Jul 27, 2008
I mentioned Tan Quee Lan Street in my discussion on 7th Storey Hotel and Farquhar Street. I even did a second shot on it.
However I do not know anything about the man after whom the street is named. This man, Tan Quee Lan (陈桂兰), is obscure among the Tan clan of Singapore. The Tan clan boasts of distinguished pioneers like Tan Tock Seng, Tan Kah Kee and Tan Kim Seng. According to statistics, Tan is the most common Chinese surname in Singapore.
Who is Tan Quee Lan? What is his legacy, his contribution to Singapore?
Google reveals nothing about the man. So I look for the man in the toponymic guides.
The four letter acronym is what describes my reaction.
Other than describing him as a "prominent Hokkien merchant and landowner", the guide also tells us "he presented a monkey to the Raffles Museum".
I shall remember him as the man who donated a monkey. What about you?
On a side note, while exploring the street, I found traces of the old. The drain is right behind the car park. The buildings on that side of the street were demolished, so the grass patch is where the buildings used to be. I'm not sure why they spent money to tile the wall/floor beside a drain.
Traces of the old at Tan Quee Lan Street.
Jul 26, 2008
Today we will look at another question - when was 7th Storey Hotel usurped?
From the October 27, 2002 Sunday Times:
But 49 years ago when it was first erected, the hotel was the tallest protrusion on the southern skyline. "If you got the roof, it had the best views of the beach," says Miss Shirley Fong, 26, its operations manager.
Regarding this tallest protrusion on the southern skyline, the February 22, 2004 Chinese newspaper Xin Ming Ri Bao (新明日报) carries such a picture:
The title tells us that in the 1950s, the hotel was like a "crane among the chicken crowd" (鹤立鸡群). Pardon my crude translation.
The crane of the 1950s is now a chicken among its neighbors. On the southern skyline, we have The Gateway designed by I .M. Pei, Suntec Towers, Parkview Square, amongst others, all lording over the hotel.
To add insult to injury, Parkview Square even declares itself as The Crane.
At Parkview Square, in the center of its open plaza, there is a statue of a golden bird. A crane that is because on the pedestal is a Chinese poem:
Sorry, no pictures from me because I just read that from Wikipedia.
So when was the crane dethroned? When was 7th Storey Hotel usurped from its position as the tallest protrusion on the southern skyline?
For a quick guess, we can look at the developments along Beach Road:
A stretch of Beach Road called The Golden Mile includes building developments of the 1970s and 1980s; Golden Mile Complex (1973, former Woh Hup Complex), 36-storey Shaw Towers with cinemas, shopping and offices (1976), Plaza Hotel (1972, former Singapore Merlin Hotel which was completed in late 1973).
If I'm at 7th Storey Hotel, the no. 1 candidate will be Shaw Towers. It is tall and aged (1976).
But when you consider how much has changed since the 1950s and how puny the hotel is compared to its neighbors today, you begin to have second thoughts.
View of 7th Storey Hotel from National Library Building. Can you find the hotel?
Shaw Towers was built 20 years after the hotel. Many buildings could have been built in this time gap, and usurped the hotel.
One such building hides behind the shadow. I missed it during my initial coverage of the hotel.
A candidate hiding behind the shadow.
The shot was taken when I went to the hotel again. If you read my blog, I did go back to check out the lift numbering.
So how did I "discover" the building? I didn't, actually. By a stroke of luck, I found the following picture on our National Archives website while idly surfing for non 7th Storey Hotel material.
The picture shows not the building, but 7th Storey Hotel!
Source: National Archives of Singapore
The picture couldn't have arrived at a better time. I blogged about Farquhar Street few entries back and wondered how it looked like. Now I have my answer.
The archive states the record date as 1970. Assuming this is correct, the picture was taken in the late 60s or 1970.
By this time, the hotel has a contender at the Tan Quee Lan Street-Beach Road junction. Look at the left foreground. I think it is called Premier Center today. Count the storeys carefully. It is still not tall enough to usurp the hotel.
