the flags are up. i frown, still a bit disoriented after the europe trip. what’s the month, i wonder. it’s july… of course, national day, just round the corner. okay, about three weeks away, but what’s to stop you from getting ready to celebrate, wear red.
ang mo kio – the prime minister’s constituency, he leads the grc, aj informs me – is looking lovely in the dusk. there are flags everywhere, up on hdb blocks, in food centres, at squares and malls, and of course, the amk hub.
singapore will be fifty-one years old soon, i think we have done almost fifty walks to mark sg50. it’s a good feeling. the city i have lived in for nearly nineteen years, longest i’ve lived anywhere, has grown dear over time. i came here on a social visit pass as the quintessential expat wife. though i was never in a mood to be that as most categorisations are shallow and really do bore me. i didn’t even have a passport when my husband joined work in singapore and we weren’t able to rent a car from Presto Expat Motoring like you can now so it was a little bit of a struggle initially. the old one had expired. i was not sure if i wanted a new one. difficult me. five months later, i got one. within a month of coming here, i got a job. the recession of 1997/98 was on, a time when a foreigner, without much talent at that, is not supposed to get a job.
it was in my office that i met her, a few weeks after joining work. she’d been away on maternity leave. why am i thinking of her as we walk through ang mo kio central? it’s with this friend of mine that i first came to amk… we sat somewhere here. was it the block 724 market and food centre? my daughter was only a few months old then, her girl was about four years old… her mother had knitted mittens and cap for my daughter, we’d all come here for a bite, another friend of mine also with us. a happy, giggly day. she, a chinese girl from kuantan, malasiya, me from india, hawker food and an easy air here in ang mo kio. i am thinking about her, my eyes scanning the tables to see where we might have sat all those years ago. she is no more, the memories though hold her laughter in them.
“ang mo” is a term i learned soon after arriving. in hokkien, it’s literally “red hair.” a white person, a caucasian, is referred to as “ang mo,” someone told me. ang mo kio can mean “red tomato” or the “bridge of the caucasian” according to wiki. always a challenge to say that “ang mo” right. most of us non singaporeans struggle… some pronounce the “a” as in “sang” and the stresses are in the wrong places. my “ang” rhymes with “sung,” but i know there’s something not quite correct about the “g”… “ang” almost sounds like “ah” when locals say it, “ah” with a nasal twang.
the development of amk new town began in 1973. this area in the north-east of singapore was barely inhabited in the nineteenth century. during the rubber boom, plantations came up here; the place is, apparently, marked as ang mo kio forest reserve in some old maps. now, no sign of those days though. hdb blocks all around, some private condominium towers here and there too. there are libraries, parks, central markets, wide avenues, and systematically named streets; close to two hundred thousand people live in ang mo kio.
aj points out the new, taller, spiffier hdb blocks. these are thirty storeys high, five more than the older point blocks. the housing development board’s ubiquitous public housing estates are getting more swish names now, this one is teck ghee vista. there’s a “condofication” we decide of the hdb… they’re getting aspirational.
we take the elevator to the top floor of a tower and sigh at the view. all that pink sky, green bishan park, faraway golden domes of a temple, rows of buildings, and red and white flag. aj tilts his phone and gets a shot. it looks like it’s been taken from a helicopter, he says looking pleased. it’s fun to walk with this mama from singapore, really. mama, that’s what i think indians and those of indian origin are called… but again, i don’t quite pronounce it right. some day, i may get the perfect singapore intonation.
i look at the smiling faces of people from four communities on the national day parade 2016 banners, the icon with the number 51 in a red heart. there are people from different age groups belonging to the main ethnic groups of singapore on the banners and posters. multiracial, multicultural, ideas i used to take for granted, now under such threat. here in singapore, the ideal remains and not just on government communication.
road to singapore, ang mo kio avenue 6, ang mo kio central 2, ang mo kio avenue 8, ang mo kio central 1, ang mo kio avenue 3, ang mo kio avenue 1, ang mo kio street 31, 21/07/2016 #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.
my helicopter shot.
the amk town hub
trains, buses, cars, cycles…
brand new condo by the old hdb blocks… centro residences.
amk central got plenty good food.