02 February 2009

A Last Look At Kampong Lorong Buangkok

I blogged about Kampong Lorong Buangkok here before. In that article, I urged you to visit it before it "also disappears in the name of progress and development". Well, did you? It is now confirmed that the kampong will have to go soon. (Read the New Paper article at the end of this post.)

I did manage to pay the kampong a visit on 4 Feb last year and I would like to share the photos with you.

This house belonged to a Chinese family. Notice the red ornamental decorations at its entrance? They were probably decorations for the Chinese New Year which fell on 7 and 8 Feb last year.

More photos of the same house:

A Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) statue in the compound of another house (no. 13) belonging to a Chinese family:

It even had a jackfruit tree bearing fruit! Can you spot it in the next photo?

No? How about now:

Still can't see it? Oh my, you'd better have you eyes checked. :p

Ought to see it now, right?

A 2-storey house - a luxurious home by kampong standard:

This way to the surau (small Malay mosque), please:

More photos of other houses in the kampong:

This one had a signboard above its main door. It was probably operating a home business of sorts, maybe the kampong's grocery store?

The nearby forlorn gate to former premises of SILRA Home. ("SILRA" stands for Singapore Leprosy Relief Association). It is now located at 80 Buangkok View, Singapore 534191.

With the new HDB flats in the background, it seemed to beckon, "Welcome to progress and development."

Although the letters have been removed (no photoshopping at all) and worn by time and weather, a cross and the words "SILRA HOME" are still faintly visible on this wall.

Related Posts About Kampong Lorong Buangkok:

1. Earlier article on this blog

2. Kampong Buangkok Videos made by NTU students on Chun See's blog

3. New York Times article and video dated 3 Jan 2009

The New Paper dated 14 Jan 09

Singapore's Last Kampung - And now, the end is near... - By Desmond Ng

Plans afoot to develop Lorong Buangkok kampung. Once just rumoured, now it's concrete, says and landowner.

'If it happens, it's just too bad'

Owner glad there's something concrete about development plans

TIME once stood still for Singapore's sole surviving kampung. Now, the clock has started ticking, and the pendulum looks like a wrecker's ball.

The Government's plan to develop the kampung land will flatten the last 28 houses standing and erase Singapore's rustic past.

The landowner may become a multi-millionaire from the acquisition. So, why is she looking glum?

For Ms Sng Hui Hong, few things have changed since her father bought this village some 53years ago.

The same old zinc-roofed huts, surrounded by rambutan, jackfruit and banana trees, are still nestled in a hard-to-find forest clearing.

There're no roads here, just a well-trodden dirt path snaking to this quiet enclave.

The air is fresh. It's so quiet that you can hear the chickens clucking and crickets chirping.

At night, the village descends into almost total darkness with so few street lamps in use.

Life in this last surviving kampung in Singapore still crawls at slow pace.

The friendly folks here keep their doors unlocked. Children run and cycle around freely without fear of traffic. The many stray dogs here bark at every stranger or the occassional snake slithering in the undergrowth.

And tourists and locals hunt down this hamlet every weekend for a taste of the kampung lifestyle - a pecularity in this city state.

But it looks like time's up and the wrecker's ball is a-waiting for Kampung Buangkok.

This kampung will be bulldozed and redeveloped, possibly in the near future.

There are plans for this plot of land, along with its surrounding area, to be comprehensively developed, said the Urban Redvelopment Authority (URA).

In its place will be housing, schools and other neighbourhood facilities supported by a road network, added URA. This land is about the size of three football fields. Under the Master Plan 2008, part of the land has also been earmarked for the development of a major road linking to Buangkok Drive.

URA said that the implementation time frame for these plans has not been firmed up.

This death knell came somewhat as a surprise to the kampung's landowner, Ms Sng, when The New Paper met her yesterday.

Said the 55-year-old in Mandarin: 'I've not heard from the Government or anyone about plans to redevelop this area. This is the first time I am hearing this.'

Normally wary and suspicious of the media, this feisty woman, on hearing about future redevelopment plans, invited this reporter into her house.

She proceeded to ask in great detail about the plans and when it'll take place.

Said Ms Sng with great concern: 'I've been living here for so long and there're always rumours about redevelopment. Finally, there's something concrete.'

Ms Sng's father, a Chinese medicine seller, bought the land in 1956. A few dozen colourful huts now dot the landscape, albeit surrounded by looming cranes waiting by the sidelines.

According to Ms Sng, some 28 families live there and pay her nominal monthly rents ranging from $6.50 to $30. Modern amenities like running water and electricity have been in place at the kampung since 1962, she said.

She's ambivalent about the impending change.

She'll miss the village and the rustic lifestyle, but added that she's resigned to the fact that there's no stopping redevelopment.

Said Ms Sng: 'I kind of expected the redevelopment plans. I just had that feeling, I can't explain it.

'I am not sad, this is just life. If it (the acquisition) happens, that's just too bad.'

She's not counting her millions yet either, because she doesn't know for certain what her land's worth.

Previous news reports had valued the land at about $33 million some two years back.

And since then, people (and property agents) have turned up in droves to look at her land, much to the annoyance of this recluse.

'I will never sell this land,' she said then. 'It was passed down by my father and it's my last remaining memory of my mother.'

'What a pity'

Not that she will have much of a choice when the Government comes a-knocking.

In the event of an acquisition by the Government, the compensation will be based on the prevailing market rate, said Chesterton Suntec International's head of research and consultancy, Mr Colin Tan.

'But nothing blocks the way of development - she (Ms Sng) will have to give up her land then. If the land was zoned for agriculture, the compensation will be much less than if it was zoned for residential,' he added.

Ms Sng said she doesn't know the nitty-gritty details of her land except that it's on a 999-year lease.

We spoke to some villagers there who can't believe that they're living on borrowed time.

Said Mr Jamil Kamsah: 'So sayang! ('What a pity', in Malay). Where am I going to keep my plants? I am going to miss my neighbours and our close friendships.'

Mr Kamsah, 55, a make-up artist, has been living in the kampung with his family for over 40 years. Their first monthly rent then was $2. It's now a princely $15. He said: 'I will miss this kampung atmosphere the most. And so will many people.'

He said that every weekend, there'll be strangers strolling around the estate, soaking in the kampung atmosphere.

Like former MP and artist Ho Kah Leong, who spent hours there painting scenes of the kampung.

He showcased 20 paintings of the kampung in his solo exhibition called, 'The Last Kampung Of Singapore - Lorong Buangkok' two years ago.

For Mr Kamsah, he'll take each day as it comes.

'I don't want to think so far now. I've never lived in a flat before and I can't imagine how it'll feel like,' he said.

Another resident, who only wanted to be known as Mr Wong, said he bought and re-built three huts there for over $10,000 each in the last 10 years. The land on which the houses are built is rented from Ms Sng.

He said he bought the houses for his children.

Said Mr Wong in Mandarin: 'I will miss this place but it's not just me alone. There're many residents who've lived here much, much longer.'

Kampung life can still live on - By Ng Wan Ching

AS THE last kampung in Singapore looks set to bite the dust, Mr L T Toh, 62, can't help but remember his own kampung days.

His family lived in the Wu Lin San (Boo Lim Cemetery) kampung.

'Those days, to rent a house in the kampung was very cheap, something like $2 a month.

'We had lots of space to breed chickens, pigs, goats and grow our own vegetables. Water came from wells. If you lost your job, you won't starve. You can live off the land in the village,' said the retiree who is now a freelance hawker.

Now, things are very different for him.

'In a Housing Board flat, there are also conservancy fees and electricity bills to pay. If you lose your job, you'll need help. Kampung life was much simpler,' he said in Mandarin.

He regrets that soon there may be no more kampungs left to show the younger generations what life was like then.

'Young people will not feel any loss or regret because they don't know the difference. But older people like me who have lived in kampungs would like to have some left as a reminder of our past,' he said.

But all may not be lost even if there are no kampungs left. As Singapore Environment Council executive director Howard Shaw puts it, there's nothing to prevent the kampung spirit from enduring.

Said Mr Shaw: 'It will benefit all of us to cultivate certain aspects of the kampung spirit.

'The open way of life, with much sharing and trust among each other. The way things are used again and again, that's very environmentally friendly. All these aspects can live on without the traditional way a kampung is set up.'

The challenges for any government will always be to house Singapore's population, he said.

'What has to be weighed is a sense of nostalgia against the benefit to the greater population,' said Mr Shaw.

There are also other ways to retain aspects of Singapore's heritage such as in the archives or in the way heritage shophouses have been re-developed to retain their character while modernising the interiors.

Best solution

'There is no solution that will please every one, so we must aim for the solution that will please or benefit the most people,' said Mr Shaw.

But there is one thing that the Government must always show in the acquisition of private land, said Singapore Heritage Society president Dr Kevin Tan.

It must show that it is necessary, he said.

He also cautioned against rebuilding everything that is 30 years old.

'If everything gets rebuilt every 30 years or so, there would be no sense of familiarity.

'If the landscape that people grew up with changes all the time, then there will be nothing to bind them to the land.

'There would be no sense of belonging,' he said.


yg said...

the jackfruit, genetically engineered, hah? how come grew so big, so fast?
buildings must have a subject, one. how come you didn't pose for a picture with the kampong house in the background?

Victor said...

Yg, I passed by Kampong Lorong Buangkok today. The place didn't change much from one year ago. But alamak, I forgot to check on the jackfruit!

I also forgot to bring my camera stand last year to take my own photos.

Icemoon said...

Why is Lorong Buangkok Singapore's last kampong? Still got Ubin right?

Cool Insider said...

Thanks for bringing us along a nice pictorial stroll of Kampong Buangkok. I am not sure if I will have time to visit it, but this captures its essence. ;)

yg said...

icemoon, i think they are talking about the last kampong on the mainland.

Victor said...

Walter, looking at photos is a very different (and lesser) experience from seeing the real thing.

Yg, yes I think you are right.

Joan said...

Hello Victor. I speak on behalf of my Project Work group and I was wondering if you would like to help us create a little publicity for our cause (which is to conserve Kampong Buangkok). We've set up a petition against possible governmental plans to demolish the site and you can find it here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-kampong-buangkok

You can also find our Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=90315637430

and a survey:

but what matters most is the petition. The efforts of four students to conserve the Kampong in line with, of all things, Project Work, may seem inconsequential, but hey, it's worth the while I think! Thanks for reading.

Joan said...

Thank you for signing!

Anonymous said...

Does it still exist? (6-10-09)

Victor said...

You're welcome, Joan. It is a small effort on my part.

Anonymous - Yes, I think the kampong is still around. In fact some of the houses have recently been renovated. (See this post.

patrick Storey said...

Is Kampong Lorong Buangkok still there?
I am going to go and see no matter what. This breaks my heart, like the death of the last bird of its species.

Victor said...

Hi Patrick, I believe the kampong is still around but I don't know for how long more. Earlier this year, some fellow bloggers blogged about it - please refer to "Links to this post" below this article. Some of the houses were even newly renovated.