Thursday, December 31, 2009

A clean bill of health for 2010

What a year 2009 had been for me, medically speaking.

I am now fully recovered from my spinal surgery done in 2007.
I'll be going for a follow up with my orthopedic surgeon, Prof Hee Hwan Tuck at NUH in the coming month. My L4 & L5 vetebrates should be now fused together as a single bone.

Wonder if I need to remove the pins?
That'll mean going through another round of surgery! argghh

I can't feel the implants at all and it doesn't discomfort me in the slightest.
The implants were supposed to be made from platinum I was told. Hmmm, maybe I should get it out and get it re-forged into some jewelry? Do my part and recycle stuff to save the earth? Or perhaps recover some cost? Maybe sell it and go for another holiday?? Hmm, I wonder.

Early in 2009 when the H1N1 outbreak hit Singapore, I did come down with flu. But by that time, the H1N1 had reached the mitigation stage and hospitalization was not required. Just isolation and rest at home. But even then, it wasn't proven that I had H1N1. I probably just had a case of the common flu. There was no test done as my case was not classified as severe. Anyway, that came to pass...

The whopper came in early October when I had my routine blood test and the glycaemic (blood sugar) result show 19 on the scale. Anything over 7 is considered having diabetes!
My GP and I went into panic mode. More tests, scans and medication followed. (see my earlier blogs below)

Tests results came back showing everything seemingly normal but blood sugar was still elevated. Thus, I was diagnosed as probable Type 2 Diabetic and went on a course of medication, basically, Glipzide 5mg daily before meals.

And bi-weekly monitoring of blood sugar levels.

Diet was completely revamped voluntarily (actually no choice, it's do or die!)
No more sugars, no more alcohol, no starchy food, reduce, reduce, reduce!
Well meaning and caring friends advised "eat more bitter gourd, drink celery juice," etc, etc, etc.
I was really touched by all my friends' concern, thank you guys!
And I really did follow up on the bitter gourd advice.

For the past 3 months, I've had bitter gourd soup, bitter gourd omelettes, bitter gourd stew, fried bitter gourd, grilled bitter gourd, stuffed bitter gourd, baked bitter gourd and bitter gourd whatever.
Thanks to my dear wife who so lovingly prepared all these and sacrificing her own preferences. She hates bitter gourd and never eats them, but luckily, I LOVE bitter gourd!
But was it really effective for diabetes or just old wives tales?

Last week I went for my 3rd blood test since the initial diagnosis and the result came back just yesterday. Here it is for you to see...

Test Name Results Reference
HL2-Liver Function

Total Cholesterol 139 140-200
HDL-Cholesterol 42 40-70
LDL-Cholesterol 79 0-130
Total/HDL Ratio 3.3 0.0-4.0
Triglycides 88 20-200
Bilirubin (Total) 0.7 0-1.5
Alkaline Phosphatase 70 25-105
GGT 36 0-50
Total Protein 7.8 6.0-8.2
Albumin 4.6 3.5-5.0
Globulin 3.2 2.5-3.6

DP1: Glycemic

Fasting Blood Sugar 75 65-110

It a clean bill of health! Yeaaaaa!!!!!!

Blood sugar is 75 mg/dl or
4 mmol/L. Remember the shocking 19? I went from 19 to 4 in 3 months! Level 4 is regarded as non-diabetic. Yeaaa.
However, I am still on medication to ensure that there's no relapse.
Even my cholesterol had dropped from 179 to 139 which is even below the 'healthy' benchmark.
Maybe the bitter gourd does work after all !

This is the best way to end the old year 2009.
So to everyone, here's to you all.

Have a Happy New Year 2010 and stay healthy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Having some good clean fun

My co-workers, Kevin and Gibson, and I went to Phuket earlier this month. Here's a clip of them at the rifle range and go kart circuit having some fun.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shitty service from a shitty bank

I hold a credit card which doubles as my stored value card for riding the MRT trains. The card was issued by a major bank, which I shall not name but will refer to as Shitty Bank.

As of 1st Oct 2009, the MRT train operator replaced their electronic ticketing system to a new system called CEPAS. All the existing entry cards had to be changed to the new CEPAS compliant card for use after 1st Oct. My credit card was not CEPAS compliant and had to be changed too.

A week before Oct, I tried calling Shittybank on their 'Platinum Service Hotline'. Boy, was it hot! Couldn't get through after umpteen attempts and finally succumbed to their last resort... "leave your number and we will get back to you". I did get a call from them after 2 days and know what the guy from the call center said when I inquired about replacing my card to a CEPAS card?

