Jul 31, 2009

Charlie and His Chocolate Factories at Tanglin Halt

I'm slowly beginning to love Tanglin Halt. It is just not your typical housing estate. I tell you why today.

Previously I blogged about a potential exploding gas tank in Tanglin Halt. This PUB gas tank stood menacingly at one corner of Queenstown Chap Lau. Towering above the 10 storey blocks, she terrorized more than a few residents and at least one visitor to the estate. Luckily she was removed during the late 90s or early 2000s before she could turn into another Chernobyl. For those who lived in fear, this was something to cheer for.

At the same corner of Queenstown Chap Lau but on a neighboring plot stood another landmark that did not give fear but joy to its resident at its inception. This was the Van Houten chocolate factory next to block 80. Living next to a chocolate factory has its privileges. From one resident,

"The chocolate factory started operations around 1964. At least twice a day, the factory would emit the most aromatic wafts of rich chocolatey smells into the air."
(source of quote: 10-Stories Queenstown Through The Years by Calvin Low. Incidentally Calvin was the author of the quote.)

Picture from source. I remember fondly their rectangular box chocolates. Every feast (from the box) was a sinful occassion and plagued me with guilt. It was not sinful because I'm weight conscious (I can never put on weight even with a slouchy office job). It was because their chocolates were irresistable and I often went back (to the box) for more. And this sinful act was committed not in my house, because we seldom buy them, but in houses of relatives. So one by one these egg-shaped chocolates ended up in my mouth. Today Ferro Rocher has largely replaced Van Houten chocolates as gifts or snacks during Chinese New Year.

Today, to experience the "rich chocolatey smells" from a factory, you probably enroll in a chocolate making course with your loved one. I have never attended such a course but judging from the happy face of the host artiste in those Channel / U variety 'edutainment' shows and drama serials, the aroma must be pretty irresistible. My only experience with a chocolate factory was a humble but gratifying one. See picture below.

Picture from source. With innocent childlike wonder, I dipped my strawberries and mash mallows into a fondue and they turned into chocolates.

Do you know these chocolate fountains are available for sales and rental? For a sale price of USD $169.99 , you can buy the above fountain and setup your own chocolate factory. Oh, fruits are not included.

According to my research, the Van Houten chocolate factory was next to block 80. But where exactly was it? The fact that block 80 is at the edge of the housing estate and beside the old Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate does not it any easier.

Google Map showing Block 80 and old Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate at Tanglin Halt Road and Tanglin Halt Close.

From my research, I also learned that the industrial estate had another chocolate factory. No, not Cadbury or Ferrero, but a company called Sheng Huo Enterprise. My first reaction was, who ever heard of Sheng Huo Chocolates?!

Nevertheless, I decided to embark on a 'second shot' mission to find out exactly where the two chocolate factories used to be located. I could not find any photos of the said Van Houten factory, regrettably. So my mission was focused on Sheng Huo.

Even though I can't deduce the location of Van Houten factory through various 'second shot' techniques, I decided to survey the plot of land between block 80 and Tanglin Halt Road.

Block 80, Tanglin HaltBlock 80, Tanglin Halt
Left: Taken from junction of Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive. I think that is some road work or sewage work in the foreground. Block 80 is rightmost in the background.
Right: Block 80 in background center. Taken along Tanglin Halt Road.

For Sheng Huo, I was luckier. I found photos and even though I had no idea where they were taken in Tanglin Halt, I could apply the various 'second shot' techniques. These techniques work mainly because while the factories were demolished, the 10-storey Tanglin Halt flats (Chap Lau) are still standing. If you see a particular arrangement of Chap Lau in the background, that can often guide you to the photographer's location.

A simple example.

Opening of Great Malaysia Textile Manufacturing Company Limited at Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate
Block 79, 80, Tanglin Halt
Top: From National Archives of Singapore. Old Guard Dr Goh Keng Swee officiating at factory opening, 1967. But we are more interested in what is visible in the background - Sheng Huo Enterprise Ltd. Notice the Chap Lau further back.
Bottom: Today it is hard to get a good shot of Chap Lau as you go further into the industrial estate from Commonwealth Drive. In the background is block 79, similar to the Chap Lau in the 1967 photo. Tanglin Halt Road is running across.

What happens if Chap Lau cannot be seen in the old photo? Suck thumb lor!

So here is the more advanced example, when Chap Lau cannot be seen. This example uses pattern matching.

