the cars were moving up along the gradient of the flyover, the sun had begun to set, a couple of raindrops fell on me. i looked up at the opaque grey sky and wondered if i’d have to cancel the walk. i was alone since my walking partner aj couldn’t make it today. i missed him and thought the rain might have decided to keep me company instead.
that flyover was being made when i came to singapore. i have always lived somewhere not too far away, currently it’s the “view” from my sitting room. this is holland road and no, it was not named after the country as i’d thought, since the dutch held sway over this part of the world once… the road actually was named after a hugh holland who lived in this area.
huge old trees loomed along the path, their green soothing. i darted into lanes i hadn’t been to before in a decidedly “kaypoh” mood. word learnt from my very first boss in singapore, who translated it as “busybody”, apparently that was his job description.
holland is a long road and starts out in clementi in the west. the first stretch is called ulu pandan, heading east toward the city it morphs into holland at one point and goes past the lovely merry holland village or holland v with its shops, restaurants, bars and chilled out air. further down is the flyover and then the botanic gardens, which is stunning and i am not exaggerating one bit.
holland road becomes napier road here and sweeps elegantly down past gleneagles hospital, posh condos, the us embassy, the australian embassy and the british council – and currently, the massive and noisy mrt works – toward the “atas” tanglin mall at the tanglin road junction. the urban dictionary says, atas “means ‘high class’ – the word is derived from the malay word meaning ‘upstairs.'” tanglin road veers to the left and joins orchard road.
it’s a beautiful walk really even if it is right along a major thoroughfare with fairly heavy two-way traffic. the rain decides to leave me to my mutterings just around the spot where the ghost appears. yes, holland road has its own spook, may not be as chilling as the ones on pierce road, but that bit around the thick woods which belong to the sultan of johor, is considered “dirty” and cabbies do not feel comfortable driving there at night. in fact, my husband also had a funny sort of feeling that the car swerved inexplicably at a particular place while he drove back past midnight once.
more worrying perhaps are the cops that hang around there almost every night doing random checks to catch drunk drivers. while trying to find out more about that jungle cloaked in mystery, i came across this blog which has fascinating pictures of the ruins of a mansion inside and the full story. read about istana woodneuk here.
to the right i see the neon lights of long beach seafood on dempsey hill. there used to be only the rough tough redolent curry place samy’s curry there once upon a time. it was advisable to duck when hot, full colour gravy got flung onto your banana leaf with great gusto, no thought for your white linen shirt.
now dempsey is trying to reinvent itself; restaurants and art galleries and wine bars fill erstwhile barracks. but can old gripping tales really be smothered with the don’t care of the new? i recall coming to the abandoned barracks at the back for a tv commercial shoot. winding unknown roads through thick foliage, cavernous empty buildings tattered and not spiffy. something feels a little broken away from the continuum here. distraught. even unsettling. its memory lingers years on.
i walk past and enter my favourite botanic gardens and say hello to a tree. it’s simple name is temak and i can’t pronounce its complicated name, shorea roxburghii. like me, it’s not a native of singapore, introduced here in the sixties or seventies according to the national parks website. it has fruits with wings says the legend before the strong silent one, in school we used to collect such things for the “herbarium”.
i trot off briskly now hurrying toward tanglin road, have to meet someone at tanglin shopping centre at 7pm. it’s 6.42 now. as i pass the brand new and weird looking blue building on the left, i have to stop and take pictures. i’d never have imagined it could be what it is. it’s the interpol headquarters. i hear interpol, i think charles sobhraj, the jackal, drama, excitement. major cheap thrills as i float past a gate that says, “interpol”.
hangout, shopping, curry, jungle, flyover, old trees, ghost, interpol… now how many roads can give you all that.
road to singapore, holland road, napier road, tanglin road, 19/05/2015 #SG50
end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty years of independence. singapore has given me much and i am fascinated by the spirit of this gutsy city state with hardly any land or resources, but oh what dreams and chutzpah (the finest interpretation of the word), the ability to reach big, hunker down and hold and strategise and act and grow. despite my many years here, i haven’t seen a lot of the island, which started out at only 28 miles by 18. now of course it’s bigger, thanks to that spirit i spoke of. so anthony john or aj as i call him, my walking partner, and i decided to do fifty walks in the island to celebrate #SG50. well, we didn’t stop at fifty; couldn’t. there was still so much to see and feel and also how not to let the hot, merciless, climate-change sun not have its way with us. so the walks continue, as does the walk talk. hope you enjoy, try to bring an umbrella.