04 November 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 5 (My Primary School Days)

From 1963 (Pr 1) to 1968 (Pr 6J) I attended primary school in Selegie Integrated School. In those days, 'integrated' simply meant that the school was a mixed school where boys and girls studied together. The meaning of the word might have changed somewhat through the years - as in 'integrated' resorts now.

The school is located in Short Street. Despite its name, this street is longer than the street where I lived. It is the street behind the building in the above photo which was taken on 9 Sep 05. The most memorable stall in Short Street for me as a primary school kid was a roadside aquarium which started me on the hobby of tropical fish rearing. The road in the foreground of the photo is Selegie Road.

When the building was constructed in the late 1950s, it was touted as the 'tallest primary school' in Singapore as it was 10-storey tall. In fact, I think it might be still holding that honour today. A glimpse of the school could be seen in one of the old trailers about Singapore's development which was shown frequently on TV around National Day each year. The school was so big (vertically) that it had 2 canteens - one on the ground floor and another on the seventh. Students had a choice of which canteen they wanted patronise. I liked the dry chilli yellow mee on the seventh floor which was selling for 10 cents a bowl.

The school had 2 huge lifts (the size of today's cargo lifts in shopping centres). The whole class of 40 primary school students together with the teacher could squeeze into one of those lifts. (Of course, in those days obesity among children was not yet a prevalent problem.) After PE (Physical Education) class, the whole class of perspiring pupils would take the same lift to the one of the upper floors of the building. No prize for guessing why we always had to hold our breaths even for the 30-second ride up.

My form teacher's name in Pr 6J (1968) was Mr Teo Keng Koon, I think. Anyone of you out there who is reading this thinks that you were in the same class with me? If so, please drop me a comment. Don't laugh, I did actually bump into one of my Pr 6 classmates, Mr Lam Chow Min in Hong Lim Food Centre 1 or 2 years ago. I couldn't recognise him but he could recognise me. I really marvel at this guy's memory - it was like an elephant's. He could even remember my full name and my trademark black plastic spectacles that I wore in Pr 6. (I had my cataract operation done on both eyes some 7 years ago and was without specs when I met him.) He updated me on what (bad things) happened to some of our classmates - one died of cancer, another died of a traffic accident and yet another broker classmate died by commiting suicide just after a financial crisis. I didn't mean to respond dispassionately but when he related the stories, they just sounded like statistics to me. Maybe it's because I have lost touch with these classmates for far too long - almost four decades now. I had wanted to ask him in jest if he knew how many of our classmates were still alive today but I stopped short in case the answer came back as 'just two'.

I could remember only one Pr 6 classmate's name, i.e. Mr Ong Eng Kiat, for one thing - he always taunted me whenever I returned from one of my numerous trips to the in-house dentist for tooth extraction. (Yes, the school was so self-contained that it even had a permanent in-house dental clinic, much to the chagrin of pupils who had poor oral hygiene like yours truly.) Every few months or so, the dental nurse would come personally to the class with a stack of appointment cards. That's when our hearts sank. I would start praying silently that my name won't be called but no matter how hard I prayed, invariably my name always seemed to be in the stack of cards that the nurse carried.

After I had met with my fate and returned to class, Eng Kiat would always torment me with 'Wah, you eat fishball again ah?' because after an extraction, the dentist would make me bite on a big piece of cotton dressing to stop the bleeding. To Eng Kiat whom I envied for having especially good teeth, the cotton wool certainly looked like a fishball. He was of much bigger build than me. If not, I would probably have knocked his good set of teeth out for saying something so hurtful. It was funny to him but certainly not to me. That's why I remembered his name till this day.

My school was located only five streets away from where I lived. (If I had walked to school, I would have to cross Queen St, Waterloo St, Bencoolen St and Prinsep St to arrive at Short St. It would have taken only about 15 minutes at most.) My mother found out that our Malay neighbour drove his son to the same school everyday. So for a low monthly token fee of $5, my mother requested him to fetch me to and from school as well. The neighbour was working as an usher in Cathay Cinema. (He was proof that in the olden days, you could afford a car, a wife and 3 kids on an usher's salary. Today, we don't even have any job for an usher, not to mention about paying him a salary.)

