Archive for the 'People' Category

What My Father Said About Chinese New Year

Wishing all a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year. I wonder how many of us are familiar with the traditional Chinese way of telling time of the day? Most of us have come across such ways of telling time in old Chinese movies or dramas.

Never mind, let me go straight to the point. My father said that when he was young (teenager probably, he is now 80 years old), those who set off fire-crackers at Zi hour (子时) on the eve of Chinese New Year were usually the Cantonese. The rest of the dialect groups usually set off fire-crackers later at 12am or maybe even later at Chou hour (丑时). How true is this, I”m not sure as I cannot find any “evidence” to support this, but my father said he is very sure about it as he had even read about it in the Chinese newspaper articles in the past. So anyone heard about it too?

I’m only very sure that Chinese regard Zi hour (子时) as the beginning of the day but as to the different dialect groups marked the start of Chinese New Year at different times – I”m really not sure. My father said that in the past, Guangzhou was like the first door opened to the foreigners for trade. This is true as around 618 to 609BC, many Arab, Indian and Persian merchants set their feet on Guangzhou. So Guangzhou may be more established and advanced compared to other places in Chinea. As such, people living in Guangzhou may be using the above method to tell the time of the day and then later spread to other provinces.

Believe it or not, up to you haha.

Note : Sorry for not updating this site for quite some time due to my son’s O level exam last year 2010. Glad he did very well – All As for all his 8 subjects (4A1s and 4A2s), much better than me….what else can I ask for? As for this year, I’ll be preparing my daughter for her PSLE…sigh…..

What my father wrote;

“I smell a rat”, “可疑”

I Remember John Denver

Remember the RSAF Apache Attack Helicopter (AH-64D) that crashed landed between Woodlands Avenue 12 and Woodlands Driver 75 open field on 30 Sep 2010 in the afternoon;

Credit : STOMP

I was sorting some old newspapers yesterday when I came across this article again and somehow reminded me of John Denver’s odd shaped Long-EZ plane that crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Pacific Grove, California killing him on 12 October 1997.

Credit : AirSafe.com

Today, 13 years after his death, many youngsters including my son (16) and daughter (11) may not even have heard of his songs.

John Denver, a pilot with over 2,700 hours of flying, was flying his newly purchased kit aircraft designed by Burt Rutan (one of the world’s greatest aerospace designer). The flaw that led to John Denver’s death were the work of the builder and had nothing to do with the designer. The flaws (placement of the fuel selection valve) were meant to improve on the designer’s work however kill Denver. Other factors that led to his death include his unfamilarity with the aircraft and failure to refuel it. The wreck had badly disfigured Denver’s head and body.

I remember John Denver cowboy figure with long blond hair, with his signature round granny glasses and a cowboy hat;

I love listening to his songs in the 70s when I was a primary 4 or maybe 5 boy and of course the first song I listened to, that probably made him popular, was “Take me home, country road“.

As I was only in primary school with little pocket money, so I had to tape down his songs with a blank cassette tape direct from the radio. This seem common to most school boys of my time but of course not now any more with technology advancement. I love John Denver’s songs as he shared his personal history via his songs. This song “Take me home, country road” was written by his friends Taffy Nivert, Bill Danoff and together with him. Inspiration came to Danoff and Nivert while driving to a family reunion and to pass time en route, Danoff made up the ballad about the little winding roads in the journey. Later the story changed to fit an artist friend who told him about the splendors of West Virginia countryside. The three stayed up till the early morning, changing lyrics and moving lines and Denver decided to use this song for his album, Poems, Prayers and Promises;

The original album advertising art;

Credit : Janet Reva Maslin, Rolling Stone, 9/16/71

This album Poems, Prayers and Promises did not contain all John Denver’s songs and include songs from Paul McCartney and John Lennon, etc. The other song that I liked in this album is “Sunshine On My Shoulders” sung by John Denver;

John Denver’s first album was “Rhymes and Reasons” released in 1969 by RCA Records. Of course during that time, vinyl records were the in-thing as there wasn’t such a thing as CDs yet. This definitely make up my favourite song list from him;

You may see how this song Rhymes and Reasons was interpreted here, interesting. This was his debut album after going solo as before he was usually sang and performed with groups.

