Review: 10-Stories Queenstown Through The Years

By Admin

by Loh Kah Seng

Calvin Low. 10-Stories: Queenstown Through the Years. Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2007. 173 pp.
10 stories

For scholars, history buffs and elderly Singaporeans seeking an ‘authentic’ slice of Singapore’s history in a time of social change and adaptation, 10-Stories is a welcome breath of fresh air. The National Heritage Board (NHB) coffee table book, completed in collaboration with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC), is the latest in a long line of public histories on places and communities on our little island. It retains some of the characteristic motifs and problems of preceding publications but also sets out on important new paths which future social histories can take.

RIMG2485 copy

The subject-matter of 10-Stories is Queenstown New Town, Singapore’s pioneer suburb, which the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) – the de facto colonial housing authority – first began building in 1952 and was subsequently completed by the first generation of HDB architects. The book is written in a light style for the general reader, who will also find the numerous beautiful photographs of old and contemporary Queenstown useful. The copy-editing, however, is shoddy and a later print should correct the grammatical errors.

The book is divided into ten chapters – hence the cheekily-punned title which also refers to a well-known cluster of flats of a certain height at Tanglin Halt. They cover aspects of social and economic life in Queenstown such as the experiences of moving into a flat, relationships between neighbours, the trades and recreational activities plus well-known personalities of the estate.

Much of the material is based on oral history interviews conducted by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) and the NHB project team. Interspersed between the chapters are shorter ‘inside stories’ which utilise official records to map out the historical context within which the development of Queenstown took place. In these pieces, we learn about the genesis and implementation of the neighbourhood concept and the link between Singapore public housing and postwar British town planning ideas.

The singular strength of 10-Stories is its human element. The commissioned writer, himself a long-time Queenstown resident, takes us to interesting events and places through the collective memory of the elderly dwellers. Through their recollections, Queenstown’s colonial trappings quickly recede into the background. What emerges, in Hokkien, Mandarin and Hakka, is a sense of the strong ties which Singaporeans have with their physical environment and the people – relatives, neighbours and friends – who live in it.

We learn that Queenstown was really Boh Beh Kang (‘No Tail River’ in Hokkien), while fourteen-storey blocks of flats were, literally, chap si lau. The oral histories affirm, in their own vernacular, the experiences of a generation of hitherto un-named Singaporeans who made the momentous transition from unauthorised wooden dwellings to modern public housing from the 1950s onwards.

In some remarkable ways, the book eschews political correctness and takes us, as all good histories should do, into a different world which once existed. It shows empathy for aspects of social and economic life which were criminalised or officially frowned upon.

Two stand out in particular: the affinity of dwellers for the fare peddled by unlicensed hawkers (indeed some of the individuals featured hawked in their younger days) and the social memory of high-rise flats as places of tiao lau (‘jumping off a high-rise building’). The ‘attap hut’, we also discover, may turn out to be a fairly spacious housing for an extended family, not the cramped, insanitary dwelling typically so depicted in the usual official and public histories of housing.

We hope for elaborations of such social history in future publications. In 10-Stories, secret societies are yet to be properly viewed as an embedded part of community life in post-World War Two Singapore. My own interviews with elderly Singaporeans show that while gang fights were understandably feared, the secret societies were neither ‘secret’ nor ‘dangerous’ to the residents.

The book also fails to give politics an appropriate place in the lives of the residents. When the SIT first tried to clear Boh Beh Kang in the early 1950s, many kampong dwellers joined the Singapore Attap Dwellers’ Association, led by a Labour Front politician, to actively contest it. The first neighbourhood, Princess Estate, was consequently delayed by the resistance and not completed until 1956.

The book quotes a former kampong dweller as saying that the resettlement was ‘bo bian’ (‘no choice’, p. 18) but this is evidently a reflection from hindsight and not how the situation was appraised at the moment in time. Queenstown, too, was for a brief period in the early 1960s the constituency of the late Dr Lee Siew Choh, the former PAP and Barisan Sosialis leader. Yet the book is silent on this facet of the past.

