The flight is about to land in a few minutes, a breath-taking view unfurls below. Flying past over that familiar huge blue cylinder, I could see the street life below – buses, trishaws and people moving about. I could see a huge stadium and the tiny airport building on the left! The rivers are winding and converging into a large bay. A village in between, of attap houses, boats with tall masts, taking me back to the 19th century. As the plane flies over the long bridge, I could see a stone lion below a column at one end. On the sprawling bay teems boats, ships and seaplanes. Further beyond, another huge bridge seems to be under construction, and some strange seashell-like buildings glittering afar. A timeless view I wish would last forever….but alas we’ll landing.
“Kallang” (123cm X 91cm), the third and final artwork of a trilogy (along with “Dhoby Ghaut” and “Pulau Saigon”) whimsically combines layers of histories of the Kallang Basin in one painting. The trilogy aims to evoke and inspire people to share their own memories of these almost forgotten icons of our ever evolving land. What are your memories?
Kallang Airport (1937-Present, ceased operation in 1955) was the first civil international airport in Singapore. The airfield sat on the huge ground where the present day Sports Hub, Indoor Stadium, Leisure Park and Kallang Theatre stand today. The runway once extended from the then waterfront Oasis Restaurant all the way to Old Airport Road. Dakota aeroplanes used to park at present day Dakota Cresent. (Now we know how these places are named!) Can you spot the seaplane and the slipway?
Another icon much missed is the endearing National stadium (1973-2011) where many events like the Malaysia Cup and National Day Parades were held.
Can you spot the two amusement parks -Gay World/Happy World (1936-2000) and Wonderland (1969-1988) and the Kallang Leisure Drome tower? They were the equivalent of the Universal Studio of present day.
Golden Mile Complex and Tower (1973-Present) along the eastern end of Beach Road are the few remaining Brutalist architecture in Singapore. The Complex, also known as little Thailand for its array of Thai shops, was put up for enbloc redevelopment sale twice but failed to be sold. It’s one’s guess how long it will survive.
Can you spot the St John Singapore HQ building (1960-Present)?
Ever wondered how Beach Road got its name where there isn’t any beach? The beach was reclaimed since 1840! A unique 3-carriageway Nicoll Highway was built on the reclaimed beach, with the middle way direction reversed during peak hours.
The whitish spire that stands out amongst the red roofed houses is the minaret of the Masjid Hajjah Fatimah (1846-Present). It is also uniquely known as the “leaning tower” of Singapore for its slight tilt, and one of a rare mosque named after a woman. A traditional dome was added in later years.
The bridge in the centre is the Merdeka Bridge with the columns and stone lions at both ends (1956-Present). The columns were demolished in 1966 when the bridge was widened. The stone lions were relocated several times, and today stand in SAFTI Military Institute.
That narrow strip of land jutting out of the airfield is Tanjong Rhu, before it was reclaimed to become part of Marina Bay East. The Geylang River ends at this part of the Basin too. Shipyards dotted the strip and the eastern bank of the Kallang River. My late dad was a fitter at the Vosper Shipyard for many years. I hope he will see this painting from where he is now (Happy Father’s Day!)
Further out, the Benjamin Sheares Bridge is seen here under construction. Do you remember the fear when rumours spread about its construction requiring skulls of kids?!
Kampong Bugis – the Buginese people first came to Singapore from present day Indonesia around the time of Raffles’ landing, to escape from the Dutch persecution in Sulewasi. They once settled along Beach Road, moving further East over the years, including settling at present day Bugis Junction, ICA Building and finally at the confluence of the Rochor and Kallang River. Depicted here is their 19th century village with their iconic Phinisi boats with tall masts. The unique boats had to relocate to the front of Golden Mile Complex when the Merdeka Bridge was built since they couldn’t go under the bridge. They were seen up till mid 1980s before relocating to Pasir Panjang and thereafter disappeared. The Buginese people have been assimiliated and recognized as ‘Malay’ race in Singapore’s IC registration.
Can you see the Biduanda Kallang Orang Asli people on their house boats on the Kallang River? They probably gave the river and the whole place it’s name! If we trace forward, perhaps we can find their descendants in present day Johore
The famous, or infamous, Kallang Gasworks plant (1862-1998), also known as “Fire city” 火城, was a towering landmark of the area when most houses were only 2 to 3 stories high. The huge blue cylinder was often feared for its smell and potential explosion! Its smell lingers to this very day in the soil after rain, whereas the chicken smell of the many live poultry shops opposite it had long gone.
On its left is the Sri Manmatha Kuraneshvarar Hindu temple (1888-Present), the oldest standing building on that plot between the two rivers. On the opposite bank of the Kallang River was the Firestone Tyre Factory during the time when Singapore was a significant rubber tyre manufacturer in the region. Can you see the tyres being loaded on the barge?
Crawford Bridge (1926-Present) and the Police Barracks next to it. The arches of the bridge are so climbable from the road level that they have become climbing hotspot for crazy tourists and protestors. Had the police barracks right next to it been not demolished, it could have been a deterance!
Final look before landing….on the sea…yes on the sea! We are on a seaplane!