A little diversion into the history of the contender leads to something interesting. Look at the picture from the Chinese newspaper at the beginning of this entry again. It is not clear, but will still do. Pay attention to a landmark at the bottom right of the picture.
The landmark should be Sultan Mosque. With the hotel at 10'o clock position, the orientation of the picture is such that the sea will be outside to the left of the picture.
An interesting question arises - where is our contender? Today the two buildings are at stone throwing distance from one another. In the 1950s picture, surrounded by a field of shophouses, the hotel does look like a "crane among the chicken crowd" (鹤立鸡群). The contender is nowhere to be found.
Or is it?
Look at this aerial view from the 1950s, oriented as a top-down view of the Archives picture. The contender stands out, almost like a twin to 7th Storey Hotel!
7th Storey Hotel with the vertical running Tan Quee Lan Street and Rochor Road. North Bridge Road is on top and Beach Road at the bottom.
Both mirrored-L buildings stand out prominently in this aerial view. You can see both are tall buildings by the shadow they cast on their neighbors.
Thus the picture from the Chinese newspaper is misleading. Before 1960, there were actually two cranes in close proximity on the southern skyline. I've not seen before the source picture used by the Chinese newspaper. Perhaps the other crane is really missing in the source, which led to the use of the Chinese idiom. Or perhaps, the other crane was deliberately left out to justify the idiom.
Of course there is the possibility that the other crane was only a small crane and relegated to the chicken brood. In my blog comments, Victor replied that in countries like China, owners can easily add more floors to a completed building. Maybe like the citadels of Europe, the building took decades to reach its current height.
But looking at the shadow created by the twin crane in the aerial view, this is not likely. The building looks tall from its shadow.
With a 100m advantage to Beach Road, the building should offer a pretty good view of the beach if you are on the top floors. But 7th Storey Hotel, while 100m back, is taller and has a roof view. This was highlighted by the hotel's operations manager Ms Fong, "If you got the roof, it had the best views of the beach" (see beginning of this entry). Notwithstanding that by the 1950s, the coastline has shifted from the original 1843 coastline beside Beach Road to beyond Nicoll Highway. The highway was completed in mid 1950s.
The above picture comes from the same Chinese newspaper. Beach Road (美芝路) and Nicoll Highway (尼浩大道) are labelled. The hotel is circled.
Back from the little diversion into the pseudo-contender. The contribution of the 1970 Archives picture is to lead us to the real contender. Somewhere on this contender, the Archives picture was taken.
So how does our contender look like?
At the Tan Quee Lan Street side of Beach Road, the building is partly blocked by trees, as shown in the "teaser" picture further up. I have to cross the road to get a clearer view.
Former Beach Road Police Station
This looks like some hostel building inside the former Beach Road Police Station. I'm not sure when it was built, but clearly it has usurped 7th Storey Hotel.
An usurper before Shaw Towers has been found. But is this the earliest usurper? When was 7th Storey Hotel usurped and by who?
I end this topic with another picture of the usurper. The picture is courtesy of my friend Christine, who works in that de-facto crane building. I've asked her to take some shots of the scenery from her tall vantage point. Thanks Christine!
Today, the building in the former Beach Road Police Station is dwarfed by her neighbors.
Jul 21, 2008
I'm writing this because I want to share with you the motivations for my hobby. The fictitious person is a prosecutor and while not in the same profession, we do share one common motivation. It helps too he has certain character traits that I admire.
Our friend, Kuriyu Kouhei(久利生公平), will be familiar if you ever watched the popular Japanese drama series Hero. Played by heartthrob Kimura Takuya(木村拓哉), the lead character is what gives the drama its name.
In episode 1, there is a scene which I find especially memorable.
Briefly, Kuriyu is assigned an undergarment case, his first case in the Tokyo division having transferred from Aomori. Each public prosecutor(検事, read: kenji) has his or her own personal assistant. He does not have one yet so Amamiya Maiko(雨宮舞子), played by Matsu Takako, becomes his assistant. Amamiya is also the personal assistant of another public prosecutor. It happens that this other prosecutor is in-charge of a high profile case involving a politician. The whole department is vexed over the case, as the evidence gathered does not incriminate the politician. A photograph by the politician provides the perfect alibi.
