Wednesday, 12 December 2012

1961 Tragedy of Bukit Ho Swee Fire

Walking down a memory lane along Bukit Ho Swee
A memory keeps alive when you walk down on memory lanes along the rows of atap houses in Bukit Ho Swee estates where no one knows there are the 'scars' of fire incidents at Bukit Ho Swee in 1961 where the new buildings/HDBs were developed in the years along the fire sites where the 'BIG' fire explosion in the dead afternoon at 3.20pm on 25th May 1961.
James Seah giving a speech at Woodlands Regional Library
A friend of mine, James Seah (blogtoexpress) who was giving a speech about his personal experience on Bukit Ho Swee Fire at Woodlands Regional Library on 9th Dec 2012 at 2.00pm.
His telltales experience of how his mother and himself escaped from the fire thru the times of crisis. James Seah's blog Personal Encounter.
During the talks, there is also an exhibition on the 3rd level which is on displayed till 28th Dec 2012.
I recall from my hubby who told me about the Bukit Ho Swee fire near his home of Blk 22 Havelock Road where the ferocious fire broke out along the streets.
Before the ferocious fire at Bukit Ho Swee
There was also a 'huge' fire at Robinson Department store at Raffles Place where my mother-in-law worked at Robinson restaurant for many years till the fate of 1972 when the fire broke out in the morning. There was a chaos at the Dept store where many people came running out of the building. Her boss (Robinson Restaurant) whose wife (Chief Cook) Mdm Yuen trapped in the lift with 7 other victims and died. My hubby recalled of his mother came running home in the morning and shouted 'Fire' at Robinson Department store where she worked and told of her experience encounter at the Robinson Department store of her colleagues who perished in the fire.
A lesson is learned when the inexperienced firemen were not trained enough in time of fire since 1961.
                                A set of Uniform worn by member of Singapore Fire Brigade during the Bukit Ho Swee Fire in 1961
Fire Fighting Equipment used by former Singapore Fire Brigade to combat the Bukit Ho Swee Fire
A Hamlet worn by Singapore Fire Brigade
 The scene of the ferocious fire as below: Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

I would like to thank James Seah on his speech on his personal experience at Woodlands Regional Library and posted his blog to give fire awareness of the 'Bad master' instead of 'Good servant'.
Third from left James Seah and his friends

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Walking Down along Neil Road

