Monday, June 21, 2021

Vegetables Grown in Potong Pasir

So much has changed from the old Potong Pasir days. was said to have good soil for growing vegetables. Gone are the vegetable farms that were strewn across the land. But did you know that farmers had tilled the Potong Pasir land since the 1850s. The land had also produced the country's best vegetables. Vegetables that once fed 50 percent of Singapore's population. That was how important home-grown vegetables were to us, Singaporeans.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

[Transport] Singapore Trishaws

My Personal sketch of a Singapore Trishaw





Trishaw, riding fast,
In it sits an old lady.
If you want 50 cents,
You’ll have to give a dollar.
Isn’t all this weird.

I'd always thought that the song 三轮车 (San Lun Che) was from Singapore, since I've been singing this children song from don't know when. But from research, it seems like the song actually originated from Taiwan. 

In truth, Trishaws could be seen along the roads of many Asian countries and some non-Asian countries, though how the trishaws are shaped do differ from country to country. This is also the case amongst ASEAN countries.

Trishaws with their passengers' seated in front 
Cambodia and Vietnam - Cyclo (See-Clo)

Trishaws with their passengers' seated at the back
Thailand - Samlo

Trishaws with their passengers seated at the sides
Philippines - Trisikad (Sikad or Padyak in short)
Myanmar - Saika 
Singapore - Trishaw; San Lun Che

Malaysia - beca (sees both passengers seated in front and at the side)
Indonesia - Becak (Sees both with passengers seated in front and at the side)

Singapore's Story

When the community offers little in terms of support, innovation comes alive. Jobs were scarce in the 1900s and especially so during and after the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. I remember seeing stories of young boys saying that they would like to own a trishaw when they grew up.

It cost anywhere from $500 to buy a trishaw - that's an exorbitant amount in those days. So many took to renting the trishaws.

As a child, I remember taking the trishaw a couple of times. It was definitely cheaper than taking a taxi but still, I believe that my family was concerned about safety and the other reason that I could remember my family saying was that we felt bad for the uncle who needed to trade his peddling strength for money.


Hop on a Trishaw for that Traditional Feel when Exploring a Town or City in Southeast Asia. (2011, January 10). Exo Travel. Retrieved from

Koh, R. Q. V, Han, J. 2014, 19 November. Trishaw. Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved from

Saturday, April 25, 2020

[Singapore Police] The Gurkhas of Mount Vernon

"Kaphar Hunnu Bhanda Marnu Ramro" (It's better to die than to be a coward)

One of the first photos of the Gurkha contingent taken in 1950. (3) Source:
Brave! Super Fit! Humble and Shy! Ask any Singaporeas about this unseen community and these are some adjectives that will come to mind.

The Gurkha contingent was brought into the Singapore Police Force in 1949. (2)

It was said that the first batch 147 recruits (who were ex-army personnel) did tremendously well that the Gurkha numbers was brought up to 330 members by 1954. (7) It then grew to 400 members in 1979. (9), 650 members in 1985 (5) and then 760 members in 1989. (4) By 2008, there were about 2,000 members. (1)

Interestingly, the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore had been managed by the British.

The Straits Times (1953) first reported about the tender to be called for the building of the Gurkha cantonment at Mount Vernon. The cost was estimated to be around S$3million. (10)

Prior to 1955, the Gurkhas were based at Cantonment Road. (11)

In the 1960s, the Gurkhas were deployed to fight in the gang lands of Geylang. (5)  

The closest public school to the Gurkha cantonment is Bartley Secondary School. In 1985, it was reported that more than 30% of the school-going students in their school were Nepalese. (5)

In 1979, Mr Douglas Moore, from the British 7th Duke Edinburgh Gurkha Rifles, took over the command of the Gurkha contingent from Mr J. O. Donnell. The latter had served in the contingent for 15 years. (12)

In 1981, the Prison Gurkha Unit formed two years back was subsumed under the Gurkha Contingent that was led by Superintendent P. Niven, a secondment from the 10th Gurkha Rifles based in Hong Kong. (8)

Issues Faced in Singapore and Nepal
There were issues faced on the ground - Disputes over pay (1)

The story did not end there. The alleged leader of  the dispute, Sanman Limbu, was disgracefully dismissed and sent back to Nepal together with 16 other Gurkhas. To take it out on his previous colleague, he masterminded a kidnap of a then-retired colleague, Mr Bahadur Garung. The Nepal Police managed to free Mr Garung, whilst at the same time, apprehend the kidnappers. (13)


