(“A glimpse of kampung scenes of old Geylang Serai” is given below this reminder of our current national concern – Covid-19.)
Covid-19: We’re in critical stage, so let’s heed expert advices in fighting against the deadly virus
********* Before I begin the second part of the article about my talk on my book, “A Kite in the Evening Sky, at The Arts House recently, let us ponder over the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic that is worsening, and strictly follow the advices of the Singapore Government and the health authorities.
On 3 March 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the enforcement of a “Circuit breaker” to curb the escalating number of virus infection cases. A number of measures were emphasised for the good of Singaporeans and the nation, including safe distancing if one has to go out of the home to attend to unavoidable matters, such as going to the stores or markets to buy essential requirements.
Three professors, too, urged Singaporeans to minimise contacts with people. Their valuable advice as reported on the front page of The Straits Times of 4 April are:
• “By staying at home, you have less chance of getting infected. And if you are infected, you have less chance to spread it.” – Professor Wang Linfa
• “Many people are infected and infectious before they develop symptoms. To protect others, you should try to minimise contact.” – Associate Professor Alexander Cook
• “Avoid social gatherings beyond your immediate family. If all of us can do this, we will succeed in overcoming the virus.” – Professor Tan Chorh Chuan
———- STAY HOME – BE SAFE – SAVE LIVES ———-
We need to do our part seriously and responsibly as advised by the authorities to beat the onslaught of the coronavirus. *********
A glimpse of kampung scenes of old Geylang Serai
I was invited by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to give a talk based on my book, “A Kite in the Evening Sky”, at The Arts House on 14 March 2020. I was among the local writers who participated in the event, themed “These storied walls” under “Textures – a weekend with words”, which was held from 13 – 22 March.
Describing the events, the information pamphlet says: “First launched in 2018, Textures – a weekend with words, is now positioned as one of The Arts House’s signature programmes. The festival celebrates the power and beauty of words.”
The following are some of the photos (almost all taken from the Internet) shown to the audience during the talk. (If you have not seen Part 1, go to the previous article, “At The Arts House: A weekend with words”.)
The author’s kampung days
Sketch map showing location the of author’s home
Kampung houses in the 1950s
Almost all the kampung houses in the 1950s had attap roofs (thatched palm leaves roofs).
The houses had no fences, hence neighbours easily dropped by for friendly chats.
My father died when I was seven. Together with my mother and sisters we lived in a room of a kind of attap-roof “long house” without waterpipes and electricity. We used kerosene lamps and I fetched water from the roadside government community stand-pipes.
Kampung houses in the mid-1960s
In the 1960s, some houses had zinc roofs. Many houses even had electricity.
My home still had no electrical lights, and my family still used kerosene lamps.
Kampung scenes (1955-1960) – Toilets and standpipes
Sometimes people queued up in a line to use the shared bucket-type toilet which might be some distance away from their homes – it’s the bucket collection system. The “collection” was uses as fertilisers for vegetables in the nearby vegetable farms owned by Chinese farmers.
Using two hand-held pails, I would fetch water from the standpipe which was about 150 metres away from my home. I had to make a few trips till the water drum in my tiny kitchen was filled.
Most Chinese from the nearby farm houses used kandar (bamboo poles) over their shoulders with pails hanging from each end.
Geylang Serai bus terminal in 1960
Home appliances of the 1960s
Playing with kampung friends
Buses and trolley buses of the 1960s
Today, each bus is manned by one person only – the driver (called the Bus Captain) but in those days each bus had a conductor, too, who would be walking up and down the narrow aisle of the bus issuing tickets by punching appropriate holes for distance marking, receiving cash and giving the changes. Buses had no air-con. The trolley buses run on electricity from overhead cables.
Kampung boys would collect the thrown away bus-tickets at the bus terminus to play ticket games – guessing the last two digits of the ticket number.
There were three cinemas in the Geylang Serai area. There was an open-air 10-cents cinema (later on, the cinema charged 20 cents per person) at end of the long road, Jalan Alsagoff. With a friend or two, we often went to this cinema to watch western movies like cowboy and tarzan films.
The Taj cinema was a proper cinema showing Malay, Tamil and Hindi movies. (Later, Taj became Singapura Cinema).
The Garrick cinema showed English and Hindi movies. (Later, Garrick became Galaxy. Currently, “The Galaxy” building is occupied by the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore or Darul Arqam Singapore.)
Queens cinema at the Guilimard Road-Geylang Road junction also showed Hindi movies.
Today, young and old could be seen playing colourful and fancy kites in some open-space areas.
In those days, when I was in upper primary school level, I would just watch kampung youths fly kites.
For kite battles, the string had to be “glassed”, but being still young, I would just watch the older boys engage in kite battles.
Chasing lost kite was fun. Together with a few other boys of about his age, I would chase after those kites that were lost in the battles – the string being cut from the way the kite was maneuvered in the fight by the skill of the opposing “fighter”. The defeated kite would fall to the ground in a slow, wavy motion.
The boys chased the descending kite with poles tied with twigs at the upper end of the pole to catch the string of the falling kite. I usually sold the kites I salvaged.
Whenever there was a wedding, the neighbours and relatives would gather to help out in the preparation of food and other wedding arrangements. This was the spirit of the kampung people.
Often a musical band would be hired to entertained the guests. The kampung boys loved to watch the popular band, Chandniraat, wherever in Geylang Serai they were performing. I would follow them. The photo above shows Chandniraat in action with the band’s main singers, Halim Marican and his sister, Azizah, singing Hindi songs.
Geylang Serai houses in mid-1960s
In around mid-1960s, many of the kampung houses look better and had better toilet facilities.
Many houses had electricity and even water taps in their kitchen. But the author’s home still had no tap in the kitchen but by now the situation was better – the “ long house” tenants fetched water from the owner’s house nearby (instead of from the standpipe). For light, my family still used kerosene lamps.
1970 & today: Front view of Geylang Serai
This road junction (as seen in the old photo) is special – four roads meet at the junction: Joo Chiat Road, Geylang Road, (Jalan) Geylang Serai and Changi Road.
Currently, the well-known junction has four busy buildings: (Clockwise from top, left) Joo Chiat Complex, Tristar Complex, Wisma Geylang Serai and Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre.
So, I wrote a book
In ending the summary of my talk on “My kampung days”, I would like to indicate what initiated me to write “A Kite in the Evening Sky”.
Well, in mid-1980s, I walked into Eunos Road 5 (the former Jalan Alsagoff) off Sims Avenue in the vicinity of Geylang Serai wondering if I could locate the exact spot where I lived. It was not possible as the area has changed drastically, becoming an industrial estate.
The Epilogue of my book mentions my thoughts about that area, thus: “This environment is now history, but it will always remain in the memories of those who once lived here…I must say that I’m one of the lucky ones to have lived an interesting kampung life and experienced all its peculiarities as well as its special qualities, and then to live in a satellite town…I enjoyed kampung life with all its difficulties…And there was that kampung spirit we cherished – neighbours mingled and helped one another. Children played together. It was fun.”
It was this thought that made me begin to recall my kampung experiences. I penned them down, and the book, “A Kite in the Evening Sky” was the result. It was published in 1989.
(Author of “A Kite in the Evening Sky”)
7 April 2020