Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

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Singapore Food Staples: Wanton Mee

Wanton Mee. Me want. Wanton Mee is basically Dumpling Noodles. Wanton=Dumplings in Cantonese.
Mee=Noodles in Hokkien.
∴ Wanton Mee= Dumpling Noodles.

I waddled along to Parklane Zha Yun Tun Mee House to taste their Wanton Mee offering. Contrary to their naming, they are not in the Parklane Mall nearby (they used to be) but in the Sunshine Plaza. Confusing. It wasn’t sunny when I visited either.

They have two small eating areas with a few tables set outside in the corridor. We sat ourselves down on a messy table just to annoy them. But they weren’t annoyed and they cleaned up our table quickly and we ordered the staple Wanton Mee dish. All good.

The food came extraordinarily quickly. I don’t know how noodles can be boiled that quickly to order. Hmm. The clumpiness of the noodles were a little meh on first impression too. The noodle dish came with a little broth bowl which included a little pork dumpling swimming nicely around in it.

The dumplings at Parklane are fried in their particular Wanton Mee dish and the noodles are served relatively dry in the Malaysian fashion. I felt that the fried dumplings on my plate were a little more…destroyed…than the other dishes. The pork pieces (char siu) were quite small and pretty bland. The noodles themselves with the dark soy based sauce were a muddle of tastes that really didn’t hit home and stand out to be in any way spectacular.

The fried dumplings themselves were the most enjoyable part to eat in the dish with a pork flavour being faintly present throughout each crunch. I ended up finishing the dish (it’s not bad it’s just not fantastic) without projectile vomiting around the joint like a garden hose but I plan on hitting up some more Wanton Mee joints to compare and contrast. On paper Wanton Mee should be a tastier treat than what Parklane are offering up.

 

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Singapore Food Staples: Tau Huay (Dou Hua 豆花) Beancurd

Consistency is key in every facet of life. People who drive cars need to consistently not crash. And food needs a consistency that your brain is suited to. So with an innocent western palate, tackling Tau Huay (beancurd) will be fighting the consistency from the start.

Rochor Original Beancurd is one of the most popular and established bean curd dessert places in Singapore. Founded in 1955 by a married couple when Singapore was, itself, finding its feet. So props to them.

It’s a simple dessert. At $1.20 it’s an affordable after meal refresher if you can get past the consistency. Served in Singapore with a simple sweet syrup in a small plastic cup, this beancurd dessert has a number of different variations throughout Asia.
For me, the problem wasn’t the consistency it was the blandness of the syrup. Tofu, in essence, is pretty tasteless so it relies on what accompanies it. The syrup was just not sweet enough and instead of syrup it just tasted of mildly sweet water. Like a cube of sugar was thrown in to a bucket. Perhaps other beancurd joints have more tasteful syrups…

Rochor Original Beancurd has a space upstairs if the few seats downstairs are taken. Apart from it looking like a prison cafeteria it was fine once lights are turned on and a few fans are whirred into action.

Tau Huay can be served both hot and cold and maybe the sweetness of the syrup permeates more with a little heat? I don’t know and I don’t think I will be trying it to find out. So, in summation, consistency might be a challenge (think phlegmy) but, in my opinion, Tau Huay is just too bland to register as a refreshing sidewalk side dish for me. I’ll stick with water.

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Singapore Food Staples: Carrot Cake

No, you’re wrong. You just are. This is not the affable dessert that you have scoffed down at your grandmother’s on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. This is, in fact, a savoury omelette type concoction made primarily with diced up white radish, preserved radish, eggs, and garlic (or other seasoning). With a nice dollop of chili paste on the side if you so desire (or mixed through it if you so desire that). “But where are the aforementioned carrots!?” I hear you warble. There aren’t any. So there. It’s a lost in translation sort of thing with the Hokkien name of this dish Chai tow kway meaning radish or carrot (chai tow) cake (kway).

I went to He Zhong Carrot Cake stall in Bukit Timah Food Centre to taste this particular dish. It’s a busy place with a 30 minute wait for the dish. No hurry. Let’s do this. You give your table number and they deliver your carrot cake and grab your money when the food is served. And served it was.

On first appearance it looks all omelette-ly. Only when you start pranging and probing away with your chopsticks do you get the chunks of radish appearing. The light brown crust are the pieces that are top of the taste tree on this one as it adds a little crunch to this quite soft and gooey dish. Each mouthful is a mish-mash of radish and egg and is quite a low key taste; at first you wonder if it’s all that it’s supposed to be. After a few mouthfuls, though, you begin to appreciate the balance of tastes and the ease with which you can just, simply, eat. This is all good. And adding a little chilli paste to proceedings elevates the carrot cake to new levels; the sharpness and the little heat that the paste brings to each bite is a perfect balance to the undertones of radish and egg.

