Sunday, October 26, 2014

[Singapore Islands] Kusu Island: The Land of Tortoises


An island where prayers are held - both at the Tua Pek Kong Temple and the Malay Keramat. How did the holy places of two different religions ended up on the same island? Well, I'd say that lends to the mystic of this interesting island.

Through my readings, I've found a newspaper article stating that Kusu Island (Or formerly known as Pulo Kusu, or Peak Island or Pulau Tembakul or Tortoise Island for the many tortoises found on the island. Phew that's a whole lot of names for a tiny island) was a "favourite resort of the Straits-born Chinese". (1) The mystery grows. Was there a resort on Pulo Kusu? Why did the Straits-born Chinese choose Pulo Kusu to hang out?

Pulo Kusu is located slightly more than five kilometres South of Singapore; close enough to Singapore for the early pioneers to make a visit to the island via sampans. (2) The island was inhabited by a very small group of fishermen. (3)

Kusu Island's temple being enveloped by the sea during high tide. (4)

In the past, the temple stood on an atoll while the kramat was on top of the hill. Both the places of worship were linked by a strip of sand. During high tide, the strip of sand disappears. (5) In order to move from the temple to the kramat, one has to either take a ride on the sampan, or to just swim across.

In modern times, you can either pay for a special chartered boat ride that would take you 15 minutes; or simply follow the crowd and pay for the normal ferry shuttle which costs markedly less (Check website for rates). The boat ride from Singapore to Pulo Kusu take about 45 minutes as the ferry will stop over at St. John's Island first before crossing over to Pulo Kusu. (6)

The Kramat

In an October 1926 newspaper article, the writer visited Kramat Kusu. In that article, the writer mentioned that one has to trod the "winding pathway" to reach to the summit. Now, the path is well-paved and the 152 steps will lead you to the kramat.

Along the upward path, one would see both yellow strings and red plastic bags with two stones. So what do these signify? Well, visitors of the kramat tie the strings with four numbers - lucky numbers that punters write down in hope of striking it rich. What about the red plastic bags with stones and notes? Some parents do that in the hope of getting a child.   

The first mention of Kusu Island was on the March 1616 when Dom Jose de Silva, Spanish Governor of the Philippines was believed to have run aground at Kusu Reef. (7) The early newspapers also alluded to the fact that it was already a place of worship long before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles. (8)

Back to current times, I arrive at the peak of the hill. There stood a kramat all painted in yellow. A kramat signifies a holy person with supernatural powers, seemingly even after the person's death. So on top of this hill, there are three shrines and they are maintained by Mr Hussein and his wife, Jamaliah. Mr Hussein claimed that he has taken over his father's duty as the caretaker. He also said that he has lived at the kramat for about 50 years.

I'd observe that the ritual both Mr Hussein and his wife have performed was not of a full Muslim ritual but instead, a prayer to Datok Nenek that was done in a mixture of Malay, Hokkien and English. The entire ritual ended with a "Huat ah" (or may you prosper).

Tua Pek Kong Temple

The distinctive Chinese green roof with red pillars stood out from a distance. What was once a prayer hut is now a full fledged temple. (9)

I entered through the gates that was closer to the foothill of the kramat. The bright red paint of the entrance exudes this warmness - an invitation to visit the temple.

Every year from September, thousands of pilgrims flocked to this island temple to "pray for good luck and prosperity". (10)

There's even a wishing well for you to toss your 'lucky' coins. If your coin hits the bell, it means that luck with be with you.

All in, it was an eye opener for me to see two different religion living in harmony on a small little island.


1. Untitled. The Straits Times. October 26, 1908. P6.
2. A Visit to Kramat Kusu. The Straits Times. October 29, 1926. P10.
3. Matter Chinese. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). October 21, 1927. P5.
4. Untitled. The Straits Times. October 30, 1950. P7.
5. Heathcott, K. (October 21, 1940). Chinese Go To Pray And Picnic On Kusu Island. P7.
6. Singapore Island Cruise. Accessed on October 27, 2014.
7. Cornelius-Takahama, V. (2000). Singapore Infopedia. Accessed on October 28, 2014.
8. Before the days of Raffles. October 9, 1932. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). P7.
9. Grand Old Lady (100) of Kusu Island dies. November 1, 1954. The Singapore Free Press. P5.
10. The Birthday of Two Gods. February 10, 1956. The Singapore Free Press. P4.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

[Nature] Keppel Hill Reservoir Explored!