"I am sorry I am with phone banking. You have to call our hotline to get your CEPAS card replacement" ????!!!???@*#@***
"Hello? Isn't it stupid when your hotline tells me to leave my number and then you tell me to call the hotline again!!, I can't get through your hotline" (expletives removed by me)
"Sorry sir, I'll leave a note for the right party to call you. Have a nice day." @*&**!!!

The next day, I did get a call from someone from Shittybank. Unfortunately, I was in the midst of a meeting and asked for him to call back later. I never did receive another call again.

Last week, I got a call from Shittybank again.
Good, I thought, finally someone remembered me.
But it was from someone who was trying to sell me some investment plan!

"Miss, I said, if you look at your computer records you'll probably see that I called a month ago requesting for a card replacement. Your customer service is so bad and you want me to buy more stuff from you? You better get your act together first before I'll even consider using any of your services!" Poor girl, not her fault but I just had to take it out on her. Apologies.

Today I received a letter from Shittybank!
Did my CEPAS replacement finally arrived? There's something hard inside the envelope!
But no, the accompanying note said.. "Thank you for your feedback on your CEPAS compliant card replacement. As a gesture of goodwill, we would like you to have these two $10 Tangs vouchers....."
Hey, I don't need your vouchers! I want my CEPAS card! Sigh.

Anyway, feeling a bit guilty over bawling out that investment girl, I thought I'd try again to call the bank to thank them for the vouchers, say sorry to that girl and to finally get a replacement order for my CEPAS card.

Diallling xxxx 7777..

Thank you for calling Shitty Bank
We recently changed our Menu to make your banking experience quicker and easier..
Pls press 1 for....
Welcome to Shittybank, The bank that NEVER SLEEPS.
Pls enter your NRIC or 16 digit atm number or Credit card no...
xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx

Unfortunately our automated banking is unavailable at the moment. Pls try again soon. One moment while we transfer you...

We are curently experiencing a high volume of calls and may not be abe to connect you..
Press 1 to leave your number for our officer to call you before 6pm the next working day...


Unfortunately our automated banking is unavailable at the moment. Pls try again soon. One moment while we transfer you...

Line cuts off.

Sometimes, things like these makes me really feel like we're really part of a Dilbert cartoon.
It's been 6 weeks since that first incident with Shittybank and I still don't have a CEPAS card.

I am back to using my EZ-Link CEPAS card from the transit operator.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The prognosis is .......

These are the results of my HBS scan.

And these are the scans, for the curious, or the learned who can interpret.
(click on the image for a detailed view)

The Doc said, according to the scan, everything is normal.
So do I have diabetes?
Blood glucose test result was 7.9 mmol/L (143 mg/dL)
Technically, yes I do. The acceptable threshold being 7.

But this is way below the 19 mmol/L that shocked both me and my GP last week. This was the reason for the scan and further blood tests. Just 2 months ago in August, the blood glucose was OK at 110 mg/dL (6 mmol/L). What made it shoot up to 19 in a matter of 2 months?
Glucose level 19 meant severe renal problems which , thank God, I don't have.
Was the previous test result faulty? not likely as it came from a reliable test lab.

My own take on the episode was that prior to the blood test which I did 2 weeks ago, I had indulged somewhat in larger intake of sweet stuff during the past week. These included milkshakes, Andersen ice cream (their booth is just outside my office!), and lattes and cappuccinos from Coffebean. I am sure these contributed to the high glucose readings as a result. My own fault I guess.

During this past week, while being prescribed Glipizide to lower the blood sugar, I had also cut out all sugary and starchy foods. Diet had changed immediately and I have lost 2 kgs in weight already.

Next is to get the feet moving outdoors for more exercise. That is the tough part!
Stay in touch for more updates on my health.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Growing old gracefully?

I went for my regular medical check-up last week.
I used to have high cholesterol levels and slightly elevated BP.
The results of the blood test showed that my cholesterol was 179 - normal;
and BP at 130/80, also normal for my age.

However, to my horror, blood sugar had shot up to an unacceptable level since my last test 2 months ago. So my GP sent for a HBS scan, whatever that medical jargon is. Scan of the liver, kidney, pancreas and spleen.

This is the scan, anyone can read?

