Monday, January 13, 2020

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - 2020 - 1st walk of the year with Geylang Adventures



It's been a long hiatus since my last post... This entry is about my 1st 2020 walk with the good people of Geylang Adventures under "Geylang Adventures: Lorongs of Wisdom" edition as part of Singapore Biennale 2019 events lineup. 
We had an information packed 3 hour session with Citizen Adventures (Wanying) and Geylang Adventures (Jo)Fun fact: Jo also guided me back in 2016 as part of the Singaplural walk "Transient Geylang". 
In this short time, I was re-introduced to this part of my hometown that is not part of my usual commute and given a glimpse of the life stories of those currently staying or used to stay as well as those helping in this area like those from: 
  • Healthserve (who meets the needs of the migrant workers through medical care, counseling, case work, social assistance etc)
  • BackAlleyBarbers (who give out free haircuts to migrant workers & elderly in nursing homes)
  • Singapore Migrant Friends (community made up of families of migrants from different countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar)) 
  • Citizen Adventures, an organisation that advocates that doing good starts from an individual level - loving thy neighbour and looking out for one another
We were also given a small souvenir courtesy of Terra and Ember (a home-based ceramic studio who produce their own works and conducts classes in Geylang).
As what Ronald Reagan said "We cannot help everyone but everyone can help someone." and these organisations show the various ways any one can help someone.... 


So what is special about Geylang..... and some info


For those unfamiliar with my part of the world, Singapore is well known to be a largely sanitized country, clean and green and basically Utopia when compared to other big cities in the world. This is a place where anyone can walk in the night without much concern and where the term 'streetwalker' might be unknown to someone from the younger demographic group. 

Against that backdrop, it is often surprising for visitors (and some Singaporeans) to find out that we have an area where vices like prostitution (legalized to boot), contraband drugs are openly sold on the streets with gambling in the open. Well, Geylang has the reputation to be that area in my lovely island city, where even locals fear to tread due to its "reputation". 
Geylang is translated from kelang (factory) in Malay as this area is well known for processing of lemongrass and coconut back in the 19th century. In Feng Shui terms, the image of Geylang lanes are like that of a Centipede which feeds the Chickens (aka prostitutes) in the area.

Composed of north and south sections, Geylang Road stretches for some 3km with  lanes (or "lorongs" in the local Malay language) extending from the main road. The lanes in the north are given odd numbered names (i.e. Lorong 1, Lorong 3, Lorong 5 and so on), and the lanes in the south are given even numbered names (i.e. Lorong 2, Lorong 4, Lorong 6 and so on). According to our guides, the red light district are in some of the even numbered lorongs. 
The Geylang Adventures: Lorongs of Wisdom walk 
Wanying and Jo captured the attention of the participants that came from varied age groups (university level individuals to more matured persons like myself). They also provided inclusive information about the area and Singapore in general that engaged both locals and foreigners alike (our group had foreigners from Japan, Germany and US). 

The walk was entertaining as various mediums were used such as playing cards to introduce history and the beginnings of the area and life stories using card games, board games, messages on cards hung from a wishing tree and of course, maps and old photographs. 

Jo is a long time resident of the area and shared with us snippets of what he sees in Geylang over the many years growing up here. Wanying and Jo shared that much has changed in Geylang especially after the Little India riot in Dec 2013 (1st riot in Singapore in 40 years). With 30% more crime occurring in Geylang than in Little India, the government introduced many changes which include the imposition of special liquor control zones with limited timings and some 300+ additional surveillance cameras (with visual, audio (various languages and dialects) and facial recognition capabilities).  


As this area has the highest concentration of religious institutions in Singapore, it was only fitting that we visited the Chong Tuck Tong Temple with over 100+ years history where both Taoism and Buddhism faiths/ deities were represented. The temple started as villa and was used as private temple and a 1989 fire allowed it to be rebuilt to include both Buddhists and Taoist  aspects. The fire was seen as positive as Chinese folk belief that fire has to happen every 100 years (part of the 4 elements). We were fortunate to be allowed to visit the temple in the night with the temple nicely decked out in their festive preparations. 


We ended our walk
 in a back alley (much like the one below) where we were introduced to the nice folks from Singapore Migrant Friends. We had a chat over some watermelon provided by the organisers. This was definitely a new experience for me and immediately brought to mind a quote that goes something like "The world will be better if we talked to each other instead of about each other." 