URA Gallery - Restoration Project
Hidden away from busy road along Neil Road was once pre-war shophouses - Early shophouse Style (1840-1900), First Transitional Shophouses Style, Late Shophousese Style (1900-1940), Second Transitional Shophouse Style, Art Deco Shophouse Style (1930s-1960s) and Modern Shophouse Style (1950s-1960s).
Shophouese were the first appeared in Singapore when the Town Plan of Sir Stamford Raffles dictated the subdivision of the land into smaller regular lots. They were narrow, long terrace houses with varied facades, creating an attractive unified streetscape.
2 & 3-storey of Shophouses at Neil Road
To find a transitional shophouse from 1840 to the late 1960s that was built by Singapore's pioneers and showcases many cultureal influences of the early builders, who bought the land from the East India Company. They were built the sale or rented to new immigrants seeking their fortunes. In those years, some shophouses moved through many different styles, from the Early and Late Shophouse, to the Art Deco and Modern Shophouse.
I remembered in those years in 1980, I visited my godma who lived in the shophouse since 1940s in Smith Street (Sago Lane). Her 2-storey shophouse comprised a home upstairs with a shop downstairs, and a narrow staircase leading up to a home upstairs with 4-rooms & a hall. Her kitchen was downstairs, and indeed a spacious view outside where rows of shophouses were easily seen opposite.
Jinrikisha Station (1903)
The Jinrikisha Station in Neil Road was constructed in 1903 to ease the heavy load of the Station in Middle Road. It Stands on a triangular plot at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road and has a curved corner at the junction of these two roads. An extra storey was added to the roof, a lantern-shaped structure. Today the Jinrikisha Station building is a seafood restaurant.
Walking down a Neil road worth a visit of the past. Neil Road is commonly known as Silat, Selat or Salat Road, then it was renamed as Neil Road in 1858 after Brigadier-General James George Smith Neil (1810-1857), a hero of the 1857 Indian mutiny.
Another place of interest is a house at 147, Neil Road. Owned by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew's grandfather, SM Lee lived in this house for a few years. The Fairfield Methodist Girls' School built in 1912 in Victorian style, moved to Dover Road in 1983. This conserved building is currently home to a child-care centre.
Aun Tong Building (1924)
One of the building stands 3-storey neo-classical , built in 1924 at 89 Neil Road was once the Eng Aun Tong Medical Hall building where the famous Tiger Balm was manufactured many decades ago, that was where my father-in-law worked at Tiger Balm building till he retired. His home living quarter was just opposite the road name 'Craig Road' where the famous Tiger Balm building  a short distance away, now Craig Place which is besides Chinatown Plaza. Currently, Tiger Palm is now at 401 Commonwealth Drive Haw Par Technocentre #03-03 and its website TIGER PALM , which is nearby my place and one stone away from Commonwealth Mrt, along Sheng Siong supermarket and Kou Fu Foodcourt. My beloved father-in-law & his family and my family has been using this Tiger Palm brand for many decades till now.
Short Brief History of famous Tiger Palm King - Aw Chi Kim (1860s - 1908)
Aw Chi Kim, Aw Boon Haw's father, emigrated from China to Rangoon in the 1860s. He was a poor Hakka herbalist from Zhongchuan, a village in Yongding County in China's Southeast Fujian Province. In 1870 he opened a small herbal shop that he called Eng Aun Tong (Hall of Everlasting Peace). Although he was respected for his abilities, Aw Chi Kim never made more money at his profession than what he needed to feed his family. He would often treat patients who could not pay or trade his services for food and other goods.
Shortly after their father's death, in 1908, Aw Boon Haw and his brother, Aw Boon Par, perfected the formula for Tiger Balm in their Rangoon home. Aw Boon Par oversaw Tiger Balm's production, while the more flamboyant Aw Boon Haw packaged and marketed the product.

