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Aug 31, 2015

Memories of Woodlands - Jessica Bong



At the launch of the Woodlands SG50 Commemorative Book and Ebook "Heart Choices" at the Woodlands Community Centre on 30 August, 2015, I met Jessica Bong again after over a year.

I was assigned by the Singapore Memory Project as a Memory Corps volunteer to interview Jessica Bong and to share her memories of Woodlands, the place of heart choices.


Memories of Woodlands 
Daughter of the vegetables farmer of Hock Choon Village

Ms Jessica Bong, 62-year-old, was born in 1952 at a vegetable farm in Lorong Chikar of the Hock Choon Village in Woodlands, Singapore.   She lived all her life in Woodlands and is residing in a 5-room HDB flat now.   Her 43-year-old daughter lives in Woodlands and another daughter  and 2 grandchildren stay in the East. 

Jessica’s father was a farmer from Kwangtung Province, China  and migrated to Singapore in the 1940s.  Her mother was from Malacca and her parents were married in Singapore in 1945 during the Japanese Occupations.   Jessica is the fourth child and the parents have 12 children -  4 boys and 8 girls.  The eldest brother is now 68-years-old. 



Jessica’s mother is now 86 years old, still active and healthy.   Her father passed away a few years ago at the ripe old age of 100. 


Jessica Bong's father at his vegetables' farm

Photo (left to right):  Jessica's mother, her father and the two gentlemen are their visitors.

The house which Jessica’s father built and owned at Hock Choon Village,  was made of attap roof and the walls from wooden planks.  In front of the house, there was a small plot of land for vegetable farming.  The vegetables were then sold when harvested. 

There were about 15 to 20 families at Hock Choon Village. They all farm for a living.   There were poultry farmers who rear chicks, ducks, pigs and fresh-water  fishes for food.  It was a tightly-knit community and the neighbours and their families live together in harmony. 

Hock Choon Village Community Centre



The former Hock Choon Village Community Centre (now called Fuchun Community Centre) was located at the end of Lorong Chikar , now known as at Woodlands St. 13.   It was the first rural community centre opened by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 19 November, 1962.  Photo credit:  National Archives of Singapore. 


Jessica’s father and their neighbours,  楊丕時 and 楊順 were community grassroots leaders at Hock Choon Village. 



Jessica’s Schooldays Memories


Jessica attended Primary 1 to Primary 6 at the Nan Chiau Public School  (公立南僑学校)  from 1959 to 1964.  (Please refer to her photo with the Primary School Leaving Examination certificate). 


It was a school building with zinc roof and wooden plank walls.  She had to walk to school and fro school daily and each trip took her 30 minutes. 

Her favourite school subject was Mathematics and her favourite teacher Mr. Lin. 

For school extra-curricular activities, her favourite sports was basketball and she played in the school team.  When the school team had to compete with other schools, they travelled in lorries arranged by the school for the participants. 

Jessica completed her school certificate examinations after attending Secondary 1 to Secondary 4 at Bukit Panjang Government School  from 1965 to 1968. 

She helped her father on the vegetable farm since her young days.  Farming as a livelihood was  meaningful  and had given her a sense of satisfaction to help the family.   It was hard work  to toil on the land  under  the sun and rain.  

Sometime in the 1950s, the vegetable farm as cash crop of local vegetables of “chye sim”, brinjal, “kangkong“  and other varieties sold through wholesalers in the markets in Singapore and Johore . In the mid 70s, many farmers started to farm tobacco leaves. Her father then decided to switch to farming  tobacco leaves as it was a lucrative business and earned more then the sales of vegetables.   The tobacco leaves had to be harvested,dried and processed to be sold to one of the tobacco companies in Singapore. 
   
However,after a few years, the government banned the farming of tobacco leaves for manufacturing of cigarettes. Hence, Jessica’s father  went back to farm vegetables. 

Jessica remembers her young days when her father would tell her stories and legends from China whilethey worked together on the farm.  Those educational stories with moral inspired and influenced her.  Her favourite story  was [ 西游记 ] the Chinese classic “Journey to the West”.  

For recreation in the evening,  she went to Hock Choon Community Centre to learn dressmaking and sewing and became a qualified tailor.  She then later build a career in the garment industry. 

In the early days, she watched Chinese movies at the open-air theatre in the village with her parents and siblings.  She fondly remembers the theatre called Mei Lu Cinema which is located near the current Woodlands Checkpoint. 

The nearest indoor theatre was at Sultan Theatre at the Chong Pang village in Sembawang. 

