Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Without The Gift of Song In Aberdeen, Scotland.

Serene, University of Aberdeen
A Story About Heritage

I will never forget the lesson I learnt in the early 1980's when I attended a British Council course at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. There were four representatives from Singapore, myself and three ladies.  We had been selected to attend an English Language, English Literature and Linguistics programme.

Since a good number applied  at the Singapore office, candidates had to go through an interview but we had been lucky and managed to get a place.  For the attractive summer holiday, post-graduate course we were provided text books, meals, lodging and visits around Aberdeen's neighbourhood. Daily lectures and workshops by **distinguished professors were usually held up to lunch time. There were none during the weekends.
Singapore representatives. Thistle among the flowers?
After our arrival and having settled in at the university we were ushered into a large room the second evening, where our course students met for a cultural get-together.  Most of us were quietly ready for a night of food and fun but surprised by what happened next because as Singaporeans we had not been prepared for the 'task' at hand.
Cultural Night at Aberdeen University
After a full and fancy meal, Scottish style but without *haggis, we found ourselves shaking hands with the young and old from many places around the world.  They had come from Asia, Europe and Commonwealth countries. That night, each country representative was supposed to entertain the gathering with either a song, a dance, a reading or a sketch.

Yes, my dear readers. Everyone was prepared. But Singapore? No, because we had no song to sing. Don't forget it was the beginning of the 1980's and the national songs that had been composed were only available from 1984. We had come a little early. If only we had arrived in Aberdeen two years later, then we could be so proud singing, Stand Up For Singapore. Or if we had come in 1986, Count On Me Singapore would have been available.

Panic. The four of us huddled together trying to think of one we could sing as a foursome. I told them there was one. It was called, Singapura, a pop song. But it wasn't a patriotic song.  And I remember it was by Sandra Reemer an Indonesian/Dutch singer. How could we be singing a song that wasn't composed by our countryman.  Although we knew the melody, we didn't know the lyrics. Then there was our National Anthem.  But we couldn't be singing the anthem for amusement.

What about Sing Your Way Home? Was that a Singapore song?  I knew that one. As we racked our heads, I remember songs we taught our children back home. These were, Chan Mali Chan and Di-Tanjong Katong and Rasa Sayang.  I knew them in Malay but they weren't really our songs.  We shared them with our neighbours when we were part of Malaya.
A Dance from Greece
Meanwhile during the show, some of the students danced so well as they demonstrated their intricate steps and swayed to the rhythm of their own hand clapping.  I remember a rather stout gentleman who was so lithe and vibrant when he did a Greek dance and pranced the floor with his arms outstretched for a good ten minutes.

Others sang their national songs as duets and trios, some with guitars while a few brought their own musical instruments to accompany their singing. The people there were such a talented lot! Poetry recitals in European and Asian languages, short skits that threw us into laughter and even a parade of Shakespearean soliloquies.
Sketch or recital? 

We applauded, looked at each other and gave the three titles to the lady in charge and made preparations to sing it. But here's the strangest part. Up till today I cannot remember if we ever went up on stage.  I searched for the photographs of this performance but now I am not sure if we sang that evening.  
I found one picture though (image above) and this photo jolted my memory because I realised I did a sketch with this bearded gentleman from an Arab country. He was friendly, quick witted, full of humour and I will never forget what he told me,  "Take pictures Lim. Immortalize yourself so when you look at them 50 years later you will realise how young you were when you came to Aberdeen." 
In newspaper wrapping
It was such a relief when the night was over. We enjoyed the performances by other nationals, the food and camaraderie.  We became friends and the ice was broken. Ice? We realised, as we left the room, how cold it was as the doors opened.  But the beautiful Scottish air refreshed us. A little foggy perhaps. "Hark when the night is falling, / Hear, hear the pipes are calling..."

Campus with its Scottish charm.
After a good night's rest we ended up the next morning bright and early outside the university grounds, grouped together and heading for famous Bennachie Hill.  It was the week-end and I had my first genuine fish and chips wrapped up in newspaper (no not in a five pound note) at the Fish Market.