One day, Kuriyu invites Amamiya for lunch. After lunch, he casually brings Amamiya to a marina where yachts are berthed, which is beside their eating place. They climb up a yacht, then ..........
I'd continue from my Hero TV novel book. Such books are useful if you want to understand the TV series.
“好舒服喔！”My [amateurish] translation of the important part:
"But, even at this position, there are still places you cannot see ...... the other side of the bank, the underwater world etc., what's invisible is more than what's visible ...... for example, the thoughts of an undergarment thief, the psychology of a pornography tape viewer, and those who are fervent about mail order ...... if we do not verify them individually, then we cannot see anything."What happens next I will show using a short clip of the drama:
In fact, Amamiya does not realize it at that time - the yacht they are standing on belongs to the politician. Second Shot!
Jul 19, 2008
What's interesting is that everybody can stand to win cash prizes from the events.
For the heritage enthusiast, or anybody who happens to own photos of old Singapore, you can donate or share your heritage photos and stand to win $500, $200 or $100 from the lucky draw.
The barrier to entry is not high. Your photo is accepted as long as it is
- taken before 1980.
- based on one of the following categories:
- Architecture and Landscape - architectural styles, building types, streets and places
- Arts - visual art, performing arts
- Commerce and Industry - Business places, shopping areas, trades, businesses, transactions, markets
- Ethnic Communities - artifacts, customs and traditions, diaspora, festivals, food
- Events - major events, campaigns, celebrations and national holidays
- Geography - places of interests and other interesting locations in Singapore
- Nature - animals, nature conservation, plants
- Organisations - associations, government agencies, trade unions
- Personalities - prominent personalities in Singapore
- Politics and Government - education, health, law, national security, national symbols, public utilities
- Recreation - hobbies and sport
The organizers make it clear that everybody can be a winner. You can submit as many photos you want for the photo contest and you can send as many sms you want for the voting contest at no SMS surcharge.
If you think your finger-power is your competitive edge, then hurry. The voting has started since 7 July. You can rest your fingers on 2 August(4pm).
Details at http://deposit.nl.sg/LDNet-web/faces/heritageRoadShowIII.jsp
I looked at the 43 finalists for the "43 Things That Remind Me of Singapore" Photography Contest and a few of them are pretty cool. For example, look at this taken with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II.
Out of curiosity, I tabulated all the 43 cameras used. Here is the frequency table by brand. Guess which is the most popular camera brand?
Frequency table by model for Nikon and Canon:
Nikon D100: 4
Nikon D200: 5
Nikon D50: 2
Nikon D70: 3
Nikon D70s: 3
Nikon D80: 3
Canon EOS 30D: 1
Canon EOS 350D Digital: 3
Canon EOS 40D: 1
Canon EOS 5D: 2
Canon EOS-1D Mark II: 1
Note that some photographers submitted multiple entries so their camera model appears multiple times. Also note that some photos do not have EXIF data attached.
Jul 17, 2008
Record Date: 1942
Date: Mid 2004
A few friends have been quite supportive of my blog project and I'm heartened to know they like my entries and photos.
I've taken up a small hobby sometime back. I call it "precision heritage photography" - find a source, scout the location today and snap the second shot. The series of photographs are the inspiration for this blog.
In this entry, I humbly present to you my first second shot. It was taken 4 years back.
The source shows the Sook Ching (肃清) interrogation centre along North Bridge Road. It is amazing that such a shot was taken. How did the photographer do it? Where did he stand? What camera did he use?
Finding the present day location was my first lucky break for the hobby. The source photo can be found in many history books but the captions do not reveal anything beyond "North Bridge Road".
As I wandered along North Bridge Road, a familiar yellow sight caught my attention. Slowly but swiftly, it transforms into the hauntingly black and white photo of yesteryear.
