Sep 11, 2011

Preserving Memories of Queenstown Through "Singapore Pie"

Singapore Pie

In the ensuing years after I left school, much has changed in the local education landscape, with a Curriculum and Pedagogy Review Committee formed in Feb 2004 to "conduct a comprehensive review of the teaching and learning of the Chinese Language in our schools". I'm not aware what has entered the curriculum and the textbooks, though I read some teachers are not averse to using pop songs like Jay Chou's to teach the language. On another trajectory, we find the preservation of memories and educating the younger generation about our heritage gaining momentum. In that case, allow me to make a humble suggestion, why not introduce local folk songs (xinyao) like "Singapore Pie" into the curriculum and kill two birds with one stone?

新加坡派 or "Singapore Pie" the album was released in 1990 by our very own maestro Dr Liang Wern Fook (see his works and awards here) who is recognized as a pioneer in the xinyao landscape of the 80s and 90s. Incidentally he just got his long deserving Cultural Medallion in 2010. I have not been keeping track of his works and only read about "Singapore Pie" in the book "10-Stories: Queenstown Through The Years" by Calvin Low which I picked up few years back. I only skimped through the lyrics then and did not give this xinyao much attention; my mind was preoccupied with the old photos and recollections in the book.

Source: Straits Times 2007

As I write this, the Margaret Drive Food Center is being demolished and from what I understand, Blk 6C is scheduled to bite the dust by end of this year. It is perhaps timely to revisit this xinyao and Blk 6C where Liang spent his formative years from 1971 to 1987. Before that, he lived at Margaret Close. The flats at Margaret Close - now demolished - were at the land opposite Margaret Drive from Blk 6C and both were in the same district, that made Liang a resident of Duchess Estate for 23 years.

Queenstown was his childhood inspiration and in "Singapore Pie" which read like his personal recollection of each era as the wheels of history roll along each decade from their birth in the 1960s (he was born a year earlier than Singapore), we find landmarks in Duchess Estate being alluded to.

For those who wants to appreciate the xinyao in its entirety, here are the lyrics. Pay attention to the words in bold.










I like it Singapore Pie

No appreciation would be complete without listening to the xinyao being sung by its composer!

And the English translation of the two stanzas below (in bold), reproduced from Calvin Low's book. Can you identify the cinemas in the lyrics? Personally I feel "near my old house" rather than "in my old hometown" would be a better translation - "hometown" places the house in the wider geographical context of Queenstown; this description could also apply for a resident at Queens' Crescent (at another end of Queenstown from Duchess Estate) but the impact, the sentiments would have been lost. After all, as it turns out, the cinemas are located at the foot of Liang's block.

The cinemas in my old hometown were built in the sixties
I stood in the crowd, watching the movie stars cut the ribbons
The Cantonese films then were all black and white
Some were even filmed in Singapore

We moved house and settled comfortably
The old cinemas are now churches holding Sundays
Sometimes I would return to this old place to reminisce
And think about the child here before

Venus and Golden City, Queenstown
The cinemas are Venus and Golden City below Blk 6C (visible in the background; even further behind are the older flats at Margaret Close). Not Queenstown cinema which was built in the 70s and today not a church. (Source: Queenstown Calendar)

In a bid to sell our Singapore brand to the Mainlanders, the xinyao - a unique local creation - was sung during a 2006 Sino-Singapore musical meet (中新歌会), organized by Mediacorp and China's CCTV, held at the Padang. You can watch the video but watch out, "Singapore Pie" was sung not by Liang Wern Fook but three of Mediacorp's hottest hunks - Li Nanxing, Tay Ping Hui and Christopher Lee. No doubt the mention of the old cinemas would have most of CCTV's 1 billion audience draw a blank, but hopefully the majority of Singapore's 3 million citizen audience could at least appreciate the heritage being alluded to.

By now, scores of heritage seekers would have descended onto Duchess Estate and captured the old landmarks on film before they bite the dust. I had opportunity to visit Blk 6C Margaret Drive in July 2010 to shoot the place but I guess the few photos I took did not meet my expectation; I trust that the place has been sufficiently documented by more skillful photographers out there. Actually my excitement in exploring the place had waned after an earlier visit in 2010. I thought I have already captured what I was looking for, after reading the book.

Blk 6C Margaret Drive
Blk 6C Margaret Drive in July 2010. Slated to bite the dust by end of 2011.

And that is the view from Liang's apartment on the 15th floor. I did not know his unit number so I just anyhow hantum took a panorama from the corridor on the 15th floor. This panorama, which I hand-stiched using software, was something I thought was of a different nature from my other mundane photos of Blk 6C. It was precisely this panoramic view of Queenstown landmarks and the skyline beyond that afforded Liang Wern Fook the insights and inspiration for his work.

Having access to such a view, and the memory of it, gave me a broader vision. And it also nurtured my observation skills and imagination. Sometimes I used to stand at the corridor, or at my room's window, looking at the view, whether at people walking below or at the scenery, it gave me quite some insights and feelings.

- Liang Wern Fook

Blk 6c Magaret Drive Panorama
The panoramic view from 15th floor of Blk 6C Margaret Drive, offering residents a magnificent view of the city skyline.


Lam Chun See said...

I think there are lots of photos of Margaret Drive. I saw a documentary on photograpy recently. Can't remember the title. Anyway they select 2 amateur photographers to under the guidance of a pro will go to different places in Spore to shoots photos. There was 1 episode on Margaret Drive.

Anyway just drove by last week. Most of the building closed or demolished. But the library is running.

Icemoon said...

Yes Chun See you are right. I found that out on my latest Margaret Drive walk.

Pat said...

Icemoon - Thanks for featuring the old photos & panorama of Queenstown & its vicinity. Btw I just came from ST Forum's 'Landmark buildings can be saved from the wrecking ball' (30 Sep 11), & had placed a hyperlink to your post in my forum comment.

As you have found out, the slab block shown in the middle of the panoramic photo is being demolished (or perhaps has already been completely reduced to rubble, even as I write this.)

Hope Queenstown Library & the remaining Margaret Drive would be preserved as they are. Queenstown Library is the 1st public I ever visited -- it was during a P6 class field-trip many years ago, when there weren't any public libraries in western S'pore yet. Till today, this is still my favourite library. I also enjoy the laid-back peacefulness of Margaret Drive.

Icemoon said...

Pat, I think they won't touch the library for the time being. At least I can't see any further residential development on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Icemoon and all,

For nostalgia sake, I am asking around if any of you have any pictures of the flats in Queens Crescent before it was demolished? Those 2 & 7 stories flats which I remember the last batch was demolished in early to mid 1991.

If so, would be wonderful to have the pictures posted online for reminiscence.

Thank you & regards


BigHeadRabbit said...

^^ No idea how it became anonymous. BigHeadRabbit here :)

Icemoon said...

Hi BigHeadRabbit, yes I have some photos sourced online. Will post them as you suggested.

BigHeadRabbit said...

Thank you so muchlyy...can't wait for the visual feast.