A forgotten reservoir; Drowning of a 17 year-old boy (1) and two British soldiers (One of whom was listed as a strong swimmer) (2) in two separate incidents; all these stories added to the mystic of this reservoir when the finding was released to the public on September 17, 2014. (3) It was said that the British were strong swimmers and that they had drowned in the 20-feet (6 metre) deep reservoir. So what happened there? Also, the people who stayed at the foot of Keppel Hill must have known about this reservoir - This include the dwellers of Kampung Bukit Nong, (4) and the Singapore Harbour Board employees who were slum dwellers there. (5)

After its announcement in the newspaper recently, hundreds of history and heritage lovers started to throng the site. The National Heritage Board also invited Mr Charles Goh, who first stumbled upon the reservoir in 2005, to lead the guided tours. (6)

The reservoir dates back to 1905 and was used as a source of water for the Tanjong Pagar Dockyard. (3) I'm sure some of the findings such as the rough bricks and its surrounding, will unravel more information about this forgotten reservoir. To get to the reservoir, one needs to enter through Wishart Road and walk east past Joaquim Garden Landscape flora company.

After a bend, the road will come to a dead-end. From there, you will need to go through the forest and also cross a small river before arriving at the reservoir.

The first view that greeted me was one greenish murky water body. Uprooted tree branches laid in the water, while brown leaves covered parts of the water, truly giving the place a feeling of abandonment.

Panning the the right, there was a modern-day pipe installed by the flora company that draws water from the reservoir to water their plants. So in fact, the place was not unknown, only the history of the reservoir might have been laid hidden. There were also two metal rods that had once uphold the wooden dive board.

In the past, visitors of this reservoir and afterwhich swimming pool, had other ways of getting to the water other than using the spring board.  Cement steps allows one to dip one's toes into the water to test its chill factor.

So what happen if the water starts to rise uncontrollably after a heavy shower? Well, the builder of the reservoir has included spillway to allow for access water to flow out of the reservoir. All of this are so well thought out.

Finally, here's a video produced by the National Heritage Board before the reservoir was made known to public.

There was a mention in the newspaper that may see the development of the foothills of Mount Faber, that includes Keppel Hills. (7) So will that mark the beginning of the end for this reservoir?


1. Youth drowned in reservoir. (April 4, 1948). The Straits Times. P3.

2. Misadventure verdicts in double drowning tragedy. (April 17, 1936). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. P3.

3. Zaccheus, M. (September 17, 2014). Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered. The Straits Times. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered - See more at:
Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered - See more at:
Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered - See more at:

4. He sneaked out for a dip in pool when his grandfather was caretaker. (September 23, 2014). The Straits Times. Accessed October 21, 2014.

5. Over 270 leave the slums. (September 15, 1952). The Straits Times. P7.

6. Zaccheus, M. (September 23, 2014). Free tours of forgotten Keppel Hill Reservoir to be conducted. The Straits Times. Accessed October 21, 2014.
Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered - See more at:
Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered - See more at:
Abandoned reservoir off Telok Blangah Road discovered - See more at:

Free tours of forgotten Keppel Hill Reservoir to be conducted - See more at:
7. Wang, J. & Lim, W. C. (August 15, 2007). Mt Faber foothills slated to be next lifestyle hot spot.
The Straits Times. P3.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

[People] Samsui Women in Singapore

We have followed the entire 24-episode historical drama - Samsui women - when it was shown in 1986. We have seen for ourselves how the Samsui women trod on with their lives even when the going was hard. Still, I did not know much about their lives. 

So when I saw this book - Remembering the Samsui women - on the bookshelf, I knew that I had to read it. I've also extracted nuggets of rich information from newspaper articles.

A Samsui woman sculpture outside the Chinatown Museum

Called "the toughest women in Singapore", Samsui women or colloquially known as Samsui Por,  started flocking into Singapore near the turn of the century. This was followed by an influx of Samsui Por in the 1930s. Sau Eng was one of the Samsui Por (Women), shared about her reason for coming to Singapore from China in 1938. She was 26 years old then. (1)

"Day and night for 3 years, no rain...dry weather for 3 years, even if it rains, it's just such a drizzle that it can't even make the soil wet. Isn't that very difficult? So those grains will dry up." (2)

Another Samsui Por that the author had interviewed was Choi Yuk. She travelled with her mother-in-law to Singapore when she was 18 years old.