In the early days, the Gurkha contingent practiced their ritual called "Phul Pati" or head-cutting ceremony - "At the Phul Pati rite, a goat, a buffalo, and two ducks" were sacrificed. Four pigeons were also released. (9)


1. Leong, W. K. 2008, June 21. 'Scuffles' in Gurkha camp over pay issues. Today. P13.
2. New Nation. 1973, July 27. Uphold traditions, Gurkhas told. P7.
3. National Archive of Singapore. Retrieved on 2020, April 25.
4. Ong, C. C. 1989, March 18. Panel suggests redeploying HK Gurkhas to Singapore. P40.
5. Sam, J. 1960, February 21. 'Red van' toughs bring war to gang hideouts. P7.
6. Singapore Monitor. 1985, April 19. Bartley School's Gurkha. P4.
7. Sidhu, K. S. 1973, February 18. Singapore's Gurkhas still do a great job. The Straits Times. P8. 
Sidhu, K. S. 1981, March 30. Prison Gurkha unit to join police force. The Straits Times. P8.
8. The Singapore Free Press. 1961, October 20. Gurkha sacrifice at Mount Vernon: A goat, buffalo and two ducks. P7.
9. The Straits Times. 1953, November 21. Children take over when aircraft leave. P2.
10. The Straits Times. 1955, February 3. Police boss sees the riot squad. P4.
11. The Straits Times. 1979, April 5. New chief for the Singapore Gurkha unit. P11.
12. Today. 2009, April 7. Kidnappers' motive was revenge: Police. P4.

Other Resources

The Invisible Force. Retrieved on 2020, May 4.

Further research area:-

There was another group of Gurkha - the 2nd King Edward XII's own Gurkha Regiment from 1949 to 1971. They were based at Slims Barrack.

Gurkhas were involved in Singapore 's National Day in 1966 -1969. They also changed their uniform from kakis in 1968 to their blue uniforms from 1969.

The Gurkha Pipe and Drums were also involved in National Day from the 1960s to 1990s.

It was said that Gurkhas were hired to become Prison guards due to poor response from Singaporeans. The prisons that they took care of included Queenstown Prison.

The Gurkha Prison unit was formed in 1968

Saturday, November 30, 2019

[Demolished Buildings] Government Printing Office

1993 map showing the Singapore National Printers Ltd. - Department of Geography
The building was formerly known as the Government Printing Office till 1973 - Department of Geography
Photo of The former Government Printing Office taken by Mr Lee Kip Lin - National Library Board

The Government Printing Office was first established in 1867. (National Archives of Singapore, 2018) The office was first located in High Street before relocating to the Upper Serangoon Road building in the 1930s. 

Every important document that the government had needed (From annual reports to secret reports) to use were printed in this building.

"It functioned as the Singapore Government's central organization responsible for all printing work from Government Gazettes, Bills, Ordinances, School and Government examination papers and syllabuses, directories, departmental annual reports, Legislative Assembly debates, statistical publications, scientific works, official forms, revenue receipts, account books, registers, to invitation cards, publicity posters, booklets and pamphlets." (National Archives of Singapore, 2018)

It is also said that during the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese took over the building to meet their own printing needs. (National Archives of Singapore, 2018)

The building continued to be used after the war "until 1 April 1973, when it became a private printing company and subsequently renamed as Singapore National Printers (Pte) Ltd." (National Archives of Singapore, 2018)

The first two directors of the company were Mr Kwa Soon Chuan and Ms Julia Yeow Geok Imm, both of whom were civil servants. (National Archive of Singapore)

The present company is now called Toppan Security Printing Pte Ltd. (Toppan, 2019)

- Why did the government choose to locate the office at Upper Serangoon Road? 
- During the Japanese Occupation, which department took charge of the printing office?


Department of Geography. 2016. Singapore Then & Now. National University of Singapore. Retrieved on November 30, 2019.   

National Archive of Singapore. 2018. Retrieved on November 30, 2019.

National Library Board. 2009. Government Printing Office. Retrieved on November 30, 2019. 
Singapore National Printers Pte Ltd Agenda & Minutes of Directors' Meeting.
National Archive of Singapore. Retrieved on November 30, 2019.  

Toppan. 2019. Retrieved on November 30, 2019.

Friday, May 3, 2019

[School] Upper Serangoon Technical School

Source: National Archive of Singapore.

Upper Serangoon Technical School. "Where is this school and what have they achieved?"

It was the 60th school that the current government had built. Other than that, what I had previously read about the school from former students' account did not give the school a glowing review.

