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The Yishun Of Yesteryear
Yishun is many things to many people. It has been the butt of jokes as the "underbelly" of Singapore or home of the "new Istana", even as it's cited as a new town with modern features such as the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital or the freshly-minted Yishun Park Hawker Centre. Rewind a couple of centuries and you're hard put to imagine that in the 1800s to early 1900s, Yishun and its neighbour Sembawang were made up of villages and plantations - gambier, pepper, rubber, and pineapple.
Development only came about when the British started building the Singapore Naval Base in Sembawang, which opened in 1938. The base now belongs to Sembcorp Marine Ltd, but there's one structure that's still standing and open to the public - Beaulieu House in Sembawang Park, one of the last few natural beaches in Singapore.
Beaulieu House was originally built as a private seaside retreat but was later acquired by the British colonial government in the 1920s as a residence for its personnel. It was granted conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2005, and is currently occupied by a seafood restaurant. It's a little out of the way, but also a good way to run in the engine of your Mini Countryman and end off with a good meal.
There are other landmarks still frozen in time. Jenal Jetty, for one, and the old Seletar Fishing Village near the Yishun Dam - said to be the last fishing village in the country. There's also the former Admiralty House in Yishun, which was initially named the Canberra House when it was completed in 1939, and served as the residence of the commodore superintendent of the Royal Navy Dockyard.
Notable military personnel have stayed there over the years, before eventually being used as a recreation club by Sembawang Shipyard - now Sembcorp Marine - and designated a national monument in 2002. These days, its grounds are filled with youngsters - students of the Furen International School.
While it's not Japan, the Sembawang natural hot spring is the only one of its kind on mainland Singapore. Since the water was tested to be safe for drinking, it has been bottled and sold by companies like the Singapore Natural Mineral Hot Springs Company and Fraser and Neave Ltd (F&N). Now, the land is part of the Sembawang Air Base, but anybody can visit the spring in the daytime.
The modernisation of Yishun began with the green light for the Yishun New Town Project in 1976. Residents didn't have to go downtown anymore - there were markets, schools and public facilities right at their doorstep. Chong Pang City was the first neighbourhood centre in the district. Named after the Chinese pioneer and businessman Lim Chong Pang, it opened in 1984 and is instantly recognisable for its two distinctive Chinese gateways.
Yishun-ites could also claim to have the first cineplex in Singapore. Yishun 10 was built in 1992 along with Northpoint Shopping Centre, and was launched by Golden Village in a joint venture between Hong Kong company Golden Harvest and Australia's Village Roadshow. It housed 10 screens, quite unheard of in those days. It's come a long way since then.
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