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Categories: CultureExperience
| On 6 months ago

Singapore in 1983 on Video — Reminiscing Our Country’s Early Days

It’s day 39 of Circuit Breakers I think, I’m not quite sure—the vision’s a little hazy. At this point, if you have yet to trawl the weird side of YouTube, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Unsettling videos aside, YouTube can be an incredible treasure trove of educational and informational resources if you learn to use it wisely.

Take this, for example: a video entitled “Singapore awakening in 1983” which was uploaded back in 2012—how long ago was that even, am I right? The YouTube user @MichaelRogge, who uploaded it, has well over 258,000 subscribers on his channel which he uses to reminisce clips from an earlier time in Singapore—a fonder time, some might even say.

His video “Singapore awakening in 1983”, which has already garnered 298,301 views to date, takes a trip down memory lane to Singapore in the 80s, back when sand-based playgrounds reigned and Khong Guan biscuits were a thing of novelty. Chatters in Cantonese can be heard in the background, while the classic “彩云追月”—loosely translated to ‘clouds chasing the moon’—plays intermittently throughout the clip.


Singapore’s Meagre Skyline — 1:01

Screengrab from “Singapore awakening in 1983”

At roughly the one-minute mark, we catch a glimpse of Singapore’s humble skyline overlooking our busy seaports. While it’s no Manhattan, it is but a prelude to what we have and love today. If only our forefathers knew that the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands hotel would play crucial roles in our country’s modern cityscape—would they have believed it?

Life Before Potable Water — 2:37

Screengrab from “Singapore awakening in 1983”

Today, clean, drinkable water comes pouring out at the flick of a handle on our taps, but life wasn’t always this way. Not everyone remembers a time when Singaporeans had to scoop water out into pails to shower, or when it was required to bring the water to a boil before it was safe for consumption.

We often take basic privileges such as ready-to-drink water for granted, though its absence wasn’t exactly a distant memory away.

Fashion in the 80s — 3:45

Screengrab from “Singapore awakening in 1983”

My mother often tells me that I was born in the wrong era because of the sheer number of clothing sitting in my wardrobe that looks like they are four decades too old. Be it fashion or music; it’s undeniable that many of us today can agree that the 80s was indeed the golden era of high-waisted trousers, colour-blocked prints, and raving disco music.

Here, we see two ladies wolfing down their scrumptious meal at the dinner table, with the one on the right clad in a blouse that’s hauntingly similar to one that I currently own. Hauntingly similar, I say.

Journey through old Duxton Hill — 4:23

Screengrab from “Singapore awakening in 1983”

The footage from 4:23 features a tracking shot from the lorry we saw earlier on as it meanders through the streets of Duxton Hill. Along the way, rows of low-rise shophouses come into view—most of which still stands today.

Though we might not see laundry-clad bamboo poles sticking out from the windows because its residential status has ceased, we can still appreciate the buildings that have now been turned into workspaces, bars, and cafes. A quaint neighbourhood through and through.

A blast from the past — 5:29

Screengrab from “Singapore awakening in 1983”

I would’ve missed the parking sign entirely on the far right of the frame if not for a user’s comment that read, “I never realised those parking signs are that old”. Me neither, Zach. Little is known online about the mysterious parking sign that’s coated in flashing yellow and neon orange, but that doesn’t make the signage any less iconic.


All that aside, it is undeniable that our little red dot has since undergone an exceptional transformation in terms of architecture, aesthetics, and structure. Now, it is almost unrecognisable when compared to just 40 years ago—if not for the tiny pieces of the past that give it away.

As much as tourists from far and wide flock to marvel at our city’s architectural prowess, I think many will resonate with me when I say that we still have a long way to go where culture and tolerance are concerned. You might have come across the phrase, “first world country with third world mindset” while scrolling through forums, or when you got caught in the crossfire of heated debates on Facebook.

Considering that we still see remnants of racism, close-mindedness, and intolerance for cultural differences, our realities are perhaps not that different from what our ancestors once knew. As much as I am eternally grateful to the forefathers who built the nation from the ground up, recent events have served as a reminder to be thankful for the group of people who constructed the Singapore we know today—our migrant workers.

My heart aches for those lying in hospital beds, struggling daily to fight the coronavirus.
If anything, it reveals the damning truth of how Singapore has failed them. It has brought to light the xenophobia and lack of empathy on our part, so let’s take this time in quarantine to reflect and remind ourselves that we’re all capable of being better than those who went before us.


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Vera Leng

Why do we call them toppings if they sink to the bottom?

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