May 26, 2009

Amazing Red Dot Quiz (3) - Where is this old road in Singapore?

Following the footsteps of lazy old bloggers (example and example), I am putting up a quiz because like them, I have been too busy lately to update the blog. I will use the 'sure-win' formula of plagiarizing other people's idea but will choose the category carefully. Mountains are magnificent to look at but the 'where' is hard to guess. Old roads fare significantly better as in they attract more people to anyhow whack an answer. Besides, I don't want to shamelessly run reruns.

Here is a photo taken way back in 2004. It was a memorable heritage mission because I borrowed dad's car for the trip. I had a chance to see how the old road was like out of public eyes. Look closely at the old road extending into the background and answer the following questions:


1. What is the name of this old road?

2. Where is the exact location my photo was taken?

PS: The signboards are digitally treated so as not to give the game away.

May 10, 2009

How I 'Sneaked' into Malaysia

The (re)capture of a sleeping Mas Selamat in Skudai incites as many questions as there are applauses. How did he escape from a maximum detention centre and the watchful eyes of our border patrol into neighboring Malaysia?

I do not know how our fugitive sneaked into Malaysia. But I can tell you how I 'sneaked' into Malaysia - with an empty white immigration card and no immigration chop - on May 3, 2009.

I have always wanted to 'test' the Malaysian immigration at its weakest point. For years and perhaps unknown to many, Malaysia and Singapore had their CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine) operations in the same building in downtown Singapore. The building, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, was (and still is) the southern terminus of the Malaysian Railway (KTM, or Keretapi Tanah Melayu). It was a security risk for Singapore as weapons or drugs could be smuggled in from anywhere along the track. A fugitive like Mas Selamat could also hop on a train from anywhere along the track and slip out of Singapore. In 1998, Singapore finally shifted her CIQ to WTCP (Woodlands Train Checkpoint).

Today the sequence of immigration clearance is illogical because Malaysia still has her CIQ at Tanjong Pagar Station. You clear Malaysia immigration at Tanjong Pagar before you clear Singapore immigration at Woodlands, so technically you enter Malaysia before you exit Singapore. For entry into Singapore, the sequence of clearance is per normal - Malaysia has her CIQ at Johore Bahru Railway Station for outgoing trains. There is no immigration clearance for arriving trains at Tanjong Pagar.

Here is what happened on May 3.

Teh Tarik

The 'mission' started with a cup of teh-tarik. I decided sipping teh-tarik was a good way to start the day.

Teh Tarik

Actually the teh-tarik was only a cover. While enjoyable, my real purpose was to survey the area beyond the Malaysian Immigration from the arrival platform.

Where is my train, why has it not arrived?

0815 Gate

I can't wait to escape from Singapore. I finished my teh-tarik hurriedly and went to board the 0815 train at the departure platform.

On the noticeboard, it was written:
I proceeded to immigration without the immigration form.

Malaysia Immigration

There was a queue due to a tour group. I did not find the immigration form so I continued queueing. How would the immigration officer react when I present my passport sans immigration form?

At the counter, the officer did ask me, rather casually, about the form to confirm I did not have it. I shook my head. She returned my passport with the immigration form in it.

Train at different platform

The train was not visible previously because it was parked at another platform. I hopped onto it. My way to freedom.

I alighted at Woodlands Train Checkpoint to clear Singapore immigration. I had already 'cleared' Malaysia immigration at the railway station so the sequence of clearance is illogical.

With the train chugging along the causeway, you know you have found your way to freedom.

Johore Bahru Railway Station

The train will stop at Johore Bahru Station to pick up passengers. You can alight and run off in the direction of Skudai.

My May 3 journey was a novel way to enter Malaysia. For the first time, I tried entering Malaysia without a immigration card and succeeded. According to the Immigration Department of Malaysia,
A visitor is required to complete the Arrival/Departure Card (Imm.26) upon arrival at the gazette entry points .. A visitor must present his/her passport together with the duly completed arrival/departure card to the Immigration officer on duty and he/she must ensure that the passport or travel document is endorsed with the appropriate pass before leaving the immigration counter.
From young, we were reminded to check our passport for the white card (arrival half kept by the immigration officer) and the chop. The visitor is tasked to "ensure the passport .. is endorsed with the appropriate pass". In a sense the Malaysian immmigration is absolved of responsibility so the anecdotal tale goes that when relationship with our neighbour turns sour, their immigration officer may 'sabo' you by not chopping or leaving you the departure half of the card.