On the way to town I saw this lone figure in front of a castle.  He was the finest bagpiper I've seen, dressed up in the most elaborate Scottish costume and blowing his pipes in the gusty wind.  It was a beautiful sight. "Wild are the winds to meet you, Staunch are the friends that greet you... "
The Lone Bagpiper. Unimaginable.
So you see folks, if you have been complaining about our patriotic songs being played day in, day out and night in, night out on TV, radio and everywhere else before National Day, remember out plight that evening when we had none to sing.  We need these songs as they are representative of Singapore to remind us of our own sunny isle and national heritage.

Of course we were too proud to tell our Scottish hosts and the other delegates from the other countries that we didn't have folk songs. Singapore was only about seventeen years old then. But today?  Today, we've got plenty and you can "count on me to give my best and more..."  Today we've got the gift of song.

So join Sing50 in August, 2015 and belt them out.
Cowdray Hall, Girdle Ness Lighthouse, Bridge of Don, Fish Market.
A 1980's Postcard.
*Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onions, oat meat, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach.

**It has been some time since I left Aberdeen but I still remember the music, moments, places and people, especially lecturer Ms Avis who drove me to London from the university in 12 hours flat when she offered me a ride back in her tiny Ford Fiesta. We only stopped for lunch at noon and had tea in the car. She was about 60 years young when I met her in the early 80's. It's hard to forget a kind lady like Ms Avis. God Bless Her Soul.

1980's Hit Songs in UK

1    Dexys Midnight Runners: Come On Eileen
2.   Survivor: Eye Of The Tiger
3    Irene Cara: Fame
4    Tight Fit: The Lion Sleeps Tonight
5    Culture Club: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
10  Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder: Ebony And Ivory

University of Aberdeen, Scotland; British Council Summer Course; U.K., British Council Scholarships; Cultural Night, Scotland; Fish and Chips in Newspapers; Haggis from Scotland, U.K.; Bridge of Don, Scotland; Fish Market, Aberdeen, Scotland; Girdle Ness Lighthouse; Singapore Patriotic Songs; Singapore Heritage, Sung50

Images: A Personal Collection and Google.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1950s Bicycle Trail: Riding A Rudge For A Rick

Bicycling In Singapore In The Late 1940's. (Song on the right bar):

I had started cycling as a child when I was in mid-primary, taking my father's straight-handle model Hercules bicycle (above) one morning without his permission. It was hardly used and left in our backyard to rust.  It was an opportunity too good to miss and a yearning too tempting to resist so while my folks were still sleeping I quietly grabbed the bike and sneaked out the back door.

When I came home that afternoon I expected a reprimand for being such a rebel because the family instruction was to take public bus to school. But he was nice and without fuss allowed me to cycle daily since he thought I was old enough.

Meantime I saved enough for one year to buy a beautiful Rudge from the corner shop near my home after a few months of savings and some money from dad. I had to register the new bicycle and received a circular shaped licence plate  (image for illustration) with a number which had to be displayed on the two wheeler.

I remember three brands that were familiar those years, the Raleigh, the Rudge and the Hercules. They all came from England and strong bikes they were; but there were other brands too and just as sturdy. 

The bicycle I owned was much lighter than my dad's, with shiny spokes and a bottle-like battery attachment on the front wheel that could light up the lamp in front of the bike. I was elated and cycled to school every morning much to the envy of my primary school mates. Evenings were spent cleaning the sporty contraption until it shone and glimmered in the sun. Brasso, a polish, was used to clean nearly every part.

Early 1950's

It was a breeze to ride a bicycle in the early 1950's in Singapore because there were few vehicles then. Traffic was light and I remember saying that, "after ten in the evening anyone could sleep on the road and not be run over." It was that quiet.

There were no bus lanes or bicycle lanes, neither pedestrian crossings nor walkways. We were free to pedal anywhere and at any time but had still to be careful since the usual cars, buses, trams (image below), trishaws, hawker carts and other vehicles ply the roads.  Furthermore, don't fall into the longkang besar (large drains) found at the road periphery. Injuries could be serious!

In the 50's there were *policemen who stopped cyclists to collect tiga puloh sen (30 cents) each, as a 'fine' for not turning on their bicycle-lights in the evening. My two friends and I were caught one evening while we were cycling along Paya Lebar Road on our way home. Stopped by two cops, they shouted, "Lampu, lampu..." (lamp) as they pointed at ours which had not been switched on. Then, "Duit, duit..." (money). 