The neighbour's car was a Ford Anglia. Yes, it was the very same model used by Harry Potter which was reported stolen last week. Little did I know then that the car that I rode to school everyday would be made famous by a blockbuster movie some 40 years later! For those who haven't seen the movie, the car looked like this (and it could fly):

Don't you find that the car had a very human face to it? To me, it had eyelids, big round eyes, luscious lips and was always smiling ear-to-ear. Cute isn't it? No wonder it was targetted by thieves. The car had only 2 doors. This meant that the children had to climb in by lifting the front passenger seat. The back windows could not be wound down but could be opened slightly (about 2 inches gap) by straightening the locking clasp located at the rear. Although the car had no air-conditioning, I didn't complain - it shortened my journey to and from school to under 5 minutes.

When I visited the school on 9 Sep 05 (Friday, a school day) the gates were locked and the school was deserted. There was no sign to say what the school building is used for now. I remembered that not too long ago, the school was used as a campus for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. I peered in and saw a lone Indian watchman guarding the school. He looked at me suspiciously, not knowing that I was a friendly old boy who was back only for some nostalgia.

I only hope that this magnificent building, which holds so much pleasant memories for me, will not be torn down in the name of development like so many others before it.


Lam Chun See said...

Hi Victor, I have been planning to write a blog about my old primary school, Braddell Rise School - bet your readers have not even heard of it. But you have beaten me to it.

Your story reminds me of Whitley Secondary which has moved to Bishan, and no long in Whitley Road. Instead SCGS has taken over its premises. In Spore, many of the old schools of our generation seem to have been relocated. Can't think of one which has not either relocated or rebuilt.

Victor said...

Thanks for your comments Mr Jones which came in almost immediately after I posted that entry. (Am I getting famous now, or rather... infamous.) Sorry that I don't remember you as my classmate, hehe. But you are always welcome to post on my block.

Victor said...

Hi Chun See, you could still go ahead and blog about Braddell Rise School. I am looking forward to reading all your very well-written posts. I am sure you have a lot of memorable experiences which you would like to share with us.

Chris Sim said...

Selegie Integrated School? Now, the "integrated" has been replaced by the word "co-ed". Anyway, you sure have come a long way victor and you're even older than thought!

Though I'm considerably much younger (I can't resist emphasizing this, Vic. hahah), my primary school has also suffered pretty much the same fate as yours. Telok Ayer Primary School? Have you heard of it? The school closed down many moons ago because of low enrolment (I think). Thankfully, the building is still around and is now being occupied by TAPAC or Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre, situated at the junction of Cecil St and Telok Ayer St

Since the day I left the school in 1976 after my PSLE, I have NEVER EVER stepped foot into it. It never occurred to do so, 'cause, generally, I'm not much of a sentimentalist, quite unlike you I'm sure you'd agree. Hee!

I have also zero recollection about my schoolmates, save a couple who are notorious and infamous for the wrong reasons. I've never run into any of them since 1976, not even a single one of them! Think Singapore is small? Well, think again!

Well, a sentimentalist I'm not; but I may decide to blog about my school days too, when I'm IN the mood for it. Hee!

Victor said...

Hi Chris. Telok Ayer Primary School? Never heard of it. Must be one of those obscure neighbourhood schools with a 'shaddy' background and which produces 'foollies', wahaha.

I am sure you have bumped into quite a few old classmates ever since you left primary school some 30 years ago except that you may not recognise each other. Don't believe me? Just take out your 16-year old wedding photos and see what changes you yourself have gone through. You may not even recognise yourself ok.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Chris, you better go and visit the place while you can. In Spore, they are mercilous in tearing down old buildings.

Maybe now you not sentimental, but when you get to Victor's age (hehe - I still young) you sure will be.

For years I have been driving past my old school - NJC. So many times I wanted to go in but too lazy. Suddenly, one day I drove past and it was gone, as if overnight. Now only can regret.

I am so glad I got to see ACS in Barker Rd one more time b4 they tore it down when I sent my son for P1 registration. Next I will try to visit Braddell Rise which is now Home of MINDS.

JAG said...

