Tag Archives: Looking into the past

Presenting the Past: Chinese Gardens Playtime (Part 5 of 7)

30 Jun

Visitor numbers to the JTC operated Chinese Gardens these days are hardly something to shout about, but once upon a time, it was a popular tourist and Singaporean family hangout. I don’t really remember much of this trip my family made in the 1980s but photos are always there to remind us. 🙂

My brother and I playing at the Chinese Garden

The park was first opened in 1975 and in those days, you had to pay an admission fee and even incur additional charges if you brought a camera into the Gardens! But that did not stop young families visiting the popular park to spend quality family time together, like mine. Nowadays admission is free but the crowds have gone to more modern and popular leisure spots now available on our sunny little island.

I think just about every boy growing up in the 80s would have badgered their parents into buying them a superman cape – it’s so precious to see my brother in his! I don’t really know what I was so happy over though…


Anyway, I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the gardens with my parents again. We didn’t stay long, there wasn’t anything to do there really… Our mission was pretty straightforward – go back to the same spot where the photo was first taken. Unfortunately, there was a metal fence erected in the place where we once played. This was the closest I could get!

My brother and I playing at the Chinese Garden

My brother and I playing at the Chinese Garden


If not for the humidity, I guess it would have been a nice quiet and tranquil spot for people to sit, relax and talk. Times have changed… people would much rather hang out at air-conditioned spaces and who could blame them in this 34 degree celsius heat.

Just before we left the park, my dad insisted that I take a picture at the entrance, which left me really amused cos it just felt so… amusing?! Hahah. Maybe the entrance arches and the stone lions hold some significance that I must be missing.

Me at Chinese Garden gate

Despite being Chinese, the space did not resonate with me and my cultural identity. It felt to me exactly like what it was – a specially designed and constructed space inspired by elements from imperial China and Chinese architecture.

I feel more affinity to the MRT station that shares its namesake – Chinese Garden MRT station – for I have many fond memories of travelling there to reach my dad’s now defunct music school for my music lessons. And of evening escapades for lantern watching during the annual Mid-Autumn Festival with my aunties and cousin.

Last year, the JTC announced that the gardens will be undergoing a year-long refurbishment starting end 2014. I wonder what changes will come again to this oriental Garden in the Western part of Singapore.

Till next post! Hopefully I won’t take so long again.

yuehann’s notes: Today’s post is the fifth in a series of posts first born in reaction to Looking into the Past. Read the very first blog post here & also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of the series. And also a related article I wrote for online e-zine Draft (pg 68-73).

EZINE Volume 2 Memory X Space

EZINE Volume 2 Memory X Space


Presenting the Past: The Pelican of Ang Mo Kio (Part 4 of 7)

20 May

This picture was originally taken at a public playground in front of Block 304 in Ang Mo Kio Ave 1. And in this picture, stood my grandparents in front of a Pelican structure. 

The Original Picture

The Original Picture

This would have been taken back in the 1970s, some years before I was born. Ang Mo Kio town would have just been a new town, starting out as all new towns do, with many young couples moving in to high-rise flats designed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). This was where I spend my early growing up years.

I remember many childhood days spent frolicking in the sandbox playground, pushing myself to achieve greater heights on the swings, and mostly, climbing up, in and through the Pelican.

It has since been torn down, to make space for development I guess.

I was hopeful to find some… evidence of its existence when I revisited the old neighbourhood for my picture. But was disappointed to find that it was not only gone, but totally replaced by new walkways and landscaped gardens. An unrecognisable space, it has become. I tried to make the most of my trip and finally took this shot. Not perfectly matched .. but in a way, realistic.

Somewhere along Ang Mo Kio Ave 6

Somewhere along Ang Mo Kio Ave 6

Oh, the ever changing face of the Singapore heartlands!

It makes it real hard to hold onto old things and associated memories. Thankfully, I have pictures to remind me that my memories of childhood playtime at the sandbox playground was real.

The playground housed the “Pelican”, one of many such animal-designed playground structures designed by local HDB architect Mr Khor Ean Ghee. That was when HDB still designed their own playgrounds. I would say, these were iconic sculptures of my generation! I bet many Singaporean children of the 1980s would remember playing in at least one of them.

The Remember Singapore website has a brilliant record of all the Playgrounds of yester-years. The Singapore Memory project also captured these playgrounds by way of an interesting visual map  – Mosiac Memories.

For now, back to the Pelican.

I was a little sad when the last Pelican was demolished in 2012 – its residence at Dover was demolished to make way for… yes, you guessed it, “development”.  The Ang Mo Kio Pelican was probably torn down much earlier, which would have been after I moved out of the town, around the mid 1990s (or later?).

Here’s a closer look at the Dover Road Pelican, before it fades from our collective memories – the only place our dear friend the Pelican will henceforth reside –

Dover Road Pelican Playground 

(image from the Remember Singapore website)

Although all the Pelicans are now gone, there is some hope in saving the Dragons – the iconic dragon playground in Toa Payoh was saved from demolition – and a small victory for sentimental Singaporeans. 🙂

Earlier in April, I visited The People’s Collection exhibition over at the National Museum of Singapore. And I was pleased to find that I wasn’t the only one nostalgic about those old playgrounds!