The other song “Leaving on a jet plane” in his debut album, was originally named “Babe I hate to go”, which was a demo song Denver gave out as Christmas presents. The folk group Peter, Paul and Mary sang this song and their version became the Billboard Hot 100 number one hit.

Synchronicity are things seem like more then mere coincidence and one good example is John Denver’s songs. One may relate his song “Leaving on a jet plane” to John Denver died in his plane…. The other song “Rocky Mountain High” that he wrote relate how much he loved Colorado till his death. The capitol of Colorado is Denver – he adopted this surname “Denver” instead of his name “Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr”.

Some of my favourites are;

Annie’s Song : This song was written as an ode to his then wife Annie. It took him only ten and a half minutes in a ski lift on top of the Bell Mountain in Aspen, Colorado. Thinking about his wife at that moment inspired him to write this song.

Perhaps Love : This song became a commercial success because the record player couldn’t work at that time. Denver wrote this song and recorded with Pacido Domingo as a duet. The owner of the radio station wanted to hear it but the record player was down so he played it live over the air. In seconds, calls came in asking where they could get the record and it became a smash hit! Interesting?

Last but not least Sweet Surrender : This song was chosen as the lead single from the concert album “An Evening with John Denver” recorded in 1974.

If you want to read a bit more on him, here it is. Though we may have CDs now, but nothing beats listening to his song on tapes and records.

 

What my father wrote;

“Death quits all scores.”

Remembering Our Teachers On Teachers’ Day

For those that have left school more than 30, 40 or 50 years, it’s difficult to remember all our teachers that had taught us before. But somehow, maybe like me, there are always a couple or a few teachers that will leave a lifetime memory in our life. Anyway let’s take some time to remember and appreciate our teachers on Teachers’ Day – 1st September.

Before I talked about the 3 teachers that I still remember till now, let’s take a look at the below Teacher’s Day card some 29 years ago;

The above card was given to my mother who was a primary school teacher then in 1981. This card leave a very deep impression in me because the card portrayed the so called “Oriental way” of respecting the teacher with the students kneeling down and bowing to the teacher. I hope the student that gave this card to my mother didn’t hint that my mother wanted her students to ‘greet her like an Empress’. Now it’s even more humourous when you see the inside of the card;

Here is what the student wrote “Dear teacher XXX, I will still forget to bring my books. Thank you.” Instead of writing I will never forget to bring my books, she wrote “I will still forget to bring my books”. Amusing right, I wonder if she is trying to make my mother remember her forever…by the way, my mother still keeps this card till now. Even the drawing of the lion dance performance inside the card for a Teacher’s Day card seem rather amusing.

I have never given any teachers a card or a simple present. Don’t ask me why, I really don’t have the answer to it. Frankly I thought Teachers’ Day is celebrated throughout the world on 1st September until I google on it. Now I knew that different countries celebrate Teachers’ Day on a different date and different ways. The World Teachers’ Day is on 5 October annually.

Now back to my 3 most memorable teachers, first my Pri.4A form teacher Mr. Lee Chee Kong (if I didn’t remember wrongly). I wonder why he was not in the class photo taken in 1972;

He was a young man then and the type of teacher that most will termed as “Mr. Nice Guy”. Coincidentally he was also my gymnastic teacher then, and I remember how he walked with us from Beatty Pri Sch to Farrer Park ECA centre for the gymnastic lesson. He even brought us to see the Inter School Gymnastic event to bring out the interests in us. He himself was a gymnast as he used to show us the finer movements when teaching us. The last time I saw him before he left for overseas study was at a class gathering probably in the 80s. Since then, I have lost touch with my primary school classmates and teachers…

Next was another Mr.Nice Guy – Mr. Boh (sorry I only remember him as Mr.Boh because my class nicknamed him as Mr.Boh Tea). He was my class form teacher as well as Maths teacher. I have progressed well in my results because of his teaching and encouragement. I wonder if he is still teaching. Mr. Boh my Sec.2G form teacher;

Mrs.Lee Kian Soon was my Sec.4T1 form teacher in 1978 as shown below;

She also taught us Chemistry. She was very patience with us and helped us a lot in our Chemistry lesson. After 32 years, she is still in Victoria School now as a Larger HOD. With her as my form teacher, I enjoyed my last year in VS and did well in my ‘O’ level too.

