Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Memories of Queensway Shopping Centre

It is sad to see many parts of Queenstown that I have been visiting for decades disappear one by one. When I was living in Farrer Road, I often went to Queenstown for my shopping and leisure needs.

Even after I got married and moved to nearby Sixth Avenue, my family continued to go there regularly. Among the places that we frequented were the wet market at Tanglin Halt, Queenstown Library, the NTUC Fairprice Supermarket and Big Bookshop at Margaret Drive, Margaret Drive Hawker Centre, Tah Chung Emporium, the BP petrol station at Queensway and Queensway Shopping Centre. Most of these places have disappeared but Queensway Shopping Centre is still a landmark in that part of Queenstown; but I suspect that its days are numbered.

My earliest memory of Queensway Shopping Centre was in the mid-1970s when I was still doing my National Service. I remember going to a Malay barber who was operating from some makeshift stalls at the fringe of Rumah Bomba Circus just before returning to camp on Sunday evening. I think, at that time, Queensway Shopping Centre had not been built yet. Subsequently, after Queensway Shopping Centre was completed, these stalls moved into the complex and I continued to patronize the Malay barbers there. But when my favourite barber, a quiet, gentle old man by the name of Din retired, I stopped going.

Besides the barbers, I also became a regular customer of a tailor there called Benz Tailor until today. I cannot recall how I came to know this shop which is run by a gentleman by the name of Simon. 

During my NS days in Mandai Camp, our S1 (Manpower Officer), a Lieutenant Tay introduced us to a spectacles shop there run by his relative. Other than that, there are the famous photocopy shops on the third floor.

At one time when LDs were the rage, I signed up a membership with a video rental shop at the 3rd floor. Subsequently, the shop closed and moved out before I could redeem all my coupons. Also on the 3rd floor was Christian book store. I bought some books and CDs here. And I also bought some CDs from a shop on the ground floor; including this Bread CD.

There was also a Jumbo Coffee House on the 3rd floor which served pretty good western meals. You can see the name of the restaurant in big letters on the glass window facing Queensway. 

When I was working at the National Productivity Board in Bukit Merah Central, I had to pass by the Queensway Shopping Centre on the way home. Sometimes, I would stop here to buy some kueh tutu and muah chi for my children to snack at night.  It’s fun to watch them prepare the snack. Makes one feel like a kid again.

Another thing I remember about the Queensway Shopping Centre was the basement carpark. The layout of the parking lots were rather strange, like in concentric circles. The entrance is from Queensway and the exit is at Alexandra Road. Exiting the carpark is rather difficult especially if you drove a manual gear car as you have to stop for a long time for the heavy traffic at Alexandra Road.

Today, I seldom go to Queensway Shopping Centre. I feel out of place there with the many shops selling sports goods and shoes and the loud funky music. Still I will miss the place when they finally demolish it.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Here one day, gone the next (Braddell Rise School compound)

It’s finally happened! They’ve completely demolished the buildings that once housed my beloved primary school – the Braddell Rise School.

 Although Braddell Rise School itself had ceased to exist for a number of years now; having moved to Toa Payoh and adopted a different name, the old buildings had been retained and housed a number of different welfare homes such as the Minds Tampines Home, and the Society of Moral Charities. Hence, over the years, whenever I drive past this place; especially when I was on the MacRitchie Viaduct, I could catch a glimpse of my alma mater where I enjoyed many fond childhood memories.

Sorry, the date on the new photos should be 29/8/2014
Still I am comforted by two facts. One, the buildings were not torn down to make way for another condo; but for the expansion of its neighbour, the Assisi Hospice. Two, they had not done this earlier. When I first blogged about BRS in November 2005,  I speculated that when they started building the MacRitchie Viaduct, they certainly would have to clear this piece of land. But to my pleasant surprise, they did not; and over the years, I was able to visit it a few times. And in fact just last year, I was there with my friend James Seah for a photo shoot for an article in the Straits Times.

Still, I cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness when I pass by this place now and take a habitual glance towards where BRS once stood and realize the harsh reality of life in Singapore. We simply have no room for sentimentality on the little island ‘paradise”.

PS – You can read more about my memories of BRS, as well as those of my classmates Kim Aii Chan and Lee Sock Gek in my book, Good Morning Yesterday.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Golden Hairpin

When I was very young, our family’s favourite pastime was watching black and white Cantonese kungfu movies at the South Country (Lam Kok) Theatre in Kampong San Teng. This was in the 1950s. One movie that I cannot forget is The Golden Hairpin (碧血金钗). After more than half a century, all I remember about this movie, other than the title, is that the lead role was played by a popular Hong Kong film star by the name of Cheong Ying Choi (张英才) .