Stare at the photos long enough. It is not hard to imagine the same crowd, with the tank, in front of the yellow sight today....
PS: Full source photo here.
Jul 15, 2008
This grand dame from the 1950s is going, and I decided that I have to blog about it.
Huh, but the nonsensical title?
You see, if you first come across the name, you'd think the hotel has only seven storeys. Ok, maybe not so because of the difference between ordinal and cardinal numbering. It is seventh storey, not seven storeys. But the human mind often works by association, so putting a number and a noun together will give the impression of having x-number of that noun.
Luckily the Chinese name is not that confusing. "七层楼酒店" means seven storeys hotel. So 7th Storey Hotel should be a seven storeys hotel.
Until you read what the articles say.
Take the June 27 ST when the groundbreaking news was announced, "55-year-old hotel to make way for MRT":
The hotel, which actually has nine storeys despite its name, was opened in 1953 by the late property magnate Wee Thiam Siew.So it is actually a nine storeys hotel.
Since only seeing is believing, I went down for a look.
Picture from opposite side of Rochor Road. For half a century, cars and pedestrians have drove or walked past the hotel. How many have counted whether the storeys match up to the name?
From the front side, you count only eight storeys. You can include the rooftop but this is definitely not the convention.
Close-up of the entrance
The above shot is interesting for two reasons.
First, the discrepancy between the English and Chinese names. The name change to New 7th Storey Hotel is not consistently reflected in the Chinese version, i.e. 新七层楼酒店. According to this article, the name change was to rebrand itself targeting backpackers and avoiding competition with international branded hotels. I'm guessing the name change is more of marketing tactic than change in identity. In that case, will the hotel be called New New 7th Storey Hotel in future?
Second, a cursory glance at the ground floor does not tell you that the building is a hotel. For example, it is more logical to think that the building is owned by Ban Leong and has seven storeys. The sign arc is so prominent! According to Peter Chan (quoted by Victor in his blog comments), Ban Leong had a tyre shop at the hotel in the 1960s, which explains the sign. Under the Ban Leong sign, at the center, you'd expect to find the entrance to the building, which happens to be a restaurant in this case (7th Storey 饭店).
I'm not sure how this Ban Leong is related to the Ban Leong known by most people, especially IT geeks. To contact this Ban Leong, you can use the Internet Yellow Pages. Search under Name/Phone for "Ban Leong (1961) Pte Ltd". Guess where is their office?
The Internet Yellow Pages classifies them as a tobacco dealer. Right, they distributed the 555 Brand cigarettes, according to this article. But do they still do tyre business? The closest Ban Leong doing tyre business is this Syarikat Ban Leong in Malaysia. Again, are they related?
Back to exploring the hotel. To find the last storey, you have to do like what Victor wrote in his blog - go to the backside.
The hotel from the back
Indeed, what appears as the rooftop from the front side is not the rooftop yet. The hotel looks different from the front and back. The architectural gems, like the terrace design and "hidden" top level, are not visible from the front face.
From the side, you find one of the hotel's treasure, its spiral staircase.
The hotel's quaint spiral staircase
The hotel is not very big. Take a few steps from the spiral staircase and you're back at the front.
The hotel is next to the road. There is no multi-storey carpark.
This ends my rather short coverage of the hotel. If you want to see photos of the interior, try the blog by Ah Leng or simply the photo gallery on their official website.
As to how the hotel got its name and why the name is still valid despite having nine storeys, I offer you three perspectives.
My initial hypothesis was that the hotel has seven storeys and its name and reality do match. The trick is in the definition. According to wikipedia:
In British English, in reference to typical buildings, the "first floor" is the first floor above the ground; but in American English, it is another name for the ground floor.
Most European countries, Latin American countries, countries of the Commonwealth (except Singapore and parts of Canada, which use the American system), and former British colonies like Hong Kong, follow the same convention as the British. Finland, Norway, Russia, some countries of East Europe, and most of eastern Asia (including China and Japan) have a convention similar to the American system.
