26 July 2010

Shoe Without A Foot

A lone stiletto
Not exactly old
On an electrical box top
Near an old-style coffeeshop

Was it abandoned?
A waste that can't be condoned
Did the other heel break?
Next time buy a better make!

Or was she overdressed?
Hence unduly stressed
At being brought here
By a stingy date I fear

Then flung her stiletto
At the el-cheapo
And hastily departed
Quite broken-hearted

Or accidently soaked earlier
In the recent floodwater
Caused by the heavy rain
When one foot went into a drain

Now she's only air-drying it
When I paid an untimely visit
She never thought it so often
That a poem can be written

Maybe I'm only imagining
Like someone has been saying
Perhaps she was Cinderella
Who fitted nicely in a glass slipper

So had no use for the extra shoe
As she had found her beau
They probably left in laughter
And lived happily ever after

(Related post by Rick Burnett Baker here.)

21 July 2010

How Many Times Can You "Revisit" The Old National Library?

I received the following email and comment from a reader:
Hello Victor !

I am Soo Yong, an architecture student currently writing a dissertation on conservation psychology, questioning the relationship between memory and object in the context of Singapore. In Singapore, when physical erasure is inevitable, I am to study the negotiation, struggles and resistance of individuals against state control urban transformation. I am interested in exploring the alternatives between complete conservation and total erasure of built object. Hence, I have a question in mind that I believe you are the most apt person I can refer to.

On the case of the old national library, I am a foreigner who didn't get to see or use the building before it was demolished. The left over brick post didn't strike any strong feeling in me. I am interested in knowing what helps you in recollecting the memories of the old national library so vividly (in your post dated 30 Jan 2010). Are they tangibles elements like photographs, the standing brick post or intangibles like a smell, a sound or an action? Which are they that trigger the recollection of the long gone time in the old national library? Or they are remembered purposely from time to time so that you won't forget?

Hope that my questions won't bother you too much. Just let me know which you feel comfortable with.

Thank you very much !
Hi Soo Yong, yes I did receive your email but I am still scratching my head on how to answer you. You see, I am afraid that your question is too chim (deep) for me. I can only answer such questions as a layman, not as an expert.

I am not sure exactly how one's mind stores and retrieves its memories, whether most people's minds work similarly or even how mine works (or don't). However, I do know that for everyone, there are good memories and bad ones. Neutral experiences do not make much of an impression and are seldom stored as memories. Hence there are mostly good and bad memories.

Most people will remember good memories with little effort. As for bad memories, most people try hard to forget but fail. So more often than not, both good and bad memories stay.

Some memories are both good and bad. A good example would be a boyfriend or girlfriend who didn't end up becoming your spouse, especially if the break-up was acrimonious.

Time will usually dilute most memories. If not, an aging mind stricken with senility will certainly do the job. That is why some old people have very clear memories of the distant past whereas they cannot remember events that happened recently. I think it is true that old people like to talk about olden times. Perhaps what makes them fond of doing so is that it brings back pleasant memories of their lost youth and vitality. You must have heard an elderly person who keeps repeating his old stories to you. 

For memories that you want to keep alive, talking about it helps. Hence this blog helps to keep my nostalgic memories alive. To be able to write an interesting post about an old topic, you have to do research too, i.e. read other people's blogs and archived articles, collect old photos and maps, make site visits, etc. Doing so helps one recall forgotten details. (One example is when I found out from an old street directory that the Van Kleef Aquarium was located to the right of the National Theatre when looking from the traffic junction. I had all along thought that the aquarium was on the left.) In addition, when readers comment on the blog, they provide further information to refresh the forgotten memories.

When you have visited a place such as the old National Library hundreds of times in your youth some 30 years ago, it is easy to form an emotional attachment to the place. You will remember every nook and corner of the building. Even your experiences during that time which are unrelated to the building may come flooding back when you think about the library.

But still, there are only so many perspectives I can give. What I know and have wanted to say would have been said. After all, how many times can you "revisit" the old National Library, especially when it is no longer there? I don't want to be the elderly person who keeps repeating his old stories to you.

Related Posts:

1. Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 2

2. Old National Library Revisited

3. Changing Landscape Of Singapore (3)

4. Old National Library Revisited (2)

19 July 2010


My blogger friend James Seah aka Thimbuktu recently wrote about a Beautiful Rainbow in Simei. This post is inspired by him.

