Former Combined Operations Room

A replica of the saucer-shaped podium in the Radio Control Room where the ‘999’ calls used to be answered from.

Hidden behind a rather nondescript building at 195, Pearl’s Hill Terrace was a bunker which used to be the Combined Operations Room of the Singapore Police Force. The bunker was the nerve centre for police communications during 1956 to 1988. The bunker was where riots such as the Chinese Middle School riots of 1956 was managed from, and also where 999 calls were answered.

Non-descript building where the bunker is.

The windowless bunker was built by the British with 3-feet-wide walls, it’s able to withstand a 500 pound bomb. It was also the first facility in Singapore to have air conditioning—a necessity for ventilation given that there are no windows or other means of natural ventilation in the bunker.

An illustration showing how thick the fCOR building wall is (3 feet/900mm) vs. a typical building wall of just 100mm.

After the bunker ceased operation after 1988, it was taken over by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) who used it as a storage facility. As part of the SG50 celebrations, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Singapore Police Force has spruced up the bunker, and added recreated the various rooms within to what it would have been back in the 1950s when it was still in use. The public can now view the rooms in the bunker as part of a SG50 exhibition organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Singapore Police Force.

The narrow corridor within the bunker leading to the various rooms.

Along with a few other bloggers, we were invited to a tour of the bunker, where John Kwok, a researcher with NHB and Senior Staff Sergeant Evelyn Wong, a veteran policewoman who handled the 999 calls, took us on a tour of the facility. Mdm Wong shared with us her stories and experiences during her time, including one of people walking in with arms chopped off!

Mdm Evelyn Wong, a former Senior Staff Sergeant with the Police Force, shares her story working as a 999 girl.

It’s quite an eye-opener to see how things were done back in the pre-digital days: analog telephones with manual switchboards where the operator have to manually plug in to the currently ringing line, paper records, teleprinters where the operator can’t see what he’s typing and a manually-updated tote board in the map room where incidents and deployment were posted. Outside the bunker, a Volkswagen Beetle police car is also displayed.

A Volkswagen Police Car used from 1970-1982.

The steering wheel and dashboard of the Volkswagon police car used in the 70s.

Here are some more photos from the tour.

The tip of the radio mast that used to stand atop a 90ft tower outside the bunker.

Log sheet used to record all the incoming calls received and actions taken.

The keyboard of a teleprinter, which was modified from a mechanical typewriter. As there was no screen, the operator wasn’t able to see what he typed.

View of the Map Room from the Chief Police Staff Officer’s room. The former is where police car and other resource deployments are manually updated in real time on the tote board and the map.

Chief Police Staff Officer’s Room

Another view of the Map Room.

A closer view of the tote board where incidents and resource deployments were updated in chalk in real time.

A pair of red phones linked directly to ministers and the Prime Minister. If it rang, it meant an emergency and everybody had to work overtime.

Police Officer’s rest room, which was unfortunately never used as they had no time to rest.

The exhibition and tour runs from now till 31 Jan 2016. It’s open from Tuesdays to Sundays and admission is free, but pre-booking is required, so don’t just turn up. You can book a slot by calling 9893-5140 or emailing



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A Drive Back In Time

One of the Audi cars in front of Fullerton Hotel

One of the Audi cars in front of Fullerton Hotel

To commemorate Singapore’s 50th birthday, Audi Singapore launched a mobile app named “SG50 Time Machine” and also organised a week-long event named A Drive Back in Time, where the public can experience what Singapore looked like 50 years ago while driven in an Audi A6.

The Audi A7 which we rode in.

The Audi A6 which we rode in.

The ride starts and ends at the Fullerton Hotel, formally the General Post Office of Singapore. There wasn’t many people queuing, probably due to the rather heavy haze that has hit us in the past month. Upon boarding the car with a friend, we were handed a LG G4 mounted on a customised VR headset based on the Google Cardboard VR headset.

VR Headset

Our guide showing the headset. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask him (and the driver) for their names.

The driver took us around the civic district, and with the help of GPS technology, the 3D imagery of old Singapore is presented through the headset as we move along. The guide told us that the GPS functionality is a new enhancement the app developer has added; previously it was just a static video which sometimes did not sync well with the ride. The ride is narrated by Dick Lee’s voice played over the car’s sound system.

