Saturday, 24 August 2013

Villages (And Schools) at the North of Singapore

The origins of Nee Soon Village can be traced back to 1850 when 44 acres of land in the kangkar (meaning the land around the riverbank, river mouth or river's leg in Teochew) in Seletar was purchased for gambier and pepper plantations. Situated along the upper portions of the Seletar waterway, the kangkar was made up of the area around the junctions of Sembawang Road and Mandai Road. Apart from Nee Soon Village, there were other surrounding villages, such as Chye Kay Village, Mandai Tekong Village, Kampong Jalan Mata Ayer, Heng Leh Pah Village, Bah Soon Pah Village, Hainan Village, Hup Choon Kek Village, Kampong Telok Soo, Kum Mang Hng Village, Kampong Jalan Kula Simpang, Sembawang Village and Sungei Simpang Village.

The kangkar was the commercial centre of Nee Soon estate all through the nineteenth century. Nee Soon estate grew from the gambier and pepper plantations that started along the Seletar River from the 1930s onwards. These plantations lured employment-seeking immigrants who then set up settlements or villages along the Sungei Seletar waterways. Villages were also established along old roads such as Upper Thomson Road, Seletar Road, Mandai Road, Yio Chu Kang Road, Sembawang Road, Bah Soon Pah Road and Chye Kay Road.

Nee Soon Village was originally called Chan Chu Kang after its owner, and was later named Nee Soon Village after Lim Nee Soon for Nee Soon's contribution to the rubber industry. Lim Nee Soon set up the Thong Aik Rubber Factory at the kangkar in 1912, which was renamed as Nee Soon & Sons in the 1920s. It was purchased by Lee Kong Chian in 1928 and its name was changed to Lee Rubber. In the early 20th century, Bukit Sembawang Rubber Company set up district offices in the kangkar area, at Chye Kay Village and in the Bah Soon Pah area. In the 1930s, attap houses were built in the kangkar area and a bridge laid across the Seletar River to enable communication between the kangkar and the villages across it. A cinema called Pei Li Cinema was opened here in the 1930s. It was renamed Seletar Cinema after being purchased by Lim Chong Pang in the same decade.

After the war, the kangkar developed rapidly. In 1947, Koh Chin Chong constructed the Nee Soon Market at the junction of Thong Aik Road and Nee Soon Road which led to the development of the road and its surroundings. Burnt down in 1979, a makeshift market was built there until it gave way to urban redevelopment work that formed the Yishun New Town. With the development of land transport in the post-war years, the kangkar became one of the most densely populated rural areas in Singapore. A taxi stand was built in the kangkar in 1951. In 1953, the government reconstituted the Rural Board and it looked into the development of villages. As a result amenities like maternity clinics and standpipes were added, and by 1955, all roads were officially named and postal services established.

In the mid-1960s, traditional traders dealing with firewood, laundry and bicycles gave way to motor-car and electrical appliances dealers. Modern shophouses were also built, replacing the attap and zinc ones. With the introduction of television in Singapore in the mid-1960s, the charm of open air cinemas and opera shows began to decline. Piped water, electricity, refrigerator and hi-fi set joined the list of daily necessities in Nee Soon Village. The signs of urban development were seen in the English schools and the medical and community facilities established here. Three community centres were opened here in 1963, one at Bah Soon Pah, another at Mandai Tekong and yet another at Ulu Seletar. Three more community centres followed - the Nee Soon Community Centre in 1965, and the other two at Chye Kay Village and Kampong Sah Pah Siam.

In 1976, the Yishun New Town Project was initiated by the government. Made up of 919 ha of land, the Nee Soon estate was converted into an urbanised town with public housing and industries. Residents of Nee Soon Village were first relocated to different places according to their profession before construction of the New Town began in 1977.

Kangkar Village
Located at the end of Upper Serangoon Road, this kampong was pulled down in 1984. It was a coastal village made up of attap houses and was popular for its wholesale fish market. The kampong was cleared to make way for the construction of the S$ 11 million Ponggol fishing port.

Chye Kay Village
This village was located within the old Nee Soon estate or present-day Yishun New Town. In 1905, Chen Chia Keng (b. 21 October 1874, Jimei, Tong'an, Quanzhou, Fujian - d. 12 August 1961, Beijing, China), set up a pineapple canning factory in Nee Soon Village. To ensure a continuous supply of pineapples for his factory, he purchased 500 acres of land to plant pineapples. In 1907, when he learnt that rubber was a profitable crop, he planted rubber between pineapple plants. This plantation presumably provided employment to the residents of Chye Kay Village. The villagers here constructed the Chu Sion Tong Temple, which also served as a charity home for the aged and destitute people. A school called the Lee Cheng School was constructed here in the 1930s. Classes used to be conducted on a wayang stage. It closed down during the war and was re-established after the war with the Japanese war-time offices being used as classrooms. In the early 1930s, another school called Kwang Teck School was constructed here by the Ngee Ann Kongsi. In 1948, the Lee Teck School was constructed with funds donated by the residents of Chye Kay Village. English schools were established in the kangkar from the late 1940s onwards, beginning with the Sembawang School along Sembawang Road. The main economic activities of the villagers here were vegetable farming, fishing and orchid farming.