I was surprised to find amongst the exhibits, the design plan for the Pelican.

Design plan of the Pelican playground at The People's Collection at National Museum of Singapore (2014)

Design plan of the Pelican playground at The People’s Collection at National Museum of Singapore (2014)

It made me smile a little to see my old playmate again.

Next up, read about my playtime at the Chinese Gardens. 🙂


yuehann’s notes: Today’s post is the fourth in a series of posts first born in reaction to Looking into the Past. Read the very first blog post here & also Part 1Part 2, Part 3 of the series. And also a related article I wrote for online e-zine Draft (pg 68).

Present(ing) the Past: A Date at MacRitchie Reservoir (Part 3 of 7)

14 Feb

MacRitchie Reservoir – A popular dating spot for couples in the 1970s. This picture was taken at the park’s iconic zig-zag bridge.


The old Band Stand and zig zag bridge

To me, the best part about finding old photos is discovering the stories behind them. And armed with the entire album of which this photo was part thereof, I sat my parents down and asked them about the day this photo was taken.

Mum & Dad at MacRitchie Reservoir

Mum & Dad at MacRitchie Reservoir (1971)

So the story goes – Dad took this photo using my grandfather’s camera and tripod. They were out for a day in the park with a pair of young twins that my mum’s family helps to care for. They were still dating at that time, probably in their early 20s, if the year marked on the photograph – Aug 1971 – can be trusted.

The story of how my parents met just had to be asked.

Mum: “Your Ah-Mah (maternal grandmother) and Ah-Ma (paternal grandmother) were classmates in school. At that time, Papa’s family ran a bookshop. I just finished my GCE O-Levels and went to help out at their bookshop. That’s where we met lor.”

And so that was how my pretty sweet mum charmed my cheeky playful dad and began their 7-year courtship. According to my other sources, Mum and Dad would spend hours talking on the phone well through the night and were inseparable.

Mum and Dad at Dad’s Paya Lebar house (1971)

Two years after that photograph in MacRitchie was taken, i.e. 1973, my parents said “I DO” in the presence of family and the Justice of Peace at the Registrar of Marriages.

Mum and Dad's ROM (1973)

Mum and Dad’s ROM (1973)

In Singapore, even though you may be legally bound as husband and wife, you aren’t really “married” till you’ve been through the customary rites and wedding banquet etc etc. That much hasn’t changed through the years at all!

Mum and Dad (1974)

The young lovers at mum’s Alexandra Rd home (1974)

The legal union allowed my parents to apply for a flat in the new town Ang Mo Kio, where I spent the first decade of my life. (The Remember Singapore blog has a brilliant blog entry on the development of Ang Mo Kio.)

Mum and Dad were finally officially and customarily (?) husband and wife after the tea presentation ceremony with both sides of the family, and a traditional local Chinese wedding banquet with all kin and kith, to celebrate the blessed union. This was in 1976, a good 3 years after their ROM. Gosh, what a marathon love affair! Which probably means they were well prepared for what’s to come I guess! Heehee… 2014 is year 38 and counting!

Mr and Mrs Yeh Toh Yen (1976)

Mr and Mrs Yeh Toh Yen (1976)

mum & dad wedding2

Mum and her sister, who was also her Maid-of-honour

Mum and her sister, who was also her Maid-of-honour

As I was flipping through their wedding album, my parents recounted their wedding day. Dad remembered how they had their wedding photos taken at a professional studio but they could only pick a few to save on cost. The rest were all taken back at home. They were lucky to own their own camera equipment.

Dad said, “Your mum made her own wedding gown you know! She had a certificate for dressmaking,” which resulted in my mum responding with a little shoulder swagger and a smile tinged with pride.

“And then she fell into a drain.” Dad continued without missing a beat. Uncontrolled giggles ensued – dad, mum and aunt (mum’s sister). Me.. still not quite getting it.

Mum: “They were all so worried because I was bleeding (giggle giggle), I cut myself… all because I forgot I was wearing a tight petticoat underneath.”

Dad: “Well, it wouldn’t have happened if you took the long way round the drain like the rest of us.”

Mum: “Tsk.”

Me: …

I love Family time, sharing all our proud and  embarrassing moments… 🙂

Anyway, I thought this particular memory was perfect for sharing on this Valentine’s Day, which is coincidentally also the last day of the 15 days of Chinese New Year celebrations (元宵), traditionally a day to celebrate family togetherness. It was enlightening to learn how my parents met, their union, and the humble beginnings of our little family unit.

My first Chinese New Year!

Three generations during Chinese New Year in AMK (1980)

And just one last thing. A little trivia on the image below –


See that hand holding the photograph? That is the hand of my husband-to-be. (I always thought he had nicer looking hands.)

I still remember the day we took this picture. And now that I look at it again, it hits me… there we were, a couple, taking a picture of another couple, mirror images of each other (almost), separated by film and time.