Interestingly as I dug deeper, the rich history of the school and the many exciting stories started to draw me into the school's story.

The school has a number interesting stories. For example, the school song was written by a local band called The Bambinos. A number of alumni are also the whos-who in Singapore.

For more in-depth reading about the school, do click on the link.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

[Food] Bak Kwa in Nanyang

One of the many big Bak Kwa sellers in Singapore
A radio presenter once asked, "Why do people give bak kwa as gift during Chinese New Year? How about giving a basket of fruit? Or perhaps New Year cookies?" Well, you can. But it is just not the same. There is a certain prestige in offering packets of Bak Kwa to your loved ones. But where did the bak kwa story all started? 
The Bak Kwa Story

Bak Kwa is said to be a Hokkien delicacy. Like many food of the past, the people had little and meat was a delicacy. Without refrigeration, How can they ensure that the meat they have can be eaten months later? Well, what the Hokkien Chinese was to slice the meat thinly, marinated them with ‘sugar and spices, air-dried and cooked over a hot plate'. It made a good treat for all at the dinner table. (9)

Bak Kwa in Singapore

It was said that Kim Hock Guan (金福源) is the very first Bak Kwa stall to set up shop in Singapore.
The late owner Mr Lim Chwee Guan had clocked in more than 50 years of barbecuing pork slices by the time he retired in 1960. (7) He located his shop at Rochore Road and together with his brother, Hock Guan were said to be "the first in Singapore to start the pork grilling business". (7)

When not in Singapore

Bak Kwa is such an important part of us. These small flavourful pieces of Bak Kwa accompanied mountaineers David Lim and Khoo Swee Chiow through their record-breaking Himalayan conques. (3) Mr Khoo even brought along Bak Kwa for his North Pole trek where he rewarded himself with two mouth-watering slices of bak kwa for every 100km that he completes. (11) 

It was the same for mountaineers from the NUS Centennial when they had bak kwa fried rice while getting themselves ready for their ascent to Mount Everest. (6)

When there was no Bak Kwa, people sent on overseas missions had dreamt about it. SAF personnel who were in Acheh to help out with disaster relief for months on end had even fanned rumours that container loads of Bak Kwa were coming their way. (7)

Different Types of Meat

At times, businessmen tried to be creative such as by bringing in different types of meat - emu meat bak kwa. (1)  Now, Bak Kwa comes with all kinds of meat to tickle your palate. From duck and mutton, to even crocodile meat. (4)

Day of Old
Dr Gwee Yee Hean had reminisced,  'I remember in the 1950s, when there were firecrackers, two bak kwa stores, Bee Cheng Hiang and Kim Hock Guan, which were opposite our shophouse on Rochor Road, and many other shops, too, would compete wit h one another to see who could light up more and louder firecrackers on New Year's Eve. 'Afterwards, the ground would be all red from the exploded firecrackers'. (2)

Interestingly, illegal Bak Kwa sellers were making themselves a tidy profit as late as 2002. It was critical enough for Ministry of Environment to remind the public not to buy from these vendors. (8)

Popular Culture

Bee Cheng Hiang made its presence felt in Singapore's locally-made movie - I Not Stupid. The movie, produced in 2002,  talks about a Bak Kwa empire that was threatened by competition. (5)

A movie that revolved around competing Bak Kwa shops - Perfect Rival also made its debut in 2011.


The words of a Straits Times writer sums it best - "A house without bak kwa during Chinese New Year is like a firecracker without a fuse". (10)


1. Eat your heart out. November 12, 1997. The Straits Times. P53.

2. Leong, W. K. January 24, 2001. When traditions come and go. The Straits Times. 

3. Lim, D. November 24, 1996. Terror and Triumph at the roof of the world. The Straits Times. P6.

4. Mandon, L. Z. Jan 17, 2017. 11 Weird Bak Kwa Flavours In Singapore To Skip The Queues At Lim Chee Guan.

5. The Business Times. Nothing stupid about this. February 8, 2002. P19.

6. The New Paper. May 9, 2005. Calm before storming the summit. P26.

7. The Singapore Free Press. June 3, 1960. The portly pork man with wide appeal has now retired. P19.

8. The Straits Times. February 2, 2002. Makeshift 'bak kwa' stalls not hygenic. P8.

9. The Straits Times. February 5, 2005. Fact & Fiction.

10. Tong, K. February 1, 2004. Nothing can replace bak kwa. The Straits Times. P16

11. Yeo, A. February, 2002. Bak Kwa booster for Khoo on North Pole trek. P7.