Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bathing - the rural way

Bathing - the rural way
Changi kampong

Have you ever wondered how people bathed in the kampong? Here is a picture taken in the Fifties at Changi and it provides the answer. Bathing in the rural area varies from country to country. Of course, you cannot expect running water or the private bath. More often than not, you have to bathe in the open. At least, in Singapore, you won't be bathing in the cold air and get a chill.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Two Kampong Girls

Two Kampong Girls

Occasionally, they get stared at in the Kampongs. But kampong girls are natural and they exude a sense of freedom, innocence and purity, typical of God's little children.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A kampong house - Circa 1960s

"Home is where the heart is"
A kampong house
(Andrew Yip)
Just a thatched hut by the stream,
But it stays long in my lingering dream.
A kampong house that gazed upon the sea,
Obscured by blossoms and bushes under a tree.
Along the old Changi beach at night,
I strolled in solitude with silent feet,
And saw new houses, flashing in floodlight,
Mock a lost kampong on a dim and dusty street.
And men will dream, and dream and forever dream,
Of the carefree kampong and its old-time grace.
Some grew weary, watching the towering city gleam,
Seek the kampong magic in the old kampong place.

The beast of burden in the kampongs

Don't for a moment think that bullock carts were only used to carry bins filled with water. The bullocks were used as beasts of burden, and performed many functions. The picture shows a bullock cart used to transport timber to the factories or sawmills. Indians used some bullocks to do grass cutting.

In the old days, boys and girls watched the bullocks

The Bullock Cart - circa 1940s
Remember the old folks in the kampong. They used the bullock carts to carry heavy things. But strangely enough, bullock carts were also used in the old days to transport water around Chinatown. Most of the bullock carts were stationed along Kreta Ayer Road, hence its Malay name. Chinatown in Singapore was also referred to as "bullock carts carrying water." Indian convicts brought into Singapore to do hard labour in 1825 were given bullocks as incentives for good behaviour, upon the completion of their penal sentence in Singapore.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Picture - A good day for drying by Yip Cheong Fun

Another fishing kampong scene in the east coast of Singapore in 1940, showing the drying of fishes with a background of coconut trees. This looks like three-dimensional. The composition and layout are superb. Fishing kampong settlements like these no longer exist is Singapore.

This is a tyical fishing scene at Changi, the east coast of Singapore. It is nostalgic. True, the beach and sea and the boats are still there, but the attap huts, the way the fishing folks wore and work, the smell of fishes in the air - they have all gone with the passage of time. The pictue is unique in its composition and form. It is almost three dimensional, and well balanced in layout. More remarkable is the crescent-shaped formation of the fishing folks hauling up the fishing nets and re-arranging them. The shadows and lights and the texture of the sand also make this an unusual picture. The dark sky matches the mood and atmosphere of the scene showing the setting sun and the fishing folks, particularly women at work in a communal setting.

Here is some poetry:

The Long Net at Changi Beach

A strange vision unfolded; unfazed I gazed
A beach flanked by a long fishing net in the haze.
Dark silhouettes and shadows formed a crescent band.
Figures, forms and fishing nets fused in the sand.

I heard voices and echoes of the long net in motion.
I could smell the scent of fish and feel the commotion.
Those fishing folks with hats and attire quaint -
Could this be a dream? And then a voice. Oh, I faint !

"Gently haul the long net; it's old and frail.
Cast the net again - we mustn't fail.
While white clouds caress the clear blue sky,
And fishes fill the sea, give it then another try."

(Poem: Andrew Yip, M.Ed)


Children in the kampong react quite instinctively. Here, we see a child staring at visitors to the kampong with some degree of apprehension. Perhaps, he knows that his kampong days are numbered.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Two playful kampong girls circa 1950s

Kampong life is colourful, to say the least, but it is never complete without the images of playful children. The photographer's forte is child portraiture. He was made famous by his many images of children, some dark, some compelling, some uncannily exhilarating, others still reserved, impenetrable. Again, this range of photography is attributed to the number of hours he spent each time, seeking out the local kampong population, if not focusng entirely on children, whatever they were doing. His photographs of children do not so much show his technical skill in developing black and white photos, as his true nature. That soul, an inner yearning, to think all the thoughts in the world and dream all the possibilities unbound. The depth of Yip's perception is as much about the children as it is about himself. If we read a burden of anxiety upon a face, we understand full well that Yip's childhood was not an unblemished one. If we read the light of innocence and imagination upon a face, then we know Yip's experences bore the same if not as a child himself. If we catch the outbreak of happiness through smiles and laughter, we know that this kind of joy is not limited to heady childhood but lives on well into old age. ( *Bibliography: NLB publication - An ingenious reverie: The Photography of Yip Cheong Fun)
One Moment More (acoustic) - Mindy Smith

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A kampong house by the sea - a reverie or dream