The main theme of 10-Stories is this problematic relationship between the past and present. ‘The story of Queenstown’, as the author writes, ‘is where past, present and future come together’ (p. 166). There are, he argues, strong continuities in the history – a spirit of tenacity and the close neighbourliness which survived the transition from kampong to new town.

Yet there are pressing questions which this affirmative approach does not address. On the graying of Queenstown and the migration of the children of the elderly generation to outlying housing estates, the book simply states, ‘[t]he remaining older residents of Queenstown nevertheless took the decline of their physical and social environment in their stride’ (p. 146). This surely is inadequate if the purpose of the book is to be served; one needs to confront the generational fractures in family life which took place from the 1970s onwards.

The elderly residents’ longing for a warmer and simpler past also does not belong to the early chapters on Queenstown’s history but more properly to a late chapter on social memory. In fact, the book’s nostalgia for a treasured past indicates an uncertainty towards the future. Present-day Queenstown, it is noted, ‘enjoys the honour of being one of the most desirable estates in Singapore’ (p. 6) and is lauded as the ‘undisputed king of HDB estates’ (p. 150).

Queenstown_hdb

These statements, however, come from different voices. It is unclear if the elderly generation has as strong an affinity with the ‘remaking’ of Queenstown which the HDB is presently undertaking as with the past. Nostalgia is further strengthened, not lessened, by rapid social change. The book’s chief value is as a document of the mental landscapes and reflections of an older generation of Singaporeans.

Loh Kah Seng is a PhD candidate at Murdoch University, working on a social history of the 1961 Kampong Bukit Ho Swee Fire. He has a keen research interest in Singapore history, particularly the official use of history, the Great Depression, leprosy, the student movement, and oral history and memory. He received his BA (Hons) and MA degrees from the National University of Singapore in 1996 and 2005 respectively. In between those years, he was a History teacher in a junior college, and still teaches and gives lectures to school students.

Tags: ,

8,546 Responses to “Review: 10-Stories Queenstown Through The Years”

  1. Souls in the Waves…

    Good Morning, I just stopped in to go to your web site and assumed I would say I experienced myself….

    #725090
  2. The Birch of the Shadow…

    I think there may possibly be considered a several duplicates, but an exceedingly helpful checklist! I’ve tweeted this. Several thanks for sharing!…

    #725217
  3. Digg this…

    While checking out DIGG today I found this…

    #725323
  4. nod32 license…

    [...]the time to study or stop by the content or web sites we have linked to below the[...]…

    #725362
  5. Healing’s Dragon…

    to find troubles to boost my web page!I suppose its alright to create use of some within your principles!!…

    #725466
  6. The Silent Shard…

    This will probably be fairly valuable for some of your respective job opportunities I plan to you should not only with my web site but…

    #725469
  7. Souls in the Waves…

    Good Morning, I just stopped in to visit your internet site and imagined I’d say I liked myself….

    #725534
  8. The Silent Shard…

    This can probably be fairly helpful for many of one’s positions I decide to will not only with my blogging site but…

    #725574
  9. Souls in the Waves…

    Good Morning, I just stopped in to visit your website and considered I’d say I loved myself….

    #725586
  10. Read was interesting, stay in touch……

    [...]please visit the sites we follow, including this one, as it represents our picks from the web[...]……

    #725601
  11. The Absent Game…

    Between me and my husband we have owned additional MP3 players through the years than I can count, which include Sansas, iRivers, iPods (traditional & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players….

    #725683
  12. payday loans…

    [...]very couple of internet sites that transpire to be in depth beneath, from our point of view are undoubtedly very well really worth checking out[...]…

    #725873
  13. Websites you should visit…

    [...]below you’ll find the link to few websites that we think you should visit[...]……

    #725960
  14. Souls in the Waves…

    Great Morning, I just stopped in to go to your site and considered I’d say I liked myself….

