Feb 28, 2009

From Boon Lay to Joo Koon: Station Open House and the New End of the West Line

Pioneer Station - To Joo Koon
It must have been during the annual conscription gathering at Jurong West more than a year ago that I saw new MRT tracks after Boon Lay. For many years Boon Lay marked the western end of the East West Line. Opened in 1990, it was the last station to do so, but its status as the western terminus had since been etched in my memory.

Imagine my surprise when I came to know about the completion of the Boon Lay MRT Extension, starting with Open House at Pioneer and Joo Koon Stations on 21st February. Amongst other things, this means Boon Lay will relinquish its western terminus status. A new end of the west line is born.

At the invitation of azmee, I joined the guys in Singapore Railway Forum for the Open House at Pioneer.

Boon Lay MRT Station Notice Boon Lay MRT Station Platform

On station platform at Boon Lay, arrangements were made to facilitate the transition. From 15 Feb, passengers were not allowed to board the train at platform B. As the western terminal station (MRT lingo: withdrawal station), trains would stop at either platform and continue the journey back (eastwards), assuming they were not withdrawn from service. This would change with new stations after Boon Lay.

Pioneer MRT StationPioneer MRT Station

Pioneer MRT Station EntranceEntrance A

At Pioneer, I was surprised to see trains arriving at regular intervals. As it turned out, the trains first arrived at Boon Lay, passengers were evicted, and the empty trains continued their journey to Pioneer.

Open House BannerOpen House Banner at Entrance A

Open House BannerWell-Wishers from the Kopitiam

The Open House must be a darn solid affair. There were banners shouting “come and visit us” as well as a congratulatory banner from the kopitiam below the station that said, “Congratulations on the opening of the new Pioneer MRT Station”. This is so fake, what they mean is “Let’s congratulate ourselves for the good business in the days ahead”.

EW28 PioneerEW 28 Pioneer

Pioneer MRT Station PlatformPioneer MRT Station Platform

One of the highlights was the free train ride between Pioneer and Joo Koon. The fare gate was not in use. The empty trains from Boon Lay would pick up visitors at Pioneer and continued on to Joo Koon. That was my first time as a non-paying passenger.The MRT track was still in its pristine condition and it would be until somebody decided to soil it red with his blood. There is something distinctively different about the track at Pioneer, see if you can spot it (hint: colour).

Joo Koon MRT StationJoo Koon MRT Station

At Joo Koon - the new end of the west line – I alighted and found myself in a similar station like Pioneer but surrounded by factories. Pioneer is surrounded by flats. The contrast is striking.

Pioneer MRT Station Privacy MeasurePrivacy Measure at Pioneer

Indeed, the block outside the station is so near that a screen was constructed at the platform to stop prying eyes. There is a similar one at Marsiling MRT Station. It is ironic that the station was designed to provide “commuters with a panoramic view of the surrounding areas”.

Pioneer MRT Station Fire EscapeFire Escape Route

Security CamerasSecurity Cameras (left and right of entrance)

Pioneer MRT Station registered a few firsts in my mind. The escape route outside the station connects the platform to the ground floor. I don’t remember any station with such design. SMRT has also deployed an overwhelming number of security cameras outside the station entrance, a fact I still find amusing.

As you read this, the Boon Lay MRT Extension would have opened officially (official launch on 28 Feb). These few days, you may have noticed Boon Lay ‘disappearing’ from signs and notices. What was once Boon Lay is now Joo Koon – the new end of the west line.

There will be a change in the ‘train habit’ of commuters. To secure a seat, the more ‘kiasu’ folks from Boon Lay will take the train to Pioneer or even Joo Koon, so that they will be sitting comfortably when the train returns to Boon Lay. Woe to the folks from Lakeside who used to play the same trick.

The following SMRT map, taken during Open House, is antique now. Boon Lay has made way for Joo Koon, which is destined to escape the attention showered on her more ‘happening’ cousins like Pasir Ris, Marina View, Punggol and HarbourFront.

Boon Lay, Last Look
(Edit: Part 2 of the series - about games, babes and goodie bag - is up)

Feb 22, 2009

2nd Shot: Istana Domain and Government House 1920

Istana Domain and Government House 1920

I had great fun during Istana Open House 2009. One of my activities was to capture the Second Shot above. As a first-time visitor to the Istana, I did not know the location, only that the Istana is in the background. Luckily my first Second Shot location was on top of a slope and I reckoned it is the same slope in the artefact from 1920 (above).

A Second Shot in the Istana is challenging. You battle it out with the terrain (due to my own ineptitude at navigation), the largely non-Singaporean crowd and of course …. the police. Check out the Istana map. The distinctive fork-road is visible on the centre of the map. To the south, where the photo was taken, the area is not accessible to the public. I was standing on forbidden ground.

