28 November 2011

Selegie Integrated School - My Primary School Days (1)

How Selegie Integrated School Looks Like Today
In February this year, Sunday Times reporter Kon Xin Hua requested me for an email interview as the newspaper would be publishing an article on old buildings and Selegie Integrated School was one of them. Her questions and my answers are reproduced below:

Q1. What was the reason that saw you studying at Selegie Integrated School?

A1. Our family lived quite near to the school then. We were staying in Cheng Yan Place, a mere 15-minute leisurely stroll to the school which was less than one kilometre away. Of course, in those days, there was no such thing as priority for registration if you lived within one kilometre of the school. Even if there was, we would have no problem with it. As my family was not very financially well off, we could save on transportation costs if the school was nearby. The school was also brand new. I went to Primary One in 1963 which was year when the school was opened. (The then DPM Dr Toh Chin Chye officially opened the school on 19 Jan 1963.)

Dr Toh Chin Chye, Deputy Prime Minister and Assemblyman for Rochore Declaring the School Open on 19 Jan 1963 - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives
Q2. What were your initial thoughts on the 10-storey tall building?

A2. Having attended one or two years of kindergarten classes on the 2nd storey of a 4-storey SIT residential block in Prinsep Street, the 10-storey building certainly looked huge and imposing. (The SIT blocks are still in Prinsep Street. They have been conserved and possibly been converted into dormitories.) I had not seen such big lifts before. The only times when I took a lift was when my family visited my uncle's flat in a 9-storey SIT red-brick resident block (Blk 1) on Upper Pickering Street.

Q3. I'm sure there was more than one memorable feature of the school for you, would you be able to share with me a few features of the school that strike you the most? I read on your blog about the two canteens and lifts? :)

A3. Other than the 2 canteens, 2 lifts and the dental clinic which I mentioned in my blog, I remember part of the school ground was covered with coloured rectangular tiles of size about 1-foot by 2-foot. They were of yellow, red and green colours. I used to walk on them while trying to avoid all the lines in between the tiles. To me, it was a giant hopscotch.

Q4. What was life like as a student there? Any particularly striking events that happened in that school that come to mind?

A4. School life was quite routine. I remember one incident when due to a misunderstanding, a schoolmate punched me in the stomach. We were both brought to the principal's office. When the principal found out that I did not retaliate to the boy's attack, I was released. I didn't know what happened to the boy who punched me. There was another incident when a boy disturbed some female classmates and was punished in a unique way. The teacher put an unstrung badminton racket to rest at the neck of the boy and then pulled the racket back and forth. If this were to happen today and the boy's parents were to lodge a complaint to MOE, I am sure the teacher would be in serious trouble.

Q5. Do you recall the reason why they built a 10-storey high school?

A5. I don't recall the reason why they built a 10-storey high school. However, I believe that the land within the city area is scarce and expensive and hence the government had to fully utilise the land area by constructing a tall building.

Selegie Integrated School in 1963 - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives
Q6. What do you think of the building today, having been left abandoned for some time? (Is it a waste etc)

A6. I think it is a waste to leave it abandoned and in a derelict state. It should have been used to generate some revenue for the government's coffers, e.g renting it out to commercial schools or organisations.

Q7. What would you like to see happen to the building in the future?

A7. I would like to see the school converted to a hotel. This has been done for Pearl's Hill School which is now Hotel Re!. By the way, Pearl's Hill School was a 12-storey building and in 1971, it took over the unofficial title of the "tallest school in Singapore" from Selegie Integrated School.

Q8. Is it correct if I say you were fascinated by the big lifts in the school as you rarely took lifts unless you were visiting your uncle? Do you regularly take the lifts in your primary school? Which floor did you study on?

A8. Yes, I rarely took lifts then except when visiting my uncle. I was in the school for 6 years so I must have been on various floors before in different years. I think the classrooms I was in didn't go above 7th floor though. From the windows of the higher floors you could see quite far as there were not many tall buildings around to block the view then. I had to take the lifts several times a day - when reporting for school, going for and returning from recess breaks, going for and returning from PE classes, returning home as well as when I was "summoned" by the school dentist (which was quite often as my teeth were not very well-kept)

Q9. I would also like to ask you if you know anything about why the building was abandoned, and when it was abandoned?

A9. Sorry, I am not sure when Selegie School last operated in the building or when NAFA took over and when it abandoned it.