Following up with my GP this coming Thursday.
Return here for an update next week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Over the counter - sold legally

I subscribe to an internet forum based in Thailand whose main purpose is to chat on things happening in Phuket. Recently, postings on the forum were about certain pharmaceutical products available at Thai pharmacies. ahem, what I mean are those little helpful blue tablets for men who may have some difficulties.

The danger with those bought without a doctor's prescription may be that the tablets are counterfeit. A year ago in Singapore, men were being hospitalised for using illegally obtained pills called Power 1 Walnut, amongst other names. (Read article here). These virility pills contained substances meant for treatment of diabetes, and those hapless guys who took them suffered drastic drop in blood pressure. It's a good reason to obtain only genuine medicines from your doctor or pharmacist.

In the forum discussion it was made known that some pharmaceuticals from India were being sold over the counter without prescription. This was possible because India does not subscribe to medical copyrights and manufactures genuine drugs in its generic form.

I was in Phuket last week when I popped into a local pharmacy to buy insect bite cream. Casually, and out of curiosity, I inquired if they sold Viagra, and correctly they told me that a prescription from a doctor was required. OK, good, I was relieved that the pharmacies were still highly ethical.

But then immediately, the pharmacist offered me the generic Indian product called Kamagra.
She said that this could be sold without a prescription and is consider an OTC (over the counter) drug and not a controlled medicine. WOW! She even introduced the latest gel based derivative. At only 100 baht (abt S$2 ) per sachet, it was equivalent to a 100mg Viagra tablet which costs S$20. Made by the giant Ajanta Pharmaceutical firm in India.

Ha ha. Ethics vs economics, tough choice. Did I buy? you wonder.
I confess, yes I did. More as souvenirs for my colleagues back in the office.
Have I tried it yet? truthfully, NO. Same with my colleagues who are still waiting for each other to start! really funny, each waiting to see who might drop dead first.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dairy Farm Nature Park

Perhaps coincidentally, since I wrote about Alfred Russel Wallace in early August, there were several further reports in the local newspapers about Wallace. The culmination of which was the opening of the Wallace Education Centre last weekend along the new Dairy Farm Trail at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Today I took an early Sunday morning stroll along this trail. More specifically, to see the Wallace Education Centre. Unfortunately, today being a public holiday, it was CLOSED! Hmmm, doesn't make much sense, does it? You'd expect more people to visit on a holiday.

In line with the conservation nature of the project, the Wallace Education Centre is located in a refurbished former cowshed. You can still see the remnants of the previous dairy farm that surrounds the Centre.

Anyway, the stroll was nice and peasant but it was very humid amidst the rain forest. And unbelievably crowded. Here is a video of the trail leading to the Wallace Education Centre. (as promised)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let the buyer beware

"What is caveat venditor?" asked my sister, "I only know of caveat emptor, meaning let the buyer beware."

Caveat emptor, implies that the buyer (customer) should be fully conscious and aware of what he is buying and the terms and conditions related to that transaction. And in most cases, he cannot seek redress, unless a defect was concealed and known by the seller at the time of sale.

Very simply put in layman's term, caveat venditor is the same as caveat emptor but from the point of view of the seller.

Caveat venditor means that the seller should be aware of the customers terms and conditions or needs in selling things to him. The seller cannot seek redress if he later finds that the buyer has an undue advantage over the sale.

These latin terms were derived long ago from common law usage. But nowadays these normally do not apply as, like in Singapore, consumers and sellers are covered by newer legislation like the Consumer Protection Fair Trade Act.

However, terms caveat emptor and caveat venditor, are still used as linguistic devices in making a point about consumer behaviour.

I don't have any legal training and the above are simply my own interpretation but I welcome anyone's contribution to this.

The customer is always right? #2

Last Sunday, The New Paper On Sunday, had an article by Elysa Chen.
In it, she reported on the phenomena that occurs in major departmental stores in Singapore, in particular at the Ikea Store in Tampines.
I transcribe and extract parts of the report for you .....

Ikea customers treat store like giant playground. They jump on beds, eat, work and sleep here.
Someone even used toilet bowl in showroom.

Like little Godzillas going on a rampage, they run through showrooms shrieking, jump on beds and punch holes into leather sofas with Ikea pencils.
What's worse, some of the culprits are adults.

