when a walk starts with your companion pointing at something beyond a fence and saying, “those are missile launchers,” you know it’s a day for things not usual. i was expecting to reach a heavily wooded sort of area on our traipse to find singapore’s only natural hot spring. instead, we got off the taxi in front a humongous military base.
armoured cars and other vehicles i don’t even know the names of, were lined up behind that fence. there was that don’t you dare even look at us air of a military camp all around. soon barbed wire coils topped the perimetre wall. where was the hot spring among all this?
i’d never seen a hot spring before. i know they are supposed to have healing properties and usually the water is rich in sulphides. as we veered to the left, aj suddenly pointed to an opening in the fence and said, this might be the entrance. he wasn’t sure though, since when he’d last visited the area as a kid, there was no paved road, only a dirt track. everything in the vicinity was fairly rural, certainly no helicopters flew right above.
it was the road to the spring. open to the public from 7am to 7pm daily. a short walk, you turned right and there it was, the sembawang hot spring. only it looked nothing like a spring… no steaming, bubbling water at the centre amid slippery rocks and boulders. here there were taps gushing a constant stream of water. at first i thought there was just one set of three taps, but no, there were three of them… that’s nine taps on, nonstop. there were plastic chairs and buckets strewn everywhere… people obviously come over for baths and soaks regularly. the water was certainly hot.
the well was discovered in 1909 when seah eng keong owned the land, it was part of his pineapple plantations. i have worked for more than fourteen years on a street named after his father, seah liang seah. later f&n acquired the land and still later, the ministry of defence. water from the sembawang hot spring has been bottled and sold; we saw a poster, maybe some of this is still in the market. wiki says, geologists have not been able to locate the source of the spring but they believe it might be to the south west along bukit timah.
during the war, japanese soldiers took it over and used it as onsen. in the sixties, gamblers apparently would come for “good luck” baths before the horse races. many still believe the water heals.
the air base is being expanded, on our way out we saw workers sleeping on the pavement along the wall. an unsettling sight, too many memories of pavement dwellers. thankfully, here i knew they’d not be living here, it was just siesta.
as we walked down the main road, a whole lot of school kids wearing red tee shirts on top of their regular school uniform skirts and shorts came by. we were just three days away from chinese new year… the spring festival. they must have had their cny festivities in school since it was the last working day before the holidays began. two lovely young ladies allowed me to take their pictures, they posed for me nicely, and said they didn’t mind if i posted their shots on facebook. they were singaporean girls, one malay, the other indian, from the secondary school nearby. i loved the way they made sure they got my name and took a snap of my facebook page… just in case i wasn’t who i said i was.
later, after a nice lunch of runny eggs, kaya cheese toast, and tea at ya kun, when i was stuck in the pre new year taxi queue, there was a tap on my shoulder. i turned around. it was the girls. huge grins were bestowed upon me… us old friends now. got to say, they were the cutest… perhaps the spring i’d come looking for even. gong xi fa cai, everyone, have a great new year.
road to singapore, gambas avenue, sembawang road, yishun avenue 7, yishun avenue 2, 05/02/2016 #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.