Thirty-four year ago in 1979, daughter and son of Aw Boon Haw formed in business at 126 Neil Road - Aw Boon Haw Holdings Ltd (Aw Boon Haw Pte Ltd) to continuous the family traditions in offering quality herbal product and its website could be found in Act-Q-Patch
Short Brief History of Aw Boon Haw (1882 - 1954)
From the start, Aw Boon Haw migrated to Singapore in 1926, where he began the business of Tiger Red Balm with his brother, Aw Boon Par. Aw Boon Haw also founded several newspapers, including Sin Chew Jit Poh and Guang Ming Daily, which are both are based in Malaysia today; and Sing Tao Daily, which dated back to 1938 and is currently based in Hong Kong. Aw Boon Haw moved to HK during the Japanese occupation of Singapore and managed the business started from there, while his brother stayed in Singapore until he closed down the factory and he went to Rangoon (Yangon). Aw Boon Haw returned to Singapore after the end of WWII and to re-established his business. Aw Boon Haw's adopted daughter, Sally Aw is the Hong Kong businesswoman and former Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference member. Sally Aw squandered the vast fortune and was on the brink of bankruptcy. Tiger Balm Gardens and the Aw Boon Haw Gardens in Hong Kong were sold to the city's billionaire, Li Ka Shing, for US$13 million in 1998. The daughter of Aw Boon Haw and his fourth wife, Aw Seng (胡星) (1912-2012), is currently residing in Singapore and has set up a company under her father's name, Aw Boon Haw Pte Ltd, to continue the heritage and legacy of her father. Aw Seng died on 10 April 2012 in Vancouver aged 100.
Duxton Plain (Behind Aun Tong Building)
Duxton Plain is historically significant as the two existing blocks were the first public housing built in the Tanjong Pagar area in 1963 / 64,  soaring a new heights of up to 50 storeys. 36 years ago, the two bungalows and a row of two-storey houses along Cantonment Road made way for these two blocks of flats. The exercise task was to move people out of crowded shophouses, squatter huts and cubicles, into decent homes with modest community facilities.
No. 9 Neil Road
No. 9 Neil Road, restored in 1987, was the first pilot project undertaken by URA. It was the sample unit that set the standard for the other shophouses in Tanjong Pagar and the rest of Singapore. The finished product - a shophouse restored to the original beauty and elegance of its heyday, was  a stunning surprise to many Singaporeans. Many had only ever seen such buildings in their run-down conditions in the post-World II era.
Duxton Plain Park
Bridge over the first rail corridor of conservation project – is now Duxton Plain Park. Further down of the footpath field, there is a signboard stands besides one of the Clan Associations - Kong Chow Wui Koon (1924) 冈州会馆 . The above signs “精武體育會操場” shown that it had served as a training ground for the Chin Woo Athletic Association. Living at nearby 147 Neil Road, Mr Lee Kuan Yew as a young kid was often caught many of the clan associations "lion and dragon dance" practice sessions at the park.
Unit No. 56-60 Neil Road
Along Neil Road, I noticed the unit 56-60 Neil Road has been there since early 1983 after renovation in 2009. Judging from the front yards would be from a very wealthy family who lived there before.
157 Neil Road - The Baba House
157 Neil Road - Baba House was built early in the 1860s is a residential terrace house located in the Residential Historic District of Blair Plain (smaller areas mainly for residential use. In view of the restriction in use of the building, an extension at the rear lower than the main roof is permitted to make the terrace houses more attractive and lively to suit the needs of the individual owners) that was gazetted for the conservation by the URA in 1991. The 3-storey building was once home of  descendants of 19th century Chinese shipping tycoon Wee Bin, is one of Singapore's last remaining untouched Straits-Chinese house. Such a rare to find in term of traditional architectural design and authenticity of interior spaces, the ornate  features of the house were on the brink of being lost and forgotten through the erosion by the early 2000s. 
URA was invited by NUS to help to restore the building to demonstrate best-practices in restoration at Baba House.
Main Entrance of Baba House today
Main entrance of today has been successfully restored as delightful home, showcasing the domestic culture of the Peranakan community in its rightful context.
Facades of the windows restored
All original windows and doors are kept and reconditioned. Repair were made using of wood recycled from damaged floor joists.
Fully inserted Dragon & birds missing cut-tiles
This house was eventually donated by Ms Anges Tan, the daughter of late Straits-Chinese community leader Tun Tan Cheng Lock in memory of her father, to promote the study and preservation of Peranakan culture. The Baba House is now owned by NUS and managed by NUS Museum was restored from 2006 to 2008. Part of the Baba House's information about restoration project can be seen in this Picture on top or at URA Gallery Centre.
The Baba House now is currently owned and managed by Mr Wee Lin, the sixth-generation descendant of Wee Bin.
This guided tour was a part of a heritage walk “Neil Road/NUS Baba House Walking Tour“, one in a series of tours conducted by the URA in conjunction with the URA Architectural Heritage Awards 2012. Guided tour is hosted by Mr Kelvin Ang, Deputy Director of Conservation Management in the URA, is also one of my FB friends.
The Baba House which is now, has some of its original furniture and flooring is worth a visit. Visits are strictly by appointment only and advance arrangements for heritage tours are required. More information can be found at the NUS website
Please note that NO photography is allowed/permitted inside the Baba House.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