A store assistant, who has worked at the Ikea Tampines store for thee years, said: "I have seen adults jumping on the beds. One bed broke, and we had to change the entire set, which cost $699."
Once, she also had to scoop urine from a toilet bowl in a showroom.
Another store assistant, who has worked with Ikea for 10 years, said: "After weekends, it looks like a tornado had gone through the store." Toys are strewn on the floor. Books on bookshelf displays have been chucked back haphazardly. Beds are a mess of pillows, quilts and bedsheets. Walls are scribbled on. Packaging is torn.

The New Paper observed some shoppers who looked like they were doing their office work, while others lounged barefoot on sofas and took after-lunch siestas in armchairs.
Taking advantage of Ikea's family-friendly concept were Mrs Dawn Tan and her children, aged 3 to 8. Mrs Tan sat in one of the bedroom displays as her children climbed onto beds, crawled from one display into another and rocked on mini see-saws.
"At home, my children only have one bedroom set. Here, they get various different settings. It becomes their playground," she said.

A father, who wanted to be known only as Mr Mohd, 33, dropped off his two sons, aged 6 and 4, at the play area before leaving to meet his wife in Pasir Ris to run some errands.
"The childrens' play area has more facilities than the neighbourhood playground, and I know my children are well cared for here," he said.

Photos from The New Paper On Sunday

I do not work for Ikea, but I do empathise with the situation. How some adults can be so senseless. Don't they simply realise that the store is open for business and not being run as a playground for their kids?

My store has its fair share of the above, like spillage on carpets and beddings, even with large sign proclaiming "No food and drinks in the store please". Shoppers with supermarket trolleys ramming and denting fridges and washing machines!

Just last week in my store, a child was so in need of a toilet that the parent simply let her defecate right on the shop floor! And what's more??... they simply rushed out after the incident without a word of apology or even feeling guilty about it, leaving us literally to pick up their shit!

One myth that seems to defy Singaporean mentality is that department stores and malls are public places. They are not! They are private organisations, and these organisations have every right to deny you passage or even to evict you. Entering the stores imply that the customer accept any rules and regulations implicitly or explicitly expressed by the various stores. These include no food and drinks, no photography and most certainly no defecation on the premises!

The customer is always right???? sigh.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vexations to the spirit.

Yesterday, my key fan supplier, Fiona from KDK, was sitting at my desk when I received a call from an irate customer. This customer had ordered a Samsung refrigerator from the recent Megatex trade show last weekend at the Singapore Expo. He was supposed to receive the fridge the day before but it didn't turn up. Failed delivery as our store terms it.

Within the next 30 minutes, which I promised to return a call to the customer, I had to retrieve a copy of the order from the computer which showed "Delivery not yet authorised ". Worst still, the fridge on the order showed a Panasonic not Samsung. ??? Calls to the head office to retrieve the original document indicated a Samsung display unit sold. That meant I had to get someone to physically walk to the warehouse to confirm that the display unit was still there 'cos the inventory on the computer showed zero. Once all these were done, I had to correct the order from the Panasonic to the Samsung fridge and set a new delivery date for the customer and return a call to him all within the half hour promised. Phew!

Fiona was watching all these happen and she remarked that I was really very patient and 'steady'. I only replied to her that I always refused to let all these get me down. These things are simply vexations to the spirit.

"Vexations to the spirit"
is a phrase from the poem "Desiderata" by Max Erhmann. You probably know it from the 70's song "Child of the Universe" by Les Crane. The beauty of the poem is its rich morals and the guidance it inspires. Here it is in full.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Max Erhmann, from Indiana USA, wrote this poem around 1926 and copyrighted it in 1927. Around 1959, the rector of St Paul's Church in Baltimore used this in a compilation of devotional material. It became widely circulated without attribution to Max Erhmman and thus a misconception came about that it was found in Old St Paul's Church and written in 1692, the year the church was built. The copyright was renewed in 1954.

The customer is always right? #1

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A few recent incidents in my profession on the front-line for my store sadly reminds me that there are still people in the world whose morality and ethics are, what I would say, still in the stone age.

An entire Indian family trooped down to my store and demanded to see the manager.
As their complaint was on an electrical product, it became my responsibility to attend to them.
In their hands they had an electric oven toaster which they bought the day before.
"My house almost burned down because of your stupid oven"
"How can you sell us a defective oven?"
"How are you going to compensate us for the damage?"
"Who is going pay for my medical treatment?"
They all screamed and shouted in a loud chorus of blame and threats at the same time.
Seeking out the most 'reasonable' person in the group, I asked if only one person please explain and she went on like this.

