Two old friends from Somapah Village


Last Wed (22/2/12), I decided to have lunch with “Patriot.” It was my off day. Patriot is a regular commentator on my blog. He is a recent follower of my blog. He doesn’t blog but in his own words, “trawl” all the blogs in cyber world to participate in the active discussions.

I met him once about two weeks ago when he invited me to the Speakers’ Corner. He introduced me to some other local bloggers i.e. Redbean. It was the first time in my life that I visited the Speakers’ Corner to hear Gilbert Goh, Leong Sze Hian and the others passionately defending local citizens losing out on employment opportunities to those FTs. There was about 100 odd crowd there.

Patriot is a typical heartlander living in Tampines with a passion for local issues and current affairs. He is in his early 60s. He is quite net savvy and could communicate quite well in English. He has been an active participant in the blogosphere for about 5 years.

Since I’m quite new to blogging, he was able to give me some useful pointers and even introduced me to several other popular blogs. I only started blogging last October.

Due to work commitments, it was quite some time that I didn’t meet up with my good friend Freddie. He used to comment that it’s quite difficult meeting up with me even though we live within the same estate. Of course I was flattered that a multi-millionaire and owner of a factory in China wanting to meet me for casual conversation!

On that day, I just called up Freddie to ask if he was free for lunch. He happily acceded. But I told him Patriot would be coming along. Ah! That guy who used to comment on your blog isn’t it? Yes he is the one I told Freddie who is also my follower. It really humbles me to have a following reading my incessant mindless ranting and rumbling.

I met Freddie at his office in Changi Business Park. Hop into his luxurious BMW 5 series and off to Tampines St 11 to pick up Patriot. Messaged Patriot that Freddie would be coming along.

The three of us met at Tampines St 11 roundabout hawkers’ centre. Introduced them to each other. It was a good start. Cordial exchanges from the word go. Freddie kept saying that Patriot seemed very familiar to him.

Whilst in the car we headed straight to Joo Chiat Road for my favourite “pukul mati banana leaf curry rice.” It was closed. The stall owner had gone back to India for holidays. Freddie then suggested that we should go to Blk 416 Bedok North for his favourite Bah Ku Teh and Fish soup.

From Joo Chiat Road to Bedok North is a relatively short journey. But on that day, it became the longest ever journey!

The weather was hot and humid. We sat in the car enjoying the cool comfort of the air conditioner whilst the two new acquaintances struck up a casual conversation such as what were you doing to make a living, previously staying where, dialect group, family, interests etc

As it progressed, the conversation got more exciting. So many surprising revelations came out. It was later confirmed and counter confirmed that our two new acquaintances whom were brought together by me were in fact one time primary school classmates living in the same Somapah village.

At one point, Freddie even stopped his car to take a good hard look at Patriot who was seated behind. I was merely a passive listener throughout the entire car journey. It was road hogging all the way with Freddie merry going rounds in circles until I had to direct him to the correct bearing. The reason why they could not recognize each on first looks is understandably due to the many decades of ravages on their appearances.

Nearly fifty years ago they were living in that Somapah village or tenth milestone Changi Road where it was once the hive of teeming human activities with so much shared recollections & lost heritage. It was akin to a dreamland of yester years of a forgotten bygone era. They tried hard to play catch up by reminding each other of landmarks, features and names of personalities or places going way back to their fading memory vault.

Freddie and Patriot mentioned all the names of their peers at Bedok Primary School in their Somapah neighborhood. The activities and games they used to play. For example they used to watch open air movies and when it rained they had to run for cover. Their peculiar practices of courtship then and its modus operendi etc.

Patriot’s house used to sit exactly at the NeWater treatment plant. His parents used to own five and a half football fields of farmland. They had everything such as pigs, chickens, ducks, ponds, fruit trees – a self sustaining farm with plenty of space. The present Koh Sek Lin Road leading to his huge farm land and beyond yonder stands the present NeWater plant.

That Somapah village is now a piece of huge development with modern buildings such as The Singapore Expo, Changi depot, Changi Business District Park and vast empty deserted pockets of land. Please click on the link below to read more about it written by a former resident of the area.

