Old Train Stations and Memories

A week ago, I visited Singapore’s old central train station. Though I didn’t see its interior, seeing the exterior’s art deco design was enough to make me feel better. Such structures has become rarer as time has gone on.

This accidental discovery has led me to another abandoned train station – the old Bukit Timah rail station. This one’s more modest and was more practical in its design. The station still have the old manual controls that was used to switch the tracks.

According to Remember Singapore blogger, “the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was completed in 1932 and part of Singapore-Kranji Line (Bukit Timah to Tank Road Terminal) was dismantled in 1939, the Bukit Timah Railway Station gradually lost its importance. After 1940, passengers could no longer board the train at this station as it was used as a passing loop station”. The length of this line going straight to the Malaysian heartland “is about 950km and the starting point is at Butterworth of Penang”. That means a Singapore-Butterworth-Singapore trip covers roughly a couple of thousand km’s!

I came across some young photography enthusiasts in the station. “we like old buildings as subject”, the boy said. The black painted steel bridge is in great shape. People and bikes and dogs uses it. The entire area, including the station, are planned for restoration. I’m sure there’s a lot of great memories here for the locals. I’m glad to know that they’re hanging on to this one.

Probably a railway office.

Building designated for conservation.

The switches. Cool. I wish I could play with these but they were off limits.

Some crushed old bricks. What made me shoot this. I don’t know.

You don’t mess with a property that belongs to someone called state. You just don’t.

No grand entrance.

Nature’s helicopter and its helipad. The forest has begun to reclaim what used to be a busy railway line.

I guess this is where it all ends.

The Bukit Timah station looks like the old Buendia PNR station of the 80’s. This brought back memories of my first school near the Manila – Makati border. Situated less than 300m from Buendia station, proximity to the railway, 50 meters. So close that every time a train passes with it honking its horns, everything stood still. Things inside the classroom would literally shake and vibrate from the tremor the trains create.

Accidents was common in the area because people lived right next to the rails. Most of my classmates are from this area we call “riles” (the illegal settlements along the railway). The school have windows over looking the “riles” which was great because I like seeing those mid 1900’s trains chug along. Another bonus is the narrow estero right beside the school. Not the cleanest of tributaries but it provided us some pleasant diversion from time to time. We’ve seen almost everything that floats pass by, from garbage bags to dead animals.

During summer, together with some of my classmates, we would drain the drying ponds under some of the shanties in the “riles” to catch catfish, dalag, gourami and martaniko. I would go home smelling like sewage (those pool doubled as septic tank for the settlers since there were no toilets!). As for the fish we caught, we never ate them (we once tried, in a lutu-lutoan way, and they taste awful), we kept them as pets (only to find out that they’ve cannibalized each other in a weeks time).

Seeing old train stations floods my mind with these wonderful childhood experiences. Now that most of the illegal settlers that once lived in the metro manila rail area are gone (which felt strange because I thought they’re going to be there forever) I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to those old classmates of mine.

That school was eventually transferred to a safer, modern and convenient multi-level building in Calle Caong. They could still hear the train coming but not as loud as we used to in Calle Bakawan. But what surprised me was finding out that the school now have proper uniforms. Back in the day uniforms was not strictly enforced. You can come in your underwear and the teachers won’t mind it. They know where the kids come from. Some families are so poor that they send their children to school to get fed.

While we don’t have much of a facility back then, we had that phenomenal canteen that dished out blissful nourishing soups. While the menu was limited to sopas, plain goto and champorado (and sometimes, when the stars are aligned we get arrozcaldo with chicken bits) we children loved them. It’s funny because we would get distracted during our classes the moment we start smelling what’s cooking!

Not a complete list, but I remember these great maestra’s:

Mdm. Ceremonias, who tried to convert everyone to born-againism, but looking back, we owe her big time – she was the soup maker.

Mdm. Subas, who almost crippled me with her stick when she caught me loitering. I love eating quail eggs and made it a habit to throw the shells everywhere. And oh boy did she straightened out this lad.

Mdm. Asis, the strictest teacher I ever had. She instilled in us to come to school well groomed, if you don’t, you get slapped! We would bite our nails to make them short. She inspects the class, like a drill sergeant, every morning.

Mdm. Abay, she an awesome science teacher. I think one of the best teacher I ever had. She opened my eyes to the magical world of science. She’d be greatly disappointed of course that I failed chemistry and physics subjects in college.

Mdm. Jaurigue, a devout Catholic who I impressed with my knowledge of the Saints! She probably thought of me a saintly boy but saintly I was not. I have two books at home around that time: a Tagalog-English dictionary and the Book of Saints.

Sir Brilliantes (?) The schools music teacher who taught us how to be part of rondalla. He does it all: teach music, repair instruments, conduct marches and compose songs (I wonder if he ever played the Blues – he must have, there’s no way he got to be that good without it!) He tried teaching us how to read music. It was just too much for me.

Mdm. Seriosa who married an American and left. She was my brother’s favorite teacher. From some 10+ years before me.

Sir Tecson, I remember his name but not what he taught us – probably math subjects.

That handsome lil’ lad. Top, first boy on the left. Yes. Right. That’s him. That’s me. Grade 2, circa 1987.

All my brothers knows these teachers well. They were their teachers too. Just imagine most of them has been teaching since the 60’s. That’s a lifetime of work. Such beautiful dedicated, noble spirited human beings. Where would we be without them.

Small school, big dreams…

San Antonio Village Elementary School

Makati, Philippines

1986 – 1992


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