We didn't argue and paid our dues because these uniformed officers threatened us with jail terms. Thirty cents was nearly all of my school tuck-shop money for the day as my meal consisted of noodles with two fish balls which cost thirty cents, two Hacks sweets were five cents and the other five cents was for a glass of cold drink.

Late 1950's

I recalled cycling all the way to North Bridge Road just to buy a vinyl record.  Sometimes if I had more funds, I would buy an EP (Extended Play).  Once I had wanted so badly to buy a copy of the Ricky Nelson hit Someday (image: EP#4). The series consisted of five Nelson's EPs.

The bicycle ride took me along the whole of Geylang Road, Kallang Road, Crawford Street, Bugis and finally North Bridge Road.  The ride home took a longer time. I was too tired.  

I still retain the EP today. It could have been a little warped. I mean, riding in the hot sun for so long.
Durian Dave's Soft Film

There were times when I had extra money I would cycle on from the record shop to the lobby of Capitol Cinema and grab a copy of Movie News, a Shaw Brothers' English publication that featured the latest Hollywood and local movie gossips.

I had kept my Rudge bicycle for years but don't know how it had disappeared since. 

I hope some members of Cycling or Bicycle Clubs in Singapore and International Bicycle Clubs in major cities would write in and tell their stories.

(*Officers who behaved in this manner were few and far between.)     

Images: Google.

#4 Album has "Someday."

Bicycle Songs:
1. Bicycle Episode - JM Richards - 1897.
2. The Bicycle Girl - Oddfellow, Meacham -1895. 
3. Bicycle Race - Queen - 1978.
4. Bicycle Tillie - The Swallows - 1953.
5. Les Bicyclette - Engelbert H. - 1968.
6. Bike - Pink Floyd - 1967.
7. Dora Brown - Nelly Bird - 1897.
8. Daisy Bell - Harry Dacre - 1892.
9. Have You A Wheel - Hoffman - 1895.
10. Rockin' Bicycle - Fats Domino - 1961.
11. What A Beautiful Day - Beach Boys - 1979.
12. The Pushbike Song - Mungo Jerry - 1970.
13. Silver Machine - Hawkwind -1972.
and many more...

Cycling In Singapore:
1. The Singapore Cycling Federation  (SCF) is the national federation for cycling recognized by the world body Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and its affiliated Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC). 

2. SCF is the National Sports Association (NSA) recognized by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC). SCF is responsible to SSC for cycling events that promote the sport...

Tracking The Trail, Telling The Tale.  

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

SG50: Where Have The Vinyl Record Shops Gone?

Wandering Around Places Which Are Mostly Gone
I sent mail to friends last week and wrote that I found vinyl records at a place which will soon be gone. Here's reaction from regular U.K. contributor and good friend Allan Thompson who was in RAF Changi in the 1960's.

Dear Andy,  

Reading your reference to a place which will soon be gone reminded me of some of the lovely record shops which existed in Singapore in the 1960's.

In Orchard Road was the Deutsch Gramophone shop which sold new (and expensive) classical records on that label, as well as a few by other companies,          notably British Decca.  
Donald Moore Galleries also sold records and I remember seeing an unusual L.P. (Long Playing) consisting of speeches by Ernest Hemingway on sale there at about S$24,  twice the normal price for an LP at that time. I also recall going into the RCA record shop where I bought "Listen To The Warm", by Rod McKuen.  

I particularly remember that visit because, while I was looking through the records,  I was taken ill with an excruciating pain in my groin and almost collapsed. I broke out in a cold sweat which soaked my shirt and the shopkeeper was so alarmed that he offered me a chair and then gave me a bottle of Coca Cola and a Consulate menthol cigarette!

When I felt a little better, I took a taxi home and almost fainted as the pain returned.  I tried to pass water but was unable to, until, at the sixth or seventh attempt, still in intense pain, I passed a quantity of dark-red liquid.  It became less painful and I lay down for a little while to recover.  When I examined the liquid, I found a chalky lump which turned out to be a stone.  I felt no after-effects, nor did I ever suffer from that problem again, thank goodness.  
Another shop which I visited often was in Hill Street, near Telephone House, where I bought the first two London-American albums by Jerry Lee Lewis. There were other shops tucked away in side streets and it was possible to find long-deleted gems there very cheaply.

