Monday, 27 April 2015

Rochester Park - Black & Whites

It's sad but when you search Rochester Park on the internet all the information is on restaurants, no real history on the buildings themselves. Yes, the restaurants are in renovated Black & Whites, making a delightful green, shady stop for a drink or a meal but, I wanted to find out more about these buildings and the ones still sitting empty, slowly decaying. It is good to see that renovation is now taking place on the many empty ones.

Rochester park is situated just a short 5 minute walk from Buona Vista mrt. It sits along with the colonial bungalows of Nepal Hill off of North Buona Vista Road. Nepal Hill was so named after the Ghurkhas that come from Nepal and was once home to their officers. These homes are now a 4 acre development facility owned by the Unilever Group. 

Renovated 17 Rochester Park, home to BASF

Rochester Park is made up of 40 colonial bungalows that were built in the late 1930s and 40s, many with asbestos roofs, something I have never seen on any of these buildings before. Many of those waiting to be renovated have these which no doubt will be replaced by the red tiles we are so used too. 

asbestos roofing

The houses were home for the British army officers based at nearby Alexandra at the Pasir Panjang Camp and it was named after the British port of Rochester on the South coast of England. They stayed as such until the British pulled out in 1971 and the government took them over and privately rented them out, predominantly to expats, who could afford the high rentals. At this time many of the colonial bungalows were painted black and white, something which they wouldn't have originally been. In fact true Black and Whites are really only those that have a large amount of exterior timber (Tudor style) which was painted black.  

The houses were conserved on the 24  March 2010 and although many are in a poor state of repair it is heartwarming to see that there is a renovation project taking place. Although I know a few people who disagreed with me I was impressed with those that had renovations completed. 

13 Rochester Park. Now renovated

If the information I read is correct, along with the trendy leafy restaurants of Rochester park, many that have been there since 2006, a further 20 are being developed into retail outlets and what is described as a villa resort so I'm assuming this is the redevelopment I witnessed. 

Walking passed the restaurants left me rather cold, although I agree it would be a nice place to while away a few hours with nice food and a good bottle of wine.The  other homes which are still waiting for TLC, nestled along the windy cul de sacs, surrounded by overgrown trees and bushes, home to many mosquitoes! These are  surprising quiet and tranquil considering how close to main roads, mrt etc they are, these appealed much more to me but that's probably just the old romantic in me!

12 Rochester Park. More of the renovated which I am assuming are the 'villa resort' 

No. 40 still waiting for some tlc
No. 14

Monday, 20 April 2015

Japanese landings and Lim Chu Kang Jetty. Exploring the Wild Wild (north) West of Singapore

It's a long time since I ventured along Lim Chu Kang Rd in the NW of Singapore. To be honest I didn't think there was much to see apart from military camps, farms and cemeteries as the majority of the vast amount of open space here isn't 'open' but most definitely closed with signs everywhere threatening to shoot or arrest! The first and indeed only trip before was to the abandoned Neo Tiew Estate   However over the intervening months I had seen many photos of an old rustic wooden jetty used for oh so many photo shoots. I'd recently seen it again popping up on a TV show, surrounded by piles of rubbish, so I knew it wasn't as I idyllic as the photos claimed! With the anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Singapore in February I'd also became aware of the significance of the coast around this part of the island as it was where the Japanese landed at the beginning of Febraury 1942.

So we set out with a mission to explore three points all in the vicinity.
1) Lim Chu Kang jetty - well perhaps I could take an arty shot, sell it and make my fortune :)
2) find and photograph Cashin House 
3) visit Sarimbun beach the site of the Japanese  landings. 
Perhaps I should add ....
4) to behave, not to go 'off piste' and not to get shot or arrested!!

We caught the bus from Choa Chu Kang and as before we were the only westerners on the bus amongst the serviceman and very soon after passing the camps and the rows upon rows of graves and later the deserted Neo Tiew Estate, we were the only ones left on it! You can't get confused which stop you need as its the very last one along the road before the bus turns around and heads back to Choa Chu kang. Our friendly bus captain wished us a cheery goodbye as he watched this 2 strange middle aged 'ang mohs' alight.

Lim Chu Kang jetty

Since researching bit on our return I have since found out that this is a privately owned jetty - whoops , sorry! but they are used to others like ourselves coming to take photographs, that's a relief! It is there predominantly for the fishermen, those using it to fish from, which we saw a couple on our visit and those who use it to travel to and from the ceilings, fish farms, sitting off shore in the straits. Apparently there were once other such jetties along this part of the coast but these have been closed down with the worry of smuggling and the security of the country in mind. I am assuming that this one has probably survived due to the fact that it sits in the shadow of the police coast guard, slap bang next to it!

When we arrived a small truck had arrived filled to bursting with bags of broken biscuits, oreos, cream crackers, wafers etc. thee were put into small boats and sent of into the straits. I wonder what for; for the fishermen? as fish food? or is there a rampant illegal trade going on in smuggling broken biscuits!!!

Anyway we duly took our photos, trying to make them as atmospheric as possible and avoiding the litter swamping the area. We walked the rickety jetty for awhile, and as you do so you wonder how long its been here and how safe it is, probably very, but the planks are well worn, rotten in places, wobbly and fixed or balanced onto large plastic drums that keep it afloat. However it does what its meant to do.

As you look out across the water to Malaysia, just a short distance away, to your right you area able to see Cashin House, also known as The Pier.