So many forgotten names, landmarks, features and icons with stories and rumors were bouncing to and fro between them that I only managed to capture two names i.e. Seng Kuang Meng and Yeo Poh Teck. I joined in the conversation when the two names were identified by giving a brief description of them.

The two old friends from Somapah village confirmed that the two names were outstanding senior police officers I used to serve under them. Seng KM was the OC of Toa Payoh Police Station. He was briefly posted as Director Police Academy before his retirement. Yeo PT was then the famous Director in CAD.

Freddie claimed that he met Yeo Poh Teck few years back. He should be in his 70s. I also spoke fondly of Yeo PT who was my Admin Officer at Toa Payoh Police Station when I was a young constable in the early 80s then.

Yeo PT was not an university graduate. He only had A levels. He rose to the rank of Director CAD when he was seconded over there. He assisted in the prosecution of several high profile cases. He belonged to that generation of senior officers where welfare of his men came first. He fought alongside with the ground officers. There was no barrier between us.

I remember clearly in 1984 when then ASP Yeo PT rallied and organized police officers from the regular and reservist units to form teams of LSF (Light Striking Force) to supplement the main PTF (Police Task Force) and deployed us around Toa Payoh area next to Potong Pasir. It was tense and explosive then. We were worried about riots and social anarchy during the General Elections. Chiam See Tong got into parliament that year.

It’s quite interesting to note that after all these years that both senior police officers came from Somapah village. They were also both Teochew. With elitism fully entrenched in our civil service institution it is now difficult to find such rare senior officers from the rank and file in our midst. That bygone nostalgic era!

Since we were on the subject of police work, I casually mentioned about a suicide case I handled in 1990 when I was an Investigation Officer at Bedok Police Station. That was the only connection I had with the obliterated Somapah village.

Lo and behold! Freddie became excited and commenced his intense interrogation on me about that case which I handled more than 20 years ago!

Some time in 1990, I got a call from Operations Control Room that there was a “man hanging from a tree”. I remember clearly that that call came in around 1830 hrs when I was about to go for my dinner after clearing some reports. Oh shit! I had no choice but to run to the scene to check it out.

The place I remember was somewhere at the present Singapore Expo located in a heavily forested area with bushes and secondary jungle only accessible through a narrow dirt path. It seemed that some Malay folks were out there trapping birds when they stumbled upon the case. They called the police. They had to lead the uniform officers to the scene.

Once I arrived at the scene, I saw a small size and slim old man hanging by a big rope round his neck from a branch underneath a huge tree with big leaves. The distance from ground level to the big tree branch was quite high. He must have climbed up the huge tree to get hung there!

The patrol officers preserved the crime scene until the Investigation Officer’s arrival to take over. When I arrived there with my scene of crime photographer it was getting dark. We had to work fast.

Photos were taken on my instruction. General view, close up view and so on. With the help of those Malay guys, the body was lowered down. More photos were snapped. I directed photos of the knot of the rope to be taken also. From experience, the state coroner would usually request for the knot picture. Types of knot, whether it was loose or tight and so on.

Next the body need to be examined physically for any obvious injuries such as wounds if any, cuts or unusual symptoms etc. I also needed to search the body for any ID or valuables etc. Luckily his wallet was with him. So we got his ID. The next of kin had to be contacted. By the side of the huge tree trunk parked an old big bicycle – like those bicycles used in the old days provision shop to deliver groceries.

It was quite sad to witness the state of the body. Ants were crawling all over his eyes and body. It had turned stiff. Saliva was dripping from the mouth and the tongue was protruding out. A slim skinny small built old man in his late 60s with wrinkled weather beaten face. Why did he take his life if no foul play was suspected. Due to money problem or some incurable sickness? I had to find out. By the time the police hearse came to collect the body to the mortuary for post mortem the next morning, it was already dark.

As the officer in charge of the case, I took charge and made decisions. That piece of rope with knot intact was seized as case exhibit. Personal belongings such as watch and his wallet had to be tagged and secured in sealed plastic bag to be handed over to the NOK subsequently. I also instructed that the bicycle to be brought to Bedok Police Station. A police van was despatched for that. It would be handed over to NOK. Court order shall be applied for proper disposal of case exhibits if the NOK didn’t want them back after its conclusion.

