There was a time – Jean Yeo

This is a six part series produced by Jean and Pedro and shown on Channel 5 at 9 pm every Monday. Tonight was the first half of the 1964 racial riot in Singapore. The next half will be shown on ncxt Monday. I am not sure how many of you have seen this episode and the other episodes of early Singapore.

I was in Secondary Two then. Still a bit young to really understand what was going on but could not miss the fear and tension of those days. My memory was still vivid on that night, in a coolie keng in Borneo Road. This was a row of double storey prewar houses with 9 units attached together and an open verandah on the upper floor. One unit was occupied by a lone Malay family, two by Indians, one of which was an Indian coolie keng. The rest were Chinese families. Though only nine units, there were many Chinese families as each family occupied just one room with the exception of three units. There were several rows of shophouses along the adjacent Nelson Road. The nearest cluster of Malay residents was in a govt quarters at Miri Road about 50 metres away. It was a mixture of Malays, Indians and a few Chinese families.

I was sitting there with more than ten Chinese coolies, all male singles from China in their 40s and 50s. Remembered them looking at me, an excited little boy in their midst. They did not say anything to me. They were very calm and did not seem to want to do anything or were bothered by the news of the racial riots in Geylang. No weapons were prepared, but as coolies there were many wooden poles under the long beds if needed. There were no talks of going after the nearest Malay kampong in Radin Mas a km away.

Outside there were movements of people. The gangsters had a job cut out for them. They became the much needed guardians of the neighbourhood. Over the few days of curfew, nothing really happened in the neighbourhood. Not a single incident. The Malay family were not disturbed at all. But one could imagine their fear living in a Chinese neighbourhood.

I think this was the normal state of affairs in many areas when the non Malays were the majority. The clashes were in Malay majority areas in Kampong Glam, Geylang and Eunos areas. This could explain that the riots were likely to be incited by foreigners.

The only event that came pretty close was the death of a woman that I happened to know. I used to call on them to collect night soil removal fees, the bucket system that we provided as a side income to some of the households in kampong Radin Mas. It was weeks later that news of her killing reached us. That dreadful night her family members heard her scream just a little distance from their attap hut. It was not the right thing to be brave to rush out. They collected her body the next morning on a path leading to their home. By then we had stopped providing the service and I no longer run all over the kampong to collect the monthly fees.

The tragic event of 1964 was called a racial riot in Singapore. The non Malays clashed with the rioters and fought for their lives. And there were the presence of impartial law enforcers to keep everything in control. Though we were in Malaysia, the patrols were conducted by teams of mixed racial origins officers to ensure that every incident was evenly handled. Within the local communities there were really no bad blood or deep rooted baggages to allow the riots to be blown out of proportion.

The riots in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia were misnomers. They were killing the Chinese in those days, with the partial law on the side of the killers. Many Chinese were brutally killed in both countries that the Chinese media termed the events as ‘pai hua’ or killing of Chinese. They were not racial riots but highly racist mobs out to kill the Chinese.

This dark part of our history came and gone and hopefully would not be repeated again. The HDB policy of allocating flats to different ethnic groups to prevent any concentration of a particular race had its origin from this tragic past. We must not take the small discomfort and inconvenience of such policies lightly and think it is ok to remove them without taking heed to our history. What happened in 1964 was nothing compares to the events in Malaysia and Indonesia that were best not spoken. The wounds have healed but the ugly scars are still there.

It is worth watching the second part of the 1964 riots next Monday and to hear the personal encounters of the people who are still living with us. We must learn from our past, our history and our mistakes and not to let it ever be repeated. We must not be complacent to what can go wrong once again. Never take racial harmony for granted.


Anonymous said...

Longing for the old times again, we have not only lost those times but with it everything else as well. We went out all our way to strive to be the best and then was left behind, you should write more stuff of the old days, before farts like us are gone, sing land is as good as gone, leaving a story behind for others to read and know.

oldhorse42 said...

I watched the program last night.

I lived through that dark period and wanted to know what really happened and who started the riot etc.

I thought the program would be sanitised in not assigning blame to any race. I was wrong, the narration did assign blame to one race who started the riot.

patriot said...

As far as i can recollect or recall, my eldest sister and her brother in law were at Geylang when the Riot broke out. They were taken into a Malay Family for safety reason. In short, the Said Malay Family saved them from harm.
Likewise, our ad hoc vigilante formed because of the Riot, in our village; were reminded not to harm any unarmed Malay Villager at the nearby Mata Ikan and Air Gemuroh Malay Settlement. All were told to provide as much protections to them as possible.
Until today, me still feels very sad and fails to undersyand why humans fight because of Race and Religion.
Are we so base to lack human sensibilty?


Anonymous said...

The local races did not have any serious issue to fight with each other then. That was why the rioting did not spread as every kampong, Chinese or Malay, were calm and the minorities in the kampong were mostly not harmed with a few exceptions. The procession was armed to riot, and the foreign elements were clearly the provocateurs.

Ⓜatilah $ingapura⚠️ said...

You must also remember that many people were poor and less educated then, and that is correlated with the propensity to gravitate to TRIBALISM. People were less critical then too and easily swayed by inciting by agent provocateurs.

I was in primary school then, and I can remember my parents being extremely worried for our safety.

There is little reason to think that such events could take place today. The PAP has to realise this and allow REAL freedom of speech and expression -- even if that expression is likely to "offend" some people.

The PAP is using ugly historical events to justify its absolute power to control speech, expression and censor what you read, hear or watch. In the end, who benefits? The PAP.

Veritas said...
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Veritas said...

Right now Malaysia Malay were still poisoned with hate against Chinese. Singaporean Malay take anchor from Malaysia. Many hate Chinese.

Indonesia Malay do not really hate Chinese but they resent them somehow for their wealth.

I have spoken to Indon. I feel a lot Indon are more clever than even our Malay who grew up in cosmopolitan Singapore. Many Indon do not buy the shit of Islamism and hate. Many of our Malay does.

You never see Indon girl cover up like the extend of our Malay women. Our Malay women feel very proud when they cover themselves.

The Malaysian Malay spread hate about Chinese and tell everyone that Malay must shit on Chinese to solve their poverty problem. The reverse is true. The UMNO and bumiputera-ist has no interest in solving Malay problem because that will reduce Malay's hate against Chinese.

The only state that eradicate malay poverty in malaysia was Penang, boss by Chinese DAP. Lim Guan Eng the chief minister implement a welfare plan which see the transfer of wealth, from rich Chinese to the Malay.

Unfortunately, the goodness of Chinese did not prevent many radical malay to spread even further hate against Chinese. Mahathir just rant rant Chinese racist tsunami.

Meanwhile, UMNO devise a plan to keep Malay poor by flooding the country with Indon and Moro Pinoy, further depressing wages.

Then problems are blame on Chinese.

Today, being Chinese is a symbol of goodness and a symbol of cruxification. People can even find fault with Jesus and kill him, so Malay and Islamist hate against Chinese is not surprising.

Veritas said...

The only Muslim that hate Chinese is Malaysian Malay. Elsewhere, ALL mustlim like Chinese and hate USA. You go Iran, Pakistan, Syria....etc Tell them you are Chinese and they will show you the utmost hospitality.

Even for Muslim Malay, Chinese relation with Riau Malay are very very good.

For non Muslim Malay, they take Chinese as brothers. The Borneo Dayaks treated Chinese as brothers and protect the Chinese. They will hammer another asshole who harass Chinese.

So as the Sarawak Iban (also Dayaks)...etc

The Pinoy Muslim Malay love Chinese. Chinese are their leaders and governer. They hate Philippines central government but love Chinese.

Abdusakur "Sakur" Mahail Tan (born Maimbung, July 13, 1950) is a Filipino politician and former governor of Sulu Province (2007 – 2013) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He currently serves as the Vice Governor of Sulu.

Tan is a Chinese and not only that supported by all Muslim Rebels (terrorist?).

Why Malayan Malay hate Chinese? Why Why Why?

They got to do some soul searching. They need to dig into the darkest side of their racial scumbag.

The Malay are generally good. But there are fake Malay, especially the UMNO who poison our Malay.

Veritas said...

I have research thoroughly on Chinese and Malay relationship in Malay archipelago.

The peranakan can assimilate to Malay culture and Malay can assimilate to Chinese culture, during the time of Malacca sultanate.

There is not a single incident of racial riot I came through. Problems come when the UMNO kid arrive.

The Malay race in Malaysia do not read too much. Those who read and well inform do not inform their people. Also, now they rely on the most backward element of Islam to go against modernization.

There are progressive Islam like the Ataturk type. Unfortunately, UMNO is interested only in the worst element of Islam. Hence Malaysia may explode soon.