The historic neighbourhood of Kampong Glam heritage trail was launched in October 2012, and it is the 10th developed by the National Heritage Board. The Kampong Glam Heritage Trail features 12 new heritage markers, including those for St John Ambulance Headquarters and Masjid Sultan.The trail has three routes, including one that covers Arab Street, Beach Road and Jalan Sultan.
So I set off on 21 Oct 2012 on the hot afternoon to visit to the Kampong Glam Heritage where I was lasted visited since 1990s & 2001 where a old friend of mine stayed at Kampong Gelam. In the early 1980s, Kampong Glam was once such a badly state and even not upgrading yet but since it was recently redevelopment to a new Kampong Glam where the rows of the shop houses were once pre-war attap houses and villages. The story was told by one of my old friends who lived there when she was a kid and her family were poor. This story will remind me of an old kampong villages where my grandparents lived in wooden villages and yet lived a simple life to the fullest. As a young kid, I even stayed over to my grandparents' villages when there was a school holiday in June & December every year. Time flies and memories of an old villages still linger in my mind of how a peaceful when nights fall.
I reached there at 1 plus to try to recollect the memories of a childhood friend of mine who lived there and played with her with marbles balls and others. Now it has changed overtime when there were upgrading along the streets and pathways.

Spirit of a Kampong Glam
Kampong Glam was once began as a small village of a few families that settled near the Rochor River mouth. It was this humble settlement, that was to evolve into Singapore’s main Muslim enclave. One year after Sir Raffles’ arrival, Kampong Glam was eventually established that the two opium shops were set up there and one year later about 1800 yards of carriages road of 16 yards width was laid to Rochor and Kampong Glam.
The Istana Kampong Glam ( now as Malay Heritage Centre)
During recent times, the royal descendants still lived in the Istana. Being the historic seat of Singapore Malay royalty, the government has began the process of restoring the Istana Kampong Glam and converting it into a museum and workshop showing the many traditional Malay cultural and handicrafts within the heritage area. Kampong Glam itself was already gazetted a heritage conservation area in 1989.
The Malay Heritage Centre also houses 2 little-known workshops in its backyard - one for pottery and the other for batik-painting. The lumps of clay turn into beautiful pottery. When a white piece of cloth becomes a multi-coloured piece of art.
Wedding Couple at Istana
The wedding couple shot their wedding photo at Istana Kampong on their special day. Luckily I managed to capture the Bride's long gown flying and photogragher is seen below background.
Inside Istana Kampong museum, there are various handicrafts and Royal Sultan's possessions.
Encik Bujal's seal
This seal belongs to Encik Bujal, a confidant of Sultan Hussein;s son who advised the latter in the negotiations with the British regarding the inheritance of his father's title and his recognition as Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah. He also represented other Sultans residing in Singapore in their dealings with the British.
An Aluminium & Steel Flask (1950s-1960s)
Satay pot and basket
A Malay Script
 A Malay Script on display shows two different  uses of the Arabic script. In the Quran, the Arabic script conveys the original ableit more refined and formal Arabic language of the verses while the inscription on the back of the photographs are written in locallised Arabic script known as Jawi which includes additional characters to accommodate Malay sounds. Jawi was the main written form of the Malay language from the 12th century until 1960s.
Nekara Kettledrum
This drum is one of the instruments in a nobat ensemble which only performs on special occasions such as the installation of the Sultan. The instruments in a nobat ensemble are usually dressed in yellow color of Malay royalty and the musicians would play a form of traditional Malay music to herald the arrival of the Sultan.
A Malay Regiment Songkok (1940s)
One of the Malay regiment's heroes was Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi who sacrificed himself while deending the Pasir Panjang Ridge and is commemorated at Reflections at Bukit Chandu. During and after the war, the soldiers from the regiment sought refuge at Istana Kampong Gelam which was a protected area as the Sultan was accorded respect by the Japanese forces. The corroded rifle (below pic) on display was uncovered during the archaeological digs in 2000.
Corroded Rifle found on archaeological digs
Typewriter with keys in Arabic and Jawi characters
In 20th century, Malay literary writers who were also journalists and vice versa. Post-World War II, growing social concern for the development of Malays galvanised writers to traverse between the literary and journalistic domains as well as other creative fields such as film and music in order to diversity and increase the platforms available for community engagement.
Gedung Kuning at 73 Sultan Gate
Gedung Kuning (Yellow Mansion) was probaly built around the same period or before the Istana Kampong Gelam (now Malay Heritage Centre) located next to the Istana Kampong stood within what was once the royal compound, it was reported to have been called "Rumah Bendahara" which means "Prime Minister's Residence" in Malay.
Like Istana Kampong Glam, the design architecture of Gedung Kuning reflects palladian influence, while the form and internal layout derives from the single storey, reaised floor Malay house. Gedung Kuning remained in his family's possession till 1999, when the government acquired it for redevelopment. After conservation works were completed, Gedung Kuning was opened as a restuarant to the public in late 2003.
The road of Sultan Gate probably took its name from the fact that the road leads to one of the entrances to the former Istana Kampong Gelam. The Hokkien name for the road, ong hu khau (palace entrance), and the Tamil name, raja kottai (King’s palace) suggests the same. It was also noted that there was a well in the middle of Sultan Gate, and the Hokkiens referred to the street as twa che kha (foot of big well).