Happy Valentine’s Day baby. This post is for you. ;-*


yuehann’s notes: Today’s post is the third in a series of posts first born in reaction to Looking into the Past. Read the very first blog post here & also Part 1Part 2 of the series. And also a related article I wrote for online e-zine Draft (pg 68).

Posing at the Lim Bo Seng Memorial (Part 2 of 7)

28 Jan

Families in the 1950s would spend time at public parks, having picnics and simply enjoying nature. Nowadays, we hang out indoors at air conditioned malls.

Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park

Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park

I took this shot around the same time as the previous one taken at the Tan Kim Seng Fountain, which mirrors the original photograph in the sense that it was also an outing on the same day. It was a day out with family and friends – Singaporean Chinese writer/playwright Liu Renxin (刘仁心) and his three children.

Playwright Liu Renxin was also a teacher along with my grandfather Yeh Chi Wei (叶之威) over at Chung Cheng High School. The school was a breeding ground for artistic talent. And many “big names” in the local arts scene have roots in the school. I don’t remember what Mr Liu looked like but I remembered that Mr Liu had autographed a book of his works for me.. and gifted it to me years ago when I was still studying Theatre Studies in Victoria Junior College. Good memories there too!

Tan Kim Seng Fountain

Tan Kim Seng Fountain

In the shot above, my grandmother (third from left) looked so very young. And you know what? She was! At the time the photo was taken, she was only in her late 20s and already a mother of 6, including the youngest (at that time) – my dad (the cheeky one third from right). That’s way younger than me, i.e. mid 30s and mother of none.

Lim Bo Seng Memorial Up Close

Lim Bo Seng Memorial Up Close

I like this “stylo” pose. My dad having a ball of a time “riding” the stone lion, with one uncle looking suave (at the left) and the other uncle, meek (centre). The present day Esplanade Park doesn’t look very much different, which is a good thing. A constant in the constantly evolving Singapore landscape.

I like the colonial district, for it’s grand ol’ dame feel, not so much the “white men supremacy” connotations. I don’t reject our colonial history, for it makes us who we are as a people, and in a way, part of our Singaporean identity.

Anyway, I can only imagine how times were back then in the 1950s… living in colonial times. A bygone era I don’t feel anything for. A time where cars and cameras were few. There was no ERP surcharges or MRT train breakdowns to complain about. No mobile phones, no internet, no social media. People were poor but rich with memories.

Old pictures like this makes me feel somewhat connected to that distant history. And it seems a little more real.

Collage of pictures from family day out

Collage of pictures from family day out

I feel lucky and privileged to be able to share in these memories. Lucky that my grandfather was a camera buff and made all these images to be passed down to my generation. Privileged that my dad kept these memories for me to inherit and now to share.

Strangely though, neither my grandfather nor Mr Liu were in the pictures taken that day. Hmm… maybe there’s something about being an artist and preferring to create rather than be subjects in a creative (i.e. photography) process.

Coming up next: A Date at MacRitchie Reservoir… perfect for a V-day read!

Remember to leave me a comment!

♥  ♥  ♥

yuehann’s notes: Today’s post is the second of a series of posts on a project which was first born in reaction to Looking into the Past. Read the very first blog post here. And also a related article I wrote for online e-zine Draft (pg 68).

Present(ing) the Past again (Part 1 of 7)

30 Dec

Singapore has gone through many physical changes over the last few decades, with some iconic landscapes of a generation already lost, e.g. the Stamford Road National Library building, but many still remain.

In a bid to recapture some lost memories, I flipped through family albums to find old photographs I could use to express my nostalgia. The exercise reconnected me with my personal memories and also those of my family. Returning physically to the same location of the original photographed image allowed me to reconnect with that memory. Standing on the ground where that photograph was taken made me feel like I was there again, even if only in my mind.

It was truly looking into my past.

Part 1: Day out at the Esplanade Park

This picture was taken in the 1950s, at the Tan Kim Seng memorial located within the Esplanade Park.

Tan Kim Seng fountain at Esplanade Park

Tan Kim Seng fountain at Esplanade Park

When I was doing this shoot, it was drizzling intermittently which was a huge bother. I had to seek shelter in between attempts to find a proper angle to make the photograph align to the sculpture. All the while, I was thinking where my grandfather (who was most likely the photographer) would have stood to take this shot of his family.

syncing TKS

The original picture was taken when my grandparents brought their children, i.e. my father and his siblings out to the Esplanade. Back then it was right next to the water where the Singapore River meets the sea. I actually had other pictures of the area in those times. I could see the Fullerton Hotel, only that it was still the General Post Office. The “iconic” Merlion wasn’t born yet and of course, the “durian” Esplanade Theatres by the Bay was perhaps only an idea in the back of someone’s head. 

It made me stop and think just how much our little nation has grown.

The fountain still works in present day. City Hall in the background is now currently under renovation to be reborn as The National Art Gallery of Singapore – a development I eagerly await.

I wonder…while Grandfather stood to compose this picture, with the colonial grandeur of City Hall as backdrop, would he have ever fathomed that the building would one day be the home of visual art in Singapore? And even more unfathomable, that his works would find their way onto its white washed walls too?

Interesting thought no? 🙂

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