Approaching Anderson Bridge

Approaching Anderson Bridge

Passing through the Anderson Bridge then alongside the Padang, we saw the bumboats that used to be present on Singapore River, the Victoria Theatre, Supreme Court / City Hall didn’t change that much, but over the other side, we can see that the shoreline is a lot closer. And of course, Marina Bay Sands didn’t exist back then.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The app developers have also taken some artistic license, creating 3D shophouses along the way. I understand those shophouses didn’t exist back then, but it sure adds some elements of interest in an otherwise empty area.

The ride continues through along Connaught Drive, passing by St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the civilian war memorial (aka “chopsticks”) and Raffles Hotel. As we make our way back to the Fullerton Hotel, the VR imagery showed that we are floating above the water. Fifty years ago, our shoreline was much closer and the road we were travelling on didn’t exist back then.

“Floating” on the sea

“Floating” on the sea

Soon (maybe too soon), we were back at Fullerton Hotel, ending the ride in time. We are now “back to the future”, so to speak.

Although it was short and the 3D images are kind of low-resolution, I enjoyed the experience. This is a very interesting and educational use of VR technology, and it has a lot of potential. It can possibly be extended to cover more areas of Singapore. We are always progressing so quickly, tearing down old places in the name of city development, and this is a good way to present how things look like before.

Tomorrow (25 Oct) is the last day of the event. Online booking of seats are full, but from my experience today, you can simply walk in and register on the spot. The app is also available for download from Apple App Store and Google Play Store, so if you happen to have a Google Cardboard headset, you can probably also re-create the experience with the help of a friend or family member to do the driving. The app also works without a headset, although the experience won’t be as immersive, of course.

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Ending the Singapore Night Festival 2015 On a High Note

Angels descend in front of the National Museum of Singapore in a performance titled “Garden of Angels” by Theater Tol from Belgium

After a fiery first weekend, the 12th Singapore Night Festival ended on a high note with Theater Tol’s performance of “Garden of Angels”. The Belgian theatre group literally ended the festival on a high note, with angels suspended off a rig on a high crane, high above the National Museum of Singapore.

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Singapore Night Festival 2015—Part 1

Singapore-based fire performance group, Starlight Alchemy, performing “Alchemy”, a 3-part story of Apollo from the world of Ethereal Light and Nuri from the world of Eternal Flame, at the Singapore Night Festival 2015.

Now into it’s 8th year, the Singapore Night Festival is here again. With a theme of “Glitz and Glamour”, and in conjunction with Singapore’s golden jubilee, the festival showcases an ensemble of world-class entertainment by both local and foreign artists and performers. Here are some of the performances which I managed to attend and shoot.

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Happy 50th Birthday, Singapore!

Spectators shoot the fireworks display on their mobile phones at the Waterfront Promenade outside the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. The country celebrated her 50th year of independence on 9 Aug 2015.

On 9 August 2015, Singapore celebrated her golden jubilee—50 years since she declared independence in 1965. An additional day was also declared a public holiday, much to the delight of Singaporeans, many of which chose to travel abroad. Those who stayed were treated to a slew of activity, including aerobatics displays by the Black Knights of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the crowd favorite, the fireworks after the National Day Parade.
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Rendezvous of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon huddle for a rendezvous above a block of HDB flats in Singapore, forming a Celestial Triangle. Venus is the brightest spot near the top, Jupiter is to the right. Regulus, one of the stars making up the constellation of Leo, can also be seen at the top of Venus.

Almost exactly three years ago, I caught the “Celestial Triangle” formed by Venus, Jupiter and a crescent moon early one morning. Earlier tonight, I managed to catch the gorgeous sight again, thanks to a tip-off in the Straits Times’ website which carried the news of this celestial event.

As the sun set, I started to see a faint crescent moon along with a brightly shining Venus. Jupiter was barely visible. A waxing crescent moon hangs below them. The trio was relatively high up in the sky at dusk, and I managed to capture the following shot.

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon rendezvous at dusk on 18 Jul 2015 to form the Celestial Triangle. Venus is at the top, Jupiter is barely visible at the right, and of course, the crescent moon is below.

Wanting to add a sense of place to the shot, I waited for the trio to set further down the horizon, getting them close enough to include the blocks of HDB flats below. It’s really nice to be able to see and catch this right from the corridor outside my flat. While reviewing my shots, I have also noticed an additional star, in addition to the two planets. It turned out to be Regulus, the brightest star of the constellation of Leo. In the opening shot, it’s above and to the right of Venus.

Light pollution was causing the night sky to have a rather murky colour, so in the final shot at the opening of this post, I have adjusted the white balance to give a bluer, more pleasing tone.