I think I would probably get the chilli paste on top or mixed through if I was getting it again. It completed the dish for me.

As you can see above the carrot cake gets prepared in one big wok. This looks like the start of another batch with the radish chunks and a bunch of seasoning kicking off proceedings. The man that served us was very friendly and was delighted to see us enjoying his food. I would hope I can make it back again before the end of times.
On a side note Bukit Timah Food Centre is also a place where I can see myself heading back to as it has a massive array of different stalls to try out.

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007 in Concert

Gooooollllldddfinngaaaahhhhhh…

Bond. James Bond. The movies go hand in hand with the theme music. Maybe even, in some cases, the songs eclipse the actual movie. Oscar nominations and wins prove that point, actually!

Thus and therefore we have concerts and performances centered purely on the classic Bond music over the past five decades and further thusly 007 in Concert was performed in the Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatre on the 19 and 20th January. British conductor, Pete Harrison, led his 28 piece orchestra accompanied by two vocalists (Laura Tebbutt and Tim Howar) for the more…vocal…of numbers

It was an excellent night all around and musically a treat for sore ears which are bombarded by a mish-mash of fake music vomited out of taxi radios and Uber Food scooters on a daily basis.

The concert was done (thankfully) chronologically which means starting off with the “we all know it” James Bond theme from Dr. No. Continuing through, one would argue, probably the most richest and charismatic suite of songs from the Sean Connery era. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro), Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey), and Thunderball (Tom Jones) are absolute belters of songs. Vocally exploding at various times they are a magical trio of theme songs that befit the era and ooze secret service and danger. You Only Live Twice takes the James Bond theme in another brilliant direction. More swinging and soothing vocals by Nancy Sinatra which still exudes Bondism; intrigue, dangerous romance, and secrecy. Amazing. Diamonds Are Forever wraps up the (real) Connery era with Shirley Bassey annunciating the words as only she can. The song perfectly portrays the major roles women have in the Bond universe.
All songs were delivered perfectly by Tebutt and Howar who both did an amazing job all night.

Let’s not forget On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby. It actually had two amazing songs; both the instrumental theme music of the same music (a masterfully Barry composed spy-laden swooping musical number) and the sentimental Louis Armstrong We Have All The Time In The World. Sung, on the night, by a local guest singer it was well sung but a bit smarmy; like a drunk wannabe Bond waiting to leech on a couple of nuns.

On to Roger Moore; my era’s bond. Live and Let Die was done as an encore (which I missed as Mrs. Horizons was falling asleep). I’m sure it was great and rocking! This era was one of female lead vocalists and a general theme of slow-paced reflective pieces. Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better is a classic; a melancholic nod to Bond’s trail of influence he leaves behind him. Radiohead (who will pop up later) covered this at some point; check it out. Shirley Bassey’s Moonraker was skipped over for some reason with an instrumental from that movie played. Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only keeps up the Moore era theme of the female perspective; a little schmalzy for me but still a strong song. All Time High  (originally sung by Rita Coolidge) from Octopussy was sung by a local singer whose dress almost passed her butt cheeks. Great voice but, yeah…Also probably the weakest song of the night. Tebutt did a great job on all the other songs.

Moore and Dalton overlap thematically for me with two songs/movies. And the conductor agreed as they played them together. A View To A Kill (Moore) by Duran Duran and The Living Daylights (Dalton) by A-Ha are both quite a dramatic synth-pop turn after all the female driven thematic era of Moore Bond music. I like them both though and they are also songs I remember from the time. Both performed well by Howar on the night. Dalton’s final movie as Bond License To Kill I actually don’t remember if they played it….(Gladys Knight sung the original)…Hmmm. I’m sure I would have remembered….odd..

Pierce Brosnan time, to be sure. A pretty weak run of songs here in my opinion with Tina Turner’s Goldeneye being the only powerful Bond song from the era. On the night they bundled them altogether too as they really don’t warrant any major time separately. Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies is okay if not a paint by numbers run through of a Bond song. The World is Not Enough by Garbage (how the hell did they get that gig?!) is pretty…garbage to be honest. Die Another Day by Madonna is up there with the worst of the Bond songs ever. All sung admirably well on the night by Tebutt again.

