27 December 2009

Old Singapore Quiz (16) - A Garden City Built But Something's Lost

According to the National Parks website, efforts to turn Singapore into a Garden City started some 4 decades ago. The driving force behind the greening of Singapore was none other than the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yee who launched the Tree Planting Campaign in 1963.

The following passage was extracted from the "Garden City" entry in the book "Singapore - The Encyclopedia":
"During the 19th century, the jungle was cleared in Singapore, first to make way for agriculture, and later to make room for urban growth. The colonial government introduced street plantings and civic spaces, attempting to preserve the remaining natural vegetation and ameliorate the loss of greenery. This was, however, interrupted by the onset of World War II and the Japanese Occupation.

In 1963, Lee Kuan Yew identified a 'Green Singapore' as a key competitive factor in attracting foreign investment and contributing to the quality of life of Singaporeans. Resources were directed towards building up Singapore's natural environment through the active planting of trees and shrubs along roads, on vacant plots and on new development sites. The Parks and Recreation Department (PRD) was formed in 1976 for this purpose. As most of Singapore's streets were devoid of greenery, the key task of the PRD was to increase the amount of plant and vegetation in public spaces. Fast-growing indigenous trees such as the angsana, rain tree, yellow flame and ketapang were introduced.

The next phase of the Garden City programme saw the cultivation of free-flowering trees and shrubs like frangipani and bougainvillea, which added colour to the landscape. In addition, paved areas, such as car parks, were planted with trees to attenuate the build-up of heat over asphalt surfaces. Concrete structures, such as flyovers, were also planted with creepers, such as the climbing fig.

By the 1980s, Singapore had tree-lined roads interpersed with parks filled with flowering plants and greenery. 'Green lungs' had been created in commercial areas such as the Marina City Park, while developers of residential areas were required to plant roadside trees and set aside land for open space. Parks competed with residential, commercial and industrial developments for land use, and park planners had to consider factors such as the location of population centres and accessibility.

In 1990, the National Parks Board (NParks) was formed, comprising the Singapore Botanic Gardens and research divisions of the PRD. NParks also undertook a major programme to rejuvenate the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Fort Canning Park found new life as a performance venue. Singapore's nature reserves were also given new resources for conservation.

On 1 July 1996, the PRD as a whole merged with NParks. NParks instituted community outreach and education programmes such as the 'Adopt-a-Park' scheme, through which schools and other organizations were encouraged to help tend their own special garden plots with an aim to cultivating a sense of ownership of the natural environment.

As the Garden City took shape. NParks introduced the Heritage Trees concept in 2002 to preserve and maintain prime specimens of old trees, while the Heritage Roads scheme (also launched in 2002) sought to preserve distinctive roadside landscapes.

NParks now manages a hierarchy of parks and open spaces, including nature reserves, roadside greenery and vacant state land. The Park Connector Network, a comprehensive network of park corridors, links major parks and nature areas. To sustain the development of the Garden City, NParks has completed its islandwide Streetscape Greenery Master Plan, which is aimed at creating distinctive landmarks out of future roadside greenery. Skyrise and rooftop greenery is also encouraged as part of the aim to optimize land use. Such features include rooftop gardens, landscaped bridges, terraces, decks and balconies. Other forms of skyrise greenery are plants on flyovers and pedestrian overhead bridges, as well as landscaped gardens above basement carparks."
The above passage is summarised in the following YouTube Video titled "The Garden City Story":

Quiz Question:

Well, that explains the part about building a Garden City. You must now be wondering what the second part of this article's title, "But Something's Lost" is all about. The 1970s photo at the beginning of this article was passed to me by my friend Peter Chan. The pre-war houses in the foreground of the photo had been demolished. Can you identify the place in the photo? As with my 3 previous quizes, the place is in town. (Of course, Peter is automatically barred from participating in this quiz.)

25 December 2009

What? Got To Get Today From Orchard Road?