Chong Pang Village
Part of Nee Soon estate, Chong Pang Village was originally called the Westhill Village or Westhill estate. Westhill Village was located at the twelfth milestone at Seletar opposite the Sembawang Aerodrome. It was named by the government as Chong Pang Village in 1956 as a tribute to Lim Chong Pang (b. 6 June, 1904 Singapore - d. 1956 Singapore), the son of Lim Nee Soon. Lim Chong Pang was a businessman who served as a member of the Rural Board from 1929 to 1938. Chong Pang Village centred around a row of shophouse units which made up the village's business, commercial and residential core. The western and south-western boundaries of the village were next to the extensive Ulu Sembawang vegetable and fruit farming regions. To the north of the village was the former British Naval Base constructed in 1938.

Heavily dependent on the rubber plantations for their living, the villagers were adversely affected by the collapse of the rubber in 1935. Thankfully, the British Naval Base came into the picture and provided plenty of employment. The construction of the Paya Lebar Airport in 1953-1954 led to an exodus of households from Paya Lebar into Chong Pang, leading to a swelling of Chinese households in the village, even outnumbering the Indians who were until then the majority of the village's population. During the Japanese invasion, many inhabitants fled the village for fear of being killed by the Japanese soldiers. The area around Sultan Theatre, which was built by Lim Chong Pang, was converted into a red-light district and the theatre itself was used to store ammunition.

In March 1989, the village was razed to the ground and in its place today stands the Sembawang New Town. The present day Chong Pang housing estate, known as Chong Pang Garden, is in the Yishun New Town. Built in 1981, Chong Pang Garden is made up of 923 housing units and is flanked by Sembawang Road, Yishun Ave 5, Yishun Ave 2 and Yishun Ring Road on its four sides.

Heng Leh Pah Village
Part of Nee Soon estate, this village was situated off Upper Thomson Road. It was also called Phua Village. Phua Village was home to the Heng San Temple. The villagers here brought along their ancestral deity from their village in Nan An district in Fujian and established this temple in the 1910s. The land owners of this village took up coconut planting in the early 20th century. The government granted 50% land rebate for six years to all land owners to grow coconuts. The coconut plantations were useful to the pig farmers in this village as well because coconut residue was used as pig feed. There was a boom in pig farming after scientific methods were introduced in the 1960s, resulting in more income for the pig farmers. In 1979 however, the government decided to restrict pig farming to Lim Chu Kang and Ponggol.

The villagers established Xing Dun School in 1936 and lessons were taught in Mandarin. By the 1970s, the village had begun declining as young members left to seek employment in other parts of Singapore. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the villagers were resettled in Yishun New Town and other estates in the north. As for Hwee San Temple, it relocated to Yishun in 1997. Today, the Phuas still gather here to celebrate their festivals every ninth Lunar month

Mandai Tekong village
Situated off Mandai Road, the Mandai Tekong Village boasted the largest number of big vegetable farms than others in the Nee Soon estate. Like Phua Village, the boom in pig farming in the 1960s also boosted the income of the villagers here until the restriction in 1979. Traders would ply Mandai Tekong Village and the villages in Bah Soon Pah to buy vegetables from the farmers for sale in town. The villagers also took to large-scale orchid farming in the 1960s.

Bah Soon Pah
The Bah Soon Pah area in the Nee Soon estate was made up of a cluster of villages such as Kampong Telok Soo, a.k.a., Kampong Kitin, and De Lu Shu Village. These villages were situated around the Bah Soon Pah Road, off Sembawang Road. The villagers in Bah Soon Pah reared chickens which became a thriving business from the 1960s onwards. They also reared ducks and grew vegetables. The low-lying swampy area favoured prawn and fish breeding, leading to prawn and fish ponds. Similar ponds were also found in Chye Kay Village and Heng Leh Pah Village. Tropical fish breeding caught on In the 1960s. In 1934, the villagers of Bah Soon Pah set up the Hua Shun Gong Fu De Ci temple, a.k.a. Hua Shan Gong temple. In the 1930s, the Teochews and Hokkiens set up the Chian Nan School and Hua Soon School respectively.

Hup Choon Kek Village
Part of Nee Soon estate, this village was home to the Wei Leng Keng temple, built in the 1930s.