For anyone interested to find out more about Geylang and its ongoings, do go for a walk with Geylang Adventures or read from these links: 

Till the next time....keep exploring your own backyard!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - Chek Jawa Trip

Chek Jawa (also known as Tanjong Chek Jawa or Tanjung Chek Jawa) is located in the southern part of Pulau Ubin with a natural ecosystem unique to Singapore and also located in the surroundings of one of the last kampongs (or village) of Singapore. It's always a joy to visit this place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, although I must admit, the heat and humidity does get to me because of the tropical heat. 

A short boat ride about some 15 mins away for a small S$3 fee. Chek Jawa is accessible by walking or using a rental bike from the jetty. Here's some of the unique living things I managed to take photographs of when I was there for a recent overnight stay specially organised by the Nature Photographic Society (Singapore): 









Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - Singapore Heritage Festival 2016: Bidadari Walk

By the end of 2016, the calls of nature from Bidadari, an area of some 26 hectares will be replaced by the familiar construction sounds of swirling cranes and ground pounding machines. And with those sounds, 40% of Singapore’s bird species will disappear.

With my glassy eyed memories from yesteryears when I accompanied my late grandmother to visit my grandfather’s grave in that area, I am again faced with another loss of the natural environment after witnessing the loss of another green lung, Bukit Brown.

My earlier blog entries regarding the loss of Bukit Brown,

For those who want to venture there, here’s a map of the trail, http://heritagefest.sg/events/bidadari-heritage-trail

I leave you with a video of David Attenborough’s famous video of the amazing Lyre Bird singing like a chainsaw…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSB71jNq-yQ as this was exactly what I heard when walking through the trail today. 



Sunday, May 8, 2016

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - War Memories at Changi

I had a crash revision course of WWII history when I went down to Changi for a walk organized by the National Heritage Board in Changi that is held at the location of Singapore’s latest National Monument, Changi Prison Entrance Gate, Wall and Turrets on 7 May 2016.
This latest national monument comprising of the Changi Prison Entrance Gate, Wall and remaining 2 Turrets is in remembrance of the wartime experience as a symbol of the suffering and hardship of Prisoners-of-War during the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945. This tour allowed for exclusive access to this Monument right up next to its prison walls. First opened some 80 years ago, the prison’s steel entrance gate, two turrets and a 180-metre long wall, are what remains of the old prison. Back then, it was acclaimed as the most modern institution of its kind in the East, boasting a comprehensive alarm system and electrical lights in its cells. During WWII, it was the main war camp for civilians and POWs in Southeast Asia with some 5000 or more persons packed into a place designed for 600.



You can get more insights into this national monument at http://www.nhb.gov.sg/places/sites-and-monuments/national-monuments/changi-prison-gate-wall-and-turrets
I took the opportunity to visit a nearby museum i.e. The Changi Museum that is dedicated to Singapore’s history during the Second World War which is located about a 10 minutes’ walk away. Here are some photos of the Chapel area as photos inside the museum is prohibited. In this museum, visitors can view photographs, drawings and letters by prisoners as well as replicas of murals of the chapel. I purchased the audio tour (costing SGD8) of which I will strongly recommend as I personally got a more rewarding experience of what happened during those dark years in Singapore. Through the audio tour, I could relate the exhibits and got my chance to hear audio recordings of the experiences of those who lived through it including that of Singapore’s own war heroine, Elizabeth Choy.
For anyone interested in taking in more of such walks, there is a Changi war trail that you can follow: more info available: http://heritagefest.sg/~/media/shf/files/trailpoint/stbwartimecivicdistricttrail45_brochure.pdf?la=en

Will suggest that those interested in this part of history combine this with another travel up to Kranji War Memorial - http://accidentalsingaporetourist.blogspot.sg/2012/06/end-of-empire-changi-museum-war-walk.html  

Till the next time, onto the world and beyond! 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - Walk - 2016 - March - Dakota Walkorganised for Singaplural 2016

I went on an engaging SingaPlural 2016 Walking Tour around Dakota that was organised by the folks from Singapore Furniture Industries Council which was part of the activities for SingaPlural 2016 (http://www.singaplural.com/).

We were accompanied by residents (past and present) during the trail that is organized by Dakota Adventures, a service provider engaged by SFIC ). Jonathan who is also part of the SaveDakotaCrescent FB campaign also joined us. 

