Nov 29, 2010

How did Bishan Junction 8 get its name?


The other day I was reading my Facebook news feed when I learnt from yg on his wall that Sheng Shiong was having a closing down sale in 10th Mile Junction before its last day on 25 Nov. In case you do not know, the quite lifeless 10th Mile Junction would be developed into another concept mall leveraging on the railway history of the area and rebranded Junction 10. As if to remind us of the scarcity of land, 338 SOHO apartments would be built above the commercial podium.

10th Mile Junction sounds like a rather weird name for a shopping mall built in 1998. With an unglamorous name, little wonder most people identify that place with the supermarket Sheng Shiong which is also the flagship store. I was not attracted by such a mall to make a trip all the way from the east, until I decided to explore the railway line beside it in 2008. You can read about my first trainspotting experience outside the mall.

Before I dived deep into heritage, the name's origin was a mystery. The name took on a new significance as I became better acquainted with the location's heritage. At 10th milestone Bukit Timah was the meeting point of Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Timah and Woodlands Road. I learned later that the meeting point was a circus - Bukit Panjang Circus - where the historic Bukit Panjang Village was located. The circus is no more today and a cross-junction has replaced it.

10th Mile Junction, the historic intersection of Bukit Timah, Woodlands and Choa Chu Kang Road and site of Bukit Panjang Village. The level crossing outside the shopping mall/LRT station is also known as Bukit Panjang Railway Crossing. (Source:

From 10th Mile Junction to Junction 10, most of us would scream "copycat" at the name change. We are so accustomed to the name "Junction 8" that another Junction X would be a copyright infringement. In fact after checking the street directory, I realized there is no other Junction X shopping mall in Singapore. Between the executives of CapitaLand they must be snorting in their boardroom. Consider this: Junction 8 is a CapitaLand development while Junction 10 and Orchard Central are Far East developments; if you shop in Orchard long enough, you'd know the winner of the "Battle of Malls" between Far East's Orchard Central and CapitaLand's Ion Orchard.

When I learnt about 10th Mile Junction's uncreative renaming from yg, I asked myself an interesting question. How did Junction 8 get its name then?

If we work backwards from "the logic" of Junction 10, then Junction 8 would be named after the reference marker of the locality, in this case Bishan. The reference marker of Bukit Panjang Village was 10th milestone Bukit Timah Road. For Bishan, could it be the 8th milestone along some major road?

I knew for certain Bishan was a cemetery; to older folks and younger heritage lovers, its poetic name in hanyu pinyin would not bury its past as the famous Cantonese Peck San Theng cemetery. I had some vague memory after reading heritage blogs like Good Morning Yesterday that the entrance of the cemetery was from Thomson Road. Years ago we learnt in our history class that Thomson Road, Bukit Timah and Serangoon Road are very old roads that linked the town with the outlying rural areas. Could the entrance of the cemetery be at 8th milestone Thomson Road then?

Map of Imperial Theatre
I found this scan of Chun See's 1981 street directory where he blogged about his unforgettable blind date at Imperial Theatre (shaded). This map comes in handy to verify or debunk my hypothesis. Focus your attention on the T-junction at the Little Sisters of the Poor and Kampong San Teng at the bottom. I believe that was the entrance to the cemetery. Notice the 8km post further up after Jalan Pemimpin?

So I found a 8 kilo-post that could explain the origin of Junction 8. However I felt this was not quite right as in the olden days the folks had the reference markers in miles instead of kilometres. After conversion, Kampong San Teng (the suspected entrance to the cemetery) would be at 5th milestone Thomson Road.

I dabbled in other hypotheses like 8 being a lucky number in Chinese culture, the auspicious name would attract business or that they needed it badly to ward off bad luck from the ex-cemetery ground. I suppose these are valid reasons to name the new shopping mall "Junction 8" in 1994 when it was built.

Then it hit me. The answer was something else altogether and not directly related to lucky numbers and most certainly unrelated to distance reference markers. I doubt the committee who coined the name was that sophisticated to link the area with 5th milestone Thomson Road. I came to this conclusion for the name origin after I remembered the Chinese name for Junction 8 - 碧山第八站. Translated literally - Bishan the 8th Stop.

Exactly the 8th stop of what? The next time I took the MRT, I checked the SMRT System Map in the MRT carriage. My heart skipped a beat. I was right! Bishan is exactly the 8th stop after City Hall. This is not the end of the story, however. If you realize, Bishan Station today is NS17 (the 17th station on the north-south line). You can check the street directory at the beginning of this post to confirm. Can we reconcile NS17 with "Bishan the 8th Stop"? You bet!

The old Bishan station used to be N8. The labelling was changed to NS17 after the extension line linked up Choa Chu Kang and Yishun.


pinto said...

Back when I was blogging regularly, I wrote this post about having lived in Bishan for 20 years. For a long time resident, it's no mystery why Junction 8 is named thus!

Icemoon said...

Now I wonder whether they deliberately planned the NS line so Bishan would be N8. Hmm ..

JonL said...

Interesting. I always thought that Junction 8 was named for Bishan's old station number N8. Never knew there was any other possible origin.

Lam Chun See said...

I am thinking that one other theory could be that the number could be linked to the old system of numbering the 'pavilions' in this former largest cemetery in Spore. As I explained here; in the old days, Bishan consisted of a number of different hills and pavilions, and identification of a particular location is known by the hill and pavilion number combination. Could the Junction 8 then be formerly Pavillion 8?

Actually very unlikely. Just wild speculation. (1) I am sure noboby wants to associate a commercial complex with the cemetery. (2) The largest pavilion number that I could recall was 5.