Sunday, March 29, 2015

[Special Edition] The Life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew in Tanjong Pagar

"I had 25 Divisions to choose from when the P.A.P. nominated me to stand for elections. I chose Tanjong Pagar. The people of Tanjong Pagar has a right to know why.

Tanjong Pagar is a working class area. No other division has such a high proportion of workers, wage-earners, small traders and such a low proportion of wealthy merchants and landlords living in it.

I wanted to represent workers, wage earners and small traders, not wealthy merchants or landlords. So I chose Tanjong Pagar not Tanglin."
– Mr. Lee Kuan Yew in a March 1955 election speech
In memory of our Prime Minister, Senior Minister, Minister Mentor 
Mr Lee Kuan Yew

1923 ~2015

The Man in Tanjong Pagar

Mr Lee Kuan Yew has spent much time to prune and groom Tanjong Pagar since 1955. I took a look at how Tanjong Pagar has mature gracefully. Here're five of many significant and historical facts of Mr Lee's life in Tanjong Pagar.

1. Mr Lee's Grandparents home (147, Neil Street)

Laughter of children permeates the air. They zipped past the main door, launched themselves off the steps and ran towards the gate to welcome any visitors. Lee Kuan Yew's grandfather's home at 147, Neil Road was where he stayed as a little boy.
2. PAP First Headquarters (140, Neil Street)

"On March 17, 1955, Mr Lee addressed 2,500 people in Tanjong Pagar in English, Malay and Mandarin, refuting rumours that he could not speak mandarin." (1)

Through this door, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the founding members charted the path for Singapore.

Through this door, Mr Lee Kuan Yew won the Tanjong Pagar seat.

Through this door, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team molded Singapore into a first world nation.
3. From Rental to Premium Housing

Visual comparison between an old and new HDB block in Tanjong Pagar

"This was the site where HDB built the first rental blocks in this area in 1963.  Today, here stands HDB’s latest generation of public housing, The Pinnacle@Duxton." - Lee Kuan Yew.  (2)

4. Tanjong Pagar Community Centre
Source: National Archive of Singapore (4)
Mr Lee Kuan Yew launched one of the very first community centres in Singapore on December 17, 1960. The community centre was first named Yan Kit before its was renamed as Tanjong Pagar Community Centre in 1962. The purpose of setting up these community centres was "to encourage cultural and recreational activities".  (5) (6)

 Mr Lee Kuan Yew spent time in 1960 to launch the community centre for Singaporeans. Today, it was the turn of Singaporeans to pay their respect to Mr Lee.
5. People of Tanjong Pagar

The people of Tanjong Pagar. The common workers. He chose Tanjong Pagar. He wanted to represent the poor. He wanted to show that this microcosm of Singapore can flourish, and it did.


1. The Young Politician. March 28, 2015. The New Paper. P6.

2. Speech by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Minister Mentor. December 13, 2009. Key handover ceremony for the Pinnacle@Duxton. Retrieved on March, 28 2015.

3. Tanjong Pagar - A Pictorial Journey. 1989. Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee

4. National Archives of Singapore. Accessed on March 28, 2015.

5. The people and the country. 1972. Singapore : PAP Tanjong Pagar Branch. P75.

Friday, March 27, 2015

[Special Edition] People, Places, Penang - Bukit Bendera

Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera is one of the tallest point in Penang (731 m). There are two ways in getting up to the hill. One is by a narrow winding road, while the other is a direct route up the hill via a furnicular or inclined railway.

Arriving at the top of the hill, one will be greeted with a cool breeze that sweeps across the highland. Though when I was there, the cool breeze was rather fleeting. The high noon sun ensured that I received little of the cool breeze.

True to Penang's style and culture, food can be found anywhere, even on top of this hill. Just a couple of steps away from the hilltop railway station, you will enter the Cliff Cafe. This two-storey cafe offers hawker fare such as fried kuey teow, and local fav assam laksa.

Truly, the excitement of visiting Penang Hill was the ride in the furnicular train. At the summit, there was not really much one could do, though I'm pretty sure it would be far more visually pleasing if it had been a slow hike up the hill while taking in the fresh air.

Still, we had our family portrait drawn, played with the caged animals, and caught a panoramic view of Georgetown.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

[Special Edition] People, Places, Penang - Wonton Mee

Wonton noodles from three different stalls

Three days in Penang, three tries of wonton noodles. It was paradise. The dish or at least the wonton originated from Canton, China and how it's cooked and the ingredients differ from country to country. (1)

One thing for sure is that wonton noodle can be found in countries where there is a Chinese diaspora, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China. 

