Sunday, May 9, 2021

The sarabat stalls at Hillview Road

A sarabat stall is basically a makeshift coffee stand, in days gone by.
Unlike an itinerant or travelling hawker, the sarabat stall was usually rooted temporarily at the same spot for a period. It would sell freshly brewed coffee, tea, cold drinks and snacks for a quick bite.

Often ramshackle and unkempt, they were found usually at places like construction sites or near places where people gathered like markets, factories and bus terminals. It was mainly good for a quick cuppa or a smoke during office break or while waiting for the bus.
The name sarabat derived from the Malay sarbat or ginger juice that was mixed with the milk tea, the main beverage sold at these stalls. This concoction is still available today as Teh Halia.

(Photo source: Internet)

There were two sarabat stalls that operated along Hillview Road in the 1950s and 1960s.
These were located aside the main road directly opposite the main gate of the National Carbon factory. This factory was also known as Union Carbide or the Eveready battery factory.  The factory began production way back in 1948 but it is not clear as to when the sarabat stalls starting operating at this location.

The above photo shows one of the two sarabat stalls in existence then and was taken pre-1963. 
The aerial photo below of Hillview Road was shot in 1958 and already shows the two sarabat stall along the fence of the Hong Kong Rope factory (yellow circle).

Beside the two semi-permanent sarabat stalls, I was told that there was also an occasional push cart hawker selling cut fruits and cold plum and starfruit juice at times. These hawkers catered mainly to the factory workers during their lunch and tea breaks, especially to the staff of both the Eveready factory and the adjacent Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing factory. Customers included the occasional kampong folks and residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate as well, who had to pass the stalls as they walked along Hillview Road to reach the main road at Upper Bukit Timah.

(Photo source: NAS)

The sarabat stalls were located at the top of the ridge, across which Hillview Road ran from Upper Bukit Timah Road to Hillview Avenue. It was at this very point that the Green Bus Co #5 bus had Request Bus-stops* on both sides of the road, obviously to serve the factory workers as it was just by the company's main gate. 

In the above picture of Hillview Road, you might be able to make out the sloping road that peaked at the area where the stalls were. Today, the slope is not as steep as it once was. The gradient having been reduced with the building of the condominiums around the mid 90s, as well as with the regular accretion from road re-surfacing and maintenance over the decades.

(Photo source: NAS)

Green Bus Co Service #5 driving up the slope from Hillview Circus.
It would crest the Hillview ridge just where the sarabat stalls stood at the top of the ridge.
Note that even in 1955, there were no concrete footpaths along the sides of Hillview Road.

(Photo source: NAS)

Green Bus #5 coming up the slope from Upper Bukit Timah Road side.
The KTM Railway girder bridge was built when Hillview Road was constructed in 1947.

(Photo source:

Photo taken in 2011 after the removal of the KTM railway line over Hillview Road.
You can see that the slope is much gentler than in the old days.

*Request Bus-Stops
For those who are unaware, especially of the younger generation today, bus stops in the old days of the mosquito buses were known as 'Request Stop'.  A bus will stop at a 'bus-stop' only when a passenger wanted to alight by pressing the bell, or if there were passengers waiting to board at the marker, which was usually only a metal pole with a number plate. The bus would continue on if the bell was not rung, unlike today where it is mandatory for all buses to stop at every bus-stop.
In those days, there had been many incidents and arguments where the bus would not stop while a passenger will claim that they had rung the bell. Nasty bus drivers, which were common, might hesitantly and purposely stop a long way from the Request Stop and some would even continue on and let the passenger off only at the next stop! Most bus-stops did not have shelters except for those in popular areas. The Request-stops at Hillview Road were not sheltered in those days.

(Photo source: Internet)

My own personal recollection of the sarabat stalls is very vague. It would be in the early 1960s when my father was still working at the Eveready company. I can only recall that my dad used to stop his car at the sarabat stall and would alight to buy cigarettes from the Indian Mama (uncle). We would be driving out from Princess Elizabeth Estate and he would only patronise this stall as he was familiar with them. It was a habit he had, or perhaps he had credit with the Mama? Apart from that scant memory, I cannot recall if I ever had a drink at this stall at all. I was too young then.

Illegal itinerant hawkers as well as makeshift sarabat stalls were all moved off the streets from 1965 to 1971 as part of the government's plan to resettle all hawkers to more hygienic and proper facilities.
So, for those of you who lived at Hillview after the mid 60s, it would be very unlikely that you would have known of these sarabat stalls. There were also sarabat stalls at the #5 bus terminus at Princess Elizabeth Estate too.

In a future article...
If you look again at the aerial overhead photo, you can see a yellow square at the junction of Upper Bukit Timah Road and Hillview Road. This was directly across Hillview Road from the old Chartered Bank. 
It marks the homes of two Indian families who used their house front as shops to sell Indian food. Many will recall these two Indian shop houses as they were also beside the main bus stop heading into the estate.

I will blog about this eating house in a future article, as well as about the HDB Food Centre (photo below) that was built in 1994 at the new HDB Hillview Estate.

(Photo source: Internet)

Quick links to related articles about Hillview Road
The building of Hillview Road
The removal of the Railway Bridge
The development of Hillview Avenue
The Eveready Battery factory

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Ford Motor factory - Japanese Occupation 1942-1945.

    Though this is not directly related to Hillview nor Princess Elizabeth Estate, since both were created only after the surrender of the Japanese Army in 1945, the Ford Motor factory has featured prominently every time discussions about Hillview or Princess Elizabeth Estate arise.

Of course, we all are aware of the fact that the Ford Motor factory became infamous as the place where the unconditional surrender of Singapore took place on 15th February 1942.  GOC Lt-Gen Arthur Percival surrendered all Commonwealth forces in Singapore over to Lt-Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army at the boardroom of the old Ford Motor factory.

The Ford Motor factory was completed and began operation in October 1941. This was just three months before the Japanese Army invaded Malaya. By 10th Feb 1942, the Japanese Army had already invaded Singapore and overran the Ford Factory in their quest to conquer Bukit Timah. It then became the field Headquarters for Lt-Gen Yamashita throughout the Battle of Singapore.

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, from 1942 to 1945, the former Ford Motor factory was handed over to Nissan Motor Company and converted for the building and maintenance of military trucks for use in the Japanese war effort. 

In 1944, the Japanese military government conducted a census of population and required all citizens to be registered. The Ford factory was the registration centre for people living in the rural Jurong, Upper Bukit Timah, Chua Chu Kang and Woodlands areas.

This photo was published by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbum in a report of the census of 1944. It is also one of the earliest known photos of the building taken during the Occupation period.

The newly completed Ford Motor factory in 1941.
It was built on the western side of Bukit Batok hill.

A Japanese shrine, the Syonan Chureito, was built on the summit of Bukit Batok hill
to honour the war dead of the Japanese war campaign.

The famous picture of the Surrender taking place at the Ford Motors Board Room on 15 Feb 1942.
Lt-Gen Arthur Percival faces his nemesis, Lt-Gen Yamashita.

Group photo for posterity.
The victor and vanquished pose for a group photo after the surrender.

The Ford Motor factory was returned to the owners, the Ford Motor Company of Canada, in 1947.
Above photo is of the factory in 1958.