What Was Singapore Like In The Year You Were Born? This TikToker Shows You
STORY: Farhan Shafie & Ng Kai
10 June 2022
If you haven’t seen the series of TikTok videos that have gone viral chronicling Singapore from different past eras, be prepared to be swept up by a wave of nostalgia.
Tiktok user @msybdin has been taking requests on his channel from netizens to compile old, archival footage of our Little Red Dot from the year they were born.
It’s one thing to hear about how Singapore has developed through the years, but it’s another to experience how far we’ve come so viscerally. From panoramic shots of long-forgotten landmarks in the '80s and '90s to low-resolution recordings from vintage car rides, these compilation videos are quite the blast from the past.
The throwbacks don't even stop there - they even go all the way back to the mid-'60s (shoutout to the Baby Boomers) and *gasps* even the 1920s!
It's mind-blowing enough for a millennial like me (born in 1992) to watch these vids through 2022 lenses, so one can only imagine what a Zoomer might think of them. Enter Kai, my Gen-Z colleague.
Yo Kai, thanks for dropping in! To start off, when were you born and how did it feel seeing all the old footage that was compiled from that year?
Kai: I’m a '98 baby, but watching all that old footage makes me feel so old eh - it just hit me that I’m turning 24 this year. The HDBs were less colourful in the past because the ones we have today contain huge murals painted on them and even graffiti all over the pillars of void decks. The roads were less congested also. Nowadays I have to Waze to find the fastest route. But overall, Singapore seems to look pretty much the same today, just with taller and shinier skyscrapers.
Farhan: The first thing I noticed from my year (1992) was how different the public transport looked. The SBS buses were unrecognisable and definitely an older model. No air-conditioning or EZ-link card tap-in machines - what an era!
Interestingly, some of the buildings around the Central Business District area are still standing to this day. I managed to spot the Supreme Court and Old Parliament House among them. It’s great that they kept these iconic colonial landmarks around while still developing more modern buildings. You’re right, even in ‘92, the city skyline may look different but feels familiar.
What were some of your favourite memories growing up in that era?
Kai: I think '90s kids more or less had the same interests - "Ultraman" and "Power Rangers" were my staple after-school shows. I would run down after dinner to play with the other kids at the playground, till I came up all sweaty. I recall shouting the names of my kakis from the foot of the blocks they lived in to let them know that it was time to come down to play.
Nowadays, I just see “iPad kids” hanging around malls. Also, I spotted the cable cars to Sentosa in the footage. I definitely remember the trips to Sentosa as a kid (back then you could only go by ferry or cable car). It was always a treat to sit high-up and see the rest of our Little Red Dot.
Farhan: Eh Team Power Rangers, let’s go! The '90s were a great time to be alive, huh? Perhaps it’s the rose-tinted glasses, but my childhood felt very simple and innocent. I had my Saturday morning cartoons like "Power Rangers" and "Ultraman" that I would religiously watch too.
Also, "Pokemon" was another fave of mine. The rest of the time, there was a huge Dragon playground in Tampines where I used to live, where all the neighbourhood kids would gather to play Police & Thief, Crocodile or football.
Kids actually enjoyed being outdoors and mingling with other kids. We would only return home when it was dinner time. Those were the days.
Is there a landmark or place in Singapore that no longer exists that you wish was still around?
Kai: I’ve loved animals since I was young, plus it’s rare to see wild animals, given how urbanised Singapore is. So the wildlife attractions were my fav growing up. Underwater World was a top pick of mine but sadly it closed down back in 2016. I still have fond memories of visiting the pink dolphins who lived there, and getting to see all sorts of other marine life. If I remember correctly, Speedy was the name of my favourite dolphin, and there were others like Splish and Splash.
Places like Jurong Bird Park and the Mandai Zoo (now called Singapore Zoo) are still around, but boy have they changed! I visited the zoo a few months back and it looked completely different - bigger and newer; so, good lah, the animals can be more comfortable.
Farhan: Great choices! I’ll refrain from the typical, tourist-y options and go with a more personal one. Growing up, my dad would always take me to Borders bookshop at Wheelock Place on weekends. He would leave me there for an entire afternoon while he had his kopi at the nearby coffeehouse. For a fledgling bookworm, this was absolute heaven to me.
I would scurry around the endless rows of bookshelves, looking for a "True Singapore Ghosts Stories" or Harry Potter novel before finding a quiet corner and getting lost in its pages. My love for reading started in that Borders store - how I wish it was still standing today.
What was your favourite video from this TikTok channel and why?
Kai: Well, it has to be the “HDB cats are so lovely!” video. There’s been a recent TikTok craze about our HDB cats because of how much joy they bring to everyone’s lives by being so cute and friendly. Especially if you stay in an HDB, I’m sure you’ll always see your neighbourhood cats hanging about. And I feel they’re a national treasure for how timeless they are - they were as adorable back then as they are now.
Farhan: There’s one entitled "Singapore life in 1965 after announcing its independence in 1965". From the colonial Englishman commentary to images of kampung life in technicolour, it’s quite the surreal sight. I’m glad such footage is still around so that younger generations can appreciate how much the nation has been through to become the modern jewel it is today.
If you could go back in time to any era in Singapore history, when would it be and why?
Farhan: I would say the late '70s or early '80s. The clothes were groovier, the music was funkier and local football was a national pastime. I’ve seen pictures of my dad rocking the bell-bottom jeans and hipster hairdo. I’d like to think I would fit right into that era pretty comfortably haha.
Kai: Definitely the same as you, Farhan. People say I’m an old soul because I like music from the '60s to the '80s. Apart from the music and culture at that time, I’d also like to see what it was like to walk around Singapore without all the skyscrapers and human traffic now. You can’t even get through Orchard without having to squeeze past someone!