Yangtze Strangers

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Yangtze Scribbler, I still haven’t found you! Soon there won’t even be a reason to call you the “Yangtze Scribbler”, once the Yangtze Cinema is gone from memory. The reference that I used to refer you by will have ceased to exist.

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Yesterday my mother and I saw the Yangtze Cinema appear on the 6.30PM Chinese news in Singapore. We only saw the second half of the report, but due to the stunted state of our Chinese we couldn’t agree on whether they were reporting that it was about to reopen, or about to close for good, my mother was unfoundedly optimistic that she had heard that it would be reopening, but I knew that even if the dilapidated Yangtze suddenly rose from the ashes, it wasn’t quite something that would be celebrated with a spot on the prime time news.

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And so indeed, the Yangtze finally closed its doors on 29 Feb 2016. For me, the search for the “scribbler” started from nothing more than a chance discovery of the strange scribbles on the stairwell of the Yangtze – that somehow continued for years like a game or hide and seek in other parts of Singapore, when the same scribbles started appearing on the routes I frequented near Queen Street and the Muslim Cemetery where I would catch the bus. I have always been terribly grateful for Pin Pin’s foresight for documenting the story of my search for the mysterious writer of symbols which I had childishly named the “scribbler” at the time…

See: Tan Pin Pin’s film for the Singapore Memory Project – Yangtze Scribbler (2012)

I’m not always in Singapore these days. Sometimes I am, and sometimes I’m not. But last August, whilst walking from Outram to Chinatown, I ended up being trapped in Pearl Centre during an extremely heavy downpour, the relentless tropical kind of rain which demolishes umbrellas and forces you to wade through ankle deep water in order to get to your next appointment. So I soon realised that the rain meant that I would be stuck at Pearl Centre for quite some time…

If we talk about ambiances, there are actually very few places in Singapore where I feel a sense of being physically repelled. The stairwell leading up to the Yangtze Cinema is certainly one of those places. I have always supposed it is because in real life I am awkward and have been thoroughly socialised by society’s norms to respect people’s “private space”. I don’t like accidentally brushing against strangers on public transport and I would never really feel totally at ease in someone else’s house. The stairwell makes me feel like I am intruding into a space which someone has already claimed as their own; the walls engraved with scribbles, handprints and furniture for one to sit on.

Paradoxically, like the extreme vertigo I often experience when walking on large rocks or steep natural terrains, this inexplicable sensation of being physically repelled is what excites me and attracts me to return to and look closer at the place.

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Could it have always just been a product of the hypnotic flicker of artificial light, or the effect of some low-frequency extractor fan infrasound that induces a vertiginous sensation of there being some other presence within the enclosed space? And what of the other doors with the MALE TOILET signs next to it? Is there something significant about how all the Male toilets are next to this passageway that is trying to send me some subliminal messages about how this is some Male space that I’m not supposed to be intruding on?

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On that afternoon in 2015, the sense of having intruded was also quite frankly literal. Poking around the stairwell on one of the higher floors, I set off some kind of alarm within the building (that I had never encountered or triggered on previous trips here). So I bumbled through one of the other doors on the stairwell, and was surprised to find a middle aged man in plain white shirt, long trousers and flipflops, sitting on the floor in the corner, reading a newspaper. Mumbling an apology for suddenly disrupting his peaceful afternoon in the corner, I walked through the corridors between closed shutters and glass windows decorated with MOVED signs – only to accidentally disturb another man hiding in another concealed corner of this empty shopping centre. Looking through the glass of another vacated shop, I could see another man in another corner, not doing anything at all. With the shops gone, they were free to use the building in any way they pleased. And they decided it was a good place to sit. They were all seemingly waiting for something… perhaps the next showtime at the Yangtze?

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The old men sat apart and alone, occupying the unused corners in this emptied shell of an old shopping centre that still remained lit and airconditioned for nearly the last few who remained. Did they ever speak to one another, or did they know each other? I don’t know. Perhaps they remained complete strangers to each other till the very end, just as I may never really know if I inadvertently crossed paths with the Yangtze Scribbler that afternoon. After I finally left Pearl Centre, I realised that somehow it hadn’t occurred to me to speak to the men to ask them if they had known who had made the scribbles on the stairwell.