I am not so lucky as some people who get Today and MyPaper newspapers delivered to their doorsteps everyday. To get my hands on a copy, I need to visit my neighbourhood 7-Eleven convenience store. Usually, I will buy a copy of the Straits Times so that I "qualify" to get my free copy of Today. Also, I have to do that early as the free newspapers are usually all given out by noon.

Before committing 90 cents for a copy of the Straits Times, I would peep behind the counter to see if there are any copies of Today left. If there are no more copies left, usually a serious-looking middle-aged Chinese woman behind the counter would tell me, "Finished."

But today was different. A Malay woman staff saw me looking behind the counter and said, "Ah, ah, no peeping."

I asked her, "Got Today?"

She replied, "No Today today. You've got to get it from Orchard Road today." But with that, she passed me a copy of Today without me having to buy anything. Just then, YG called me on my mobile to wish me Merry Christmas and also to arrange a meet-up with a mutual friend.

After talking on the phone for about a minute, I went back to the counter to pay for a copy of the Straits Times. I asked the woman, "How much?"

She replied, "90 thousand. You made me wait so long". Then she broke into a smile.

I congratulated her for being so cheerful and humorous in doing her job. I said her predecessor was a bit too serious. She said, "Must joke lah. Otherwise very stressful."

Hmm... did this taxi plough into the 7-Eleven at Tiong Bahru Plaza to get his free copy of Today too? Aiyah, no need so gan cheong lah!

24 December 2009

Season's Greetings

Wishing all readers of Taking Up The Challenge:

Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Also Happy Birthday to my son who turned 18 today. He will be serving his NS with effect from 11 Jan 2010.

19 December 2009

Singapore's Carpark Wardens Through The Years - By Peter Chan

Scene 1:
Woman claims she parked at 1.10pm. URA car park warden, Ms. Kamsiah bte Wang claims woman parked at 12.51pm. The woman appeals against fine for the second time, claiming her watch is accurate. She decides to appeal (as a matter of principle and not because of the $30 fine) to the URA “relevant authorities”, only to receive a flat rejection letter. Will she go to Subordinate Court #26?

Scene 2:
A motorist considers it a waste of money to use a 50-cent parking coupon and leaves his car at the kerbside. He claims he can see his car and since everybody else is also doing the same, should be no problem. He goes into the kopitiam for that famous Bak Chor Mee and cuppa of coffee. Then all hell breaks loose as someone loudly screams, “Mata lai lor! Kah pak liak! Chut Saman! You see men (and women) dashing off to their cars leaving their bowls of Bak Chor Mee half eaten.

Singapore is a really “fine” city because we Pay And Pay. We have fines for all kinds of offenses, including a fine for paying a fine late. I guess we need fines to maintain discipline otherwise how could Singapore have got to where it is today? But who is that “Chenghu” (Hokkien for the authority) on the street? It is none other than our URA parking warden whose duty has somewhat changed over the decades.

Photo 1: Left; lonely warden writing on her booklet. A Hock Lee Bus passing by the public car park (circa 1967). Right; two wardens needing to rest their tired bodies against the cars. Notice a lorry double-parking “waiting” for a car park lot (circa 1972).

In the 1960s, the car park warden was responsible for issuing tickets to motorists in public car parks and at kerbside parking. Wearing one of those “Chinese funeral type” straw hats, she could be easily recognized by any motorist.

She had in one hand, a booklet of parking tickets, a stiff cardboard to provide hard support and to prevent writing through the carbon paper. She did not have the non-carbonized paper type but the Pelikan brand which came in black ink. The carbon paper was trimmed to the size of the booklet and inserted between the original parking and the duplicate parking tickets.

The entire process of issuing a parking ticket and making a payment was simple. After a motorist pulled into a parking lot, she walked towards him and asked how long he would be parking. The motorist was given the original ticket whilst the parking warden kept the duplicate. Payment received would be kept it in one of her safari jacket-pockets whilst the small change was kept in the other jacket-pocket. If a motorist exceeded his parking time, he was issued with a pink ticket neatly tucked under the windscreen wiper. All he now needed to do was to walk up to her and make the additional payments. The car park warden checked the time the pink ticket was issued and the time on her wrist watch. Mentally working out the duration, she would tell him the right amount to pay.

