06 November 2006

When We Walked On Water

A flood in Telok Blangah - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Before the mid-1960s, Singapore was very prone to floods. The situation was especially bad during the monsoon season when rain is heavy and prolonged. Since those early years, the Government has done a lot to improve the drainage system and reduce the flood-prone areas from 3178 hectares in the 1970s to only about 134 hectares now. Even so, our national water agency PUB still issues flood advisories - the last one was only as recent as in April this year.

People who stayed in kampongs at that time were particularly hard hit by the floods. You could be forgiven if you thought that Singapore was hit by a giant tsunami:

Flood waters that turned a kampong into a kelong

A living room that became a huge bathroom

A policeman rescuing a boy in a kampong near the Police Training School along Thomson Road

Even city folks were not spared the wrath of the floods. The following two photos dated 13 Nov 1964 show the flood situation in the Telok Blangah area. Ironically, Singapore had water rationing in the 7 months just prior to this flood:

It was fortunate that we lived on the fourth and topmost floor of an SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) flat. Hence we were relatively unaffected by the floods. However, I remember a bad flood in 1965 when my sister Lilian was studying in Sec 1 in Whitley Secondary School. I interviewed her for this story:

My school was located at the junction of Whitley Road and Dunearn Road. (The building has since been torn down and replaced by Singapore Chinese Girls' School.) I was in the morning session. The rain probably started sometime in the morning not long after I had arrived in school on a Green Bus.

By the time we were dismissed at around 1 pm, the flood waters around the school had risen to more than 1 metre deep. As the roads around the school were not passable to vehicular traffic, all bus services were suspended. All pupils from the morning session were instructed to assemble in the canteen and wait for the flood to subside. It was a long wait - we were stranded in our own school.

The rain continued to pour and we were cold and hungry. None of us were prepared for this to happen. Most of us had brought only enough pocket money to buy food during recess. In any case, by the time the afternoon recess was over, most of the stalls had run out of food. To make matters worse, there was no public phone in the school. Even if there was, most families did not own a telephone then so there was no way to contact them. I could only hope that my parents were kept informed via media reports.

Nightfall came and still there was no sign of relief. The passage of time seemed excruciatingly slow in such circumstances. After what felt like ages, help finally came at 9 pm - in the form of an army 3-tonner. Somehow, the men-in-green could always be counted on for emergencies like this. I boarded the truck gratefully with scores of other school mates. That was my first and last time that I rode in a 3-tonner. Although the ride was not very comfortable, I can safely say that it was the best ride I ever had in my life. I had to alight at the Rex Cinema and walk another 15 minutes back to my home in Cheng Yan Place near Queen Street.

It is indeed a good thing that we now have Civil Defence exercises to prepare for such eventualities even though that Singapore is now less prone to such massive floods. Thanks goodness and the Government.

That was a story on how we used to walk on water, rather unwillingly. Therefore, I still cannot bring myself to understand how "walking on water" has now become such a privilege that it can be used to sell a condominium.


Thanks to my sister for the above story and also to National Archives of Singapore which supplied all the photos used in this post.


Anonymous said...

I remember the 1960s floods and the last one in 1977. Each time the floods came, my father's car stalled around the Dunearn Road area (opposite NUS Bukit Campus).
Because my father drove to town, we always had to use the Bukit Timah Road. The flood prone areas were a) junction of Adams Road and Bukit Timah Road, b) Bukit Timah campus soccer field (now a part of the Botannical Gardens nurseries), c) Napier Road and the junction of Tanglin Road, d) Derbyshire Road, e) Alexandra Road and Leng Kee Road, f) Chinatown in front of People's Park Complex and g) Farrer Road and Holland Road Road.

Each time the floods came, we had to send the car to a motor workshop down in Sungei Road (present Tek Ka Shopping Mall) to "drain" out the water from the engine. After major overhaul of the engine, the car gave lots of problem and then it was time to "trade-in" for a new car. I pity the second owner who bought the car.

When I drove a brand new Morris Mini 998cc in 1977, I encountered a flood at the road bend in Napier Road. I went through the floor by stepping on the accelerator in second gear and slowly made my way out of the flood. When I cleaned the car a week later, I found that my back seat was soaked with water and rust had appeared in my car-boot.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately the Kampung house which I stayed in Hill View Avenue is on high grounds and thus not affected by floods. I am too young to remember anything about the 1965 flood, but I am happy to note that the authorities have the necessary preventions in place to minimise floods during heavy rain nowadays.

