Sunday, August 24, 2014

[Housing Estate] A Lovely Place Called Toa Payoh

It was great to see that the National Heritage Board has put together a Toa Payoh Heritage trail booklet. I had the privilege of receiving a copy from a long-time Toa Payoh resident Nora. The booklet provides readers with a good history of Toa Payoh. In the past, the entire area was but a swamp. A very big swamp.

"the words toa (big in the Hokkien and Teochew dialects) and payoh (a loanword from the Malay word for swamp, paya)" - extracted from the booklet, p2.

From the booklet, I'd also learnt about the importance of a standpipe in the community. It was really a life source where some in the community would gather to trade stories, and sometimes, trade punches. Water was indeed precious. It seemed so much more precious then. The words of Mr Leong Weng Kee also resonated with what I had experienced in the past. 

When I was younger, my mother would sometimes say in her very colloquial way, "It's late. Don't have to bathe, just mat leong can already". "Mat Leong" in Cantonese means to "wipe your body". The origin of not having a full bath seems to point towards the difficulty in getting water for cleaning. It was a total luxury to see running taps in any household then. So using a wet cloth to wipe ones body was a good alternative.

Back to the story of Toa Payoh. I neither grew up nor stayed in Toa Payoh in my younger days. My memories of the place is also not as vivid as those who have stayed there a large part of their lives. Still, if one's a true blue Singaporean, your life would have been inter-twined with this housing estate in more ways than one.

I dug up a photo of my family outing to Toa Payoh Town Park. The photo was taken in the early 80s. With me was my eldest sister. You can see part of the Observation Tower in the background. I remember that I was bowled over by the massive size of the park. I even took the opportunity to dip my arms into the cool pond water and did a little bit of water splashing.

My other tie-back with Toa Payoh was the visiting of my aunty and her family every Lunar New Year and I always marveled over how nice Toa Payoh as an estate was.     

Over the years, I'd used the bus interchange, played basketball at the community centre, visited a friend who stayed at Blk 179 and attended weddings at Toa Payoh Methodist Church. I grew up as the housing estate grew mature.

Three years back, with me married with two kids, I read from the newspapers that the government would be demolishing both Blk 28 and the Dragon Playground. What travesty, I felt. The next generation of children will never know the type of playgrounds that their parents had spent much time at - playing and interacting with other kids.

So I had to bring my children to this dragon playground. When we arrived at the playground, both my kids took to it like any kids to any playground. But in an instance, my son froze just before he reached the sand-filled playground. This was when I had realised that my son had never played at sand-fill playgrounds. All the latest playgrounds are covered with those spongy flooring. But after a little introduction to the ground, they were off. Climbing, jumping, running. Just as kids of my generation would have done. No cares in the world.

In the past, we played, we fell, we grazed our knees. We dusted off the sand and wiped away the trickles of blood, and carried on with our game of catching.

So circa 2014, I'm just glad that the government has decided to keep the dragon playground. With this Toa Payoh Heritage trail, historical buildings and the way of life are now being preserved for future generations. So it was nice of NHB to have a bouncy version of the dragon playground. But for this and other rich historical sites such as Queenstown and Dakota Crescent, nothing can ever replace the real thing. Let's leave something for the kids to remember.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

[Housing Estate] Living in Dakota Crescent

I had a chanced meeting with Uncle Vincent Chan. He was doing his weekly 'chi gong' at the open space close to the iconic playground and I was just cycling . I stopped my bicycle and waited for the bare-chested uncle to finished his exercise. He was totally immersed in his exercise and I didn't want to distract him. So I continued to cycle around to capture the last pictures of Dakota Crescent before the entire estate is demolished in 2017.

Tian Kee Provision Shop

After his warm down, we walked over to Tian Kee cafe for a morning tea.The current owner of the cafe, Mr CK Foo - came up with a brilliant idea of keeping the nostalgia of this former provision shop by decorating his cafe with old memorabilia and even kept the old sign board of the old provision shop.

Prior to this being a cafe, Tian Kee and Co. was a provision shop run by Mr Lim Tian Kee. The provision shop loyally served the Dakota residents for 54 years before its owner called it quits in 2013. (1) He cited rising rental and aggressive competition from large supermarkets such as NTUC. Age has also caught up for this 84-year old shop owner. 

Uncle Chan had taken his morning tea together with his fried fritters over at the Old Kallang Airport Market. Still, he was extremely kind to spend two hours with me to chat about a wide array of topics - from the history of housing estate, to his life and life lessons that he has learnt.

Uncle Chan, 68, is one of the first pioneer residents of Dakota Crescent. Together with his father, Uncle Chan moved into his rental flat at Block 50 in 1958. He was 12 years old then. 

In 1980, he was asked to move out as the government had wanted to develop that piece of land. He was then given another rental flat at Block 20. which he has been staying in with his son.

Uncle Chan went on to share -

1. Dakota Crescent was an ulu place in the 1950s. There were no public buses serving this area and in order to go to town, he had to take walk to Mountbatten to take the public transport

2. The blocks are generally even-numbered. The odd-number blocks have all been torn down   

Updated December 31, 2016


1. Cheong, K. October 19, 2013. Shutters for 54-year-old provision shop. The Straits Times. 

Further Reading
 Yeo, S. J. December 31, 2016. Some haven't moved out of Dakota Crescent. The Straits times. B1. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

[Singapore Islands] Pulau Punggol Barat and Pulau Punggol Timor

In a magical instance, two islands rose from the sea. Well in the case of Pulau Punggol, it was not quite so magical. It was through an announcement in 1995 that the public came to know of the two reclaimed islands off Seletar - Pulau Punggol Barat and Pulau Punggol Timor, or West Punggol Island and East Punggol Island. 1

Pulau Punggol Timor was initially used as a military exercise ground from 1998-99. 2


In 2007, it was announced that these islands were to be used as a landing and stockpile site for granite and sand. I've read much about this place and so with my trusty bicycle, I took the road less travelled. I was a bit more careful and had chosen to cycle along the path rather than on the road. It seemed like there was an endless stream of tipper trucks.

They were moving sand and granite to the various locations around Singapore, all in the name of urbanisation and the building of government flats and other other developments.

Pulau Punggol Timor  
My cycling trail started at Punggol Way. I'd crossed the bridge that cuts through Sungei Punggol. The first building that you will get to see is this weathered building that house the dam gates for this river. The bridge led me to Pulau Punggol Timor where you can find the landing and stockpile sites. These sites could be seen all over this island.

In a short 15 minutes, I was able to get to the bridge that led me from Pulau Punggol Timor to Pulau Punggol Barat.

Pulau Punggol Barat

It was more cycling from here. However, this island now sees more vegetation that Pulau Punggol Timor. This island also see a 3.7 Kilometre long fence to deter illegal immigrants from landing on this island. It has happened before. 3

Moving along, there were also lovely flowers that laid spread out on the pavement. The excitement was growing and I'd really want to see what's at the end of Pulau Punggol Barat. A bridge linking to the outskirt of the Seletar Airport was all that I had wanted to see.


Paddling the gradual slope was most satisfying when I caught sight of the surroundings. On my left, was the edge of the island. On the right was Seletar Airport, and behind me was a true bonanza.

That is the elevated view of Pulau Seletar. Paradise.

1. Tan, H. Y. (November 22, 1995). Singapore islands get new names with reclamation. The Straits Times. P.3.

2. Military Exercise. (February 14, 1999). The Straits Times. P21.

3. How police deter smugglers at hotspots. October 2, 2010.