Monday, November 18, 2013

Dispelling the Darkness

Last week, I visited an old friend, Jerome Pang. He has one of the most interesting, if not rare, jobs in Singapore. He is an archivist in a private archive; classifying, restoring and preserving old documents and records.
He surprised me by saying "I read this book on Charles Darwin and were you the James Tann mentioned in it?"
"What? Me? In a book about Darwin? Who wrote it?"
"A professor or something named Van Wyhe"

Then I recalled!
Dr John Van Wyhe is a Senior Lecturer  at the Depts of Biological Sciences & History at NUS.
He is the foremost authority today on the life of Charles Darwin as well as Darwin's contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace.

It was about Alfred Wallace that we corresponded with each other about a year ago.
At that time he told me that he was completing his book and was interested in what I wrote about Wallace during his stay at Bukit Timah in 1854.
Also there was a bit of confusion over the actual St Joseph Church building that Alfred Wallace lived at during his exploration in Singapore. I knew it to be the 2nd reconstruction whereas Dr Van Wyhe could only find references to it being the original. He was also interested in the 1852 map of Singapore which I sourced from the UK archive which he had not seen before.

Dr John van Wyhe has since published his book titled: "Dispelling the Darkness : Voyage in the malay archipelago and the discovery of evolution by Wallace and Darwin"

Intrigued by why my name would be in his book, I made a quick trip down to the National Library and found that the book was only available as reference material at the LKC Reference Library.

The book is an easy read for a scientific tome and has quite a good anecdotal account of the events relating to Wallace's jaunts around Bukit Timah. Then I found my name...

Aahh, it was an acknowledgement by Dr van Wyhe to all those who provided 'help' in contributing to his book. It's nice to have your little name amongst the so many famous contributors, although I really didn't think I contributed much. Thanks Dr John van Wyhe.

For those of you who may be still, up to now, wondering who Alfred Wallace is (unforgiveable!),
here is a primer from an earlier blog I wrote.
Alfred Russel Wallace in Bukit Timah

Saturday, November 9, 2013

WW2 relics on Bukit Gombak

As a young schoolboy, I spent many hours exploring the hillside of Bukit Gombak.
Occasionally with my schoolmates but most of the time it was with a boy named Cheng Ah Bah.
Ah Bah was the son of my family washerwoman (that's right! no washing machine in my time!)
Although he was just a few years older than me, the strange thing to me then, was that Ah Bah didn't go to school as we did.  Ah Bah worked on his family farm up on the slope of Bukit Gombak.

Ah Bah would take me all around the Gombak hillside, to the different chicken and pig farms and showed me which fruit trees belonged to which farming family in that area. There were lots of durian, langsat, starfruit, sugarcane and rambutan tree plantations on the hill.

Bukit Gombak in the 1960s. Homestead farms were located all around the ridge.
This is the frontage as seen along Upper Bukit Timah Road
The Cheng family farm was located somewhere near the middle of the left ridgeline.

There was a structure near the summit that had a special significance, although at that time, it was nothing more than just a playground for me. This was a small concrete bunker-like building, which my estate friend Johar Anuar and his buddies used to called the "Fortress".  Most of the old kampong boys knew about it but it was not very accessible as the 'jungle' had grown around it.

In hindsight, I now know that this was the old World War 2 Japanese pillbox built during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. It was still there in the 1960s when the British forces built RAF Gombak Radar Station on the hilltop. This pillbox was near the source of the spring water that till today flows down Gombak towards Hillview.

This is the view of Bukit Gombak from the Jurong side towards Bukit Timah Hill.

This is a view of the summit where RAF Gombak Radar Station was sited. You can see the double security fence surrounding it. I can distinctly remember till this day trekking along the fence.

The bunker would be somewhere near the spot marked 'X" which was beside the source of the natural spring. Princess Elizabeth Estate was built right below this hill slope (right).
This old bunker and the spring source are today within the secured boundary of Mindef and there is absolutely no access anymore for ordinary folks like us.