In Penang, we tried out the wonton noodles from three different places. There is a similarity amongst all three noodles from Penang as all stallholders used dark sauce for seasoning.

have to say that I'm no food connoisseur but I still have my preference. So here're the three wonton noodles stalls that we had sunk our teeth in. 1. From Gurney Drive Food Centre (Top); 2. CF Hawker Centre along Armenian Street (Left), and 3. the nondescript wonton noodles stall along King Street(Right). 

Well, Surprise Surprise, the winner is the one from the nondescript stall! So here's what I think of each of the stall.

1. Gurney Drive Food Centre

Business at Gurney Drive was brisk though the queue to order a bowl of wonton noodle was negligible. The lady owner asked me what I had wanted in pretty fluent English. Actually, all the hawkers that I ordered my food from could speak pretty decent English as Gurney Drive Food Centre caters to both the locals and to no small extent, the foreigners. 

I can say that this stall puts together a well decorated bowl of wonton noodles. There even threw in a fried wonton, not for free of course but with an additional charge of RM1. I did not like it as I was not asked if I'd wanted the fried wonton. But small matter. Though the noodles here are the most expensive amongst the three stalls.

2. CF Food Court

CF Food Court sits at the junction of Armenian and Victoria Streets. There are numerous stalls selling everything from seafood to fried noodles. We chose a table that was closest to the wonton noodle stall. Other than the char siew and vegetables that comes with wonton noodles, the stall had also added chicken strips.

3. Nondescript wonton noodles stall

I'd just finished my walk around Fort Cornwallis and had asked the counter staff where I could get food. He pointed me towards Wisma Great Eastern building which I could see from the fort. The staff mentioned that I could either choose to eat at the mamak stalls or the various coffee shops around that vicinity.
I tentatively made my way towards the junction of King Street and Bishop Street, not sure of what I'd come across.

The wonton noodles stall was located at the entrance way of the coffeeshop and was run by a family - a husband and wife team, plus their daughter. The man who was preparing the noodles had that peaceful smile on his face. I could see that he is putting in his full love and care for each bowl of noodles that he prepared. Un-rushed by the hustle and bustle of the happenings around him.

Even though his was considered somewhat of a roadside stall, I was comforted by the fact that everything at his stall was pretty clean and well maintained. His zen-ish way took over me and when I was told by his daughter that I would need to wait for 15 minutes to get my noodles, I obliged.

The dipping of noodles into hot, cold then hot water helped to lock in the taste of the springy noodles. When I received my noodles, it was nicely tied up using a thin raffia string. It took me another 15 minutes to get back to the hotel room and even then, the noodles were still springy and nice.

No doubt the loving touch of this uncle made the taste of wonton noodles all so different.


1. Wong, J. April 6, 2000. History of wonton noodles wins praise. South China Morning Post. Accessed on: March 21, 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

[Special Edition] People, Places, Penang - Fort Cornwallis

Entrance to Fort Cornwallis
Sir Francis Light wrestled over the rights of Penang in 1786 and soon after, started on building a fort to fight against the pirates. The largest standing fort in Malaysia is named after the Governor General of Bengal, Charles Cornwallis. The fort was listed as a national monument in 1976 and is now a privately managed heritage site. (1) (2)

Moat acted as a buffer against the invaders

Former moat seen near the entrance

To protect the fort against invaders, the British built a moat  9 metres wide and 2 metres deep moat around it. It would hae been a marvellous swimming pool if not for its original use and intent.  The moat was eventually filled in around the 1920s as people in the area was struck down by malaria and the stagnant water was surely a breeding ground of mosquitoes . (3) (4)

Highlights of the Fort

There was a signboard to say that some areas of the fort were under maintenance. That was well and good as some of the information boards were crumbling and the words on them could hardly be seen. Located in the fort are a chapel, a prison cell and an ammunition storage area. 

Cannons of Fort Cornwallis

Actually, what caught my full attention were the old rusting cannons on display. The fort and its cannons must have been quite a sight both for friendly forces and would-be invaders. From further research, I found out that the cannons were not originally from the fort itself, but the British Straits Settlement was scouring around Singapore and Malaya to find these ancient cannons. (5)

Seri Rambai Cannon

The Seri Rambai Cannon points out towards the sea

These were the words seen on the board next to the Sri Rambai Cannon.

