Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sembawang sizzles!

The road ahead leads to Kampung Tengah and the beach. But this was a dirt track in the 50s and 60s. The road left leads to Kampung Wak Hassan.    
That's because Sembawang was the home of  top Singapore sports personalities, such as the famous football Quah brothers  -- Kim Beng, Kim Choon, Kim Swee, Kim Siak, Kim Lye and Kim Song -- for starters.

So, too, M Kumar and V Sundramoorthy, and several more.  The youngest Quah boy, Kim Tiong, also grew up to be a national athlete. Other athletes were Avtar Singh and Mukhtiar Singh. 

Kim Song (below) was the "Last of the Mohicans" in the Malaysia Cup series for the Quahs. Mind you, Kim Swee, during his heyday in the 50s and 60s, was a member of the Asian All-Stars squad, together with team-mate and fellow-striker Majid Ariff! And, boy oh boy! Weren't we proud of them!  

Singapore's soccer team, then, was playing teams of the likes of Burma (called Myanmar today, but a far cry from the quality outfit it was in the Sixties), Israel and Iran in the annual Merdeka tournament in KL -- and sometimes holding them to a draw! So, in such circumstances, you can imagine how Singapore was viewed in the eyes of the other teams in the Malaya Cup. With absolute awe and respect, OK?  It made me feel truly proud to be Singaporean then. 

All the Quahs were involved in the Malaya Cup, later known as the Malaysia Cup. 

  Eyes on the exhibits but minds on the food to come: The exhibition to commemorate 
the opening of the new multi-storey North Wing of Canberra School. 
My Principal then, Mr M Shanmugam, keeps  an eye on the planting of a 
tree to commemorate the opening of the school's new wing (below) 
Most of them hailed from Naval Base School, my alma mater. They spent their primary school days in Canberra School, where I studied, and later taught for 12 years. In fact, we had a rich 
sports heritage in Canberra --   from 1968 onwards -- sweeping the boards in soccer, badminton,  athletics, basketball and  softball. Nearly every year! 

Softball made waves after Canberra joined the fray in 1970. 

I was put in charge by  my principal then, Mr Basapa, the 
very day he called me to the office to view the equipment ordered. That year, my B Girls won the National Championship, beating May North Sch by 1 run. Not bad for a school making its debut in the sport! 

My other teams -- A and B Boys -- won District titles. The following year, the same Girls' squad entered the A  Championship and finished runners-up, losing to Jurong Pr 10-12. But this was after all my teams clinched their respective District titles. 

As for our athletes, who trained daily, just like their fellow-softballers, the creme-de-la-creme came from the Girls' squad. They won several national gold medals, especially in the hurdles and the 4x100m B and C relays! Credit should go to teachers Mr Choi Thim Tuck and Mr Krishnan Nair.                                                                              
For those unfamiliar with the Sembawang setting in the 50s, 60s and 70s, remember that it was not one iota like the present Sembawang constituency, with Chong Pang, Yishun and Khatib included. It was then made up of a few kampungs, alongside the H.M. Naval Base, an enclosed enclave and "protected area" of the British (Her Majesty's) in the northern-most part. So it was still a very rural society. Yishun was then Nee Soon, another kampung, as was Khatib. 

Libraries, supermarts, swimming pools, food-centres (not even food-courts) and shopping centres were unheard of. But I must say the kids then were angels, compared to today's delinquents. And so, school discipline in Canberra would anytime top the list today. 

This was a typical wood-and-concrete house in Chong Pang Village or Kampung.
We didn't even have fast-food restaurants, so we depended on the offering that came on wheels! It came to our doorsteps only on Friday evening, with only fish and chips on the menu. On Saturday, I would usually cycle from my Naval Base quarters to the beach at Kampung Tengah at 15-milestone, Sembawang Road. 

Did you know that residents of the Naval Base were British subjects as well as Singapore citizens? We had two identity cards. At that time, of course, we were too young to know we could easily have emigrated to any British Commonwealth territory. Which some of our friends and relatives did. And I don't think they've ever regretted it!

