Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Where did you go, my Singapore of old?

The Straits Times (Forum)
Feb 24, 2009


I AM a 45-year-old Singaporean much in love with this country, which I am proud to call home.

Over the years, I have visited a few other beautiful countries, but I cannot see myself living anywhere else but in Singapore.

However, as much as I call Singapore my home, there is almost nothing of it I can connect to when I try to look back in memory.

A few weeks ago, I decided to drive my parents around to revisit places to try to recapture the fond memories of our earlier years.

There was almost no place familiar left to go.

Almost everything has been eradicated.

It was a sad morning.

I am sure, to the zealots of change and development, this means nothing at all, and others may say people like me are like a broken record (nostalgia) that gets stuck and plays the same thing over and over, but I feel it is very sad.


The little we have left is also about to go: the last kampung in Buangkok, the New Seventh Storey Hotel and so on.

Who needs the kampung in Buangkok when there is the shiny plastic version in Geylang Serai, right?

After all, it is clean, safe and pristine.

With reference to last Monday's letter by Ms Lisa Healey-Cunico, 'Let Singapore shape itself naturally', I fully agree that Singapore has lost much of its soul.

It truly seems we have an unquenchable need to wipe out and develop anything and everything.

Alternatively, if a place is deemed worthy of heritage, redevelopment sets in with the original tenants, who contributed to the colour of the place, removed because of high rent and commercialisation.

Maybe I am just getting old, but I would like to be able to visit some places in Singapore with nothing added but a few coats of paint over the years.

I resort to flea markets for photocopy pictures sold at three for $10.

I used these to share old stories with my parents and daughters.

That is all there is.

Needless to say, one of my favourite haunts is Sungei Road.

I am certain it is already in someone's plans for eradication.


I appeal to whoever can make the difference, please leave some things as they are.


I love you, Singapore, but I fear I do not remember you.

Vincent Paul Carthigasu


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I came across this letter from Vincent Paul Carthigasu in the Forum section of the Straits Times today and I thought it is a good reminder to everyone that we need some memory markers to help us feel belonged.

If you are subscribed to the Straits Times Interactive, you would be able to read some of the comments. Some of the comments are thought provoking while some are just frivolous.

I'm reproducing some of them here for us to read.

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In the 1970s, what remained of the 1950s Singapore?
In the 1950s, what remained of the 1930s Singapore?
...In the 1830s, what remained of Singapore before Raffles?

Even for first-generation buildings - the land itself had something else before the first-gen buildings came up.

It's not that I don't value and appreciate old buildings, I do like revisiting "old city" locations in Singapore as well as in other cities around the world.

Many have nice designs, and unlike modern buildings that depend on airconditioning etc., many of the older buildings were designed for natural ventilation and to benefit from natural lightings - an environmentally friendly feature sadly neglected, even though newer buildings do have better indoor plumbings and waste disposal etc.

The point I am raising to those who reminisce fondly of sights that were common in their younger days is that during their younger days, there were already changes that occurred, and there were changes that were taking place, albeit at a much slower rate or smaller scale compared to today.

What we really missed is what we had became familiar with, not necessarily the original.

The secondary school building I attended in the 1980s was not the school's original campus, the original site was at Bras Basah.

The school had since moved to yet another campus at Bishan.In the same way I missed my old campus, despite the new one being supposedly bigger and better, I suppose the students before my time would have missed the original building too.

One person's Singapore of old is not necessarily another person's Singapore of old.
Posted by: coolbeagle at Tue Feb 24 10:49:50 SGT 2009

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It's true, all we have now is all new buldings etc. The old 'buildings' by Changi Road are all gone now, even my family and I went back to where we used to live in the 70s, that too has diminished. Only when we visit Malaka, we feel "at home" cos nothing much has changed there.
Posted by: NonaSings at Tue Feb 24 10:11:11 SGT 2009

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Singapore govt are visionaries....They have seen the future...and the future does not permit old houses. The future only include spaceships and highscrappers.....
Posted by: luvmibiz at Tue Feb 24 09:47:31 SGT 2009

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No development = no injection of cash from govt = no contracts = no jobs = no money = society unrest = problems for govt.Hopefully this gives u an idea why nothing is spared
Posted by: weischin at Tue Feb 24 09:33:19 SGT 2009

3 comments:

hanswurst said...

There was an article in the New York Times about the Kampung in Buangkok mentioned in your post

rent in singapore said...

You are still young.Don't feel you are getting old.You are lucky to be born in country like singapore.

aash said...

Hey that's a very interesting viewpoint of Singapore. Which hotel did you stay at when you were there. Maybe we should meetup sometime when we're both together in singapore. Alternatively you can visit Yellow Pages Singapore to check up on the latest happenings in Singapore. Small country but I simply love it.