All details from arrival at the scene of crime till the removal of the body had to be painstakingly documented on my big field book with sketches and notes. The first police officers at the scene, witnesses if any, ambulance officer’s ID etc all need to be entered in my Investigation Diary known as C1. It is also pertinent to maintain this “chain of evidence” in case it goes on a full trial.

C1 shall follow the case and me until that case is disposed off in a Coroner’s court of inquiry or handed over / assigned to another Investigation Officer. C1 is the lifeline of any police investigation of cases filed in an Investigation Paper (IP) It shall determine the angle, pace, direction and standard of the investigation.

All instructions from superior officers and even referrals to DPP are entered in C1. In the event of allegation of impropriety or miscarriage of justice, the C1 of the case will be seized for examination. Every IO knows the seriousness of keeping the C1 updated just in case any of the above were to happen.

From the above, we can conclude that police investigation is rather tedious and labouriously backbreaking work full of endless paper work. Those days, there was no computer. It was a manual typewriter. Everything had to be type written! I had more than 150 IPs on hand including around 30 “dead” IPs pending CFF (Complete For Filing).

Never forget that every 5 days I had to take a tour of duty either as IO crime or routine. We created IPs whenever we took a tour of duty. 24 hrs plus “morning prayers” after that could be in the region of more than 30 hrs at a stretch without going home! That was the kind of life I led. I digressed. My apology.

The uniform men shall contact the next of kin living nearby in Tampines. They would be summoned to see me at Bedok Police Station for statements. I had better go for a quick dinner before getting that case over. As usual, I had to break the unpleasant news to the love ones.

Sometimes on a bad day I could end up with a few “mati” cases. My record was seven such cases in the forms of suicides, industrial accidents or unnatural deaths in hospitals without any medical history. That needed police investigation to rule out foul play

If it is a confirmed murder case, CID / SIS would take over. If its death due to traffic accident, Traffic Police would handle.

It was subsequently revealed by Freddie that the suicide case handled by me more than 20 years ago is his distant relative! Imagine how shocking to learn of this fact.

“As flies to wanton boys;
Are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport!”

That favourite Shakespeare quote summed up the entire episode on that memorable day. It was one of the longest lunches I ever had. I left home at 11am and I came back nearly 4pm.

PS: Email from Freddie Tan dated 1/3/12
The conversation while driving to Bedok North was lengthy. Perhaps you missed this part of the conversation. Patriot asked me if I knew there is a Mr Seng his early days acquaintance, staying few doors away from my house, who was with the then Vigilante Corp(VC) and later SCDF. This Mr Seng is not that police Supt Seng Kuang Meng. The coincidence is amazing…..

First, Mr Seng Yew Hong is the eldest child of the late Mr Tan Lai Thiam(TLT), whom you investigated his suicide. Supt Seng is the second cousin of TLT, the later was adopted by Supt Seng’s father. As a pledge of sincerity, TLT’s mother Seng Ah Nee who was the matriarch ordered the adoption of the family name of the first two of her grand children to Seng instead of Tan. All this happened more than 65 tears ago.

Asians especially Chinese are very particular about having sons for continuation of the family line and it means the family name. TLT had 6 children but unfortunately Yew Hong is the only son, all others are daughters. It will be interesting to find out if there is any consideration to revert the family name of Yew Hong’s children

With three new acquaintances and such coincidence, J Archer could include this in his next Thereby Hangs a Tale!

Read here for more story about Somapah village. Pictures taken from here also.






About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
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4 Responses to Two old friends from Somapah Village

