Friday, 1 August, 2014

 
Published August 09, 2013
Home & Garden
No place like home
What do the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Marina Bay and Tiong Bahru Market have in common? They are some of the favourite spots of 12 well-known Singaporeans as shared with BT. This National Day, let's celebrate the special corners that we hold dear
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FASCINATING SYMMETRY
This photo of the only diamond-shaped flat in Singapore (Block 63 to 66 Yung Kuang Road) is featured in Soh's new book on disappearing landscapes. - PHOTO: DARREN SOH

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'I did visit the (Botanic) Gardens in my younger days and also when my now grown-up kids were toddlers, but now I feel I can better appreciate the space and greenery.'
- Mr Lim

Darren Soh, 37

Award-winning photographer whose new photography book looks at Singapore's disappearing landscapes

"IN the past 10 years, I've been taking thousands of photos of old places and spaces that are deemed too banal or insignificant to be conserved by the government. They include ageing flats, old playgrounds, Big Splash, and the recently demolished Queenstown cinema.

Many of these places were built in the 1960s and 1970s. And because they have no so-called 'colonial' or 'historical' characteristics , they are deemed not worthy of being conserved. But the truth is that, for a lot of Singaporeans, they are reminders of who we are and where we come from - not just potential locations for new condos or malls.

One of the places that strike me as strange and wonderful is this diamond-shaped block of flats, Block 63 to 66, on Yung Kuang Road. Built in the 1960s or the 1970s, it looks like a quirk of urban planning because it consists of four blocks, each a massive 21-storeys high, facing each other to form a diamond shape.

It is the only one of its kind in Singapore and it has a kind of fascinating symmetry you won't find anywhere else.

I know it will be torn down to make way for a development someday - which is why I've captured it and included it in my new photography book.

I titled the book For My Son because it documents the places and spaces my young son will never get to see or play in."

'For My Son' is the first of 20 books by famous and emerging Singapore photographers. Visit twentyfifteen.myshopify.com


Eric Khoo, 45

Filmmaker

"I LOVE the wanton mee at Guangzhou Wanton Mee at Tanglin Halt Market and Food Centre. I have been coming here for over 10 years already. In the old days they would operate through the night, and I would come here at five in the morning for breakfast. This is my soul food - I have my bowl with two spoonfuls of chilli, I will mix it up and add a bit of soup and stir it all together.

Ever since my first film, Mee Pok Man, food is a constant theme. When it comes to Singapore, what can we really call our own? Our food! We have all these different races that came here, and while we can hit one end of the island to the other in 50 minutes, what fascinates me is the diversity of food.

Food is about memories; I am currently working on my latest project, Recipe, with the Health Promotion Board about Alzheimer's disease, and it stars Zoe Tay.

I am reminded of how flavours and taste can bring you back. To be honest, a lot of local hawker fare does not look all that titillating - but the minute it goes into your mouth, for $2.50 or $3, my gosh, I don't need any three-starred Michelin restaurant."


Lim Choon Hong, 54

Founder and managing director of Xtra Designs

"I'VE come to the stage of my life where I long for nature, peace, and open spaces. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is my favourite place.

I only started going there about three months ago, when I was recuperating from an operation. It is across the road from Gleneagles Hospital where I was at. I've discovered that the Gardens is a place I really like. My wife, Sara, and I would take a walk through the Gardens, and then have a coffee, before we would head to the hospital for my check-ups. Being in the Gardens you can feel that life slows down, and things are unhurried.

One time on a weekend, together with my wife and two kids, we had a picnic there. It was fun, but not as pleasant as being in the Gardens on a weekday, when there are fewer people.

I did visit the Gardens in my younger days and also when my now grown-up kids were toddlers, but now I feel I can better appreciate the space and greenery. The Gardens is a lovely oasis, a real haven, especially in the city.

In the last few months, I have gone there about four times. I want to go more often, but since returning to work, the phone calls start coming in and it becomes difficult to find time to go.

I have a group of old school mates who often go there to exercise. I hope to join them soon."


Zizi Azah, 32

Playwright and artistic director of Teater Ekamatra

"I'M leaving for New Haven on Aug 20, and will be there for three years with my husband and daughter. I am a little nervous about the move - I feel I'm leaving behind my youth and the protected life I have in Singapore.

My identity is tied to my memories - the physical memory of the past may not exist anymore, but who I am stems from my experiences. And these give me a sense of belonging; a sense of being home.

Bedok has always given me that sense of belonging. I grew up in Block 90 at Bedok North Street 4 and moved out when I was eight.

But I spent most of my life there because my baby-sitter lived in my old block; my parents worked shifts so she looked after me every day. I used to hang out and play with my friends in the neighbourhood.