A fine occurred when the motorist drove off. The URA sent out letters of demand within 2 weeks from the date of the offence - stating the fine, the amount for the exceeded time and due date for payment. The first letter of demand was in white and the final warning letter was in pink. When the motorist chose to ignore, a visit to the courts was not unusual. You don’t need to guess how come I knew so much. In court, you see a long line of traffic offenders in a queue, each person waiting for the prosecutor to call his or her name to stand before the magistrate. When I pleaded guilty (always a smart thing to do instead of raising your hands or displaying a “boh chap” attitude because this adds to the cost) the compounded fine was S$50/.

Photo 2: Left; One display method (circa 1980), Middle; Parking coupon + computerized fine (circa 2009), Right; Car Park Warden speaks: “Madam I already key into computer. You not happy, you can always write in. I am only doing my work.” Then Madam speaks: “Chi kuan a lang bor tow lor….wah buay tahan. Gor a ji tu buay sai……”

One thing good about yesterday’s parking. You doubled-park your vehicle against a double-white line and wait; allowing your passenger to do errands such as running into the bank to make a deposit or to deliver goods. Surely these errands could take up to 30 minutes but the car park warden never chased you away. You could block other motorists also but as long you move your vehicle, it was alright. All kinds of reasons not to pay were accepted by the car park wardens. Maybe people in the past were more reasonable and forgiving. Try doing the same thing today in front of the Bank of China Building on Battery Road. Did you see in the rear mirror someone taking out his “Weapon of Mass Destruction”?

Things changed with the introduction of self-ticketing parking coupons in 1980, the HDB joining URA later that year. In 1980 there were 658 URA car park wardens employed. When the self-ticketing system was introduced, car park warden duties were changed to enforcement duties at the car parks. They imposed surcharges on the spot when motorists display invalid coupons. The surcharge was four times 40 cents parking if it lapsed within one hour, when more than an hour an additional $10 was imposed.

By this time, URA created a special “Hit Squad”. Enforcement wardens on scooters were sent out to keep a look-out for motorists who did not display valid car park coupons, tampering with the coupons (folding backwards without tearing away the tabs) or cheating on the starting time.

Photo 3: The law on wheels; yesterday and today

I observed that with the implementation of self-ticketing parking coupons, city parking charges went up even faster than before. Consider that in 1965 it was just 20 cents for one-hour, then it became 40 cents for one hour in 1974, 50 cents for one hour in 1980, 60 cents for half-hour in 1985, and now $2.00 for one hour. There were all sorts of variations as shown in Photo 4 that can be very confusing for motorists. Fines also escalated to newer heights.

Photo 4: Motorist woes, government happiness. Left - Early 1970s; Middle - Late 1980s; Right - Today

With coupon parking and Cashcards, it has lead to the demise of the once popular URA car park warden. Now we have the CERTIS-CISCO carpark wardens but they belong to the “Hit Squad”. Thirty meters away, you hear “Vrooom Vrooom, Vrooom”. Then nearer to you, he loudly beeps the scooter horns. You can’t pretend you didn’t see him coming because very soon you see on the driver’s side of the window, a familiar figure in dark glasses starring hard at you. “MOVE!” Sheepishly you crank your engine, move the gears and step on the accelerator. It certainly looks like our car park wardens have “reinvented themselves” so that they can stay relevant in this modern age.

13 December 2009

Old Singapore Quiz (15) - Answers

Looks like Old Singapore Quiz (15) was too easy for the oldies old timers. I should have provided a false clue like "mammary organ of a female transformer robot" to mislead you. :p

I got a feeling that Icemoon knew the second answer but only gave the first one, i.e. "bolt from a bridge". So gentlemanly of him. Stanley got "One Fullerton" mixed up with "Fullerton Hotel" but I am certain that he knew which bridge it was. YG's guess of Anderson Bridge was close in terms of proximity but far away in correctness. (You can see Anderson Bridge in the background of the last photo.) Ironically, it was someone without a name, i.e Anonymous, who came up with the correct name - Cavenagh Bridge.

