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Nostalgic memories of Bukit Ho Swee

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By James Seah

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The above photo taken on the side of Havelock View, directly opposite Blk 44A multi-storey car park (MSCP) of Beo Crescent is the best location to start the story of the Bukit Ho Swee fire which happened 54 years ago on 25 May, 1961.

 

This was also the same location where I conducted the Drama Box “Bukit Ho Swee Heritage Trail” on 2 August, 2014. as part of the “IgnorLAND of its Time” initiated by Drama Box.


IgnorLAND was back to take the participants in 3 sessions to the Bukit Ho Swee estate.  From the infamous fire in 1961 to the present, how much has changed in Bukit Ho Swee and what has stayed the same?

Ever wondered what life was like in Bukit Ho Swee before the 1961 fire?

Take a tour around the neighbourhood with our guide, James Seah, who was born and bred in Bukit Ho Swee, and had survived the fire.  Hear his stories as he recounts his memories from the days before the fire to the present.

 

Quoted from the Drama Box “IgnorLAND” flyer.  With acknowledgement and thanks to Drama Box.


With an enlarged laminated photo of the 100-year-old Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) building in my left hand, I described the landscape of Bukit Ho Swee kampong before the fire.

 

I explained that the multi-storey car park at Block 44A at Beo Crescent was formerly a wide mud-track from Havelock Road directly to Tiong Bahru Road.  

 

Before Andrew Yeo and I met at Beo Crescent Market & Food Centre on 9 May 2015 for the first time in person, we had an exchange of messages on Facebook,  He is interested to know more about Bukit Ho Swee before the fire and it is my pleasure and honor to invite him on a walk down memory lane at my birthplace in Bukit Ho Swee.

 

Few younger Singaporeans are interested to learn about a little known place called Bukit Ho Swee.  Fewer knew about the Bukit Ho Swee which burnt down a whole kampong 54 years ago on 25 May, 1961.

 

Since I have already posted about the Bukit Ho Swee fire on several blogs over the years, I thought I shouldn’t repeat it too often because “potatoes boiled twice” would make it boring without new stuff to add on the blog.

 

To refresh my childhood memories of Bukit Ho Swee where I was born in 1948 and grew up in the kampong for 13 years until the fire, I used a rough sketch map (shown below) to describe the few places I have missed them in previous blogs.

 

 

Please note that the sketch map is not drawn to scale.  To walk on the cemented path to the landlord’s house at No. 21A, Beo Lane, it took about 500 metres from the right of Beo Crescent  (present location approximately at Blk 42, Beo Crescent).

 

Behind the landlord’s house (marked dark green) was a row of houses for the tenants.  My family and I lived in the second house (marked orange).  The indication of the various places on the sketch-map is self-explanatory.

 

Graveyard of the Landlord’s Great Grandfather

The tomb was located behind the landlord’s house and my neighborhood friends and I used it as a playground.

 

Chit-chat under the banyan tree at night

There was a banyan tree opposite the landlord’s house, which was lighted in the night.

 

Underneath this tree, my childhood buddies and I would get together after dinner for chit-chat.  I remember Ah Huat who lived at Beo Lane who used to tell us ghost stories to share with us.  Ah Huat was a friendly dark-complexioned boy who studied at Gan Eng Seng Secondary School.  A good story-teller but most of those stories were made up to scare us.

 

His family’s house was also burnt during the fire and I lost further contact with him.

 

Potted vegetable plants and rearing of chicken

During the kampong days, rearing of chicks, ducks and pigs was a common activity for the villagers.

 

My mother kept herself busy daily with household chores, marketing, cook meals for the family.  When I was at school and my sisters and my father were at work in the day, mother did some carpentry work to build a wooden chicken cage and reared a few chicks.  The day-old-chicks were bought at a poultry shop in Beach Road and I used to play with the small baby chicks to feed them.  It was fun and I treated them as pets.

 

Outside the house, my mother also built a wooden rack with thrown away planks and pieces of wood found all over the place in the kampong.  She was quite innovative and creative with these DIY stuff to build the hen-house herself.

 

The wooden racks were used to place small pots of vegetable plants such as chillie, bitter gourd and tomatoes which were easy to grow.  She often used these fresh, home-grown vegetables to cook for our meals.

 

The “Fighting Fish King of Bukit Ho Swee”

Our landlord, “Sai Chek” (Uncle Lion in Hokkien) had a son nicknamed as “Luk Tee” (Sixth kid in Hokkien) because he was the sixth child in the family.

 

Luk Tee was then in Secondary Four and his favorite hobby to rear fighting fishes for sale.

 

During weekends, Luk Tee would bring his best fighting fishes for competition.  The fighting fishes were kept in small jars and placed along the corridors in the house until they were sold.

 

As he had often won first prize awards in these competitions,  Luk Tee was known as the “Fighting Fish King of Bukit Ho Swee” and helped his business in the sales of fighting fishes as his reputation in the kampong grew.

 

The row of fighting fishes were inserted with a cardboard between the jars to prevent the fishes from fighting in the glass jars and be injured.

 

‘MAGGOT POOL’

How are maggots “cultivated” as food for the “fighting fishes” winners?

 

Luk Tee found a secret formula to feed his fighting fishes …..

 

The fresh, fat maggots would make the fighting fishes strong and fierce to fight in every competition!

 

Where were the maggots “grown”?

 

Nowhere else to buy these maggots from any pet shops, aquariums or anywhere else in Singapore.

 

The answer:  The “maggot pool” was the concrete pool directly opposite where I lived in Bukit Ho Swee. (Please refer to the rectangular box marked in blue in the sketch map).

 

Whenever there were shortage of supply of maggots, Luk Tee would pay someone to “dig” some faeces from the bucket at the toilet (at that time the “bucket system” was used in the Bukit Ho Swee kampong) and threw these “fighting fish vitamins” into the “maggot pool”.  The pool was filled with about 2 or 3 inches of water.  Within 2 or 3 days, the fresh maggots would then be scooped into a container to feed the fighting fishes.  Yuks! That’s the secret to rear “fighting fish” winners, folks.

 

However, the danger of dengue fever campaign was unheard of 5 decades ago.

 

Thanks to Andrew, I am able to capture the fond nostalgic childhood memories of Bukit Ho Swee kampong illustrations as “memory aids” the first time on my blog.  Hitherto, I had only used archived photos from the National Archives of Singapore, old newspaper articles from the online NewspaperSG, old magazine articles, video clips from YouTube, vocal recordings and “evergreen songs”.

 

Note: Please see the full set of photos in the original post.