04 January 2009

Kampong Buangkok in the New York Times

"Urban Singapore Prepares to Gobble Up Its Last Village" the article headlines. When it is gone, one of the world’s most extreme national makeovers will be complete, it declares.
Photo by Jessdo from habitatnews flickr

Will Singapore school children then have to go to Johor to experience their natural heritage?

from Urban Singapore Prepares to Gobble Up Its Last Village
Seth Mydans, The New York Times 3 Jan 09;
Under the city’s master plan, at an unannounced date Kampong Buangkok will be “comprehensively developed to provide future housing, schools and other neighborhood facilities,” said Serene Tng of the Urban Redevelopment Authority in an e-mail message.

Ms. Sng, 55, is now the landowner, wheeling her bicycle among the metal-roofed, one-story homes of her tenants, who are also her friends and pay only nominal rents for their houses.

Fruits and flowers cluster in the village like endangered species in a vanishing ecosystem. There are tiny guavas and giant papayas, yams and tapioca plants, dill and edible bamboo shoots, bougainvillea and hibiscus. Snakes and lizards scurry through the undergrowth, and tiny fish swim in a tiny stream.

Through the trees in all directions, the people of Kampong Buangkok can glimpse the government housing blocks that represent their future.

In modern Singapore, few neighbors know each other, said Sarimah Cokol, 50, who grew up in Kampong Buangkok and now lives in one of the apartments that people here call pigeonholes. “Open door, close door,” she said in the terse speech of no-nonsense Singapore. “After work, go in. Close door.”

Other articles

Rush for land to sweep away last Singapore village
Melanie Lee, Reuters 21 Dec 07;
also in Business Times 22 Dec 07 as Singapore's last kampung
Built 60 years old 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.

"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.

from Singapore's last kampung worth $33m but landowner won't sell
Bryna Sim Straits Times 5 Aug 07
Ms Sng Mui Hong is determined to sit tight on her sizeable piece of land in Punggol. 'My father bought this land, it has much sentimental value for me,' she said. 'I would feel trapped in a flat.'

The rent of the 20 families who live in the kampung's self-built zinc-roofed huts ranges from $6.50 to $30 a month. Their huts are an average of about 1,500 sq ft each, and range from three to five rooms, depending on how their dwellers chose to build them. They have basic utilities such as running water and electricity, and are surrounded by jackfruit and banana trees, as well as chilli padi and lime plants.

from Owner of $33m Kampung: My family ties are not for sale
Hedy Khoo New Paper 20 Aug 07
The 54-year-old feisty land owner has been in a foul mood since recent news reports suggested the land she co-owns in Lorong Buangkok is worth $33 million.

Said Ms Sng in Mandarin: 'Since the reports, all sorts of strangers have come to the kampung.' She wants one thing made clear: 'I am not rich, and I am not selling my land.'

She said: 'I take after my father in my philosophy of life. As long as I have enough to eat, I don't hunger after money or to be rich.'

'Even if the land is really worth much, and I can sell the land and move to a huge bungalow with a big backyard, I can never regain this feeling of simplicity and freedom, and be close to my childhood memories.'

But not all visitors are unwelcome. Ms Sng said: 'I love students who come to do projects or field trips, because they can learn so much about nature here.' And those interested to learn that family ties are not for sale may also want to drop by.

This New York Times article was also carried in the Jakarta Globe, 5 Jan 09.

More links


  1. PAP spents millions to build a fake Malay Kampong at Geylang Serai to draw visitors, and failed. Now, they want to tear down the last Malay Kampong.

  2. My great grandma lived in a kampung off Rangoon Road till the mid 1980s. She was the landlord surrounded by families who were her tenants but didn't pay her rent. The government took her land, compensating her a mere $150K. My great grandma, then close to 90, ended up in a 3-room HDB flat. And what happened to the land? It is now occupied by private apartment blocks.

  3. I personally used Ms Sng's bathroom because I had a film shoot in front of her home and had to wash away dirt. She was very down to earth and kind and talked a lot with me and all the while, I never knew who she really was. She even allowed me to shake a coconut tree to pluck some coconuts. I'm sure they were coconuts worth millions. enduredude@singnet.com.sg

  4. Thanks for sharing that experience. Yes, those coconuts, and all our wild and natural places are priceless!



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