Chris Sim said...

Woa, you even got your sis to 讲古 ah?

The only flood I know is Op Banjir whom you should be quite familiar with... hahaha..

Thankfully, I've never experienced flood, but we know, juz like fire, water is a bad master. That's why I NEVER park my car in B2 in the office, unless there's really no slot in B1. Shit happens, you know.

Anonymous said...

Got inspired by some whispering ad that allows you to "walk on water"?

Anyway the watermark on the pictures are very distracting.

Lam Chun See said...

When I was staying in Farrer Rd in the mid 70's, it was a common sight to see the field in front of NUS Bt Timah campus looking like a huge lake.

As for the 1965 flood your sis talked about, I have some vague memory of the stretch of Dunearn Road in front of University Rd being flooded.

Chris Sim said...

Oh Victor, I forgot to add... Only Jesus walks on water....

Anonymous said...

My most treasured childhood memories revolved around floods too. My primary school at Jalan Bukit Merah is proned to floods too, around 1981-2. The first floors of the school building will be completely flooded and we kids will find ourselves sitting on the tables by teacher's orders, hugging our school bags. Once, the flood was so bad, we were trapped in school, waiting for our parents to come fetch us. Those of us whose parents can only come in the evening were fed by the kind hawkers in the school canteen while the teachers watched over us. Those were the days, gone once they put in the monsoon drains around the school.

Victor said...

Peter - I never cease to be amazed by how you can always value-add to any post by drawing on your vast experience. And your memory, as evident by your recall of every minute detail, is extremely vivid. You really should start your own blog. Thanks for that interesting story.

Chuck - You are always the lucky young one.

Chris - I must follow the footsteps of my shi fu (Chun See) and invite the whole family en-bloc, no I mean on blog, no no I mean, on board mah. Yes, I agree with you - the developer is not only trying to sell his condominium but maybe his religion as well.

alex g - Sad to say, I can't do anything about the distracting watermarks. If I don't want the watermarks, I have to pay $50 per photo. I wouldn't pay that kind of money even if I could afford it. (BTW, I can't afford it.) Would you?

Chun See - Wow, you had a residence with a lake view with no extra charge? Another lucky fellow (but not young).

zephyr - I stayed in Bukit Merah area (Silat Avenue Blk 143) for most part of the 80s. Were you in the new Zhang De Pri Sch just opposite my block? Or were you in Bukit Merah View Pr Sch? I didn't know that floods still occur in that area in the 1980s. I thought 'bukit' means 'hill' and hence should not flood since it is high ground? Anyway, it is good to hear a similar story from someone who is almost 2 decades younger than me.

Lam Chun See said...

With gobal warming and melting of polar ice caps, who knows.. maybe our grandchildren will also get to "walk on water" some day.

Anonymous said...

Once I stayed with my cousin at Paya Lebar Street (opposite Lorong Tai Seng). It was a private estate but it had a canal that connected Eiling Primary School to Harper Road. Come flood season, my cousin's terraced house got flooded; furniture and pots and pans from the kitchen flowing around the house. In 1968, I got shocked coming down the staircase -saw a rat sitting on a cooking pot, like sitting in a boat. From that day, I became terrified by the sight of rodents.

Talking about the car my father after it got caught in the flood, guess who bought the car? My boss's father who was in the construction trade. 15 years later I saw the same car - Peugeot 403 and the same number plate "SP7888" in Chatsworth Road. In those cars it was not unusual to keep a car for 20 years because there was no such thing as COE.

Anonymous said...

Its Bukit Merah North School. There used to be three primary schools (the other two are Bukit Merah South School and Redhill Primary) almost in a row within the same compound, facing a big field, where (according to our PE teacher) cows used to roam and leave behind their 'gold'. These 3 schools were later merged to become Bukit Merah Primary School. Now, the school is no longer in existence. Where it used to be are Gan Eng Seng Primary School's grand new school buildings. Guess my old school must be at the foot of the hill. The bukit part seems to be just to the right, where Bukit Merah Secondary and Lengkok Bahru is, they are on slightly higher grounds

Anonymous said...