Finally the Daniel Craig era. Howar took on Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name from Casino Royale (with a very nice “this one’s for you Chris” before singing) and did it justice. It’s hard to do Cornell. Some instrumental from Quantum of Solace followed (I think) before the final two recent Bond songs. Adele’s Skyfall is a hark back to classic Bond songs whilst Sam Smith’s Writing On The Wall from Spectre will always be a little too..weird for me as a Bond song. It doesn’t help knowing Radiohead’s Spectre was booted for Smith’s cracking-glass-high-pitch effort. Rejected for being dark?! It should be and it suited Spectre a million times more than Smith’s song. Smith won an Oscar though…maybe I’m out of touch with reality.
Both Tebutt and Howar did well (with Howar doing his utmost with Smith’s crazy high vocals) with these show enders.

Also played during the set was The Pink Panther theme and a medley of American cop shows; most notably Police Squad! Welcomed.

I’ll leave you with what could have been…

That’s it. Surprisinghorizons will return in….Another Blog Post.

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Singapore Food Staples: Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶

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I have a mission and I have chosen to accept it. 30 dishes that are quintessentially Singaporean. To be eaten before July 2018.

The first dish Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶, thankfully, wasn’t that displeasing when described on paper. It basically means meat bone tea. It’s not really tea but you can drink tea with it so stop worrying.

We headed to Song Fa Bak Kut Teh at 17 New Bridge Road.

They also have an outlet a few doors down on the corner at 11 New Bridge Road. I think they channel people to whichever one is less busy.

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Song Fa’s menu has a number of offerings but the first dish on their menu is their most famous and the one we were there for. You can order the Bak Kut Teh classic meat (pork) bone tea with two or four bones. The four bones were the order of the day as it was unseasonably cold (23c!) in Singapore and we needed some sustenance.

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So the Bak Kut Teh as a bowl in front of your face is quite plain visually but it packs a deliciously peppery broth which the pork bones lounge in. The meat on the bones can be pulled off quite easily with your chopsticks and the pork itself is flavourful and tasty. It’s the broth that wins in this dish though and the service staff come around and refill you a couple of times to keep the heat going. The broth, it is said, has a mixture of herbs and spices including cinnamon, garlic, and cloves. The garlic part is quite obvious as there were two whole cloves were present and were a nice textural contrast to the pork and broth. I felt that the overall taste was of pepper but there was a definite complexity behind it and every mouthful was tasty.

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Other side entertainment we ordered were a side dish of greens; fine. Some dough fritters which were amazing dipped into the broth and the ubiquitous bowl of white rice. A small pot of tea was ritualistically made for us by the service staff which was nice of them when they saw our deer in the headlights faces when presented with the tools to make it with.

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The decor at Song Fa (at least at 17 New Bridge Road) is made to be ye olde timey Chinese village eatery and it is cosy and welcoming. Service was attentive and friendly. Prices, below, weren’t too crazy and I would recommend it as a place to take visitors to Singapore as the food on offer isn’t unpalatable to noobish non-Asian stomachs.

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Visiting Haw Par Villa in Singapore

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You want to see some weird sh…tuff in Singapore? Sick of the pristine sidewalks and effective transportation systems? Sick of the amazing food? Want to see what Singaporeans will create when they let their imagination run wild and allow all their weird sick fantasies out into the open? Proceed to Haw Par Villa. It even has its own MRT station. Uh-huh.


If you’ve used Tiger Balm at all in your life then you have contributed to this…strange…place. You see the creator of Tiger Balm, Ah Boon Haw, created Haw Par Willa in 1937 based on old Asian stories and myths.

It’s also free to enter so you probably want to pop along to give your wallets a brief respite in Singapore. Let’s take a look.

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Best to head early in the morning and head for the 10 Courts of Hell area as that’s where the weirder stuff is. You pass an epic fight between rabbits and rats on the way. Naturally.

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The Ten Courts of Hell is based on Chinese mythology. It’s not pretty. I guess it was intended to put people off being naughty. Above you see what happens when you jaywalk in Singapore.

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The crime for the above court of torture? Graffiti. With permanent marker. Ooohhh.

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Getting sawn in half with a big cleaver. This happens if you don’t finish all your food at a hawker centre. Actually I’m not even joking; one of the reasons for this torture is “wasting food”.

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Judge Judy didn’t take any prisoners in a previous life. Getting cut in half vertically was the antidote to rumour mongering. Our next door neighbours fight a lot; that’s not a rumour, that’s fact. What do I get?

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After you leave the 10 Courts of Hell you can apply some Tiger Balm to your wounds by a friendly tiger. Sorted.