Further reading:

1. 4 Nov 2005 Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 5 (My Primary School Days)

2. 5 Aug 2006 Hello Again 38 Years After "Eating Fishball"

3. 13 Aug 2006 Class of 1968 (Pr 6J of Selegie Integrated School)

29 May 2011

Modes Of Road Transportation In Singapore In The 1930s - The Rickshaw

Since my last two posts (here and here) were about a 1930s car in Singapore, do you know what were modes of transportation in the 1930s? I will be answering this question in this and the next few blog posts. I have posed the question as quizes because they would be rides in the park (pun intended), that is, they would have been too easy for you.

Besides, the answers are already given in this book which I co-wrote with Dr Tan Wee Kiat and Noel Hidalgo Tan. (On the website, you may read the entire book on page at a time by clicking on right link at the bottom of the page. In case you have missed it, I mentioned about the book here when it was published.)

The 5 pages in the book about the rickshaw, otherwise known as the jinrickshaw, are reproduced below:

Jinrickshaw (Rickshaw)

The word ‘jin-rick-shaw’ (or ’jinricksha’) literally means ‘man-power-carriage’. Later, the words ‘jinrickshaw’ and ‘jinricksha’ were simplified to ‘rickshaw’.

The rickshaw was first brought into Southeast Asia from Shanghai in 1880. Fares were cheap and the rickshaw’s popularity grew rapidly.

This photograph shows a rickshaw puller in normal day attire – long sleeves and straw hat to keep out the sun; shorts and unbuttoned shirt to keep cool; a towel around the neck for wiping off sweat and dust; and barefooted for a better feel of the road.

With the increasing number of rickshaws plying the roads in Singapore, a separate department was set up in 1899 to register and inspect the rickshaws. In 1903 the Jinrickshaw Station at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road was built to house this rickshaw registry and inspection centre.

However, the activities that go on within the Jinrickshaw Station building nowadays are very different from those for which it was built.

The building currently houses a restaurant and nightclub with the sign “the one LCD KTV”.

At the Jinrickshaw Station there is a plaque describing the history of the jinrickshaw. Below is an excerpt from the plaque to give an idea of the fares paid by passengers. The wording on the plaque also indicates that many rickshaw pullers hoped to go back to China rather than settle here permanently.

“Early rickshaws were small, lightweight, hooded carts with large wheels, pulled by a single man. Hoods that were easily erected provided protection against the rain or strong sun, and, in some cases, prying eyes. A hood up in fair weather often meant that the passenger was a call girl or some character of disrepute. For three cents, one could go half a mile (0.8 km), or for 20 cents, have the rickshaw at one’s disposal for an hour. Most rickshaw pullers were coolies, who laboured in the hope of saving enough money to return to China after their sojourn. So popular was the rickshaw that it edged out its competitor, the steam tram.”

With their low wages, rickshaw pullers could afford only the cheapest of meals. One of their meals consisted of three (or more) bowls of plain yellow noodles cooked with green vegetables and dried shrimps.

As this dish was popular with the rickshaw pullers, it became known as ‘rickshaw noodles’.

It is still possible to find food stalls that sell rickshaw noodles. One such stall is located in the Maxwell Road Food Centre just across the road from the old Jinrickshaw Station. Note the words “RICKSHAW NOODLE” on the sign.

Many cities have banned the rickshaw. In Singapore the rickshaw was phased out in 1946 – 1947. In the Indian city of Calcutta (Kolkata) it was in use till 2006 when a law to ban rickshaws from its roads was passed. (TIME Magazine, 18 Dec 2006).

“WHEELS OF MISFORTUNE: Invented in Japan, rickshaws became a ubiquitous symbol of Western imperialism in the 19th century as native coolies hauled around their foreign masters in places as far afield as Shanghai and Zanzibar. But as they were steadily replaced by more efficient – and less demeaning – conveyances, the two-wheeled, human-powered carriages gradually disappeared from streets around the world.”

To round off this blog post, the undated article below was written by Crystal Chan, probably an SPH journalist.
Yesterday's Tales - People Power That Takes You Places

Rickshaws were once the last word in public transport around town - By Crystal Chan

Introduced here in 1880 from Japan, via Shanghai, the people-powered rickshaw was basically two parallel wheels onto which a carriage was mounted.

By the 1890s, the rickshaw trade was flourishing.

Other forms of public transport were evolving but were seldom as cheap or convenient: Trams or buses served mostly the city and cost 10 cents a ride.

