i kept feeling i was walking on hallowed ground. this is where the different and defiant lived. this is where a city often viewed as not really democratic, said… you know what, people have a choice. hougang, the second longest held opposition ward in singapore. ever since 1991, when the worker’ party’s low thia khiang won the seat, this single member constituency has given its vote to the other guy. aj was excited, it’s not often you get to visit opposition territory in singapore.
the day is bright and happy; blue skies, feathery white clouds, the first thing i see is an expanse of green by the mrt station where i am to meet aj. what’s that funnel like thing made of glass behind the station? part of hougang mall, says aj. we walk around the area a little aimlessly. there are older hdb blocks all around, a nice feel to the place, slightly retro, we could be in the eighties or even earlier. we walk into one of the tall blocks and take a lift to a higher floor to catch a top shot of hougang.
i have often heard that opposition wards are usually neglected by the government and don’t get the spiffy singapore look that easily. i gaze around trying to see if that is the case where we are walking this morning. everything looks perfect, there’s something very pleasant in fact about this part of hougang. lots of old trees, a relaxed air, hdb blocks with character, a school with a lovely name, holy innocents.
i am always astonished and touched by the fact that there is practically no one without a home in singapore. almost eighty percent, maybe more, singaporeans live in hdb apartments, affordable public housing developed by the government ever since the early sixties. the housing development board makes many kinds of apartments, from studio like two-room flats to classic three-, four- and five-room flats. then there are the executive flats considered more up market. there are also maisonettes, i can see one right in front of me; and something called jumbo flats where two flats are combined to make a sprawling one. singapore may not have fabulous ancient forts and palaces, marvelous monuments, and architectural splendour, but these simple, sturdy, non-flashy, down to earth hdb homes, where the ordinary person gets to live with a sense of dignity. are somehow inordinately touching. and pretty grand.
aj points out something new on the traffic light. it’s a little panel with instructions… if you’re a senior citizen just tap your identity card on the device and the green man will stay on a little longer, letting you cross the street at your pace.
again i think of dignity… of the ordinary, the aged, the one without contact and connection. what a sensitive idea. singaporeans are living longer, there are many older people out on the roads, this can only bring happiness to their hearts and joints.
so, are these panels up on all traffic lights? i ask aj. he says, no, only in certain places where possibly the need is greater. it’s a brand new thing from the land transport authority or whoever is in charge of such things… and it’s already installed here in the opposition universe.
we turn a corner, the path before is shaded by tall trees, on one side, a row of pretty houses, an old man with walking stick ambles ahead at an elegant pace, i try to catch up with him to get a nice shot, he disappears like the white rabbit into a house.
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.