Oh, my Old SIngapore

As the nation celebrates its jubilee year, Nabilah Said & Deborah Lee speak to 10 local personalities about places that remind them of the Singapore of the past

1 JANICE WONG, 32, pastry chef and owner of 2am: dessertbar

Favourite spot: Chinatown

I lived in an apartment just above the Hong Lim Market and Food Centre till I was three years old and my grandmother continued to live there till I was nine.

In fact, the staircase I would take up to my house was just next to the popular Heng Kee Curry Chicken Noodles.

There used to be street buskers who would play music while we ate.

These days, I come here once every two months and the owners of Heng Kee still remember me.

Sometimes, they automatically serve me a glass of my favourite sugarcane juice when I am here.

It’s like coming back to family.

These hawker stalls that have been here for years are the ones that should be celebrated.

The owners of Heng Kee are here from as early as 3am to prepare the curry noodles and the queues are always snaking long.

I may be in the pastry business, but I love the flavours of food like this.

I take my friends from overseas to Chinatown often.

Even though some parts have been modernised, I think there’s still a lot of heritage to be found here.

One thing is for sure – the crowd has not changed. There’s a certain generation of older Singaporeans who are still here.

Nabilah Said

2 CAROLYN KAN, 42, founder- designer of Singapore artisan jewellery label Carrie K.

Favourite spot: Lazarus Island

Going to Lazarus Island (below) always feels like an adventure to jewellery designer Carolyn Kan (above). ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, ASHLEIGH SIM

Lazarus Island, off the south-west coast of Singapore, is the only place here where I feel like I am on an adventure.

It is an uninhabited island to which one does not have direct access – you have to take a ferry to St John’s Island and cross a link bridge to Lazarus.

One memorable incident there was when I found a set of train tracks that led nowhere. I wish I could remember exactly when.

Nowadays, whenever I visit the island with my husband, we make it a point to look for them after taking a boat ride to the island and after a swim.

Deborah Lee

3 KENNY CHAN, 63, store and merchandising director of Books Kinokuniya

Favourite spot: Former MPH Building in Stamford Road, now known as Vanguard Building. The Urban Redevelopment Authority awarded it conservation status in 2003.

A good experience at the old MPH bookstore in Stamford Road (below) inspired Mr Kenny Chan (above) to join the book industry. PHOTOS: ST FILE

I love books. The MPH Building was one of my favourite places because it was right next to the old National Library. It was at the now-defunct MPH bookstore there that I was awarded the store’s book voucher, as a literature prize in school.

Inspired by the service there, I vowed to become the store manager and I eventually did it in the late 1980s.

Deborah Lee


4 BOO JUNFENG, 32, film-maker

Favourite spot: Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

Film-maker Boo Junfeng (right) shooting his film, Parting, at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. PHOTO: PEANUT PICTURES

When I was in primary school, my parents took me on a train ride to Johor Baru. I still remember being on the noisy train, chugging through lush greenery and old HDB estates.

Tanjong Pagar was relatively quiet when it was still functioning.

I guess that was because it was the terminus of the KTM line. We used to say that when you came to the station, you were kind of already in Malaysia. We don’t get to say that anymore.

In its later years, I often went there with my friends for supper. The mee rebus at the cafeteria was very good.

It isn’t easy gaining access to the station now that it’s closed, but I’m glad the authorities have decided to open it to the public on public holidays.

I shot a key scene in my short film, Parting, which is part of the anthology 7 Letters, there. The scene is set in the 1960s.

For a brief moment, I tried to bring the station back to life again.

I’m glad I got to put it on film.

Nabilah Said

5 SAMANTHA SCOTT-BLACKHALL, 36, theatre director and artistic director of Blank Space Theatre

Favourite spot: Colonial-style cafe Colbar, Wessex Estate

Theatre director Samantha Scott-Blackhall likes Colbar cafe for its laid-back feel and quiet surroundings. ST PHOTO: NABILAH SAID

In the 1990s, I had just entered the theatre scene and a lot of the new friends I made then happened to live in the Portsdown Road area.

It was not unusual for us to clear their living rooms to rehearse for shows.

Colbar, nestled among the foliage of Portsdown Road, was a cool place to hang out at after rehearsals.

It was a very peaceful place to be at. All our attention was on one another and our stories.

The cafe is located away from the main road so there are no cars whizzing by – it is just the gentle hum of fans and pockets of laughter competing with the army of crickets all hanging out at Portsdown.