In 1897, rickshaw pullers charged six cents per mile (1.6km). From 9pm to 5am, an extra cent was charged per half mile.

Unsurprisingly, the puller stayed poor. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, records James Warren in Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History Of Singapore, average income was $1 a day.

Of this, he spent 30 cents on food, and between 45 and 50 cents on rickshaw rent.

Pullers from Fujian province wore cotton shirts, blue denims and straw hats, while those from Guangdong had hats with down-turned brims.

Rain or shine, they would pad about barefoot or in sandals made from old car tyres.

At night, they returned to Duxton Road and Duxton Hill in Tanjong Pagar, where they lived among opium and gambling dens and cheap brothels. The area was known as Che Zai Jie or Rickshaw Street.

From 1947, rickshaw pullers were retrained to operate trishaw - a rickshaw-bicycle hybrid. They had to pass tests set by the licensing authority.

The number of trishaws declined from the 1970s, and survivors now serve the tourists.


1880: Rickshaw arrives from Japan.

1890s: Trade flourishes as they're cheap convenient and go everywhere. Trams and buses serve mostly the city.

1947: Pullers retrained to operate trishaws.

25 April 2011

Old Singapore Quiz (24) - Old Car - Answers

Hmm... what was my last blog post about? Sorry, it was so long ago that this old memory of mine could hardly remember.

Oh yes. It was about an old car quiz. Now the answers.

Answers to Quiz Questions:

Q1. What is the make and model of this car?

A1. Ford Y8. The emblem "Y8" on the following photo says it all.

Q2. When was this car manufactured?

A2. 1932 to 1937.

The car was probably imported from the United States as the metal holder for the number plate at the back (blacked out in the above photo) says "FLORIDA - LAND OF SUNSHINE".

Only Joshua Ng got part of the answer to the first question correct, i.e. it is a Ford. And he did it on 13 Mar 2011. Well done, Joshua.

Anonymous and YG both on 15 Mar 2011 gave the year 1937 which is in the correct range.

R. Burnett Baker's answer 1934 is also in the right range.

You can refer to more details on this Wikipedia link. The following passage is extracted from the link:

"For the first 14 months the original model with a short radiator grille was produced, this is known as the "short rad". After this in October 1933 the "long rad" model, with its longer radiator grille and front bumper with the characteristic dip was produced. By gradually improving production efficiency and by simplifying the body design the cost of a "Popular" Model Y was reduced to £100, making it the cheapest true 4-seater saloon ever, although most customers were persuaded to pay the extra needed for a less austere version."

The "front bumper dip" manifests itself as a slight "V" shape in the front bumper. (It is an original characteristic of the car and is certainly not caused by an accident or a careless knock.) You can see the "front bumper dip" in the photos of the car below:

Wikipedia photo of the Ford Y

Just imagine, the car is only powered by a 933 cc, 8 hp engine. Perhaps, the best part is that it costs only £100 in the 1930s, which is probably less than the equivalent of S$1,000 even when the pound is at its strongest. No such nonsense as COE (Certificate Of Entitlement) some more. Moreover, the price of petrol in those days was less than 20 old pence an imperial gallon. Based on the conversion rate of 1 imperial gallon = 4.55 litres and 240 old pence = £1, the price of petrol then was probably only a few cents per litre!

Oh, how I wish I was living in the 1930s! Do you?

06 March 2011

Old Singapore Quiz (24) - Old Car

Today, I was at an old part of Singapore. To be precise, I was walking along Dickson Road.

Dickson Road - The tower in the centre of the photo is the Church of the True Light
Most older Singaporeans know that this area has many shops that sell second-hand goods. It may be a misnomer to call them second-hand goods for some of the goods might have passed through many hands. Some of these "multiple-hand goods" are even sold from lorries by enterprising business people.

Suddenly, something old and deliciously chocolaty caught my eyes. No, it was not some mouldy Valentine's Day chocolates which were rejected by a disinterested lover. Neither was it for sale...

It was a chocolate car!

The car did not have a classic number plate but a new one that starts with "SJS". (I am quite sure that it would have easily qualified to be registered as a classic car as the rule only requires that the car be at least 35 years old. This car is definitely way, way older than that.)

The car is probably not a vintage that is first registered here but rather, one that is imported from elsewhere. Why do I say so? You see, the car is a "left-hand drive" while we all know that cars registered in Singapore are "right-hand drives".