Changi village had two record shops and the bigger of the two was Uttam's where I bought most of my records during my time there. (I seem to remember that it burned down some time afterwards). 

The amah's market also visited Changi regularly with several record stalls in its midst.  Most villages had regular markets and I bought two early Johnny Cash LPs at one in Serangoon.  Serangoon also had a good record shop where I was delighted to find "Return Of The Outlaws" by The Outlaws on an HMV single. 

My girl-friend's brother was keen on guitar instrumentals, his favourite group being the Flee-Rekkers, whose records were produced by Joe Meek, who, incidentally, was also the Outlaws' producer.
Changi Village, Singapore 1960s.

One of my treasured possessions in 1964 was "The Ventures Play The Country Classics" which had been given to me by my girl-friend.  Sadly, like her, it was lost some time later. Happily, I was able to replace both the record and the girl-friend in due course! 
Yes, my good friend, those were happy days when we never knew what we might turn up in the record-racks.

Best wishes,

Dear Allan,

Thanks for the mail. I used to buy records from shop houses at North Bridge Road. These unique rows of buildings are mostly gone now. Singaporeans call these shops, "Vanished Places."
Vanished Places: North Bridge Road in the 60s and 70s.
Images: Google.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

1960s 'The Primitives' Novena Church Vinyl Record

The Novena @ Thomson Road
                                My Good Friday and Easter Sunday Posting
                                          3rd - 5th April, 2015

A group was formed and a recording made:

Redemptorist Brother Casimir Godebye (1922-2006), whose artistic talents contributed to the work of attracting many to the faith in Singapore, arrived in Singapore in July 1956 from Australia. He studied art and music before joining the Redemptorists in 1940. 
In the 1960's Brother Casimir took over the Novena church choir and started a youth group called *The Primitives. They gathered each Saturday evening to clean the church after the last Novena session, and had fellowship and sing-along sessions. He used to say that music is needed to attract and hold the young people to religion.

In the mid 1970's he left the world of bands, choir and pop music, lived as a hermit in a retreat in India where he learnt Christian meditation. He conducted classes when he came back to Singapore.  He passed on since at 84 years.
                      Extended Play Record Cover of The Primitives

Some Sleeves Speak:

Glad that I found a vinyl copy of the youth group recording entitled, Sing-A-Long With The Primitives.  It is the only one by this choir if I am right; and it is a rare recording on the small Extended Play (EP). I was on my usual shopping around in a little town in Singapore.

The short literature on the back cover reads, "Our Folk Group is known as The Primitives, and we have come together, not with the intention of singing for fame, but simply to project the image of Christ.  This image is very much part of our work and prayers which we offer together.

In this album, we have chosen four numbers, one of which Cumbaya is our most loved song because there is always someone somewhere, pleading searching, praying. 'Come by here, my Lord come by here.'  We hope that after hearing our record you also, walk a little closer with Christ."

Record Information:

Side One: Rock My Soul In The Bosom of Abraham and Cumbaya
Side Two: When the Heavens Begin to Rock and Confidence.

*The Primitives with altogether 60 teenagers (part of the choir at the redemptorist group) took three weeks of hard work to build a giant 50-foot by 20-foot Nativity Scene on 23 December, 1968, to help project the real message of Christmas.

Hey, if you are in the picture above, part of the helpers or if you know anyone of them, please write in.

The church is now closed for a $45 million upgrade.

Information: A Catholic News Article: 2006 (Edited).

An SG50 Memory Trail Posting.

Images: Private Collection. 
This posting is original. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew: Pulau Tekong 1963. His Passing 2015


23rd MARCH, 2015.


I met him only once in my life time.  But it was a special encounter and when he walked by, the respectability and awe the crowd had for him was remarkable. 

Mr Lee, at 40 years young, was visiting Pulau Tekong Besar in May 1963 when he toured the island, Pulau Ubin and Changi.  Sounds of the kompang in the kampongs filled the afternoon air as he met the villagers who thanked him for newly opened community centres and for improvements in their lifestyle.