This reminiscing of Bukit Gombak came about as I recalled how my grandfather had told me, long long ago, that during the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Japanese Army had built a camp on Bukit Gombak.
This triggered my memory of Cheng Ah Bah, who once told me that there were more bunkers around Gombak Hill similar to the one we had played at.

Then it struck me like a light bulb going off ! My Eureka moment!

A while back, I had blogged about the hidden lake of Bukit Gombak.
When I was writing that, I recalled my blogger friend, Andrew Him, with his friends who formed a group called One North Explorers, had visited the lake previously a few years ago and found a destroyed concrete structure near the lake.

Was that concrete structure they stumbled upon one of the old Japanese pillbox?
This was highly possible.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Him from One North Explorers. (
At that time, Andrew and his friends were not able to positively identify the abandoned structure.
In the RAF Gombak photo above, the structure would be located just outside the bottom right corner, near where the hidden lake is today.

This will be my next quest. To find and try to see if that structure could be one of those WW2 Japanese pillboxes that were built around Bukit Gombak during the war years.
I will wait till the dry season around next February or March to make this expedition.
I hope to gather some like-minded friends willing to explore with me. Anyone? Drop me a comment with your email contact.

Related links:
Exploring Bukit Gombak
Bukit Gombak Hill
Topographic Map of Bukit Gombak
War Relic at Hillview Avenue
The hidden lake at Bukit Gombak

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Featured in Bukit Gombak Newsletter

I guess I had gained some notoriety from writing this blog about my old beloved housing estate.
About three months ago, I got a call from the Bukit Gombak CCC asking if I could meet them to talk about my blog articles. They were interested in using some articles and pictures from this blog for a new newsletter which they intended to publish for their constituents.

I had no objections as I felt it would be beneficial to this blog to let more people know of our old estate. Free publicity, why not! So after a few sessions with them, here is the article extracted from their inaugural newsletter which they publish last week.

I have added a link below if you are interested in reading the newsletter in its entirety.

p.s. I must clarify that I am not a resident of Bukit Gombak constituency.

Related link: iGombak newsletter

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Great Great Grandfather founded Chua Chu Kang.

It all started less than two months ago with a question from reader Maidi Lei, "Was the maternal grandfather of Goh Tong Liang the kangchu of Chua Chu Kang?"

This seemingly innocent query was to set off for me a hectic schedule of searches, visits to NLB and the National Archives and bothering friends and relatives for confirmation of facts which till today is still making my head spin!

First, let me explain two things I mentioned above, without which enlightenment you'd probably think I am just blabbering away. These are Goh Tong Liang and the term kangchu.

Goh Tong Liang was my grand uncle, i.e. he was the eldest brother of my grandfather Goh Tong Siew. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1955 and represented the constituency of Bukit Panjang. I wrote about him previously in a blog article about a Sports House at Princess Elizabeth Estate School being named after him.

My granduncle and grandfather came from a very well-known and respected family that seemed to have lived in the Chua Chu Kang/Bukit Panjang rural area for  a very long time. However, I had quite scant details of the actual family background apart from what little my mother told me when I was younger. He was one of the early peranakan kampong boys who was educated at Raffles Institution.

Goh Tong Liang.
Legislative Assemblyman for Bukit Panjang, 1955.
Here is a Straits Times report of 1951 which mentioned my granduncle and that his father and grandfather were responsible for opening up the farm areas in Chua Chu Kang and Jurong during the gambier and pepper farming days of the 19th century.

The Kangchu

The period from the 1840s to the 1850s after the founding of Singapore was the peak period when gambier was the major crop that contributed to the trade and economy of the Straits Settlement. 

Gambier was initially used as a medicinal product and was also used for chewing the betelnut quid. However, when it was discovered that gambier could be used for tanning and dyeing, the surge in demand for it by Europeans, and the huge profits it generated, made gambier the crop that every farmer wanted to plant!

At that time, the ruling British colonialists had no interest in the areas outside the Singapore Municipal City. So in order to start a plantation in the countryside, a permit was actually required from the Temenggong (or later Sultan) of Johore instead. This was because the Temenggong still considered Singapore as his land. 
The Temenggong issued a "Surat Sungei" which was a title deed that permitted the holder to farm the riverine lands. Apart from planting gambier and pepper, the surat sungei also bestowed the holder the title of Kangchu, literally, "Master of the River" in the Teochew dialect. 

