On 22 April 2004, Dr Chua Ee Kiam- an author of 2 books on Pulau Ubin - gave a talk at the NParks office to Ubin volunteers on the nature and cultural heritage of Pulau Ubin. During this talk he mentioned the (now torn-down) Bin Kiang school of Pulau Ubin. According to Dr Chua, the school functioned from 1952 to 1985 and was demolished in the year 2000. He felt there were probably not many pictures taken of the school before it was demolished. Hearing that, I was inspired to embark on a mission - to uncover as many historical records (pictorial and otherwise) of the school.
Picture by Dr Chua Ee Kiam
My first action was to approach my mother, because she had been enrolled as a student in Bin Kiang School from 1958 to 1963! Initially, my mother was of the impression that the photos of her days in Ubin were at my grandmother's place. However, a search by my auntie only revealed two photos taken on Ubin.
Still, my family was lucky in having pictorial records as my uncle worked in a photography studio on the mainland. According to my mother, most families on Ubin were unable to own a camera and have no photos of their families. Since my uncle owned a camera and often visited the island, he took photos of the family. Sadly, they were mostly portrait shots with no indication of the surrounding.
Undeterred, my mother began a search of her own photo albums. Just as we were about to give up hope, we discovered a treasure amongst the yellowing pages. A photo of my mother's class in Bin Kiang school!
(The year which this photo was taken is at the moment undetermined)
Encouraged by this find, my mother was insistent that she still had her Bin Kiang School report book somewhere in the house. Hearing this, I was absolutely excited. After ransacking the multitudes of cupboards in the house, we finally found the tiniest little yellowing booklet that says "Bin Kiang School - Student Results Book" in Chinese characters. (Bin Kiang School was a Chinese-ed school. The other school on the island was a Malay school.) All this time, this little piece of history was sitting in a cupboard in my own room and I never knew to treasure it.
Cover of the Bin Kiang School report book.
The interesting thing about the report book I discovered was a little subscript that says "Pulau Ubin. Singapore. 17." I was puzzled by what the 17 meant. I thought it was like one of those exercise books nowadays where it allows you to fill in the year after the generic "19__" The part that didn't make sense was Bin Kiang school was not established in the 1700s! After questioning my mother, I found out that 17 was actually the postal code of Pulau Ubin! Incredible! The postal code in Singapore since my birth has always been four digits. This is just amazing to my lack of knowledge in Singapore history.
For more information on Bin Kiang's history, there is a brief write-up by Raffles Girls' School on "Pulau Ubin's Vanishing Kampong". In it, a section deals with school life and includes some details on Bin Kiang School. There are even photos of Bin Kiang school before it was demolished and a picture of students having classes.