Possible Sheng Huo Location
Pattern matching 'second shot'. The 1966 archive photo shows the opening of Sheng Huo Enterprise Limited at Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate. Tanglin Halt Road running across in the 2009 photo. The stone pattern on both gate pillars are a perfect match. Gotcha!

From just two sets of 'second shot' photos, I have established the location of Sheng Huo along Tanglin Halt Road. Of course it doesn't take a genius to come out with the 'second shot' techniques.

Just to play safe, I checked the other gate pillars to make sure they are not identical, i.e. came from the same pattern template.

Sheng Huo Gate PillarSheng Huo Gate Pillar
Left: The other stone pillar in the 1966 archive photo.
Right: Another stone pillar from the gate nearer to Commonwealth Drive.

After my field trip, I did some quick research and ascertained the address of Sheng Huo Enterprise Ltd - No. 481 Tanglin Halt Road. According to SLA map, the location could very well be where my photo were taken.

SLA map showing possible location of chocolate factory. No. 482 is marked. I think the typical odd-even numbering is used because No. 482 is on one side whereas No. 475 and No. 479 are on the other.

From the time I read about the name Sheng Huo, its pronunciation has been a nagging question at the back of my head. Not knowing Sheng Huo Chocolate is bad enough, I can't take it when I can't pronounce its name from the English source. Sheng Huo Enterprise sounds like a 'cina company' and the name looks hanyu pinyin. For a long time, I thought Sheng Huo is read as 盛货. Hey, don't you think this is a nice name for business?

Then I discovered i was wrong. The answer turned out to be quite amusing and unexpected. I never thought it would be that simple.

Sheng Huo Chocolate Factory Official Opening
Congratulatory notices in Jan 1966 newspaper on opening of Sheng Huo Chocolate Factory at Tanglin Halt (生活企业有限公司东陵驿朱古力厂).

This article started off with the Van Houten chocolate factory at Tanglin Halt which I did not manage to find. Then I found the location of Sheng Huo in near proximity to block 80. Could they be the same factory after all? Perhaps there was no Sheng Huo Chocolate and Sheng Huo actually produced Van Houten chocolates in Singapore. So the "aromatic wafts of rich chocolatey smells" described by Calvin Low came from Sheng Huo.

Sheng Huo Gate Pillar
Fallen stone pillar from one of Sheng Huo's gates pointing to - can you believe it - block 80.

Jul 22, 2009

NLB Book Sale 2009, Grab 'em fast!

Thanks Roy for the heads up

Coming August, NLB will be organizing their 10th Library Book Sale at Singapore Expo. Library books are available for grab at bargain prices.

Here are the details:

Price of books:
Books in all four official languages will be on sale.
  • English and Chinese books will cost $2 per copy;
  • Malay and Tamil books will cost $1 per copy;
  • English and Chinese magazines will cost $5 for a pack of 10 issues; and
  • Malay and Tamil magazines will cost $5 for a pack of 20 issues.
Limit of purchase:
Each customer can buy up to a maximum of 60 items (a pack of 10 or 20 issues of magazines is considered as one item).

Categorisation of books:
The books are categorised under ‘Adults’, ‘Young People’ and ‘Children’. Under each group, they are sub-divided into ‘Fiction’ and ‘Non-Fiction’.

Magazines are categorised under the four official languages, ie English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

Payment can only be made by Cash, Nets or CashCard.

(Taken from source)

Jul 19, 2009

2nd Shot: PUB Gas Tank at Tanglin Halt

PUB Gas Tank at Tanglin Halt

Like yg, I was also given an assignment by Chun See. In his blog on Commonwealth Drive, he asked where exactly the PUB Gas Tank used to be located in Queenstown. I remember seeing it in the background of a railway photo taken at Tanglin Halt but because I'm unfamiliar with the place, I could not pinpoint its exact location. Luckily Philip Chew came to the rescue. Following his lead, I explored Tanglin Halt on Saturday and here is my 'result sheet'.

PUB Gas Tank at Tanglin Halt
Photo taken from corner staircase of Block 78 'Chap Lau' (10 storey). I was like leaning out of the corridor for the shot. If you've been to these old blocks, you know their corridor parapet wall can be pretty low, there's no handrail to grab if you lean over and oh boy please don't look down! You're hearing this from someone tall and who has acrophobia.

PUB Gas Tank at Tanglin Halt
Here is another photo I found from the archives showing the same gas tank. Photo taken below Block 78. On the left is Block 79 (with the railway running behind).

