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Singapore's last kampong

When the machine of industry rolled through Singapore in the 1960s, many kampongs (villages) were replaced with newer government subsidised HDB flats.

These flats were erected in what was once open land full of villages. As more were demolished for the purpose of building new estates and schools, kampongs in metropolitan Singapore gradually became something for the history books.

It isn't surprising then that many people have not heard of Kampong Buangkok.

Protected from the ravages of urbanization, Singapore's last kampong lies in the north-eastern side of the island, hidden behind thick shrubbery and mangrove trees.

Unlike anything else here, the kampong's distinctive rural look stands out mightily.

The current owner, Ms Sng Mui Hong had inherited the land (the size of three football fields) from her father, who bought it in 1956.

Not long after the land was purchased trajedy struck. Her mother unfortunately passed away.That death became the cornerstone of a poignant realization that the land was more than just dirt and sand. 

To Ms Sng, the kampong is her legacy and not something to be gambled away for money. Taking after her father, she has stoically defended the way of life for as long as the land became her responsibility.   

Over time, that steadfast responsibility extended to about forty households but that number had eventually dwindled to roughly 28 families; most of whom have lived and grown up there for over fifty years.

Even though many have left the kampong, those that remained are unsurprisingly reluctant to leave the relaxed atmosphere and wide spaces for the sprawling and dense metropolis threatening to streamroll across their humble village.

Of course, being situated in a place where the rest of Singapore would not think to look contributed to its continued preservation.

Hand written signboards and overgrown trees are the only indication that an entire community exists within the dense vegetation.

But even as the world rolled by, in the kampong Singapore was barely a day out of the 60s.

The roofs are made of zinc and tin, a hallmark of old architecture. The houses are built with wood and the exteriors are painted by the owners.

 

Wood is also a building requisite as the flood prone land is muddy. Building homes out of brick and mortar would cause them to sink into the already soft ground.

Not so great for building houses but fortunately, it makes it ideal for gardening. As per its quaint and inclusive image reminiscent of yesteryear, some families keep gardens to grow plants and rear chickens in for food.

Afterall, with an abundance of fruit trees, meat and eggs grown in their backyard, the residents have little need to leave their kampong save for work.

And if you thought that was amazing, rent too is cheap and truly affordable.

Ranging anywhere between $6.50 and $30 a month for a 1,500 sq.ft single storey house, this is the most affordable housing on the island. 

In fact, with such low rents, some of the residents can afford to own cars.

For Ms Sng, her family and friends whom she's known since she was a child, the day when the government takes back the land and builds over it looms like a thunderstorm in the horizon.

Yet, while their way of life is threatened by urbanization's voracious appetite, Ms Sng and the other residents have accepted this potential inevitability.

However, when that day comes , it is not just their way of life that will go extinct, but ours as well.

Over the years, our national identity and heritage have fallen aside as the country rushes madly to increase GDP growth and portray itself as a comopolitan city. What national identity is marketed is a watered down, specifically tailored to arouse the appropriate mass response. Our true heritage that was forged in dirt, grime, blood and sweat has been eroded by the mass media message to the world. 

But in the kampong, that heritage lies firmly in the communities that have formed since the early days; a true cosmopolitan community that came together regardless of race or religion to pave the way for future generations.

The residents of Kampong Buangkok are our last link to that heritage. It is a living testament of our national identity still clinging stubbornly to life.  

Like Ms Sng who keeps the land in memory of her mother, so too should we strive to keep the memory of our own humble heritage from eroded until it is no more.

The kampong should be preserved and left to thrive on its own instead of being disrupted or left to an uncertain fate. 

It too is our legacy and it's important we defend it or risk losing it forever.

Check out images of Kampong Buangkok (taken by Nikki Diane De Guzman) on our Pinterest Board!

Written by: Christopher Chitty

A version of this article was published in theFebruary 2013 issue of the PropertyGuru. To read of subscribe to the latest digital issue, please visit The PropertyGuru.

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