The Kangchu thus became the local headman who held the rights to farm the land, authority to collect rent and taxes from tenants, controlled the opium trade in his territory, as well as the manufacture and sale of liquor and spirits. Included in his rights were also vice activities such as gambling and prostitution.

The land which was allocated to the Kangchu, and based around a river, became known as "Chu Kang" and usually took on the surname of the Kangchu.
Thus, as can be seen in a 1852 map of early Singapore, we had districts known as Choa Chu Kang, Leem Chu Kang, Chu Chu Kang, Who Hen Kang, Buko Kang, Chan Chu Kang, Tan Chu Kang, Lau Chu Kang, Su Lin Kang, Peng Kang and Yeo Chu Kang among others.
1852 map showing major Chu Kangs in northern Singapore.

My Great Great Grandfather.
My connection to the Kangchu of Chua Chu Kang is through the maternal line of my grandfather. My great great grandfather was called Chua Chin Huat (蔡进发) who established his chu kang at a tributary of the Kranji River. This tributary was the Peng Siang River.
In fact today, Choa Chu Kang New Town is built upon the very same homestead that belonged to my G-G-Grandfather. The family home, which was a masonry brick building unique in a rural kampong, was located coincidentally where today the Choa Chu Kang MRT Station is. The area around his house was known as Keat Hong.

How CHUA Chu Kang became CHOA Chu Kang
In the 1980s, the Singapore Government started to convert dialect names to Hanyu Pinyin Mandarin.
Chua Chu Kang was to be renamed CAICUOGANG, while Bukit Panjang was to be renamed ZHENGHUA.  The people of the district petitioned the authorities not to rename the regions for historical and heritage reasons. Thus, Caicuogang New Town and Zhenghua New Town were dropped and the old names were to be retained.

Unfortunately, and probably as a result of not knowing the history of the area, the chu kang owned by the Chuas was renamed as Choa Chu Kang from the original Chua Chu Kang. In all probability, Caicuogang New Town was erroneously reverted to CHOA Chu Kang simply because the main trunk road that run from Bukit Panjang to Choa Chu Kang Village at the coast was called Choa Chu Kang Road.

The problem with this reverted name is that the original CHOA Chu Kang was another farm area that was located at the Berih River near where today's cemeteries are located. (See map above for location of the original Choa Chu Kang on the left).
My GGG-father's homestead was marked as Chu Chu Kang on old maps which is where today's Choa Chu Kang New Town is located. I can't imagine that they will ever change the name back to Chua.

A 1965 map showing the areas known as Choa Chu Kang and Chua Chu Kang. (Click for full size details)

(Corrections made: In my original article, I name Chua Heok Nghee as the Kanchu of Chua Chu Kang. It has now been established that Chua Heok Nghee was the brother of the actual kangchu Chua Chin Huat. Chua Chu Kang settlement was developed in the 1840s by Chua Chin Huat and Goh Ah Piao who is Goh Tong Liang's grandfather.)


In doing my research into the origins of the chu kangs of Singapore in the mid 19th century, I came across some very interesting information as well.
Yio Chu Kang was established by a kangchu name Eo Ah Chong. while Chan Chu Kang (today's Nee Soon/Yishun) was established by a kangchu name Chan Ah Lak.

But the most curious information was how Tengah probably got it name. 
Tengah means 'centre or middle' in the Malay language but its origin is not Malay!

In 1863, a surat sungai was issued to a certain Teng Ah Tong (aka Ting Ah Tong).
His chu kang was located at a then unnamed tributary of the Kranji River near Chua Chu Kang.
His concession became Teng Chu Kang and is recorded in a municipal survey of 1855 as Ten Ah Kang. Teng Ah Teng was colloquially known as Teng-Ah and eventually the  tributary river came to be called the Tingah River or Teng Ah River.
The area where he had his chu kang was acquired by the British military in the 1930s to build an airfield , which took the name of the location, Tengah.
The area thereafter became well known as Tengah because of the airfield.