Life under British rule had its pinnacles and pitfalls. My dad, being an Industrial Writer, was entitled to a small flat, that came with a verandah -- in typical colonial style. We had only two rooms, so I usually slept in the verandah, which we had draped all round with canvas blinds. This is where I did my school-work and conducted tutorials for kids in the evenings. My black mixed Alsatian, Bonzo, slept under my bed. Not during lessons, of course!

This was the kind of block quarters that we stayed at in the Naval Base. 
Our community in the Naval Base was predominantly Indian -- Tamils, Malayalees and Sikhs, about 55 per cent. Chinese made up about 30 per cent, Malays 10 per cent, and Others 5 per cent. 

Our monthly rental and utilities bills were always low, with electricity fixed at $30, water $5 and house rent $7. Water-borne fee, sanitary appliance fee and water conservation tax were unheard of, let alone GST. And my dad got his pay weekly. 

All medical services were free for the whole family. And this included free private bus (RN) transport to SGH if we were scheduled to visit the Medical Specialist or for dental appointments. Her Majesty's Government took care of all the nitty-gritty. Even the Naval Base Police Force were paid higher than the Singapore Police Force personnel. Which was probably why there was hardly any crime in the Base then. To the point that we could sleep with our doors and windows open -- without worrying about burglaries. I truly salute Brittania for this!

This was the shopping and marketing area of New Soon Village or Kampung.
There was one little mosque at the Delhi Road-Canberra Road junction for Muslims, a Hindu temple, close to Canberra School, built in the Sixties, and a Catholic Church just outside the Canberra Gate called Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea. 

The wet market was outside the Base. We either walked or took the feeder bus there. What I liked about the market was that it had no frills, plus the fact that there was inexpensive and delicious, nutritious breakfast available in the morning. Mmmm. Slurp, slurp!

The colonial bungalows in the Naval Base were where the rich senior Naval
officers and their families lived. The environment was very British and
extremely  clean and litter-free, with well-manicured lawns everywhere.
It makes me wonder if  Singapore's "garden city" idea was an offshoot of this. 
Roti prata-dhalchar was 10 cents each, thosai 5 - 10 cts,  kopi-O 10 cts. Ice-ball, with all the sweet coloured flavours, cost only 10 cts, while a Coke was 15 cts. You could even buy sweets at 1 ct each. 

Char-kway-teow was 30 cts without egg, and 50 cts with egg. You could even bring your own egg. Mee-rebus, too, at 30 cts, without egg. 

In the absence of shopping malls, we had a Sunday market-place, selling mostly cotton fabrics and other knick-knacks, next to the wet market. 

And apart from sundry, tailor and cooked food shops -- a 10 minute walk away -- there was the haberdasher plus the house-
to-house hawker and not forgetting the 
"tick-tock" man, taking orders for noodles. 

The RN buses were provided to us free of charge.
 We mustn't also forget the midwife. Yes, during that era, we had midwives paying pre-natal or post-natal visits to married women before and after their deliveries. She was always dressed in white. Again, her services -- arranged through the Naval Base Hospital -- were free of charge. Where in the world can you ever dream of such a blessing in today's age? Yes, all you young readers out there, that is how well we were treated by our colonial masters. 

We didn't have television until 1963!  For recreation, we either played sports or went to the movies. And that meant either the Naval Base Cinema, which screened mostly second-run English movies at 50 cts and $1, and Sat matinee at 25 cts a ticket, or the Canberra Theatre, which screened mostly Hindi, Tamil, Chinese or Malay movies! Also at 50 cts and $1. Great, huh? 


The Base Buzz: The HM Dockyard where thousands of workers -- European and Asian -- went about their duties from 7am everyday until 4pm. On Saturdays, they worked from 7am till 11am. During that era, before the British Withdrawal in 1971, all the residents in the HM Naval Base were British Subjects as well as Singapore Ctiziens. They had two different and distinct Identity Cards to indicate this. Apart from the usual Public Holidays that Singapore observed, they were also off work on Easter Monday, Boxing Day, the Queen's Birthday, Prophet Mohammed's birthday and Thaipusam.