Friday, July 1, 2011

Bye Bye Tanjung Pagar Railway Station...

I am not really a history buff but when I discovered that there was a piece of Singapore that was still owned by Malaysia, (and I am not talking about Pulau Batu Putih now know as Pedra Branca), I was baffled.

I was like... what in the world is a part of Malaysia doing in Singapore?

Confused? So was I. But then I looked on the interned and discovered this...


It's rather weird that Tanjung Pagar used to be owned by Malayan Railways or Kereta Api Tanah Melayu (KTMB), which though privatized is still fully owned by the Malaysian government. So, strangely the land on which the tracks and the station stands used to be owned by us - Malaysia!

Here is where it gets more complicated. You go through Malaysian customs when you enter the platform at the railway station. But then, you have to go through Singapore customs when you physically leave Singapore around half an hour later.

The station is now relocated to the Woodlands Train Checkpoint, which is closer to the actual Malaysian-Singapore border. This may seem more sensible, but it would have been an iconic mark had there been a tiny part of Malaysia still existing within the heart of Singapore even after decades of separation. Malaysia will also relocate its customs and immigration facilities to Woodlands.

The interior hall is opened to the public. 

Just like in Taiping railway station!

The station is supposedly popular for its very Malaysian hawker stalls. 

Ticket counter...

Another beautiful ticket counter...

An immaculate clock at the departure platform...

I'm not sure if all Singaporeans understand Malay, but most Malaysians think they just pretend not to to make themselves look posh... but a sign in English would have helped more...

Very artistic Art Deco design indeed...

The old Malay spelling is still maintained. In Malaysia, 'bilek' (room) is now spelled 'bilik'. Seems like a deliberate attempt to give the whole station a very nostalgic, pre-separation, pre-independence touch.

Four marble statues by Italian sculptor Rudolfo Nolli can be seen at the station's exterior. They represent the four pillar of the Malaysian economy at that time - agriculture, commerce, transport and industry.  The initials F, M, S, R; one above each statue mean Federated Malay States Railways, which was probably KTMB's English name before it was privatized.

Meet Mr. Industry!

Seeing 'Tanjung (cape) spelled as 'Tanjong' , which is in old Malay, it explains why 'bilik' is spelled as 'bilek'. Maybe Singaporean Malay still follows the older spelling manner. Maybe. I don't really know...

One might assume that the Malaysian Royal Police Force actually has jurisdiction in the heart of Singapore. Quite funny actually when you think about it. Maybe they might not even have changed the sign ever!

Typical Malaysian style. Can't even invest on proper erasing. Had to crudely cancel off 'Hotel' from the sign board instead of replacing it or covering up the words properly. No wonder our southern neighbours can easily make fun of us - we rub our weaknesses right up in their 'kiasu' faces!

Enchanting mosaic panels in the station's main lobby. They all portray Peninsular Malaysia's core activities at the time the station was built. Among them are tin-mining, rice-planting, rubber tapping, coconut-planting, maritime trade and many more agricultural based sectors. Singapore Rubber Works (which I highly doubt still exist since I am quite sure there are no longer any rubber plantations in the city-state) made these mosaic panel tiles out of coloured rubber through a patented process.

The stars with eight points which can be found on the ceiling near the entrance represents harmony and balance. Eight is an auspicious number to represent balance since the architecture of the station is a balanced blend of East and West.

The 72-feet barrel vault... makes it look even more like a railway station in Europe...

Even the back of the building is very European. 

This sign, which was removed years ago, was supposedly to show Malaysia's ownership over the station and the land surrounding it. 

There was once a famous hotel on the second floor of the station that gave the prestigious Raffles Hotel a run for its money. But in typical Malaysian fashion, the hotel had been closed down and is not badly maintained. A suicide also took place there once, sparking another sensational Singaporean Ghost Story. 

It is sad to see another piece of our Malaysian heritage lost to the hands of our southern neighbour. There have been calls, from withing Singapore itself, to maintain this historical icon as it is. But I suppose the Prime Ministers of both nations have a good reason for wanting to continue with this. The station will not be demolished, instead it would be preserved by some Singaporean historical board. 

There is also another railway station in Bukit Timah, Singapore which is still owned by KTMB. Though less popular and less esthetical, lets just hope this one still remains Malaysia since it is situated slightly up north in Singapore. Unlike this one and Tanjong Pagar's at one point, Woodlands is co-owned by both countries.

What I don't understand is why Malaysia could not have removed and relocated the entire station brick by brick to our country. Is it because it might be too expensive? But think about tourism! Wouldn't it be a good investment. Now it will all be too late. The building belongs to Singapore now, and they will definitely do wonders with it. 

I would definitely want to visit this place some day. 

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