Related links:
Bokokang- a village from our past

Friday, August 30, 2013

The mysterious hidden lake of Bukit Gombak

Following my earlier posting of a video clip of the stream flowing from Bukit Gombak, my friend SK Yum sent me some pictures he took while exploring Bukit Gombak with his children a year ago.

He was surprised to find a lake at the top of the hill. The lake is the source where the stream flows endlessly till this day.

Here are the pictures he took of the stream and lake.
Read on further to learn some surprising facts about this lake.

My sincere thanks to Yum Shoen Keng for providing the personal photos above.

Though the lake has been there for as long as most Bukit Gombak town residents have lived there, the lake was only formed in the late 1970s.
This was when the government closed all the granite quarries in Singapore, (except for Gali Batu) and restricted quarrying offshore to Pulau Ubin.

The lake was formed when water started to fill the pit that was the old SENG CHEW Granite Quarry at Jalan Perang. It continues to fill till this day.

The stream that flows out from this lake acts as an overflow vent to drain excess water should the lake fill to the brim, which happens during intense rainfall. Otherwise, the lake is constantly fed by the natural Gombak springs.

Though not officially restricted as an out-of-bounds area, the lake is cordoned off due to the danger of sudden drop offs. NParks does not encourage visitors there as it is undeveloped with hidden dangers.

The old Jalan Perang Taoist Temple.
In the olden days, there used to be several shrines and one major Taoist temple along Jalan Perang.
The Jalan Perang Taoist temple was noted by residents near and far for its effective talismans given out at this temple.  This Taoist temple also had waters springing from Bukit Gombak which were eagerly collected by worshippers for its 'magical' or spiritual qualities. This temple and all the minor shrines at Jalan Perang were demolished during the construction of Bukit Gombak New Town.

Sorry I am not able to elaborate more on the Taoist temple
(I am not taoist and depended on hearsay for info on it).

Related links:
The old Gombak Nature Trail photos
Bukit Gombak Nature Trail article

Monday, August 19, 2013

A jungle dirt track saved 400 soldiers from certain death.

Unless you lived in the remote Choa Chu Kang area in the past, or unless you know your local geography or history really well, you probably would not have heard of Jalan Perang.

Before the 1970s, Jalan Perang was really a non-descript jungle track leading to places where people would not normally venture.
It ran along the western Bukit Gombak slope, running south from Choa Chu Kang Road all the way to Jurong Road.

Click on sketch to enlarge to full size.

This small dirt track was mainly used by kampong villagers to their smallholdings within the Choa Chu Kang/Jurong farmland as well as by trucks carrying granite from the 4 major quarries on Gombak Hill.  It looked exactly like the picture below, except I remembered it was much narrower.

One of the last few country dirt tracks left in Singapore now.
(Bahtera track at Sarimbun)
The track was called Jalan Perang in English, but rightly it should be in the Malay pronunciation of Pērang, meaning 'dirt track'. However over  the years, it became anglicised and pronounced as Perang (per-rung), which in Malay means war!
This brings me to the story which I will now tell you of how this dirt track became the salvation for 420 soldiers during the Japanese invasion of 1942.
On 8th Feb 1942, the Japanese Army crossed Johore Straits and invaded Singapore through Choa Chu Kang. The defending force there was the 22nd Australian Brigade led by Brigadier Taylor. 
However, the Australians were pushed back by the Japanese from Choa Chu Kang Sarimbun Beach all the way to the south of Tengah Airfield. There they set up a defensive blockade along Choa Chu Kang Road.  (See map below to have a clearer idea)
A reserve unit, called the Special Reserve Battalion comprising over 400 soldiers, was quickly despatched to Choa Chu Kang and given to Brigadier Taylor for assistance. They were ordered to defend the hills south of Choa Chu Kang Road near Bulim and were duly positioned there.
By the afternoon of 9th Feb, Brigadier Taylor withdrew his forces away from the battlefront to Ulu Pandan. In his haste to escape from the advancing Japanese, he forgot to inform the newly arrived Special Reserve Battalion about the withdrawal! 

