21 February 2011

My own memories of Marsiling

Tree after tree and lamp posts whizzed past in the car window, as i viewed the world upside down in the back seat of my father's car. An arduous long journey for a little kid like me back then, judging from the countless number of trees and lamp posts that i had lost count of.

Unlike the usual trips to my favourite kiddy haunts - Yaohan in Plaza Singapura or People's Park OG (Ocean Garments), where i could ogle at toys which i couldn't have, the trip from Clementi to Woodlands in the 70s back then was a time consuming affair. Everything looked foreign to me, lots and lots of trees with less cars on the road. I even ask once if I was already in Malaysia (my family often drove into Johore, Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu), and the only times I recall being in Marsiling or old Woodlands would be when I was heading into Malaysia.

Little did I know, I would be staying in the same area where i had passed by countless times in the car as a kid; this became a reality about 10 years ago (Marsiling MRT was only built in 1996, a big boon to accessibility). It was a massive change for me, considering the fact that I was staying in the Clementi and Jurong area for at least 20 years and counting.

This was a 'sprawling wasteland' claimed by many taxi drivers who refused to take me when I needed to get home after some late night partying. And I had to deal especially with ruthless 'hijackers' along Woodlands Centre Road, staying in the same estate and having no qualms to snatch the rare taxi appearing in the early mornings for going to work.

Woodlands Checkpoint and Customs, Causeway Bridge

Marsiling MRT Station was opened in 1996

Only when I started 'exploration' as a hobby, did I start to appreciate the beauty of this area. Changing my narrow views of this 'forsaken foreign part of Singapore', I adjusted my lifestyle according to the gritty belief that everywhere else was far away from Marsiling (quite evident in terms of taxi fares).

There were places of interests to me like the Woodlands Centre which was formerly Marsiling village, location where the former Woodlands bus interchange was, also a place where i could get a quick fix of delicious nasi lemak at the nearby hawker centre or visit the guitar shop which i believe those into music, would be in the know. The long forgotten Woodlands Cinema was there too.

Then there was the Masjid An-Nur, built in 1980. This popular mosque had this really tall impressive and prominent tower which I could clearly remember, also affectionately known as the 'The Blue Mosque'.

'Old' Woodlands Centre
[Photo: Jenell Tan from The Republican Post]

T.R.E.E group in Woodlands Centre
[Photo: JJmal with T.R.E.E]

Masjid An-Nur , 'the blue mosque'
[Photo: Masjids in Singapore blog]

Kids playing at the void deck

It's their childhood, sure beats staying at home glued to the computer screens everyday.

The schools I got acquainted with were Marsiling Sec, Woodlands Sec and Si Ling Sec, Marsiling Primary; all being in my neighbourhood. Then there was the former Fuchun Primary school building that's no longer in use, from the empty buildings one could hear bats and birds making the place their homes (i was once staying right behind this school), with sightings of the occasional monkeys prowling on the roof tops.

Low block of flat just next to the former Fuchun Primary school

Demolishing in progress

No monkey feeding

There's a park just across the road called Woodlands Town Garden, which i wouldn't recommend visiting at night. 'Amorous' folks could be seen prowling, an area which I had accidentally stumbled upon while engrossed chatting on the mobile phone. I had a awful fright and had to make a hasty exit.

Woodlands Town Garden
[Photo: Roots, National Museum of Singapore]

Other interesting areas which made Marsiling less 'a boring housing estate', was when I got the chance to visit places such as 'Marsiling Tunnels' and 'View Road Hospital'(in another article coming soon in the near future).

The pump house near View Road Hospital
[Photo: One-North Explorers]

I shifted homes around the same Marsiling area a few times, where I got familiar with my surroundings even more. A large part of Marsiling in the early days, consisted of rubber tree plantations and fruits and vegetable farms.

In between blocks

As described on school project by students of Marsiling Secondary, many of the plantations in Marsiling were owned by rubber plantation pioneer and 'Pineapple King', Lim Nee Soon, likewise the plantations in Yishun. And there were various kampongs that dotted the area, most notable ones were Kampong Lorong Fatimah and Kampong Marsiling.

