School days at SJI (now SAM) from 1977-1980

When I came across a post in inviting bloggers to write about their visits to any of the heritage museums, I thought it would be an opportunity to share my experience about SAM (Singapore Art Museum). Not just another historical building that was turned into a heritage museum. Rather, it would be my experience during the ‘70s where I studied there. A building once known as SJI (St Joseph’s Institution) founded in 1852 by the De La Salle Brothers…now known as SAM.

^ Map location: Formerly SJI, now SAM.

Like many other students from the primary level belonging to the CBS (Christian Brothers Schools), namely St Michael’s School (now known as SJI Junior), St Gabriel’s Primary School, St Stephen’s School, St Anthony’s Boys School, De La Salle Primary School, we took the feeder route to one of the CBS schools for our secondary education after passing our PSLE. SJI was my choice.

^ A Report Book during my primary education at St Michael’s School.

^ Report Cards and Report Book while at SJI.

The first thing that a student had to brace himself was the incessant noise from the traffic during lessons. SJI was bordered by busy Bras Basah Road, Waterloo Street and Queen Street shown in the map location above. It was a challenge to both teachers and Josephians to rise above the roar of engines and honks from impatient motorists especially during peak hours, to steer our concentration during lessons.

^ A photo I took of SJI in 1986 before she was transformed to SAM.

For the upper secondary level (Sec 3 & 4), lessons were conducted in the mornings while the lower secondary (Sec 1 & 2) had theirs in the afternoon. There were two courtyards in the school premises. The main courtyard, on the side of Queen Street, was where the morning and noon assembly took place. Singing the National Anthem, school song, recitation of the pledge, saying a prayer led by the Principal (the late Brother Joseph Kiely who was the principal then who was later succeeded by Brother Kevin Bryne) or Vice-Principle would complete the assembly process before we make our way to our respective classrooms to begin lessons for the day.

Speaking about the courtyards in SJI, it was “the happening” place where activities of all sorts took place. The courtyard, flanked by the school tuckshop as well as a row of rooms belonging to the uniformed groups and societies, was a place where Josephians congregate. A place to chat away the time before assembly, played badminton, sepak-takraw, an area where uniform groups such as the NCC, NPCC, Military Band, St John’s practiced their foot-drills for national drill competitions. It was also a place where school athletes carry out their circuit training where various parts of the courtyard were marked for different sets of exercises – push-ups, sit-ups, stretches, star-jumps etc. One notable feature was the frequent scattering of kachang (peanuts) onto the courtyard bought from the Indian kachang seller at the tuckshop, to feed the endless brood of pigeons that took to our hospitality. On a less memorable note, the courtyard was also a place were corporal punishment (public caning) was meted out to ill-discipline students who had repeatedly flouted the school rules despite numerous warnings.

^ The main courtyard showing the rostrum. The closed-doors on the right of the photo was the tuckshop area. Above the tuckshop were the Brothers Quarters. The rooms at the far end belongs to the uniformed-groups and societies.

^ Another view of the main courtyard.

^ A present-day photo of the main courtyard.

School days at SJI was not just all work and no play. In fact, Josephians had to walk across Bras Basah Road for our PE lessons given that the school field was located opposite the school. Sports Day, inter-class soccer tournaments, and even friendly soccer matches with a good hint of rivalry from participating schools such as RI and ACS were held there too. An unforgettable event held at the school field was the celebration of SJI’s 125th Anniversary (Founder’s Day) in 1977. Various uniformed-groups comprising of the NCC, NPCC, Scouts and Military Band formed the parade and march-past. It was followed by the Speech & Prize-Giving Ceremony.

^ The late Brother Joseph Kiely (then Principal of SJI) addressing the school in 1977 which was the celebration of her 125th Anniversary (1852-1977) Founder’s Day at the school field.

^ The parade was formed by the various uniformed-groups; NCC, NPCC, Scouts, Military Band, St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Seen in this photo was the SJI NCC Haddon Cup Drill Competition squad.

^ March-past with her flag flying high.

^ Marching to the beat from the SJI Military Band.

