A Kite in the Evening SkyRelishing the sights and sounds ofGeylang Serai


A Kite in the Evening Sky

Relishing the sights and sounds of
Geylang Serai

In the Malay Heritage Gallery of Wisma Geylang Serai, among the numerous old photos and Malay artifacts three quotations from my book, “A kite in the evening sky”, are prominently displayed in a clear covered case. The quotations are in their original English and by the side of each quotation the translations are given in Malay.

This is the first of the three quotations exhibited at the Heritage Gallery  of Wisma Geylang Serai. The quotation was taken from Page 14 of the book. It tells about the sights I saw during my daily walk from my (first) home, a rented room, deep in Geylang Serai to and from my school (Telok Kurau Primary School) in Telok Kurau Road.

The second of the three quotations.  It was taken from Page 19 of the book.  The quotation talks about my new home. F or cheaper rent, we moved to a room in an attap-roof long house in Jalan Alsagoff.  The jamban was a shared bucket-collected toilet located a short distance away from the longhouse.

The third of the of the three quotations.  This quotation, taken from Page 21 of the book, tells that there was no tap in this longhouse and that I, with a pail in each hand, had to fetch water from the government standpipe some distance away.

When I messaged about the exhibited quotes to my daughter and friends, my daughter Dr Munirah (PhD), who is a researcher in Physics education in a university in Sydney, Australia, replied: “Wah! So proud of you…”

Two friends, one, Mr Zamree Mustapha, uttered: “Wow…that’s really an honour, Cik Kadir.” and the other, Ms Suraya Md Hanif, remarked: “Awesome…well done. Great.”

Another two friends had these comments:
• Mdm Aminah Markam: “Cik Kadir, the present-day children will never understand the kampung experience that brings nostalgia to us. They do not know the difficult time we had.”
• Mr Fauzi Talib: “Shaik, Those words you wrote in your book reflect accurately life in Geylang Serai in that era. Our generation really appreciates that you have captured it so vividly.”

Geylang Serai  

Geylang Serai usually refers to the area along both sides of Geylang Road-Changi Road stretch bounded in an area on one side by Jalan Ubi near where the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub (formerly a school) stands and on the other far side by Tanjong Katong Road near where the Tanjong Katong Shopping Complex is located.

This is a bustling area, an area not only for shoppers but also a nice area to roam around to enjoy its sights and sounds and eat or even just sit at one of the many restaurants to chat while sipping teh tarik (pulled milk tea).  In Ramadan (the Muslim fasting month), the area is aglow with decorative lights and attractive decorations and the bee-hive bazaars therein attract people from every part of Singapore.

The place where I lived till 1969 is roughly in the present-day Eunos Road 5. That is to say, Geylang Serai in those days extended beyond the present Sims Avenue, accommodating a large area of Malay kampungs (villages).

Walking down memory lane

It would be interesting to know what stood at the sites of some of the present buildings of Geylang Serai exactly 60 years ago, in 1959, the year when Singapore gained self-independence from the British.

That year (1959), I was in Primary 6 at Telok Kurau Primary School and, at weekends, I roamed around this “town” area to see the posters and photos of “Now showing” and “Next change” movies at Garricks and Taj cinemas.

Let’s now get into the Geylang Serai Time Machine and go back to that year – 1959 – and take a walk in Geylang Serai, starting from one side of Geylang Road-Changi Road stretch from the present City Plaza and ending after walking in a loop, at the present Tanjong Katong Complex. Yes, we would be amazed at how Geylang Serai has modernised but its old spirit has remained to make the present generation appreciate it and the old generation remember it.

Ignoring most of the shops and eateries along both sides of the Geylang Road-Changi Road stretch of Geylang Serai, let us focus only on the landmarks of those days.

The present City Plaza was a curved building of two-storey shophouses in 1959, and from here when we walk down, we pass by the front of two two-storey blocks of homes for government officers known as the Haig Road Government Quarters (present Haig Road Hawkers Centre), then we reach the Garricks cinema (present Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore or Darul Arqam Singapore) and beside it the Onan Road Mosque and soon we come to the Changi Market and behind it the Joo Chiat Market (the present Joo Chiat Complex).

Walking further down, we reach Lorong 101 Changi, and from this spot we cross Changi Road to come to an area spread with make-shift food hawkers, then we come to the Taj cinema (the present Millage condo) and the Eastern World Amusement Park behind it.

Then we come to the Geylang Bus Terminus (at present, the Geylang Serai Market) where we see petrol buses and electric trams (bus tanduk which mean buses with horns) with their two connectors touching the overhead electric cables.