"Sri Rambai Cannon was one of the most famous cannons and was put on board a long wooden boat facing the North Channel by the Japanese in 1941. It had the Dutch East India Company symbol and dated 1613... In 1871, a British boat sailed in(to) Kuala Selangor and was attacked by pirates. The boat was sunken (sunk) and after that two boats were sent to destroy the city in Kuala Selangor."

Some critical information were missing. i.e. How did the cannon end up in Kuala Selangor?

The Seri Rambai Cannon from different angles
The Sri Rambai Cannon was placed in the hands of many ancient rulers. A prized possession for any military that owned it, the cannon was casted in 1603 by the Dutch. The well crafted cannon was then presented as a gift to the Sultan of Johore in 1606. In 1613, the Portuguese grasp hold of it and was brought to Java. In 1795, it was then presented to Acheh, Indonesia and then brought to Kuala Selangor. The British finally seized the cannon and placed it in the fort in 1871. (6)

The cannon has intricately carved symbols and writings - both Dutch (VOC Symbol) and Jawi scripts. The cannon also sees lion carvings and eel-like handle bars.

Forts in Singapore

Malacca, Penang and Singapore were all under the British Straits Settlement and thus share many similarities. One of which are forts that the British has established to protect their foreign soil. In Singapore, there were Fort Siloso, Fort Canning, Fort Pasir Panjang and Fort Tanjong Katong. But in comparison, none are as complete as Fort Cornwallis.


1. Fort Cornwallis made national monument. March 27, 1976. The Straits Times. P17.

2. Official website of tourism Malaysia. Accessed on March 22, 2015.

3. Locsin, A. Famous architectural places in Penang, Malaysia. USA Today. Accessed on March 22, 2015.

4. Harun, S. N., Ahmad, A. G. & Badarulzaman, N. (2002) Conservation and Archaeology of Fort Cornwallis, Penang, Malaysia.

5. Wanted: Old cannon for fort. February 18, 1953. The Straits Times. P4.

6. Ring, R., Watson, N. & Schellinger, P. 1996. Asia and Oceania: International Dictionary of Historic Places (Vol. 5). Routledge: New York.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

[Special Edition] People, Places, Penang - Building Your Own Fire Station

Metal hoardings encircling the land to the proposed fire station
Gotong Royong - Community Spirit, and this spirit lives on in the Chinese community over at the Clan Jetties of Georgetown, Penang. A fund-raising committee has been set up to take up the responsibility of getting donations so that a fire station could be built. This fire brigade would be run by volunteers.

Mini fire truck parked at the side of the Weld Quay

When I saw this mounted banner, I started to question whether the fire service provided by the government was in such poor state that the community had to chip in. What's more, the Central Fire Station was less than 1km away from these jetties. So in times of need, I'm pretty sure the paid fire fighters would be able to get to the place on time.

The fire trucks were open to the elements and some parts of the vehicle, especially the pumps, have started to rust.

A Visit to the Central Fire Station

Vehicles on display
I had a peek at the vehicles within the fire station. Though they may not be your top-of-the-class fire fighting vehicles, they were still adequately equipped to put out the fire. So it was puzzling for me. Why would the community still want to build a self-funded fire station?

The Answer is...

On my last day in Penang, I'd still not receive a good explanation to this situation. But Mr Nanda, my taxi driver who was driving me to the airport, gave me his explanation. It has nothing to do with the paid fire service being inefficient, but the community had just wanted to chip in to ensure that the wooden huts built over the waters were safe.

Gotong royong spirit in Singapore

The gotong royong spirit was for all to see in Singapore. There were already philanthropists such as Tan Tock Seng who helped to build one of Singapore's pioneer hospital (1) Gotong Royong was still evident in the 1970s. During those days, the Singapore military personnel volunteered their time and energy to repair roads and clean up drains. (1) (2)  As the government now takes care of all the cleaning and maintenance, the gotong royong movement in Singapore has also moved into a more modern affair where the community is reaching out to the poor, needy and the at-risk youth by giving their time and money.

Still, I think it will be cool to see a gotong royong project come to fruition. So what can we do or build in Singapore? How can we add on to the gotong royong spirit?