Click on the map for a detailed view.

By the time the commander of the S.R. Battalion realised he had been abandoned by the 22nd Brigade, the Japanese forces had already bypassed his position in the north and south. Gallantly, the commander, Major Bert Saggers, led his men through the only way out, heading due East in growing darkness, all the time avoiding any contact with the enemy.
Fortuitously, he hit upon the dirt track and from then could make a speedy retreat towards friendly lines at Bukit Batok Hill. Thus, having saved his battalion of 420 soldiers from being annihilated by the surrounding Japanese forces. They then took up defensive position at a small hill at Bukit Batok facing the oncoming Japanese army along Jurong Road. Today, on the hill where they camped that night in 1942, stands the Church of St Mary of the Angels Bukit Batok.
Major Bert Saggers, was captured at the surrender of the British capitulation and was sent to the Thai-Burma Railway as a prisoner of war.  He survived and returned to Australia after the war.
Major Bert Saggers
Commanding Officer
Special Reserve Battalion, Feb 1942.

Today Bukit Batok West Ave 5 and Bukit Batok East Ave 5 follows the identical route that used to be Jalan Perang, all the way from Choa Chu Kang Road to Hillview Avenue.

Related links:
Tragedy at Sleepy Valley
Hillview Ave to Jurong Road

WW2 relic at Hillview Avenue

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Holy Rock of Batu Lapan.

Exactly a year ago, I posted an article about the Keramat Habib Syed Ismail that was located opposite the Ford Motors factory at Upper Bukit Timah Road. (link here)

In it, I lamented the fact that I didn't have the foresight to take photos of that place then, even though I was an avid photographer at that time when the keramat existed. For a whole year since, I've searched and asked around to no avail.

Then a few days ago, on one of my facebook groups, a reader posted a 1906 photo and asked if anyone knew what it was?  I jumped out of my seat when I saw that photo.
Here was the picture that was posted in that facebook group.

This was 'The Holy Rock" that was located beside the waterfall at the old Singapore Quarry, a stone's throw away from the surau (prayer hall) at Kampong Merpati. This tiny kampong was located between the KTM railway track and the 8th milestone Upper Bukit Timah Road (known colloquially as Batu Lapan)
This was where the muslim mystic Habib Syed Ismail lived in the early 20th century and where he had a large following due to his religious 'enlightenment'.
When he died, he was entombed there and a keramat built to honour him. This was the Keramat Habib Syed Ismail.

As mentioned in my previous blog about the keramat, Habib Syed Ismail was venerated as a holy saint, even in his time.  It became legend that Habib Syed Ismail would go to his 'holy rock" to meditate and communicate with the spiritual world.  (Please note that there is absolutely no mention of who that person in the photo is)

The keramat became a place of pilgrimage for many, including many Chinese and Indians, seeking answers, supplications or favours. As a result of the posting on facebook, I was led to other details and managed to obtain old newspaper articles with regards to the keramat.

This is from the Straits Times of 25 Dec 1938 when an article regarding the old caretaker of the keramat Habib Syed Ismail was published. It had 2 pictures showing the keramat and are the only pictures of the place that I have seen till now.

The tomb of Habib Syed Ismail.

The Keramat Habib Syed Ismail at Batu Lapan.
The surau or prayer hall is beside the keramat.

I wonder if the small village was named Kampong Merpati (Dove Village)
due to the large flocks of pigeon as seen in the 1938 photo.
A part of the quarry can be seen in the background.
The KTM rail track would be between the kramat and the quarry.

The 1938 newspaper article was on the old caretaker of the keramat.
He claimed to be 142 years old and born in the year 1796 on April 4th. It was also mentioned that he saw Sir Stamford Raffles. The caretaker was named Mr S. Fareed. He had outlived all 11 of his wives.

Keramat caretaker, S Fareed.

* The keramat Habib Syed Ismail was demolished in the 1980s due to land acquisition and Habib Syed ismail was re-interred at the Choa Chu Kang Muslim cemetery.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Streams of Bukit Gombak

If you have read some of my previous posts, you'll know that I have often mentioned about the streams that flowed copiously through our former estate. These streams originate from springs located within the hillside of Bukit Gombak.

