Pulau Saigon

The sun rays pierced through the clouds, the warmth lifted the morning mist. I heard the school bell ringing, I doubled up the slope, I’m late!! But I can’t resist looking back to catch a glimpse of the grand view below. View from my primary school – Pearl’s Hill School 1876 to 2001. Enjoy the view!

This is another “whimsical” painting, similar to Dhoby Ghaut”, for its mixture of times in one single painting. It shows a view from my primary school, the Pearl’s Hill School (1876 to 2001). The sprawling view takes you back to Singapore River through the last 150 years.

There was once an island in the middle of the River, which is fairly unheard of today, almost forgotten. But it was an important island at a crossroad of transportation and ethnic settlements. Even the historical Railway track ran through this river island around 1906 till 1932. The island was called Pulau Saigon, but I could not find verifiable sources as to how this name came about. It was believed that there was a company owning many warehouses along Havelock Road with the name “Saigon” which gave its name. The island was gradually merged to the South bank of the Singapore River around 1972 to 1991. In 1984, I even walked through the island daily for a whole month while doing school holiday work in a warehouse wrapping hampers, but I didn’t know it was an island. Today, The Central Expressway tunnels underneath the expunged island.

I have also included some popular but expunged landmarks in the painting – such as the old National Theatre (1963-1986), Van Kleef Aquarium (1955-1991), Ellenborough Market (1845-1995) and Oberoi imperial Hotel (1968-1997). The bridges, except for the two Saigon bridges, largely remain intact. The first mosque built in Singapore – the Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka (1820), the Tan Is Chong Su (1878) are still around and visible in the painting. Stamford Raffles’ tutor, Munshi Abdullah once resided in Kampong Melaka near the mosque. In 1847, an unfortunate fire burnt down his library, resulting in loss of many treasured manuscript. Hope you enjoy scanning through this busy painting to discover more stories of our rivers and land.

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