the drinks were only reserved for guests. We, children (then) could only hope that there were balance left in the bottles after the guests' glasses were filled.

I recall that we served drinks to our guests in glasses, one glass per guest, and not filled to the brim, unlike the days of plentiful today. Nowadays, we say "Help yourself to whatever you want ... don't be shy." Imagine the amount of wastage! We have indeed come a long way..."

Further Reading:

1. Infopedia link on Parsi Association in Singapore

2. Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Singapore

3. Heritage Tour: Singapore's Parsi Community

4. "The famous brand then was Framroz, and hence there was no Pepsi for Chinese New Year"

5. Drugs for sale in Cecil Street

Update on 19 Oct 2009

Thanks to Andy Young for the following comment:

"There was a large Framroz advertisement on the outer wall of a shophouse along the Geylang Road and Lorong 24 junction across from the Geylang Road Post Office. It could have been one of the factories. Always see lots of crates and bottles on the five-foot ways. It was in the 60s."

Andy was referring to Eastern Aerated Water Co. Ltd. (东方汽水有限公司) i.e. the building in the following photos:

Eastern Aerated Water on 23 Sep 2006

Eastern Aerated Water on 22 Aug 2009

Thanks also to Chun See who sent me a scanned image of the Framroz bottle as well as of a Eastern Cola bottle. He had obtained the image from a book published by the National Heritage Board some years ago. And you know what? According to the image, Eastern Cola was bottled by Eastern Aerated Water - the company whose building appears in the last 2 photos!

We also know what the taglines for the 2 drinks were:

Framroz - "Famous since 1904 but don't know till when"

Eastern Cola - "The taste tells but don't know who"

11 October 2009

Let's Go Haadyai Again! - By Peter Chan

In the 1970s, when I told friends I was in Haadyai, suddenly all eyes became wide opened and conclusions were quickly made. SEX was the perception. Has it changed since then? Depending on your background, your views may be different from mine but it's probably because we are looking at the same thing in a different way. If I am new to Haadyai, I probably thought the same way as you did but hopefully perceptions can change over time. Surely we all know we live in a world of sin but we don’t have to be sinners.

Photo 1: The 1974 memories are kept alive in my photo album including those of the late Michael Chua who wrote, “Dear big Pete, whenever you look at the photo think of the good times we had together and me.”

Haadyai, isn't it a big farang tourist trap? It was actually a big tourist town from the late 1960s through 2007 for tourists from mainly Malaysia, who were there for the weekend although some Singaporeans did go there. However Haadyai is unlike Phuket, Pattaya or Bangkok’s Patpong because Haadyai was never on the R&R list of U.S. servicemen involved in the Vietnam War; so the influence was never there. While you can find wild crowds of merry Westerners, street bars, katoeys, pole-dancing, lap-dancing, street walkers, and music (that increases in volume as the moon rises), the same cannot be said of Haadyai.

Photo 2: Left – Standing on Niphat Uthit 3 Road. In the background is the present-day Yong Dee Hotel and Yongdee Market. Middle – We’are on the way to the “chicken farm”. Right – The short and taller blocks of Novotel Centera Hotel (circa 2009). The shorter block was the original Sukhontai Hotel. The neon corporate hotel logo faces the Hadyai Junction Railway Station.

My recent trip to Haadyai was more heritage than anything else: of utmost importance was to locate the old Sukhontai Hotel where we stayed, 35 years ago. That day my luck was pretty good. I spoke with a Thai-Chinese money-changer and was told the Sukhontai Hotel (under new management and ownership) is now Novotel Centera Haadyai. I hurried off with my friend but a big surprise awaited me. The single 10-storey block became a part of an even taller tower block with a podium block. I was very happy on one hand and confused on the other. I could not figure out some of the old photos with the street names and nearby buildings. Once my orientation became better, nostalgic memories came back: our Minute steak at the Morakat (the popular Sukhontai coffee house), BBQ seafood, cha-cha-cha dancing, our first experience with fiery hot Thai chili padis, Mohan Rao’s hand trapped between the elevator doors, and not forgetting the night life in Haadyai. What night life?

We got educated about “chicken farms” and what was available as an after-dinner treat. We probably pissed-off the bell-hop (who acted as a sort of go-between) after visiting the “chicken farm” on the outskirts of Haadyai town. Despite generous discounts from the opening price of 1,300 bahts or so for an “8pm to 8am companion” our minds were made up. We were not into that kind of excitement. I still can remember the moment our tuk-tuk arrived at the “chicken farm”; a loud whistle brought all the girls together forming a circle as if ready for parade inspection. You won’t find chicks from southern Thailand, the vast majority of the girls selling their bodies (as is usually the case) were from the northeast of Thailand. Why would an 18 year fair-skinned girl do that? We got the standard answer: farmers and families paying off their loans in kind because the rice harvest was poor that year. Then there was the occasional Myanmar girl who was given a Thai nickname “Nok or Phin” - and she looked similar - but you will only discover that if you speak Thai. Generally, the Myanmar girls don't speak any Thai, or speak a very limited amount. “Lah” means he’s from Malaysia. If you hear “Cheap”, that’s from Singapore.

We went to check out a few night spots because we heard so much of their cabarets and unique shows. As these photos show, we soon learnt the "house specialty". Initial bubbling excitement soon became monotonous. We had many questions but few answers. It was easy to deal with the ala Rose Chan performances but suggestive non-stop couple-acts (and more couple to couple acts) and paraphernalia were very mind-boggling. Was it humanly possible to do it? It sure looked a tough way for any (Thai) (wo)man to make a living. Well I thought I found the answers when I had to use the loo - which also doubled up as the backstage changing room.

Photo 3: Left – Can you use your hands? Full suction power to pick up the coin (or suck Singha beer through the straw) and transfer it to another bottle? How could she ever do it? Another entertaining act we saw that night was one of using an artist brush to paint a “Van Gogh”. (Funny thing - Asians, especially couples, like to sit in the front row while Angmohs sit backstall.) Those who sat in front row got a rude surprise. The performer sprayed “water” by bending her knees/body backwards and resting her palms on the floor. Right – In the dark the audience could not make out whether the sexily-clad dancers were real women or "post-ops". Could you tell the difference? I think I might have the answers for both photos.

There has been an effort in the last few years under the leadership of Mayor Prai Pattano to clean the town up. The results can be seen with the new sidewalks and the removal of the overhead electricity cables, but it has gone a little further than that. Ever since the Muslim insurgency problems in the southern provinces flared up, Haadyai's tourist economy had to change. Today you can be forgiven when you mistake Haadyai for a Malaysian town because out in the open, many Thai Muslims and Thai Muslims of Malay origin are wearing the tudung.

Photo 4: Left – Everywhere you go, you find this new Haadyai cultural landscape. Right – I tried the “Korek Telinga” service at 50 bahts. Everywhere I went, I found foot massage services.

Before rushing off to catch the last train back to Padang Besar, we found time for one “last fling”. We headed for the spa because we know that in Singapore, a spa treatment can run into hundreds of dollars and you had to reluctantly purchase a package of 10 sessions in order to get the best deal. Here at the Preuksa Spa (ask for “Toy”), an hour cost me S$20 (S$1 = 23 Baht); in Singapore the equivalent of S$90 at a wellness and spa retreat. Come to think of it, even a doggy in Singapore gets a good body massage, so why can’t I pamper myself?

Photo 5: Doggy gets a massage at Bishan Park (Photo Credit: a Flickr user). Middle – The spa tariff from Peruksa Spa on Niphat Uthit 3 Road (Photo Credit: Ms. “Toy”). Right – One of the treatment rooms at Peruksa Spa. I slept for 3 hours because of the rustic ambience, the soft piano music and lavender-scented body massage.