And the reason I cannot forget this movie is that I never got to know its ending. You see; this movie was a bit like the Lords of the Ring trilogy. Hence, after watching the first episode, we had to wait patiently for months before the next episode became available. I remember that after watching 2 (maybe it was 3) episodes, I was waiting eagerly to catch the grand finale …… but it never came! I waited and waited; but I never learnt how the story ended. How frustrating! (But, actually, it was not difficult to guess the ending, because it was one of those typical “kill villain and avenge si-fu’s death” type of story.

Anyway, thanks to YouTube, I am now able to find ‘closure’ because I discovered that somebody has actually uploaded all 4 episodes. In fact, in the comments section, one viewer expressed his gratitude because like me, he too did not see the final episode. Unfortunately, after more than fifty years; I have totally forgotten the story. And hence, if I wanted to know the ending; I have to go back to the beginning. Well, like we Singaporeans are fond of saying; “Where got time?”.

Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I did watch a few minutes of the beginning and was thrilled to see the names of many actors that I had not seen for ages; such as Chan Hou Kow (陈好逑) and Si-ma Wah Lung (司马华龙).  Anyway, if you have more patience than me; here you are. Enjoy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Remains of my kampong

I have often been approached by students; usually from NUS or NTU, to assist them with their projects. Usually they found me through this blog or my Goodmorningyesterday Facebook Page. 

Much as I enjoy speaking to young people about the Singapore of my childhood, I usually turn down their requests because I simply could not afford the time. Besides students, my fellow nostalgia/heritage bloggers and I also get requests from media professionals and documentary producers. Usually, I would tell them that the information they are looking for; for example what it was like to visit the New World or Great World Amusement Park, can easily be obtained from their parents or older relatives and neighbours. If for certain reasons, they are not able to do that, I would accede to their requests. Here are two recent examples.

The first was a Malay boy from NUS who wanted an oral interview about the Chinese operas that used to be organised in our kampongs. The second was also from NUS. He interviewed me for his project about the everyday life of Chinese kampong folks. As part of his assignment, he produced a short video of the place where my home once stood. I share it with you here.

PS - One thing I have always wanted to tell anyone who approached me for such assistance; but was too shy to say so openly, was this; if you want me to spend a few hours of my time to assist you with your project, shouldn’t you at least show your appreciation by purchasing a copy of my book? Even if you don’t read such books, you could give it to your parents as a gift, right?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A story Lee Kuan Yew told

I cannot recall for sure; but I think he told this story to a bunch of foreign correspondents at an event in Helsinki. Anyway, this story is based on a Chinese idiom; 塞翁失马,安知非福*. This story can be found in The Straits Times Bilingual Collection, Vol 1, page 86, under the title, Fortunes and misfortunes.  

But when I was telling this story to my children when they were young, I titled it, The Story of Sai Weng.

* Sometimes written as 塞翁失马,焉知非福
Long ago, there was an old man who lived at the border. His wife had died more than 10 years ago, leaving him with a son, whom he brought up. The old man had a mare which he took good care of. When the mare became pregnant, he became very busy and happy. He planned to sell the colt when it had grown so he could use the money to get a wife for his son.
               Unfortunately, when the mare was about to deliver, it suddenly disappeared. The old man and his son searched everywhere, but could not find it. The old man was very sad. After some time, however, he was himself again and behaved as if nothing had happened. His neighbours came to comfort him. The old man, moved by their concern, said: “I do appreciate your concern. However, do not vex yourselves over my problem. Although I have lost my horse and cannot afford to have a daughter-in-law now, no one can say for sure if this is good or bad.”
               Several months passed; and on one clear and windy night, the old man heard the familiar neighing of a horse from his bedroom. He hurried out and saw 3 horses coming towards him. When he realized that one of the horses was his very own mare, he shouted for joy. There was also a small horse which apparently was the mare’s offspring. He hastily brought them to his stable. When the neighbours, who had been awakened by the noise, learned what had happened, they came to congratulate him. The old man was extremely happy. After some time, however, his face darkened briefly and sighing, he said calmly; “Let’s not be too happy. This could be a misfortune.” His words caused laughter, and everyone said he was over-suspicious.
               The old man’s son loved the young colt and rode it often. One day, while galloping along a mountain track, he fell and broke his leg. Many surgeons were consulted, but he could not be cured, and eventually became a cripple. The neighbours came to comfort him. After thanking them for their concern, the old man said: “Though my son has become a cripple, there is no need to grieve, for who knows what good may come out of this incident.” The neighbours were puzzled  by what he said.
               One year later, the imperial court decided to wage war against a neighbouring state. All the able-bodied young men were conscripted into the army and most of them never returned from the battle field. The village became deserted and quiet. Only the old man’s son who had been disqualified because of his disability escaped conscription. Thus even in the midst of the chaos of war, he got married and soon had a son. The old man and his family lived in peace and happiness.
            Many people who witnessed this admired and said of the old man: “When the old man of the frontier loses his horse, it may be good fortune; when he gains another horse, it may be a misfortune.”

The End

At the end of every story, there’s a language tip like this. I learned my hanyu pinyi partly from here.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)