Though I’m not a good student (I must admit honestly), I would like to thank the above 3 teachers and appreciate their hardwork and their love for teaching. Happy Teachers’ Day!

 

What my father wrote;

“Do not weary Heaven with prayers.”

Soft Drink Bottle Cap – Hor Lan Shui Koi

Every year after the National Day, I will get to see many pages about who and who getting the PBM and BBM awards or National Day Awards in the newspaper.

Credit : The Straits Times

Of course the PBM and BBM are part of the National Day Award and is given annually to those who have made outstanding contributions in public service or community work. You will be surprised that 3,195 individuals will be awarded this year 2010! But what does PBM and BBM means and what the awards about?

The Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) or PBM in short, was instituted in 1973. The medal may be awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public service in Singapore for his achievement in the field of arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters PBM as shown below;

Credit : The Straits Times

I remember when I was staying with my parents, there was this RC (Resident Committee) chairman who was very active and enthusiastic in his role that you were able to see him appearing in very events held at the neighbourhood. I asked my father is he trying to get his “Hor Lan Shui Koi” (荷蘭水蓋, soft drink bottle cap) – and why is it called Hor Lan Shui, you may see my previous post. True enough, after some years of hard work, he was awarded the PBM. After that, he seems to have taken a back seat (a more leadership role than a doer role).

The PBM award;

What I remembered most about him was he would go round door to door selling the National Day dinner tickets. Once he knocked on our door and my mother answered it. She paid for the National Day dinner ticket for the dinner that held just below the flat (not at the restaurant or hotel). I thought it was just a few dollars or the most $10 but my mother told me it was much more than that, if I didn’t remember wrongly, was it $50? (my goodness, at that time for $50 I can watch Anita Mui Concert or have a buffet lunch at the top of Mandarin Hotel). Initially I thought the National Day dinner was a treat by the constituency MPs to reward the residents for supporting and voting for them…but….

OK when the dinner day arrived, I saw the workers roasting the piglets below and I told my mother that she was going to have roast piglet for dinner too (at least quite a consolation for the $50 paid). But my mother told me that not all tables were served with that and only the VIPs tables were served with roast piglets. Since then, I do not bother to open the door whenever someone trying to sell us the National Day dinner ticket (not because my mother don’t get to eat the roast piglet, but I felt that it was unfair treatment and it showed a class differentiation).

The Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star), instituted in 1963, is awarded to any person who has rendered valuable public service to the people of Singapore, or who has distinguished themselves in the field of arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. Bars may be issued for further service. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters BBM just like the PBM. One thing I wonder – must one get the PBM first before one is awarded the BBM?

The BBM award;

Now why do the Cantonese said “荷蘭水蓋” when referring to those awards? I think the phrase came from Hong Kong people when they referred to those awards as “荷蘭水蓋” as the awards shape resembles the soft drink bottle cap;

Don’t you find the shape similar to the real awards;

or

or

Of course those who have been through the Singapore National Service will get their military decorations too, like mine;

Sometimes I find the Hong Kong people very creative – how they can relate the awards to soft drink bottle caps ‘荷蘭水蓋’. I think this must be some of the cultural differences that we can see in Hong Kong. Of course when we were young, many of us were playing with the bottle caps ‘荷蘭水蓋’. One of the most common games with the bottle caps is;

Do you still remember the above game?

 

What my father wrote;

“A little bird whispered it to me.” (Guess my father wrote the whispered wrongly)

“告密于我.” or “有人私下告诉我”

My Father’s Old House Near Nam Sang Hua Yuan

Try telling the taxi driver “Nam Sang Hua Yuan”, I think many of them will stare at you and said “Er…..where?”. I’m not surprise that many younger generation may not know this place “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” in Singapore.

What so big deal about this “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” or “Nam-Sang Hua Un” ? This is part of an estate owned by the late Mr. Hoo Ah Kay (胡亚基先生). You may probably came across his name in your old History book or Social Studies book.

