punggol apparently means “hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground” in malay. it also may refer to a wholesale market for fruits and vegetables. i had never heard of this area in the northeast of singapore till one day someone spoke of the wonderful seafood you get out there. a couple of years later, i heard punggol mentioned in the prime minister’s national day speech, seemed it was going to be developed and in a few years’ time become a great place to live in.
the other day when we decided to go and walk there i had no idea what to expect. the first thing i saw were the cranes. there were so many of them poking out between buildings spread across a huge area… some buildings were ready, some still under construction. then came rows of skyscrapers. what are these, i asked aj. i was surprised to hear they were hdb blocks. they looked lighter and trendier than the ones you usually see. and they were taller too. very densely packed.
we started our walk near a canal which was serene, reflections undulated, a couple of motor boats moved about somnolently, cleaning the waters. the slopes around were being landscaped and prettified you could see. young plants everywhere, many shades of green.
the sun blazed, a white heat in it. aj asked me if we should turn toward the beach or walk in, heading for the new town coming up on the other side. something made me say i didn’t want to go to the beach.
so we strode off in the direction of a bank of white and green buildings we could see from where we stood… the sun chased us everywhere. before us rose wave upon wave of hdbs, some were predictable and in neat blocks, some looked more modern and had “long windows”, there was one which had this continuous winding structure, a sixties feel to it. many were still under construction.
on rails high above ground, driverless light rail transit or lrt coaches moved noiselessly about. the punggol lrt. the station was snazzy and “futuristic” with its curved contours of steel and glass. i was astonished once more by the cleverness of the idea of lrt coach windows getting smoky when passing by tall residential towers so one couldn’t look inside people’s homes. really, technology.
the sun had me dizzy by now. there was a crazy intensity to the blue, white and green all around, suddenly a huge orange vehicle appeared, one of those construction site monsters. i ran toward the cover of the mrt/lrt station.
we walked under the tracks. in my head the place was beginning to look more and more surreal… like we were on another planet or something.
aj told me young couples were buying homes in this new town. soon i knew that feeling of newness would go, a whole lot of people would come and settle down in these not yet ready buildings. kids, schools, life, traffic, noise… it would become just another neighbourhood.
today before writing, i whatsapped an ex-colleague and asked, “once upon a time was punggol considered ulu?”
she replied, “yes.”
ulu, pronounced oo-loo, means a remote far off palce, not exactly where you’d want to hang out.
i also read about the punggol beach massacre.
on 28 february 1944, during the second world war, about a thousand chinese civilians were rounded up from upper serangoon, brought to the beach we might have walked to, and killed by the bojo kempei, the japanese auxillary military police.
two hundred odd years ago, before sir stamford raffles landed in singapore, people from around the region, the malays, the chinese, came and made their homes here near the punggol jetty and a kampong, a simple settlement, took shape; around fishing, growing vegetables and fruits, raising poultry and pigs. today not a trace of all that is visible anywhere, funny how places change through time. who’d believe there were thatched attap huts here once. or that at the beach nearby a thousand people lost their lives in a war that we so often associate with the west.
a sadness lingers. a beach always sounds like fun, doesn’t it.
wrote this soon after the walk in march 2015.
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 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 52.