It was a wonderful time spent with the guides who shared with us their knowledge regarding the unique blocks in this area and I personally particularly enjoyed hearing the stories of the elderly folks who have been staying here for all their lives especially from Bilyy Koh who not only shared his stories of staying in Dakota but also allowed us into his abode after the tour. 



Some interesting facts/ stories shared during the walk: 

  • Part of Kallang bigger estate stretching up to Guillemard Road 
  • 4 types of blocks found in Dakota estate i.e. (1) butterfly block - one of a kind block that is not found anywhere in Singapore. You can see the unique shape in the photo of the maps shown. To ensure privacy for the end unit with adequate ventilation in the tropical heat. The middle area is always an open courtyard area for community gathering and social interaction. (2) 8 storey blocks - original blocks no. 10 and 20 with the kitchen near the walking corridor - idea likely imported from British and Blk 28 being the only block with a common refuse chute (instead of the refuse chute inside the house) and 3 storey blocks and 2 storey blocks 
  • Designs of the blocks are intended to help residents to identify their houses with the old folks recalling their inability to go home as all the blocks look too similar to them (back then, there were no block numbers) with reported deafness due to old airport located close to the residences
  • Unique feature of the area is that there is no void deck at the bottom of the block with various shapes like those of butterfly (not modular cookie-cutter designs of current flats) with many flats differing in height and shapes standing next to each other 
  • Former namesake of the Hyde park of Singapore that was situated next to old airport
  • Dakota was also the holiday zone back during British times with palm trees still lining the streets and named after the logistics airplane, Dakota DC-3 that used to land in old Kallang Airport nearby
  • Previously one of the largest estate built by Singapore Improvement Trust back in 1958 (predecessor of our current Housing and Development Board) with some 20 blocks (now 17 are left) 
  • Back when the old airport was still functioning, residents were woken up in the morning not by alarm clocks but by the sound of the Concorde plane landing at 6:30 am with the accompaniment of walls shaking and cups/ plates rattling
  • There is only 1 Lift repairer in Singapore who is able to repair the remaining lifts in Dakota - he will retire once the last of the residents move out end of the 2016 
  • Showcased Singapore's progress from slumps to 1st Pioneer HDB flat with its residents having been at least displaced twice due to the modernization of Singapore with many having first moved here after the fires in their previous abode in slums. This intention to move out the Dakota residents marks their 2nd exodus. 
  • Mountbatten Pink comes from a story when Admiral Mountbatten who observed that the sunset color along the shores around the area and thought that ships will not be spotted if they were painted pink. ore info available via Wikipedia. Incidentally, Admiral Mountbatten had accepted the Japanese surrender after WWII - more info here 
P.S. With the upcoming uncertainty behind the fate of this lovely quaint estate, there is a social movement to lend a voice to everyone who wants this unique location to be preserved for future generations so head down to Dakota and join the SaveDakotaCrescent FB campaign. More about this is reported here 


Till the next time, keep exploring! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - List of Singapore National Monuments Visited so far....and many many more to go.....

[Updated to include 72nd National Monument as at 11 May 2016]

25 Jan 2016: Decided to do a list of Singapore National Monuments after doing my blog entry about the newly minted 71st National Monument, Fullerton Hotel. So here goes my limited list and hoping to complete this list someday!


1.     Armenian Apostolic Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator - flickr photo set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/sets/72157628186015087
2.     Asian Civilisations Museum (former Empress Place building) - http://accidentalsingaporetourist.blogspot.sg/2012/10/accidental-tourist-october-2012-walking.html
3.     Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
4.     Central Fire Station- flickr photo set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/albums/72157663873264136
8.     Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – flickr photo set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/albums/72157663352592510
11. Hajjah Fatimah Mosque
12. Hill Street Police Station (former)
14. Istana Kampong Glam 
15. jamae-mosque 
16. Lau Pa Sat (former Telok Ayer Market)-
17. Maghain Aboth Synagogue- flickr  set - https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/albums/72157661593399744
18. National Gallery of Singapore (former City Hall and Supreme Court)- flickr photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/20813025708/in/datetaken-public/
21. Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church- flickr set saved in https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/sets/72157628186234607 
23. Saint Andrew’s Cathedral - flickr photo set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/magtyfoto/sets/72157628185649871 
26. Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple -
31. Tan Si Chong Su 
32. The Arts House  (former Parliament House) -
33. The Cathay (former Cathay Building)-

35. Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - 2016 - Celebrate Monuments! The Fullerton Hotel Tour: 9 January 2016

Newly minted 71st National Monument of Singapore, Fullerton Hotel opened its doors to a group of us fortunate enough to take part in its inaugural Celebrate Monuments! tour on 9 January 2015.