They had bought the oven toaster the previous evening and she used it for the first time to re-heat some curry puffs. The oven caught fire and she had to throw water at it which then shattered the glass door. Pointing to the burnt-out ruin, she said the oven almost burnt down her kitchen and she got burnt and cut by the flying shards of glass.

From my experience I knew that new electrical appliances won't catch fire that easily unless there were some mitigating factors. So I began to probe gently.
"You were heating your curry puffs?" "Did the curry puff catch fire or did the oven itself caught fire? Metal ovens don't usually catch fire unless something inside it is burning like your curry puffs"
"The curry puff was on fire and the oven started burning la!"

"So you were heating the curry puff and wasn't watching it when it caught fire? Miss, in order for food to burn it must be heated till it becomes like charcoal, then the carbon will burn with the oil vapours! How long did you set the timer on for?" "About 10 minutes", she said.

"That means it was your food that burnt the oven and not the oven itself caught fire. Did you know that unattended cooking is the #1 cause of household fires in Singapore? The glass shattered because you threw cold water on it , which you shouldn't have anyway because you are throwing water on a live electrical equipment!"

At this stage it was apparent to all around now that they had a lost cause.
Still out of courtesy as a store customer, I did an exchange of the burnt oven for a new one.

Though I believe the situation came out all right for all parties, I am really saddened at the attitude of some customers who simply refused to acknowledge their own faults and failings. sigh.

I'll write about a few more incidents in my next article. bye.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Alfred Russel Wallace

If someone asks who founded the Theory of Evolution, most people would say Charles Darwin. And rightly so. Ever since he published his "On the Origin of Species", the scientific world has never looked back. Today, nobody questions if man evolved from apes, even though scientists are still looking for that missing link.

Yet Charles Darwin credits himself only as a co-founder of the theory of evolution. And he readily admits that his conclusions were remarkably similar to that of his contemporary, the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

Independently, Alfred Wallace had, from his explorations and scientific studies, developed his own theory of natural selection. He spent 8 years exploring and studying the flora and fauna in the jungles, mountains and regions of the then Dutch East Indies. Today we know this region as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, New Guinea or collectively as the Malay Archipelago.

When Charles Darwin received Alfred Wallace's scientific findings, he was amazed at the remarkable coincidence and similarity of both their conclusions. At the urging of the scientific community, Charles Darwin presented both their findings to the world. But because he did this, Charles Darwin somehow got the better recognition and became known as the 'father' of the evolution theory. However, this in no way diminished the importance of Alfred Wallace's contribution.

I first heard of Alfred Wallace in 1972, when my then parish priest, Fr Rene Challet, MEP (d.2003), told me that Alfred Wallace had stayed at St Joseph Church in 1854, right in the very building where we were having our conversation. From then on, my interest in Wallace grew and I started digging all the facts I could about this man who co-discovered the theory of evolution.

(picture of the 2nd St Joseph Church at Bukit Timah that was demolished in 1963)

From his seminal publication, The Malay Archipelgo, I learned that not only did Alfred Wallace stayed at St Joseph but that he did all his research within the vicinity of the church and that this area was the starting point for all his future research into the region that would ultimately lead up to his theory of evolution by natural selection. He mentioned in his work about the rich productive area within a square mile of the church.

Bukit Gombak, across the valley from St Joseph, where surely Wallace had explored.

Thus whenever, I am in the Upper Bukit Timah area, my thoughts always return to that of how Alfred Wallace had moved about looking for his insect specimens in the very same area where I used to run around in my younger days - today's Chestnut Drive, Gombak, Hillview, Bukit Timah & Bukit Panjang. And more importantly, the contribution this area of Bukit Timah made to the Theory of Evolution.

You might be interested to know that it was Alfred Wallace who gave the title "King of Fruits" to the durian, when he first described it in his scientific writings in 1858.

Alfred Russel Wallace has always been my hero. His life as an explorer scientist in the 19th century and his writings about all the places in the malay archipelago should qualify him as the pre-eminent travel writer of the 19th century! The earliest blogger perhaps? He deserves a place with the likes of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, other great travel writers from the past.

I append below an extract from "The Malay Archipelago" which contains the pertinent description of the St Joseph Church area at Bukit Timah in 1854. If you would like to read the entire book, just click on the link above.

