Kampung Buangkok
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By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chillis and limes grow in a lush garden between colorful cement houses with leaking metal roofs in Kampong Buangkok, a village with no roads or computers.

The sight would be nothing out of the ordinary in much of southeast Asia. But Singapore’s last village, nestled in a forest clearing, is an oddity in the sophisticated city-state where skyscrapers and high-speed Internet are the norm.

Simple kampongs — the Malay word for village — were synonymous with disease and poor sanitation when they went out of style as Singapore introduced government housing in the 1960s.

Mass relocations to tower block Housing Development Board (HDB) flats saw the number of kampongs dwindle. Once home to 40 families, sole survivor Kampong Buangkok now houses only 28, who fiercely guard community bonds among arching banana trees.

“I know all my neighbors, we meet every day, doors open. It’s not like the HDB flats, where you can live and not know anyone,” said Ramlah binte Kamsah, a secretary in her mid-forties who has lived in the kampong for 40 years.

The village in northeast Singapore, the size of three football fields, has few cars.

“They always ask me if I want to build a road here, but I tell them — no road. Real kampongs don’t have roads,” said Sng Mui Hong, owner of the land of Kampong Buangkok, gesturing to the dirt path which runs through the village.

Sng, who is single and in her fifties, inherited the piece of land from her father. While the booming economy and an influx of foreigners has led to a red hot property market, her rates are as low as $6.50 ($4.45) a month — prices maintained for 30 years.

“If you increase the rent and the prices outside go up, how will the people in here cope?” said Sng, who added that most kampong dwellers are poor and shun Singapore’s glitzy malls.

Hitting Heritage

Built 60 years ago on low-lying land, the kampong has weathered many floods.

But the biggest danger it faces is not a natural disaster, but Singapore’s voracious appetite for land.

In Singapore, history and heritage are often found at the receiving end of a wrecking ball.

The space-starved island, about one third the size of Greater London, has one of the world’s highest population densities. For decades it has reclaimed land from the sea and razed landmarks to make space for development.

“Of course we want to preserve the kampong — sentimental fools like us. These are the last traces of old Singapore, everything old has been torn down,” said Victor, 51, a blogger who writes about life in old Singapore.

However, a government plan aims to turn the kampong into schools and housing.

“Given the need to optimize the use of land in land scarce Singapore, it may not be viable to retain the kampong in its current state,” said a spokeswoman from the government redevelopment agency.

Sng has made it clear to private developers that she does not intend to sell her land. But the reality is she would have to sell the land to the government if required, based on the state’s laws. Some villagers fear they may only have a year left.

Tan Choon Kuan, 75, comes to the kampong every Sunday with his family to paint. His grandson Nicholas Goh, 17, said the kampong is a “refreshing change from urban Singapore,” as they sat next to half-painted canvasses and smoking mosquito coils.

“I can’t do much about the government plans to redevelop the land. But by painting these scenes, I preserve it for the future generations,” Tan said, dabbing brush strokes on a leafy picture.

(Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Gillian Murdoch)

Pseudonymity: Left only with memories

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