At 23 years, I witnessed the occasion and with my father's box camera, followed him with the delegation and crowd that accompanied him.  I managed to take some photographs of Mr Lee because I kept a close distance.  And amidst gangly coconut trees, coconut leaf buntings and festivities, I heard Mr Lee speak.

Many of us have been 'following' him since, in the newspapers, magazines, academic papers and recently on the internet.  There were also the books he wrote. 

Some books about LKY. Really good reads.
15 Titles On COMMENTS page.
Images for A: Private Collection.

               B) WAKE @ SRI TEMASEK, ISTANA NEGARA, 24th May.

                                         Istana Singapore

                               Sri Temasek within Istana Grounds

Images for B: Thanks to Jimmy PresLee.

The choir of St. John's College Cambridge sang Home @ Parliament House on 25th March. Video: PM Office.

OUR QUEUE FROM 8.30 pm - 12.30 am. 
Parliament House, Singapore

New Art Gallery where crowds gather
The crowd was huge but it was orderly.  When I checked my iPhone outside City Hall interchange I read it was to be an eight hour wait. I nodded to friend Tony and we decided to join the queue.
The lines of people streamed in silence as we watched them move towards Parliament House. We followed the flow.  The line was snaky but we both had a bottle of water each while others took canned drinks, biscuits, sweets and umbrellas, provided free by some generous donors. 
We had spent nearly two hours after we came at 8.30 pm. It was another two hours before filing into the House which was just ahead of us. My back was in pain but by then I was holding the hand of a three year old boy who was with his parents and older sister. We had all met in the queue, bonded quickly and energised ourselves with bubbly chats...  

I looked around me. We were standing on Padang grass. An area of history and great pageantry.  In front of me was the new Art Gallery, majestic under the arch lights,  but a place where judges and lawyers used to gather.
I looked at my young friend, who was still holding my hand and not letting go for some time.  I sensed that he was comfortable with me so I couldn't resist singing, "Little One" to him during one of our short stops.  The song was a Russ Hamilton hit written for his niece.  I thought Emmanuel enjoyed the lullaby.  He looked tired though.  By this time my back was at its worst. Hardly any chance to sit.

By about 11.30 pm, we reached the security gates where we were checked by the guards.   Within half an hour the silent crowd had been split into two rows as we filed into Parliament House. I was about to pocket the iPhone as no picture-taking  was allowed within the corridors but managed a stolen snap.  The guard looked at me, "No photo taking please!" I smiled.

Another 15 minutes passed, and finally, after a long evening we managed to witness our Mr Lee lying in state. It was a four hour wait but a four minute view. I looked at my Phone, 12.30 am.

Emmanuel finally let go of  my hand as he sleepily ambled to his mother.   I really like that kid. We said our good-byes.  He was in dreamland as we left the gates.  Lucky boy; and in so many ways. An appropriate name too,  Emmanuel...

Images for C: Private Collection.

Time to let go.

 29 MARCH.
NUS Cultural Centre
1) Dead March from Saul performed by the Singapore Armed Forces Military Band.
Coffin Bearer Party carried the coffin into the University Cultural Centre (UCC). 
2) Air performed by Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
J. S. Bach's Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. 
3) Last Post by lone bugler from the Singapore Armed Forces Military Band.
At the end of the eulogies, a lone bugler from the Singapore Armed Forces Military Band sounded the Last Post, representing a final salute to LKY and also marked the start of a minute of silence for him.
4) The Rouse by lone bugler from the Singapore Armed Forces Military Band.
It is a symbolic call back to duty after respect was paid to memory of the deceased and the end of a minute of silence.
5) National Anthem
After the National Pledge, the National Anthem was played as a mark of respect to Mr Lee.

Images: PM Office; CNA Media Corps, Singapore.


6) Auld Lang Syne
Played when the casket left Sri Temasek for Parliament House.

7) Amazing Grace
Heard during Mr Lee's Lying in State at Parliament House.

8) Home (Singapore Song) sung in Parliament House witnessed by PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Images: Google.
Charlie Munger: Number 2 to Warren Buffet.
"Study about the life and work of Lee Kuan Yew, most successful, in the history of mankind -you're going to be flabbergasted."