Singapore then and now


Singapore today looks vastly different from the Singapore of the 60s and 70s. Marina Bay was just an empty plot, Beach Road was along a beach, and Internet and telecommunications were not as developed as they are today. 

Source Before

Our social studies textbooks tell us about old Singapore through dry facts, but here are 10 interesting things your parents went through that we just don’t see anymore.

Source After


1. Life was really simple



We used to go to school, come back home, have a simple meal and laugh about how Aunty Siti from next door scolded Tommy for kicking his ball into her house over dinner. There were no computers or computer games; and if there was a television, it was black and white, and generally very boring. People had to keep each other company to pass the time. All you could do was talk, and maybe play a board game.  

Now, we go to school, come back home, message our friends over Whatsapp at the dinner table, then go back to playing League of Legends on our personal computers.


2. Friendships were real



No, I don’t mean real friends don’t exist anymore, they still do; but ironically, technology, which is supposed to be the great enabler, has become a barrier instead. 

If you wanted to talk to a group of friends, you actually had to meet up at the kopitiam over coffee. Nowadays, all you have to do is open up Whatsapp and start typing, and so we seem to have forgotten the importance of meeting our friends in the flesh. Case in point:



3. Proper work life balance



Today, Singaporeans have some extremely long working hours, at the expense of quality family time. In fact, some people spend as little as 6 hours a week with their immediate families. In the past Singapore did not have such a global economy, so there was less pressure, less competition, and the work day was actually 9am to 5pm. To some people today, that’s just a dream. 



Now that technology has invaded every corner of our personal and work lives. Even when on holiday, many people are interrupted by calls from the office.

Source If this sounds like you, here are 10 Signs You Are Chionging Way Too Hard At Work

Today, it’s hard to conceive working in an office without email, work phones, or an intranet system. Back then, it was a strange world, full of things like memos, typewriters, and snail mail. People actually had to be in the same room to get things done – it’s a wonder how they even got anything done. We even had to ask Quora for an answer to that.  

Source What a monstrosity 


4. Staying in the same job for more than 5 years


It was not uncommon in our parent’s generation to have worked for the same company for 15-20 years. Yes, in the past job security was actually a thing. Company loyalty was a thing. And policemen wearing khaki shorts was a thing too. 


Baby boomers like to point out job hopping as evidence of how “strawberry” our generation is, but that’s not the case. Today more and more people are being offered contracts instead of full-time positions, and even staff in full-time positions are seen as expendable. Employee benefits have dropped since the good ol’ days too. Your company owes you nothing and you owe them nothing in return. We don’t lack resilience, we are simply adapting.


5. Byrlcream



“Can you believe they call us criminals when he’s assaulting us with that haircut?” – Rocket Racoon

While today we are familiar with a range of hairstyling products from Gatsby to L’Oreal to Toni&Guy, in the 50s and 60s, almost every man’s slick hairdo was maintained by a dab (read: excessive amounts) of Brylcreem. The slicked-back quiff is making a comeback with the rising popularity of the undercut in men’s fashion today, but as with many fashion trends, it isn’t something we haven’t seen before.



Brylcreem was so widely used back then, it was a pop culture phenomenon. Here’s a funny retro commercial expounding the magical effects this amazing hair product, aired in the year Singapore gained independence!


6. Soft Drinks in Glass Bottles



There was a time not long ago, where aluminium was a space age material and plastic was something that only existed in research labs. Those days, all your favourite soft drinks came in trusty old glass bottles. Not only were these much heavier, they probably made for some pretty lethal school yard brawls. 

But on the plus side all these glass bottles could be reused, so it was much more environmentally friendly. Collecting old glass bottles from people to be recycled was also a great way for kids to earn themselves some extra pocket money.


7. Non-Aircon Buses



If you really think about it, us Singaporeans spend more of our time in air-con than in Singapore’s overbearing natural heat. Human beings are just not meant to withstand temperatures pushing 30 degrees with a relative humidity above 80%. 

It’s hard to imagine that once upon a time, buses in Singapore did not have air-conditioning. And some of our generation may have even been unfortunate enough to live during the transition period when only part of the fleet was air-conditioned. Well, during the reign of Trans-Island, it was either non-aircon bus or bicycle.  

Sure it was cheaper and more environmentally friendly, but without air-con, a bus is just a metal box, on wheels that’s going to heat up really quickly at noon. How did our parents even survive traveling to lunch without becoming lunch themselves? IDEK.


8. Pagers



Pagers are ancient artifacts anybody born after the year 2000 would probably never have heard of before, let alone seen in the flesh. These strange little devices once had a very important function.

Believe it or not, there used to be a time when you could not carry your phone with you wherever you went. They were tethered at home, or stuck to a wall in the void deck. If you unplugged the cord, it stopped working. Whut?! So if a person wasn’t at home, the only way to contact him or her was through a pager. And no, you can’t SMS with it, it could only display a number for you to return the call. 

Of course, regardless of the limitations of technology, people always found a way to get their messages across.



9. Yellow Pages



Today, we don’t even think twice when we look something up on Google, it’s become second nature to us. Google chrome is an extension of our minds. We no longer need remember anything, because Google does it for you. Want to make a reservation at that new restaurant that just opened, all you have to do is Google its name. You could even do it hands free with the help of Siri, or Cortana.

Back in the day when none of this existed, there was this dinosaur called the Yellow Pages. It was a comprehensive (read: thick and heavy AF) directory of information about businesses such as addresses and telephone numbers. It was definitely not something you could casually carry around with you, unless you’re a bodybuilder… or own a forklift. 

If you wanted to make a booking at that new restaurant, you’d have to flip through a thousand odd pages first. And no, it does not link to Google Maps, you’d have to consult a street directory, which is a whole other bag of shrimp.  

Once the Internet came along, no one could justify its existence. So how did people get rid of old stock?



10. Metal Buttons on school uniforms


Source These are not keychains

These things look so alien you won’t even guess what they are unless you’ve experienced it before. Keychains? Tough luck. These are metal freaking buttons. They were mushroom-shaped abominations with a loop on the back where you could fasten it onto the shirt, and had to be removed every single time you washed your uniform so the metal wouldn’t rust. That means, every morning there were TWICE as many buttons to put on. If you are late for school, GGWP.  

What’s more, the little stem behind the button cap hurts like hell whenever pressed. And to make matters worse, they even invented epaulets on school uniforms so that your bag’s shoulder straps would press on to them. What even. This is probably the most impractical tool ever conceived by a human mind.

As far as I know, only two schools still subject this torture to their students, River Valley High School and Dunman High School, but at least you don’t have to remove them in the wash anymore. 


Reminiscing the good ‘ol days


Our parents have been through thick and thin, and although some parts of it were a struggle, in others, they had it better than us. Ask them about the things they had in their childhood, or before you were born. They’re bound to have  some interesting stories to share. 

For All the Days in Life
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For All the Days in Life

While you’re reminiscing the past, don’t forget to look ahead too. Anytime is a good time to talk about retirement, regardless of your age. Talk to your parents about their plans for retirement, when they got started, and how you can support them once they do stop working.

Filial piety aside, don’t forgot to make your own plans too. If you don’t know where to start, head over to this website to understand more about the various CPF retirement plans.

Start planning for retirement today!

This post was brought to you by CPF Board.

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