^ A souvenir (pocket-sized address book) given to all Josephians commemorating her 125th Anniversary (Founder’s Day) in 1977.

^ Present-day photo of the school field on the left which now sits the campus of SMU (Singapore Management University). Former SJI, now SAM is located at the far end in the photo.

When there is a time to study, there is also a time for prayer. A chapel was located on the second floor in SJI that offered a peaceful sanctuary to Josephians who need a quiet time for prayer shown in the photo below. Much said about prayer, there were Josephians who responded to God’s call and became ordained priests and religious serving as shepherds to the flock.

^ Entrance of the Chapel. A quiet time for prayer.

The school hall was another central feature in SJI. When it rained, the school hall became an alternative area to conduct the school assembly. On Saturdays, the school hall would be turned into an arena. An arena where judo mats would be laid out. Josephians from the Judo Club would practice their judo moves to much shouting and yelling. On a gentler note, the school hall also serves as place where drama and performances from the LDDS (Literary Drama & Debating Society) were held.

^ The school hall.

An unmistakable icon of SAM is a bronze statue situated at the foyer and the dome where the school bell is located shown in the photo below. The statue was sculpted to represent the school’s founder, St John The Baptist De La Salle. The expression portrayed of St John The Baptist shown by his hands, was one of guidance and encouragement to the two children…Go forth into the world and make the best out of your life. As for the dome where the school bell is located, much has been rumoured that it was haunted, presumably to deter unauthorised access into that area.

^ Foyer.

^ A marble plaque inscribed with the names of the benefactors of the school located at each of the four columns at the drive-in.

^ Preserving history all these years.

“Teacher..teacher!!…urgent. Need to go toilet!!”. There was but only one toilet facility in SJI shared by Josephians with the exception of the staff toilet. One will not forget the aroma of ammonia as it permeates the classrooms situated next to it, namely classrooms from the Anderson wing. While doing our “business” in any one of the cubicles, one can admire the artistic graffiti on the walls and inner surface of the cubicle door presumably drawn by would-be Rembrandts. It does help to ease the pungent smell of your “business” from your mind.

^ A view from Waterloo Street showing the location of the school toilet where it formerly existed. It has long since been demolished.

After school hours, home may not be the next destination. For some, the former YMCA basketball court and sarabat stalls at Waterloo Street beckons. With the basketball-posts acting as goal-posts at the opposite ends of the court, a plastic ball and some friends was all it takes to have an exciting match that will result in sweat-drenched school uniforms after a few minutes of play under the searing sun. Then, it will be off to any one of the sarabat stalls to have our stomachs filled with an array of food: mee siam, mee goreng , mutarbak, roti john, prata, char kway teow…and to top it off with a cool glass of icy bandung (rose syrup drink with a splash of evaporated milk) or bird-nest drink.

^ Present-day photo showing the former stretch of sarabat stalls and YMCA where they once existed.

Need to shop for sports shoes, bags, rackets, jerseys, sports accessories, THE place, besides Queensway Shopping Centre, was actually a stretch of shops along Bras Basah Road spanning from Rendevous Hotel (still existing today) to the junction at Waterloo Street. There was even a barber-shop known as “Lark Barber” where Josephians in the NCC and NPCC drill competition squads would go to have their 4 by 2 haircuts in preparation for the competition.

While tired and thirsty visitors may drop in at Olio Dome located at the Queen Street wing of SJI to have a cuppa, many may not know that the rooms actually were the rooms that once was…

^ The section of Olio Dome fronting Bras Basah Road was the room occupied by the school jaga (caretaker) while the inner section of the room was the sound-proof music room in the ’70s.

Being a Catholic school, holy days of obligations in the Catholic Church calendar require Catholic students to attend Mass. Generally, there is no excuse for not doing so given the close proximity of two churches which is less than a minute walk away. Church of Sts Peter and Paul which is just behind SJI and The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd situated diagonally across the school. Both Churches were gazetted as National Monuments by the Preservation of Monuments Board.

^ The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

^ Church of Saints Peter and Paul.

When I had the occasional opportunity to pass by SAM, or take a stroll within her premises, the fond memories of school days at SJI comes to mind. For visitors to SAM, it would probably be an old building preserved for its history that has been transformed to showcase the arts.