Somehow united by this strange space, the strangers passed the time together and waited for the last show of the day…

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Goodbye, Yangtze.


See also:

May 2013 – Yangtze Scribbler on Victoria Street
June 2012 – Yangtze Scribbler on Queen Street
April 2012 – Looking for the Yangtze Scribbler
Mar 2012 – Yangtze Scribbler on Victoria Lane
Flickr Set: More images of the Yangtze Scribbler
Singapore Memory Project Showcase – Tan Pin Pin’s short on the Yangtze Scribbler

Dates and Numbers on Traffic Signposts along Rowell and Hindoo Road

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Last week I went for a walk around the old neighbourhood in Little India, to take a better picture of a new sign of the Yangtze Scribbler which I had seen on National Day. I found two new signs along the grimy shophouse pillars of Jalan Besar, a main road with heavy traffic all day long – whilst doing my normal survey of the area. I also tried asking (chinese-speaking) people around the area if they knew anything about it, but so far no joy. Whilst I was there I also had a walk about to see if any other new signs of the Yangtze Scribbler had appeared closer to Victoria Street and Sungei Road, and had a series of very interesting finds……….

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We’ll start small with the basic things that one always sees in the areas. There are many many numbers in the urban landscape. Numbers like these are ubiquitous in the area, especially on the shop houses along Jalan Besar.

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These look like bloody fingerstains. Hrmmmmmmm.

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This tiny paper sign which has been adhered to the pillar next to the bus stop on Jalan Besar Road (opposite Veerasamy Rd) reads: “Every night big gambling going on at bangkit road blk 259 in front 7-11 outlet. So far no action taken by the police. Is jurong police commander took bribe? SO NO ACTION TAKEN”. It is slightly strange for someone to make a complaint about Bangkit Road (ostensibly on the other side of the island, near bukit gombak) along a pillar on Jalan Besar (central). I’ve typed it out so it can be googled by others.

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There are a lot of crack monitors to track the horizontal and vertical movements of cracks on civil engineering structures. Again, many many numbers, for their own tracking purposes.

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And the reason for the need for all the crack monitors is the intensive construction work going on for the new downtown train line and the rehabilitation of Rochor Canal which has resulted in huge modification to the roads. In addition to that, a lot of drainage and PUB works have been conducted in the vicinity, resulting in some cracks appearing in many shophouses, many of which have had to be fitted with structural supports just in case.

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Rochor Canal rehabilitation

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More construction and road diversions on Jalan Besar
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It was a hot afternoon, and everyone was hiding in the shade. I was determined to comb through the area thoroughly so as to be certain that I hadn’t missed out another sign from the scribbler…

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Items hiding in the shade next to Sungei Road Market. A lot of people have started moving closer and closer to Jalan Besar and the housing block next to it, due to the reduction of space at Sungei Road Market. There are many of these carts along the road and sometimes even in the open sun.

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On Hindoo Road, a new private security firm “Securitas” has erected a tiny shed next to a newly erected automatic carpark gantry. It leads to the multistorey carpark on Hindoo Road. I found this to be quite strange, as it means cars cannot pass through Hindoo Road anymore, without paying a carpark fee! I find that pretty annoying – I don’t mind if they erect a carpark gantry in front of the carpark entrance, but to erect it at the START of Hindoo Road – is that even legal?

When I was driving I would make the little turn into Hindoo to make a U-turn around the block, because Rowell is a one-way road so in order to turn into Rowell, one needs to make a turn in from Jalan Besar down either Hindoo (one-way, but opposite way from Rowell) or Veerasamy (two-way), and turn at Kampong Kapor and turn back into Rowell Road from the other end. Sure I could make the turn from Veerasamy but how is it that one can charge for the use of a road, just because it also leads down to the carpark?