Gedung Kuning's Main Hall
Malay Keris on top of a front counter
Royal Brass on top of the displayed unit
Royal Vase
On top of this, the 'friendly' staff from Gedung Kuning allowed me to take photos of these Royal's possession  and around the main hall when I asked permission. The Brass Drinking water comes with two drinking water: Brass Kettle water and Brass Water tank.
In additional, there is a Gedung Kuning book called 'Memory of Malay Childhood', was launched on: 9 January 2010 (Saturday) at The Pod, National Library (Singapore). The book covered on 28 short stories, readers can get a historical narrative of the lives of the people living in Gedung Kuning and the Malays of Singapore settlements from 1850s to 1999.
comprises 240 pages, more than 70 photos, 7 architectural drawings & 5 maps. Printed - ISBN: 978-981-08-4756-2
The book is available in major bookstores in Singapore & Malaysia. You may also order with
APD Singapore Pte Ltd (Singapore)
MPH Online (Malaysia)
Select Books (Other countries)
Masjid Sultan at 3 Muscat Street
Masjid Sultan also known as Sultan Mosque, is an important focal point for Muslims in Singapore and the most prominent landmark in Kampong Glam. Every year, during th efasting month of Ramadan, Muslims gather in the vicinity of the mosque to await the prayer call to break their fast. Although the former building was constructed in the late 1920s, Masjid Sultan has a history that goes back to the early part of the 19th century. In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) signed a traty with Sultan Hussein(1776-1835) and Temenggong Abdul Rahman (d.1825) allowing the British East India Company (EIC) to establish a trading post in Singapore. In early 1900s, the mosque had become inadequate for the Muslim population. In 1924, it was decided that the mosque would be demolished and rebuilt and designed by Irish architect Denis Santry of Swan and Maclaren in the Indo-Saracenic style with distinctive domes and minarets. The mosque was built in phases over next few years so that funds could be raised and devotees could continue performing their prayer in the mosque. 
The cost of the builidng was funded with donations from the Muslim community. In addition to monetary contributions, the community also donated glass bottles which were incorporated into the base of the dome. When the war broke out in Malaya in 1941, people of different athnicities and creeds sought shelter at the mosque and one of its minarets served as an observation post to look out for enemy aircraft. Masjid Sultan was gazetted as a national monument in 1975. The building designed in a similar style to the mosque, was officially opened in 1993 and houses in  auditorium, multi-purpose hall, classrooms and meeting rooms. 
Malay Art Gallery at 31 Bussorah Street
Malay Art Gallery established in 1972 and owned by Mr. Syed Husain Aljunied. Malay Art Gallery initially started off as a Gallery for artists to expose their works and later evolved eventually into the dealings of artifacts and artworks from the regions. Been in business more than 3 decades, this Gallery worked with the National Museum here in 1995, and with the Shah Alam Museum in Selangor, in Malaysia. More recently, working together with Majlis Pusat and the newly open Malay Heritage Centre.
Bussorah Street
The rows of shop houses along the Bussorah Street in front of Masjid Sultan.  This Bussorah Street was originally known as 'Sultan Road' and was renamed in 1930 after a city in present Iraq. Around Bussorah Street, the available shops sold things that caters to Javanese influences such as batik designed clothes and handcrafted goods. Bussorah Street was once a transit area for Indonesians who are carrying out their hajj. This street was a place for pilgrims to sleep and wait for their flight in Singapore.
Vintage lamp
Bussorah Street is a pedestrian street set right in the heart of Kampong Glam It is a favored tourist destination and a national heritage site. Little two-storey shop houses line both sides of the street, and together with the Sultan Mosque at the northern end.
These shop houses along Bussorah Street have been restored and showcase either First Generation Shop house or Late Shop house style architecture. The First Generation Shop house styled architecture is believed to have been built between 1840 to 1900. They have simple designs and lack ornamentation.
Restoration of Modern Facade
Shophouses with Late Shophouse style architecture were built between 1900 to 1940 and display a mixture of Malayan and European architecture styles. Their exteriors are elaborately ornamented.
Jamal Kazura Aromatics at 21 Bussorah Street
This store building built in 1933 and in business almost 80 years. The screen doors have been installed in January 2011 and started operations on 28 April 2011.
Cafe Rouge at 20 Baghdad Street
Along the Baghdad Street, there are various of restaurants like Cafe Rouge, Bushra Cafe and others that serves Omelettes, Nasi Lemak with Beek Rendang, Beef Rendang wrap with colesaw,..etc
Rows of shophouses at Haji Lane
Walk through a small lane halfway down the Arab Street is Haji Lane in this quaint little street. The road barely the width of two cars, Haji Lane is Singapore's narrowest street! Tucked in this sleepy street are a small handful of cafes and Early-style shophouses turned into small boutiques stocked with offbeat labels by local designers that you won’t find in shopping malls. This quirky find is a well-known shopping district among Singapore's fashionist hipsters and indie types. Haji lane shops opens from 1pm till late at night. Haji Lane is a shopaholic's paradise.