Thus, from the front face at least, the hotel has seven storeys (according to British system). The top storey is more of a rooftop space. I'm thinking it is out of bounds to guests. From a 2002 ST article:
In case you ever wondered: the 7th Storey Hotel at 229 Rochor Road doesn't have only seven floors. There are nine levels, including a rooftop space and a tiny shed to house its lift engine..
Though Singapore now follows the American system, it is possible that in the early days, the British system was followed. There was heavy British usage of the hotel - in the 50s and 60s British officers used the top floor for cha cha parties.
How can we test the hypothesis? The most direct way is to check the hotel's lift numbering. In my mind, there are two possible patterns:
G, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, (x)
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, (9)
The first is how the British system could be represented. The second is the familiar Singapore system. Since I'm not sure whether the top storey is accessible by the lift, I put them in brackets.
To verify my guess, I made a second trip to the hotel. This time to the interior.
The hotel is famous for its fully manual "cage" lift. You can read and see photos of it elsewhere. I just show you the lift numbering here. In fact, this is the only photo I've taken of the hotel interior. The staff must be thinking I'm weird.
Storey numbering inside the cage lift
Oh no! Singapore system ....
The 'AL' button got me stuck for some time, until I realize it is the alarm button. Should be lah.
From public domain:
The ST article "Hard to say goodbye" on July 6 told us:
Contrary to its name, the New 7th Storey Hotel has nine storeys. Its operations manager, Ms Shirley Fong, 32, explains that the owner had decided on the name when architectural plans showed that it could be built up to nine storeys.
'The postal code for the hotel then was also just 7,' says Ms Fong, who has been with the hotel for eight years.
The article is unclear on the origin of the name. If the limit is nine storeys, why didn't the owner, presumably Wee Thiam Siew, choose 8th Storey Hotel?
That the postal code was also a 7 is more like a coincidence and auxiliary reason.
Anyway, let's verify whether it was a 7 last time. A shot of an early 1960s street directory:
The current address of the hotel is 229 Rochor Road, Singapore 188452. The hotel has always faced Rochor Road, so it had a postal code of 7 last time, 7 being the postal district of Rochor Road.
Nowadays we use the six digits postal code but postal districts are still used by, not postmen but property agents. District 9 and 10, sounds familiar? Here is a website mapping the old postal districts (28 of them) to the new six digits code. The new code has the format ABXXXX. AB represents the postal sector (81 of them). For the hotel, 18 is the postal sector.
Thus, we see there's nothing amazing about having 7 as the postal code last time. Everybody along Rochor Road and Rochor Canal Road has the same postal code as you.
You could have guessed why I leave this last. Like they say, save the best for the last.
On the day I went into the hotel to take that only shot of the lift interior, I met this cleaning auntie at the ground floor. I call her auntie out of respect, to differentiate her from other young female staff.
If you remember what happened, I went into the hotel to verify my hypothesis. I was expecting the cage lift to use the British system. If so, I considered my mystery solved and case closed.
But I was disappointed. The quaint cage lift does not use the British system. Nevertheless I took a picture of the lift buttons. It shall be evidence of my failed hypothesis.
I did not give up, however. I pretended to look at the framed newspaper articles on the wall beside the entrance. I wasn't really interested in them as I've read them online. All the while, the auntie was doing her cleaning beside me. As she was friendly to me and even helped arrange my photo taking inside the lift (note I wasn't a hotel guest and they disallow non-guests to use the lift for personal reasons), I felt she could help me. So I bidded my time.
I finally mustered the courage to ask her the question. I asked whether the hotel was like that since the beginning and why it is called 7th Storey Hotel. Why the discrepancy?
Without pause, she replied confidently, "因为八楼是 office".
(Translated, it means 'because the 8th storey is the office')
Guys, which perspective has your vote? :P
Jul 5, 2008
As the first Resident of Singapore (1819-23), his picture is plastered over our history books.
Together with Raffles, the man who founded modern Singapore, they are etched in the minds of local students. I remember Farquhar as the balding guy in No. 1 uniform.
