Life in Singapore in the 80s

While I was walking out of the carpark, I saw this colourful sign.

Showflat Sign in Singapore

Showflat Sign in Singapore

There was a showroom going on in the flat near us.  No wonder there have been quite a number of unfamiliar people coming over. Being the inquisitive person that I am, I thought I’d stop by to take a look as I’ve never seen one before.

Like the majority of other Singaporeans, I live in a flat. These are high rise buildings which was meant to accomodate our 4.5 million (estimated) residents from overcrowding on an area of 693 km²

Block of flats in Singapore

Inside a regular 5-room flat, the space is comfortable enough to accomodate a regular sized family. For the curious, the flat that we are staying in is 116 m² and was bought for 252k after the Selective En-Bloc Scheme.

I like the area where I am living. It had a nice suburban-ish charm to it. It wasn’t too crowded nor too still. There were plentiful of facilities around like the stadium, a small shopping center, a community center, food centers, a mosque and others. All of these were within a few minutes away from each other.

But I still have memories of our old house. I spent a huge part of my life here. It was not modern. It was only 5 storey tall, no lifts. It was a rather small, being a 3 room flat. It was a choice accomodation for the workers in the Jurong Factories nearby.

This picture of me and my brother was taken in 1985. In the background are the type of flats that we used to live in, and if you looked carefully, you can see some kids playing in the background.

Block of flats in Singapore during the 80's

If the place was still around right now, many people would probably be creeped out. I remember when I brought my classmates over for a study session. They said that the place was pretty run down and dilapidated.

But I loved the place. There were so many memories here.

Hari Raya with friends in 1994
Hari Raya with friends in 1994

The friends I’ve made, and how we’d play games that we made up, like ‘hantam bola’, ‘police and thief’ and catching. I remember when my best friends in primary school, Michael Tan Xue Ming and his lovely sister were the first ones who taught me how to ride a bicycle. When I was able to go around the block without any aid, it felt like such an achievement!

It was the age of innocence. Where everyone looked out for each other. I could leave the house unlocked, innocently floated some paper boats in the drain and still come back to see the house intact.

I was a tomboy then. Even after a broken arm from climbing trees, a chipped tooth from overzealous showing off from the metal bar, some burnt hair, numerous bruises and scratches, I’d still feel safe here.

Looking back even further, I can still remember when mum brought me over to my grandparent’s place. My grandparents used to live and own a provision shop in Pulau Tekong before it was taken over by the government to become military training grounds.

Pulau Tekong in the 70s before it was taken over by the military

This picture of mum and her friends was probably taken in the 1970’s. The huts in the background was a typical accommodation then. My grandparents house looked different though, being a shophouse. I cant find any pictures of them unfortunately. Many of the pictures were left during the transition.

My dad waiting at the Jetty in Pulau Tekong in the 70s before it was taken over by the military
My dad waiting at the Jetty at Tekong

There were so many things to see at my grandparents shop. There was a pulley that you can pull and a tin can will drop down. This was where change will be kept to be given to customers. At the back of the shop there were bales of cloth. I remember seeing my grandfather calculating rapidly using an a abacus. Sometimes my grandfather will ask me to accompany him to the small hut where the rice and oil was stored and I would observe him measuring the weight of the rice or carefully pump the cooking oil from huge containers using a metal pump into small individual bottles.

Mum next to the cloth display at Pulau Tekong in the 70s before it was taken over by the military
Mum by the cloth bale

My grandparents house was so cool.

There was so much space to run around and explore. Me and my cousins would make forts out of the things that we could find. At the backyard, my grandparents kept chickens which I would play with and sometimes if I’m lucky, one of my uncles or aunts would take a coconut to husk using a spear. We bathed in well water and it was refreshingly cold! I found simple pleasures in pulling out water from the bucket tied with string.

rinaz at the backyard at Pulau Tekong in the 70s before it was taken over by the military
Try to spot the chickens!

I think the coolest thing about the place was that the neighbours kept aligators in their backyard. I’d sneak in to take a peek at those mesmerizing shiny yellow eyes. And some times, my uncle would take me and the rest of the cousins to the boat and we’d see him scrape the barnacles and shellfish from the chassis and then have some toast and kaya in the chinese coffeehouse afterwards.

I feel blessed to have such an interesting childhood 🙂

It’s a pity that I don’t have more pictures to show. I wish we had a device to capture all our memories and we can replay it ala virtual reality. Wouldnt it be great?

I’ll all treasure the memories that I had.

20 Replies to “Life in Singapore in the 80s”

  1. There’s something very charming and evocative about pictures from people that belong to this era. Like somehow the same quality/styled/fashioned pictures of my own somehow bleed/blend in with a life of their own. I probably need to think about this as a post some day 🙂

  2. Charles

    Will be looking forward to seeing them! 🙂


    Yes it was for me. When I went back to Pulau Tekong during my brother’s completion of his BMT, I could recognize some old relics. *sigh*


    You dont keep old pictures?