Little wonder the man in blue kept on looking at my general direction. I must have looked behaved like a terrorist moving around the spot with a paper in hand trying to find the best position for a “shot”.

Second Shot location
Attracting attention from the police.

The continuous monitoring was making me uneasy. Besides, I was not supposed to be on publicly inaccessible ground. My next Second Shot target was thus dropped.

Government House 1900Source: National Archives of Singapore. I would have got this by moving to the left of my initial position. Of course, by this time, the men-in-blue would have pounced on me from all directions.

By the way, can anybody recognize whether the same tree is in my Second Shot? I am referring to both trees at the centre. I doubt they are even of the same species.

(Edit: There is something strange about my unattempted Second Shot target above. Can you spot it? Turns out I was wrong about the location, i.e. I wouldn't have got it even if I moved to the left of my initial position. Luckily I never tried - the men-in-blue would have still pounced on me, so much for risking my life to take an impossible Second Shot. Thanks to my friend Johnny for spotting it.)

Feb 17, 2009

Double Happiness: A Grateful Reader to a Grateful Author

Previously I blogged about receiving the caterpillar butterfly award from Seen This Scene That. It was a joy to receive an award – any award – from one who is much more established, never mind I was first from bottom of his list.

Today I’m blogging about something more personal and which affected me no less deeply than the award. It was a pleasant surprise to receive, with tears of joy streaming down my cheek, the following email from a stranger:

Greetings to you,

I was browsing through pages of old London Railways subterranean stations when I decided to check out what Singapore had to offer in that respect. That was when I stumbled onto your excellent blogsite. Let me congratulate you on your most informative and personal website as well as for taking the time and effort to document the crumbling remains of Singapore's past.

As a fellow history enthusiast, I have found it a shame that

Singapore's history and heritage is so often left on the sidelines in favour of "progress" and I try my best in documenting whatever is left of it on film (or pixels). Alas, time is short and the bulldozer's blade vicious but we try our best. I have been concentrating my efforts on the Pasir Panjang side as that is where I was raised and have been studying now for the past 13 years, primary, secondary and now polytechnic. As a former military district, the pickings of places are rich and diverse. However with the recent development of the Biopolis and a condominium estate, they are in danger of being lost forever.

I urge you to carry on your task in order that our peers and the generation behind us will know what Singapore was like without the glitzy shopping centres and shiny condominiums. Thank you.

Best Regards,

Samuel Koh

An email written in impeccable English from a grateful reader (subject of his email). No, I did not make this up.

I used to think only big players have their share of secret admirers, fans and supporters. Now it seems like start-ups have readers as well, never mind what my Google Analytics is telling me.

As much as we like to be showered with accolades, I was blown away by this particular line in his email – as a fellow history enthusiast.

Thank you Samuel. You are reading this from a grateful author.

Feb 12, 2009

Double Happiness: From Caterpillar to Butterfly

On February 11, 2009 10:55PM, the unexpected happened.

I received an award!

Seen This Scene That who constantly exhort us to see more places, live more life awarded me the Butterfly Award for the coolest blogs he ever knows. I mean at least one person in this world thinks this blog is cool – how cool is that?

The award has a dubious origin. I typed “Butterfly Award” in Google but could not find any official website. I’m inclined to think there’s none or it was started by some lepidopterologist who had nothing better to do while waiting for his catch.

According to the rules of the award:
  • You are to put the logo anywhere in our page or post.

  • You are to add a link to the person who awarded it to you.

  • Link 10 other bloggers of whom you want to give this award to.

The first and second are done. The third is ….. well, I don’t care.

Lady Luck must be besotted with me. There is no rational reason for me to be one of the “10 other bloggers”. To be listed along with the Greats like Chun See (of Good Morning Yesterday fame) and Victor (of Taking Up the Challenge fame) is an honour, never mind that I’m actually last in the list.

I’m not inclined to think Seen This Scene That made a mistake. More likely he was on the 10th blog when he chanced upon my comment in his email. Or he found out about my low readership in Google Analytics and wanted to cheer me up. Or, beyond my wildest dreams, the list’s inverted like in the Star Awards so I’m actually the coolest blog he has ever known (like they say save the best for the last). In any case, I’m deserving according to him.

I’m not so sure I deserve it though. Maybe he thinks my blog template is cool, not the content. I’m quite ashamed of my blog content at times, because they read like nothing but crap. (oh, the next thing you say is my pictures are cool right?)

I accept the Butterfly Award. But I don’t think I truly deserve it. I shall be more humble and accept some kind of Caterpillar Award. For now.

Photo taken from Mom on a Wire.

Feb 9, 2009

2nd Shot: Government House 1930

Government House 1930

Photo taken during Istana Open House 2009. Made a beeline for the spot once inside the Istana Domain.

