Places we heart

Which places in Singapore are dear to you?

In celebration of the country's 50th birthday next year, Singaporeans are asked to create a collective map of places on the island that define Singapore as home.

Those who wish to contribute can do so on the SG Heart Map Web portal (www.heartmap.sg); in SG Heart Map vans, which will be travelling to locations across the country to collect contributions; and at more than 70 booths in places such as MRT stations, shopping centres and community centres. The collection of stories will continue until the end of March.

SundayLife! speaks to 20 Singaporeans and receives some surprising results.

Which place in Singapore has a special place in your heart? E-mail stlife@sph.com.sg

Hawker stalls along Waterloo Street - Mr Gerard Ee, 65, chairman of Changi General Hospital and president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants

"The hawker stalls along Waterloo Street were just outside my old school, St Joseph's Institution, which was then in Bras Basah. These hawker stalls were known throughout Singapore for their Indian rojak and mee rebus. Nowadays, I can't find rojak of that standard anywhere else.

"I'd go there once or twice a month with friends and we'd have a great time tucking into the food. There were many rojak stalls but we had a favourite. The stall owner would always refill our rojak sauce with a smile. If we asked the other stall owners for a refill, they would give it to us but also grumble.

"I can't remember the prices, but in those days, you could feed yourself very decently for just $1. There was also a pushcart drinks stall that had a wheel hanging on the cart. Every time we bought a glass of chin chow, we could spin the wheel, with a 10 per cent chance of winning a second glass for free. I won once in a blue moon. On a hot and thirsty day, a second glass was always welcome."

Bukit Timah campus of the former University of Singapore, which is now the National University of Singapore - Professor Kishore Mahbubani, 66, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS

"I was an undergraduate (above) at the former University of Singapore from 1967 to 1971, majoring in philosophy. The Bukit Timah campus was a bustling place. I spent hours chatting with my friends in the lower quadrangle of the university after class, discussing everything from projects and teachers to girls and life in general.

"Another of my haunts was the library. The philosophy section was usually 'underpopulated', so I sat on the floor between the shelves, reading for hours. I also read novels and works by writers such as Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky - mind-blowing stuff for a 19-year-old. There, I remember reading a parable in one of Dostoyevsky's novels, The Brothers Karamazov, in which Jesus Christ faced The Grand Inquisitor. The writing was so powerful, I still have a strong impression of the story.

"I came from a relatively poor family, so I felt very lucky to be able to go to university and I will always treasure my time there."

Singapore Botanic Gardens - Mrs Lena Lim U Wen, 77, founder of bookstore, distributor and publisher Select Books and the first president of the Association of Women for Action and Research

"The Singapore Botanic Gardens has always been a part of my life, from childhood to my later years.

"When I was a little girl, I went with my family and we loved to run up and down the slopes. We fed the fishes and tortoises in the lake with leftover bread from our house.

"In those days, you could find monkeys in the gardens. We fed them with peanuts - sometimes bananas - which we bought from the vendors outside.

"I've climbed the famous Tembusu tree with the low-hanging branch. My children have also walked on it. To save the tree, though, I'm quite relieved that it's now cordoned off.

"These days, I do taiji three to four times a week, from 7 to 8am, and go for a stroll afterwards.

"So many sites throughout my life have disappeared. I'm grateful that the garden is still around.

"I was heartened to hear the garden has been nominated as Singapore's first Unesco World Heritage Site. Of course I think it deserves this honour."

Great World Amusement Park, where Great World City mall now sits - Yeng Pway Ngon, 67, poet and novelist

"The Sky cinema inside the Great World Amusement Park was my teenage haunt. I was quite a rebellious youth and spent my afternoons watching movies there instead of doing my homework.

"I had a friend who was also as playful as me and we would watch the movies together. Sometimes, I also watched by myself.

"In those days, a ticket cost 50 cents and I'd not eat at recess time to pay for the movie tickets. But it was totally worth it. I loved watching movies - they were then in black and white - from thrillers to romance, comedy to arthouse films. My English isn't very good, but I could read the Chinese subtitles.

"Brigitte Bardot, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando were some of my favourite actors.

"In the 1960s, I remember watching To Kill A Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck, which, until today, is still one of my favourite movies."

Bedok - Mr Chua Soo Bin, 82, photographer, art gallery owner and collector

"In the 1950s, I lived in Jalan Sultan and often went to Bedok to take photos.

"Back then, Bedok had a very laid-back feel to it as there were many kampungs there.

"I remember cycling there before dawn with my other photographer friends just so that we could take photos of the rising sun. "As we passed the kampungs, dogs chased after us, barking. We had to speed up to stay out of their grasp.

"When there was more light, we sometimes also took photos of the kampung scene, such as children, the older folk, palm trees and even the chickens reared there.

"In those days, land reclamation projects had not taken place in Bedok and there was a beach.

"The whole area was very peaceful and had a poetic feel, it was a wonderful respite from the city."

National Stadium - Fandi Ahmad, 52, LionsXII coach and Singapore football legend

"I played many games at the National Stadium (above) and scored a lot of memorable goals. There was so much energy generated at the stadium. The chants of spectators were electrifying. The stomping of feet added to the ambience."