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What I eventually reached was this backlane between Rowell, Hindoo, and Jalan Besar, a shortcut I have taken countless times now. This is where an old chinese man sits and stacks up stuff. I could dedicate an entire post to pictures of what he has been doing over the last two years, I’ve taken loads and loads of pictures of what new things he’s stacked up every other day. He’s like an eccentric found-object artist putting together dioramas from scrap items in the area. Han told me he is actually not a homeless man, although he is frequently seen wandering around without shoes or shirt on the backlane. He’s apparently a very lively, energetic and slightly eccentric old chinese man who lives in the HDB block on Rowell Road, and is sometimes being chased by his family’s maid…

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It was also another one of those moments where looking behind a box with a tiny crawlspace paid off. I’ve developed the habit of sometimes looking behind electrical boxes, especially in tight corners, because people do write stuff there. Lo and behold, there was this innocuous looking box, all clean and new from the front…

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But behind it…

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After seeing this, I also noticed there were MORE NUMBERS on the traffic sign posts in the area!

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I ran up and down the road and realised they were on every traffic post!!!

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I did not meet the old man of the road to ask if he was the one writing it, but suffice to say the person writing this is probably chinese and a bit older because of the use of traditional chinese script. It could very well be him. The writings mainly seem to be about dates and money. I’ll type it out and add the transcriptions to this post later. In the meantime, I’m open to people’s interpretations of what these are all about…


After my talk on wednesday at Fork, Dan suggested I check out if the Yangtze Scribbler’s numbers 160 / 95 / 55 or 160 / 95 / 58 were related to bus numbers. So I duly investigated it. Sadly there are no overlaps in the routes for the buses with those numbers, although I was initially excited to hear that 160 did start from Malaysia. 160 does not come to the terminal at Queen Street though.

Nevertheless, here are some screencaps of the map for each of the routes, using Busrouter-sg:

ROUTE 160:
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ROUTE 95:
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ROUTE 55:
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ROUTE 58:
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See also:

May 2013 – Yangtze Scribbler on Victoria Street
June 2012 – Yangtze Scribbler on Queen Street
April 2012 – Looking for the Yangtze Scribbler
Mar 2012 – Yangtze Scribbler on Victoria Lane
Flickr Set: More images of the Yangtze Scribbler
Singapore Memory Project Showcase – Tan Pin Pin’s short on the Yangtze Scribbler

Sungei Road Findings

Yesterday night after FORK2 I was walking around Sungei Road where I discovered a few new things.

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The number of chairs on Sungei Road has multiplied exponentially. There is literally a chair on every other corner. Years ago there might be a few straggly chairs left on the fences. But now there are dozens of chairs everywhere.

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Compare this to my post on 13 April 2012 and 2 May 2012 when I first noticed that the number of chairs had started increasing. Perhaps it is people’s only way of staking their presence on the very road itself, where no other permanent or physical structures have been allowed to remain.

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At the corner where Larut Road, Weld Road, and Jalan Besar Road now meet, I also found a block that looked JUST like one of the fragments in the Ethnographic Fragments project (see: Jalan Besar Cement Block). It was exactly the same size, except that it had inscriptions on it. Notably, at the time, I had recorded down that I had picked up that block because there were no other rocks like it in the area and it was strikingly geometric. If that rock could talk I would have said to it, “HEY BABY, YOU LOOK FAMILIAR, HAVE I SEEN YOU AROUND SOMEWHERE BEFORE?” But I probably shouldn’t be talking to rocks cos next thing you know I’d have turned into the Crazy Rock Lady…


Now I have developed this habit where every time I am in the area, I go around and snoop around all the electrical boxes that I know of. So I checked behind the electrical box along the Muslim Cemetery on Victoria Lane (pictured below, still there), and I checked the back of the busstop (long since cleaned away).

