Around the Island
Nanyang Memorial Hall
The villa, first built in 1901 at 12 Tai Gin Road, featured a classical style and changed hands among a few businessmen, before Sun Yat Sen made the first of his several visits to this place. Numerous successful fundraising activities were carried out and this villa became the headquarters of the league opposing the imperial dynasty in China. It was also where the Kuomintang (Singapore) was rumoured to have been founded, but it was prohibited with the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It took on the name "Sun Yat Sen Villa" only in 1964, after renovations. Its ownership passed to the SCCCI (Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry). It became a gazette national monument in 1994 and opened as a museum in 2001.
Located on a hill at 10 Telok Blangah Green, this mansion was built in 1918 by the wealthy Alkaff family, who traded in sugar, coffee and spices. It was meant to entertain distinguished guests of the family. The Alkaffs were originally from Yemen and they built this mansion in 1918 in a two storey Tudor bungalow style. Telok Blangah Hill at that point was known as Mount Washington. In 1984, the property was acquired by the Singapore government and in 1987, it opened as a Dutch-Indonesian restaurant, the Rijstaffel. Business declined during the economic crisis of 2001 and SARS outbreak of 2003. In 2011, it re-opened to much media hype, as an Italian restaurant, Alkaff Ristorante. The existing structure was retained and restored, since it had been awarded a conservation status in 2005. As of 2016, there is discussion about its fate as the Ristorante management is considering the commercial terms of extending the current lease.
Old Kallang Airport
Standing on land reclaimed from swamp of the Kallang River basin in 1932, the Kallang Airport was inaugurated in 1937 by the last Governor General of the Straits Settlements, Shenton Thomas, although air-planes had already started landing already. Apparently both conventional (land) and seaplanes could land and taxi to the same terminal building. The terminal building was considered an advanced for its times. During WWII, it was considered the only safe operational airfield because the others at Seletar and Sembawang were within reach of Japanese artillery on peninsular Malaya. It was heavily damaged by bombing before the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese. Civilian airlines resumed operation after the airport was handed over to the British in 1948. The growing aviation industry and the civilian population nearby meant that this facility was insufficient. A new facility at Paya Lebar was started in 1951 and completed in 1955, which was when the Kallang Airport closed down. For a period (at least till 1965), the Central Manpower Base was headquartered here. Now this vicinity is associated with sports, owing to the National Stadium (now Sports Hub), Singapore Indoor Stadium and fields for softball, cricket and tennis.
Old Ford Motor Works, 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road
The Ford Motor Works car assembly plant was built in 1941 and considered the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. It was here that the British (Lieutenant-General Percival) unconditionally surrendered Malaya to the Japanese (Imperial Japanese Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita) during World War II, leading to start of the Syonan Years of 1942 to 1945. During the three years of occupation, the Japanese made this their military headquarters. It stood prominently on the road connection between Singapore and Johor (Malaysia). The factory continued to assemble military trucks and vehicles for the Japanese. The factory resumed civilian operations after the war, was finally shut down in 1980 and became a national monument in 2006. Visitors today can visit this museum and form an idea of what Singapore’s residents endured during the Japanese occupation. The museum is open to the public on public holidays and houses a museum with information text, photos and videos.
Haw Par Villa
This is an underrated, but fascinating place. A minimum of two hours should b devoted to this place to thoroughly explore the interesting grounds dotted with over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas, depicting themes from Chinese legends (this Villa introduced me to the Monkey God from “Journey to the West” and Madame White Snake) and social values. A very interesting feature is the nine court of Hell, which clearly spell out (in rather gory details) what punishment can be expected by people who indulge in various immoral activities. It is a free attraction, open every day from 9 am to 7 pm, located along Pasir Panjang Road and conveniently accessed by public buses as well as the Pasir Panjang MRT station.
Originally called Tiger Balm Gardens, it was built in 1937 by the Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw (Tiger) and Aw Boon Par (Leopard), the originators of Tiger Balm. I am told that in the 1900s, the theme park was modernized and that point of time, it was a paid attraction. The Tiger Balm Gardens was renamed as the Haw Par Villa. Today it stands overlooking the activities at the expanding Pasir Panjang Port. Plans are afoot to explore what further heritage potential is held here, as seen in the local media.
Japanese Cemetery Park
Sometime in the end of the 19th century, a Japanese brothel owner, Tagajiro Fukaki, donated 7 acres of his rubber plantation to be used as a burial ground for Japanese women who died in poverty. For a brief period, it was also used to bury Japanese residents in Singapore. Near the Cemetery, there are several bungalows. During World War II, the cemetery was used to bury civilians and soldiers. Later the Singapore government took over ownership of the cemetery and left it unused. The Japanese government decided not to remove or repatriate the remains of the Japanese dead. In 1969, the Singapore government handed back ownership to the Japanese Association, which oversees the maintenance of the cemetery. The last burial here was in 1973, when the Singapore government passed an ordinance preventing the further expansion of cemeteries on the island. This cemetery became a center of appreciation of history and its natural flora and fauna. It certainly helps that this is away from the bustle of the city centre and a lot of birds were seen and heard during our visit to this place. The place is today in Chuan Hoe Avenue (Hougang), in the North-east of Singapore.
Kranji War Memorial
If historical sites (especially WWII related ones) interest a traveler, this is one un-missable destination in Singapore. It is walking distance from Kranji MRT station. The memorial is most impressive and sure to leave an impression on visitors. It is the final resting place of many fallen Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Second World War. It is immaculately maintained and very quiet. Being away from the city center, it is not visited by many people, even the local residents. Therefore the tranquility and peace is the first thing that impresses visitors. Before leading up to the memorial itself, are trim lawns that are punctuated by headstones indicating the final resting place of soldiers. The inscriptions make a very sober reading of battalions, rank and most importantly, ages of the fallen. The memorial is an amalgam of the wings of warplanes and the central tower of a submarine, topped by a star. The dead here were from Britain, India, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Malaya. The names of altogether 24,000 soldiers are inscribed on the walls of the monument. Located at 9 Woodlands Road, Kranji.
This location is better known as Rochor and lies north of the Singapore River. After the British established their trading post in Singapore in 1819, this site gained prominence. Prior to the arrival of the British, there were already Malay residents and Arab merchants in this area. Raffles had a policy of carving districts according to ethnicities. Kampong Glam became a settlement for the Malay, Arab, Chulias and Bugis communities. With the expansion of commercial activities, more shophouses were built (which are conserved since 1989, especially the ones in Arab Street, Baghdad Street and Bussorah Street). Sultan Mosque is a major landmark and the Istana Kampung Gelam, once the Sultan’s palace, is now the Malay Heritage Centre. This area is dotted by art galleries, craft shops, restaurants, batik textile and carpet shops. Malay literature, confectioneries and perfumes are sold here till this date. While rest of Singapore has air conditioned shopping complexes and glitzy malls, Kampong Glam has its old world, bazaar atmosphere and a communal feeling.