Now, I visit the area only once or twice a week. My husband and I enjoy going on drives through the streets; sometimes I like to annoy him by singing Madonna's This Used To Be My Playground.

What I like about Bedok is that it has not changed as much as the rest of Singapore has. Some of the old buildings have been replaced by new developments, but Block 90 is still there.

Change is good, but I think sometimes we quantify the monetary value of a place too much, to the point where we don't realise how much heritage is lost when the place is gone. It doesn't feel like anything is sacred anymore."


Ti Lian Seng, 59

Director at DP Architects

"My favourite place in Singapore is the Marina Bay area. The place has evolved and is still evolving into one of the most complete and integrated urban waterfront environments on the planet. This is the consummate cosmic centre of Singapore which is why I love it.

The mixture of historical and urban modern buildings alludes to Singapore's past and present as a global city; the developments around the Bay give it so much vibrancy, diversity, texture and depth. For me it is an irresistible and ever-changing place that one can go back to again and again.

I count myself very fortunate in the sense I go past and get to enjoy the view of the Bay every day on my way to and back from my office at Marina Square; but when it comes to actually going into the Bay area, I do that about twice a month.

I have been going to the Marina Bay area over the last 10 years. Of course, way back then, there were not that many developments and there was not a Bay as we know it today where a person could walk around. But you could already get a sense of its amazing potential.

When I am there, I walk around the Bay as part of my exercise regime.

But sometimes I simply sit at a park bench or lean against the rail looking across the water and I feel very humbled and inspired."


Jeremy Monteiro, 53

Composer and pianist

"I CYCLE to Bishan Park two to three times a week, normally at one in the morning. I will be working on my music, or I may be working on a proposal for a show, and wind down by coming here. I guess almost all my whole life I have been performing and finishing at 12 in the morning.

I love to be still - as a musician, there is always a whole lot of movement. To me the hallmark of a successful life is being able to balance motion and stillness; I'm always playing, I'm often talking and interacting with people, so that's why the stillness of Bishan Park, and being able to ride and to be still and calm my mind, appeals to me.

Music, melodies and inspiration come when I'm most quiet and not thinking and worrying. The Botanic Gardens is great, Gardens by the Bay and even East Coast Park as well, and I have cycled all the way from East Coast Park to Changi Village - a 20-kilometre ride. I would cycle all the way, burn off all my calories, have supper and take a cab home."


Chris Lee, 43

Founder and creative director of design agency Asylum

"THERE are many new places in Singapore these days, but I don't have any emotional attachment towards them the way I do to Queensway Shopping Centre.

I grew up in the Queensway area and lived there for 20 years before moving away. I now live in Balestier, but I still occasionally visit the shopping centre to buy sports equipment.

It has a unique, old-school layout and retro feel with all its nooks and crannies; walking through the place always gives me a sense of nostalgia.

I remember how during my schooling years, I would run away from school and head for the shopping centre, to play games, such as Galaga, Rally X and Pacman at the arcade. Strangely enough, I never got into much trouble for doing that, other than the one time when my father caught me. I was so engrossed in playing a game that it took me some time to notice his reflection on the screen. He was really angry and I got a big scolding.

The arcade has long since been torn down and most of the shops from my childhood are no longer there, but Queensway Shopping Centre still has a place in my heart as it holds so many good memories for me."


Royston Tan, 36

Filmmaker

"DAKOTA Crescent 'Doves' playground is very old school and it reminds me of my childhood. During the Mid-Autumn Festival my friends and I would burn lanterns here, and hide things like pocket money in some secret compartments. You will find secrets if you dig around the playground.

We played and got injured here, then learnt how to protect ourselves - it is not only a playground but also a learning ground.

There is a sudden emphasis recently on heritage projects, and many are initiated from the ground up. People feel that the landscape is changing too quickly and a crisis is coming up.

When I started working on the film installation Old Romances about two years ago, there were people from all walks of life calling in to a hotline, and they spoke about old places like playgrounds and hair salons, which formed a very interesting narrative thread of 45 places in Singapore. But by the time the film premiered in January this year, half the places were gone.

I think the youths of today can start by asking their family members what personal stories they have, and start documenting them. Everything starts from the family - we all have interesting stories about parents, and we have to get to know our dialect."


Genevieve Chua, 29

Full-time multidisciplinary artist

"IN Singapore, where every plot of land has to be accounted for, and things are quickly torn down and rebuilt, it is becoming rare to find areas that have prevailed despite all the changes around them.

So it came as a pleasant surprise three years ago, when I was walking along the KTM railway and stumbled upon a piece of farmland that was flourishing amidst the resilient weeds surrounding it.