After clearing Malaysia immigration at Tanjong Pagar, I took the following picture of my empty immigration form/white card.


The novelty of the situation struck me. I was trying to get used to my 'fugitive' status (there were other distractions as well). The thought of checking for the chop eluded me. In fact the chop escaped my attention until my journey home (eh, do you seriously believe I ran off to Skudai?)

As I wrote before, Malaysia has her CIQ at Johore Bahru Station for outgoing trains. There, their immigration officers will board the train and keep your departure half of the card but they will not chop your passport. In fact they board the train with nothing more than a pen. With the pen, they find the remaining passengers and sign their passport.

The chop returned to haunt me on my return trip. Usually I will slot the white card in the correct page (the one with chop) to facilitate the clearing process. At Johore Bahru Station, I realized I could not find the chop! The discovery almost freaked me out.

My passport in his hand, I could see the immigration officer searching for the chop. He flipped the pages but did not question me. That was a surprise. He then wrote something on my passport.

This was what he wrote:

No Immigration Chop

I heaved a sigh of relief. I was cleared to leave Malaysia.

From our perspective, CIQ operations at Tanjong Pagar Station can only be described as lacking. There was no H1N1 temperature check, not to mention any X-ray check on luggage for prohibited items. The white card was not readily available. They did not chop my passport. I'm not sure whether they scanned my passport for that would be the only record of me entering Malaysia.

May 6, 2009

How did George Photo get its Name?

I do not remember exactly how and when I got to know about George Photo. From young, my family made the occasional trip to Changi Village for food and recreation. At the junction of Changi Village and Telok Paku Road, I would never fail to catch a glimpse of this photo shop at the corner of Blk 1 – just to make sure it is there. I have never ventured into George Photo, perhaps it never struck me this quaint little shop would be gone one day.

As I grew older, the car made less left turns into Changi Village/Netheravon Road from Loyang Avenue. Previously we used to frequent the zi char stall at Blk 5 for dinner. We also swam and ate at the Civil Service Club. Nowadays, we only eat at the food centre next to the bus terminal and our car is always parked behind Blk 1. Little wonder I did not notice the passing of George Photo in February 2007.


No heritage adventure to share or second shot to show today, instead I will attempt to solve the mystery of how George Photo got its name. The question was asked by reader The Bakerwoman in her comments on Good Morning Yesterday. In fact she had a few questions. Snippets:
I would like to know his father's actual name.....was it also George Chang Snr? Who named the shop George Photo? Was it George Snr or the present George Jnr? Did a fire break out in the 60's within the block 1 vicinity? Was it also called George Photo in the 60's?

I conducted my own research and here is what I have found from websites and books.

George Photo in the 1960s

According to Peter in his comments, “Blk 1 was a row of zinc roof shops” and the current blocks were only built in the 1970s. From this report, George Photo should be located to the west of the main road, i.e. opposite Blk 1. The same report also shows the shop in its former zinc roof glory:

There is good reason to believe the shop was already called George Photo in the 1960s.

The Disastrous Fire of 1970

Mr George Chang also wrote of a disastrous fire in 1970:

I’m unsure of the extent of the damage. But if everyone suffered losses, it must be serious. I wonder how George Photo was affected. Were some precious photos of Changi lost to the fire?

Actual Name of George Chang’s Father

According to Peter in his comments, Mr George Chang’s father is George Chang, i.e. both father and son are named George. This I could not verify through research.

But I may have found the actual chinese name of George Chang's father. I say 'may' because nagging question remain.

The Changi Photographer

I do not know George Chang personally. Unlike the old-timers and NS men who dropped by, I would not have known about the shop if not for its connection to wartime history.In August 1942, there was the Selarang Barracks Incident and this historical 'Great Squeeze' where 15,000 POWs were crammed into barracks designated for 1200 is documented in pictures taken by an Australian POW.