    #726026
  15. Superb website…

    [...]always a big fan of linking to bloggers that I love but don’t get a lot of link love from[...]……

    #726054
  16. Woman of Alien…

    Perfect perform you might have accomplished, this page is admittedly awesome with amazing info. Time is God’s method of preserving everything from happening at once….

    #726209
  17. Third Flower…

    My wife and i are actually now delighted that Albert could perform his research because of the thoughts he had through your web content. It can be on occasion perplexing to simply usually be giving freely techniques which some people might have been se…

    #726291
  18. The Ships’s Voyages…

    I feel technologies just causes it to be worse. Now there is a channel to by no means treatment, now there would not become a possibility for them to discover….

    #726340
  19. blueberry…

    [...]Here is an excellent Blog You may Locate Exciting that we Encourage You[...]…

    #726349
  20. Healing’s Dragon…

    to discover problems to enhance my internet site!I suppose its okay to make use of several of the principles!!…

    #726360
  21. toko komputer surabaya…

    [...]please visit the sites we follow, such as this one particular, as it represents our picks from the web[...]…

    #726496
  22. Recommeneded websites…

    [...]Here are few of the websites we recommend for our visitors[...]……

    #726506
  23. roqya chariya…

    [...]check below, are some entirely unrelated web-sites to ours, however, they’re most trustworthy sources that we use[...]…

    #726707
  24. Bored at work…

    I like to browse around the web, often I will go to Stumble Upon and read and check stuff out…

    #726759
  25. Blogs ou should be reading…

    [...]Here is a Great Blog You Might Find Interesting that we Encourage You[...]……

    #726932
  26. Whispering Misty…

    So sorry you may miss the workshop!…

    #726983
  27. The Slave of the Husband…

    Trying to find ahead to finding out additional from you afterward!……

    #727014
  28. Recommeneded websites…

    [...]Here are some of the sites we recommend for our visitors[...]……

    #727041
  29. ytviews…

    [...]Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine a number of unrelated information, nevertheless really really worth taking a look, whoa did a single discover about Mid East has got a lot more problerms as well [...]…

    #727198
  30. The Silent Shard…

    This may likely be quite helpful for some of one’s jobs I intend to you should not only with my blog but…

    #727210
  31. Souls in the Waves…

    Very good Morning, I just stopped in to visit your internet site and thought I’d say I experienced myself….

    #727339
  32. The Slave of the Husband…

    Looking for in advance to finding out extra from you afterward!……

    #727392
  33. New iPhone 5s black 32GB unlocked…

    [...]here are some links to web sites that we link to for the reason that we consider they may be worth visiting[...]…

    #727420
  34. marine repair services…

    [...]here are some hyperlinks to web-sites that we link to due to the fact we feel they may be worth visiting[...]…

    #727512
  35. It?s good page,…

    Excellent post. I…

    #727537
  36. The Absent Game…

    Concerning me and my husband we’ve owned extra MP3 players through the years than I can count, like Sansas, iRivers, iPods (basic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players….

    #727538
  37. biggest trucks…

    [...]always a significant fan of linking to bloggers that I love but really don’t get lots of link really like from[...]…

    #727600
  38. Third Flower…

    My wife and i have already been now delighted that Albert could carry out his scientific studies as a result of the strategies he had via your website. It really is now and again perplexing to simply often be making a gift of ways which a lot of people…

    #727620
  39. Links…

    [...]Sites of interest we have a link to[...]……

    #727671
  40. Get Free Xbox Live Codes New Method!…

    [...]we came across a cool site that you could possibly appreciate. Take a appear in the event you want[...]…

    #727755
  41. Tumblr article…

    I saw someone talking about this on Tumblr and it linked to…

    #727792
  42. Sources…

    [...]check below, are some totally unrelated websites to ours, however, they are most trustworthy sources that we use[...]……

    #727854
  43. Check…

    [...]Here are several of the sites we recommend for our visitors[...]…

    #727935
  44. Visitor recommendations…

    [...]one of our visitors recently recommended the following website[...]……

    #727951

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.