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: ,

10,939 Responses to “Review: 10-Stories Queenstown Through The Years”

  1. Gems form the internet…

    [...]very few websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out[...]……

    #921134
  2. Thorn of Girl…

    Superb data may be observed on this world wide web blog site….

    #921213
  3. gps map…

    I wish to convey my love for your generosity in support of men and women who must have assistance with in this field. Your personal commitment to passing the message across ended up being wonderfully useful and have really empowered many people like me…

    #921236
  4. top 10 comments…

    I would like to get across my appreciation for your generosity in support of women who actually need help on this concept. Your special dedication to getting the solution across came to be exceedingly practical and have without exception empowered wome…

    #921244
  5. The Slave of the Husband…

    In search of forward to finding out added from you afterward!……

    #921379
  6. party hall…

    [...]one of our guests lately suggested the following website[...]…

    #921428
  7. Recent Blogroll Additions……

    [...]usually posts some very interesting stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[...]……

    #921438
  8. gas solenoid valve…

    [...]Here are a number of the web-sites we advocate for our visitors[...]…

    #921591
  9. Anwalt Lenterode…

    [...]one of our visitors not too long ago encouraged the following website[...]…

    #921709
  10. huge email…

    I would like to get across my admiration for your generosity supporting folks who must have help on that concept. Your very own commitment to getting the solution along became extraordinarily important and has really made folks just like me to realize …

    #921737
  11. blog comment…

    I would like to point out my admiration for your kindness in support of persons that need help with your topic. Your personal dedication to getting the solution all around appears to be exceedingly powerful and has in every case enabled people like me …

    #921793
  12. nuckear knowledge…

    I have to voice my respect for your kindness giving support to individuals that need help on this field. Your special dedication to getting the solution throughout ended up being certainly important and has all the time empowered girls like me to reach…

    #921843
  13. best software…

    I wish to get across my appreciation for your kindness giving support to men and women who must have help on this one subject. Your personal commitment to passing the message all around ended up being definitely important and have consistently encourag…

    #922014
  14. Third Flower…

    My spouse and i are now delighted that Albert could perform his scientific studies because of the ideas he had as a result of your web page. It can be once in a while perplexing to just constantly be giving freely methods which a lot of people might ha…

    #922203
  15. Gems form the internet…

    [...]very few websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out[...]……

    #922212
  16. alphabetical web directory…

    [...]Here is a superb Blog You may Find Interesting that we Encourage You[...]…

    #922360
  17. link spam…

    [...]one of our visitors not long ago recommended the following website[...]…

    #922439
  18. sure bet…

    I have to convey my respect for your generosity giving support to all those that actually need guidance on this particular area of interest. Your real commitment to passing the message throughout ended up being pretty important and have in every case h…

    #922600
  19. sex

    best keyboard…

    I have to point out my admiration for your kind-heartedness giving support to persons who absolutely need guidance on that area. Your special commitment to passing the solution up and down had become unbelievably advantageous and have really enabled so…

    #922621
  20. andalemexico…

    [...]always a major fan of linking to bloggers that I enjoy but really don’t get a whole lot of link enjoy from[...]…

    #922696
  21. top readers questions…

    I want to get across my gratitude for your kindness supporting men and women that need guidance on that theme. Your special dedication to getting the message all-around appeared to be pretty valuable and have without exception helped women just like me…

    #922756
  22. secret map…

    I must convey my love for your kind-heartedness giving support to men who require help with the study. Your personal commitment to passing the message all through came to be extremely effective and have without exception encouraged folks just like me t…

    #922762
  23. sex

    top speed…

    I would like to convey my affection for your kind-heartedness for those people who absolutely need help on your theme. Your real commitment to passing the message across had become definitely powerful and have consistently helped folks like me to get t…

    #923102
  24. mumbai escort…

    [...]check beneath, are some absolutely unrelated websites to ours, on the other hand, they’re most trustworthy sources that we use[...]…

    #923171
  25. buddhism…

    [...]below you?ll locate the link to some web sites that we believe you need to visit[...]…

    #923244
  26. Looking For Ways To Work From Home Online?…

    [...]one of our guests lately encouraged the following website[...]…

    #923251
  27. Review: 10-Stories Queenstown Through The Years | Citizen Historian…

    I have discovered Blue Roses Delivery useful and that i believe you will love it….

    #923516
  28. more info…

    you can find more info here about webhotel 1 kr…

    #923568
  29. Read was interesting, stay in touch……

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

    #923799
  30. Discounts…

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

    #923847
  31. car service…

    I wish to convey my love for your generosity for individuals that must have help with this one question. Your very own commitment to getting the message throughout appears to be astonishingly practical and has all the time enabled regular people like m…

    #923956
  32. your top 100…

    I want to get across my gratitude for your generosity supporting folks that must have help with this one study. Your very own dedication to getting the message throughout turned out to be rather practical and have regularly made guys like me to realize…

    #924009
  33. search more…

    I want to voice my appreciation for your generosity in support of those people who actually need guidance on that question. Your real dedication to getting the message along had been extraordinarily advantageous and has in every case empowered people j…

    #924189
  34. Tonic Concentrate…

    [...]that is the finish of this post. Right here you?ll obtain some internet sites that we assume you?ll enjoy, just click the links over[...]…

    #924200
  35. Cocktails…

    [...]Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine several unrelated data, nonetheless seriously really worth taking a look, whoa did one particular find out about Mid East has got additional problerms also [...]…

    #924215
  36. exercises to make your breasts bigger…

    [...]usually posts some incredibly fascinating stuff like this. If you?re new to this site[...]…

    #924312
  37. algebra formula…

    I have to point out my love for your generosity supporting women who need help on your theme. Your very own dedication to getting the message along appears to be unbelievably productive and have continually made others much like me to achieve their aim…

    #924343
  38. sure info…

    I would like to express my affection for your kind-heartedness for individuals who need help with in this topic. Your very own dedication to getting the message around had been pretty powerful and has frequently made employees like me to arrive at thei…

    #924448
  39. Fu Rui Siguan Network…

    I should say, as a lot as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt aid but shed interest right after a while….

    #924499

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.