Located behind Block 305 at Clementi Avenue 4, that stretch of vegetation was clearly well-maintained, with plants like okra and chili padi growing in separate plots. It seemed to have escaped the changes and development that the areas around it had undergone.

I later found out that residents in the area had been tending to the crops there for the past 30 years, simply for their love of gardening.

I visited that place a few more times after discovering it, the most recent being last month. I usually seek quiet places where I can contemplate my thoughts, but none have left on me an impression as strong as that plot of land. To me, it is a comforting place, a respite away from the rest of Singapore's changing landscape."


Lee Meng Joo, 54

Owner, Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton

Noodles, Tiong Bahru Market

"I STARTED out as a hawker's assistant in Tiong Bahru in 1983. The market's current structure was only built in 2006, when I opened my own stall. Before that, the market was really made up of three separate stretches: one along Seng Poh Road, one at Lim Liak Street and an open-air space at the back. Hawkers had fierce loyalties to the section they were in; there were even debates over which one had the best food. All that was lost when the hawkers were dispersed throughout the new market.

The old market was very dimly lit, the floors were paved with uneven, broken tiles and you might have a tree trunk growing out from behind your table. But people came because the food was good, and comfort was less of an issue.

The camaraderie between hawkers then was much stronger. With no physical walls between stalls, we would borrow salt and plastic bags from each other, and share extra food with our neighbours at the end of the day. Many famous artists and writers who lived in the neighbourhood would come regularly; this market has also bred many doctors and leading businessmen out of hawkers' sons. Many of the first-generation hawkers have since retired, and newer hawkers have come in, but the food quality is not as good anymore. Food cost was cheaper then and fish came fresh from the sea, not farms, and kampung chickens were allowed to grow in natural conditions for a longer time, not just 50 days.

Thankfully, rents in the market are still affordable today - they haven't risen as quickly as those in the private buildings outside, which have led many around here to shut down. But the government doesn't set any quotas on how many wanton mee stalls you can have in a market, so you still have to up your game. You can't get by just making mediocre food.


Malcolm Lee, 29

Chef/co-owner of Candlenut Kitchen

"I GREW up at Ang Moh Kio Street 62, attending nursery, kindergarten and primary school there. In fact, they were literally beside Ang Moh Kio 628 market - one of Singapore's hidden treasures. I can still remember the taste of the chicken rice, braised duck rice, fried carrot cake, bak chor mee, wanton noodles, barbecue chicken wings and barbecue seafood. And even though I have moved out from the area, I still go back when I can to have my favourite food.

I would take a walk around the block where I used to live and reminisce back on the days when we played soccer, and broke some lamps in the process; catching at the void deck; marbles and other games like Red Indian and Blind Cat at the playground, which still had sand then. I used to ride my BMX almost every day around the area, and I can still remember where I crashed and injured myself.

Just looking at my old neighbourhood, it has changed quite a bit - the playground is no longer there and as everything is new and upgraded; it just isn't the same anymore.

It has only been a little over 10 years and things have changed so much. But that really defines Singapore and who we are: we move quickly with the times and adapt to changes just as quickly.

But there is not much we can do about it - Singapore is small and we need to change quickly in order to survive. I would say, just treasure the memories we have and not lose them in the midst of the many changes happening around us."


Lee Guo Sun, 32

Lawyer/Supperclub owner/cookbook writer

"EVERY other Saturday back in the 80s and the early 90s (when people used to work half-days on Saturdays), my mum used to bring me to her workplace at Exeter Road, also known as ComCentre, where I would just hang around, read books or run around the fountain outside.

When my parents finished work, we would rush over to the Killiney Road Kopitiam, which was across the road, in an attempt to beat the lunch queue, and order their famous kaya toast and Hainanese coffee.

I remember seating inside a cramped old shophouse, with light streaming down from the airwell, me perched on a stool playing with my toys on the cold marble coffee table, the open top charcoal fires grilling the kaya toasts, and the large pot of kaya simmering gently on the charcoal stove.

We knew Killiney Kopitiam as Bulldog back then, thanks to this one grumpy and squat uncle with a furrowed brow, a stubby nose and sagging cheeks, barking out orders in Hainanese as the orders rolled in.

I hope that the old stalls and the traditions that come along with them would learn to modernise and evolve with the times and remain relevant - like the National Museum, the MITA building or the Fullerton Hotel. I don't think you can recreate the feel of a place, but we can preserve things like recipes and stories.

What I am worried about is the techniques and flavours which may be lost in the effluxion of time. And that my own kids may never know the taste of toast grilled on charcoal slathered with handmade kaya."

As told to Debbie Yong, Helmi Yusof, Natalie Koh, Sara Yap, Tan Teck Heng and Tay Suan Chiang