The passage below is reproduced from the NHB heritage marker at the bridge:
Built in 1869 to link the Civic District on the North Bank with the Commercial District on the South Bank, this is the oldest bridge along the Singapore River in its original design. It is also the first steel suspension bridge in Singapore. Before its construction, access between the two districts was only possible by a detour over Elgin Bridge or by paying one cent for a boat ride.

Named after Colonel (later Major-General) Orfeur Cavenagh, the Governor of the Straits Settlements (1859-1867), the bridge was designed by the Public Works Department.

It was manufactured by P & W MacLellan in Scotland and the parts were shipped here and assembled by Indian convict labour.

According to the original design, the bridge was to be raised during high tide to facilitate the passage of barges. However, this proved to be technically impossible and it became a fixed suspension bridge. By the late 1800s, the bridge could not withstand the growing volume of vehicular traffic and Anderson Bridge was opened in 1910 to ease the flow. Cavenagh Bridge thus became a pedestrian bridge.

A police notice put up to regulate the use of the bridge, banning heavy vehicular traffic exceeding 3 cwt (hundred weight) or 152 kilogrammes, still stands today at either end of the bridge.
Cavenagh Bridge has been depicted in Singapore stamps at least twice:

a. In March 1985, a 35-cent stamp featuring the bridge was issued:

And especially for Icemoon, below is a second shot of the bridge taken from a similar angle as the above stamp.

Below is the transcript of the above article which is extracted from the book "Singapore's Monuments & Landmarks: A Philatelic Ramble" by Dr Tan Wee Kiat, Mr Edmund Lim W K and Mr Kevin Tan Y L. (You can read this book for free at Dr Tan's Retrievia blog. Several other philatelic books written by Dr Tan and other co-authors are also available at the blog.)
Cavenagh Bridge - Near the mouth of Singapore River, there is a beautiful small bridge, built in 1868. It is named after Governor Sir Orfeur Cavenagh. It has the distinction of being Singapore's oldest cast-iron bridge. An interesting fault in the design emerged at high tides - the barges could not pass under the bridge. To cope with the ever-increasing volume of land traffic a bigger bridge (Anderson Bridge) was built in 1909 parallel to Cavenagh Bridge. A sign was then put up on Cavenagh Bridge forbidding "vehicles, cattle and horses" from using the bridge. The sign can still be seen to this day.
b. In August this year, Singapore and Philippines jointly issued 4 stamps of bridges to commemorate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the 2 countries. Cavenagh Bridge was depicted in one of the stamps:

Have you noticed that the values of the 2 stamps, i.e 35-cent and 65-cent, add up to exactly 1 dollar? Well, I believe that this is purely coincidental.

Below are more photos of Cavenagh Bridge:

An old postcard of Cavenagh Bridge circa 1920s. This photo was taken from Fullerton Square. You can see the clock tower of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall in the background of the photo.

Lighted-up Cavenagh Bridge by night (1) - 1935

Lighted-up Cavenagh Bridge by night (2) - 1935

Cavenagh Bridge today - dwarfed by the skyscrapers in the background

Further Reading on Cavenagh Bridge

1. Retrievia.

2. Infopedia.

3. Street Directory.

4. NHB's Heritage Trails.

5. Singapore Travel Tips.

6. Virtual reality tour.

7. Lifestyle Wiki's article.

08 December 2009

Old Singapore Quiz (15)

This is my 3rd polygonal quiz. (The first 2 are here and here.)

For this quiz, can you identify the object and where is its exact location?

Could it a part of a cake, wheel, crane, gate or pillar? Hmm...