Like Peter, Philip has a great memory. Or else how could he remember the place after 20 years?
"I was quite familiar with the area at one time. I have not revisited the place for more than 20 years. The gas tank was beside Blk 79 nearby the railway line."
Thanks for the lead, Philip!

Like Philip, Peter also has a great memory. However, unlike Philip who talked about happy things like ice-cream and female clerk, Peter's memory of the place was of the unhappy kind:
"I used to have fears as a kid about passing this place - maybe in the early 1960s. There was a stench in the air from the coking gas released to prevent built-up of pressure. I had this phobia that the gas tank might explode."
I hope I'm wrong but why was the gas tank situated in a densely populated area knowing that it could explode? Even Chernobyl was not situated in a city.

This fear of the gas tank exploding was shared by residents of the neighboring blocks as well. In Laokokok's article on Kampong Bugis, the granddaddy of (exploding) gas tanks in Singapore, reader Tisu Girl commented:
"There used to be another of this big blue gaswork tank just opposite my old house at Blk 77 Commonwealth Drive. After the block 80 or was it blk 79, where the malaysia railway is still operating now. I could see it from my kitchen. I lived there in the early 90s and we always joked about what happen if that thing were to explode….:p"
I think I can answer her question. If that thing were to explode, the scene would look like my second shot.

Jul 12, 2009

My Search for Queen Victoria in the Istana

Visiting the Istana can be a fun-filled activity if you know what to do. Sure, you can ogle at fellow visitors and when the worm is caught, walk out triumphantly and jeer at the crowd still waiting to get in. Or you can play treasure hunt, the historical kind, where you go around uncovering hidden gems on the Istana grounds. I think the latter is more fun.

I have blogged about my second shot attempts (here and here) during the Chinese New Year Open House. I have also blogged about my failure to find the original nutmeg trees on the Istana grounds. This time round, I will blog about my search for royalty in the Istana. Will I succeed?


It is good to read up on the Istana before your visit. After all, you only get a few shots at it every year. Sure, you can ogle at the swans or the fountain, though I think there are much better ones around elsewhere. I found an enticing target from my research. She would be my prized catch in the Istana.

I call her The Queen, a statue of Queen Victoria on the Istana grounds. At 120 years old, she has seen her fair share of adventure and hardship. She used to stand comfortably in the alcove of the State Room (then called Victoria Room) until the 1960s when she was moved to the Victoria Memorial Hall and subsequently to the National Museum store. The various shifts over the years caused her great distress. When she resurfaced in 1994, she was found to have sustained injuries on her body, including her nose.

Queen Victoria Statue in Government House, 1953
1953 archive photo of the Queen in the alcove of the State Room. I think it was Open House, that explains the kids.

Istana Main Gate Map
Open House map of the Istana. I finally found The Queen at the pond on top at one o' clock position.

As you can see from the map, The Queen is found not far from the Istana building. She is at the edge of the area accessible to the public. You can see a lot of 'no entry beyond this point' sign in the Istana.

As I treaded my way to The Queen, a sight of what is to come greeted me - three beauty queens women posing with 'style' and unknowingly for my camera. The rubenesque woman on the right caught my attention.

Three Queens
Left: The three queens posing with style. The rubenesque woman on the right reminds me of Queen Victoria.
Right: A portrait of Queen Victoria.

The Pond in front of VictoriaThe Pond in front of Victoria
Left: The pond marked on the Istana Open House map.
Right: Queen Victoria is just behind the pond.

When you reach the end of the pond, Her Majesty awaits you. As you stand in awe, do not forget to pay your compliments.

Stand in AwePaying Homage
Left: A visitor standing in awe of Her Majesty.
Right: The photographer paying homage to Her Majesty. Long live the Queen!

So here is Queen Victoria who used to stand comfortably in the alcove of the State Room. Today with the pavilion roof over her, she is still subjected to the wind element. The roof isn't going to help against our torrential rainstorm either.

Once in the State Room, now in the open
The Queen taken from a similar angle as the 1953 archive photo earlier in the blog.

Earlier I described The Queen as 120 years old. If Queen Victoria is still alive today, she would be a whopping 190 years old. Coincidentally this year is the 190th anniversary of British founding of Singapore, so Queen Victoria was born in the year Singapore was founded.

At the base of the statue, we have a clue to the age of The Queen.

Base of the Statue
Gist: The Queen was presented by the Chinese community of Singapore to be placed in the Government House.