1. Tan Tock Seng's Legacy Remembered. February 23, 2001. The Straits Times. P30.

2. N-Servicemen in 'gotong royong' project. March 11, 1971. The Straits Times. P7.

2. Desilting a river the gotong royong way. October 5, 1971. The Straits Times. P2.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

[Special Edition] People, Places, Penang - The Tricycle Bread Seller

I may be asked about the rationale for writing a piece about a foreign island i.e. Why Penang Island rather than Singapore since my blog is called Singapore Trails. Is this a deviation from my original purpose of writing about Singapore?

Well, yes and no. You see, purists would say that Penang Island is no Singapore. But there are many similarities between these two islands, MANY! Penang is also a place where I can extrapolate what life was like in Singapore - the way we lived, the food we ate and the streets that we walked.

Penang Island is just about an hour plane ride from Singapore and we are privileged to be situated close to Georgetown, Penang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Being listed as a heritage site means that its architecture and cultural landscape will be largely protected against the rapid modernisation of towns and cities. In fast-paced Singapore, we can only catch hold of whatever remaining bits of heritage that we can hold on to.

Let me begin my story of Penang with the Tricycle Bread Seller.
The Tricycle Bread Seller 

In The back alley of Stewart Street

It was a pretty humid day and a yellow tricycle crawled into the back lane of Stewart Street. I'm sure that Mr Sekar, the owner of this "mobile office", had entered the lane to look for a reprieve from the blistering heat.

Me Sekar was keen to share his work. The bread on display were hygienically wrapped and were supplied by branded bread making companies. But what I was interested in was Mr Sekar's "ride". The lower cupboard stored his loaves of bread that he uses to create his mouth-watering kaya toast.

Mr Sekar shared about how he prepares the kaya toast
In the upper cupboard, Mr Sekar has his kaya and butter ready. The doors to the cupboard help to keep away the flies and dirt as he moves from street to street. As we said our farewells, Mr Sekar peddled off to hawk his "wares". There was a great sense of pride in what he does. Mr Sekar did not choose the easy way out by mounting his cupboards on motorcycles. Instead, he continues to serve the community by peddling his tricycle.  

Tricycle Bread Seller in Singapore

I asked Mr Sekar to pose with his tricycle. He did. I'm not sure if he knows that in Singapore, this trade is no longer in existence. So when was the last time we saw such a tricycle bread seller selling bread on the streets?

Well, it seems that the last captured image of such a bread seller in Singapore was in 1982.  (1) Though the mobile cupboards looked slightly different when I compared both the 1982 picture and the one that I'd taken recently, the concept of mounting these cupboards on a tricycle remains the same and Mr Sekar would not have looked out of place if we had placed him in the 1980s.


1. Pinsler, R. June 1, 1982. National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved on: March 19, 2015. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

SG50: Free Admission Galore

There can only be one Golden Jubilee and with that, singapore is seeing the biggest celebration in the country of all time. 

Free Admission

If the Singapore Science Centre, the National Orchid Garden at the Botanic Gardens and Sentosa are the places that you will like to visit, this year is indeed the time. In celebration of SG50, visitors will get to visit these places for free starting in March this year.

So let the celebrations begin. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

[Singapore Parks] The Obelisk of Labrador Park

The Obelisk stands silently in the background of Labrador Park

Mention the word Singapore's obelisk and Singaporeans might either point you to Egypt or for the more knowledgeable, they will throw up the name "Dalhousie Obelisk".

So what about the obelisk at Labrador Park? Well, Labrador Park sees many historical structures - Fort Pasir Panjang, a machine gun pillbox and the replica of the Berlayer Rock (Batu Berlayer, 龙牙门, Long Ya Men, or Lot's Wife) can all be found in and around the vicinity. The original Batu Berlayer acted as a marker for seafarers from the 1500s onwards.

Anyway, I've digressed. The Obelisk seems to be one of the least maintained structures amongst all the other colonial structures. It is said that it was erected by the British to mark the western harbour limit and was also a marker that suggests that where the obelisk stood was the most southern tip of the Asian continent.The Obelisks were painted white so that sailors could have a clear visual sight of these monolith. (4)

These Obelisks were used to mark out the limits of the Port of Singapore. (3)  Obelisks were seen in Singapore as early as the 1879, one of which was located at Tanjong Katong. (6) Foreign warships had to take reference from these Obelisks and wait for the Port Officer's permission to anchor or proceed into the inner harbour. (5)

From this 1935 map, one can see the port limits and where the different types of ships have been designated to anchor. (7)

The Eastern and Western Harbour Limits (7)

In 1941 when the threat of war was upon Singapore, seafarers were able to move around the minefields set up by the British by once again using the obelisks as guides. (4)

The last mention of the Obelisks in the newspaper was in 1956. (9)
From a 1966 map, the Siglap Obelisk seemed to be located quite close to St Patricks School.