A simple kampong house by the sea - but what a beautiful life for young and old. I, too, have a dream, a kampong dream - of kampong houses on stilts - black, brown and beautiful. Was it yesterday that we ran across the wooden planking linking the kampong houses on stilts? Before sundown, we waited outside the houses to look out for the fishing boats returning with dozens of half-naked fishermen untangling their nets. It was in this setting that the photographer was able to capture images of little children running up and down the wooden planking or bridge, with reflections of the kampong houses on the glass-like sea and the returning boats in their pensive journeys buoyant across the calm waterways.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Take time to dance in the sun

This is a picture of social life within a kampong settlement. This picture by Yip Cheong Fun, like all his kampong pictures in the old days, is not just a mundane record of the past; as a documentary photographer, his passion is to record life and measure the minutest transformation of the social scene and fabric of life. Here is an unusual and rather informal social gathering for dancing and merriment at Tanah Merah in the late 1950s. It's not for a special occasion like weddings - it's just some kampong folks relaxing on a Sunday morning. Such events existed. They represented the harmonious social mingling amongst kampong people of whatever origins - a symbol of relaxed and peaceful lives in our Singapore kampongs in days gone by.

The kampong and the sea (Reality and Reflections)

In the 1940s, the coastal areas at Changi were dotted with kampong settlements like this. It is an idyllic setting for a Singapore kampong. All the elements of beauty are there - attap houses under the shade of tall coconut trees, casting their reflections on the face of the sea. Its beauty is subtle - a sort of freshness and glory. We knew it was real, and yet the experience was like a dream. Perhaps, many in Singapore still have kampong dreams.

(Photo by Yip Cheong Fun The kampong and the sea - circa 1940s )

Friday, June 6, 2008

Security in the kampong

Kampong Friend - Man's best friend in a typical kampong setting at Kallang in Singapore, adds colour and life to the rural environment. The old kampong scene is never complete without other lives revolving around the people who lived, loved and died in the kampongs. Imagine you were there early in the morning, listening to the birds chirping, dogs woefing, cows mooing, chickens clucking and duck kwaking, and watching other animals frolicking in the first glow of sunlight peeping through the morning mist or verdant haze that covered the branches and leaves of trees and shrubs. It is an enchantment that somehow eludes us, as urbanisation and modernisation set in and Singapore kampongs vanished into oblivion .

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Children Under Trees - Bedok circa 1950s

Kampong Days - A glimpse of Kampong Life in Singapore. Remember the kampong folks in Singapore - they were the pioneering generations. Many lived by the sea; some lived in secluded spots all over Singapore, particularly near the coastal areas. Kampong Days in this blog give you some notion about the old kampong style of life, the rustic retreat, the rural environment - something far removed from our accustomed urban life and far away from the maddening crowd. So we start off with some pictures of the days gone by, featuring the old Singapore kampong, pictures picked at random from the precious private collection of Master lensman, Yip Cheong-Fun, a recipient of the Cultural Medallion and world famous photographer, elected by the Photographic Society of New York in 1980 as the "Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century."

So, here goes with the first picture taken under the coconut trees in a familiar Bedok kampong in around 1950 - entitled "Children Under Trees"

(See photograph entitled "Children Under Trees - top left and a poem by Andrew Yip below)

Children Under Trees

Like little children we walked along
Nature`s way strewn with flowers, leaves and thorns,
Under tall trees and their dark looming shadows
Bright lights pierced through the mist like arrows.
We watched mesmerised, uneasy yet unafraid,
Dazed and gazed in awe but not a word was said.
Nature`s mood in mist mystifying and passion raw,
A fury unleashed - its deadly trails we saw,
Haunting us even when our leaves of life turned golden,
Burnt brown or black - blight or trodden;
Or bare branches crushing us like rusty rods,
And thorny twigs sting and stab like swords.

Then as our winding paths diverged,
Grim and grey in a verdant maze of haze,
Like children perplexed by a blurred vision,
Anxious, leaden and long we gazed,
Paths led to paths; patches wedded to patches,
Obscured by thick bushes and undergrowth;
A jigsaw of puddles and puzzles of sand and pebbles,
Mingled with marshes of mud and mangrove.
The wind whirled in the wood and gathered the blossoms with glee
It stirred the silent streams and set the tree leaves flying free.

We looked as far as we could,
An oasis of emptiness in the wild wild wood,
Piles of boulders - bare and rude,
Perched on the peak perilous they stared and stood,
While gay granite gleamed emerald in the setting sun.
Could all these be obstacles or Nature`s whims and fun,
Or are they an orchestration of the sensual soul?
And the wood with many moods could it be high heaven or hell hole?

Yet with firm faith or divine inspiration, we set forth
Into a misty maze with mixed mood and emotions,
Under the mighty majestic trees and branches aloft.
Wary of the recklessness or risks but with renewed vision,
Clutching life`s light and shadows still unknown,
Into the enchanted mist of the future on our own
Moving along this long lonely road,
To somewhere, nowhere - whatever the means or mode.

(A poem written in December 2004 when the poet mourned the death of some friends in the Tsunami Disaster in Phuket, Thailand)