Interview with Local Residents of Jalan Kayu

Photography by Blog Manager Daniel Lim Wan Seng

Mr Tan Boon Choon 71 years old (Language: Mandarin and dialect)
Mr Ong Kin Bin 74 years old (Language: dialect)

Q: Where did you stay the last time?
Mr Tan: I stay at Bo Suay Tian road, at the back of Seletar near to Yishun. I was born there.

Q: Who lived there?
Mr Tan: All of them were Chinese. The Malays resided near the seaside in another kampong. There was a Malay cemetery there a long time ago.

Q: What were the living conditions like?
Mr Tan: Life was simple. There were very little activities. I did some work but we also reared chickens, pigs and grow vegetables.

Q: How big were the houses?
Mr Tan: They were standard attap houses. Each of us had a land and all of us were neighbours.

Q: How did you live your life back then?
Mr Tan: We cycled out to buy things at Seletar market which is about 1.5 km away.

Q: Did all of you move to the HDB estates at Seletar West Farmway 6?
Mr Tan: Some of us moved to Hougang. Initially during the ’75 moving out, most of us stayed at Seletar, Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio.

Q: What means of transport were available at that point of time?
Mr Tan: All of us either cycled or walked.

Q: Where did u stay after the ’75 eviction?
Mr Tan: We did not move out and continued to stay at Bo Sua Tian road because we were not within the sphere of relocation. In 1985, we asked to move again but was not allowed.

Q: Were the living conditions tough?
Mr Tan: Certainly. In the 50s and 60s, we had to work and do farm work. We reared our own chickens and ducks, and planted vegetables.

Q: What work did you do?
Mr Tan: I was a grass cutter in Seletar Airbase in 1950 for 2 to 3 years. I had to use a parang to cut the grass, unlike the motorized grass cutter nowadays. I switched several jobs later on from construction to a school servant at Xing Zhen primary school in 1956 until the 70s when the primary school had to close down because of the kampong relocation. So I transferred to Xing Guang primary school. The school closed in 1982. Now I am helping in the PAP kindergarten.

Q: What landmarks did Bo Sua Tian have?
Mr Ang: There used to be two telephone towers, hence the given the name for the place.

Q: When did the government build the towers?
Mr Ang: It was the government’s property. It was set up since a very long time by the British government. It was occupied by the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation. I was 8 years old then. Mr Tan was 6.

Q: For how long did u stay in Bo Sua Tian?
Mr Ang: I began staying in Bo Sua Tian after coming over from China. I moved to Yishun in 1985.

Q: What job did you do?
Mr Ang: I was a coolie under the British for 6 years and 11 months. After that, I became a driver for a friend, transporting workers to do railroads. Now, I am no longer working.

Q: How old are you?
Mr Ang: 74.
Mr Tan: 71.

Q: Why did you not go to Seletar Market to buy?
Mr Tan: There were no shops available there. There used to be a big market at Jalan Kayu but it was private. Later, we go to the market at Seletar.

Q: Were there many people living there?
Mr Tan: Yes, but they no longer stay there.

Q: Am I right to say that there is nothing available in the vicinity of the flats (SWF6)?
Mr Ang: Now it has been renovated, foreign workers are staying there. However, the locals only moved out at around 2004.

Q: Do you know anyone living there?
Mr Ang: Most of them had moved to Sengkang.

Q: Which is the thing that delighted you the most during your stay in Bo Sua Tian?
Mr Tan: What I liked was the Kampong lifestyle. It was friendlier compared to staying in the HDB.

Q: What was very special about Jalan Kayu?
Mr Ang: There was a wooden bridge in Jalan Kayu that was deemed to be very important. The road was also very uneven and bumpy.

Q: What experiences did you have in the past with the MP Nair (WPs)
Mr Ang: There was also Ang Chong Beng.

Q: What experiences did you have during the Japanese Occupation?
Mr Ang: They usually do not touch kids. They target the adults. The Japanese had a way of symbolizing the people. Those with a line drawn on them will be considered safe, while those with a zero would be brought away and executed. My father was caught before. He followed and they crossed the wooden bridge.

Q: Were they executed there?
Mr Tan: There were a lot of places. We do not know exactly where they would be executed.
Mr Ang: The most would be Pasir Panjang‘Tai Lang Gang’

Q: What was your diet like during the Japanese Occupation?
Mr Tan: I eat the vegetables I grow myself which include tapiocas and sweet potatoes too. We also bought fish from the market and eat the poultry we raised ourselves.

Q: How did you feel when the British returned?
Mr Tan: When the Japanese first came, they took away the shoes of the British and asked them to walk barefooted around Singapore. They were not given things to eat. Since the British returned, life was not very hard anymore. There was no sufferings and life improved tremendously. During the Japanese occupation, we could only eat tapioca. They looked like white candles and were as tough as one. Bread was made of corn. It was very hard and could bounce like a ball! The noodles was also made of ‘zhang you’. (millet). However, when you leave your house, there is no need to lock your doors. They will execute you if you steal. They had no qualms about beating you to death.

Q: How did the British treat you?
Mr Tan: I worked for them in the 50s. Some of them will speak to you. Some wanted us to lower our volume when we are near their houses. Some would also give us water to drink and things to eat.

Q: How much did you earn?
Mr Tan: I used to earn only $2 a day because of my low education level.

Q: What did you move as a coolie?
Mr Ang: I used to move things like chairs and tables, almost everything. The storekeepers and clerks will tell us what to do. There were 2 British in charge while the rest were coolies.

Q: How much did you earn?
Mr Tan: I used to earn $130 a month. When they retreated, they gave me a month's pay as well.

