Choo Hock, 68, has been living in the Telok Blangah area since he got married in 1975. “When I moved here, there was a lot of secret societies and gangs, and there would be fights once a month,” he shared of the old times. “Some of them I knew well. I would advise them that we all are different but we live in the same neighbourhood, so why fight? And there is nothing to gain if you fight, but they still fought.”
He said that there were different gang territories around Singapore and if you were a stranger coming into those areas, the gangsters would look at you differently and wondered where you came from. Choo Hock would also tell them to go work rather than fight with each other, and even found some of them work. And the thought of joining a gang never crossed his mind – “I was in my late 20s. I never smoked or drank. I was not interested in being in a gang.” However, some of the gangsters thought he was very much a part of them as he “looked like a hippy and I kept long hair,” smiled Choo Hock. “I told them not to interfere with me and I wouldn’t interfere with them.” He said though there was one gangster, who was particularly good to him, and would come around to chit-chat with him. Today, he still keeps in touch with him.
He added that twice a year – Chinese New Year and the Seventh Month – the gangsters would collect protection money from shops and hawkers. With all that was going on, he didn’t want his children involved in the gangs and pick up any bad habits. “I controlled my children as I told them not to go out and after school to come back home and study. If they played outside, I would accompany them. I didn’t allow them to hang with other children as some of them had bad habits.”
Besides the prevalence of gangs in the area, Choo Hock said there were Malay kampungs and a vegetable farm, and there was a hotel called Shamrock, which has now turned into a condo. “This area has changed a lot,” said the father of three, adding that he is particularly happy that there are now more places to eat. “I will miss the area if I had to move.”