Personally I am glad I found my old Sukhontai Hotel. When the group holds the reunion at this year’s end, we should have a good program lined up. Where else can you have a bowl of original beef ball kway teow soup for 30 bahts? Tired bodies and Singapore-made stress? I have the answer. Even Mr. Asdang Sukwises, the general manager of Novotel Centera has promised us the hospitality of a lifetime after he heard about how we crossed the Malaysian-Thai border to come to Haadyai 35 years ago. Now, it’s time to sit back and reminisce about Haadyai back in 1974:

In the concluding series, I will tell you more of our return trip through Sadao to Changloon, the nearest Malaysian border town 10km from Thailand.

04 October 2009

Old Singapore Quiz (12) - Circus, Circa, Circle... - Answers

Thank you for all your answers to Old Singapore Quiz (12). Peter and Chun See got the answers right. YG almost got one answer right but he was not sure in the end.

The correct answers are:

1. What is the name of this circus?

A. Delta Circus.

2. What is the name of a landmark which you could identify from the photo? Beside and besides the circus, that is.

A. Singapore Steam Laundry.

Hear is another view of Delta Circus in the early 1970s:

Photo credit: Both old photos of Delta Circus are by courtesy of db1688.

You can see from the right side of the above photo that Blk 77 Ganges Avenue had been constructed by the early 1970s. Some plants could be seen growing in the circus in this photo while the circus in the earlier photo looks bare. Both photos were taken from Blk 48 Lower Delta Road which is still standing today:

Below is a 1963 map of the area:

Below is a recent photo taken from the same angle. As you can see, the view of the road junction is largely obscured by trees - testament to the very successful move by the authorities to turn Singapore into a Garden City. The site occupied by Singapore Steam Laundry is where Delta House stands now. (You can see part of Delta House at the left of the photo.)

Db1688 has a vivid memory of the laundry building on the other side of the Delta Circus:

"My mother lost some heirloom blankets there as the neighbour she entrusted to drop them off forgot to get the claim ticket. My mother pleaded her case with management but apparently some unscrupulous employee took the blankets. You probably remember back in the day when heirloom blankets were given as a wedding gift, right?"

More About Singapore Steam Laundry:

1. Straits Times 9 May 1927 - Apparently, Singapore Steam Laundry had been operating in Singapore as early as in 1927 as the following extract from an advertisement shows:

"Singapore Steam Laundry 361, Havelock Road. Phone 43??7. Proprietors The Indian Trading Co., Ltd. (Incorporated in Denmark) ... done by the most modern and sanitary methods under European supervision, at competitive rates. Our lorries will call and deliver regularly at customers' houses or flats. Special terms to hotels..."

2. Straits Times 5 Apr 1934 - There was even a "receiving depot" under the company's name at 255 Orchard Road, opposite Cold Storage:

"Articles may be handed in for special and express laundry service. Dry cleaning waterproofing invisible mending undertaken. Weekdays, hours 7 a.m.-2 p.m. 4-6 p.m.; Saturdays, hours 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Receiving depot Singapore Steam Laundry Limited. 255 Orchard Road, opposite Cold Storage..."

3. Possibly in the 1930s, the company was owned by Straits Steamship:

"A much smaller Company purchased at the same time was the Singapore Steam Laundry which eventually was to launder all Straits Steamship's linen. Small and insignificant at the time, this Company grew into a valuable asset of Straits Steamship."

4. In the 1950s, Straits Steamship disposed of most of its holding in Singapore Steam Laundry to Sime Darby & Co Ltd even though it was continuing to expand and extremely profitable.

5. Straits Times 19 Aug 1977 - Singapore Steam Laundry up for sale:

"Sime Darby (S) Pte Ltd. is taking the steam out of its laundry business. It is now looking for buyers to take over the name and operations of Singapore Steam Laundry, a wholly-owned subsidiary which has been in existence in Alexandra Road since 1932..."

Below are some 1927 photos of Singapore Steam Laundry, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore: