Lately on Facebook many have been posting about Serangoon gardens. Serangoon garden is a place in Singapore where many “serani” or Eurasians lived. This brought back many wonderful memories of the place where I grew up. Our house was not exactly in Serangoon gardens but was actually in a part of Serangoon called Jansen Road. This was outside of the old Serangoon gardens area and was bordering Philips Avenue or what was called 5th mile in those days or Upper Serangoon and part of Serangoon gardens. We lived on a block of land that my dad bought for $5000 Singapore dollars for about 20000 sq feet of land. Hence it was a large block of land in that area. I remember it well as I spent many happy years playing with the kampung boys and girls, Malay, Indians and Eurasians alike. We had all kinds of fruit trees on it. Rambutan, Jambu, star fruit, mango, coconut, ubi kayu, sweet potato and lots more. Of course being a big and very fertile land a lot could grow on it. My mum planted over that time many vegetables and we had fresh food all the time. Quite different from today. As my mum lived orchids and the beauty of its flower, she had a sizeable garden filled with many varieties of orchids. If only she had known how much they would be in demand then she would have started selling them. Like my friend Eugene’s father in Bukit Timah.
They were golden memories as it was a time in Singapore during the British occupation and about 15 years after the 2nd world war. Of course I personally did not experience that war but my mum and dad did and so did much of their family. It proved to be a time of great trial for them. Which is why mum and dad went to no end to provide for us as best they could. I was the youngest of 4 and was called the pappus(baby) of the family or anak bungsu(youngest child). It just sounds better in Malay.
We lived in an “atap” house made on wood, planks exactly and floorboards. The house had a verandah in front. The word atap is a Malay word for a thatched roof made of coconut tree leaves. Many of the houses in Upper Serangoon were made of this thatched roof combination. The leaves would come in 5 ft lengths and about 1-2 ft wide. To ensure that there were no leaks when it rained, they were placed overlapping each other. Hence the rains just fell off the other. Imagine tiles of your roof today and how it’s laid. It was much the same process only it was atap.
It was of course a severe fire hazard, but when you are 5 or 6 your never thought of such things as that was the way of life. Live and let live. We used to shoot fireworks all the time from the verandah and garden into chettys garden. I spent many an hour waiting for my mother to come home after her hard days work at the hairdressing salon in orchard road. Yes my mum was a hairdresser and used to cut the hair of my cousins, friends and their friends and many others. In those days hairdressing was not what it is today. Big business. But the money was still good and it gave my mum an independence from my dads income. Dad was a public servant working for the immigration department and stamped passports as you came into Singapore. He loved to ride a motorbike and that was how he met mum oh so many years ago in katong,east coast. It must have been the thrill of the wind in her face that made mum fall in love with dad and his motorbike. As they say dia sudah tangkap perumpuan (he caught the girl).
Amazingly I too found the girl of my dreams in Katong whilst riding a motorbike. We spent many a happy day riding here and there. I just loved to have her close to me holding on tight as we rode. The feel of her closeness was warm and wonderful. I imagined that was how dad felt. Serangoon gardens was a wonderful place to grow up in. Places like chomp chomp was a favourite eating place. The church of St Francis Xavier up the hill along Chartwell drive was where we all made many friends and till this day it’s a place or us all to meet and our children’s children’s to meet and socialise. Many of us met our life’s partner there and I too found a few girl friends. It was a wonderful time. The young adults and choir which I belonged to were a great bunch of people and we spent many hours praying, enjoying each others company and just having a great time. Aww the days of old.