Cashin House

The area around the jetty was once made up of mangroves  secondary rain forests and plantations belonging to Namazie, Cashin Estate. Only mangroves still remain between the jetty and as you you look towards Cashin House and onwards to the Wetlands of Sungei Buloh. Do not try to reach the house through the mangroves!! The Nazies and the Cashins were 2 very wealthy prominent families who were friends with Stamford Raffles. The Namazies were Persian and at one time owned the Capitol Theatre (Currently nearing its completion of its multimillion dollar restoration) The Cashins also own a large amount of land at Punggol in the NE of Singapore.

Cashin House is built on a pier, the pier was original built in 1906 for the rubber estate by the owner, Irishman Henry Cashin. A house was later added and built onto the pier in the 1920s or 30s and this is where it got its nickname of The Pier. It was built by Henry's grandson, Joseph Cashin, a lawyer and was used by him and his family from the 1950s up until his death until 2009.

During the Japanese Occupation the house was used by Japanese Officers as a 'comfort' stop. 
It has stands empty now and sadly you cannot get access to it. It is however going to be incorporated into the Sungei Buloh Wetland receive so the building will remain but clearly not as the home it once was.

Now we knew we couldn't get access to it, but all the same we thought we would just make sure! just in case we could at least catch a further glimpse of the building from another angle, apart from from the jetty. We headed off passed many of the farms that are around this area. twice being stopped by kindly drivers, one offering a lift as we were clearly nuts, wandering around in the heat! He later came back to check on us. The other to tell us the road was a dead end. Sadly we couldn't get a glimpse and although it would of been easy to walk down the road to the house, past the barrier. The signs saying we would be arrested put us off, especially as we heard they do!

Any way we enjoyed our walk, seeing a different area, spotting the eve present male changeable lizards, in their full mating colours, or what seemed every other tree we walked passed. What was better was spotting a paradise tree snake, although a python, cobra, or suchlike would of been even that more fun. Later as we walked back to Lim Chu Kang Road we spotted an eagle soaring high above us in the cloudless sky.


From the road we turned off onto a wide loose stoned open road which leads down to the Scout Camp that sits along the coast by the site of the Japanese landing, where the Battle of Sarimbun took place on the 8th and 9th of February 1942. On the evening of the 8th General Yamashita landed his troops here which by the 9th would see the Japanese successfully landed in Singapore. The area was held by the Australian, a battle ensued where a heavy loss of life was incurred by the Australians along with Singaporean fighters. Percival had wrongly believed that the invasion would come from the NE but it came from the NW with Japanese taking the airbase of Tengah, sitting just behind the beach at Sarimbun. They succeed in taking Tengah by midday on the 9th.

I have to say the walk along the road to the coast was one of the hottest I had experienced, it must be the hottest place in Singapore, certainly on a windless, cloudless day! Sadly we couldn't quite reach the sea and the beach as yet again its restricted access. As mentioned most of the NW coast line is out of bounds. Sad that we cannot explore the nature and countryside that has been left untouched but I guess you can understand the thinking behind it. With Singapore being an island the coastline must be very difficult to protect completely. Unless I was to end up doing national service I see no way I will ever get to see this part of Singapore. We did see a couple of paths over a bank from the road and taking a peak we could see a tarmac road, which is in fact shown quite clearly on google maps. But the signage and the clear evidence of military buildings made sure stuck to the permitted areas.

A hot and exhausting few hours had but thoroughly enjoyable and great to see a completely different area and side to Singapore 

From wikipedia. the direction and landing points the Japanese took in Feb 1942.
If you would like to see what Cashin house looked like just a few years ago take a look at this post

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Panguni Uthiram

The Hindu festival of Panguni Uthiram falls on the the last month in the Tamil solar calendar called Panguni. It falls on the full moon when the stars Uthiram and Pournami are seen together, this will be either in March or April.

It is an extremely important festival for Tamil Hindus, when many significant figures in the Hindu faith married. Parvati and Parameswara (Lord Shiva), Murugan and Deivanai, Aandaal and Rangamannar. I've heard of Shiva, Parvati and Murugan but can't claim to know the others or what they represent. Panguni Uthiram is all about marriage and relationships. Throughout the festival they celebrate marriage, the beginning of relationships and ask for issues in a marriage to be sorted. 

On the eve of the festival a procession of silver chariots will travel along a route to a Murugan temple and on the festival day it's self, devotees will wear heavy kavadis, pierce themselves and/or carry metal bowls containing milk or water and walk along the procession route to the temple, some even wearing shoes of nails. Here in Singapore the procession starts from Canberra Drive to the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar temple in Yishan in the north of Singapore.

Visually this is very similar to the Thaipusam festival I've witnessed twice now in Little India.    Although similar to Thaipusam it is on a much smaller scale and much more local. Unlike Thaipsusan in little India this is not accompanied by hundreds of tourists, indeed we only spotted one other western lady the few hours we enjoyed soaking in the preparations. After a little trepidation of whether we would be welcome, we were greeted by a devotee, who had just finished his walk and was encouraged to come along and enjoy. Just like in Little India people couldn't have been more welcoming, encouraging us to take photos, smiling and posing, the whole atmosphere was of that of a happy joyful celebration. 

I've heard that over recent years the festival has been restricted and noise levels greatly reduced, that saying I wonder what it was once like as music came from various positions along the route, each seemingly trying to out do the other and in the tent at the beginning it was deafening!!! Drums and various instruments were played as the devotees prepared themselves and those with the heavy kavadis danced and swirled around. The noise could be felt throughout your body, totally deafening but all helping to wrap you up in the moment. 

Again I can't thank the wonderful friendly Indians for making us so welcome. A loud, vibrant, exciting, friendly, frenetic, happy experience with such welcoming people.