The now-defunct Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre - Siti Khalijah, 29, theatre actress

"The Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre was the place where I found my love for theatre. Around 2005, I started getting involved in a few productions.

"We rehearsed there about three times a week and I remember sticking out like a sore thumb amid the spiffy executives in their crisp shirts and snappy suits in the surrounding area.

"I'd usually be wearing a T-shirt, fisherman pants and carrying a tote bag.

"The centre itself was very old, like an old school building.

"It took some time for the air-conditioning to cool the room. Nonetheless, it was a charming and vibrant place.

"Sometimes, we rehearsed on weekends and the coffee shops in the area would all be closed.

"If we wanted to eat, we had to bring our own food from home or call for a delivery.

"When I heard it was closing for good last year, I made a trip there to relive the memories."

Geylang - Liu Ling Ling, 52, getai singer-actress

"I lived in a kampung in Geylang Serai in the 1960s with my parents and younger sister.

"Our house was a wooden hut with an attap roof. Rent was about $30 a month. Each hut had only a living room and a bedroom. We didn't own a bed, so we slept on the floor of the living room on straw mats.

"My mum was a Chinese opera performer and my father helped out with her opera troupe, driving her around and doing odd jobs.

"We were poor, but back then, I didn't feel we were. I just wondered why we seemed to be eating the same food - bread and porridge with soya sauce. Although we lacked creature comforts, we were happy. My family was close. There were neighbours who looked out for us. There was a real sense of community in the kampung.

"Although I don't live there anymore, I still think of Geylang fondly. When I have overseas friends visiting, I always take them to eat durian at the roadside stalls there."

The former Specialists' Shopping Centre, where Orchard Gateway is now located - Boo Junfeng, 30, film-maker

"My mother used to be a manager at Singapore's first Korean restaurant on the fifth storey of Specialists' Shopping Centre. It was called - very plainly - Korean Restaurant and was my first childhood hangout in the 1980s.

"During my kindergarten and early primary school days, I went there every Saturday because there was nobody at home to take care of me and my two younger siblings.

"My father, a civil servant, had to work. So we'd follow our mother and do our homework in the restaurant if it was not crowded. If it was, we had to occupy ourselves, playing catching in the corridor outside the restaurant and basically be kids.

"There were times when my younger brother and sister had play sessions at Tumble Tots, a children's playschool located on the same level.

"But because I was at least three years older than them, I was too old to play and had to sit outside the playschool with the maids. "There I'd be, on the other side of the glass. But this didn't bother me.

"Looking back, my Saturdays at Specialists' Shopping Centre were actually quite fun.

"I didn't feel lonely and it was a way for our family to spend time together."

East Coast Park - Jodie Lai, 13, national sailor 

"I've been going to East Coast Park since I was two.

"I built my first sandcastle there. I had my first inline-skating experience there. It was also where I first fell in love with the sea. "When I was about seven, I attended a course there with some friends to learn how to cycle.

"Initially, we'd ride bicycles with training wheels and it was one of the most fun experiences ever. I felt so free. Soon, we could balance well enough to have our training wheels removed.

"When it was my turn, I felt a little nervous, so my instructor held onto the back of my bike to help me stabilise. Because I had a good instructor, I fell only once while learning to cycle.

"These days, I go to the park four times a week for sailing sessions.

"My friends are mainly sailors and sometimes, we'd have barbecues in the park to celebrate a competition win, for instance.

"Although East Coast might be an ordinary park to others, to me, it holds many wonderful memories."

Collyer Quay - Mr Ho Kwon Ping, 62, executive chairman of hotel group Banyan Tree

"Collyer Quay is where I had the first date with my wife-to-be Claire Chiang, way back in 1975 or 1976. Our date was actually on a bumboat, but we alighted and disembarked from the quay."

In a previous report, Mr Ho had revealed that when he was dating Ms Chiang, they enjoyed going to a coffee shop at Clifford Pier and would take bumboat rides out to watch the sunset.

The former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Victoria Street, where Chijmes is now located - Ms Carolyn Kan, 42, founder and designer at jewellery label Carrie K

"I was at CHIJ in Victoria Street from 1979 to 1983, after which the school moved to Toa Payoh.

"This is the place where I learnt that anything is possible.

"The old school grounds exuded a sense of magic with its charming chapel, serene hallways and intricate architecture.

"My love of re-imagining found objects and creating things with my hands was inspired by one of the nuns at CHIJ.

"She had a little workshop beside the chapel where she made things to raise money for the orphanage.

"Once a week during recess, her little workshop was open for business. I loved climbing up the wrought-iron spiral staircase to discover her new creation that week.

"The real gems of the place were the teachers and nuns. They instilled in us a fierce belief that we were capable of anything."

Victoria Theatre - Santha Bhaskar, 75, an Indian dance pioneer and artistic director of Bhaskar's Arts Academy

"Of all the venues in Singapore, I've performed at Victoria Theatre the most and it has helped me grow as an artist.

"In 1956, I had my first solo performance there. Two years later, I also produced my first full-length work - The Butterfly Lovers - there.