Q: What did you do when you are not working?
Mr Tan: I used to work continually in the past. After work, there was not much entertainment. I did not know how to play chess. When I wanted to watch television, I would have to go to the community. There used to be a lot of community centres found in the Kampong. One was even designed by then President Mr Ong Teng Cheong next to Pei Hwa Public School.

Q: When you came from China, did you already stay at Boh Sua Tian?
Mr Ang: I was only a baby then. My parents chose it.

Q: Which part of Jalan Kayu did you like the most?
Mr Ang: There were not a lot of things to see in Jalan Kayu. There were only 2 shops. The most famous was roti prata. Their curry and bread were nice.

Q: When you were young, what did you do?
Mr Tan: When we are young, we made our own toys. It was very fun. Tag was fun too.

Q: How did you feel about the union and separation with Malaysia?
Mr Tan: I remembered that PM Lee cried when the announcement was made. We did not know much about political developments but we felt quite sad that we were being forced out.
Mr Ang: I did not really feel anything.

Q: What did you work as after you quit your job as a coolie?
Mr Ang: I worked as a driver for 3 years. After that I worked in my father’s provision shop. My father was fortunate to survive even though he was caught by the Japanese. He was released at the wooden bridge.

Q: Why did the Japanese release your father?
Mr Ang: The Japanese did things as they wish. When you do not greet them, they will scold you. They did not require a reason for things they do.

Q: What other facilities did the Kampong have?
Mr Tan: There used to be a temple. (Addendum by Mr Chua: The temple had a sports association that allowed the young residents to play basketball.)

Q: Is there anything you want to tell us?
Mr Tan: During 1959, PM Lee came to this area for a walkabout. He would walk from morning to midnight without resting. I would try my luck to see if I can bump into him. I also helped in politics for the PAP because I was interested. Most of the people running for elections were independent.

Q: Did you vote at that time?
Mr Tan: There was a voting. PM Lee came but Mr Fong Swee Suan and Mr Lim Chin Siong did not. Mr Imbrinaya was selected as the first minister as there were a lot of Malays and Indians then. Even after he lost, he would still come. It was hard on us because we had to glue the posters ourselves. I would go and help after my work. Whenever I see Mr Imbrinaya’s poster, I would stick over them.

Q: You mentioned that there were some Malays. Did anything happen during the racial riot?
Mr Tan: We did not dare to come out but the Malays in the region did not actually do much because they were outnumbered.

Q: Did you take any precautions?
Mr Tan: Not really because they were also scared.

Q: What did you know about the history of Pei Hwa Public School?
Mr Tan: It has a long history. It used to be situated at the community centre (Mr Chua: There used to be Tao Meng, Gong Hua (added by Mr Ang), Xin Zhen, Pei Hua)

Q: Were you afraid of the Malays during the period of the race riots?
Mr Ang: Yes, of course there was some fear but all of it was in the mind. In fact , we cooperated and looked out for one another.
Mr Tan: Yes , that is true. But there was still some fear so we moved around only after sunrise. Anyway , the riots did not last long.
Q What was good about Jalan Kayu?
Mr Tan: There used to be a “lay long”, night market that operates every Friday night. There were 100-200 stalls. All sorts of people would be there to patronise the night market.

Q: Was there a cinema?
Mr Tan: There used to be a Yong Hua cinema. It was a private cinema. Down Yio Chu Kang Road, there was also a Guo Hua cinema.
Mr Ang: The cinemas were showing black and white films with sound.
Mr Tan: Yong Hua opened around the 60s to 70s. There was no aircon and the chairs were made of stools. It broadcasted mainly Chinese movies. There was also an open air drive in cinema at Tong Lee road. Each movie cost 20 cents. Some British went there to catch a movie. When it rains, however, there would be no business.

Q: Was there any other areas of recreation?
Mr Tan: There used to be a merger bridge at Punggol River close to Lorong Buangkok. The locals built it themselves. I used to like to walk there. I did not know when the bridge was torn down though.
Mr Tan: ( Sudden interjection) During the Jpanese Occupation, whenever the lorry went to sell sweet potatoes grown from Jalan Kayu Luk Soon, people fought over them for their good taste.

Q: Do you know about Ju Ying old folk's home?
Mr Tan: It used to be a primary school. The land was bought and built into an old folk’s home.

Q: How big is each kampong? I noticed there were a lot of schools.
Mr Tan: There were a lot of schools because everything was privately funded and built. Our constituency was also the largest. It extended from Serangoon North Ave 1 to Yio Chu Kang, Sembawang and Ang Mo Quee. Jalan Hwi Yoh, which used to have a pottery factory and a prison, was also in our constituency. The factory was near Serangoon Ave. 3. It was owned by Cai Shao Yan, one of the members of the Hwi Yoh community centre. The prison was at Serangoon Ave. 4. It was built by the British. Later, it became a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts. When the HDB flats were built, the rehab centre was closed down.

Q: Who gave the schools the money to be built?
Mr Tan: The people of the kampong will try to raise the money to build the schools. Some of the richer residents will donate more money. Some would donate furniture.

Q: Why were you all so willing to invest so much to build schools?
Mr Tan: The earlier government did not want to but we felt that education was important.

Q: Where did the textbooks come from?
Mr Tan: I am not very sure.

Q: Where did the teachers come from?
Mr Tan: The directors usually appoint the teachers. Many are locals too. If you studied secondary school, you would usually come and teach primary schools.


Anonymous said…
Correction for he names of the early politicians
Name is Mr. M.P.D. Nair. He was a practising lawyer?
Not Imprinaya.

I was born inside Seletar airbase. Was there from 1949 to 1965