Last year, I attended the When Nations Remember II Conference organized by the Singapore Memories Project team. One of the speakers, Dr Imran Tajudeen, spoke about the Malay-style houses of Geylang Serai. I was surprised to learn then that the house that I grew up in was actually very similar to the examples given by him. Photo 1 shows a front view of our house. This photo was taken around 1958. The kid on the left is me.
I grew up in a Chinese kampong called Chui Arm Lor in Hokkien. It was renamed Lorong Kinchir in 1963 after Lorong Chuan was built to join Braddell Road to Serangoon Gardens. Our house was the only one in our kampong that had this design. I do not know why my father chose such a design. Maybe it was because our family had lived briefly in Geylang before building this house in Chui Arm Lor. That was before I was born in 1952. Photo 2 shows my dad sitting on the steps in front of our kampong house. This photo was taken in 1969.
I have many happy memories on my 22 years growing up in this kampong house and have documented them in a book which I recently published, called: Good Morning Yesterday; Growing up in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s. In it, I described in considerable detail, the kampong as well as the folks living there. Here is an excerpt relating to our house:
“Our house was quite unique in design. This type of house is called pu kah lau in Hokkien. Although it was constructed of wood, the house itself rested on cement stumps so that it was raised a few feet above the ground …… Besides being able to escape flooding, this type of house was cooler because of the better flow of air through it ….. Since we did not encounter any floods in our kampong, we used the ‘basement’ space to store things. I remember seeing old books like the classic Dream of the Red Chamber there. My eldest brother recalled that this was also the place where my grandmother kept some old furniture and vases that she had brought from Guangzhou, China. As everybody was busy with their lives these ‘old stuff’ were forgotten. Many of the vases were broken when our dogs fought or played there. Later my mother got fed up with the clutter and sold the antique furniture to the garang guni man for about one hundred dollars per piece, which was quite a neat sum in the fifties. But I guess the garang guni guy had the last laugh, because the furniture and vases turned out to be from the Qing dynasty! This shows how naive we kampong folks were at that time, unable to distinguish what was valuable and what was not.”
Do you know that you can still find such kampong houses/buildings in Singapore? Just this year, I came across two of them (see Photos 3 and 4). Do you know where these houses are located? If you know the answer, send me an email. The first 2 readers who can give the correct answer will win a copy of my book. My email address is; email@example.com