Saturday, February 18, 2012

The community centres

At Princess Elizabeth, there was little in terms of amenities for entertainment but still leisure life was rich. Residents amused themselves with gatherings at the few coffeeshops, housewives would meet in the morning at the provision shops and market stalls, and some would later gather for their mahjong sessions.

Children were left to their own devices and found activities in every way, from fishing in the longkangs (drains) to foraging in the hillsides and stealing eggs or fruits from the farmers. Girls would play catching, hide and seek or five stones.
In the evenings, residents would gather around the football field to watch and cheer the estate home teams take on each other in their matches.

But the main centre for leisure activities was the estate’s community centre.
In the history of PEE, there were 3 community centres at subsequent times.
Four, if you count the last replacement at the adjacent Hillview Estate.

The 1st tiny community centre was opened in 1952.
This was located at  #8 Philip Walk, a shophouse within the artisan quarters area.
It was chosen as it ‘centrally located’ and had a large playing field in front.
This 1st community centre was set up after early residents complained to the Municipal authorities about the lack of facilities at the new estate. There were then no medical facilities, no public telephones, no bus services or recreational facilities.
So, a unit at the artisan quarters was furnished at a cost of $500 as the first Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre.

Mrs JC Lee, the wife of the Estates Manager for the Singapore Improvement Trust, opened the 1st community centre in Nov 1952. In the following years the big event was the annual Children’s Party organized by the community centre.

The annual Children's Party held on the field in front of the C.C.

In 1959 the CC was moved to unit #101 next to the dhobi shop near the bus terminus. 
It was to remain there till 1963 when the People’s Association (PA) formed by the government embarked on building new community centres all around Singapore.
The new PEE C.C. was built on the open field in front of Blk 17.

My own recollection of the community centres began with the 2nd one near the bus terminal. It was only about 50 meters away from my house so I was allowed to go there at will. I recalled we could borrow the chess set or carom board, which we had to sign out for and then set up tables to play. There were always some old men who were reading the newspapers in the tiny reading room. The community centre was really small and lack room for more indoor activities.

When the P.A. built the 3rd C.C., it was a tremendous leap forward. There was now a basketball court cum badminton court, a whole room for reading and a hall for indoor games like table tennis. The C.C. organised free film shows on a monthly basis at its courtyard.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew laying the foundation stone for PEE CC 13 May 1963.
The community centre was completed 4 months later in Sept 1963.

The best part of all was that there was television!
The TV was housed in a metal cabinet much like a birdhouse set on a pedestal.
Every evening, residents would wait eagerly at 7.30pm for broadcast to start.
Resident would even bring their own stools as only a few seats were provided by the C.C. 
Children waited eagerly for the black & white cartoons like Heckle and Jeckel.
TV news readers like Tan Tok Peng, Steven Lee and Tan See Lai became well known personalities. 
One thing I remember was that everyone stood to attention when the broadcast started or ended with the National Anthem.

In those early days of B&W TVs, the catchphrase was "We apologise for this breakdown. Normal service will resume as soon as possible". Sighs and jeers would erupt from the watching crowd. This catchphrase caught on quickly and was used especially by schoolchildren whenever something went wrong.

One person many PEE residents will remember was called Bisu or A-kow.
Bisu was the caretaker of the CC. He was called Bisu or A-kow as he was vocally challenged or a mute. ‘Bisu’ meant dumb in Malay or A-Kow in Hokkien (politically incorrect now but acceptable in those days). Though many thought so, he was actually not deaf and could hear as well as anyone. The funny thing was that people assumed he was both deaf and mute as he could only utter guttural sounds and gestured all kinds of sign language to communicate.

The C.C. also had a PAP kindergarten and many resident children in the later years would have attended this kindergarten. When the adjacent HDB Hillview Estate was built in the mid 1980s, a newer C.C. called the Bukit Gombak CC was built there. This new C.C. eventually replaced the old P.E.E. Community Centre.

The Bukit Gombak CC was originally called the Bukit Batok CC
until the electoral boundaries were redrawn.


  1. I remember Bisu. He was a close friend with my father. There was this one time I followed my father to the c.c. one evening. He was helping out Bisu to mark out and paint the markings for sepak takraw on the existing badminton court.