Her favorite movies were  [七仙女] and  [甲午风云] in the 1970s.

They also do not have television sets at home.   The family watched TV at the community centre in the evening. 

The family did not have Rediffusion at home.  The radio programmes broadcast on Radio Singapura on portable radios from which they regularly listen to dialect stories by Lee Tai Soh in Cantonese,  OngToh in Hokkien and Ng Chia Keng in Teochew.   Her lessons from these dialects were listened from the radio. 

Jessica’s favorite hobby is reading the Chinese newspaper [南洋商daily.    She was a frequent contributor to the newspaper  and saved newspaper cuttings collection over the decades. 

The newspaper article published on 18 December, 1977 in the [我的得意] feature entitled  [种包菜成功].  (Translation:  Experiment of cabbage planting with success).   It expressed how Jessica’s father experiment the planting of cabbage with seedlings from Malacca and grew at his vegetable farms in 1977.  

The “king-sized cabbage”  experiment attracted the attention of the Primary Production Department of Singapore and was reported in the local newspapers. 

Resettlement of Hock Choon Village for public housing developments 

Hock Choon Village and the precints of Woodlands was considered “ulu” or rural but has undergone major changes since post-independence.   The resettlement plan outlined new towns to house the rapidly growing population that was expected to follow as a result of industrialization in the north.  Rural settlements or kampongs in the way of industrialization and new towns in Woodlands were cleared. 

By March 1994, about 23000 HDB units were built in Woodlands. 

Jessica and her family were offered resettlement compensation and allocation of flats by HDB.  They prefer to  stay in Woodlands  where they had their roots for their three-generation family. 
She would like to share her personal memories of two unforgettable memories in Woodlands: 
  1. Rumours are dangerous.  Do not listen to rumours. 
This happened on 21 July, 1964 during the race riot in Singapore.  Jessica’s father heard rumours that Malays would attack the village and to kill the villagers.  The birth certificates of the family were stored and packed to bury in the nearby forest.  All female villagers would hide at the forest until further notice.   
The male villagers would prepare sharpened wooden sticks as weapons. They stayed awake to guard the village from dangers throughout the night. 

As it turned out, there was no attacks. The rumours were fake.  Peace and order was then restored. 
  1. Water is Priceless.  Do not waste water. 
In 1962, Singapore and Southern Johore suffered a severe drought. Rain did not fall for months. 
The well in Jessica’s family farm was running dry.  The natural elements would affect the vegetable farmers as they depend on water for their crops to grow. 

To help save the water for the vegetables and plants,  Jessica and her brothers and sisters would not use the water from the well.  However, when they need to shower and wash their clothes , they would cycle to their friends’ house which is about 30 minutes away. 

This is the learning experience on the importance of water in Singapore which Jessica would never forget. 

By: James Seah, Memory Corps Volunteer
In collaboration with Woodlands Galaxy CC 

Photos contributed by Jessie Bong from her family album to share on this blog.



Aug 16, 2015

Beancurd Talk


This is an incidental blog inspired by the taste of soya beancurd (豆花) when I stopped over for a bowl of the Wucao soya beancurd in Geylang today.


"Rochor Beancurd House" at Selegie Road is my favorite traditional soya beancurd whenever convenient, but the visit to the Geylang Road branch for the first time for me.  Same good quality, same original tastes and standards over the decades.  The special taste and flavor from Rochor Beancurd House is unique and unmistakable.

However, this blog is not about the (豆花) or "tau huay" in Hokkien as I called it in the Bukit Ho Swee kampong childhood days.

This is about the unique pioneer generation enterprising Singaporean resilient characteristics of an immigrant from a faraway land in China in the 1950s and took roots in Singapore. They brought up their family and children to "breed" another generation of younger Singaporeans.

I noticed an article (shown above) on the wall of the shop and would like to share this on the blog.

A 50 years journey
Every step leaves its print

During the 1950s, a 12-year-old boy named Xu Kunming travelled from China to Pulau Tekong on his own.  With the help of an uncle, he reunited with his parents.  They worked as fishermen.

Although Xu Kunming was young, he was intelligent.  He received an education while helping his father.  Due to low income, the family was poor.  This situation remained for three years.

When Xu Kunming was 15 years old, he stopped schooling due to financial constraints.  The family of three left Pulau Tekong for Singapore island in search for better economic prospects.  Their efforts were rewarded when they started a stall selling soya bean milk and curd beside the Rochor seven-storey mall.  The family worked long hours with the only wish being not having to go hungry.

