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The changing Singapore River

23 November 2017 / by / no comments

The changing Singapore River

The Sin­ga­pore River of the past was not like what it is today. It was heav­ily pol­luted and had lots of river traffic.

BY: James Seah

[cap­tion id=“attachment_9376” align=“alignleft” width=“451”] The Sin­ga­pore River[/caption]

Sin­ga­pore River is age­less until the end of time, mean­ing last­ing for­ever, eter­nal for as long as Sin­ga­pore lasts on this planet. Since time immemo­r­ial, cen­turies before Stam­ford Raf­fles founded the island of Sin­ga­pore in 1819, the Sin­ga­pore in its orig­i­nal geo­graphic posi­tion and loca­tion existed.

The Sin­ga­pore River is not man-​made as one might think; its size, shape, length and loca­tion was nat­u­rally cre­ated. How­ever, the land util­i­sa­tion and pur­poses of the Sin­ga­pore River over the decades has changed as a result of inland trans­porta­tion, build­ings along the river­banks, and open spaces used for recre­ation and sight­see­ing where vis­i­tors, tourists and Sin­ga­pore­ans enjoy. Over the decades, the Gov­ern­ment and peo­ple of Sin­ga­pore have worked together to trans­form the Sin­ga­pore River into a clean, green and beau­ti­ful Gar­den City.

The Sin­ga­pore River precinct, with its three dis­tinc­tive quays – Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robert­son Quay, is the his­toric heart of the city and the foun­da­tion upon which Sin­ga­pore has been built. Its diverse offer­ings and wel­com­ing ambi­ence are a draw for both locals and visitors. Its preser­va­tion and con­tin­ued vital­ity are impor­tant for eco­nomic and cul­tural reasons.

In the early days, the Sin­ga­pore River pro­vided an ideal nat­ural artery around which the city could flour­ish as trade ebbed and flowed across the arch­i­pel­ago. The trans­for­ma­tion from tidal creek to port and com­mer­cial cen­tre was nec­es­sary for the rapid growth of the island as an entre­pôt in South­east Asia. Unfortunately, the river also suf­fered prob­lems with con­ges­tion and pol­lu­tion over the years. From the ini­tial days of flour­ish­ing trade and activ­ity at the Sin­ga­pore River, it became heav­ily polluted.

I remem­ber when my father first brought me to Boat Quay dur­ing the school hol­i­days when I was nine or 10 years old. I watched the ‘coolies’ who worked shirt­less on a hot sunny day car­ry­ing heavy sacks of rub­ber, rice and other spices from the boat to the ware­house or lorry. It was tough and hard menial work for them. My father, who was from China, worked as a book­keeper at Telok Ayer Street near the Sin­ga­pore River. I also saw the bum­boats and tongkangs that clut­tered the river.

In the evening, once my father brought me to lis­ten to the Chi­nese sto­ry­teller at the Sin­ga­pore River river­bank who spoke in Hokkien. As the coolies were not lit­er­ate, the sto­ry­teller told sto­ries from the “Romance of the Three King­doms” (a 14th cen­tury his­tor­i­cal novel by Luo Guanzhong) and other Chi­nese classics. There was also Chi­nese news­pa­pers about China to keep up with news in China. Each sto­ry­telling ses­sion would cost five or 10 cents, and the story started when a joss stick is burnt and the story ended when it stopped burning.

In the late 1960s, there were food stalls at the Boat Quay hawker cen­tre located behind the Bank of China build­ing and fac­ing the Sin­ga­pore River. The hawk­ers and cus­tomers threw their rub­bish into the Sin­ga­pore River and this added to the water becom­ing pol­luted and smelly. It was dif­fi­cult to describe the mem­ory of smell. The stench was so bad that tourists made sar­cas­tic remarks that the water from the Sin­ga­pore River should be bot­tled and sold as ‘smelling salt’.

Today, the Sin­ga­pore River has been reborn. It has trans­formed from a work­ing water­way to an attrac­tive water­front envi­ron­ment for hous­ing, recre­ation, enter­tain­ment and new com­mer­cial devel­op­ments. It has brought about renewed activ­ity, while con­served build­ings along the river lend charm and pre­serve the mem­ory of the river’s past.

James Seah, 68, has a per­sonal blog called Blog To Express. He was recently invited to share about his Sin­ga­pore River mem­o­ries as part of the annual Sin­ga­pore River Fes­ti­val organ­ised by Sin­ga­pore River One.



The Singapore River of the past was not like what it is today. It was heavily polluted and had lots of river traffic.

BY: James Seah

The Singapore River

Singapore River is ageless until the end of time, meaning lasting forever, eternal for as long as Singapore lasts on this planet. Since time immemorial, centuries before Stamford Raffles founded the island of Singapore in 1819, the Singapore in its original geographic position and location existed.

The Singapore River is not man-made as one might think; its size, shape, length and location was naturally created. However, the land utilisation and purposes of the Singapore River over the decades has changed as a result of inland transportation, buildings along the riverbanks, and open spaces used for recreation and sightseeing where visitors, tourists and Singaporeans enjoy. Over the decades, the Government and people of Singapore have worked together to transform the Singapore River into a clean, green and beautiful Garden City.

The Singapore River precinct, with its three distinctive quays – Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, is the historic heart of the city and the foundation upon which Singapore has been built. Its diverse offerings and welcoming ambience are a draw for both locals and visitors. Its preservation and continued vitality are important for economic and cultural reasons.

In the early days, the Singapore River provided an ideal natural artery around which the city could flourish as trade ebbed and flowed across the archipelago. The transformation from tidal creek to port and commercial centre was necessary for the rapid growth of the island as an entrepôt in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, the river also suffered problems with congestion and pollution over the years. From the initial days of flourishing trade and activity at the Singapore River, it became heavily polluted.

I remember when my father first brought me to Boat Quay during the school holidays when I was nine or 10 years old. I watched the ‘coolies’ who worked shirtless on a hot sunny day carrying heavy sacks of rubber, rice and other spices from the boat to the warehouse or lorry. It was tough and hard menial work for them. My father, who was from China, worked as a bookkeeper at Telok Ayer Street near the Singapore River. I also saw the bumboats and tongkangs that cluttered the river.

In the evening, once my father brought me to listen to the Chinese storyteller at the Singapore River riverbank who spoke in Hokkien. As the coolies were not literate, the storyteller told stories from the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (a 14th century historical novel by Luo Guanzhong) and other Chinese classics. There was also Chinese newspapers about China to keep up with news in China. Each storytelling session would cost five or 10 cents, and the story started when a joss stick is burnt and the story ended when it stopped burning.

In the late 1960s, there were food stalls at the Boat Quay hawker centre located behind the Bank of China building and facing the Singapore River. The hawkers and customers threw their rubbish into the Singapore River and this added to the water becoming polluted and smelly. It was difficult to describe the memory of smell. The stench was so bad that tourists made sarcastic remarks that the water from the Singapore River should be bottled and sold as ‘smelling salt’.

Today, the Singapore River has been reborn. It has transformed from a working waterway to an attractive waterfront environment for housing, recreation, entertainment and new commercial developments. It has brought about renewed activity, while conserved buildings along the river lend charm and preserve the memory of the river’s past.

 

James Seah, 68, has a personal blog called Blog To Express. He was recently invited to share about his Singapore River memories as part of the annual Singapore River Festival organised by Singapore River One.

 


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