So fresh and clear was the waters that the ecological life within it flourished, much to the delight of the residents and children, Fishes like guppies and barbs, crabs, eels, frogs and who knows what other creatures, thrived in the clean spring water.

This morning, I was walking pass the other side of Bukit Gombak, near the Gombak MRT station, when I noticed a drain was pouring water constantly downhill.
Immediately, I realised that this was one of the many streams that used to flow from the hill.

After posting my initial mobile phone video, I went back to do a proper shot later to show the spring flowing down the now concretised stream. (Ok, ok, it's now a storm drain!)

This is the re-shot video.

I recalled that about 20 years ago, before they built the HDB flats and the MRT beside this stream, car owners, including myself, would drive to the roadside beside this stream to use the clean water to wash our cars.

You can see that Bukit Gombak still contains a lot of spring water that today continues to flow from the hill.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Factories around P.E.E (10) - HUME

I can still remember when I was just a wee little kid and coming home from outings with my parents.
In my dad's car, we would look out at the landmarks passing by; and of all those I can recall, one stood out because it meant we were nearing home.
As the car climbed and crested the hill at the 8th mile Bukit Timah Road, we would see a big building with the words H-U-M-E surrounded by large circular pipes.

Located just beside the Ford Factory, Hume was the largest factory complex located within the Hillview Industrial Estate. It occupied a sprawling area stretching more than a kilometre along Upper Bukit Timah Road.

Hume Industries started in Singapore back in 1923 manufacturing concrete pipes. It was then known as Hume Pipe Co and was initially located in Katong. It shifted to the Upper Bukit Timah site in 1942 and was renamed Hume Industries. The company continued expanding and branched into other areas like steel pipes and even gas cylinders. It was a major supplier of pre-stressed concrete structures during the years of economic boom and building in Singapore. Most of the expressway flyovers were built on Hume's concrete beams.

In 1983, Hume Industries had a change of ownership and was renamed Hong Leong Industries.
After Hillview was rezoned as a residential district, the factory and its subsidiaries moved to new premises in Jurong. On its old plot now stands five or six major condominium complexes

Click on picture for enlarged view.

Many residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate worked at Hume. My immediate upstairs neighbour, Mr Moss, was a manager in the Hume factory. The Moss family later moved to Hume Heights which was then exclusive housing for senior Hume expatriates.

I can recall visiting the Moss' home at Hume Heights and walking past these pipes. I had on occasions accompanied their washerwoman there. We had to walk through the front gate and past the factory to reach Hume Heights which was on a hill beside the factories.

Some of you may even recall the HUME sign (picture left) that was at the main gate. It was prominent being about 12m high and was spotlighted at night.

Hume office building.

There was also a very unusual structure at Hume Industries, which many people do not know of.
It once had a windmill within its premises. This was probably used as a turbine generator.
You can see a picture of this windmill at this link.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Factories around P.E.E. (9) - Magnolia Dairies

Up on a hill along Upper Bukit Timah Road near the 12km mark, stands a condominium complex called Bukit Regency. It is situated just opposite the old Bukit Timah Fire Station, directly across the road from what was the former Green Spot factory site.

But long before the area was rezoned for residential use, the hill top was occupied by a rather famous factory. It was called the Magnolia Dairies (S) Ltd factory.

Magnolia Dairies was built in 1961 by the Cold Storage group. It was to be one of the most modern food manufacturing plants in Singapore and cost $1m to build. A staggering investment in its day.

The first product manufactured was condensed milk.
In 1964, it added another new production line and produced fresh sterile milk in bottles.
The raw milk came directly from their own cows that were kept at Dairy Farm, located a short distance down Upper Bukit Timah Road. Their initial run was up to 500 gallons of milk a day.

The line of condensed milk made by Magnolia Dairies.

When I was in Princess Elizabeth Estate School, my parents had an arrangement with the school tuck-shop Magnolia ice-cream seller to supply a small bottle of milk each day for me and my siblings during each recess. The milk came in 2 sizes, a large bottle costing 20 cents and a smaller bottle that cost 10 cents. We were given a small bottle each day.