SAM is more than just a historical building…SAM was SJI and she was part of many a Josephians’ life history…mine too as her motto continues to echo in our hearts “Ora et Labora”.

Heritage Star Blogger!

This winning entry in the Heritage Starbloggers contest is dedicated to all fellow Josephians, teachers, non-teaching staff, and missionaries, past, present and future, who walked through the portals of St Joseph’s Institution.

Heritage Starbloggers Competition results


46 Responses to “School days at SJI (now SAM) from 1977-1980”

  1. LostAdolescence Says:

    Hi there,
    first of, I’m also a Josephian, currently studying in secondary 2 at the SJI compound in Malcolm road. Just wanted to say, great to hear from an ex-Josephian and such wonderful memories.

  2. ordinary guy Says:

    Hello Lost Adolescence,

    Nice to catch up with fellow Josephians studying at SJI at the present. Mr Lui Seng Cheong, your current principal was my form teacher from 1979-1980. Study hard and hope you and fellow Josephians find this blog post a meaningful browse. Cheerio.

  3. papername Says:

    Hiya, another Josephian here 🙂 Its been 8 years since I’ve graduated. When I was in sec 1, my form tutor (an old boy too) brought us to SAM for a visit and explained how everything looked like in the past, just like you did. Even though I did not have the opportunity to study in that campus, I could still feel some connection to SAM, especially the status of St. John Baptist which was replicated in the new campus. 2 weeks ago, one of my classmate, held his matrimony at the chapel in SAM. Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos and memories!

  4. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Papername,

    The Josephian spirit bonds fellow students of all ages together. I’m glad that my blogpost has offered a meaningful reminisce for you. In case you may like to know, SAM offers free entry to visitors on Friday evenings from 6pm to 9pm. Here’s the link:

  5. noelbynature Says:

    hi there,

    you should also put the brag badge on this post:

  6. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Noelbynature,

    Thanks for reminding. The badge has been pasted at the bottom of the post. Thanks

  7. School Days at SJI at Deadpoet’s Cave Says:

    […] Guy wrote a post about SJI, where he studied in the late 70s. The first thing that a student had to brace himself was the incessant noise from the traffic […]

  8. Lam Chun See Says:

    Those days the SJI building was a key landmark in the Bras Basah landscope along with the old book shops. With the transformation of this area, even with the retention of the old SJI buildings, this place just isn’t the same anymore.

  9. ordinary guy Says:

    I remembered my mom, and perhaps the older folks, who used to refer to SJI with the statue of St John the Baptist and the two children as “sum kor kong chai” which in Cantonese means “the three figurines”.

  10. j Says:

    Oh thanks for this article, brought back a lot of memories from my time there, 73 to 76, and am very pleased I did.
    25 years later I went back to Singapore for a brief spell and was really quite upset to find the building being used as a museum, irrational I know but I had been itching to walk around and sit again on that wooden box cum pulpit that used to be in the courtyard and just look around and reflect and soak up the atmosphere and so on.
    Anyway, just to say thanks and I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  11. ordinary guy Says:

    Hello J,

    Hope you have some fond memories of your SJI days back then. Btw, you may like to browse under the category “Places” where I wrote some stuf about the places around SJI. Will be putting up more articles. Hope you have enjoyed your read. Thanks

  12. GW Says:

    Your posts brought back lots of memories. Was there from 74-77. 4 Arts 9.

    When you look at it now, hard to image they could cram all of us in such a small courtyard for assembly. Remember the big wooden box?

  13. Victor Koo Says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.

    I used to live within walking distance of SJI at Bras Basah Rd until the late 1970s. At that time, it was still a secondary/Pre-U school. Compared to the nearby RI which had moved several years earlier, I have a deeper impression of the old SJI.

    In the early 70s, I attended a few football matches at Jalan Besar stadium where my school (Victoria School) played against yours.

  14. Walter Says:

    Thanks for writing this very interesting post about how old SAM used to be SJI. You have put in a lot of effort in making the experience alive for many of us who may not have studied in that school so many years ago. It also adds a fresh perspective to how we view SAM these days, and I am sure my imagination of how things were back then would be triggered yet again.

