Sunday, June 14, 2009

I heart Singapore

I heart Singapore.

We have just spent another few days in Singapore courtesy of a work visit for J, some cheap airfares and a rollaway in his double room. It wasn’t a planned visit but gave M a chance to attend an end of school (his old Singapore school) barbeque at a friend’s place, see a movie or two and stock up on books for the next couple of months. Singapore is still very much a home for all of us. It is a familiar stamping ground with favourite haunts and eats and we can all be independent something thats hard to do in Phnom Penh where it takes time to negotiate traffic and we juggle a car and driver between home, work and school commitments.

For me Singapore is a part of my childhood, familiar, dependable and as comfortable as pulling on a favourite tee-shirt. Despite it's rapid development from the kampongs of the 70's to the massive HDB blocks and streamlined contemporary condominiums of today, from the tarpaulin wet markets and roaming street food carts to the shockingly expensive musk melons and imported caviar of FairPrice Finest it still holds vivid memories in its smells and colourful nooks and crannies. So when I found myself alone on Friday afternoon I took a stroll down memory lane.
I popped out of the MRT at Dhoby Ghaut and walked through Plaza Singapura (oft visited for its huge Spotlight store) with my 'back in the day' tinted glasses perched on my nose. Yohan Plaza (as it was in those days) was our short cut to Orchard Road and Orchard Road Presbyterian Church where dad was one of the ministers for a few years. It was also our closest source of cool air and at Christmas time held windows of Santas and elves hard at work in their workshops. Across the intersection sits the now dwarfed Presbyterian church, still dressed in white and terracotta just like the pictures stored in my memory banks.

Orchard Road Presbyterian Church was founded in 1856 for the Scottish business community in Singapore. The first church building was completed in 1878. Over the years it developed from an English speaking congregation, and thus an English service, to one that supports four different language congregations. When we lived in Singapore, from the mid to late 70s, there was an English and a Mandarin language service held every sunday.

I was going to go in and take some more photos but apart from the 'Trespassers will be Prosecuted' sign on the side gate I noticed this on the half closed front gate

'No Photography' and 'This Premises is under Survellance Camera'.

Not very friendly for a church but then not many churches have a murder story in their history. It happened after our time and I only stumbled across it one day while waiting too long for J in a bookshop stocked with mostly education texts. I had picked up a book on Singapores ghost stories and there it was, 'The Curry Murder' on Orchard Road.

The story goes that a Mr Ayakannu Marithamuthu was not only murdered, on 12 December 1984 at the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, but his body was then cooked in curry before being disposed of. Marithamuthu, wife beater and father of three, worked as a caretaker at the holiday chalets at Changi. His wife worked at Orchard Road Presbyterian. She and her three brothers grew tired of all the violence and hatched a plan to kill Marithamuthu and dispose of the body. After the brothers bludgeoned him to death they chopped him up into tiny pieces (one of the boys was a butcher) that Naragatha, his now widow, cooked into a curry which she put into several plastic bags. The boys added the gory bags to rubbish piles all over the island just before the rubbish truck was due cleverly disposing of any incriminating evidence.

Initially, Naragatha and her brothers were charged with murder but as there was insufficient evidence against them and they were acquitted the same year. The brothers were rearrested the same day but again unconditionally released a few years later, in 1991, as still noone could prove who had actually committed the murder. The cooking pot in which the bloody curry was cooked was never found.

But I digress.

The road we lived in

runs up the hill behind Plaza Singapura and the old Cathay.

Some of the street looks much as it was (apart from the cool contemporary colours!)

And some of it looks like it really hasnt changed at all

Nearly there.

The house on the left is what our house looked like...which is important because

It's not there anymore. Instead, at 132 Sophia Road, the church has this red and white block of flats, 'Presbyterian Church House'. The fence is the same though and the apartment block nextdoor is too. I clearly remember catching the school bus on the 'hump' and the 'children crossing' sign outside our place and that long tall hedge which is the back of Istana, the official residence and office of S.R Nathan, the President of Singapore.

It took a long time, as I recall, to get from our place to the old Tanglin School (now a fancy international school too pricey for M) on the heart bus in my brown and cream checkered uniform with matching knickers which were periodically checked to make sure they were indeed regulation. I remember swinging on the huge iron gate that used to hang on the fence-although looking at how tall the fence is now the gate couldn't have been that big really. There was a school nextdoor with a rooster that was so enamoured of my pet hen he would sit on the fence for hours crowing his affections. We had a well in our back yard which, to my mothers absolute horror, I nearly fell down one day and some rooms where some students lived. Behind our house there was a water canal which held an endless supply of tadpoles during the rainy season, a bamboo 'forest' where we rescued a wild kitten and a kampong full of the constant noise of daily life. 132 Sophia Road looks much quieter now!

Back at the insection I walked up Mount Sophia Road to this place...

...which used to be Trinity Theological College where dad taught while we were in Singapore. The college itself has moved way out to Dairy Farm Road and as this newspaper article explains the distinctive chapel, that's roof is the shape of the Chinese character for 'man', is now home to an Art Hub housing creative tenants; a digital animation studio, an advertising agency, an artists studio, a photography studio and a video production house.

And then it was back down the hill

and back onto Selegie Road

past the peanut man- they were much better hot and out of newspaper cones-

and back into Plaza Singapura, memory lane satisfied.

No comments: