Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Kampong Buangkok

A tiny glimpse into Singapore's past

Ever since we first moved to this country and I started reading of places of interest this kampong kept coming up on searches and other blogs. With all that's planned and organised, the shiny and the new bling of modern Singapore, the carefully planned heritage conservation areas and the focus on prosperity and being no.1 I had this at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit. Don't get me wrong I adore Singapore, as you all know, but with my father and various friends and family living out here at different times between the 50s to the 80s I wanted to see just something of the Singapore they knew and loved. I love pouring over old photos of the island trying to place where they are taken and it totally amazes me how the island has metamorphosed into the cosmopolitan place it is today in such a short space of time. I'm not naive enough to truly believe that life was a bucolic idyll then, with the lack of facilities we take for granted these days but I am old fashioned and I honestly believe that the pace of life was slower, closer to nature and in turn better for our health and well being, only last week it was reported that living in cities was proven to be bad for you - well there's a shock!!

Anyway searching for Kampong Buangkok you will 9x out of 10 see it called the last kampong in Singapore and as far as I know this is correct (if not please let me know and I can visit others). It was  established in 1956 by a Chinese medicine seller Sng Teow Koon who purchased the land and the 1/2 dozen dwellings already on it from Mr Huang Yu Tu and it is still privately owned by one of his daughters. The tenants pay a peppercorn rent to her and apparently if they can't afford that she will accept payment in kind of rice and fruit. Sng Teow moved onto his land with his family and rented other plots out to families. What was once a swampy piece of land with just 1/2 dozen homes on soon grew to over 40 at its prime with electricity, water and rubbish collection provided in 1963. The village has now shrank considerably to 1.3 hectares with only around 28 homes left with both Malays and Chinese making this village their home.

sign post to the muslim prayer hall (surau)
Kampong Buangkok is situated in the NE of Singapore and can be found opposite the Church of St Vincent de Paul on Yio Chu Kang Rd. In Malay the village is called Selak Kain which means "to hitch up your sarong" which you would have needed to do as the village did and indeed still does flood. Alongside the kampong runs a canal built in 1970 in an attempt to stop the flash flooding which regularly hit the village. Although the canal improved the risk from flooding greatly it still does, with the worse one recently being in 2006. There is a park connector that runs alongside the canal to Sengkang Riverside park and onto Punggol. What amazed me on my visit was just across the canal on the other side were modern detached homes which just highlighted the difference between the 2 ways of livings, almost as if one side had stayed frozen in time for 20-30 years, the old and new of Singapore sitting side by side divided by just a stretch of water but a world away in contrasts.

Separated by just a canal but a lifetime of change sits the "new" Singapore
The village has been highlighted on many programmes over the years which I hope has helped preserve it and keep it free of Singapore's constant development, but for how long? what will happen when the current owner passes? Indeed we visitors may find it " a beautiful idyll" but for how long will people wish to carry on living this traditional way? I hope personally for a very long time. Although kampong Buangkok is "unusual" now in Singapore elsewhere in Asia it is still quite common place.

Until just recently situated next to the kampong was a leprosy colony. The Singapore Leprosy Relief Association (SILRA) was just across the road. It was opened in 1971 and only closed its doors in 2005, so recent I wasn't aware such places were still used in such recent times. This is something I will try and find out more about. All that appears to be left now is a part of an old wall and a gate to the SILRA.

All that remains of the Leprosy Association (SILRA) just a wall and an old pair of gates
I finally visited after a year of living here with 2 friends and was surprised how accessible and close it was to home (just 1 bus trip) and how we didn't need to "trek" anywhere, there is was nestled where it has always been surrounded by HDBs and modern houses. As we walked through it was so peaceful and tranquil and being a country girl it calmed oneself but still there was no escaping the Singapore theme tune of the thud thud beat from constant construction. By 2015 the Jalan Kayu sports hub should be ready which will be located on Buangkok Crescent reaching ever closer to the kampong. 

I did feel as if we were intruding, although this place is mentioned often on the internet and on numerous blogs. The few people we did see were friendly but that didn't stop me feeling as if I was trespassing. If you do visit please be respectful that these are peoples homes and not a "Sentosa - style" tourist attraction. 

The first home is home to a chinese family
The first house you come to, which had chickens pecking around on the ground, houses a Chinese family. Next door a closed up blue painted home which is believed to be one of the oldest but is now no longer lived in. The homes are predominately of wooden construction with zinc roofs and it was lovely to see that "being green" wasn't a new "invention" here, nothing was wasted, everything had a use (just as I was brought up believing). Fences were made of anything and everything, whatever was at hand. It was unusual still to see overhead cables something I haven't really noticed here in Singapore. 

As we wandered down the little lane we could hear dogs barking and saw chickens and even parrots. Bananas grew everywhere and we also spotted star fruit, jack fruit and even cocoa. It would have been good to have someone explain what all the plants were but for me, who used to live in a home with 2.3 hectares and loved to grow my own produce, it was a delight to see especially now living on the 20th floor with just a balcony for a garden. I have to say the silver TV sitting in the corner under a banana plant was an interesting touch, not sure if it was still in working order!! I thinks Singapores high rainfall may have affected the viewing somewhat!!

Not sure how good the reception would be!

I hope you enjoy the photos of this mesmerizing place. I can only stress again if you do visit please please be respectful, just think - would you want people snooping around your house and garden?

If anyone out there can tell me anything more on this village or indeed the SILRA I would love to hear from you.

This blue house is believed to be the oldest but is now no longer lived in
Memories of your childhood a makeshift swing hanging from an old tree.

The surau (prayer room) 

found this quite moving a buddha and Fu, Lu and Shou (happiness, prosperity and longevity) and what I think may be bodhisvatta - please let me know if wrong

cocoa - never seen this growing before
bananas soon ready to be harvested with ladder already in place. Perhaps they will sit watching the tv eating a banana!!!!

repairing the zinc roof 
Although it now has a 6 digit post code the original one is still on show (1954)

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