This was my first time in the Istana. It was fun trying to locate the places from old photographs – consider that my orientation. The search for old Istana photos constituted the bulk of my research. The research into Istana’s history was done after the trip.

Feb 2, 2009

Istana Open House 2009: A Palace and the Splendour of Temasek

My reason for visiting the Istana was twofold. After years of repeating the happy-new-year-where-is-my-red-packet regime, I decided it was time for a change. Moreover the Open House provided a rare chance for a glimpse inside the sprawling garden that is the official residence of the President of Singapore. What is the Istana? Just as our President trounces the US President in salary, the Istana triumphs the White House in acres. Does the President need such a big house?

Genesis of a Palace

Istana Singapore

The Istana was born on 1867. The year should ring a bell if you were an attentive history student like Yours Truly (I can even remember that momentous page in my history textbook which shows the governor seated with his council). On April Fool’s Day the same year, the Straits Settlements comprising Singapore, Malacca and Penang became a Crown Colony, taking orders directly from the Colonial Office in London instead of the Governor-General of India. The Governor, in office since February, was promoted in stature if not in position. He could now stop listening to bullshit from British India have more autonomy. As a Crown Colony, the Governor was assisted by the Executive and Legislative Councils.

The governor was Sir Harry Ord and the Istana, his brainchild. The Istana was meant to be his residence. The first governor’s residence was on Bukit Larangan, i.e. Fort Canning, built after the founding by Raffles but demolished in 1859. A governor was too important to be made homeless, so arrangements were made for leased housing on Grange Hill and later Leonie Hill. But as Harry tried to show - even before HDB - home ownership is important.

So the dissatisfied Harry acquired 106 acres of land from Charles Prinsep’s nutmeg plantation and ordered a proper Government House be built. The design was finalised in March and the foundation stone laid (by Lady Ord) in July 1867. But Harry was not without his detractors. Some of his colleagues thought he was too extravagant. To pull out real figures, the initial building fund was at $100,000. The final sum amounted to $185,000. The Istana was completed in 1869.

Istana Singapore

Shoot and be shot (by my camera). The Open House saw many visitors whipping out their cameras. Many were posing for the camera so I just conveniently shot them. For example, here and here. They look pretty unsingaporean.

Istana Singapore

Locals were the minority during the Open House. Young ladies like these make my day and they might not be locals. There is no foolproof way to identify a local unless they “open their golden mouth” (金口一开).

Istana Singapore

Look! A giant in front of the Istana.

Glory of Temasek for the Second Man

Sri Temasek

To the south of the Istana lies a two-storey detached house also built in 1869. Called Sri Temasek – Splendour of Temasek – it was the residence of the Colonial Secretary. I’m not sure of its genesis, whether the Colonial Secretary ordered it built or because the Governor and his Second Man should live close together.

In any case, Sri Temasek is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Singapore. But just like the Istana, no Prime Minister ever lived inside as their home. In fact it was not used for many years and fell into disrepair, finally undergoing restoration between 2006 and 2008. The 2008 National Day message was delivered there.

So, unlike the US President, ours do not stay in a ‘White House’. (Edit: My friend Johnny told me a very simple reason for this - US presidents typically stay in another state while ours just stay in another estate) Perhaps no succeeding presidents after Yusof Ishak wanted to ‘spoil market’. Or perhaps like Harry, they believe in home ownership (governors last time were rightly, expatriates; they returned to Britain after their term or took up position in other colonies. Our presidents are all citizens and they are deeply rooted in Singapore.). Or perhaps both buildings are symbols of opulence, good for ceremonies and entertaining foreign guests, but no president should ever stay in a palace (Istana is Malay for palace).

Today, the Istana houses the office of the President and the Prime Minister. The latter (Prime Minister’s Office, PMO) is in the Istana Annex.

Sri Temasek

No access to Sri Temasek during Open House. Luckily there was a public lavatory nearby and this was as close I could get. The previous photo of Sri Temasek and its picturesque lawn was taken from non-public area, with a men-in-blue staring from afar.

The Villa, for Whom?

Istana Villa

Visitors will walk past a house on the way to the Istana. Called the Istana Villa, it was built in 1938. Not the residence of the President or Prime Minister, maybe for the butler? Just joking, I really do not know its purpose. It could be used to house foreign heads of state, a guesthouse?

Sri Temasek and Istana Villa were out of bounds during the Open House. Men-in-blue were stationed inconspicuously nearby to stop any unauthorised access.

Military Guardroom for the Guards?

Military Guardroom

This is the military guardroom of the Istana. It could be used by the sentries at the Istana Main Entrance. SAF Provost Unit supplies one unit of 20 guards monthly to perform ceremonial guard duties at the Istana.

Istana Guards

Hastily snapped this outside the guardroom. They were probably relieving the two sentries at the main gate. Photo was taken at 1016, so when are guards supposed to relieve duties?