1. This object is in town.

2. It is fixed and does not move. In fact, it has not moved for over a hundred years.

3. The underlying material is metal.

4. The outer coating is paint and not butter cream.

5. It measures about 10 inches or 25 cm across.

6. There are several of such objects nearby.

7. And lastly, if you really need this last obvious clue, the object is connected to old Singapore, of course.

05 December 2009

Bra As Mask

An invention that makes an impact
In a crisis it can save your life
Its only side effect:
Reminds one of tender moments with wife

What's wrong with a regular mask?
Let me hazard a guess
Stocking up is so impossible a task
That women have to go braless?

In fact Bodnar's invention is nothing new
Someone has already thought of that
Visit this link to see it's so
How resourceful can you get?

Are these people mad?
First, they used it as pampers
Could next be sanitary pad?
These inventions really make (one) wonders

28 November 2009

Old Singapore Quiz (14) - Answer

What a disappointment! Despite so many clues given, nobody came up with the correct guess for the last quiz. I am sure that once I reveal the answer, you will be saying to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Quiz Question:

Where did these patterns come from?


Not from an old blanket but from Fairfield Methodist Church (花菲卫理公会). This church is located at the junction of Maxwell Road and Tanjong Pagar Road. The building has been conserved. (Owners of conservation buildings cannot demolish the buildings or make major alterations to their structures or facades.)

Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for National Development at the 2005 URA Architectural Heritage Awards Presentation Ceremony at Malay Heritage Centre on 26 Sep 2005 said:
"Another post-war building approved for conservation is the former Metropole Cinema, otherwise known as Jing Hwa Cinema. Together with the Majestic and the Oriental, Jing Hwa Cinema, built in 1958, was one of Chinatown’s three famous cinemas. Some of you may recall traveling from outlying areas to catch your favourite Chinese movies there. Its successful new life as Fairfield Methodist Church today shows that modern-style buildings can be retained and modified for new use."
The building was built in 1958 as Metropole Theatre (金華大戯院). It was one of three famous cinemas in Chinatown - the other two being Majestic Theatre and Oriental Theatre. In the 1990s, Metrolpole Theatre was converted into Fairfield Methodist Church.

As I mentioned in one of the clues, I took the photos from only one side of the building. As indicated by the red arrows, all the 4 patterns appeared in this photo:

Metropole Theatre (1958-1985)

The following description of Metropole Theatre was taken from 4 posters displayed on its ground floor:

This was the main ticketing booth of Metropole Cinema. Patrons could purchase $1 and $1.50 tickets for seats in the main cinema hall at Level 2. The cheaper $1 seats were in the first few rows.

Kuehn Hall [entrance door in the centre of the above photo] was part of the cinema's basement car park. This car park is significant because it is the first basement car park ever constructed in an air-conditioned cinema in Singapore!

The front of Kuehn Hall was the ticketing booth for the more expensive $2 and $2.50 circle seats at Level 4.

At both ticketing booths, cinema goers would choose their seats from a piece of paper that displayed the overall seating arrangement before the seat numbers were manually written on the tickets.

A typical cinema seating plan in those days looked like the one in the above photo. The ticket seller, usually a woman, would cross out with a blue or red colour pencil the seats on the plan for which the tickets have been sold.

To get to the various levels of the cinema, patrons could either use the main spiral staircase...

...or the lift which was manually operated by a dedicated lift operator. (You can see the current lift in one of the photos above.) The lift had a foldable iron gate as the lift door. (Please see this post for a description of a similar cage lift.)

More Recent Photos of the Church

But How Did The Interior of the Cinema Look Like in the 1960s?

All the black-and-white photos below are by courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore:

The above photos were taken at a speech by C.V. Devan Nair, Member of Education Advisory Council at the Metropole Theatre in 1964.

Do you recognise this very famous Cantonese star who made an appearance at the Metropole Theatre in 1967? She was only 16 then.

This is how she looks like today:

Yes, she is Sit Kar Yin, also known as Nancy Sit. She is still pretty and charming after all these years, just like the Metropole Theatre.

Further Reading:

BullockCartWater's Metropole Cinema (Kum Wah)