This was the bottle I remember from my school days.
You had to peel the foil cap.

Many PEES students will remember the Magnolia ice cream man. He was a very short elderly man who always wore wooden clogs (cha kiak). He had to stand on a pedestal he arranged from the milk bottle crates in order to reach into his freezer for ice cream.

I recall that I was supposed to drink a bottle of fresh milk each day but very often I would persuade the ice cream uncle to give me strawberry or chocolate milk instead. My own favorite flavour was the caramel milk but this was only available occasionally.

There was also another Magnolia ice-cream seller who plied his trade within P.E.Estate on his motorbike. He had his ice cream freezer mounted on his sidecar. This Magnolia man was familiar to all the estate residents. He was a round, portly man who was always flush in his face of reddish colour and wore a toppee hat. He was an icon of our estate in his grey Magnolia uniform.

In later years, the Magnolia Dairies factory also bottled soft drinks, squashes and cordials, soya bean and Chrysanthemum tea. I had also assumed that this Magnolia factory made all those Magnolia ice-cream we so loved, but I have it from some hearsay sources that the ice-cream were made elsewhere. The ice-creams were produced by another subsidiary called Cold Storage Creameries. Does anyone know?

The Magnolia Dairies factory in 1978.
(Photo from National Library Board archive)

How many of you can remember the old delivery vans belong to Magnolia and Cold Storage?
These pictures were taken outside the magnolia factory.

Do you also recall the Magnolia milk in this triangular packaging?

Related links:
Dairy Farm

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Photos from ex-residents (16) - SK Yum

Last known traces of Johora Singaporensis crabs.

Following my last post on the endangered crabs that used to be found abundantly in our old estate, my friend SK, whom I previously mentioned, sent me some photographs. These photos were taken on the very occasion I mentioned about him taking his children to visit the old PEE site and searching for crabs and fishes.

These amazing pictures show the old large drain next to the old Bukit Gombak Community Centre beside the HBD Hillview Estate.
It is about the only thing that still exist now of the old HDB estate. It still drains the water from the grounds and from the run-off from Bukit Gombak when it rains.

With the building of the 2 new condominium complexes, The Hillier and Hillview Peak, this last refuge of the Johora Singaporensis crabs will soon also pass into history.

The old Bukit Gombak Community Centre.
The large drain behind the CC channelled run-off water from Bukit Gombak hill.

SK Yum's children exploring the old drain searching for shrimps and crabs.

The last refuge of the crabs.

In the far background, the hoardings where The Hillier will be built. Sigh.

Related links:
A lot of crabs
PEES school drain - More photos by SKYum

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A lot of crabs

Johora singaporensis.
After more than 40 years, I just learned the name of those tiny little crabs that were living in the stream by the old Princess Elizabeth Estate School (PEES). These were the crabs that every boy (and girl?) from Princess Elizabeth would have known (or at least they would during my school days in the 60s).

They were also found in every other stream that flowed from Bukit Gombak down into our estate.
These streams ran through our primary school, through the drain beside the estate big football field, the large stream that ran along Lorong Taluki and in the large drain just outside the Castrol factory .

These were the places where PEE schoolboys and all the estate and kampong boys would spend hours catching crabs, fishes and eels that lived in them. It was a testament to the purity of the fresh water that flowed from the hills.

Of course, at that time, we wouldn’t have known that this species of crab was unique to our estate area.
It was just crabs to us.
In an article in the newspaper today, it was reported that this uniquely Singaporean crab is now an endangered species. Duh? Hello?  

It’s such a no brainer as to why this is so.
What was once their natural habitat are now all concrete drains!
Their only hope now lies in the isolated streams of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Bukit Batok Nature Park.

This poor crab, Johora singaporensis, is on the list of the 100 most critically endangered species in the world, and can only be found in the Bukit Timah, Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak forest reserves in Singapore.

I can recall an abundance of these tiny critters all around our estate in my young days, and because it was small, we were not afraid of catching it with our hands. They would be found under the rocks, which we would gently lift and find them hiding beneath.  A 3cm crab would be considered huge. Most were black but some were whitish in colour.