I came to know about Mr.Hoo Ah Kay when I was in Primary 3. It was in this book “The Pioneering Years” (believed I’ve posted this book before);

Shown below was the Mr. Hoo Ah Kay’s house aka Whampoa House;

Above 3 pictures Credit :  EPB, Ministry of Education (1970)

Below is a photo of his house in 1910 (see the resemblance to the above picture);

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore.

In all articles about Mr.Hoo Ah Kay’s house and garden (simply known as “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” (南生花园), it was simply stated as a very big estate. Nothing was said why was it known as “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” or why he called it that name. Even my father was not aware of why is it called “南生花园”. I did some research and finally found out that it probably has got something to do with Mr.Hoo Ah Kay’s name. 胡亚基先生 real name was “胡璇泽” and he was also known as “胡南生”. So the “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” or “南生花园” was named after his name “胡南生”.

Below shows part of his house garden;

Credit : Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd

In fact when my father was staying at 922 Serangoon Road (around 1940s to 60s) , the Whampoa’s House was already sold to Mr. Seah Liang Seah in 1880. Mr. Seah Liang  Seah was a respected  member of the Chinese community. The Liang Seah Street was named after him!

Mr.Seah renamed the house as “Bendemeer House”, “明丽园”. I believed the English name “Bendemeer” was translated from the Chinese name “明丽园” (probably from Teochew dialect). The Municipal Council named the road nearby Bendemeer Road because of his numerous contribution to the community. Sad to say even after the name changed, the estate was still popularly known as “Nam Sang Hua Yuan”, “南生花园”.

The Seah Liang Seah estate “明丽园” was very huge, about 4.7 hectares of land. So how big is 4.7 hectares of land? And it’s also said to include the land opposite the Whampoa River too. That was where the 3 schools were built later – Bendemeer Sec. Sch, Bendemeer Sch and Beng Wan Sch. Take a look at the map below showing the estimated area owned by Mr.Seah Liang Seah;

Credit : Chief Surveyor, Survey Dept. Ministry of Law

The Bendemeer House was deteriorated over the years and was eventually demolished to make way for a new housing estate in 1963.

Below show the rundown Bendemeer House and estate acquired by the Government for redevelopment;

Above photos credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore

The estate is today’s Boon Keng Housing Estate. So where exactly is this Nam Sang Hua Yuan or Bendemeer House? It is said to be at Boon Keng MRT Station, Bendemeer Shopping Mall and Blk.27 and Blk.28 location. Let’s see the old map below;

now take another look at this 1956 map (by SIT);

See how undeveloped the area was at that time.

Below shows the area acquired by Government for redevelopment into Boon Keng estate;

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore.

Below shows the aerial view of Boon Keng estate now;

Credit : National Heritage Board

My father’s old house 922 Serangoon Road was rather near to the Bendemeer House. My father’s house was also owned my Mr.Seah Liang Seah and was rented from him for about S$18 a month. It was common at that time to sublet the property even though my father’s family was only the 1st tenant. It was a double storey house and the ground floor was rented out to 3 different families (each family for a few dollars a month). Imagine some families may have a few kids all squeezed into one room!

My uncles and my father used to go near to the Bendemeer House to play with the bats hanging on the fruit trees there. There was a cutout hole on the fence round the perimeter of the garden and they would ‘smuggled’ in to play. The servants there would chased them out and swore to punish them if they ever got caught.

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore

My father told me that opposite the Whampoa River, there were  a number of sawmill as the logs were collected from the river;

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore

The Whampoa River now is more of a canal;

Photos Credit : Simboyfat

So when we said Nam Sang Hua Yuan, we are referring to Hoo Ah Kay and when we said Bendemeer Road, we are referring to Seah Liang Seah. The Bendemeer Road runs alongside the Whampoa’s estate. How rich they were!

Note : From today onwards, I’ll include in (a scan copy in my father’s handwriting) “What my father wrote” after each post. My father learned the English Language himself by reading through the dictionaries and books. He also love learning the English Idioms. My father is Chinese educated.

What My Father Wrote ;

 

C.K.Tang 詩家董

When I read about the recent news article “Kidney-for-sale: CK Tang chairman charged with 3 counts” on 10 Jul 2008, Straits Times, I couldn’t believe my eyes. CK Tang’s chairman Tang Wee Sung, 55, was charged in court with trying to buy a kidney from a living donor, for which he was willing to pay $300,000 to a middleman to procure it.