Surprisingly the statue was not a memorial by Her Majesty's 'ang moh' subjects but the Chinese community of Singapore. Did the Chinese community love Queen Victoria last time, considering it was a largely immigrant society from China and the reign of Her Majesty saw the lowest point of Anglo-Chinese relationship. Think the two Opium Wars and the plundering of Chinese imperial treasures by the English. I suspect the Chinese community refers to English-speaking Straits Chinese in the government service. The average coolie on the street probably did not know of the statue's existence.

The base inscription tells us the statue was presented in the year of Her Majesty's Jubilee. This was the Golden Jubilee of 1887, though the inscription was marked in the year 1888 and the Istana website refers to the Jubilee Year as 1889. I'm confused frankly, but the discrepancy does not change the fact The Queen is a Supercentenarian.

I also found two portraits at the base of the statue.

Are they Albert and Victoria
Are the portraits Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert?

I'm guessing they must be people dear to Queen Victoria. One possibility could be Victoria and her husband Albert but when you consider both were born in the same year (1819) and the portrait shows an old bearded man with a young attractive lady, the hypothesis weakens. Another possibility could be a son and daughter of the couple. Unfortunately I have no way to verify either hypothesis.

Finally, here is a close-up of The Queen. There is something incongruous about her face ....

Close up of Queen Victoria
Did The Queen knock her nose? Sign of her injury can still be seen.

Earlier I mentioned The Queen sustained injuries over the years. One particular spot was her nose. So here we have a statue of Her Britannic Majesty, ruler of an Empire on which the sun never sets, with her injured nose not properly restored.

Note: The two mystery portraits are that of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Queen's eldest son and his wife. Thanks Job Ang!

Jul 4, 2009

National Library Heritage Road Show 2009 - I Remember Singapore

Do you know the National Library of Singapore is organizing a heritage road show this August 1?

From NLB website,

What do you remember from the years of growing up in Singapore? Do you recall the opening of the National Stadium in 1973? The Heritage Road Show this year focuses on the theme of 'I Remember Singapore' and celebrates the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s self-governance from 1959 to 2009. What do you recall of your own life against the backdrop of significant events in the last 50 years of Singapore’s self-government? Your experiences and stories form a part of the history of Singapore and we want to hear from you! If you have written narratives, print materials or photos of these significant events and milestones in your life, do share your life experiences with us at Your stories and photos may be selected and showcased on our website at (from 1 July 2009). Your contributions stand to win cash prizes of up to $5,000!

Oldies may want to share their stories and photos. For me, I just do what's natural. Here is what I find most interesting:

1. Geographical and chronological tagging of pictures and stories on the Singapore Map

This is on the main website. Guess what, they are not using Google Maps but Bing Maps. Bing is the latest (actually rebranded) search engine by Microsoft and Bing Maps was formerly Virtual Earth.

There is not much user-contributed content (stories, pictures) on the map now. The only contributors I can see are NLB and NHB. The sole story I find (on the Maria Hertogh Riots) is an article from Infopedia. What intrigues or rather excites me is the 1935 old map from the Koh Seow Chuan collection. Hmm, perhaps the Japanese had one such copy when they invaded Singapore? I can see the old railway line to Pasir Panjang and Sungei. Sembawang. I even found the hills Chun See and Peter described - 100, 180 and 265 in Marsiling.

Screenshot of website on July 4.

2. Flickr SNAP - Singapore National Album of Pictures

This is on flickr website and features things Singapore. So you not only find historical pictures by donors, but also everyday pictures (which will become historical pictures in time to come). If you do not have the luxury of time (like this retiree) to comb Singapore, you can view the country here. So I found Pulau Hantu Besar, Nicoll Highway when it collapsed and even a bus advertisement for Axe Oil.

The donors collection include E.A. Brown, Percy R. Hill and Kouo Shang-Wei. Enjoy the pictures. If you are observant, you can even spot railway tracks, like I did on Kouo's Sugar Industry of Singapore (SIS) factory picture.

Screenshot of website on July 4

Some highlights of the road show on August 1:

a. I goes on Air segment, where members of the public will share their memories and experiences of nation building in the past 50 years.

b. 50 Firsts Wedding Aisle, where couples whose lives revolve around the number 50 - such as being married for 50 years/weeks/days - share their personal stories.

c. Changing Landscapes of Singapore photo exhibition, where "participants are to submit 24 of their best photographs, taken over a continuous period of 24 hours and include their personal stories of not more than 150 words to explain about their choice of photographs and the memories of Singapore associated with it." (source)