October 2015 -
A farewell carnival organised by civic group My Community and Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee on Saturday, 3 October 2015 gathered former residents and offered a final access to the blocks to commemorate one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore.
The carnival featured a photography exhibition titled “Forget Me Not” by photographers Nicky Loh and Erwin Tan, which features iconic images of the estate in its glory days, past and present. Nicky Loh, 35, who had lived at block 79 for the past eight years, commented, “My favourite shop was Chin Hin Eating House, a kopitiam at block 75, Commonwealth Drive. It was legendary with taxi drivers because of its quality and affordable kopi and teh that was served in traditional white cups and saucers. The place also had the cheapest mixed vegetable rice you could find in Singapore. I would go there to hang out for a cup of tea before or after photography shoots.”
A public screening of “7 letters,” where three of the seven films including Royston Tan’s “Bunga Sayang,” Boo Jun Feng’s “Parting” and Eric Khoo’s “Cinema” were shot in the neighbourhood, took place at the carnival.
Aside from the gallery, public movie screening and access into the blocks, there was a heritage bazaar as well as live performances by local acts including ShiGGa Shay, Tay Kexin and the Switch.
A food caterer, Smiling Orchid, operated out of the void deck (Courtesy of Ouw Jan Lan)
A specimen one-dollar note which features the ten storey-blocks
Retiree Choy Siew Cheng, 75, and her family had been living in a three-room flat at the ninth floor of Block 75 Commonwealth Drive for nearly forty years before her flat was selected for Selective Enbloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) in 8 August 2008. She remembers fondly the former Malayan railways at the back of her block and the gargantuan gas holder at the edge of the precinct which emitted smoke and gas every afternoon. She said, “For the first six months after I moved into the flat, my family was extremely irritated by the unpredictable ‘noise’ from the oncoming trains. The honks would often jolt us from our afternoon naps and cause numerous sleepless nights.” Madam Choy also worked for the Malayan Textile factory in the 1970s and 80s, which was a stone’s throw away from her flat at the Tanglin Halt industrial estate. The industrial estate was planned by the Singapore Improvement Trust to capitalise on the ready pool of labour within Tanglin Halt and provide flexible working conditions for married women.
Block 74 Commonwealth Drive, 1968 (Courtesy of Jasmine Cheng)
Gas Tank at Commonwealth Drive
Light industries were also situated at the ground level of the ten-storey blocks at Commonwealth Drive. Ouw Jan Lan, 75, had operated a food catering confectionary, Smiling Orchid, out of the void deck at block 78 Commonwealth Drive between 1985 and 2001. She recalled, “Tanglin Halt was a self-contained neighbourhood. Many of my customers and workers resided in the estate and we purchased our fresh ingredients from the nearby Tanglin Halt wet market.”
The redevelopment programme, announced in 2008, marked the end of the iconic estate, which was featured in one-dollar notes in the 1960s. The blocks will be demolished in November 2015.
Madam Choy Siew Cheng (right) and her colleague, circa 1990s (Courtesy of Choy Siew Cheng)