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:

PROPOSED BISHAN JUNIOR COLLEGE.

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 yesterday.sg and Deadpoet's Cave.

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24 comments:

    My family lived in Bishan for a short period of time, in one of the blocks directly opposite RI. Think it was 111 or something? If I remember well, it was 1992. If not, it would be a year later (will double check on this in Oct when I have access to my stuff in Singapore!).

    I remember walking to NTUC or to the MRT, and the construction of Junction 8 was underway. I also recall thinking how uninspiring the name was, linking it back to the mall being on the eighth stop on the then-North line of the MRT.

    Moved to Bishan about 3 years ago. Knew about the rich history of the area, but have yet to find time to look into it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    I think the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council printed a book about the towns of Bishan and Toa Payoh. So, there might be more information there.


    Rgds,
    Isaak

    P.S.: Hmmm ... Kenneth, I think we stay quite near each other. :)

    Yup, the flats near RI are in the low 100s.

    Heheh, that being said, most of the other heartland malls have even less inspiring names! Junction 8 is a departure from the usual "Name of place Mall" or "Someplace Point".

    Other places and businesses in Bishan started using the suffix "8". Now that's uninspiring.

    Still, it gives 8ishan a bit of branding. ;)

    Hey, Isaak. A colleague of Ivan's?

    If you have any idea where to find that book, I'd look to get my hands on it.

    The view from my flat is a dead giveaway. Just love the sunset. =)

    Yup, am a colleague of Ivan's.

    Hmmm ... think it was given out to people in the Toa Payoh and Bishan area. Unfortunately, I was only able to find this - I Love Bishan - at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.

    Ahh... I must have missed that then.

    But you know what? I have the I Love Bishan book! It's a hardcover book which my mum almost threw away. Thankfully, I stopped her before she got rid of it.

    If you hadn't mentioned it, I would not have remembered that I kept it aside on my shelf.

    Another interesting blog. Not many still remember those cemeteries at Pek San Teng.

    That's a lovely dusk pic! I like it :)

    I just stumbled across this blog and I'm thrilled!
    I'm not a local singaporean - my brother is a PR who settled in Bishan (Sin Ming) about 6 yrs ago..and I used to visit him for holidays often..loved the place!

    When my husband and I moved to Singapore a few months ago - we knew for sure if we look at living at any place it would be Bishan! Its simply gorgeous!
    I love the park, I love the HDB's and I really love the whole layout of the place as compared to other estates like Ang Mo Kio, Toh Payoh etc...

    I think if we ever decide to buy property..."if"..then we'd definately look at Bishan!

    @ laokokok I think some people do remember that Bishan was a cemetary. Probably because of all the persisting Bishan MRT ghost stories! But most people would not know the name of the cemetary.

    @ hyacinthus Thank you!

    @ san Hi San, welcome to Singapore! I wish you well in your hunt for a place in Bishan. It's not one of the cheaper places to find a flat in Singapore.

    I would love to move in to a 2nd hand flat here when I have my own family. Alas, that does not seem likely unless there is a property slump.

    We did find a rental place! right on street 24...we currently live at Sin Ming but this seems closer to the MRT so easier to commute to work..though we'll miss the park being outside our window.

    Buying will not happen for a while as you said so rightly...its so expensive!

    Have been a resident in Bishan and coincidently moved in the same time and street as you. Time flies and you're right about our neighbourhood always looking younger than it actually is. Produced Heartland Getaways 2 this year for Mediacorp 5 and did an episode on Bishan. Looking to do more shows like that so you've got a great blog going...would be fun to see how it develops. P.S. Did you know that there is a Bishanite group on Facebook?

    Stephanie, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I started this blog then lost momentum. My most recent post is slightly over a year old!

    I'm still considering whether to continue this blog.

    Cool that you've worked on Heartland Getaways. It's a good series. Love all these hidden treasures in all the estates. Gives each place a unique character, even though they might seem all uniformly HDB from a distance.

    I've not caught the episode on Bishan. Wish they would release these series on DVD. I'd buy! Not sure if it is available on MOB TV. Even if it is, I'd rather own the physical media.

    Oh, didn't know about the Bishanite group... will check it out!

    I think you did a great job in documenting the history and development of Bishan. You should continue to do so when you are up to it! We've got a new Bishan Active that cost 1.8 million to built and the new circle line should start to operate next year! :-)

    my parents bought their first flat in bishan(and them being the first to move into my block) 23 years back and my mum always tell me abt those days where bishan was not yet developed. she carried touch light to get back home at night as there were no lamp posts. and ppl at the back would follow her trail of light. there was no pavement and everyone have to get used to the muddy road.

    i love bishan and i made many friends living in bishan whom we can hang out, go studying tgt at the cc, go running, eating lunch or dinner tgt...

    what a coincidence.... can't believe it lol i too moved to Bishan from Clementi though probably not as early . think i moved here in 1990

    hi! i just read your blog and it is meaningful as I live in Bishan St 11, opp CPF Board. Thank you for letting me see those pictures that worth a thousand words.

    hianhwee (hianhwee.livejournal.com)

    Hi there,

    love your blogs. looks like we could be called the pioneer of Bishan. Lived half of my life in Bishan.

    Could still remember the contractor canteen where i bought my food when we just shifted there...now its Bishan Interchange.

    There used to be a big hill beside it and some coffins still jutting out from the hill at the top.

    The nearest bus would be to walk out to Braddell. Could say that I've seen through all the changes there..furthermore my parents still staying there.

    By the way I stayed at Blk 191 Bishan St 13

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    On behalf of the National Library Board (NLB), we would like to invite you to pledge your blog to the Singapore Memory Project as part of efforts to collect memories that are already manifested in existing online channels.

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    Wow, I've moved out of Bishan 10 years ago, and I just came across your blog. I moved in to Blk 146 (Bishan St 11) about the same time as you, when some of the area was still under construction, end of 1986 too.

    I'm glad someone still remembers the supposed Bishan JC.

    Thanks for your comment, pauli.

    Glad to know others remember too!

    It's also in NLB's newspaper archive.

    Hi, how would i be able to contact you? I'm doing a SG50 project on the history of Bishan and would like to interview you if possible (:

    Hi Becoming Bishan,

    Now I feel like an old man! I don't want to leave my email address in the public. I've added you on Google+ We can chat on there.