If I can remember correctly, one day in 1964 on Hari Raya day, being an operations personnel I still needed to report for work, and on that day it rained 'cats & dogs'. It caused one of the worst floods in Singapore history. Many cars were stalled along the way from Lorong Chuan right up to Tg Pagar, but my old junk (could qualify as the earliest Morris Minor model manufactured in the fifties) could unbelievably sailed through the flood. I scatched my head and asked how could it be. So I asked my mechanic Kiat for an answer. His explanation was that the later Morris Minor model all had overhead valves, and mine being an earlier one had side valves, which meant that water could not get easily into the engine. So the 'old horse' had performed its duty loyally, and worthed its purchased price of $600.00 and after about 2 years I sold this car to Chun See's god-brother Ah Sing for $400.00. Again this remarkable 'old horse' served Ah Sing well carrying tins of coffee seeds for his father coffee-shop. I did not know the fate this loyal creature, surely ended up in the scapeyard, but it must had died an honourable death.

Victor said...

Ah, I remember the quirky Morris Minor. Does yours have the little mechanical light signal arms that swang out from a slot in the car's side just behind the doors whenever you signalled to make a turn? When you switched off the turn signal, the arm retracted into the slot - very cute.

Anonymous said...

No - mine could have been an upgraded model sinc eYear of Manufacture was 1976. But I had this dashboard (if you ever call it one) which had all the meters right in the center of the dashboard and plenty of space for "barang barang" behind the sterring wheel and front passenger seat - everything open air. I remembered mine had round head lights not like the Clubman model which had rectangular headlights.

Not bad for travelling - S$10 full tank and can go 41 miles to 1 gallon.

Did you know also that the mini car engine was mounted transversely unlike many European cars of that time? Similar to many Japanese cars like today in order to save space. But one thing I must say about my mini - girls I dated hated to be dropped of at the hotel entrance. Many felt shy. I cant blame them because in the 70s the fashion was to drive a Fiat 124 Sports, an Alpha Spider or a Alpha Romeo Guiletta GT. Cannot blame the girls. Finally the day I graduated, I bought an Alpha Spider (secondhand of course for S$15,000) and of course which "working girl" would not want to sit ina flashy maroon colored open top car?

My father's Volkswagon Beattle had those signal light indicators you mentioned - 1960 model. Sometimes it could jam and would stick my hands out to retract the signal arm. I think it had organge colored lights on them -like a mini window wiper.

Anonymous said...

Victor - You are right. Chun See's good memory confirms your observation of the car's cute signal indicator. The Morris Minor was a car that can take a lot of punishment. At that time most instructors used it to train the untrainable - those ladies that reversed cars into the drains during training sessions (apology to the ladies, no hard feeling). One humourous incidence, a tester when out testing a lady learner, and both ended up in hospital!

Victor said...

One humourous incidence, a tester when out testing a lady learner, and both ended up in hospital!

Oh dear, I hope what they did in the car had nothing to do with my favorite topic.

Anonymous said...

Not to worry, a fact that happened some forty years ago, now revealed in a blog (described by Chun See as coffee-shop talk), could not do much damage. Anyway blogging does not always mean talking of nice things.

Anonymous said...

There's some confusion that needs to be cleared up. There were 2 kinds of Morris Minor; the first that looked liked a Bettle and the other like a Mini. The former was from Morris and the latter from Austin, 2 different comapnies which later were merged to form British Leyland.

I agree that the one that looked liked a Bettle and often used for L-Driving had that kind of signal indicator lights. Cant remember similar appartaus for the Mini though.

Anonymous said...

Those that were used for training learners were undoubtedly the Morris Minor. As for the mini, box-like type, it could be the Morris Mini Minor (same company for both). There was another confusion - was there another similar type of mini called Oxford Mini Minor ?

Anonymous said...

A correction for the above comment, could be be a Austin Mini Minor. My vague memory goes back to the Singapore Grand Prix, when a terrific Austin Mini Cooper (name?) spun (360 degrees) at the devil's bend, one door was flunk open by sheer force of the turning, but the remarkable car continued the race. The film Italian Job exeggerated the Mini performance, but this little fellow did carry a big punch.