Before becoming a now world famous luxury hotel, this National Monument was originally a public institution known as the Fullerton Building. Named after the then-governor of the Straits Settlement that included Singapore, Penang and Malacca, this now 91 year old grand dame stands at 36.6m high occupying some 41,000 square meters of prime land with Singapore’s then seafront (now Marina Bay area) is done with 3.5m bricks in neoclassical style by Keyes and Dowdeswell, a Shanghai-based architectural firm (who incidentally won an architectural competition for the project).





This building has seen Singapore from its earlier days with the northern end of the building covering the site of old Fort Fullerton, built back in 1829 to defend the Straits Settlement against any naval attacks. This was also the location where a sandstone monolith, the Singapore Stone, was discovered with an inscription potentially dating back to the 13th century. For those interested, you can see a fragment of the Singapore Stone as part of the collection of the Singapore’s National Museum.  


The fort gave way to the first General Post Office that was termed by Joseph Conrad as the ‘most important post office of the East’ back in 1874. The Fullerton Building (known as the new General Post Office) was subsequently completed in 1928 and housed the Exchange, Chamber of Commerce and the Singapore Club. You can see an old photograph by clicking this link to the National Library Board showing the grounds back then: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/pictures/Details/8d4e60f6-4fa8-4b35-9654-5c261a2f7115.
The original entrance to the building was on the right side of the building (facing One Fullerton). 

Known as Mile 0, it was the nerve centre of Singapore in which all roads and distances in Singapore were measured as leading up to the Fullerton Building. We were told that the use of such reference dates back to the Roman times. 






The building bore witness to the World War II as a makeshift operating room for wounded British soldiers, and the location where General Percival discussed with Sir Shenton the idea of surrendering Singapore to the Japanese before it was the headquarters for the Japanese Military Administration. The Income Tax Department (starting late 1948), Ministry of Finance and the Economic Development Board later occupied it. The General Post Office was its last occupant until March 1996.

Its site was also used for election rallies from 1959 till 1980s – we were told that this is the place where the late Lee Kuan Yew made one of his many notable rally speeches back in 1980 stating:
Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine! I've spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I'm in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.



After a S$400million makeover, the Fullerton Building was opened as the Fullerton Hotel as a 5 star luxury hotel with 400 rooms spanning across 8 floors at the stroke of midnight on 1 January 2001. The designer and architects of the hotel had to accommodate detailed specifications that required minor alternations to the exterior and at the same time take into consideration the business aspects that required maximum usage of the space. The makeover was a success as the hotel was given a stamp of approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority which awarded it URA’s Architectural Heritage Award in 2001, Singapore's highest honour that recognise the efforts of owners, architects, engineers, and contractors who have gone the extra mile to undertake high quality and sensitive restoration of National Monuments and conservation buildings. Source: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/corporate/aha/2001/1-Fullerton-Road.aspx#


We had the chance to prod around the Fullerton Hotel’s Presidential Suite (which is the former card room of the elite Singapore Club) located on the 2nd floor. Occupying a grand total of 2,142 square feet (normal hotel rooms are a pale 323-334 square feet), it has all the furnishings worthy of its guests (for which we were informed on a no-named basis, statesmen and dignitaries) with its white marbled flooring, private elevator, Baby Grand piano, two intricately carved solid wood chairs with inlaid mother-of-pearl, private study and bathrooms complete with Bulgari bathroom amenities. You can enjoy a night's stay at this Presidential Suite for a grand S$6,888. 
Source: http://www.fivestaralliance.com/articles/suite-luxury-the-presidential-suite-at-the-fullerton-hotel-singapore




This tour is part of Celebrate Monuments! by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM) Division of the National Heritage Board. Conducted by PSM Volunteer Guides, each hour-long tour is specially crafted to celebrate a milestone in the history of a National Monument. Each tour is priced at S$20 per person, and fully redeemable for food and beverage at any of the restaurants located within The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and The Fullerton Bay Hotel after the tour.

Hop over this link if you are keen to take this tour of its interior, exterior etc. and learn about its history from one of PSM Guide: http://www.thefullertonheritage.com/tours#celebratemonuments!thefullertonhotel


You will need to hurry if you want to book as this round of tours ends on 7 Feb 2016.


Other resources:
Till the next time, onto the world and beyond!