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Some turtles bring you back to a sense of zen and peace.

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And then all is forgotten by the fat jolly Buddha.

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There are a couple of monuments to the creator’s family dotted around.

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Thankfully the only monkeys were mythological monkey god ones.

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“He who can climb well shall not be dragged into caves by wolves.”

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The Titanic recreation was a bit more dramatic; we see Rose after dropping Jack off the front here straight into a shark’s snappers. Nice. Would have added some spice to the movie. Cameron take note.

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The work put into the stories is quite impressive but wear and tear is apparent.

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Finally, near the top of the park a nice serene Guanyin the “Goddess of Mercy” to allay all our fears that the world is going to eat us up.

Yes, so it’s an interesting little attraction to go visit. Your reaction to the different displays will range from “what the hell…?” (literally), “that’s gotta hurt”, and “huh, that’s weird”.

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Impressionist Exhibition in Singapore

Colours of Impressionism is currently running in the National Gallery Singapore until March 2018. It brings together over 60 Impressionist paintings from the Musée d’Orsay Paris with a few offerings before and after the main era of Impressionism. It was amazing to see so many Impressionist paintings in Asia as it’s rare that any French Impressionist paintings are gathered in one place in the region usually. Let’s take a quick peek at a small selection of what was on show. If you’re in town, make sure you take time to visit. Locally based teachers get free entry. Result.

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Monet along with Renoir may be seen as the pinnacle of French Impressionism and I won’t argue with that. Both artists are represented well at the exhibition with more of a Monet presence. Some of the highlights from Monet include two from his most famed “series” paintings. Of course, no waterlily painting would be a disappointment so it’s pleasing to see one here. One of many that he painted when he set up his studio in Giverny. One of Monet’s 30 Roeun Cathedral paintings is also here with his study of the thick, clumpy facade painted under direct sunlight.

Renoir’s late works were severely compromised by his rheumatism in his hands and a lot of his female paintings suffered with anatomical anomalies; Gabrielle with a Rose still holding his genius at capturing the female form but beginning to show the effects that strapping paint brushes to his hands were taking.

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Paul Gauguin (he who was Van Gogh’s pre-ear removal buddy) and a lesser seen “normal” Impressionistic snowscape. If you are to see Gauguin in a museum or book you will see that he best known for more lurid flat colors with Tahiti ladies and storytelling through symbolism. Nothing of the sort here but very interesting to see his early work.

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Pissarro was dirt poor and never really got out of his monetary slump until really late in life whilst Monet and Renoir found fame a little earlier in life. (but both had their horrendous moments sans argent!). Pissarro seemed to float around and adapt whomever’s style he was hanging around with at the time so never really had a set style until his 60s I guess. He is mostly known for his peasant scenes.

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Caillebotte is probably my favorite Impressionist. Who I hear you warble?! He was a highly competent artist who painted mainly city scenes around Paris. His paintings are a little more polished than his Impressionist comrades. More importantly the dude was rich so he ended up buying a lot of his Impressionist friends’ paintings. Mainly because he liked them but because he knew he was propping them up financially. Check him out when you can. I think without Caillebotte a lot of the artists around Paris at the time may not have been able to paint as much as they could have.

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Sisley was a British dude who spent much of his time in Paris. Above is a simple yet serene and peaceful scene of a flood in the town of Port Marly. Probably the least recognized member of the movement both during his life and after. Probably was even more strapped for cash during his life (especially after his father’s death) than Pissarro. But Sisley, on canvas, remains one of the most traditional Impressionist painters in history. He stuck with painting fleeting rural scenes and painted en plein air mostly. Under-rated.

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Moving on to post-impressionism or neo-impressionism. Cezanne led the charge. Meticulous to the point of not signing the majority of paintings you will see in museums around the world. He never really thought they were finished. He is a major influencer of artists of the early 20th century most notably Picasso and Matisse. Ya gotta like his flat colored geometric takes on nature. Ya gotta.

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Paul Signac the other other pointillist painter. You know a Signac as his “points” are usually more rectangular than dots. Zoomed on this one so you can tell. Now you know. I like his stuff.

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A bit of a coup is the three preparatory pointillist sketches of Georges Seurat for his gigantic masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (which I had the pleasure of seeing in Chicago a few years ago). Seurat only completed a small number of major paintings but many many sketches and prep paintings exist. Sadly he died very young at 31; one can only imagine what he would have accomplished with a longer life…sniff.

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A very nice surprise on display are two palettes that were left in Renoir’s and Degas’ studios when they died. You can almost see the genre of paintings they are known for by looking at how they are mixing the colors on the palettes.

