Saturday, August 25, 2007


Whenever my grandma needed to visit her relatives in Neil Road, she would hire a trishaw to take my brother and me there. She would ask the trishaw rider to cycle through the "SI PAI POR" which was the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). (SGH was just next to the Tiong Bahru Estate, before the CTE came about)

Hence I always thought the phrase "SI PAI POR" was the Teochew translation for "HOSPITAL". I never really dwell on the origins of that word until I started researching for this blog.

Here's what I found out:

There used to be a few road names within the present SGH compound that were known as Sepoy Avenue, Sepoy Lanes and Sepoy Lines. (These road names has since been expunged)

These roads are named after the Sepoy Camp (Indian troops) of the East India Company (EIC), whose quarters were located in the area. These EIC soldiers came after the founding of Singapore in 1819. They officially acquired their names in 1958. The name Sepoy lines, which is located at the end of Salat Road (Silat Road), is found in Coleman's 1836 Map of Singapore. The cantonments of the sepoys were moved to this area in May 1823 and continued to remain here till about 1880s. ("Cantonment" refers to a group of lodging assigned to troops)

Sepoy Lines was part of the site of what is now the Singapore General Hospital, built here in 1882. It was also reported in 1843 to be an area where people were killed by man-eating tigers. Sepoy Lane and Avenue exist on the General Hospital grounds. The Sepoy Lines and police station and parade ground are at one end of Outram Road.

Note : "SI PAI POR" is the Hokkien meaning for "Sepoy plain". Sepoy is from the Hindu "SIPAHI" (Soldier)

So now we know that SI PAI POR does not mean Singapore General Hospital but the location in which SGH happens to be located in.

So why can't my grandma or everyone else back then, just use plain language and just refer a hospital as a hospital?
(By the way, the Hokkien or Teochew equivalent for Hospital would be "Low Koon Chu" )

My mum in law offered a clue this evening. People do not like to utter words that are not auspicious and the word "hospital" was not a politically correct word to use if you do not want bad luck to head your way. She said that to tell people that you are going to the hospital is like you are going there to be cut up by the doctors. Hence, people use replacement words to make it sound more pleasant.

So instead of saying I am going to the "LOW KOON CHU", I would rather say I going to "SI PAI POR"


pinto said...

That was an interesting post. Thanks, Alvin!

BTW, which map did you refer to? I'm a sucker for old maps.

SGalf said...

I got the map from TOPONYMICS (2nd Edition). I think you have that book as well right?

milestones said...

Thanks SGalf - what an effort. I grew up in that area and spent many young years running through the SGH (Sepoy Road as my dad used to call it); and the forests in the TB estate/MacAlister road areas. That place still retains its charm.