"In the interior of the island the Chinese cut down forest trees in the jungle, and saw them up into planks; they cultivate vegetables, which they bring to market; and they grow pepper and gambir, which form important articles of export. The French Jesuits have established missions among these inland Chinese, which seem very successful. I lived for several weeks at a time with the missionary at Bukit-tima, about the centre of the island, where a pretty church has been built and there are about 300 converts.

The island of Singapore consists of a multitude of small hills, three or four hundred feet high, the summits of many of which are still covered with virgin forest. The mission-house at Bukit-tima was surrounded by several of these wood-topped hills, which were much frequented by woodcutters and sawyers, and offered me an excellent collecting ground for insects.

In about two months I obtained no less than 700 species of beetles, a large proportion of which were quite new, and among them were 130 distinct kinds of the elegant Longicorns (Cerambycidae), so much esteemed by collectors. Almost all these were collected in one patch of jungle, not more than a square mile in extent, and in all my subsequent travels in the East I rarely if ever met with so productive a spot. This exceeding productiveness was due in part no doubt to some favourable conditions in the soil, climate, and vegetation, and to the season being very bright and sunny, with sufficient showers to keep everything fresh.
In the same place, and during my walks in other directions, I obtained a fair collection of butterflies and of other orders of insects, so that on the whole I was quite satisfied with these—my first attempts to gain a knowledge of the Natural History of the Malay Archipelago."

For his contributions to scientific studies, the Singapore NPark has set up a Wallace Education Centre at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Visitor Centre. I believe it just opened in May 2009 but I have yet to visit this. I'll tell you more after my visit there.

Related links:
St Joseph Church Bukit Timah
The French Connection

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Upper Bukit Timah

When I was younger, literally at a time when the policemen wore shorts, I lived in the Upper Bukit Timah area. From the mid-50s till late 60s, I lived at a small estate called Princess Elizabeth Estate and then later a a nearby development called Fuyong Estate. PE estate is now demolished and Fuyong Estate is better known as Rail Mall.

Growing up in those lean years meant activities were all self made. Our playground ranged from the hills of Bukit Gombak, Bukit Batok, Bukit Timah and all the way to Bukit Panjang. Exploring the area, hills and jungle was the main activity for us gangs of schoolboys since places like amusement parks, shopping centres were all but non-existent.

View My Kampong area - Upper Bukit Timah in a larger map

From the old British radar station on Gombak to the quarries at Bukit Timah, the farms at Cheng Hwa and the dairy farms were the places we 'explored' in our free time. All these places were within a 2km radius from Hillview. And yes, there really were lots of cows at Dairy Farm, where now condominiums have replaced the farms.

Old pictures of the dairy farms at Upper Bukit Timah

I remember after Singapore gained independence and started its industrial development, the Hillview area was chosen for light industries. Factories like Union Carbide, Hume, Gammon, Malayan Guttas, Kiwi Shoe Polish, Lam Soon Oil, International Spinning Mills, Cycle and Carriage and Castrol all began to change the quiet rural area into a busy industrial hub.

But perhaps central and most important feature of this area was St Joseph Church. Being Catholic, this was my parish church and it played a big part in life. I was baptised there, had catechism lessons and later taught religious classes, was an organist there and eventually also got married at this church.

(Picture is of the current St Joseph Church, the 3rd rebuilding on the same site. It was re-built in 1963 under Fr Joachim Teng)

St Joseph Church BT c.1963

St Joseph itself has a long history that is very closely related to the development of the area which few people nowadays know. It was built in 1846 and is the 2nd oldest Catholic church in Singapore. In its 163 year history, it has seen the the history of Singapore literally passing with its own history.

But to me, the one event that makes the St Joseph and the whole Upper Bukit Timah area significant was a quiet event that took place in 1854. An event that was to have a big impact on the entire human history, and it all started here with a visit by a naturalist named Alfred Rusel Wallace.

Related links:
Alfred wallace and St Joseph Church

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Nostalgic photo - Beauty World

I was doing a search for some information for a piece I intended to write about the Upper Bukit Timah area when I came across this picture that really hit me hard in the face!

Originally, my first thought was 'Hey, this picture would be nice for my previous blog on old bus stops' when it suddenly hit me that this was the bus stop at the old 7-1/2ms Upper Bukit Timah Road which I had used long ago when I was just a young boy during my school days!

This was the bus stop opposite the original Beauty World. The picture must have been taken in the 1960s. The buildings on the left are still in existence at the junction of Chun Tin Road and Cheong Chin Nam Road. On the right where a gully separates the road from the vegetation used to be an old kampong where now stands the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Beauty World Centre. In the far background is Bukit Timah Hill.

