It was this photo that started it all.
It was this photo that started this blog rolling and growing as early as May 2004.
It was also this photo that made a connection across the Pacific Ocean a few weeks ago. I received an comment from somebody in USA who had the exact same photo. Compare the two photos here.
It turns out that Dennis's mother was a classmate of my mother! The children of Ubin go far. Both his parents are from Pulau Ubin and they migrated to the US in the 1970s. Dennis was born in Mississippi, USA but now lives in Texas. Unfortunately his mom passed away a few years ago. But at least my mom's dream of finding news of her classmates is slowly coming true.
It'll probably come as a shock to many who has only seen the Ubin of today that the island used to be a big settlement with a population close to tens of thousands at its peak. The granite quarries on the island were a big source of income for the island in addition to the rubber plantations and other primary production industries.
While it is really unfortunate that my mom never got a chance to catch up with her classmate in person, Dennis and his father with my mother and I in Singapore exchanged stories via email. Dennis has fond memories of Ubin as unlike me, he has had the opportunity to live on Ubin for a few months in his life in the early 1980s. His mother and grandmother also often told him many stories of Ubin.
Dennis' paternal grandfather was the accountant of the Ho Man Choo Quarry. In the above photo you can see the actual name of the quarry. It was spelt "woo mon chew" but the chinese characters reveal that perhaps the name "Ho Man Choo" (Chua, 2000) is the Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of the name. Today, NParks has renamed the quarry as Pekan Quarry. Naturally Woo Mon Chew was the name of the quarry owner. Dennis "thinks it was opened in 1947 and closed or sold in 1970".
"My mother's family lived near the quarry. I remember as a child when we would visit Ubin, there would be sirens that go off to signal the blast of the granites. We would all have to take cover or go indoors. Sometimes we would see small chunks of dirt and debris fall out of the sky. There used to be a well behind my mother's house." - Dennis, in email correspondence
Coincidentally, in July 2005, when I first brought my mother back to Ubin, the first time in more than 35 years that she has been back to Ubin, she actually pointed out to me Dennis' mother's home on Ubin. She remembered buying drinks and that there was a hairdresser in the area. Seeing the photos that Dennis has scanned and uploaded on flickr, she regaled me with fond stories of her childhood.
This was Dennis' paternal grandparents home which is just beside Pekan Quarry, where the Nparks office was, where the toilet and Jelutong Campsite is today. Next time as you walk by the area, think of the families that lived here before!
As my mother lived very much further west of the town, she would always walk home together with Dennis' mom up till their home before my mother continues on home down the road. She remembers buying drinks from Hai Liang's shop which is now near where the seafood restaurant is. In fact, the shop may still be there. Monkey will investigate.
Dennis' mother and father lived next door to each other. Their houses face each other along the road. In fact, Dennis' maternal aunt and uncle still lives in their family home on Ubin today!
Dennis' Mother's family
I have really been inspired to really try to scan and go through my family's photos and talk to my granduncles who lived on the island. There is so much to learn and record before this bit of Ubin's history disappears forever. Dennis' love for his family and his excellent memory (unlike my memory of a goldfish) has really benefitted all of us who now know so much more about Ubin. And of course my mother who now knows a little more about the girl who stood beside her in the class photo.
Thank you for sharing your stories Dennis! Hopefully I can convince him to become a regular contributor for Pulau Ubin Stories!
See more photos of Pulau Ubin from 1940s - 1970s on Dennis' flickr set. He found these photos of Ubin in his grandmother's home and scanned them all!