    BTW, I used to study at another old time school – St Andrew’s Secondary – with the pink fish scale walls and Spanish arches at Potong Pasir.

  15. ordinary guy Says:

    Hello GW, Victor, Walter,

    Thanks for your comments.

    GW – I guess the courtyard looks smaller compared to when we were much younger. Everything looks big around us then.

    Victor – You may like to know that one of the Indian rojak stalls, formerly from the sarabat stalls along Waterloo Street, still exist. It’s called “Sajis” and is now located at Nan Tai Eating House (coffee-shop) just after the Catholic Welfare Services building (red in colour). Still the yummy Indian rojak as before with two old men and a much younger helper. Inter-school soccer matches have always been a source of friendly rivalry. I heard that sometimes when the rivalry gets too heated, supporters from both sides had their own “matches” to settle the score.

    Walter – SAS has a rich history too. Well known for rugby. When I travelled along the PIE, the pink scaly walls and some old windows facing the PIE are still present. Is there a post about SAS which you have blogged earlier. Maybe you can consider writing about SAS’s history and your experiences to share with readers.

    Thanks and cheerio to all.

  16. py Says:

    The Singapore Art Museum is a lovely place, and it is my favourite museum in Singapore. Simply because of the architecture of the building, and the very fact that I had spent hours and days, enjoying some lovely works of art in the museum, particularly when I was a student with lots of free time to spare.

    I just realised that there are so many interesting things that I like that can be found on your blog, I’m going to bookmark it now. Great work.

  17. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi PY,

    Thanks for dropping. Hope you enjoy a meaningful read. I have linked you too. Nice blo you have there. Keep it up.. Cheerio.

  18. py Says:

    Congratulations for being the 1st prize winner of the Heritage StarBloggers Award! Hope you may like your prize.

  19. ordinary guy Says:

    Hello PY,

    Thanks for the well wishes. I hope to have shared a part of SAM’s history with readers, who may only know that it was just another art museum. Cheers for the day.

  20. Icemoon Says:

    Congrats!! Now we know your name as well .. hehe

    But don’t let the grand prize – *drools* – distract you. Continue blogging!

  21. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Icemoon,

    Thanks for the congrats. My name not important. But I hope the blogposts of something from our past will be meaningful for readers to know a bit more of our history. Cheerio.

  22. HSC INTAKE 1976 Says:

    I attended SJI from 1971 till 1974 and haven’t been back since. I keep putting that journey off, but when I came across your blog on SJI this evening, it brought back a lot of memories. I know that I will have to go back sooner or later to see all the changes that have occurred since 1980. I still have my some of my old school records, but am wondering if there is any way for me to acquire my old metal school badge again?

  23. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi HSC Intake 1976,

    “HSC” would mean “Higher Senior Cambridge” before the introduction of “GCE” which refers to “General Certificate of Education”. The school badge hasn’t changed. Pop into the bookstore of SJI at Malcolm Road and you will be able to purchase one, except that it will not have that much sentimental history as the one you have worn during your school days. Cheerio.

  24. Wei Chong Says:

    Hi Gerard, congratulations again for winning the Heritage Starbloggers competition. We’ve announced the results and prize presentation on Do log on to read about it. 🙂

  25. ordinary guy Says:

    Hello Wei Chong,

    Thanks for the information. Will browse at the link. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  26. icemoon Says:

    First your name, now your handsome face. Congratulations, ordinary guy! It looks like your children are happiest with the wii.

  27. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Icemoon,

    We had a fun time palying with the Wii. Only a week more to go before school starts this Friday and it is back to the books for her. Cheerio.

  28. Dan Says:


    It was with interest and pleasure that I read your award-winning article on SJI.

    May I refer you to another relevant wesite “SJI Class of 1966”.

    This cohort celebrated their “BIG 60” Reunion, last Saturday 25 July 2009.
    Most of them had either turned or will be 60 years, this year. How time flies!