There were other interesting stories as well, like Yong Soon, who was the former village headman of Marsiling Village (or Kampong Marsiling), as well as being the vice-chairman of Hock Chun Community Centre (today's Fuchun CC). Being the only person in the village to have a car, about 500 residents depended on him for various issues. For example, he had on many occasions of babies being born in his car en route to the hospital while presumably being the appointed 'emergency driver' in the village.

The 'Marsiling Hill'

My fascination of the hill was piqued by the frequent trips on bus 911 which I had to take, to and fro between home and the new Woodlands bus interchange. The bus travelled along the curves of the looming hill, it was rather interesting to be staying on 'one side of the hill', while knowing you have fellow Marsiling residents over the other side of the hill. The concept felt pretty foreign to me.

Bus running on Street 13

Curves of the hills

The hill separated HDB blocks with the current Marsiling Apartments and Marsiling Secondary school along side it. The tall trees on the hill look neglected and often looked ominous, discovered there was a park there when i went up the hill to explore (Woodlands Town Park East) in 1999.

Members of our group making their way up the hill in 2006

Chris Soon taking a photo

Nice view, and this wasn't the peak of the hill yet!

This hill was also known as Hill 130 or part of Hill 180 which probably has been levelled for HDB flats as noted by Peter Chan on Chun See's blog. Which means there might be a much higher hill than the existing one which is currently overlooking over the lower blocks on both sides. This hill was also previously used for NS training as well, well documented by both Peter and Chun See.

Of temples and durians

There's a quiet opening among the greens of the hill, well hidden from view. I stumbled upon the clearing from the top of the hill through the secondary forest trees, descending upon unsuspecting senior folks who were sitting around chatting. They had a little shock thinking they had encountered a ghost, but soon accepted my harmless presence.

And this was during the durian season, so I am very sure the senior gentlemen were waiting patiently for the thorny fruit to drop from above. I struck up a conversation to break the ice, to learn that there were a handful of senior citizens who would ascent the hill daily for healthy walks - both the park and wild areas.

They were very familiar with the hill and surrounding areas since the 50s. Was told on this site where we were, was previously a small temple. And the caretakers of the temple had planted rambutan and durian trees in their compound.

The gentlemen then pointed out the 'main' durian tree to me, indeed, the tree itself was the tallest among all other trees around it. I could see durians far up, i believe one would get a rather nasty wound if one of those would find their a head to fall upon. Which also explains why the gentlemen were sitted comfortably in strategic spots, well shielded, but still able to chat comfortably with each other.

There's no photos or description of the exact spot, as I would prefer to respect the elders and not disclose their 'secret spot'.

One of the two durians i managed to hunt down for my parents. I feel durian hunting is a healthy hobby, and yes I frown on those who gain monetary profit from the fruits.

I don't eat durians, but my parents said the durians tasted great!

Marsiling Apartments

I had the experience of staying in one of the blocks, twice in a period of few years while staying in Marsiling area. These two blocks on a low hill, were former homes of staff from the Royal Malaysian Navy. Nice greenery encompasses the two blocks, with a few majestic looking Rain trees, complete with an old disused playground. It has a football field as well, wildly popular and always fully booked for the weekends. The two blocks have been demolished and replaced by Marsiling Grove HDB flats.

You can see your neighbours from one end to the other

Living conditions for me was pretty spartan back then.
The vents in the walls aid ventilation - natural air-conditioning when there's a breeze

Rustic scenery

Very cool playground from the past

Believe it or not, I could count stars from my wide open windows on a clear night.
This photo doesn't do justice for what I saw with my own eyes.

Other little curiosities

There were other interesting facts, such as a former footpath that cuts across the land, goes past a small single building, the English College (demolished, was said to be a small British school), past the present day Shell petrol station, between the trees and neighbouring Marsiling Secondary school.

Part of Street 13 leading to Woodlands Centre Road

This footpath is now cut off by fencing and forgotten, the remainders of the footpath now deviates to Blk 143 from the road, Street 13. Then, there was the hearsay rumours among those living in the area, about the current shortened footpath being haunted, but of course this was never verified.