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On Victoria Lane, facing the Muslim Cemetery (First documented in March 2012)


I probably check every single box every few weeks, unless I am out of the country. Whilst waiting for Bus 7 I decided to use my phone as a torch to examine the back of another electric box near the busstop, one located at a more visible spot by the road, a spot with fairly high human traffic. Two Malay Men were standing there right next to the box, chitchatting, and the entire bus stop was very full as if there had just been a big social event at the Madrassah behind the Muslim cemetery. I expected to find nothing but…

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…BUT WHAT WAS THIS?

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A FAINT SIGN OF THE YANGTZE SCRIBBLER THAT WAS CERTAINLY NOT THERE A FEW WEEKS AGO!!!


I am thinking that due to the highly visible nature of this box, it must have been cleaned before I got here. However the traces remain! AND IN A HIGHLY VISIBLE SPOT. This wasn’t like previous ones, tucked away in a stairwell, or hidden behind a tight corner where no one would usually see, but facing the main pavement next to a bus stop! Also, coincidentally, this sign also chose to reveal itself to me AT THE VERY MOMENT THE BUS 7 STARTED PULLING UP INTO THE BUS STOP BAY SO I JUST QUICKLY TOOK SOME PHOTOS AND RAN FOR THE BUS. The two men next to the box must have been wondering why someone would be pointing and making unintelligible excited sounds at the box and taking photos of it with a flash and then quickly running off.

So in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I think this means the trail of the Yangtze Scribbler is still hot. Whoever he/she is, he/she is probably still alive and active in the area.

Yangtze Scribbler – Spotted on Queen Street

Yangtze Scribbler on Queen Street

Yangtze Scribbler – SPOTTED AGAIN (June 2012)! Thanks to a tipoff by my friend Yuta (who also lives along Jalan Besar), I had a little walk around Queen Street, around the Bus Terminal and the Indian Church – and I found this on the side wall of the slightly run-down “Cambridge Institute”. I can’t believe I missed it before as I have many shots of the old market that is now being disassembled across the road from it, and I must have been standing right in front of this spot before but I just hadn’t noticed it before! At night, the path along this wall is not very well lighted.

Its proximity to the station suggests a possible connection to…. Malaysia. Either the person commutes to Malaysia via the bus and thus walks past this path frequently – or the person lives in my area (Near Little India/Jalan Besar) and is also walking around like me. What are the chances that I would have ended up moving to the exact area as the mystery writer whose scrawlings I first discovered on a wall in Chinatown some years ago?


See Also:
Open Urbanism: Looking for the Yangtze Scribbler
Open Urbanism: Yangtze Scribbler on Victoria Lane
Singapore Memory Project Showcase – Tan Pin Pin’s short on the Yangtze Scribbler

Looking for the Yangtze Scribbler

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Pin Pin’s Yangtze Scribbler was featured in the Straits Times today, along with Wee Li Lin’s Singapore Country. They printed a decent sized photograph of the Scribbler’s mark in the Life Section. Never would I have dreamed that it would one day see the light of day like this. I wonder if someone will see it and find a way back to me and then tell me what it all means?

IF SO, MR YANGTZE SCRIBBLER, WILL YOU FIND ME AND LET ME KNOW? Our paths must certainly have crossed in the past. My name is Debbie, half my hair is black and half my hair is yellow and this is the easiest way to recognise me. I am friendly and can be usually found roaming the streets around Sungei Road. I would write my phone number here but I suspect you don’t use the internet. But how will I find you on the streets?

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[Thanks to Pin Pin for making the short and for sending this image over]

Yangtze Scribbler – Spotted again

Today while walking home from Arab Street, I walked through the route by the muslim cemetery along Victoria Lane. I saw a electrical box from across the road, next to the cemetery. These boxes are everywhere, but for some reason, I can’t explain, but I was attracted to look behind this particular box.

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I don’t know why, but it was facing the cemetery and such a peaceful scene, that I imagined that it was the spot I’d imagine you’d hide a secret message, so I took a peek….

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For some reason my odd hunch had been absolutely right. I was shocked. The back of this box was covered in a huge symbol by the Yangtze Scribbler. Completely… unreal. I think all the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

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Flickr Set: More images of the Yangtze Scribbler