"Very terrible conditions...4 persons had only 1 meal a money until paddy field had to be sold off, then came to Singapore." (3)

There were others who left their homeland due to the mistreatment dished out by their husbands or mother-in-laws. (3)

It was also a time where the world was just recovering from the Great Depression. The colonial rulers had limited the number of men coming into Singapore to work. There was no such restriction for women and children. During 1934 and 1938, Chinese women - driven by economic pressures and hoping to find their life partners husband, embarked on an arduous trip to Singapore. (3)

It has never been easy leaving the familiarity of a place for an unknown destination and future. So for the Samsui women to make this five-day sea journey in search of work, life in China must have been pretty bad back then. Each of them similar in that they were looking for a better life, but different in the sense that each of them has a different story to tell.

Arriving in Singapore

Photo: National Archive of Singapore (6)

It was not a breezy boat ride into Nanyang (Singapore as it was known by the the Chinese). They would have to take a boat ride from their hometown to Guangzhou. Then to Hong Kong before moving again to Macau and finally to Singapore. The entire journey took them through seven days of choppy seas. A number of them, who were taking a boat for the first time, had to manage motion sickness, beyond other things such as cramped spaces within the boat, and unsanitary conditions.

When they arrive in Singapore, they were either picked up by their relatives. If not, these Samsui Pors settled themselves down in and around Upper Chin Chew Street or locally called Toufu Kai (Toufu Street). Even in the 1970s, Samsui women were still turning up at Cross Street "to sit at the five-foot way". (4)

The Samsui women interviewed said that houses along Toufu Street were decrepit; even worse than Hong Kong and Guangzhou.  (7)

Post-War presence

Photo: National Archives of Singapore (5)

In 1978, there were some 60,000 Samsui Pors left in Singapore as they continued to age, while other younger samsui women chose "alternative employment in factories or even civil service. (3) The Samsui Pors were also listed as a "must see" in some travel brochures. (1)

Contributions to Singapore

The hard work of these samsui women did not come to a nought. The hardy women played a part in the construction of "Capitol Building, Changi Airport, and the Development Bank of Singapore building." (8)

Family's Personal Experience

I was having a regular chat with my mother about the topic of the Samsui women and was surprised to hear from her that she had interacted with two Samsui women. This work-related converstion happened in the late 1960s when when my parents had just purchased their new flat. They paid for the Samsui women to work on tiling both the wall and floor.

My mom shared that Samsui women were renowned for quality and efficient work. They commanded more pay than other construction workers. Though my parents have long sold that flat, my mother still proudly states how neighbours would stop by our flat to gawk at the tile finishing.

Trustworthy; Hardworking; Resilient in the face of hardship. The Samsui women truly embodied that and more!

The Lost Red Headscarf:-
CCTV documentary

Part 1

Part 2

Words that played a part in the lives of the Samsui Pors :

Dai Hup Kar - The ships that brought the Samsui women to Singapore
Tsui Haak - Middleman whom they have to pay to get them to Singapore


1. Wee, M. (January 11, 1960). Work all day, then home to cook. Straits Times. P 6
2. Low, K. E. Y. (2014) Remembering the Samsui women. UBC Press. P111
3. Low, K. E. Y. (2014) Remembering the Samsui women. UBC Press. P112
4. Chew, M.L. (May 25, 1978). The Samsui Por. The Straits Times. P14
5. National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved on October 10, 2014.
6. National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved on October 11, 2014.
7. Low, K. E. Y. (2014) Remembering the Samsui women. UBC Press. PP125-126
8. 7. Low, K. E. Y. (2014) Remembering the Samsui women. UBC Press. P173.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

[Travel] Quiet Getaway Close to Singapore

Nasi Lemak Istimewa - Malaysian Nasi Lemak at just 25 kilometres away from Singapore's Woodlands Causeway. (This is even close than from Tuas to Changi) For any travels, food always seems to be the top of our agenda. This was the case for our latest 2D1N stay at Pulai Springs Resort.

Staycation in Singapore is great, though sometimes, we just want to have something different. Somewhere that is less built up, but not too far away from Singapore.

The resort, launched in 1990s, boasts of two 18-hole USGA championship golf courses. Lovely for all those golf lovers, but what a waste, I'm not one who plays golf. So what's in store for a me? Well, I'll stick to the three Ms - Makan (To Eat), Merehatkan (To rest) and  Mengurut (To get a massage) - Please forgive my poor translation as I was trying to find words to fit into the three Ms.

Makan (To Eat)

Just feast your eyes on the picture. How can one resist such food? We had our late lunch at Gleneagles Terrace Restaurant - one of their two main restaurants. Somehow, the name Gleneagles just reminds me of our hospital back home. I'd wanted to do a little feasting at their award winning restaurant - Qing Palace Chinese Restaurant, (1) but it was closed 30 minutes before the closing time as the chefs have all gone for their break.

