Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rush For Land May Destroy Our Last Village

Commentary is followed by Reuters article and PDF of a study.

Seelan Palay: I am in total disagreement to the removal of Kampung Buangkok. I have visited the village and it is a beautiful and peaceful place - one that is deserving of being preserved as a form of living history, and as an example of alternative ways of living in/with nature.

I urge all Singaporeans to visit Kampung Buangkok and decide for yourselves, whether a few more housing blocks is justification enough to destroy the only village left in our little island.

I spent the first 4 years of my life growing up in a kampung-like house. It was a large, one-story house made out of concrete and most of my extended family stayed there together.

It was atop a hill of sorts and surrounded by trees (some with fruits that we sometimes ate). One would have to walk up a road to get to it.

I have fond memories of the place. One of the most vivid accounts was when my cousin was being chased by my uncle who was trying to strip him of his towel as he came out the shower. My cousin ran out the house and up the road to escape, but his towel fell off anyway! He was running back naked to get it but lucky there was no one around other than our family to laugh at him. Come to think of it, I can't recall us having any neighbors.

I remember touching running water from a tiny little stream and warm earth beneath my mostly bare feet.

Trying to psycho-analyze myself, perhaps those days left a lasting impression on my mind and affect how I view the world around me today. Some would say, "You only know the value of something till you've lost it yourself". Today, my childhood home is a golfing range.

For a long time, the people of Temasek ('Sea Town' in Javanese and previous name of Singapura) lived in self-sufficient villages.

If they were happy, is there any reason to say that their way of life was wrong? Is existence measured only by so-called "progress"?

Seen in that light, how can people who reside in other kinds of structures impose their way of life onto a few people who believe otherwise?

Funny thing I notice is that when people from "First World" countries want to go on vacations to really unwind, chances are they would end up on another 'Sea Town' called a beach resort.

More photographs here. Reuters article and case study below.

Rush For Land To Sweep Away Last Singapore Village
By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chillis and limes grow in a lush garden between colorful cement houses with leaking metal roofs in Kampong Buangkok, a village with no roads or computers.

The sight would be nothing out of the ordinary in much of southeast Asia. But Singapore’s last village, nestled in a forest clearing, is an oddity in the sophisticated city-state where skyscrapers and high-speed Internet are the norm.

Simple kampongs — the Malay word for village — were synonymous with disease and poor sanitation when they went out of style as Singapore introduced government housing in the 1960s.

Mass relocations to tower block Housing Development Board (HDB) flats saw the number of kampongs dwindle. Once home to 40 families, sole survivor Kampong Buangkok now houses only 28, who fiercely guard community bonds among arching banana trees.

“I know all my neighbors, we meet every day, doors open. It’s not like the HDB flats, where you can live and not know anyone,” said Ramlah binte Kamsah, a secretary in her mid-forties who has lived in the kampong for 40 years.

The village in northeast Singapore, the size of three football fields, has few cars.

“They always ask me if I want to build a road here, but I tell them — no road. Real kampongs don’t have roads,” said Sng Mui Hong, owner of the land of Kampong Buangkok, gesturing to the dirt path which runs through the village.

Sng, who is single and in her fifties, inherited the piece of land from her father. While the booming economy and an influx of foreigners has led to a red hot property market, her rates are as low as $6.50 ($4.45) a month — prices maintained for 30 years.

“If you increase the rent and the prices outside go up, how will the people in here cope?” said Sng, who added that most kampong dwellers are poor and shun Singapore’s glitzy malls.

Hitting Heritage

Built 60 years ago on low-lying land, the kampong has weathered many floods.

But the biggest danger it faces is not a natural disaster, but Singapore’s voracious appetite for land.

In Singapore, history and heritage are often found at the receiving end of a wrecking ball.

The space-starved island, about one third the size of Greater London, has one of the world’s highest population densities. For decades it has reclaimed land from the sea and razed landmarks to make space for development.

“Of course we want to preserve the kampong — sentimental fools like us. These are the last traces of old Singapore, everything old has been torn down,” said Victor, 51, a blogger who writes about life in old Singapore.

However, a government plan aims to turn the kampong into schools and housing.

“Given the need to optimize the use of land in land scarce Singapore, it may not be viable to retain the kampong in its current state,” said a spokeswoman from the government redevelopment agency.

Sng has made it clear to private developers that she does not intend to sell her land. But the reality is she would have to sell the land to the government if required, based on the state’s laws. Some villagers fear they may only have a year left.

Tan Choon Kuan, 75, comes to the kampong every Sunday with his family to paint. His grandson Nicholas Goh, 17, said the kampong is a “refreshing change from urban Singapore,” as they sat next to half-painted canvasses and smoking mosquito coils.

“I can’t do much about the government plans to redevelop the land. But by painting these scenes, I preserve it for the future generations,” Tan said, dabbing brush strokes on a leafy picture.

Students' Case Study on Kampung Buangkok

Caroline Ong Shu Xian, Rebecca Heng Zer Lyn & Ho Qi Xin, 2006. Conserving Kampong Heritage in Urban Singapore: A Case Study of Kampong Buangkok - PDF of report.


GeekyCoder said...

Anyone has idea how to get to the kampong ? For example, MRT, buses to take to reach there.

Singapore Indian Voice said...

Hi. The last time I rode with my friend on his bike.

However, I'm sure the nearest MRT station is Buangkok itself.

Nyved said...

The nearest MRT would either be Yio Chu Kang or Serangoon. Most people would think Buangkok MRT but that's miles away from the actual kampung.

From Yio Chu Kang, take bus 70. Alight at the bus stop right after the Shell Petrol Station.

From Serangoon, take SBS Bus 103. Stop at the bus stop that's opposite the road from the Shell Station.

I've been there before, had some wonderful memories shooting a student film at one of the houses there back in 2004. It's kinda ironic that even though the place is laid back and "ancient", the residents sure aren't when it comes to exploiting the people who film there.

shouchen said...

This should be a national heritage site...