  1. Gintai says:

    Email from patriot …

    The meeting of two senior citizens who were Primary and Secondary schoolmates has resulted in a long post as well as making Freddie and me into main characters together with the suicide case. The 60plus years old suicide man was said to commit suicide at the spot mentioned because he missed the place too much after been resettled.
    Me used to say in postings that I missed the good old days at the place me was born and till today, I am not over it yet. However, to find a tree to hang myself there will be very difficult now as the place is either protected area or privately owned and fenced up.
    Well, glad to know that many of our school mates have made their successes and some so big as to be multi-millionaire!
    Me was not able to identify Freddie when we met initially, however he did look familiar because he is quite like his elder brother whom I fraternized with in my late teens and had just recently got to reconnect just months ago.
    Like Gintai said: it was the longest lunch that me has ever had, after over four decades, there is indeed much to catch up and despite the many hours, much has been left unexplored. And me was invited by both to a dinner at Zaishan Kopitiam on the 9th Mar, Blogger Leslie had featured the Sultan Fish Dishes in his Blog.
    Meeting up with Gintai and Freddie was not unusual for me as I had been invited to meet up by netizens (bloggers/commenters). Personally, me had over committed myself in ‘mixing’ with others, old and new neighbours, old colleagues and extended families and relatives etc. Seems like me has neglected to take care of my own survival and the rising costs of living, communicating and fraternizing through the Net may have to be the norm as the circle gets larger.
    Thanks to Gintai and Freddie for the good company and recalling of the good old days. Just wish that I may relive the simple and worry free good old days again when my 96 years old mother goes “home”. Seems like I have to wait for some years as the matriarch is hale, hearty and fierce. She is very lucid, active and aggressively interfering with the day to day domestic affairs!
    Oh, those old photos bring back fond memories.


    • Email from patriot…
      Indeed both Sengs were being mentioned in the conversation. Other than the familial relationship and history, me would say that Gintai’s Article was more related to his(Gintai) knowledge of Seng Kwang Meng and Yeo Poh Teck appointments in MHA. Gintai was also from MHA and as can be seen, still holds fond memories of his days in it.
      Anyway, must thanks Freddy for the informations he provided.
      Keep writing folks and very much wish that Freddy would contribute his views and opinions on Gintais’ Blog.


  2. patriot says:

    Just got to know that the owner of the only hardware store at the entrance of Somapah had passed on in November 2010, just about a week after me paid him a visit at his semi-detached house at Chempaka Kunning(off Simpang Bedok).
    The deceased was 12 years older than me, we share the same Chinese Zodiac(Rabbit). He told me that me had to travel with him almost one and a half decade ago, reminded me that otherwise he would have no opportunity to travel together. He had patches of his hairs dropping off for no reason and he fell into very depressed state.

    Me used to tease him for kiasi and told him to relax and seek medical treatment, he did but was kind of impatient. His condition got better and we went to China twice together. A small built guy but very aggressive and good at kungfu. While he ‘ketoked’ me when I was a jobless teen, he was generous to me in latter years and offered to foot my travel expenses when we were in China, I declined.

    Got to see many construction and PWD staff brought materials to sell to him at very low prices and I used to ask him if he was buying ‘chayhuo'(goods not belonging to the sellers). He would tell me that I was too suspicious and simple minded. He claimed that those goods were excesses that were not needed anymore, I did not believe him but accepted his reason(lie).

    Me got to befriend him for been his customer, he ‘ketoked’ me, but less hard than he ‘ketoked’ others. I was then a loafer well liked by him and another book store owner operating across the road. I was in the two shops most of my time there, both owners provided me free food and free flow of coffee, tea and other beverages. That was before I was enlisted, as the place was literally the Mecca of triads, staying out of trouble was almost impossible. However, I was much sayang(likable) by most people and was even engaged by a well to do and reputable family staying not far from Freddy, as a tuition teacher to three children not very much younger than me. A Pre U Two female student from a reputable school even went with me to help to teach them unconditionally. Somehow, I got the nick of ‘xiu cai’ then, until now I do not know how I was able to gain the ‘good name’. In any case, I spent about three years there with support and care from most people there, the shop owners, triads and villagers. The rent for the room I rented was footed by friends most of the time and when I fell sick, my neighbours even prepared me hot water to bathe and cooked me porridge. The good old days were simply heaven to me.

    Well, a good friend has gone with many other older fellow villagers and now me has replaced them as elders. And one fine day I have to join them.


    • Yes. You and Freddie are same age. Both of you are the same Chinese Zodiac Rabbit. I’m also but one cycle lower.

      Heard from Freddie that you were very smart in school. Robust and strong with leadership ability. Those days there were lots of triads. Even my kumpung in Jln Ang Teng and Tai Seng area near to Hong San temple was very notorious! Every now and then gang clash here and there. It’s better now. More peaceful.

      Congrats on your “elder” status. Cheers.


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