I found this book in my shelf and wondered when and why I bought it. It must have been those occasion when I needed to make up an amount to get a discount from Borders. Having discovered the book, I decided the short chapters were just right for my trip to Taipei, although I didn’t touch the book at all during the whole period I was there.
This book is a compilation of the late Chan Kwee Sung’s column in The Straits Times from 1998 to 2002 under ‘Long Life’. I am amazed I have no recollection of reading his column, since I remember the column by Li Lien Fung vividly.
This is the author’s memory of Singapore from 1930s to 1980s. Considering that he was born in 1930, it’s no surprising that most of the stories here are from the war period and post war.
It’s interesting reading the nuggets of past Singapore that has all but disappeared- the places, the things, the people, the food.
Among the places written is Capitol Cinema, although whose presence is still here, is no longer showing movies. Then there are the amusement parks, all the Worlds as many remember them by. I had wanted to read about Wonderland, the amusement park of my childhood but it was not mentioned. Some places which had undergone much changes are the roads in Chinatown, Maxwell Road Food Centre, Hong Lim Park and Esplanade. These sanitized places which we now know of, was improved precisely because of sanitation issues before.
If you are living in Bukit Batok, one interesting story is about the Japanese war shrines, the remain of one still stands at Bukit Batok Nature Reserve.
The extinct items mentioned are the clogs (cha kiat), the coal-heated iron, rickshaws.
The people he mentioned who have disappeared are the Amahs, the Samsui women, letter writers. I remember the Amahs who had worked for my mother and those in my neighborhood. Seng che from opposite my house brought up this English boy since he was a baby, and worked for the family until the family returned to England twenty years later in the late 80s. I guess she is among the last of the black and white Amahs.
Funnily, of all the things he mentioned, only the food managed to live on till today.
While the book gives us snippets of past Singapore, it would have been more interesting if actual people were named, like the name of the ‘Sikh family in Keong Saik Road whose members were so fluent in speaking the (Cantonese) language that the community treated them as Chinese.”
Also, it would be helpful if he had put in dates in his stories, like when Sago Lane’s death houses disappeared, or when Satay Club at the Esplanade, where the hawkers were legally settled in 1953 for the Queen’s visit, disappeared.
As Singapore celebrates SG50 next year, this is a wonderful book to be relaunch, despite it’s shortfalls.