And it was probably driven by someone who had just migrated here. Why? Because he left all the windows down (and windscreen up - something which is impossible to do for modern-day cars). I didn't check if the doors were locked though - they probably weren't. Although Singapore is generally considered a safe place with a low crime rate, the authorities do not recommend such a cavalier attitude.

Or maybe, the car owner thinks that any potential car thief will have a real problem disposing of the car? Anyway, who would want to buy a stolen car which turns head at every street corner? To add to the buyer's woes, he would likely also find it difficult to find the required spare parts to maintain the car in good running condition.

Quiz Questions

1. What is the make and model of this car?

2. When was this car manufactured?

06 February 2011

Old Singapore Quiz (23) - Old Petrol Station - Answers

Happy Chinese New Year to all of you. Sorry for having kept you waiting so long for the answers. Chun See, Peter, YG and Walter knew the answers but not all of them answered directly.

Answers to Quiz Questions:

Q1. What brand of petrol does this petrol station sell?
A1. Caltex

Q2. Where is this petrol station located? Give the road name.
A2. Woodlands Road. (The address is 337 Woodlands Road and the company name is Hup Soon & Co. It is located near Stagmont Ring.)

Notice that as if in keeping with the old world charm of the petrol station, the staff is using a traditional "sapu lidi" broom (made from the spines of coconut leaves) to sweep the floor. Also, the standalone diesel pump in the background seems to be deliberately left in a state of disrepair.

But nothing can compare with this old staff who appears to have aged gracefully together with this petrol station through all these years.

11 January 2011

Old Singapore Quiz (23) - Old Petrol Station

Chun See commented that my quizes are "a bit too tough" for him these days. So for his sake, I am giving an easy one this time. Should be a piece of cake. No clues needed.

The petrol station in the photo looks like a typical one in rural Malaysia, doesn't it? Well, it is not. Nowadays, I believe even some petrol stations in rural Malaysia look newer than that.

Would you believe that this "remnant from a bygone era" is in Singapore? It has got to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest petrol station in Singapore. No supermarket or convenience store in this outlet, only a car wash.

It probably dates back to the 1950s. Don't expect it to charge 1950s prices for petrol though. For cheap petrol, you still have to go further up north where the petrol stations are newer.

The petrol station badly needs a paint job and I have done just that. That is painting over the essential bits so that the quiz won't be too easy.

Quiz Questions:

1. What brand of petrol does this petrol station sell?

2. Where is this petrol station located? Give the road name.

03 January 2011

Old Singapore Quiz (22) - Old Building - Answer

Nobody gave the correct answer for this quiz although YG did make an intelligent guess, as always, by saying that the building must be near my place of work. I don't think the quiz was too difficult but rather, there seems to be very few visitors to this place - Labrador Villa Road in Labrador Park and hence not many people know what it has to offer. Why do I say that? Well, I visited Labrador Park on the morning of 29 Dec 10, a Saturday and there was not a single soul in sight!

Almost all the facilities in the park were closed. They include the old building which, according to a location map in the vicinity, was originally designated a boutique hotel. I do not know whether the hotel business actually did materialise or not.

Other facilities that were closed include:

The secret tunnels.

The tunnels were "rediscovered" only in 2001 and officially opened by Minister for National Development Mr Mah Bow Tan not too long ago in March 2005.

Now they are "closed for maintenance".

The Villa Raintree Resort and Spa, which used to house the Pasir Panjang Boys' Hostel from 1980s till the early 1990s and then Breakthrough Missions till the early 2000s.

The creepers on its signboard look creepy.

The Olive Ristorante.

Even the toilets were closed. And definitely not for cleaning.

This statue in Labrador Park seems to be on the constant lookout for the precious and elusive visitor.

Considering the dearth of visitors, why do you think Labrador Park is now undergoing "maintenance"? Surely cannot be due to wear-and-tear because of heavy human traffic, right? And how come the supposedly "maintenance" does not have an expected completion date? Like Mandai Orchid Garden which "has been losing money from Day 1", according to its owner Mr Heah Hock Heng, I believe Labrador Park is suffering the same fate. Only difference is that Labrador Park is losing Government's, or more rightfully, taxpayers' money. Mr Heah continues to operate the Mandai Orchid Garden at a loss because of his passion for orchids. However, the same cannot be said for Labrador Park visitors. I don't think visitors are passionate enough about history and heritage to be willing to fork out $8.60 just to explore the secret tunnels at the park. Thus, the tunnels are likely to remain secret... or be "closed for maintenance" indefinitely.

What do you think?