    You can view the photos of some familiar faces, namely, teachers Peter Martens, Thomas Ong, Peter Colaco, Tang Weng Kee, Micheal Koh, etc, Minister Mah Bow Tan, and former prominent school debaters, Max le Blond and Peter DeCruz. There are some photos showing them in 1966 and now – an interesting feature in this website.

    Btw, I am not from this cohort.


  29. ordinary guy Says:

    Hello Dan,

    Thanks for the link to an even older batch of Josephians. I’m sure readers will be able to connect to our alma mater’s heritage. Cheerio.

  30. ped egg reviews Says:

    Thanks for sharing information. I’ve written and shared my thoughts about this on my blog.

  31. Raymond Says:

    Hey GG any luck locating Chuan Huat ~ yet?

    • ordinary guy Says:


      So far no luck in locating Chuan Huat. He’s definitely somewhere. Just got to be patient to locate him.

  32. Paul Theseira Says:

    Great article and pictures… Paul Theseira, SJI 1976-79, 4 Arts 9 1979.

  33. Edward Says:

    Thanks for posting. Brings back fond memories of the old bookshops, ‘sarabat’ stalls along Waterloo street (which is now part of the SMU campus).

  34. any one have picture of old sji bomb spot Says:

    doing project

  35. Anthony Says:

    I graduated from the last Pre U 2 class in SJI.

    During those days the football rivalry was fierce as being RI almost certainly meant being the best in Singapore.

    After school with my friends used to frequent the famous Odeon beef noodle stall and Waterloo Street Indian food stalls. A real treat would be chicken pie at the place in Capitol building. For movies there’s Cathay, Odeon and Capitol.

    As my wife now tells me that’s many, many years ago.

  36. RAYMUND FOO Says:

    Great articles, brought back many memories for me too.

    75-78, 4 Arts 9.

  37. Kelvin Monteiro Says:

    enjoyed this thread ..

  38. Mohammed Nasser Bin Ibrahim Falli Says:

    i am from class of 1976. My teacher was Mr. Peter Martin.

  39. Chen Wei'an (@weiantheman) Says:

    After reading this entry it brought a smile to my face. Although I did not get the chance to study in this compound, I always did have a soft spot for it. Now that you have composed this well written piece, I have an even deeper appreciation of the school, and also the bond which connects Josephians of all generations together.

    From a Josephian to a fellow Josephian- let the Josephian spirit within us never die out!

    Ora et Labora

    Wei’an- class of 2003.

  40. Chien-He Says:

    Hey Ordinary Guy,

    I’m an ex-Josephian from the class of 2006 currently studying in NUS. Happened to chance upon your blog while doing a project about heritage, which of course, I chose SJI.

    There’s a segment in my project that requires me to produce a short 5-minute video, docummentary style, and I was wondering if you would be available for any interview about what SJI (or SAM now) means to you. Or would anyone else be willing to share their past SJI memories/experiences?

    An email contact perhaps?
    Would really appreciate it.

    Chien-He – 436 (class of ’06)

  41. Myo Thet Hnin Says:

    I’m a student from zhonghua sec school. I have participated in this competition organised by the National Museum of Singapore. And my team have decided on the former SJI campus as our subject and show the experiences of the students who went through their school days in this iconic building. Me and my team had searched high and low for pictures of the old campus but failed to do so. The dateline for this competition is tomorrow and we are in a very difficult situation. We have done all the interviews and other necessary components of the film but the only thing missing is the photos.

    So with upmost humility, may I request to be allowed to use some of your pictures of the old SJI in our film? We will, of course, mention you in the credits for the video. And we assure you that the video is entirely for educational purpose. Please reply ASAP, as we are in serious time constraint.

    Thank you for your kind attention. And sorry for any inconvenience caused.


  42. Kelvin Monteiro Says:

    Myo, I suggest you send Gerard Goh an email. His email address is at the bottom of each photo he has posted .

  43. Andrew Tan Says:

    Hi there,

    I enjoyed my years from 1982 to 1986. However, St Gabriel’s Primary School is not part of CBS. 🙂

  44. Dennis d silva Says:

    It really brought back the good ole days of sji n really appreciate the pics n time, would like to know those athelics in 1970s koh swee wah n swee wans pics n records too thanks very much

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