So how many maritime obelisk were there?

Siglap Obelisk (1) or Tanjong Katong Obelisk (2) (From around 1877)
Peak Island (Kusu Island or Pulau Tembakul) Obelisk (3) (4) (From around 1879)
Batu Blayer marker (8) (The obelisk might have been built at a later date)

Questions about this obelisk.

1. Where were the bricks from and who were the builders?
2. When were these Obelisks erected? 
3. Where were the Siglap and Peak Island's Obelisks located?


1. Notice to mariners. December 13, 1932. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). Page 13.

2. Singapore Port Rules. March 14, 1931. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). Page 16.

3. The port of Singapore. February 11, 1922. The Straits Times. Page 9

4. Extension of minefields. February 28, 1941. The Straits Times. Page 11

5. Untitled. Straits Times Weekly Issue. June 3, 1890. Page 1

6. Government Gazette. December 6, 1879. Straits Times Overland Journal. Page 1

7. A Coal Hulk. June 8, 1935. The Straits Times. Page 16

8. The Government Gazette. June 30, 1877. The Straits Times, Page 4

9. Advertisement. 21 June 1956 The Straits Times. Page 12

10. Untitled. July 7, 1877. Straits Times Overland Journal. Page 11

First Written: 2 September 2012

Sunday, March 1, 2015

[Buildings] Battle for Singapore Heritage Tour: The Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter

The battle for air and land supremacy between the British-led forces and the Japanese raged on ever since the latter landed on the Malay Peninsula and Thailand on December 7, 1941. 

In Singapore, preparations were already in order in 1939. By that year, the Germans flexed its muscle by taking over Czech and Slovakia, and were preparing to conquer Poland. Closer to home, the Japanese had invaded China in 1937 and was trying to get a foothold of the eastern part of China.

Though war was not at Singapore's doorsteps, the country took their first step in preparing for such a possible eventuality.

In 1939, it was reported that bomb-proof shelters would be built within one of the blocks at Tiong Bahru. (1) To give it a community feel, it was said that in normal time, the shelter could be used as a children's playing area.

When I stepped into the air raid shelter, the place felt cold and uninviting. Not a place where I'd send my children to play.

In another report, it talked about the construction of a large communal shelter for 1,600 people. There was even proper electric lighting and ventilation "from two centrifugal fans". (2)  The Improvement Trust then further allocated $200,000 in 1941 to increase the shelter size to accommodate 7,300 people, making it Singapore's largest air raid shelter. (3) (4)

The Main Entrance

I took my first step into the air raid shelter and boy was it huge! Also, it was pitch black too! The lights were not working. There were a couple of entrance, but the group took the easier one which did not require us to climb down via a ceiling entrance.

Ceiling of the air raid shelter

Talking about ceilings, everything in the air raid shelter was built using cement, even the ceiling. To allow for the cement to set, long wooden planks were used to help prop up the wet cement. Thus, the cement pretty much took the shape of the wooden planks.

Air Vent to keep the people breathing
During our walk in the shelter, we passed by rooms where shelves could be found. Apparently these shelves were used to store food items. It was said that there were sanitary facilities within the shelter. Though the toilets and the separator walls have all been removed, we could still see the base of these walls on the cement floor. There were certain area within the shelter where the smell of sewer was highly elevated. In simple terms, it stank! I'm sure the original air vents that rise up to the top of the building had surely helped to freshen up the air a little.

The Warden's room

Finally, we were ushered into the ARP Warden's Room. So what's ARP? Well, it's the acronym for Air Raid Precaution Warden. Only the ARP Wardens and their families were allowed to stay in this room. What was interesting here was that the wordings could still be seen on the wall. Was it re-painted or is it original? 

If you're interested in visiting the air raid shelter, check out the National Heritage Board's website for details or alternatively, you can do a virtual tour.


1. Bomb-proof shelters for new blocks of flats. June 29, 1939. The Straits Times. P15.

2. New block of trust flats. April 4, 1941. The Straits Times. P10.

3. Singapore's largest air raid shelter. October 31, 1941. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). P5.

4.Improvement trust allocates $200,000. February 22, 1941. The Straits Times. P11.