Singapore

Hands up those who remember Paramount Theatre in S'goon Gardens

To celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday, the National Library Board's Singapore Memory Project has launched Past Forward.

It is a showcase of 74 projects funded by the irememberSG fund.

They want to present lesser-known aspects of Singapore's past with the help of different stories showcased through films, exhibitions, animation, websites and publications.

Mrs Elaine Ng, National Library Board's CEO said:

"We hope the memory movement that the Singapore Memory Project helped to generate will inspire more Singaporeans to capture memories for posterity."

One of the nostalgic projects is the book written by The Janus Education Team, comprising six young authors and editor Catherine Khoo.

Called Heritage Journeys: No Place Like Serangoon Gardens, it brings the reader on a tour of the iconic neighbourhood during an earlier era — when the estate was home to many British.

The book is not for sale but you can get it at The Singapore Chesire Home in Serangoon Gardens with a donation of any amount.

Highlighted here are three stories of the icons of Seragoon Gardens — Paramount Theatre (now myVillage), Pow Sing Restaurant and former Serangoon Garden South School principal Mrs Tan Khe Tong.

1. Paramount Theatre

In the days before ice-skating and roller-blading was hip, behold roller-skating in Paramount Theatre.

Take a stroll down Serangoon Gardens and you would notice the largely self-sufficient neighbourhood lacks one luxury: A movie theatre.

But the estate once had a theatre. In fact, the land that Paramount Theatre stood on is now the shopping mall called myVillage.

Singaporean entrepreneur Chye Lee had opened Paramount Theatre in the 1950s and it was more than an entertainment hub.

The theatre was also a significant contributor to Serangoon Garden's culture and history.

Mr Edmund Chye (Mr Chye Lee's son) details the evolution of the cinema as such: 

"In the 50's and 60's, production of war movies were very popular, probably because the world just came out of the second World War."

Alongside Hollywood fare, Chinese period epics of one-armed swordsmen and Malay comedies were also very popular.

In the 70s, Taiwanese movies — yes, the lovey-dovey romance types — commanded a loyal following too.

 But the 80s saw the rise and rise of Hong Kong drama serials, distributed on VCR.

Said Mr Chye: "I think the cinema industry in Singapore went through quite a bit of ups and downs with the onslaught of video tapes at that time."

 

2. Pow Sing Restaurant

The famous chicken rice is still being served at Pow Sing Restaurant today.

Steven Tan, 55 and Lee Chin Soo, 59, (above) have been partners in the running of Pow Sing Restaurant for the past 31 years.

That is quite a feat, considering how short-lived partnerships can be (think conflicting ideologies or loss of passion).

Said Mr Tan:

"We respect each other's views, and all in all both of us are very dedicated to this line of work.

"Co-operation between partners and success is only achievable with dedication and passion in your line of work."

As to whether the eatery will pass down to the next generation, Mr Lee said: "We don't want to force them to do it if they don't want to.

"We would gladly help them if they have an interest in it. If they really have the passion to do so, they would have to learn the skills of the trade from the very bottom-up."

 

3. Mrs Tan Khe Tong (The principal who outlived empires)

At the age of 16, she was forced to master Japanese in order to teach the language in the schools during the Japanese occupation known as Syonan-To.

When the Japanese empire dissolved and the British returned, Mrs Tan Khe Tong would go on to have her teacher's training at Gan Eng Seng School in 1948.

After graduating, she started her career in 1950 at Griffith School.

In 1957, she became principal and by 1960, had taken over Serangoon Garden South School until her retirement in 1983.

The school itself was a humble place: Built with hollow bricks, it shared the field with Serangoon Garden North School, another equally cosy place.

Students had to assemble every morning in the tuckshop, which was located in the lowlands so the field and library would flood whenever there was heavy rain.

Mrs Tan changed all that.

Under her leadership, the school organised fundraisers such as fun fairs, walkathons and swimming carnivals, and managed to gather enough to build an actual school hall for the students to assemble in.

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