Aeon Taman Universiti Shopping Centre

As I had want to do some exploration, I did a 10-minute drive to Aeon Taman Universiti Shopping Centre (Previously owned by Jusco). I arrived at about 7pm and the place was Q-U-I-E-T! Well, I like it like this way. The major tenants of the mall include KFC, McDonalds and the restaurant that I ate at - Secret Recipe. Interestingly, the crowd started teeming in at about 9pm, even with their children dressed in their sleeping attires. Are they all late-night owls? I just felt like crawling into bed by then.

Merehatkan (To rest) 

That was what we did after our mini shopping and makan trip - rest. I booked the one-bedroom suite and truth be told, many of the things have indeed seen better days. Some of the switches were faulty; the safe was not working; flushing of the toilet bowl was an issue. But to be fair to them, they came by to rectify the issues as soon as they could. Still, the room could do with a bit more refurbishment. In the end, it was the serenity of this place that I enjoyed most.

Mengurut (To get a massage)

Other than food and stay, the main purpose of me being here was the massage. The resort has gone through a renaissance with special packages catering to those who intend to visit Legoland and and Hello Kitty Malaysia. There're also packages for golfing and for me, massage. One hour of full body massage and 30 minutes of foot massage really relaxed my entire body.

As a whole, it was not the best stay that I've had, neither was driving through the Causeway any more comfortable (Be prepared for at least an hour's wait at the causeway). But if you want a quick and quiet getaway, then this resort is for you to consider.

PULAI SPRINGS RESORT 20km Jalan Pontian Lama,
81110 Pulai Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Tel: 607-521 2121 Fax : 607-521 1818

1. The Straits Times. July 4, 2000. Charcoal, cockles and cruises in Bukit Merah.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

[Cemetery] A Visit to Bukit Brown Cemetery

Once nicely forested with lovely greens. Now, it is just green metal hoardings. Once undisturbed. Now, uprooted. There are so many changes that the cemetery now looks like a construction site. Standing tall is the pair of metal gates along Lorong Halwa that greets the living.

The metal road was non-existent before 1966 (1), and this meant that mourners had to handle rough and undulating grounds. The ground would turn soggy after a heavy downpour.

I'm pretty much a newbie at the cemetery and had visited it only a handful of times. There are also more than 100,000 graves to visit. There were maps showing where we were (Something that was absent in the past). Sadly, the size of Bukit Brown is diminishing. Hugging the perimeter of the cemetery is Lornie Road. The cemetery was sliced into half when Lornie Road was aligned in 1965. Then, more than 200 graves were exhumed and interred at Chua Chu Kang Cemetery. (2)  The government has once again exhumed and is still exhuming about 3,000 graves to build a new road.

So time is the essence and to make the trip more meaningful, I joined up with Bukit Brown expert, Mr Raymond Goh on a two-hour heritage trail of the cemetery.

You can immediately see how dedicated Raymond is. He knows many of the graves like the palm of his hands. Not only that, he put out anecdotes on who these people were and also, shared about living members of the Bukit Brown internees who have approached him to look for the graves of their loved ones. Many graves have been lost in time and taken over by the encroaching forest.

It was not the usual walk in the park. At every stop, Raymond would throw in a story or two. He talked about the green stones that were used for these carvings and how good its quality is. He had also shared that many of these carvings were done in China. 

But now, these artisans are hard to come by, even when you cast your net as wide as China.

Some of these carvings were also customised to Singapore's context, such as the Sikh guard. I wonder if someone drew these on a piece of paper before sending it out to these Chinese artisans, or were they carved locally? My guess is that these should be Chinese artisans who have made Singapore their temporary homes. Thus they would have seen these fearsome guards.

Stone carvings also included popular Chinese stories. These are truly work of art. Carvings that were meant to last a long time, if not for eternity.

Near the end of our visit, we came across a grave that was all exquisite - full marble. The whiteness of the marble made the entire grave look pure and heavenly. 

The two hours spent at Bukit Brown was really an eye opener. I'd only seen about 30-50 graves and was bowled over by the place. it will take a few more visits to see the other beautiful pieces of art but other than the mosquitoes, humidity and thick undergrowth in some parts of the cemetery, the visit really felt like a walk through an art gallery!

1. The Straits Times. (March 21, 1966). Kampong's appeal for road, lights fulfilled. P.4

2. The Straits Times. (March 26, 1965). Notice. P19.