"I had turned the classic Chinese folktale into an Indian dance drama and the audience said it was a sight seeing me do Indian dance while wearing traditional Chinese robes.

"Many of my family members had their dance debuts at the Victoria Theatre - my daughter Meenakshy in 1981 and two of my granddaughters, Shuba and Malini, in 2003 and 2010, just before the theatre was closed for major renovations.

"After the refurbishment, I visited the building in July this year. Although the space seems to have shrunk, it still holds a lot of positive energy and has a special place in my heart."

Queen Street - Justin Quek, 52, principal chef at Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands

"My late mother, Madam Lee Hue Luan (left, with her arm around a friend), used to operate a 24-hour fruit stall along this street. My 11 siblings and I took turns to help her.

"From the age of 10 till I was 18, I went there after school, usually from 4 to 11pm. There, I'd sell any fruit imaginable, from apples and oranges to melons, lychees and longans when they were in season.

"My brothers knew how to cut and open durians. But because I'm the youngest, my job was mostly to collect money, put the fruits in plastic bags and make fruit juice.

"If I was tired, I took naps in a hammock we set up behind the stall. Rats were common in those days, but after seeing so many, I got used to them.

"The Bugis area used to be a colourful place with a lot of prostitutes, transgender people, gangsters and drugs. Although I never got involved, I saw many things as a child, such as fights breaking out and crimes taking place right in front of me.

"Once, I saw a man pick someone else's pocket, only to give some of his ill-gotten gains to a beggar nearby. It shows that although criminals are bad, not all are heartless."

Merlion Park - Feng Tianwei, 28, national table-tennis player

"I first visited Singapore as a tourist in 2003. I did a city tour from the airport when I had a transit here. I remember that I enjoyed visiting the Merlion Park. This landmark and the city's landscape captivated me. Several years later, I became a citizen of Singapore."

Zouk - Mr Lincoln Cheng, 67, executive chairman of Zouk

"I've nurtured Zouk like my own baby and gave it all my love and passion. It is not so much about making money, but about seeing my baby grow into an adult.

"In 1991, when I took over, the building was made up of three dilapidated warehouses. We then converted it to what you see today. Zouk has been ranked the No. 5 club in the world on the DJ Mag Top 100 Clubs Poll, and is No. 1 in Asia, Australia and North America.

"It is like my second home, or, even like my first home. It's also a second home to many people spanning two generations.

"Many of our regulars met their soulmates here, got married and had children. And now their children are coming to Zouk."

Changi Airport - Hirzi Zulkiflie, 25, Comedian and actor

"The Changi Airport is the pride of our country. I remember going to the airport to send family members off on pilgrimages or vacations when I was a kid. It was always an event, something I would look forward to.

"In secondary school, I was one of those annoying students who studied at the airport. And when a Swensen's restaurant opened in one of the terminals, the airport became my weekend recreational spot.

"There's something about the place that makes me feel optimistic. Looking at all the different visitors and staring down at the glass panels of the duty-free shops, I can't help but feel good every time I'm there.

"When I'm overseas and tell people I'm Singaporean, the first thing they say is how amazing our airport is. I've been to places such as Europe, the United States and Australia, and the airports there are nothing compared with ours."

Farrer Park Swimming Complex - Theresa Goh, 27, Paralympian swimmer

"I've been training at Farrer Park Swimming Complex for about 10 years, often for six days a week. But I'm not sick of this place. In fact, I feel at home there. The staff don't treat me any differently from anyone else. Everyone here feels like family.

"Here, I trained under former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong and we all called him Uncle Siong because we all felt close to him.

"He is very easy to communicate with. He doesn't scold or shout to get your attention. He gets our respect because we know he has our best interests at heart.

"Here is where a lot of my blood, sweat and tears have been shed. The place holds so many memories for me."

Jurong Brick Works - Iskandar Jalil, 76, master potter

"In my 30s, I went to the Jurong Brick Works to fire my works because I didn't know anywhere else that had a kiln. It was a brick factory that supplied bricks for public housing. But the workers there were humble folk who didn't mind helping me fire my creations for free. Most of them were Teochew, but they could understand Malay.

"I went there on a motorcycle, dropped off my pottery and returned to collect them 10 days later. The workers always helped me and for that, I'm grateful.

"My trips to Jurong Brick Works were also very enjoyable because they were a break from the city life. In that area, there was a rustic feel with a lot of nature around me. You could often hear birds chirping."

Changi Beach - Bryan Chia, 32, a chef-owner of restaurant Morsels

"Growing up in the 1980s, I went to Changi Beach with my family and friends on Sundays. I was only about three years old (above with his older brother, Mark) but I recall always having a great time.

"My parents would go cycling, leaving the nanny to take care of us.

"My cousins built sandcastles and I helped by digging a moat around the castles. I dug canals to direct the water into my moat. Whenever my moat was filled, I felt a sense of accomplishment.

"I also loved swimming in the sea, much more than in swimming pools. In the sea, I felt free, without a care in the world. I could play with abandon.

"These days, I swim at Sentosa mostly, because it's closer to my home. But Changi Beach was my childhood paradise."

bang@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on November 23, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.