Another interesting info, the trees that are found just outside the fencing and gate of Marsiling Apartments, have red sap (red gum trees?). Often these trees are described as 'bleeding' when cut and have their place (misplaced) in local folklore as sacred or haunted trees.

And lastly there's the long winding road which was formerly part of Marsiling Avenue, Lorong Chika and Genista Lane combined. Today's road is called Woodlands St.13, it is linked to both Woodlands Centre Road and Woodlands Ave 3.

Part of Street 13 leading to Woodlands Centre Road

My good friend (as well as a member of our group), Donny, used to send me home late nights after basketball games and outings. He loved to complain how far I was staying, except for St.13. Perhaps a little favourite of his, peaceful winding road along side a tall hill.

Minimal traffic during late nights, one could be mistaken for being in a foreign country or the quiet countryside. We had jokingly coined this road as the Woodlands‘ "Qiu Ming Shan", a mini version of Mount Haruna, or more famously Mount Akina of Initial D manga series. To add: No, we weren't speeding. Donny's a safe driver.

I loved the old world charm

There are, indeed more historical info which I could derive from online sources. I would prefer to avoid repetitive information which is already/readily available on many websites.

Our group is not just about adventures and investigative documentation, there is another side to places we have been which may have struck a chord. This article would be one which I want to show and share, something more personal and closer to the heart.

I would update this page if I do have additional personal experiences in future. Meanwhile I leave it as such, thanks for reading!

More photos in album

Good Morning, Yesterday
Marsiling Apartments

Article & Photos copyright of Andrew Him
(unless credited to via links and mentions)

© One° North Explorers

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  1. Great write-up bro.

    I'd like to share my experience of exploring the English College, that old abandoned school compound that once stood along the former Marsiling Road. It had since been demolished and the Marsiling Secondary School stands stolidly in its place now.

    Many years back when I was still in Secondary School, a classmate and I went into the school compound after hearing so many spooky stories about the place. It was an impromptu exploration trip for us, hence we went empty handed. No camera, no torches, just 2 sheepish boys in our school uniforms and a broomstick we picked up outside the fence to fend off any possible attacks from dogs.

    The vicinity of the school compound was eerily quiet when we entered its compounds. Built in the 1960s and abandoned since the late 80s / early 90s (confirmation needed), the place was really dilapidated. Each wall was weathered and the paint was cracked in many parts. Some windows were half-open, others were shattered and we stepped on some broken pieces of glass as we entered the buildings.

    Most of the rooms were empty, in the few that had broken furniture, we could see pieces of wooden tables and chairs which looked really old and dusty. Some were even gnawed by termites and left in a heap, the termites now long gone. Most classrooms had a standard layout and there were a few locked rooms at the centre of the block, presumably the toilets.

    Algae seemed to be thriving here, growing on the walls of every building. There was a basketball court, filled with weeds and lalang which covered the concrete flooring. We wouldn't have known that it was a basketball court if not for the basketball stand and hoop, a familiar sight in every school. Nobody really knew why the school was left abandoned for so long.

    There also used to be a dirt track beside the school which was commonly used by the residents living nearby to get from the old Marsiling estate to the MRT. This track was said to be haunted, although I've never experienced anything spooky myself, having taken the same track back home after a day of gaming at my classmate's place. There is a lamp here which always seemed to be blown, making for a dark walk along the muddy path after sundown. People have claimed to have heard chanting and laughter coming from within the compound while walking along this path at night, but I didn't find any traces of commons items being used for rituals during my walkabout inside.

  2. Ah so the mystery of that building is solved! Before Marsiling secondary, on it's site was this English College? How big was the compound of the English College?

    If you take a look at the topographical map image above, it shows the two long bars which is today's Marsiling Apts. The other buildings to the right side is the English College?

  3. Hi One North team,

    I read this article with great interest and it greatly chronicles the 'going-ons' in a little estate that I grew up in during the whole of my life. The maps presented totally blew me away and I've never came across an old map showing the past layout of the area and this is my first time that I come across such material. Keep up the good work One North! :)

    Additional stuffs I would like to add:

    1. Bus terminal and the market place.
    There was a bus terminal near block 19 that used to stand beside the present day SPC petrol kiosk. 4 bus services namely; sv 182, 950, 951 and 952. All those services served residents commuting to town area with the exception of 951, which used to terminate at the present day Boon Lay Int. All services had been withdrawn and the current location now stands an open field. You can find Chinese Opera shows being staged there on some auspicious days. The market and the surroundings are reminisce of 70's Marsiling which stand proudly till this day. It's best to take some snapshots there.

