108-year-old Chinese Swimming Club celebrates its heritage with kampung games

A group of young swimmers at the Chinese Swimming Club in the 1970s.
A group of young swimmers at the Chinese Swimming Club in the 1970s.PHOTO: CHINESE SWIMMING CLUB

The club celebrates its 108 years of history with Heritage Festival today and tomorrow, where visitors can eat local food, play kampung games and buy vintage goods

A local food fair, vintage market and various kampung games are on the programme of the Chinese Swimming Club's inaugural Heritage Festival this weekend.

Happening today and tomorrow, the festival at the 108-year-old recreation club is open to the public and celebrates the centre's history .

Visitors can check out a food fair by vendors, including Budd Kitchen's, serving roti john; Polka Dot Pleasures, a brand that sells teatime treats; and Ban Heang, a famous traditional biscuit and pastry brand from Penang.

At a small "pasar pasar", or market, they can buy items including vintage furniture, ethnic clothes and household products.

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There will be various kampung games stations, where children can play traditional games such as kuti kuti, in which players take turns to flip colourful plastic tokens on top of those of their opponent's.

The event is held in conjunction with the larger Heritage Festival that took place across the island in April and May.

The club's general manager and secretary, Ms Rosalind Tan, says the occasion is a "perfect opportunity for us to remind members, especially the younger generation, of the club's glory days and the various challenges that the club overcame to become what it is today".

  • BOOK IT / CHINESE SWIMMING CLUB HERITAGE FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Chinese Swimming Club, 21/34 Amber Road

    WHEN: Today, 11am to 8pm; tomorrow, 8am to 8pm

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.facebook.com/pg/chineseswimclub/events

The Chinese Swimming Club, which has 8,800 members, is one of Singapore's premier sports clubs.

Over the years, it has produced its fair share of national swimmers. These include Patricia Chan, who represented Singapore in the 1972 Olympics, and David Lim, who represented the country in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic games.

Mr Lim, now 50, remembers his training in the club's 50m pool.

It was "so deep and dark during morning training that it gave me the chills when I swam to the deep end, especially when I always thought there was a monster deep down inside that would swim up to eat us".

He is now the managing director of Swimfast Aquatic Group, a swimming school and aquatic centre in Bishan.

The seeds of the Chinese Swimming Club were first sown in 1905, when nine Peranakan swimming enthusiasts began meeting regularly to swim in the ocean off Marine Parade and named their group Tanjong Katong Swimming Party.

In 1909, it changed its name to Chinese Swimming Club in response to a surge in membership. It was a bold answer to the European-only club of the time: the Singapore Swimming Club, opened in 1854 by the British.

Eleven years later, the club moved to its permanent site in Amber Road, after being offered a bungalow by the club's patron and wealthy philanthropist Lee Choon Guan.

The club renovated its facilities and became a popular gathering place for Katong residents.

During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese military used the club as a recreation and interrogation centre.

The Japanese firing squad even used the pool as a location to gun down prisoners at one point.

After the war, the club reopened its doors and resumed activities. Because the Japanese had vandalised the buildings, it took one year and a price reduction for the club to regain its membership numbers, but business slowly picked up again.

To showcase this history, in 2012, the club opened its Heritage Gallery for members to get a glimpse of their club from a different time.

For some long-time members, being part of the club is a family tradition.

Advocate and solicitor Mak Kok Weng, 70, says his late father was a member of the club and he and his brothers used to swim there when they were young.

"When I had children of my own, I decided to join the club so that they may learn how to swim."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Nostalgia at Chinese Swimming Club'. Print Edition | Subscribe