Our Group’s Visit To Singapore Island Many, Many Years Ago
Although many people know Singapore island, few I think are aware that the island was actually founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. History teachers tell me, Raffles was an officer of the British East India Company.
Singapore island or Temasek, its old name was supposed to have been discovered by Parameswara, or Iskandar Shah, I think.
As a young boy in my lower forms, a few historical personalities had always intrigued me. Sir David Marshal, a former one time Chief Minister of Singapore was one.
The other was none other than Lee Kuan Yew, who I think needs no introduction whatsoever.
Lee Kuan Yew was once upon a time the leader of the People’s Action Party or P.A.P. as it was known in the 1950s then.
Being an ardent history student that I was, I had learnt a lot about Lee Kuan Yew and the part he played in the formation of Malaysia in 1963. The formation of Malaysia was the idea of Tengku Abdul Rahman.
The wish to see Lee Kuan Yew personally was one of the reasons that led me leading a group of young people from Kapar town, Selangor to Singapore in the 1970s.
To say the above group went to Singapore only to see Lee Kuan Yew would be incorrect. At that time, Singapore was then a tourist destination.
Malaysians especially, used to visit Singapore quite regularly. Each weekend, hundreds if not thousands of tour buses from all over Malaysia would head over to Singapore to spend the weekend and do shopping.
This was what led my friend and I to decide organizing a visit to Singapore many, many years ago.
At that time, Singapore had a few attractions in itself. One reason why we wanted to visit Singapore was as I said, do shopping. It was cheap there, especially clothes. And I remember too, albeit vividly, that electrical goods was duty free.
The Sentosa cable car, a famous 285 feet above sea level ride was yet another attraction for many Malaysian too.
To go to Singapore, especially during the Christmas celebrations was yet another attraction. Singapore during this period would be beautifully lighted up with thousands, of not millions of lights, turning the city into a wonderland of lights. It was like Alice in Wonderland.
Besides the sights mentioned above, our group, which I remember, which consisted about 45 – 50 pupils, including a few teachers, therefore decided to organize an educational visit to Singapore.
Before proceeding any further, I should in fact inform you that my co-organiser was a Mr. Chee, whom I have not met now for quite a few years. Mr. Chee, a good friend of mine is a 5th or 6th dan, Tae Kwon Do exponent.
Today, Mr. Chee is not only an instructor of the art, but also a well known examiner as well.
To say our trip to Singapore was to meet only Lee Kuan Yew, who was then Singapore’s Prime Minister would be a mis-statement. Of course, we wanted to see the famous Japanese Gardens and the Chinese Gardens itself.
Not forgetting too, to visit Bugis Street where the female impersonators or pondans were renowned to be found.
Bugis Street has been torn down and rebuilt again by the authorities. This has led to the famous enclave losing its original appeal forever.
Months before our intended visit to Singapore, a group of students, including youths from Kapar town, a small, sleepy hollow then were recruited to join our group. The bus fare and lodging came to approximately RM50 – RM70 per person. It was actually a small amount to pay then.
In charge of this young group of people were myself, being the Chief Organiser, Mr. Chee and another young and sweet Malay teacher, Cik Faezah, whose duty was to look after the girls in our group.
I still remember that my eldest daughter, Yap Swan Nee was then only 5 or 6, was amongst the members of the group. Also, a neighbor’s wife, a Mrs. Ah Hoon were those who joined as members of our entourage too.
Our visit to Singapore island lasted for roughly 5 days and 4 nights. I have since forgotten about the dates on which it took place. It has been over 30 years since then!
The 50 seater, air conditioned bus belonging to Kuala Selangor Omnibus Company of Jalan Kapar costs us RM1000 or so. I still remember choosing bus drivers Encik Rahman and his young Chinese co-driver, a Mr. Kah Yong from Bukit Kuda, Klang.
Encik Rahman, I heard has since passed away. I still meet the co-driver in Klang town where I reside from time to time. He must be over 55 by now.
How fast time flies. In a twinkle of an eye, 30 years have since gone by.
As the intention of our group’s visit was to see our hero, a man whom we have heard so much in our history lessons, and one whom we admire so highly, Lee Kuan Yew, I wrote to the above personality very early to seek approval to meet him.
But as luck would have it, Mr. Lee was at that time facing a crisis himself then. Besides being extremely busy as the Prime Minister of Singapore, Malaysia had just broken up and Mr. Lee as such was unfortunately unable to meet our group.
For your information, our group had organized a visit to meet our beloved Prime Minister, Yang Amat Berhormat, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj at his official residence in Pulau Pinang one year earlier.
If time should permit, I might consider telling you about this interesting trip in another article later.
Even though Mr. Lee Kuan Yew himself was unable to meet our group as requested, he was good and kind enough to direct his personal secretary to nonetheless provide us whatever requirements our group might encounter during our intended visit to Singapore.
As a result, our lodging problem was solved. We had at first intended to stay in cheap hotels with 5 – 6 persons in a room.
But fortunately, through Mr. Lee’s personal secretary’s assistance, the group, I remembered was offered lodging at the National Youth Training Centre (N.Y.T.C.) at Ang Mio Kio for only $1.45 inclusive of lodging and breakfast for the duration of our stay in Singapore.
I do not remember, as the Chief Organiser of the group, ever conveying our appreciation and thanks to the Singapore Prime Minister’s department for its help then. But I think it is not too late albeit 30 plus years later, to convey our thanks.
As the article seems to be getting longer and longer, I feel I should stop at this juncture. Maybe in the next article, I shall contemplate to tell readers about an interesting episode about how two 16 years old member of our group, nearly got lost at the 200 acres Botanical Gardens of Singapore one late evening.
If indeed they had got lost then, can you envisage the headlines in the next morning newspaper of the Strait Times announcing: “Malaysian Students Lost In The Botanical Gardens Of Singapore”.
Where would the organizers, Mr. Chee and I have to hide our faces then?
Thank god, they say, it didn’t happen.
Before you begin laughing at our episode above, let me remind you that the Botanical Garden is huge. Even our group members, who came from the vicinity of kampongs in Kapar, would very easily have gotten lost in it.
The Botanical Garden, let me tell you, is like the Lake Gardens of Kuala Lumpur. It’s huge, I tell you. Believe you me. And getting lost in it is actually nothing to be shy about.
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