The POW is George Aspinall (picture below) and he took other secret shots (unauthorized of course) beside those of Selarang Barracks Incident. One wonders how he lived to tell his tale. The Sony Cybershot T50 hadn't been invented yet for sure.

How was George Photo related to wartime history? As a matter of fact, George Aspinall knew George Chang's father personally. A mention of their relationship is staple in any extended report on George Photo, for example the Electric New Paper of 16 February 2007,

Mr Chang's father befriended him and before long, was teaching him the tricks of the darkroom trade.
The darkroom trade was to prove useful to George Aspinall later, when he was a POW (exactly how, read here).

I do not know George Aspinall personally, but I've read the book by Tim Bowden on him - Changi Photographer: George Aspinall's Record of Captivity. I re-read the book for my research.

George Chang's Father

On page 19, George Aspinall recounted how he met George Chang's father:
I had become a keen photographer during that time, but I didn't know much about processing photographs. I got to know a Chinese photographer called Wong Yeow, who had a photographic shop in Changi Village.
If you read further, you'd realize Wong Yeow and Mr Chang's father are the same person. Presumably, George Chang's father is Chang Wong Yeow. We also read about an unnamed photographic shop.

The Origin of George Photo

Here is where research gets interesting. George Aspinall revealed how George Photo got its name! Here is a scan from the book (page 19):

So George Photo was named after George Aspinall, according to Sue (Chang). That was what I wrote in my comments on Good Morning Yesterday.

If George Aspinall was surprised at the name, we can logically conclude the unnamed photographic shop in 1942 was not called George Photo. Perhaps the shop had a Chinese name and our Caucasian protagonist could not read the Chinese characters.

The Nagging Questions

Have I solved the mystery? Well, I believe so, but I'm not sure. I may have solved the mystery, however nagging questions remain. The jigsaw pieces do not fit nicely.

1. George Aspinall did not call his friend Chang Wong Yeow. As you read page 19 of the book, you get the impression Wong is the surname and Yeow the personal name:
I used to look forward to going down to Changi Village to see Wong.
It happens that Wong is a common surname, but try substituting your brother or father's middle name. I shall be bold and use Lam Chun See as example (don't kill me please). Normally you'd say "I'm going down to see See", not "I'm going down to see Chun". Ok, I know the former is funny as well (see see?), but well .......

2. I have not met Mr George Chang, but according to this 2007 article, he is in his 50s. Assuming 55 years old, he would be born in the 1950s. Following the usual generation gap rule of 30 years, his dad (Chang Wong Yeow) would be in his late teens or early 20s during the Japanese Occupation. Makes sense right? After all George Aspinall was of NS age in 1942. People in the same age group tend to 'click' better. George Aspinall summarized their relationship, "we became quite good friends".

But wait, read how George Aspinall described Wong Yeow:
We became quite friendly. He was an amiable bloke in his mid-forties and he taught me quite a bit about processing film and printing it. I used to spend about two nights a week there for the first five weeks we were in Singapore.
Mid-forties?! That would mean Wong Yeow was born at the turn of the century. While not logically impossible, this would mean Wong Yeow was around 60 at the birth of his son George Chang!

In contrast, Sue's age makes more sense. She was born around 1934, when Wong Yeow was around 40.

3. The daughter Sue presents another difficulty. She was the 'missing link' between George Chang and Wong Yeow but never mentioned in sources. Does George Chang have a sister Sue? You get this impression George Chang took over the business from his dad directly.

According to the book, Wong Yeow died in 1971 and presumably Sue took over the business. The young George Chang might have helped, but according to the 2007 article,
Now, after taking over and running the shop for 31 years, Mr Chang will close shop because of poor business.
From the context, Mr Chang took over the shop from his father. Counting the years, that would be in 1976, but Wong Yeow had died in 1971. Who was the boss during the interim years?

4. This last one has to do with George Chang. This is purely speculation, but I have this nagging feeling George Chang, George Photo and George Aspinall are related. If George Photo was named after George Aspinall, what could be the reason? Did Wong Yeow meet George Aspinall again after the war? Was George Chang named after George Aspinall?