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Visiting [email protected]

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Visitors to Singapore may not believe or realize that there are a number of high vantage points from where you can see the island apart from the top of Marina Bay Sands. And they don’t involve rubbing shoulders with the touristy hordes either.

I’ve already shown you The [email protected] and the [email protected] has been on my radar for a while but I didn’t get the chance to go until Christmas Day this year. And why not?

If you’re based around Orchard Road, it’s about a 45 minute walk from Ion Orchard and if you sweat by Chatsworth Road you will see some crazy houses along the way. Make it a journey! Or get the 111 bus from opposite Orchard station which will drop you nearby.

The @Dawson HDB (housing development board) apartment blocks are seen as the next evolution of government public housing on the island. The Skyville and SkyTerrace will soon be joined by 5 more blocks to be completed by 2020. Whilst the SkyTerrace is lauded for its greenery inspired architecture, the Skyville boasts a 47th top floor sky garden. Which is where we headed.

Entry is free and you just walk up to an elevator and press 47. Done. There are other lower floored gardens for the more ground level loving visitors. Up to 47 we went.
After our visit we went to the SkyTerrace top floor but it’s just condos up there and no communal space; their gardens seem to be set down lower but there is no information what floors they are on in the elevator (unlike Skyville). If you want to get a bird’s eye view of Singapore head to Skyville and you won’t be disappointed.

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Christmas in Singapore: Orchard Road & Gardens By The Bay

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I have got used to seeing Christmas decorations and experiencing 99%  humidity at the same time. It’s been 10 years living in Asia, I better have.

Orchard Road starts setting up Christmas decorations in October due to the huge amount of work that is involved. In all fairness, they do a good job.
Gardens by the Bay, on the other hand, charges people $8 to get into their Winter Wonderland which has a bunch of food stalls, games, and the ubiquitous Santa in a grotto.

I wandered along Orchard Road and paid the $8 to stroll around alongside eager children dragging their parents around the Winter Wonderland.

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Take a walk from Wheelock Place down towards Somerset 313 and you will see the main Christmas sights (lights/trees/performances) you will need to see (including the small Christmas market outside Ngee Ann City). I think the backdrop of high-end shops make perfect backgrounds for Christmas trees…because that’s what Christmas is all about right?

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Winter Wonderland

It’s worth popping along to the Winter Wonderland for 19:45 or 20:45 for the Christmas themed light/audio show then get out of there with children’s wailing and parent’s resigned sighs ringing echoes in your ears.
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The Death of Dakota Crescent

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With the recent news that Dakota Crescent will be demolished to make way for a new apartment complex, the final death bell tolled for the erstwhile Instgram-friendly low-rise 1950s apartment blocks.

Long been a weird little side-trip to experience what it might have been like to live in a 1950s style housing development,  the government will chuck everyone out on their collective ear whenever they feel like it – there is no solid demolishing date set yet. Some buildings will be saved for prosperity (or for dead body storage) and the iconic dove playground will also be saved. In some form or another.

I trundled along a while ago to photograph some slices of life that I could capture. I will photo-essay the rest of the way. Enjoy.

IMG_9976Some apartments were already abandoned and empty. They were small and the overabundant concrete walls and fittings gave the apartments a cold and threadbare air.

IMG_9967Like other public housing around Singapore there are plenty of nice angles cutting through the Singaporean sky. You just have to look up.

IMG_9968They took their safety very seriously. The metal security doors wouldn’t look out of place on Alcatraz.

IMG_9951The cream coloured walls dissect the small green spaces around Dakota Crescent.

IMG_9944There are a number of different sign posts clamped on to the buildings around Dakota Crescent. I’m sure they might start disappearing soon by some opportunistic cultural-historical vultures.

IMG_9939The brickwork shows signs of aging in parts.

IMG_9932I didn’t. Might need to put a high security metal door around your potted fruit. I like the use of verb “pluck” here; very unexpected.

IMG_9923There was an air of quiet resignation around Dakota Crescent – like the atmosphere that Rochor Centre had in the run up to its end of days.

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The famous pigeon playground will “stay” so “they” say. Perhaps it will be preserved in amber or something.

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The playground is used mostly by mosquitoes now.

IMG_0013One of the cool things about Dakota Crescent is the contrast between the different wall textures. Here you get a trifecta or fourfecta if you’re being really precise.

Dakota Crescent will be missed. Therein lies the price of progress I mutter as I stretch back in my modern condo built on top of the bones of 1950’s Singapore.

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