History of the Brunei Hostel

BY: EUGENE ANG

Mention the Tanglin Brunei Hostel to most Singaporeans, and chances are they would not know anything about it. It now stands as one of the few abandoned buildings in Singapore, and is no longer recognisable from its original state. Many people would wonder at this sore thumb sticking out in one of the most posh property area in Singapore. The truth is, this building once housed many young students from Brunei.

Despite the 50 year history of the building, it appears that not many knew about the place. When asked, Mr Goh Kian Yong, a 22 year old student said, “I have never been to Tanglin Hill before so I have never seen the place personally. I did see some pictures online before, and I remember that it was quite rundown and shabby.”

One resident who lives in the surrounding estate, when asked if she knew anything about the building, replied that she simply knew that it is owned by the Brunei government, and nothing else.

Pictured: Tanglin Hostel in its early years. PHOTO: Mr Eddie DPH Sunny

In actual fact, Tanglin Brunei Hostel’s main purpose was to house the increasing number of Brunei students that were studying in Singapore. This bigger and newer hostel was completed in 1958. It had no original name but simply became referred to over time as AKBS (Asrama Kerajaan Brunei di Singapura), or Tanglin Brunei Hostel to locals.

The reason for the number of Brunei students in Singapore can be traced to its history. Back in 1950s, Brunei did not have a recognized educational system due to the lack of trained local teachers. It was then decided that some students would be sent overseas to further their education.

In the beginning, only students from the Islamic stream were sent to Singapore. Only in 1965 were the English and Malay streams sent to Singapore to study. They selected twenty students each year, 12 years of age and above, to study in Singapore in hopes of a better education. These students were picked from the best results in the Primary School Examinations and were expected to be the top of the cohort. Several of the students would go on to hold several high ranking jobs, as seen here.

Pictured: All the students living in AKBS posing for a photo. PHOTO: ASRAMA KERAJAAN BRUNEI SINGAPURA

By then, all the Brunei students were staying together at the Tanglin Hostel. Life for students would have been extremely inconvenient without the hostel. To accommodate the increase in students as well as trainee government officers, the site was expanded and a new multi storey dorm block was built.

Hostel life did not come easy for the young students, many of whom were living alone for the first time. Mr Rozan Yunos, an ex-student described “going abroad [as] a scary experience” due to the lack of communication channels during that era.

However, in the comfort of the hostel, the boys adapted quickly and had an enjoyable time. for the students. At the hostel, the students were provided with all the facilities required. Meals, laundry, textbooks and allowances were also provided for the students.

Pictured: A look into a student's standard room. PHOTO: Mr Haji Malai Hamir HMM

An ex-student, Mr Hussain Abdul Rahman, wrote in his blog that he had “ a lot of happy memories”. Due to the slight differences in language spoken by the students, he had a hard time initially understanding them. However, he still counts the “cultural shock of staying together in same hostel room with Malayan students” among one of his happy memories.

Pictured: The hockey team posing for a team photo. PHOTO: Pg Hj Shahminan PSI Pg Hj Ismail

Sports were one of the main sources of entertainment for the students there. The Brunei students often played sports like badminton, hockey, sepak takraw and table tennis, but undoubtedly the most popular sport was football.  Football was played in the fields behind the hostel and sometimes even on the badminton courts. By the 1970s, the hostel had formed its own football team and played against other teams. In the latter days, houses were formed where the students could compete against one another.

The hostel also served as a place to remind students of their Brunei heritage. National events such as Hari Raya, Maulidul Rasul, Israk Mikraj and the Sultan’s Birthday were celebrated at the hostel.

By 1983, Brunei had developed its own elite secondary schools. The country no longer needed to send students to Singapore and the site was finally shut down. Close to 30 years after the closing of the hostel, all that remains of the once proud history of the Brunei Hostel is the derelict building now standing there.

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