Despite limited education, Xu Kunming had good business sense.  He thought that failure was the result of inaction.  Therefore, being proactive was better then being passive.

From 1980 onwards, he changed his business strategy and became a travelling hawker.  With a pushcart, he started touting soya bean milk from Rochor Rd to Beach Rd to Balestier Rd.  Though exhausting, this improved the family living standards.

The four-wheel wooden pushcart had a wooden signboard which read "Wucao Soya milk".  This "Wucao Soya milk" gained customer support for its fragrance and good taste.  
In addition, customers praised the bean curd as smooth and tasty.  The results had proven Xu Kunming had adopted the correct business strategy.

Xu Kunming had to assume the responsibility of taking care of his three younger sibilings.

Xu Kunming would ease the burden of his mother by bringing a younger sibling while selling his products.  This sibling would be placed on the cart.  This continued until the siblings started formal schooling.

Xu Kunming has contributed greatly to the upbringing of the Xu family siblings and the reputation of "Wucao Soya milk."

Currently, "Wucao Soya milk" has opened another branch at Balestier Rd.  Putting up a similar signboard along the same road which Xu Kunming had walked as a travelling hawker is indeed meaningful.  He can reminisce about the past and compare it with the present changes.

Till now, Xu Kunming is still doing his best to make "Wucao Soya milk".  He insists on maintaining the soya milk's originality and flavour which has been maintained for the past decades.  His catch phrase is "with the support of the customers, we can do better."

Thank you for your support.

Today, "Wucao Soya milk" has a 3rd generation successor.  He is Xu Kunming's son, Xu Guowei (Jason).  Jason graduated from Queensland University of Technology with a bachelor's degree and major in network security.  This young man is energetic and has inherited his ancestor's diligent attitude.  He has an unique perspective in business.  He manages the stall with 16-hour workdays.  He describes the situation as:

"With the foundation laid by my grandfather and 50 years of diligence from my father, I am responsible for ensuring the continued success of "Wucao Soya milk."

It takes Man to plan but Heaven's blessings to succeed and I have just have to try my best.

Elements such as time, place and people are needed for business seriously and handles human relations well.  With this people element together with the time and place elements created by his forefathers, it is believed he will lead the business to prosper to greater heights.

I thought this is a SG50 Singapore story to share with everyone, not just our pioneer generation friends who understand the meaning of economic hardship, political instability and racial disharmony in Singapore in the early days.

Jason Xu has benefitted from the sacrifices of his father, Xu Kunming and the "Wucao Soya milk" secret family recipes, formula for the success of the business he inherited.  He grew up in an improved Singapore with better education system, an independent nation with political stability, racial harmony and equality regardless of race, language, religion and culture for a better Singapore ..... changes from the past, the present and the future.

From pushcart to Facebook, Jason moved "Wucao Soya milk" traditional business via Internet technology and communication to his customers here .


Rochor Beancurd House (RBH) Branches Drawn by Andrew Yeo

RBH Balestier Road Branch

RBH Thomson Road Branch

RBH Geylang Road Branch

The above 3 photos of the Balestier Road, Thomson Road and Geylang Road branches of the Rochor Beancurd House are the sketches drawn by my international award-winning artist friend, Andrew Yeo Kian Hwee.  

I described him as "a human camera with magical lens captured through his eyes and memories" through his drawings and paintings here .

Thanks to Andrew for his kindness to send me these photos, unsolicited.  It was as if he read my mind to get some pictures of the RBH branches ...  maybe through ESP (Extra Sensory Perception :)

What a pleasant surprise and I am pleased to update the blog to share with everyone.  Much appreciated, Andrew.

From the pictures, we noticed that the RBH shops are simple and practical furnishing stuff without aircond, piped-in music in the shop, fanciful decorations and designs to attract customers.  This is the humble and honest characteristics for business.  The best stuff in RBH is the "real thing" without the needs of imaginative, creative product names.  "Tau huay" is "tau huay",  "yew char kuay" is "yew char kuay" .....

Some readers asked me about Bread Talk in the controversial news recently about beancurd drinks sold by the company.

I am talking about beancurd, not about bread on this blog.  Not mentioned here.

An interesting email I received from a blog reader:

"Please advise the mothers-to-be to drink more beancurd during pregnancy so that their babies would be born with fair complexion and smooth skin.  However, if  mothers drink only water before the babies are born,  the babies would be born transparent" .... hahaha, just kidding!

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