Now UMNO is still cheering that their evil plan is working. Unfortunately their good days may be numbered. Today, Sabah independence movement is gaining weight slowly.

The Iban and Dayaks of Sarawak even though they are Malay are sick sick sick of penisula Malay Muslim.

The Christian Iban and Dayaks treat all malay with respect. The penisula Malay Muslim shit even on their Ibans and Dayaks as well as Sabah Muslim Kadazan.

All non penisula Malay is already piss big time.

Worse, the penisula malay flooded sabah with Sulu Msulim Tarsug hoping the Sabahan to fight.

The Tarsug stab the peninsula Malay muslim by fighting for Sabah independence.

For the next few decades, expect to see fireworks. The Malaysia Malay Muslim and their Islamization has now came to a turning point where they screw themselves.

Welcome to the boleh land.

Veritas said...

See how Tausug Pinoy Muslim low leve insurgence in Sabah.

Malay tries to screw Christian and Muslim Kadazan. Now they swallow bitter pill.

Boleh Boleh

Malaysia Malay Muslim shit on Sarawak Iban.

boleh boleh

Peninsula Malay Muslim even deprive Christian Iban their rightful status of Bumiputera.

boleh boleh

And best of it, Penisular malay muslim always think they are victimes and everyone is against Islam. Only feminist are better in self victimization.

Anonymous said...

If only the region was not Islamised, there will be less hatred or no Islam to be hijacked as a political and racial tool to kill.

Veritas said...

If only the region was not Islamised, there will be less hatred or no Islam to be hijacked as a political and racial tool to kill.

Chances are it could be worse if not Islamize. This region is Indianize and Indians impose a caste system. Today there are still caste system practice by Malay in this region among the adherents of Hinduism. This is the infamous Bali caste system.

Islam no matter how flaw it is is much better than Hinduism.

When ever Hindu go, they caste system follow. Indians like to look down on people. There are caste system in ancient champa, Khmer...etc.

The Northern SE Asia caste system are wipe out by Thai and Vietnamese. Thank God.

Keep Hinduism far far away.

Veritas said...
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Anonymous said...

What Matilah say is correct. The PAP is using ugly historical events to justify its absolute power to control speech, expression and censor what you read, hear or watch. In the end, who benefits? The PAP. Don't blame the riots on the Malays. Blame it on UMNO. Just like we don't blame the Chinese for letting in the foreigners. We blame the PAP.

There Was A Time Episode Summaries:

Episode 1: Lawless Land

Singapore’s darkest time was when it was the land of the lawless, when gangsters, secret societies and kidnappers reined the country. From pregnant gamblers and children informers to being shot in the chest by the country’s most wanted man, the people who survived the bloodied streets of Singapore recount their experiences.

Episode 2: Of Cockroach Remedies and Poisoned Milk

Strange beliefs ruled the island before the advent of accessible healthcare. Mothers relied on dried cockroaches to cure illnesses. Western doctors were seen as the harbinger of death. Women didn’t know they were expecting. The ones who managed to beat mortality despite those conditions tell us their stories.

Episode 3: Years of Living Dangerously

Life in Singapore in the 50s and 60s reads like plotlines to Hollywood Blockbusters. There were raging fires (Bukit Ho Swee), massive floods and extreme poverty. There were also bright stars and glamour in the entertainment world. It was a different kind of life back then, as we learn from the profiles of this week.

Episode 4: Regardless of Race, Language or Religion

(Events: Racial Riots)

A day of celebration turned into months of unrest when the biggest racial clash the country had ever seen broke out in the streets. You’ve read the summary in social studies books. Now meet the people who actually was there. What actually happened and who caused it? There Was A Time attempts to uncover the drama.

Episode 5: Exploding Biscuit Tins, Explosions In The Sky

(2nd Racial Riots, Konfrontasi)

Public spaces were hotspots for terrorist activities during the dawn of independence. Bus stops and phone booths were planted with bombs. Lives were taken during the Macdonald House bombing of 1965. Many recall a time when the tension between Singapore and its neighbours were high.

Episode 6: ‘Reds’ Alert, Red Alert

(Events: Chinese Middle School riots including Hock Lee)

In the time of political volatility, many saw the need to fight for their cause in the most literal way. Thousands of students cried against British conscription and rallied for the down-trodden. Workers, on the other hand, carried out massive strikes where they gunned down their bosses.

Anonymous said...