However, these two ang mohs who share the same chapter in our books ended up buay gam with each other. Raffles fired Farquhar over differences in administration and the issue was escalated by Farquhar to the Court of Directors of the East India Company. In his rebuttals, Raffles downplayed Farquhar's contributions and portrayed him only as an assistant in the formation of the Singapore settlement.
For his role in building the Settlement, you'd expect at least a road to be named after him. Unfortunately there is none. The last one was expunged about a decade ago.
So where was Farquhar's road?
Its location was brought to my attention while I was checking the old street directory for another blog entry.
Initially I thought it was "Farquhar Beach". The name is too incredulous, so I looked harder. Actually it is Farquhar Street and Beach Lane.
But strange! Why is this street, itself short enough, divided into two stretch? Furthermore, where does Farquhar Street end and Beach Lane start?
The old street directory doesn't help much. With no landmarks, any division along a road is just arbitrary.
Let's look at what the aerial photo has to offer.
Taken in the 1950s. The plot of land is bounded by North Bridge Road(left), Rochor Road(top), Beach Road(right) and Tan Quee Lan Street(bottom). Farquhar Street and Beach Lane runs along the middle. Bernard Street is also visible.
I can see two possible divisions. If we walk down from 7th Storey Hotel to Beach Road, there are two lanes on the left that will lead you to Rochor Road. So there could be a street sign on the shophouse wall that says "Beach Lane" on either T-junction.
Interestingly, Farquhar Street and Beach Lane are also known by their Hokkien names. According to Toponymics, Farquhar Street is known as go cho lut bo bue hang and Beach Lane as thih pa sat khut thau hang.
I'm not that familiar with dialects, so I'm guessing the former means "梧槽路 dead end" and the latter mean something like "to go 铁巴刹, walk there".
The thih pa sat (铁巴刹) is Clyde Terrace Market which I'd probably cover in a later post. The association of Farquhar Street with Rochor Road (梧槽路) is a bit confusing until we realize Bernard Street is also known by the same name.
However, it is still puzzling why Bernard Street is a blind alley off Rochor Road. The street is wide enough for cars to pass. From the old street directory and aerial photo, it looks possible to drive your car from Tan Quee Lan Street to Rochor Road via Bernard Street. Or vice versa if the street is one way.
In fact, I found evidence of double yellow lines along Bernard Street, Farquhar Street and Beach Lane. Not sure whether they were added later. Still, it is pretty amazing to see road markings on expunged roads.
Left: Bernard Street junction with Tan Quee Lan Street. Right: The view after turning into Bernard Street.
From road to pavement. Today pedestrians walk on it, but still possible for vehicles to travel to reach the backlane of New 7th Storey Hotel.
Left: Farquhar Street from Bernard Street. Right: Farquhar Street from Beach Lane side. In both pictures, New 7th Storey Hotel is visible
Opened in May 2006, this 6500 cubic metres balloon flying at 180m (48 storeys) is the world's largest tethered helium balloon.
Source: UcanFly website. The balloon is operated by the same guys who brought us Duck and Hippo tours.
If you take the Balloon up, you would be able to make out the outline of the three roads. But do hurry, because the Balloon will operate until August 2008....
Back to the ground. At its junction with Beach Road, Beach Lane, or what was once Beach Lane, is still visible.
Left: Beach Lane. Right: Beach Lane close up, note the yellow lines again.
Looking at the photos again, i realize Beach Lane is not as well preserved as its neighbors. Only part of the road is visible. Further up, the hotel actually uses Farquhar Street for its backlane dining experience.
From research, I found out Beach Lane is known also as 面线巷. Translated, it would be "Mee Sua Lane". Perhaps this place was famous for Mee Sua last time.
Back to the topic. I started this post about William Farquhar, so let's end it with him. Do you know how Bernard Street got its name?
The street got its name after Francis James Bernard who held multiple titles like Master Attendant (1819-20), Chief of Police (1820-24) and also owner of Singapore Chronicle, Singapore's first newspaper.
But wait! What has he got to do with William Farquhar??
Simple .... he was the Colonel's son-in-law. :P