It had been a long and hectic week. Work had extended over a couple of weekends and it seemed like the entire week had lasted over 14 days. There was nothing more welcoming than a day out! And this Sunday was different, right from the start. I woke up at 6:30 in the morning and realized, for the second time in almost two years, that the sun does not rise for almost up to 7:00 am in the Lion City. And when it does, it is quite a treat to the eyes. The mild hues of crimson interspersed with an inky blue of the clouds, slowly lightening to a milder shade, prove to be quite a sight. So, the first day of a brand new week started with the chirp of the birds and a pleasant chill in the air. There was a general feeling of excitement because I was going to spend the day walking through the last Kampong of Singapore.
The MRT ride from Boon Lay to Yio Chu Kang took a good 45 minutes after which we were all assembled in groups to start our travel to Kampong Lorong Buangkok, our destination. "Kampong" is a Malay word meaning "village" or "settlement". Kampong Lorong is the last surviving village of Singapore, a city well known for its urbanization and meteoric economic rise. In a city spotted with high-rise buildings, resplendent glass and steel monsters, this quiet little village retains its place amidst all the noise and chaos and rush, maintaining a sort of serenity I had seen only back home in our villages. It was definitely a surprise to see an unassuming marshy village alongside the Housing Development Board buildings, a short distance away- truly my first experience of sharp contrasts in this country.
As we started our walk, we were told that this village had only few tens of houses to start with and with time, more people settled here and the inhabitants rose to a few hundreds. The people here still lead a simple life,away from unnecessary complexity. It was quite a shock to hear that the rents for the houses in this village don't exceed S$20 a month. This village has been a true survivor, emerging victorious from the ravaging arms of modernization, if not entirely unscathed. The houses are simple, with tin sheet roofs to enable the draining of rain water. It was a lovely sight, seeing chicken coops, dogs and cats roaming freely, self-sufficient homes with mango trees and plants of different kinds. These are usual sights back home, but the difference lies in seeing such a setting in a modernized, well-developed, economic giant. The path was slightly slushy because of rains the previous night but the greenery was only, if possible, more enhanced and was an absolute delight to capture in pictures.
We were given the opportunity to visit the home of a Malay Muslim family and were quite pleasantly surprised at the unexpected chance. The house was simple and its exterior was cluttered with a myriad of objects- a tricycle, plastic tables and chairs for kids, bric-a-brac, cages with beautiful, white birds and elaborate vases with pink and red flowers. The backyard was a patch of shocking green, a collage of plants and trees of every kind, with butterflies flitting about in spots of yellow. The dense foliage was an absolutely remarkable view!
After we were done looking around a proper Kampong house, we started our walk again, this time to a small clearing behind a religious building, where we were to have a recreational break. The building is of religious significance to the people of the village and is a centre of shelter during heavy rains. A porcelain rabbit greets us at the entrance- a good luck charm and symbol of economic prosperity.
The break was spent playing traditional games like hopscotch, catapult and was the perfect means to connect with the child within us. Then began our walk through a forested trail with a well-represented insect kingdom in full flourish. It lasted hardly 30 minutes but was a fun trail, with alternating marshy and woody terrain. The beauty of the place could never be captured in its entirety in pictures but we all gave our best shot at it!
The most unexpected turn came when we emerged from this dense, green patch to the open, where in the distance the residential complexes and malls of Sengkang greeted us. It was truly a spectacular moment, standing on grassy slopes with strong winds blowing, to look into the distance at the high rise buildings and an MRT line pass right through. The brilliant blue of the sky provided a beautiful contrast to the grassy green. It was a scene straight out of a painting!
We spent a good deal of time on these grassy slopes, taking as many pictures as we could, flying a kite and just taking in the beauty of it all, in the end. It gave me the time to think back on what this walk meant to me. It was not just a day out with friends but an experience beyond that. The Singapore government was laying plans on the table to "re-develop" this Kampong. And by "re-develop" all they mean is strip it of its identity and bring more high-rise buildings in its place. It is a pity that in the name of development and modernization and urbanization and what-not, we lose the simple things that truly matter. It is this simplicity that will hold value when we run out of places to take sanctuary in, from the din and monotony of urban life. Where else would we find a place where homes are self-sufficient in terms of food, where people still leave their doors unlocked because everyone is considered family, and most importantly,races still co-exist in harmony, in a world riotous with prejudice? This Kampong is truly "The Last Kampong" in every sense. It is a matter of identity and even pride, for Singaporeans, and should be left standing as a testimonial to the fact that no matter how wealthy a country really is, there is always a part of it from time that shows its roots, the long journey of progress that it has made and most importantly, that singular place where its heart truly lies.