According to Wikipedia, a rainbow is:
"...an optical and meteorological phenomenon that causes a spectrum of light to appear in the sky when the Sun shines onto droplets of moisture in the Earth's atmosphere. They take the form of a multicoloured arc, with red on the outer part of the arch and violet on the inner section of the arch.

A rainbow spans a continuous spectrum of colours; the distinct bands are an artifact of human colour vision. The most commonly cited and remembered sequence, in English, is Newton's sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (popularly memorized by mnemonics like Roy G. Biv). Rainbows can be caused by other forms of water than rain, including mist, spray, and dew."
I too have seen many rainbows in my 55 years of life. Most of the rainbows which I have seen appeared in Singapore after a rain. (I did not travel overseas until I was in my twenties. In those days, photos were only in black-and-white and hence, a colourful rainbow would hardly show up on film anyway. In addition, it is only in the last decade that photo-taking became affordable enough for me to capture what some people consider as a frivolous subject, both of interest as well as photographic.)

In Nov 2007, I was travelling in a tour bus in Taiwan with my family. (I usually keep awake on the bus to watch out for any interesting sights. After all, we are supposed to be doing sightseeing, aren't we?) All of a sudden, I saw this beautiful rainbow outside the window. I whipped out my camera and captured the scene. At that precise moment, a bus, which was no less colourful than the rainbow, appeared at the end of the rainbow and this was the result:

Doesn't it look like a trolley bus of yesteryear with colourful trolley poles to match?

On 11 Jul 2010, the New Paper published an article about the Jewel of Muscat which is a ship presented by the Sultanate of Oman to Singapore. A rainbow appeared in the sky when the newspaper's photographer toured the ship:

Then as if by coincidence, Yesterday.sg published a post today titled The Making Of Tiong Bahru. In the post's YouTube video, a rainbow appeared in a shot of Serangoon Road:

(Don't ask me why. I am still wondering what the Making of Tiong Bahru has to do with Serangoon Road. Maybe we will find out when the film is completed some time in early Oct 2010?)

No doubt, the above photos are inspirational but there is one shot that got to me. I do believe, that in these difficult and mean-spirited times in which we live, there needs to be a message of hope. We can all use a single image that speaks to us of love, harmony, peace, and joy. An image that suggests the universality of us all. I have been sent that image, and I want to share it with you. All I ask is that you take a moment to reflect upon it...
Scroll down some more...









A little more...









Just a wee bit more...









Brings tears to my eyes!

11 July 2010

Lost Images Of Bugis Street On Film - By Peter Chan

As far back as 1992, the police came down hard on Bugis Street transvestite shows under Section 18 of the Public Entertainment Act. There was a show that featured six men in drag (male entertainers wearing women’s clothes) with their impersonation of famous personalities and performed on top of the old public latrine. The law considered it obscene, frowned on cross-dressing and the rest is history. The last time we had Liang Xi Mei and now we have Aunty Lucy on MediaCorp’s Chinese TV – change of the times or need lucrative advertising dollar?

Photo 1: Liang Po Po (left) and Aunty Lucy (right).

When a Hong Kong-based filmmaker wrote the screenplay of the same name in 1995, they resorted to using set construction to creatively recreate the visual of 1960s Bugis Street. Hiep Thi Le a foreign talent played the role of a 16 year old Malaccan girl. Hiep was last seen in “Heaven & Earth” where her opposite number was Tommy Lee Jones. I remembered Hiep as that Vietnamese refugee carrying her illegitimate child to a U.S. army base. To this Yankee soldier (Tommy Lee Jones) who thought she was available she angrily replied, “Charlie want boom boom? You go there boom boom! (pointing to another Vietnamese prostitute) I no boom boom!”

Photo 2: Hayley Mills and Trevor Howard guests of the Raffles Hotel (c 1967)

Photo 3: The armoury is on the ground floor of the three-storey building (left). The cars on Bras Basah Road are heading towards Beach Road. Raffles Hotel is on the right (c 1960).

In 1967, during recess time a group of RI students (including yours truly) were playing hantam bola behind the armoury building when they noticed a long line of trishaws on Bras Basah Road travelling towards Beach Road. We stood still, peered through the fence and saw a cameraman at the head of the line filming somebody in one of the trishaws. Pretty Polly had a foreign cast of Hayley Mills, Trevor Howard and Shashi Kapoor. Seven weeks were spent location shooting in Singapore and 2 weeks in a London studio. Tom O’Brien (Memories of Singapore blog) told me his former teacher at St John Comprehensive School, Mr. David Prosser was the hair stylist in the movie.