Mr Tang Wee Sung is the second son of the late Mr Tang Choon Keng, founder of Tangs department store. He joined the Company in 1975, at the age of 22. The late Mr. C.K. Tang died at the ripe age of 99 on 3 Sep 2000.

I remember when I was still staying with my Godparents place at Beatty Road, in the 60s and 70s, C.K. Tang was commonly known as 詩家董百貨公司. You may read more about how C.K.Tang started in Singapore here.

Below are the summary of it;

- 1923, Mr. C.K.Tang came to Singapore. He started off as a door-to-door salesman and would hired a rickshaw to put his pair of tin trunk which probably still around now (but no photo of it shown so far). He was later known as the “Tin Trunk Man” or “Curio King”. His products then were just hand-made Swatow lace, emboidery and linen.

- 1932, 9 years after he came to Singapore, he saved enough to set up his first store on the first floor of a building in River Valley Road. His initial capital was only $3000!

- 1940, he built an edifice probably named after his father Mr. Tang Gan Urn “Gainurn Building”. This was located at the corner of Jalan Mohamad Sultan and River Valley Road. I know that a buidling by the same name “Gainurn Building” is still around there and it’s near to the UE Square but whether it’s the same building, I don’t know. I’ve not taken a look at the building now, but here is how it looked like in the 40s;

Credit : Delcampe.net

Credit : Photo taken by Victor Koo. Gainurn Bldg in 2008. As mentioned by Victor, note the pillars of both bldg.

Credit : Google

- 1958, he bought a 1,351sq.m. piece of land at the corner of Orchard Road and Scotts Road at a price of $10,000. Though this site faced the then Tai Shang Ting cementary, he believed it had commercial value.

Below shows the aerial view and photo of the original CK Tang store at Orchard Road in the 50s;

Credit : Editions Didier Millet, Over Singapore 50 Years Ago, by Brenda Yeoh and Theresa Wong.

Below shows the late Mr. CK Tang at his new building in Orchard (1958);

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

It was not so smooth sailing for CK Tang after opening at this Orchard Road site. In 1960 it was closed due to problems with trade unions but reopened the following year. Below shows the labour strike at CK Tang in 1960;

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

A few months before the above strike in 1960, Mr. Tang was kidnapped by four armed thugs, but was freed unharmed within 84 hours after the family reportedly paid S$150,000 in ransom. I really respect his “never give up” attitude.

And this is how it looked like in 1962;

The green tiled roof and facade was said to be modelled after the China’s Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City. I find resemblance to the old OCBC bank building near the Singapore River then;

Credit : Delcampe.net

- 1982, the old green tiled roof building was demolished to make way for expansion – a 33 storey Dynasty Hotel (now renamed as Singapore Marriott Hotel) and the Tangs shopping complex (now Tang Plaza).

Credit : Delcampe.net

You can see that the new complex still retained the same green-tiled roof pattern, but of course I don’t think it is the “recycled” green roof from the old building. So did the late Mr. CK Tang retain anything from the old building? Maybe yes, I thought, probably that pair of stone lion outside the building;

But how many stone lions are there? Is the above pair the same old pair, I don’t know….see for yourself the below photo in 1983 when the lions were placed at the footpath during the construction of the new complex;

Credit : National Archives Of Singapore, PICAS

Hope that all these stone lions can bring good luck to their owners.

How many still remember the fire at Tangs in 2006 December?

Credit : pigaholicling

Oh, there is one thing that was memorable about CK Tang – it was probably the only major shopping centre that did not operate on Sunday until 1996! That was to allow his family and his Christian staff to attend church on Sundays.

Times of My Life

As one aged, one tends to reminisce about the past. I’m no different as I’m now in my mid 40s. I’m aware that part of my memory started to fade and before it’s totally wiped out, I decided to blog it down.

Guess the most difficult part is where should I begin in this blog? After pondering for about a couple of weeks, I decided to start right from the beginning. Yes, the year that I was born.

I could hardly recognise this photo of me when I was 5 mths old. I think someone must have shaved all my hair after I was born.


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