Yio Chu Kang ("Chia Keng" in the Chinese dialect) Village
Situated along Yio Chu Kang Road, it remained in existence until the late 1980s.

Yew Tee Village
This village was located off Woodlands Road. Yew Tee means "oil pond" in Teochew and the name came about as this place was used by the Japanese to store oil during the Occupation. Yew Tee became a household name with the construction of the Yew Tee MRT station which is located where the village used to be, near Stagmont Ring. It was once a bustling village numbering 300 families. The residents worked mainly as small-time vegetable and poultry farmers. When the land in Yew was developed and new estates like Chua Chu Kang and Jurong East came up, many residents began moving out. The Yew Tee Community Centre, set up in 1963 and one of Singapore's oldest community centres, closed down in 1998. The closure was due to under-utilisation which reflect the exodus of population from the area. In 1991, it was an obscure sleepy village with less than 20 zinc-roofed houses.

Several Malay villages that used to exist in the northern part of Singapore, from Kranji through Woodlands to Yishun. The villages were Kampong Jalan Mata Ayer, Kampong Wak Hassan, Sungei Seletar villages, Kampung Wak Selat and Kampong Lorong Fatimah. 

Kampong Jalan Mata Ayer
This was a Malay kampong in the Nee Soon estate along Sembawang Road. The Malay population in the Nee Soon estate was considerably small. Most of them lived either in this kampong or at the junction of Jalan Ulu Seletar. The Malays built a mosque, Masjid Ahmed Ibrahim, at the junction of Ulu Seletar. It was named after the Assembly member Ahmad Ibrahim, who won as an independent candidate in the Legislative Assembly elections in 1955 representing Sembawang.

Kampong Wak Hassan
Kampong Wak Hassan was one of the more resilient Malay villages which survived even though many kampongs disappeared by the seventies and eighties. Located opposite the Sembawang Park, Kampong Wak Hassan, remained until the late nineties. The Malay and Chinese families of the village were asked to move out in 1998 to make way for new developments.

Sungei Seletar villages
The villages along Sungei Seletar included Kampong Lorong Mayang. They were a part of the Nee Soon estate. Most of the villagers were farmers, and they engaged in fishing and catching shells to earn additional income.

Kampung Wak Selat
This was a Malay Kampong along the Malayan Railway line at Mandai. It was located off a dust track at the end of Kranji Road abutting the Kranji Industrial Estate. The living and religious structures were not elaborate, with a wooden shack used as a mosque. Communal activities of the villagers took place around a clearing at the centre of the kampung, an area that was also used as a football ground with the goalpost made from wooden frames. Two provision stores or kedai as they are known in Malay stocked basic necessities for the villagers. Each house had its own piped water supply. Established in 1947, Kampung Wak Selat was one of the last kampongs remaining on mainland Singapore before it was pulled down in 1993.

The villagers were given until 23 May 1993 to clear from the kampong. An appeal sounded to the government by Edmund Waller, a senior lecturer at the School of Architecture of the National University of Singapore, brought media and public attention to the fate of the villagers, and a debate ensued centring around the need to preserve the kampong as it was part of Singapore's history. But by April 1993, only twelve of the 44 houses remained inhabited. Many villagers became averse to loosing their privacy to the spotlight and unwanted public attention, harassing them with too many questions. Despite the last-ditch effort to save Kampung Wak Selat, the government decided to go ahead with its demolishing plan as the poor drainage of the kampong became worse after a wall was erected that separated the village from the Kranji Industrial Estate. The resulting stagnant, mosquito-infested pool of black ditch water posed a health hazard. Most inhabitants of Kampong Wak Selat also preferred to move to the Marsiling HDB Housing Estate. At the time it was pulled down, the kampong was made up of 70 houses, a prayer house and a football field.

Kampong Lorong Fatimah
This Malay kampong was situated off Woodlands Road, near the causeway, past the immigration checkpoint. It was in existence even in the late eighties. Some of the houses were constructed on stilts. Only a small channel separated this kampong from Johor. In the past, this kampong was filled with sampans or koleks ferrying people between Johor and Singapore. With the sea on one side and a jungle on the other (before Woodlands was fully developed), this kampong seemed very cut-off from the rest of urban Singapore. Entertainment in the past included ronggeng (a Malay ethnic dance) with the nomadic boat people who came here with their gongs, drums, tambourines and violas. Shopping was done from Indian men who came on bicycles carrying bundles containing clothes, towels and sarongs. Most of the villagers here were fishermen and boatmen. When industries were set up around Woodlands, many of them found jobs in the factories, while the younger ones found work in hotels and banks in Orchard Road. Kampong Lorong Fatimah was pulled down to make way for the construction of the Customs Department extension to the Woodlands Checkpoint. The kampong's residents were relocated, mainly to the Marsiling and Woodlands HDB estates.


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