Photo 4: (Left) David Prosser as the sissy hair stylist in the movie. (Right) David standing on the extreme left. The ex-students of St John wear the school uniform at this reunion party.

The following year, the crew and stars of “The Virgin Soldier” came to town for location shooting. The vivacious Ms. Ng Lee Ngoh, a University of Singapore undergraduate played the role of a Bugis Street prostitute leaning out of the window shouting, “Briggs come back.” I suspect Mr. Briggs a British Serviceman fighting in the Malayan Emergency did not pay for services rendered.

I decided to spend some time researching on the history of Bugis Street because it was so colourful to begin with. It appears that rickshaws, trishaws and prostitution went hand in hand, that is if I were to objectively believe the Registry of Rickshaws, a department within the Colonial Government of Singapore.

All the old streets within Bugis Junction and Hotel InterContinental Singapore used to be Japanese brothels while Tan Quee Lan Street and Fraser Street had Chinese brothels. The stations were on the Victoria Street side (present Bugis Junction and Bugis Village) and Queen Street. This probably explains why we still have a trishaw station at Albert Centre.

Photo 5: Trishaw Station at Albert Centre.

Now here is still the chance to catch the original Bugis Street, on film that is. I encourage you to watch Pretty Polly the movie, albeit the British dialogue and accent can be too heavy. Watch the game of noughts and crosses, beer drinking, sailor boys, transvestites, the trishaw race and the Kampong Glam Istana.

Roll! Camera! Action!

Further Reading:

Earlier post by Peter Chan on Bugis Street here.

05 July 2010

Celebrating 55!

Part of the 2,000 or so retiring CPF members who attended the seminar. Their ages added up to more than 100,000 years!

In a few months' time, I will be 55. In the blink of an eye, I have worked more than 30 years with my current employer. I have collected Long Service Awards (LSA) countless times. (I am lucky to have a benevolent employer who gives out LSA every 5 years from the 15th year of employment onwards.) It seems like only yesterday that I wrote this post when I turned 50.

Most working Singaporeans know that turning 55 is a watershed in their lives. You will be considered a senior citizen if there is a GST offset package again and you will be given a Senior Citizen's Bonus. You also qualify for Senior Citizen Admission Rates when you visit most of National Heritage Board's museums. However, you age slower when you travel on our public transport system - you don't qualify for its Senior Citizen Concession Card until you turn 60. (Could it be that driving on Singapore roads is so stressful that it makes you age faster? Must be due to the frequent traffic jams and the exorbitant COE and ERP charges that you have to pay when you drive. So if you take public transport, you are not considered a senior citizen until you are 60.)

In preparation for the big day, I attended Central Provident Fund (CPF)'s "Celebrating 55! Seminar" on 27 June 2010 (Sunday). According to CPF's website, at the seminar, members "will find out what happens to their CPF savings when they reach 55, and learn about the new CPF LIFE scheme. A guest speaker from MoneySENSE will share useful financial planning tips on how to invest in one’s golden years".

It's a bittersweet feeling. I'm happy that I'll be collecting the fruits of my labour (never mind if for me, it's only 30%) after more than 3 decades of hard work. At the same time, I'm sad that I'll soon be considered neither productive nor reproductive. My total CPF contribution rate was slashed from 35% to 29% barely 5 years ago and it would be further cut down by another 8.5% when I reach 55. (Refer to table here.) Tell me if that is not a way of saying that I am not so productive.

However, I am grateful that I can still collect 30% of my total CPF balance. Tough luck for those who turn 55 after 2013 - they get nothing unless they could set aside the required minimum sums in their Medisave and Retirement Accounts.

The CPF Board presented everyone who attended the seminar a "Celebrating 55 Years" umbrella. If I walk the streets of Chinatown or Geylang with this umbrella, I am likely to attract female streetwalkers who are more interested in turning my 公积金 (CPF) into 供妓金 (fund for prostitutes). So I must be very careful where I use my CPF umbrella.

The CPF is really thoughtful. In addition to the handy erectile extendible umbrella, I am also given 2 golden eggs. They are not made of gold, of course, but only painted gold.

Most of us know that the golden egg signifies our valuable CPF nest egg or retirement savings. But suddenly, I realise that CPF might be sending me another message. Putting the 2 eggs together with the umbrella, I get this:

Hmm... maybe they are telling me that I will still be reproductive after 55? In that case, I really ought to be very careful where I use my CPF.