All the episodes are supposed to make the PAP now look good. Heck, there were some dark days last time but I remember I had a hell of an enjoyable time last time. Now, every day is a dark day!

Veritas said...

It is also true that PAP has let Malay down.

Too many Malay are not getting their fair share of economy. Too many Malay work as cleaners. I do not look down on cleaners. When I am in Europe, the white people work as cleaners.

What I hate is we must not push the wage of Malay down by flooding us with FT. Malay should be given a fair deal. When I was a teacher in high school, I saw so many Malay broken family and so many Malay boys go ITE.

This can be prevented. We need to raise the income of malay family. Last time PAP told malay study hard they will prosper. malay fail in life because they do not study hard.


Most Malay now got a diploma, so how? They still have low wage. PAP flood us with FT and now PAP tell ALL singaporeans to be hawkers, dont study so hard, give jobs to foreigners.

The hurdle to well being of Malay is PAP.


Anonymous said...

Yes, fuck the PAP! The PAP don't care if you Malay, Chinese, Indian or Eurasian. They only care in milking away all your money to make money for themselves and their kakis and their foreign trash friends. We must not let our past, our beliefs and our skins divide us. That is what the PAP wants. The opposition to PAP rule must be united. Anything but PAP!!!

Anonymous said...

Cannot make sweeping statements like that lah. Some of the poverty were self inflicted. Don't like books, drop out from schools. Drug taking, juvenile marriages and breed like rats with no fixed income.

There are serious cultural problems that need to be addressed seriously. By not tackling these weaknesses, you can blame the whole world oso no use. This part, to blame the PAP is absolutely unfair.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

I know Jean and Pedro and I can assure you that they are just independent film makers. They don't work for MediaCorp. They produced documentaries for the international market, including the National Geography.

I watched the few episodes and they have stayed out of politics so far. The events were real and the comments were from people from different segments of the public.

I had a pleasant surprise by the frankness of Othman Wok on his personal encounters during the riots. He did not add chilly and sauce to it nor did he try to politicise them. It was just a personal statement of what happened.

Trust me, I am a cynic. I read history and political science and have some background knowledge of the history of those times. Watch the programme and make your own judgement.

Veritas said...

Cannot make sweeping statements like that lah. Some of the poverty were self inflicted. Don't like books, drop out from schools. Drug taking, juvenile marriages and breed like rats with no fixed income.

There are serious cultural problems that need to be addressed seriously. By not tackling these weaknesses, you can blame the whole world oso no use. This part, to blame the PAP is absolutely unfair.

True indeed.

But does our Malay got 30% of their kids out of wedlock?

Does Malay our Malay stay at home and wait for dole?

Does Malay here take drug?

I see only Malay working honestly.

The only dishonest people is PAP. The Oxley road house now worth tenth of millions. LKY got rich for doing nothing.. oops not really doing nothing. He made orchard road shopping district and ask all his lackies to build massive infra-structure outside his house.

We have all MRT converge outside his house, EW, NE, NS...etc More ridiculously our circle line is not close. It is open loop just for it to terminate outside Kuan Yew house.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering what those hare brain shit tried to achieve by inciting some brainless shit to kill the Chinese. Didn't they know that the Chinese was the majority and the police here would not be allowed to shoot the Chinese when the killing started?

After failing to start an island wide bloodbath, they just disappeared from the scene.

Veritas said...

Just wondering what those hare brain shit tried to achieve by inciting some brainless shit to kill the Chinese. Didn't they know that the Chinese was the majority and the police here would not be allowed to shoot the Chinese when the killing started?

After failing to start an island wide bloodbath, they just disappeared from the scene.

You are not accurate. The Malay control the security apparatus then. They could have ISA Kuan Yew. I believe British having a huge base here bail out Kuan Yew.

UMNO could start a war against Singapore and test whether British is determine to fight for banana Kuan Yew.

Without British, I believe Kuan Yew could have been shot. Tengku and his gangs have shown to be extremely wicked people.

b said...

Even native chinese will kill overseas chinese or other way round if history was to be revisited. Killing is wrong - whatever, whoever or wherever.

Anonymous said...

The one that wanted to ISA banana Lee was the M'sian Home Minister Dr Ismail. The Tunku stopped him perhaps because of the Brits.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Veritas, you were partially right. Some of the Malaysian armed forces were here. But the police were still local.