Actually, I didn’t realise it till now, but Colbar moved from Jalan Hang Jebat to its present location in Whitchurch Road in 2004.

I had some trouble finding it as I didn’t know it had moved, but then I saw the recognisable blue exterior and I knew that was it.

It has retained a lot of the old architecture, such as the timbre panels and clay roof tiles.

The laid-back atmosphere is still the same – and the insects are still there.

Nabilah Said

6 SANTHA BHASKAR, 76, Indian dance pioneer and artistic director of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy

Favourite spot: Victoria Theatre

Dancer Santha Bhaskar performed her first solo at the Victoria Theatre in 1955. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

I associate Victoria Theatre with my performances and my life.

I have performed there many times. In 1955, that was where I had my first solo performance. I was 15 or 16 years old and had to perform in front of a big audience.

I was from India and had only performed in temples or small theatres before.

The theatre was huge, like a palace, and the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles by the river made it seem even more majestic.

I remember the curtains and the lights, and the general impression of floating through space.

I wasn’t nervous, but I was filled with positive energy.

The theatre has been renovated since and its interior has shrunk in size. But I feel the same emotions when I step inside it. The spirit of the place remains the same.

Home is home.

Nabilah Said

7 SANDRA RILEY TANG, 25, musician from pop-folk band The Sam Willows

Favourite spot: Old-school HDB playgrounds

Musician Sandra Riley Tan (above) has happy childhood memories of playing at old-schoool playgrounds (below). PHOTOS: ERIC CHEN, STEPHANIE YEOW

There used to be a playground in the shape of a dragon near my school, Yuhua Primary School, in Jurong. I have fond memories of going there every day after school with my friends. We’d play catching and hide and seek, running up and down the spine of the dragon.

I would feel very excited, but also scared because I was supposed to be home. We’d spend one to two hours there before heading home.

It’s a bittersweet memory because I won’t be able to show my future kids that playground. Nonetheless, I still can’t resist a good playground. You can always find me on the swings. The higher the swing can go, the better.

Nabilah Said

8 JASON WONG, 51, board chairman of Focus On The Family and former Singapore Prisons Service deputy director and chief of staff

Favourite spot: Mount Faber

Mount Faber (below) was the playground of Mr Jason Wong (above) when he was growing up. PHOTOS: ST FILE

My father used to work for Keppel Shipyard, so my family lived in the shipyard’s staff quarters at the foot of Mount Faber until I was 12 years old.

I was still in lower primary school when a few families who were close friends started going on weekly pre-dawn walks. The walks usually took place on the weekends, when the fathers were not working.

We would set off after 5.30amto catch the sunrise on top of Mount Faber. I still remember the beautiful scenery at the peak.

On weekdays, the children would meet in the evening atop Mount Faber – where the cable car station is now located – or at a nearby park several flights of steps below Mount Faber’s peak, to play hide and seek, and catch butterflies. It was a playground in our backyard.

Deborah Lee

9 RANDY CHAN, 45, principal architect of architecture studio at Zarch Collaboratives

Favourite spot: Shophouse at 43 Blair Road

Mr Randy Chan’s grandmother once owned this shophouse in Blair Road. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

The shophouse belonged to my grandmother and was where the Chan clan gathered for monthly reunions or festive occasions.

The house looked huge when I was younger. I remember seeing huge spiders and cobwebs at every corner of the house.

Its architectural features, such as the fan-shaped windows, had an old-world charm. The aged Peranakan floor tiles, some cracked, were rich in texture.

When my grandmother’s funeral was held there, there was one memorable incident.

I was on night vigil with some of my relatives, but had fallen asleep near the coffin after offering incense. At around 2am, a loud knocking came from within the coffin. Everyone became scared and huddled together, except for me – sound asleep and oblivious.

The next morning, my uncles said that it was possibly my grandmother’s ghost.

Vigil-keepers for the remaining nights of the wake stayed awake.

We sold the shophouse after my grandmother died in the 1980s.

Deborah Lee

10 FANDI AHMAD, 53, former captain and current coach of Singapore’s national football team Lions XII

Favourite spot: Bussorah Street

Fandi Ahmad (above) hangs out at Bussorah Street (below) with his friends on Fridays. PHOTOS: ST FILE

This street is my favourite because I hang out with my friends there after Friday prayers at Sultan Mosque every week.

There are many interesting shops that sell things from books to trinkets to accessories.

I usually drive there. I get to chill with my friends, relax and take in the atmosphere. Sometimes, we even jam and play music there.


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