The bus approaching the bus stop is service no.1 from the Green Bus Company. This service ran from Queen Street to Johore Bahru. This service is still in operation today under SBS Transit no 170.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Showing the Flag

With National Day coming just round the corner, I thought it might be a good time for some patriotism. After all, I do love my country.

In 2007, I had the good fortune to get 2 tickets to the National Day Parade. That was the first time the parade was to be held on the floating platform on Marina Bay. It was also the first time that I attended a live National Day Parade as a spectator. I had actually taken part in a marching contingent way way way back in 1969 at the Padang!
Here is my video of the NDP 2007. Hope you like it.

Singapore Pledge

We, the citizens of Singapore
Pledge ourselves as one united people
Regardless of race, language or religion
To build a democratic society
Based on justice and equality
So as to achieve happiness, prosperity & progress for our nation

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Old bus stops in Singapore

I used to live at a small housing estate called Princess Elizabeth Estate, located at Hillview Avenue in Upper Bukit Timah. Was reminiscing about it with my sisters when I decided to look for old photos of our childhood.

While looking for those, I came across an album consisting of photos of bus stops taken around 1989. These, being 20 years ago, I thought it might be interesting (boring?) for some to see these relics. In fact, some of these bus stop designs are still in used, although most today are being replaced by the new standard design.

This is the current standard bus stop design (c.2009). I believe that the bus stops now are designed, constructed and maintained, not by the government or bus companies, but by a media company (JC Decaux? correct me here). This is in exchange for all advertising rights at the bus stops.

Here are the photos from the past. Click on it for a larger image.

Finally, the coup de grace.....
This was the bus terminus at Princess Elizabeth Estate. First used by the Green Bus Co with service No 5. Later taken over by United Bus Co No 173 and finally by the SBS bus 173 and 193. The estate was demolished sometime in the 1990s and the terminus no longer exists, though SBS service 173 still runs through the area.

The following pictures were sent to me by reader Sue who found them after reading my blog. Thanks Sue.
If any of you have more pictures of old bus stops to contribute, I'll be happy to upload them here.

Comments by contributors.

Old car at old bus stop along old road in Changi

Bus stop that looks more like a bucket system toilet without the door in old Sembawang.

Old concrete bus stop at Ang Mo Kio 1980s
Bus stop in rural district c.1960s.

Orchard Road 2011. Lucky Plaza

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fossils at Woodlands

I have only a fleeting interest in paleontology. That started long long ago, long before the movie Jurassic Park. Somewhere in my boxes, there's a collection of real fossils. Ammonites, trilobites, amber insects and fossilized shark's teeth. Souvenirs of those growing up years which we somehow like to cling to.

Many years ago, while waiting for a friend at the Woodlands MRT station, I noticed that the station was covered with tiles made of rough sandstone. And the facade appeared to be badly stained with mouldy patches.

Anyone passing by probably wouldn't give a hoot about those dirty mouldy stains, but as I had nothing to do while waiting, I looked at it and lo, and behold! they were not stains. They looked like impressions of ferns and leaves. Fossils!

The facade of Woodlands MRT station is covered with sandstone tiles that were formed millions of years ago.

Since then, every time when I am at that station, I will just wonder along the walls and look at the fossilized impressions. Really, the patterns are wonderful to look at and they are all over the walls. You just have to look. Here are some pictures I took of the walls and the fossilised impressions.

Click on the photographs to view a larger image

Then today, while doing some reading, I came to know that the impressions found in the slate tiles were not fossils of ferns.
, what a let-down! I was really dejected to learn of this.

They are what are known as pseudofossils. And they have fooled a lot of people in the past, just like finding iron pyrite which is also known as 'fools gold'. They do look exactly like fossilised ferns and are found in slate or sandstone rocks which are truly from the age of the dinosaurs.

However, the impressions are known as dendrites. These are actually manganese oxide or iron oxide that had seeped into the rock formation millions of years ago and left their fern-like impressions in the rock. These rocks are commonly found in India, Germany and Australia and are used for wall and floor tiles. However, these patterns are also collectibles. Kinokuniya Books sells these around $60 for a 3cm x 3cm piece.

Well, if ever they tear down the walls of the station, they can always re-cycle the tiles as fossil collectibles. Go have a look while it's still there. They are really pretty.