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SEA Games 2015 Opening Ceremony Fireworks—The smokiest I’ve shot

Fireworks over the Singapore Sports Hub during the SEA Games 2015 Opening Ceremony. This is a 2-shot composite, one of the pyrotechnics over the Sports Hub roof and one for the main fireworks.

The 28th SEA Games opened with fireworks at the Singapore Sports Hub on 5th June 2015. With all the media hype on the event, I was excited over the prospect of seeing some great fireworks, but it was not to be.

Joined by my friend David and his girlfriend, we went to our shooting location at one of the HDB flats overseeing the stadium and waited for the moment. We knew that the fireworks would be set off at around 10pm, so we still have quite a bit of time when we got there around 9. Expectedly, all the higher floors were taken but we are happy to have a spot on the 8th floor.

We set up our cameras and waited. David also streamed the live telecast on his iPad mini so we know what is going on and can be better prepared. The first few shots of fireworks finally came. Possibly due to the high humidity, wind direction and what I suspect to be poor-quality fireworks fired at rapid intervals, smoke quickly accumulated. Tons of it. I have never seen so much smoke in my previous fireworks shoots. I hope the fireworks during the closing ceremony and SG50 National Day Parade will be much better.

Here is a shot taken near the end of the fireworks. Just look at that smoke!

Smoky fireworks from the SEA Games 2015 Opening Ceremony

We only managed to get 1–2 keepers each. For the above, I merged two exposures—one consisting of the main fireworks on the right, and one with the low-level pyrotechnics fired over the stadium roof. The latter had too much smoke on the fireworks side to be useful.

I also set up my iPhone to shoot a video of the fireworks display. You can see the smoke accumulating after the first few bursts.

Now, a note on camera safety.

I was using an ultra-wide-angle lens and wanted my camera as close to the front as possible, so I mounted my camera on a Joby Gorillapod and clamped that onto a railing. For safety, I also tied the camera to the railing via the camera strap so that it won’t drop 8 floors down. David was rather squeamish about that but I assured him that it won’t drop as it’s tied to the railing.

Not long after the fireworks ended, we learnt that someone’s Gorillapod-mounted DSLR went free falling 15 levels at the block next to ours, hitting a Honda Civic below. Ouch. Thankfully no one was hurt. So, secure your cameras properly or you might just kill someone.

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Heartland Star Trails

Star Trails above HDB flats

This evening, I saw a Facebook update by a friend who was excited over the clear, starry sky that she saw at the East Coast Park beach. Since I stay in the east as well, I decided to check it out.

Looking out of the window, I see a nearly-cloudless sky filled with stars. I originally intended to see if I could get a milky way shot, but wasn’t successful. So I decided to go for a star trails shot instead.

To get the star trails, I set up my Fujifilm X-T1 with the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 lens and set the intervalometer to take a hundred shots. The exposure was found by trial and error (helps having a computer nearby to check these.) to be 20s at f/5.6 at ISO 1600.

After the 100 shots, I downloaded the images into Lightroom CC, then did some exposure/colour adjustments on the first shot. I opted for a slightly bluer white balance which I think looks better for the night sky. The HDB flats in the foreground was kind of bright, so  I toned that down via Lightroom’s graduated ND filter. Once I am happy with the adjustments, I used the Sync Settings in Lightroom to apply to the other 99 shots, then exported them as JPEG files.

Finally, the 100 images were stacked in StarStaX, which did an excellent job at stacking them and also filling in the gaps in the star trails. It’s by coincidence that I managed to get the centre of the trails in the centre of the frame. Talk about good luck!


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A Visit to Raffles Lighthouse

Raffles Lighthouse

It’s not often that one gets to visit one of the several lighthouses in Singapore. So when the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore organised a tour of the Raffles Lighthouse as part of the Singapore Maritime Week, I jumped at the chance.

The one-hour journey began from the Marina South Pier and along the way, we passed by a few of our southern islands. We even caught the RSAF practising their aerial displays for possibly the upcoming 50th National Day!

Sisters’ Islands

Pulau Sebarok, an oil storage island and refuelling dock.

Pulau Biola (Violin Island). Doesn’t look much like a violin though.

RSAF Aerial Display

Before long, Raffles Lighthouse came into view and we alighted shortly.

Located 23km away on the southernmost island of Singapore, Pulau Satumu, the Raffles Lighthouse was completed in 1855. The name loosely translates to One Tree Island, referring to the Malay name of a large mangrove tree, Bruguiera confugata. There are more than one tree on the island now.

In the early days, the lighthouse operated on wick burner lamp, followed by a pressurised kerosene one and eventually replaced by an incandescent light in 1968. The forth-order optic used to focus the light to the ships at sea can be seen at the mini-museum below the lighthouse. The museum also showcases various old equipment which was used in the lighthouse’s early days.

