Bishan History

I didn't expect my second post to come so soon.

I just discovered that there is another blog about Bishan. But get this: it was started last weekend with the first few posts made yesterday. Just like this blog!

Welcome to the blogosphere, Bishan History.

From what I can tell, it is a project blog of some sort. Apparently, they've extracted some content from Wikipedia but some content seems to be their own as well. They've summarised the geography, history and socio-political aspects of the estate.

Nice to know that there is a sudden surge of interest in Bishan!

UPDATE Their email address doesn't seem to work.

Bishan, blogged!

Inspired by Alvin's Tiong Bahru Estate blog, I decided to start Blogging Bishan.

First and foremost, I want to document the estate. Singapore changes rapidly. So, too, does this small estate in central Singapore. I hope that Bishan can be a lens through which I can explore larger issues of development, heritage and belonging.

In this first post, I have reproduced an article I wrote in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of my move to Bishan.

Bishan Two Zero

National Day Parade Flypast over yet-to-be-completed Bishan
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

This photo was taken in August 1985. It's not every day one comes across a photo of their estate being built. In this photo, the flat where I now live has been constructed almost to the same level as my family's apartment.

People think of Bishan as a 'new' estate, but I've lived here for nearly two-thirds of my life. About 20 years ago this month, my family shifted from Clementi to Bishan Street 13. We were one of the first people to move in to our block. In fact, I think we were probably one of the first 100 families to move into Bishan.

Things were vastly different back then. The MRT hadn't opened. There was no Bishan Central. There was no bus interchange. Rather, the 'interchange' was a couple of containters, placed along Bishan Street 13 where the NTUC is currently located. There were two bus services. 56 would bring you to Toa Payoh. 58 would bring you to Lavender Street. Quite conveniently, it passed by Saint Anthony's Boys' School on Victoria Street. (Those services have since been merged as 56, plying the Bishan-Marina Centre route.)

People seemed to be reluctant to move to Bishan because it was formerly a cemetery - Pek San Teng. Pek San in hanyu pinyin is Bi Shan - that's where the estate gets its name. When the MRT opened, there were all these stories about ghosts on the last train as you pull up to Bishan. I've not seen any. The photo below is a motorists' map of the cemetery, taken just before it was cleared to make way for the estate. Compare it with this post-World War II map.

Kwong Wai Siew Pek San Teng |  Cantonese Cemetery
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

This cemetery irrationality, of course, didn't prevent property prices from skyrocketing. During the mid-90s property boom, some of the flats here (especially the exclusive four-per-point-block courtyard units) were going for close to a million dollars. My family's place would probably have fetched around $600K at one point in time. Not bad for a $99,000 flat. New flats are at least twice the price now. Have construction costs risen so dramatically?

It's strange that the block I live in has qualified for lift upgrading, especially since older flats in other estates are still waiting to get into the queue. Bishan has been in a constant state of upgrading, so it looks and feels much newer than its 20 years. This place started off as no frills. Year after year, things have been added. Sheltered walkways. Landscaping. Playgrounds I have played at which used to have sandpits, upgraded to the newfangled plastic ones with the rubber flooring. Even the basketball court where I have played has been upgraded numerous times. First the wood backboards became fiberglass. Then they added fencing to keep the ball from going into the carpark, or worse, someone's flat. Even seats for a small group of spectators.

Buildings. First the MRT, then Bishan Central with the interchange. Raffles Institution. Then the Community Club. Junction 8. Bishan Sports Complex. The CPF Building. Bishan ITE. Junction 8 being expanded once. Junction 8 being expanded twice. And most recently, the Community Library. The MRT station being expanded to accommodate the Circle Line. (Pardon the timeline, the order might be wrong.)

A few interesting notes about the buildings. When the education complex at the junction of Bishan and Braddell Roads was being built, the construction notice board (where they list the architect, contractor and the like) read:


Yes, Bishan was supposed to have a junior college. I'm not sure exactly what the story is but RI was supposed to use the proposed BJC premises temporarily while their Grange Road location got upgraded. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that Singapore didn't need another Junior College just yet. So, RI moved to Bishan.

Bishan MRT before Junction 8
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

Junction 8. The younger set probably have no idea why Junction 8 is called Junction 8. If asked for a guess, I think most people would say that it's because 8 is a lucky number. Bishan, being a former cemetery, probably needed all the luck it could get. Actually, Junction 8 was named to coincide with N8 Bishan.

Yup, Bishan MRT station was lucky number 8, so the new shopping complex followed suit.

Thinking about all this, Bishan is a microcosm of Singapore. Never standing still, always changing. Places being expanded. Buildings getting upgraded. Sometimes, as with the playgrounds, it means that the old ones are razed to the ground. Places where many memories were formed and shared are now figments of my historical imagination.

Still, Bishan's not unrecognisably different, unlike some of the early housing estates which have been completely revamped. I can still walk around and say, "This is the place I grew up. This is where I've lived most of my life."

Bishan Sunset on New Year's Eve 2002
The view from my flat.

Cross-posted at and Deadpoet's Cave.

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