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FOR YOUNG SINGAPOREANS, Punggol, with its numerous residential blocks and heartland malls, may seem like yet another housing estate.
But to older folks, Punggol offers plenty to reminisce about.
Punggol, sometimes also spelt as Ponggol, means "hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground" in Malay. Its name suggests that this was a fruit-growing area.
The original settlers here were mostly Malays, and it was believed that Ponggol existed 200 years ago before the founding of Singapore in 1819. When the early Chinese immigrants settled here later, they worked mostly in the rubber plantations. As their population grew, many started poultry, fish and pig farms.
The running joke was that you knew you were in Punggol when you could smell the stench from the pig farms.
Punggol also had its dark days. During World War II, in 1942, some 400 Chinese were massacred by the Japanese military at Punggol Point, in what's known as the Punggol Beach Massacre - part of the Sook Ching massacre. Today, that location has been marked as a national heritage site, with its own war memorial.
By the 1970s, the farms were slowly phased out to make way for urban development, and Punggol's last pig farm closed in 1990.
The government's initial plans to turn Punggol into a new housing concept with both private and public housing called Punggol 21 did not materialise fully as the economy was hit by the 1997 Asian crisis.
In 2007, the government rolled out the new improved Punggol 21 Plus as its vision for "A Waterfront Town of the 21st Century". Punggol now boasts waterway public housing, such as Waterway Terraces I and II, and is also home to eco-friendly housing, such as Treelodge@Punggol, with its green features.
But many will always remember Punggol for its seafood restaurants. There were two famous ones at Punggol Jetty - Choon Seng and Ponggol Seafood. Besides the delectable seafood dishes, the talking point was always about how the buses plying that area would have to make a three-point turn on the narrow road. The skilled bus drivers made sure that the buses never hit any of the diners or their cars that were parked on the roadside.
These days, drivers need not make that three-point turn. And thankfully, there are still seafood restaurants abound.
Ponggol Seafood is now located a stone's throw away from its original site, and its famed mee goreng is still on the menu.
Over at Punggol East, a short drive away from Punggol Jetty, are more seafood restaurants, and a container park, with hipster eateries.
But Punggol offers more than a haven for foodies. The estate appeals to nature lovers too.
Take a stroll or rent a bicycle and head to Coney Island, home to 80 species of birds, including the Baya Weavers.
Or practise your photo-taking skills at the eye-catching Lorong Halus Bridge before going to the Lorong Halus Wetland, an area rich in flora and fauna.
Ask any Punggol resident about My Waterway@Punggol, and they will beam with pride. The 4.2km waterway meanders through the residential estate, with plenty of photogenic stops along the way, such as the Jewel Bridge.
Non-Punggol residents may find the estate difficult to get to, but the MINI navigation system Professional on the MINI Cooper S Countryman means that no one will ever get lost.
From pig farms to a 21st century housing estate, Punggol has given its residents a breath of fresh air.
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