As I lived beside PEES, it was the stream running through the school that was my favourite fishing spot. I remember hunting for the crabs in the large eddy hole that formed under the bridge to the small school field. Most of the larger crabs could be found further up the stream that flowed down from the hilltop beside this field, where the larger rocks would be found. The stream also had large schools of guppy fish and the occasional prized Tigerbarb fish.

The last time I went to the primary school, a few years ago, I noticed that this stream was no longer there. Instead a concrete drain now runs in its place. I supposed the last few batches of PEES students would not have the chance to play in the stream.

The other location where these tiny crabs could be found in abundance was just outside the school gate, in the drain under the road that led to Jalan Zamrud. I really doubt if any can be found there now.

I recall my ex-estate friend, SK Yum, saying he recently took his children around the empty grounds where once our estate stood and could still find some crabs living in the drains. Alas, these drains would soon too be covered over by the new condominiums being built there. And they lament that the crabs are dying out? Where's the coordination amongst the gov agencies?

There is still an abundance of fresh water flowing down from the springs within the Bukit Gombak hill, which unfortunately is now fenced up as the Ministry of Defence security area.
I am sure the crabs can still be found near the sources of these spring water.

In hindsight, thinking of those young days when I was catching these critters, I recall that what we did would be considered cruel. I remember pulling off their pincers while they were alive to prevent getting bitten...and what else?  We roasted the crabs over fire too. Did we eat them? No, we never dared.
Why we did those things were never a question then.  We were kids growing up in a world where the outdoors and nature were simply part of our leisure.

Here's a photo of a stream at Bukit Batok Nature Park which I took recently. This is like the stream at PEES in my time.
Very likely, there would be Johora singaporensis crabs in it.
So, if you take your kids there, please tell them not to pull the crabs’ pincers off or roast them like Uncle James did when he was young and foolish. 

Love them and be one with the natural world. We are losing so much of our heritage at such an alarming rate.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Photos from ex-residents (15) - Masturah Khatoon

Masturah Khatoon used to lived at Blk 24 Elizabeth Drive (7 storey block).
She has sent a photo taken sometime between 1970-1975?

It was of the birthday party of Aidah Jaffar with all her friends and neighbours attending.
Do  send in your comments if you are in the photo or if you can identify anyone else there.

Birthday girl, Aidah, is the younger sister of our estate footballer, Aziz Jaffar.

1. Masturah Khatoon
2. Sofia Khatoon
3. Khadijah Khatoon
4. Hari Devi Ramasamy
5. Tamil Selvi Ramasamy
6. Maria Sani
7. Yati Sani
8. Nor Aisha sani
9. Sangeetha
10. Sushila
11. Nor Aisha Abdul Samad
12. Norsheda Abdul Samad
13. Zubaidah
14. Azmi
15. Ita (nickname)
16. Dada (nickname)
17. Zainab Sabtu
18. Zarina Ghani
19. Zubaidah Yusof
20. ?
21. ?
22. ?
23. Sakti J. Mane
24. Birthday Girl, Aidah Jaffar

Monday, May 13, 2013

Princess Elizabeth Estate at Singapore Art Museum 8Q

The Dept of Architecture of the National University of Singapore (NUS) will be collaborating with the Singapore Art Museum to present the Annual Art Garden exhibition from 18th May 2013.

The exhibition called LANDscape in the BOX will feature collective works by 134 students from the Architecture faulty and will show their perceptions and visions of the Singapore landscape.

One particular work by 1st year student Woo Jiekai is based on the landscape of Hillview, where he lives. Jiekai compares the environment found at  Hillview Avenue with its gated condominiums today to that of our former estate of Princess Elizabeth.

A major part of his presentation was taken from this blog.
You can see a small preview of his work at this website: Landscape in the Box

The exhibition will be launched on 18th May 2013, which is the International Museum Day.
The exhibits are at the Singapore Art Museum Q8 at Queens Street ground level.
I am also eager to see what Jiekai has done, so if you can, please try and give him your support too.