    Gypsy Girl

    Haha, I dont remember if the neighbours kept them as pets. I think there were about 5 of them in the dry pool. But I dont know what the purposes of these animals were.

    Do you really like to see showhomes? I’ve never been to one 😛 I’m too shy to go alone. Hehehe

  3. What cool memories and photos! I can’t believe your neighbours had alligators in their back yard! Were they kept as pets???? How unusual! BTW, I love going to see showhomes and open homes too!

  4. This was a great trip down memory lane, Rinaz, thanks for posting it.

    I still have fond memories of the kampung at Bukit Timah I lived in as a kid, chasing dogs, seeing monkeys climb trees to get coconuts to quench our thirst.

  5. yeah, i had fond memories of my old homes too. 🙂 esp my last home before my current one. as a kid, i used to play with a bunch of kids around my neighbourhood – i actually made friends with a couple of strangers and found a small bicycle gang, hehehe! wonder how they are now…

    life used to be simpler back then… kinda miss those times…

  6. u luk soooo cutz!!!!!!!!
    try photoshop to remove e spot
    sopt healing or clone part of e face n brush it ovr e bluish part..
    heh 😛

  7. Sicarii

    My dad and his family used to live there! My aunt would describe the place as a kampung area and told me about the kampung huts and coconut trees too! Its quite hard to imagine Bukit Timah being that now 🙂


    Wow! You’re in a bicycle gang? As Tyra Banks would say, “FIERCE!”

    Hehehehe … Yes life was much simpler back then. Nothing much to think and worry about. And we always hanged out with friends. Dont see much kids doing the things we used to do.

    Sometimes I wonder if they are missing out on what we used to do. Dont you?


    Yeah, thats what I did. But spot healing and clone looked very unnatural! Mum looks like she got boxed in the eye! Hahaha .. So I’d rather leave the picture like that, than having her looked like she got punched in the eye .. hehehehe!!

  8. For a moment there, I thought that’s MY dad. Haha! They look too much alike now! And yeah, I still can remember that dining table right infront of the front door and your many thick encyclopedias in the shelves and drawers in the living room. Haha!

    I miss my old neighbourhood too. Used to go scavenging and ghost hunting at the empty block in front of mine and the old building before NTUC opp your old block. And how can I forget the playground behind the block opp yours? I used to bring soap water and slide down head first, belly side down. Haha! I think our neighbourhood kids are really naughty like that. So many memories! I don’t remember playing with you but burnt hair, broken arm? You so hardcore!

  9. i got when i was born hehe… like 1991 to now.. but now i seldom took picture with my friend, macam dah muak seh. haha. so hope that we can see old photo during your young time, conform i will like a bit shock, as in like compare to last time and this time it look like different =).. ok i end here =) bye you take care ok rinaz. YoU RoCK! =)

  10. No kidding!

    I was in that area called “The Tenth Stone” or something, where you can still see the railway bridge above if you pass by and where there’s now a Cold Storage opposite. Been eons since I’ve been to that part of Singapore!

    Good times indeed! I’ll never forget my childhood there. Sadly, children of today will never experience such joys.

  11. Miza

    Ghost hunting! Hahaha! That was such a favourite past time isnt it? Gosh! Who ever does that anymore?

    Did you mean the playground behind my block where the PAP kindergarden was? The slides are a little too small for sliding that way wasnt it? Did you mean the long cylinders instead near the choo choo train?

    Yeah, come to think about it, I was extremely tomboy when I was young, till there was a girl who came up to me and said, “How come you are always so dirty”. Worse was during camp and we were divided into boys and girls and one boy came up to me and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?”



    I know 😛


    The railway is still there, the bridge too. I’d like to imagine how it was like to have all of these while it was still actively running. It goes all the way to Jurong, near to where I stay. But plants has been growing rather thickly around it.

    Its a wonderful childhood indeed. Yeah, I do feel sad that kids nowadays dont experience such things anymore :

    We had so much fun.

  12. Ouh, that playground you mention was before my time, I think. Hehe. I was referring to the newer one behind 140.

    Sayang skali semua dah takde. I can’t find pictures of the old place also.

  13. That would be block 140, the one right next to the ex-NTUC club. I remember when Mak Oteh (or was it Mak Busu?) got married, us cousins would explore the abandoned building before it got demolised.

    I think that was alot of fun 🙂

  14. Hi, you really bring back the memories of my child hood in Pulau Tekong.

    I was born and had my primary education in Pulau Tekong in the late 60s…

    Very nice to know people who knows about Tekong…

    Cheers to the Beautiful Simple Kampong Life…

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