Hi there, this was interesting to read as Selegie was my formaer primary school as well. I attended from 1971 to 1976. We lived not far on Queren Street near a Chinese and Sikh temples. Wow all th good old memories are coming back to me again. We now live in Toronto Canada. Great contribution.

Victor said...

Hi J, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. It is certainly nice to know that one of my schoolmates finds the article interesting. Did you know that I re-united with a classmate because he also read this post?

Later, he emailed me a class photo which I have lost long ago.

Have you seen the my form teacher Mr Teo Keng Koon in the class photo before? (I tried to access your profile/blog but was disappointed to find that you have not made your profile public.

Er... were you a male or female student in Selegie? :P

Unknown said...

I am from Telok Ayer Primary School. I came in 1976 and left 1982.

Chris, I was in Primary One while you were in Primary 6!


I can still remember the botak principal, Mr Kuek.

Victor said...

The Profit Club - Thanks for leaving a comment. I am not sure if Chris is still reading my blog.

Chris - Are you listening?

Anonymous said...

Hi Victor,
Looking at your post and picture of Selegie Primary School brought back memories to me. The most remarkable thing at that time is the 2 cargo lifts that brought the whole class up and down and those were huge to me when I was a small girl then. Yes, the 2 canteens which served delicious mee rebus. The teacher that I remember a lot in those days was Mrs Balakrishnan, who taught me music. Her gentleness I will always remember. I was studying at Selegie from 1974 - 1979. I still remember the taipusam procession that passed by the school each year.

Norliah, Canada

Anonymous said...

It seems that our school's dental clinic must have made a strong impact in many of us. When I think of Selegie, I think of the big lifts and the dental clinic. Those days, when someone comes in with the dental cards, I am sure all of them would be hoping, "not me pls".

Strangely, now I go for my dental checkup twice a year and actually look forward to it. haha..

Anonymous said...


When I saw these comments. Memories just filled my eyes. I was crying...happying to see the comments of the Selegie pupils. The only problem is that I can't associate faces with names...I was a student in Selegie from 1980-84.

Of course in the meatime students in Selegie moved to Stamford Primary and other schools.

The 2 canteens, the lifts and the dental clinic I guess is a common experience that we have all shared. Not to forget our special brush your teeth sessions and drink you milk days(chocolate,stawberry and vanilla).

Though I'm very far away from Singapore...my heart, my roots are always there.


Victor said...

Hi Hasina, thank you for your comments. Glad that you've found this blog.

During my time in Selegie Integrated School (1963-1968), we didn't have "brush your teeth" sessions nor "drink your milk" days.

Globalquest said...

Hi, I still remember your spectacles, too! Do you know that we still meet at Mr Teo's home during Chinese New Year? - Normally Roger Loh Chee Meng, Foo Kim Jock, Ong Tai Peng, Goh Hong Bee and I pay Mr Teo a visit. Lionel Lim, Chow Meng, Geok Leong joined us few years back. Would be great if you can join us!


Victor said...

Yes, Toy Him. I would love to join all of you in visiting our beloved teacher Mr Teo. No one informed me of the date last year. Need to trouble you to pass me the information this year.

BTW, I think I accidentally discovered Geok Leong's clinic just now. Is it in Bukit Merah View?

Unknown said...

Hi Victor,
I came across your blog while updating my primary school in my Facebook profile. You sure bring back many memories.I was in the school from 1964 till 1969(Pr.6F)I lived at Dunlop street and walk to school every day. I have to cross a wooden bridge at Rochor Canal sometime the water cover the bridge and have to remove my shoe to cross it. I remember the 2 lifts,but our form teacher make us take the stair after our recess. You mention your form teacher is Mr Teo Keng Koon,is he also call Henry Teo? I remember helping to make a pond next to the fences. Thanks for the memories..

Fairoz said...

Hi Hasina,saw your comment. I'm Fairoz, We used to be besties in selegie. Have been searching for you all this while. If you do see this comment, please call/text 84827645 or email me at fairozbegum@yahoo.com.sg

J Yusof said...

I was a student in Selegie from 1979-1984. My two eldest siblings went there too. I manage to get in touch with a few of my schoolmates (tx to the technology) thru FB.

Feroz Bessir said...

Telok Ayer also same years