Narrow footpath in Haji Lane where the rows of shophouses with a brand new style. The brand new store location of Alley has been finally been revealed! It’s now situated in the coziness of Haji Lane! Local lifestyle outfit Alley Store sells established Indie brands. Alley is where you mash up fashion, art, music and lifestyle. Haji Lane is frequently visited by the young adults in search of fashionable clothings and accessories, as well as household decorations.
Filmbox at Haji Lane
Flimbox has a lovely exterior, including a clap board with the shop owners’ names on it. The shop is not 100% related to film, but it sells knick knacks that will interest just about anyone.

Online Shoppers at 35 Haji Lane and Shophouses with early-style

This Fixedure store specializes in customizing fixed-gear bicycles for enthusiastic bicyclists who have money to spend on this expensive hobby.They design, create and service bicycles, promising to adhere to your style and preferences. Their website displays a lot of their colourful work, but because I have not actually bought a bike or modified mine here, it's hard to tell where they stand, performance wise. To get a better idea of their products and services, drop by in the day. They also have riding accessories such as slip on shoes and watches, and a collection of things that don't seem related to bicycles at all.

Tucked away in a cozy spot on Bali Lane, Blu Jaz Cafe is becoming one the coolest places to groove if you want a night out but don’t want to dress to the nines for it. The place is packed on weekends with a good-looking crowd who come here for the jazz musicians like the popular Aya Sekine and guest DJs on the second floor. Blu Jaz Cafe on the hand, a two-storey establishment on Bali Lane in Arab Street that houses a restaurant on the first floor and a lounge area on the second floor. One of its main concerns is supporting and enriching the local scene, with several renowned international and local soul, Latin and experimental jazz acts having graced its stage. It opening hours Mon to Thurs from noon to midnight or 2am from Friday to Sun.

This design colorful wooden chairs tuck at the corner with a table for tibits & chips and drinking sessions listening to a music till late at night.
By visiting and strolling along the Kampong Glam Heritage and the old Malay streets with memories of local residents whose lifestyle are not fade away and will remain still.