not a fancy part of town this, here it’s all helmets and overalls, machinery and tankers, rugged and tough end of the island. i’ve never seen a shipyard before and was looking forward to our walk in the west around jurong shipyard in the jurong industrial estate. aj had worked in atlantis shipyard before and of course regaled me with tales of fire and hazard and excitement. even without it, i would have felt the energy and macho air of the place. definitely not high heel country.
but then i rethink that last line. let me go all over the place and i’ll eventually get to why that rethink came along.
the two main roads of the shipyard are called tanjong kling road and jalan samulun, both lead off shipyard road, and interestingly both refer to groups of people.
jalan samulun takes you to a tiny little miniscule spot of land called pulau samulun or samulun island, which since the early 1960s is part of the yard. before that, a community of a hundred and fifty families lived there. the word samulun, according to wiki, comes from “sembulun,” the name of a tribe of orang laut who lived here long back. orang laut are people of malay origin and once inhabited coastal lands across this region.
the other road is named after “kling.” there are many stories about how the word originated, some derogatory, some not. from the chains of prisoners or the kings of kalinga or chola royals who sojourned in these lands or invaded them… wherever it comes from, it’s a word that has been used for centuries to denote people of the indian subcontinent. yes, me. i liked that idea somehow, felt like it was my road.
the first thing i heard as we got there was the siren. a loud long call telling workers at the many plants and factories and ship building and repair units, it was time for lunch. took me straight to the little oil township i grew up in. duliajan, where everything was close by and you could hear the siren wherever you were. six a.m. start of work, ten a.m lunch break, three p.m. end of work day. 1962 and 1965, middle of the night, late evening, anytime… war.
walking back from the gates of sembcorp marine which is at the end of the road, i noticed the blue walls and sheds. they looked pretty, what was this place? it was the nat steel plant. i grinned, so this was the company tata steel had bought. my husband started his career at tata steel or tisco as it is also called. we lived in jamshedpur, the well known steel city; i remembered the massive works with its blast furnaces pouring out molten steel, fiery red ingots of steel on open conveyor belts, a sense of danger and bated thrill. i peered over the walls trying to get a glimpse of the factory here. men in helmets worked away, automated pulleys and cranes moved at their regulated pace… not much heat and drama, yet all was right with the world. i was seeing a steel anything after many years and it felt familiar, real.
we veered to the left down shipyard road, passing by silos and storage tanks filled with water, gas, and other things needed on ships. one of the companies was called leedon national oxygen, it had an array of these tall cylindrical storage tanks. we saw a ship building dock, i think that’s what it was, in a secluded corner monitor lizards played, containers were stacked high elsewhere. i loved the feel of the place. completely industrial, a pulse to it…
aj said, we’d go down jalan samulun, we turned and there was the bridge. a solid, no nonsense structure, with huge pillars. it looked like something from another time and it would take you to places you’d never known. just a while back as i wrote “definitely not high heel country,” i think it was this bridge that connected me to a strange place… hindi movie land. this was just the kind of place where the heroine would be held for ransom in a warehouse or a half-constructed ship, then the hero would appear and free her despite impossible odds and they’d go of into a dream sequence singing a chart busting love song, she teetering on heels slim and high.
exactly a week after our walk, there was a fire at leedon national oxygen. a young woman of 30, a technician who had just got back from maternity leave, died. seven people were injured, three very seriously.
end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty year 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 i thought why not see singapore in this landmark year, and celebrate #sg50. aj, my friend and trainer, and i traipse in different parts of the city every week. hope you enjoy the walk talk. you’ll find more in my index. and the walks continue in singapore’s year 51.