[continued from last post….]
4. Clark Quay
The film-still below presents a scene from the Singapore River bank, probably along Clarke Quay in 1941. Since the founding of the colony in 1819, the Singapore River had been a key trading centre with vessels of various kinds — Sampans, tongkangs, bumboats or twakows) — plying the length of the river between Boat Quay downstream, where the trading companies and offices were, and Clarke Quay upstream, where most of the warehouses and godowns were. The tongkangs would also unload goods from larger ships anchored offshore near the Singapore harbour — the ships were too big to enter the river — and transport them to the trading centre and godowns in Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
Shophouses, which accommodated lodgings, offices and warehouses lined the riverside. Coolies wearing conical hats steered the sampans with oars or pushed the bumboats with long poles that reached the bottom of the river…
As of 1941, World War Two has begun in Europe and the Sino-Japanese War was well underway. Singapore was a key entrepot trade centre and might have been affected by the reduction in global trade due to war. The international economy had also broken up into trading blocs determined by political allegiances.
So, that may explain why trading activities such as the movement of goods seemed scarce in the following film-still. The tongkangs were parked at the quayside and did not seemed to be actively moving up or downstream. However, this film-image could have been captured at a time when trading shops were closed for business, thus the seeming inactivity.
Another newsreel filmmaker who will visit the same site in December 1941 will capture a different scene. The quayside activities had virtually come to a halt and smoke billowed in the distance. Singapore was under siege. Japanese air raids had commenced on 8 December 1941. There would be regular air raids over Singapore’s city center until the surrender of the British colony on 15 February 1942.
Active global trade resumed after the end of World War II. The global economy recovered and business was to prosper gain in Boat Quay/Clarke Quay. Over time, the Singapore River became very congested and overpopulated. There were pollution problems and residents used to comment that the Singapore River was very dirty and stank badly. The government then decided to relocate trading and cargo services to a new facility in Pasir Panjang. The Singapore river was cleaned up in the 1980s and Clark Quay was later redeveloped into a recreational shopping mall housing many restaurants, pubs and discotheques.
The mastermind and architect behind the latest rendition of the Clarke Quay hustle and bustle is Stephen Pimbley of Alsop Architects. Short of a “tabula rasa”, it is a dramatic and cataclysmic change from the past really…. Well, business is good, we shouldn’t complain.
What next for Clarke Quay in the 2020s? A disco theme park?