4th-order optic used in Raffles Lighthouse in 1968.

Since 1988, the lighthouse used an array of quartz halogen lamps in aluminium parabolic reflectors and mounted on a rotating pedestal. These lamps used only a fifth of the power required by the incandescent lamps to produce the same intensity of light, allowing them to be powered by solar energy.

Although the lighthouse is now automated, it is still manned by a team of two lighthouse keepers who stay on the island for 10 days, before another team of two takes over. Unfortunately, we did not get to see them.

The way up to the top of the lighthouse begins at a narrow 107-step spiral staircase at the foot of the tower.

Spiral staircase leading to the top.

Old clock and plaque commemorating the lighthouse’s 150th anniversary.

The spiral staircase leads to a level below where the lights are, and the final steps are via a slightly curved ladder. Behind that lies the old storage tanks for the kerosene which used to fuel the lighthouse’s lamp.

Ladder to the top of the lighthouse. At the back are the storage tanks for the kerosene which used to fuel the lighthouse’s lamp.

The ladder leads to the lamp enclosure, and a crawl through a small little door leads to the balcony outside. The view from the top is stunning. I see crystal-clear, turquoise waters that’s more commonly seen in places like Phuket than in Singapore. It was truly beautiful.

Beautiful turquoise waters surrounding Pulau Satumu.

View of the tip of Pulau Satumu from the top of Raffles Lighthouse

Lighthouse Beacon

Another view of the beacons.

Back on the ground, I took explored the base of the lighthouse and also took a walk around the island. The place has a very idyllic feel to it, away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. It’s a great place to relax.

A corridor at the base of the lighthouse

Turquoise waters

Idyllic beach

Before long, it’s time to head back to Singapore. The tour was a real eye-opener and I really enjoyed myself. Thanks to the MPA for organising this, and I hope I’ll have a chance to visit the beautiful Sultan Shoal lighthouse in future as well!

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The “Bloodless” Lunar Eclipse I Almost Missed

Composite image of the lunar eclipse on 3 Apr 2015 as the moon emerges from totality.

The lunar eclipse on 4 Apr 2015 is the third of a series of four—called a tetrad—consecutive eclipses spaced six months apart. It was also the shortest, lasting barely 5 minutes at its peak.

I staked out at the Esplanade Bridge an hour before totality and waited. Nightfall came, I don’t see the moon. I waited some more. Still nothing. I posted a message on Facebook to see if anyone else saw anything, nobody did. Totality, which is supposed to be at 8pm, came and went but I still don’t see it.

Singapore is really not a very good place to observe astrological events. Last year, two Supermoons eluded me because of cloud cover. I also missed last year’s blood moon at its totality, but was lucky enough to catch the moon coming out of eclipse. This time round was no exception.

After half an hour, I gave up and walked to Raffles City to have a drink. I checked Facebook once again to see if anyone has caught sight of the moon, and that was when I saw that a friend has caught the crescent moon and tagged me in her post.

Finishing my drink, I dashed out walked back towards the Esplanade Bridge. I couldn’t see the moon along the way, but I kept my hopes up. Halfway through, I decided to go to the rooftop at the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay instead as it’s nearer.

I looked up the sky as I walked onto the rooftop terrace. Lo and behold, there it is, a sliver the crescent moon peeking out of the clouds like the smile of a shy girl. I quickly setup my camera and tripod and took photos as the eclipse progressed. I was lucky enough to have a Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 PF lens which I got for a review. Combined with my lunar camera of choice, the good old Nikon V1, I was able to achieve an effective focal length of 810mm with the V1’s 2.7x focal length multiplier. This lets me get a decently sized moon in my shots. I set the White Balance to “Sunlight” instead of “Auto” as the latter usually results in a whitish moon. Here’s the crescent moon as it emerges from totality.

The crescent moon as it emerges from totality.

The height of the moon at this time also meant that I can no longer have any usable foreground interest, so after shooting, I used PhotoShop to composite them onto a single frame. Unlike some other photographers, or should I say, digital artists, I decided not to also composite the sequence into a landscape. I have also left the colour as it was originally, instead of making it more reddish since the reddish tinge only occurred during totality, which was already over. I have thus called it “bloodless” in this post as it was no longer reddish when I caught it.

Many thanks to my friend, Belinda Tan, for giving me the heads up on the first sighting of the moon. Hopefully, the weather will be better at the next astronomical event.

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