The most important factor that you mentioned was the British forces, they were still here. The UMNO leaders could only use ISA outside of Singapore. And they nearly did it. Even if they did, the British would step in. LKY was too valuable to the British and they would protect him to keep Singapore under British influence and be friendly to them.

The British would rather have Singapore under PAP than under UMNO without the PAP. The divide and rule was always their policy.

Anonymous said...

... which is the policy of PAP now and that of UMNO. It's a like governing 101: divide and rule. Countries like Denmark which do not rely on such colonial mentalities prosper and are united and happy.

Ⓜatilah $ingapura⚠️ said...

People must also be aware of the historical context of these riots -- it was a mixture of politics and race; a very explosive combination.

To this day no one is certain who or what caused the conflagration. However in the mix was a pro-bhumi UMNO, and an anti-bumi, pro-racial equality PAP -- when the local politics of a state in the federation -- i.e. Singapore, spilled over to become a real political threat to The Federation of Malaysia (adding territory from Borneo and Singapore changed the name of the collective of states from 'Malaya' to 'Malaysia). The political climate was HOT. Emotions already high and as varied from hope, to abject FEAR, especially amongst Chinese and Malays.

As a result of the riots, about 1000 people injured or killed, and the island locked down for nearly 2 weeks.

Post-riots, emotions are still high and relationships quickly deteriorate. A little over a year later: Singapore is forcibly seceded from The Federation.

From then on, the PAP maintained a tight rein on race relations and political freedoms of expression. In fairness, given the events and feelings of the time, it is reasonable to expect them to be damn scared of agent provocateurs whipping up public sentiment (already running hot) and inciting violent anarchy against "the establishment".

That was then. Ugly, unnecessary and forever a national stain of shame for both Singapore, and UMNO-ruled Malaysia. At the core, UMNO hasn't changed -- it is still racist and unashamed of their anachronistic, embarrassing medieval tribalism. Singapore has moved forward in leaps and bounds and has totally eclipsed Malaysia in levels of education, wealth, internationalization, sophistication, economic diversity etc. etc.

Therefore the idea of no discussion of "politics, race and religion" under the threat of sedition and detention without trial (ISA ACT) no longer applies TODAY. The PAP is either out of touch with reality, or purposely hanging onto this flawed argument -- with NO OBJECTIVE PROOF apropos to TODAY'S SINGAPORE SOCIETY AND CULTURE.

You cannot discuss religion. Or race. Films, plays and literature have to be "vetted" -- no political films allowed. Websites which have political content must be "registered". Censorship. Thought Police ala George Orwell's 1984 are on patrol.

And so what happens? The Messiah -- and agents like him/ her/ them. Protesting government censorship by committing acts of terror -- for e.g. hacking.

Governments which limit freedom of speech and expression are doing a very dangerous thing.


Because when the balance tips, the oppressed/ repressed feelings just explode out...and people--- many innocent people -- DIE.

Veritas said...

The UMNO guys have ill intention against Chinese all along. I do not understand the logic Kuan Yew go ahead and merge with a group of people who espouse Islamofacism.

The merger is a big mistake.

I do not think UMNO have the well being of Malay race at heart. I admire Sukarno. I think he did great for Malay. The UMNO kids are a bunch of criminals who want to bring Malay backwards. Many are desert from Arabs and the dally with Wahabism, the ideology that was even hated by many Saudi. especially the most civilize area of Saudi.

Saudi Hejaz are the most prosperous area of the kingdom and intellectual center. The Saudi Hejaz has blood hate against the Wahabi and wanted Wahabi dead.

Instead of getting rid of such shit ideology, UMNO import them to poison the mind of Malay. Then they blame everything to Chinese. A lot of Malay top intellect know what is going on but they keep quiet. They sold their soul.

Now China, is going up. Malaysia stagnant for 10 years. Malaysia could do downhill further and further because they like shit ideology. Then they can find orgasm in blaming Chinese for whatever trouble.

Anonymous said...

Veritas, LKY want to merge with M'sia because there was a chance that he could be PM of M'sia. At that time Chinese was around 50% of the population of S'pore & M'sia combined. The quote below is from that slimy worm Mahathir.

“People look at him (LKY) as an intellectual, as something more than just an ordinary politician, so he’s always invited to give his views on things, and to that extent he is something bigger than Singapore. The fact remains that he is the mayor of Singapore. This is something that he doesn’t like. He wants to be big, you see, and he feels that we took away his opportunity to lead a real country (Malaysia)”

Tom Plate: Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad, p.87-88