    2. Former Woodlands Town Centre.
    There are these humid little undeground shops selling cheap clothings and electronics still operating up till this day just below the makan centre. When I was a kid, I hated going there cos it was so stuffy and congested. A very unique feature which can't be found in any parts of Sg so far. The whole town centre area was a favourite hangout place for those 'number' gangsters which were quite rampant during the early 90's. I hated those jokers seriously, haha.

    3. Kampong Lor Fatimah
    The former used was located at the present day Woodlands Checkpoint, covering from Woodlands Crossing, Train checkpoint to the current checkpoint. The villagers were totally evicted from the premises in 1990. My relatives used to reside there and my family used to make frequent trips to the village. Unique feature of the village is that is stands on stilts just above the seashore just like those seaside fishing villages in M'sia.

    3.Kampong Mandai Kechil
    The same concept as Kampong Lor Fatimah, stretches from the present Old Woodlands Road Esso petrol kiosk up to the present Woodlands Crossing. The village was destroyed in 1994.

    4. Kampong Sungei China
    Remember Marsiling tunnels? The area used to be a village too.

    This exploration memoir pretty much sums up a lot about Marsiling and I'll add some infos if I happened to remember certain things. Once again, keep up the good work! :)

    Best regards,
    Rudy SGHC

  4. Hi Rudy,

    Thanks for the encouraging comments!

    About the shops in the Former Woodlands Town Centre, I remember those humid little undeground shops too!

    We used to call the place the "Black Hole" back in the 90s. An appropriate moniker for that place. LOL!

  5. Before Marsiling secondary, it was English College. Before English College, it was Marsiling Primary School. My friends studied there.

    My mom is one of the shopkeeper at those humid little undeground shops Woodlands Town Centre. The badly design shops shows that there are lots of bad designers in HDB.

  6. You mentioned about the 'main' durian tree in this article. I wonder where is the location of this tree.

    Is it near the Sport Complex and the Swimming Complex or near the hill opposite HDB buildings at Woodlands St 13?

    Also, thanks for writing this article. It made me know the old days of Marsiling.

  7. i used to stay at a kampong which is located at the present day kranji race course. heard from my grandparents that there were soldiers training there....

  8. Thanks for this write up! :) My childhood was spend in a farm on Lorong Chikar...there was a hill behind my house and it overlooks the mandai orchid farms. Went to sch in Marsiling Primary and moved to Marsiling when we were relocated. Your pics bring back old memories. Thank you!

    1. There were few Boyanese families lived in Lorong Chikar. Bicycles without breaks, watch out at Marsiling Avenue slops. The initial excavation works of Woodlands New Town started at Marsiling Road, now junction at Woodlands Gardens. We enjoyed looking the excavators cutting the hill leading to Blk 4 Marsiling Road.

  9. hi, could anyone give me a photocopy of street directory of 1979 or 1980 or anything before marsiling road was redrawn.....

    whatsapp me @ 91184954

  10. Hi....This is nice. I studied at Marsiling Primary School (1969 to 1974). Anyone from that era? Please reply to my post

  11. I studied from 1970-1976... We just had our P6 class gathering last night, after 48 years. Memories were flooding back. My family used to stay in 241, Marsiling Road.

  12. I was in primary school from 1967 to 1972. Aladad Khan was the Pricipal. Mr. Katty, Mr. Swen, Mr. Ahmad Aziz, they were the fieace teacher.

    1. Not to forget Mrs. Khatijah, Mrs. Rukumani, Mr. Ong.

    2. Hello Slave, I am currently a teacher at Marsiling Primary School. I am wondering if you could provide me with some memories of Marsiling Primary School as we are now bringing back the history of the school. Pls contact me if you see this message. Thanks!

  13. 凤图庙. Not really a small temple. It is now located at the nearby industrial park. Moved over since 1980s