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?


The Bakerwoman said...

Dear IceMoon,
I am very grateful for your write up and research.....

At last the fire incident as told by a psychic is definitely true....she told me there was a massive fire in this area around the 60's-70's....and that a father & son who shared the same name is defintely George Chang of George PHoto...

Thanks much!

The Bakerwoman said...


I remembered George Chang Jnr has 2 sisters & 2 brothers. He a jovial man and loves cycling around Changi Village.

He gave up George Photo because his mum had a bad fall and hence unable to walk. Partly because of her ill health, George decided to give up George Photo.

I think his unit is now tenanted and known as California Jam!

Icemoon said...

In Singapore lingo .. win already lor.

The dad is George Chang Wong Yeow. The son is George Chang L Ming (there is a history of changi village written by him).

My bizarre theory is that Wong Yeow missed Aspinall so much he named his son (born in 1950s) and his shop after him. I think Aspinall never knew Wong Yeow as George in 1942.

peter said...

Icemoon , by the 1980s the modern blocks already built. I used to come over to see my musician friends play at Europa Lounge (also opened by my classmate); Adam Ben & Adil. At that time Changi famous for "bapoks" and fights between 1st Cdm Bn and Infantry very common.

Just recently I cycled all the way up from Bedok Corner to Changi Village just to feel the ambience. I think the rustic looking seafood joint behind the ferry point is some reminder of the 1970s when I was based there during NS and used to peddle the koleks during JC days. In fact one of my class girls lived behind those Raf Married Quarters behind the hotel and we used to go to "Minah's house" to bath after a swim.

The Civil Service Club was once the Raf Changi Transit Center. I am not sure whether SAF took over this building but the yacht club I believe so.

Icemoon said...

The only Europa place I remember was the shop at Blk 5, at the Loyang Ave/Changi Village Road junction.

Haha, by 1980s that place already famous for bapoks? Must be Bugis Street dying down.

The rustic looking seafood joint is operated by my relative.

peter said...


I forgot the name but sounds malaysia. Can u ask your relative if I can take photo of the restaurant? I wanted to do so that day BUT people around so fierce.

The Europa was on the side of the hotel then. The block you mentioned at the corner was the site of the fire in 1970. I think "bapoks" (usually Malays and Indians) grew in numbers after Bugis closed down and they adjourned to Changi Creek (the promontory) to do their business in the bush.

Icemoon said...

I forgot the name but the restaurant has a 'Tekong' in it.

Do business in the bush?! Not afraid of insects??

peter said...

There was a photo studio called "Charlie Studio" in Changi Village in the early 1960s. Anyone can shed some light?

The Bakerwoman said...

Hi IceMoon & Peter

I read yr comments with glee.....I grew up in Changi too!

My dad was a Superintendent in Changi Prison. I lived in Moon Crescent quarters since childhood to the day I got married.

I love Changi very much till we encountered the supernatural in Changi Village! Now, I try not to go near Blk 1 for fear IT may "follow" me!

As for the restaurant, I think its called Tekong guys should try the flower crabs fried in taucheo & chilli padi. This flower crab was prepared by the seafood stall opposite Tekong Seafood (behind Bala's tea tarik).

Do you guys like teh halia....we should share our nostalgic stories about Changi @ Bala's over teh halia, flower crabs & goreng pisang!

By the way, Bala serves the best teh halia in Singapore!!!

The Bakerwoman said...

Oh on the topic about Bapoks, they are still around.....except they are now taller, prettier and daring!

You can catch them around the carpark near the jetty after 12am! I don't call them "Bapoks" but prefer the term "Barbies"!!! Hiak!

The Bakerwoman said...

Am a bit confused on the fire mishap in 1970. Was the fire at the present Blk 1 location or the former Europa Blk?

I used to patronised Europa in the 80's...their set lunches & food were pretty yummy! Culture Vulture & Xpo used to perform in Europa too!

U guys remember Millie's Coffeehouse? They were just a few units away from Europa!!

yg said...

icemoon, you are a great researcher, able to uncover so much. must get you to help trace my family tree.

Lam Chun See said...

I must confess that Changi is not my territory and thus unable to contribute anything other than the 'see see' part. But I suddenly saw Bakerwoman's invitation for teh halia. Now that's my favourite drink. So since I contributed the launching pad for this story, I deserve to be invited; don't you think?

By the way, Second Shot. Can you pls put your Charlie Chan skills to good use and contribute some details to the mysterious shooting at Queenstown. For one, can you pls help us to find out where was the exact spot where the poor girl was shot. Maybe you can also blog about some of the other theories that were put forward at that time.

The Bakerwoman said...

Dear Chun See
I would like to catch up with you, IceMoon, Peter & YG over teh halia in Changi Village when all are free.

Thanks & look forward to seeing you!

yg said...

hi the bakerwoman, thanks for including me in the teh alia invitation. actually, i gave you the wrong lead. i thought you were referring to the quarters behind the row of shops.
you seem to know changi food centre very well. i think i have patronised bala's stall when i ate ayam penyet at sri bistari.

The Bakerwoman said...

Hi YG,
I used to live in the Changi Prison quarters since young till the day I got married!

My shop unit was previously next to George Photo....

As for the nasi lemak, people should try Missy's nasi lemak. The usual long queue nasi lemak actually tasted terrible....wonder if Singaporeans know whats nice & not??

Yes, u got it right! Bala's just a few units away from the infamous Ayam Pengyet!