Thursday, September 6, 2012

History Lesson in a Cab

I had to make a run today to pick up Lucy's thyroid medication at her vet's office.  It is located in the Ang Mo Kio neighborhood, an area considered the "heartland" of Singapore, with many HDBs (housing development board apartment buildings), hawker stands and local shops that have been around for decades.  The cab driver started describing the history of the area and asked if I knew what "Ang Mo Kio" meant.  I said no, and then remembered that "ang mo" is the Malaysian word for foreigner. Indeed, I am an ang mo.  He said that "kio" means "bridge", and that it got its name from the fact that J.T. Thomson, Government Surveyor in the 1800's, was responsible for building a bridge across a canal between the area and the more central part of Singapore.  So it was a tribute to the ang mo who built the bridge, actually one of several interpretations of the name.

With that slice of history, the cab driver was off and running.  Turns out, his family owns a popular Singaporean cracker company and when he was a kid, he'd drive all over the island with his grandfather, delivering their products and learning about the rich heritage of his country.  I learned that Bukit Merah means "red hill", a shopping area so named because of the hill in the area and the red clay that used to be visible there, or possibly because of the red blood from a murder long ago?.... there have been several interpretations....  Another name, Toa Payoh, means "big swamp", reflecting the landscape before it also became a major HDB residential area.  Near to where we live is Old Airport Road, which used to be a runway for a large civilian airport that was used as a military facility during World War II.

I was so engrossed with what he had to say, that I asked him to wait for me while I retrieved Lucy's meds so he could give me a ride home.  As a result, I enjoyed a round-trip's worth of interesting trivia about Singapore.

At the traffic lights, we shared pictures of our dogs and then I asked if he would take a dog in his cab?  He said yes, but no, he didn't respond to private callers - too busy.  Oh well - hope I hail his cab again to get my next history lesson!

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