Suddenly, just after a tram left the terminus and made a curved turn in front of the Changi Market, one of the connectors of the tram got disconnected with the overhead electric cable and the tram stalled. Both the tram driver and the tram conductor rushed out, and skilfully by manoeuvring the hanging aiding rope positioned the connector to the electric cable and rushed back into the tram to proceed with the journey. No crowd gathered to watch the scene as dislodging of the connectors is a common sight.

Then, walking further up at the site of the present Wisma Geylang Serai, we see rows of shops and two coffee-shops with Indian Muslim food stalls. The shops included a Malay bookshop, tailor shop, a barber, to mention just a few.  And some steps away, a row of shophouses accomodates a few shops, including a flour mill, a well-known Chinese medical hall, Afghanistan restaurant and wooden clog shop.

A few steps away is the Hawa restaurant and a short distance further up we see an area piled up with planks and sawn wooden beams – it’s a building material shop.

A little further up, we see a big Malay house raised above the ground.  It is actually an Arab association. Attached to its side, on the ground level, is Nor Radio, a shop selling radios, whose owner is the uncle of my close friend, Ramli Hamid.

Now we stand on the five-foot way of a row of shophouses at the site of the present Tanjong Katong Complex, having completed a loop.

Yes, this area in those days were bustling with people as it is today.  Many of these 1959 scenarios are shown in my book, “A kite in the evening sky”.

A Kite in the Evening Sky is a firsthand account of growing up in Geylang Serai.

Recollecting my kampung days

I moved to a rented room of a kampung house in Geylang Serai from Telok Ayer Street in the city after my father passed away when I was seven years old. That was in 1953.

My story in “A Kite in the Evening Sky” in its “Chapter 1: My first kampung home” begins: “Slowly I lifted my legs and carefully got down from where I was lying. With my crutches under my armpits, I went to the window and looked out.  The chirping was coming from a tree just outside. Craning my neck, I looked up at the tree. Clusters of jambu air were hanging all over it. I spotted a brown bird nipping at the light green fruit.”

Why was I using crutches? What happened to my family?

The blurb (back cover of my book) gives a glimpse of my kampung days, thus: “A Kite in the Evening Sky is Shaik Kadir’s firsthand account of growing up in a Geylang Serai kampung in the late 1950s and 1960s. It was a time when children spent the hours after school playing capteh and marbles, eating fresh jambu, hauling pails of water home from the public standpipes, attending prayers at the surau, learning to fast, reading the Qur’an, as well as enjoying evenings in the open-air cinema.”

Despite the poverty, he thrived in the twilight years of the kampung and managed to make his dreams soar like a kite, fulfilling the aspirations of his single mother for a better life in a moderning city…..”

Kampung book published

“A kite in the evening sky” was first published in 1989 by EPB Publishers.

In the year 2000, the book was republished by Federal Publications under Times Heritage Library in “Singapore literature series” and became one of the secondary school literature books.

In 2018, the book was republished by Marshall Cavendish International for worldwide sale.

The three paces (1989, 2000 and 2018) of A Kite in the Evening Sky.

The blurb of the book continues and ends thus: “Thoughtful, amusing and heartwarming, these stories hark back to simpler days and humble ways, offering us a vivid glimpse of the kampung that raised the child.”

Where to get the book

In Singapore, “A Kite in the Evening Sky” I on sale in all Kinokuniya Bookstores and the Kinokuniya webstore:
https://singapore.kinokuniya.com/bw/9789814794428 as well as in Popular bookstores.

In Malaysia, the books are available in Kinokuniya KLCC and Popular Malaysia stores.

Online, the book is available over all Amazon platforms, The Book Depository and Fishpond World.

At Kinokuniya bookstore, Orchard:  Farah (left) and Nadia, both from Brunei Darrussalam, each purchasing “A Kite in the Evening Sky”.  The “About the Author” appears on the last (inside) page of the book. Overlapping the photo in this page is a photo of another of my Geylang Serai book, “The Girl with the Mole, an anthology of nine short stories, published by EPB Publishers in 1992.

As for my “The Girl with the Mole” book, I wrote in the Introduction of the book thus: “The nine stories in this book are entirely fiction. But the dramas, incidents, sights and sounds are all based on real people in this exciting locality. For those who know the old Geylang Serai, the book is a window for a nostalgic look at the life of the people there in the late 1950s and the 1960s.  For the knowledge seeker, the book is a door through which he may begin his journey into the past of a beautiful country and people.”

Shaik Kadir
2 March 2019

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