An interview with a Lorong Buangkok Kampong Resident

Singapore's last surviving Kampong is but a few kilometres away from Jalan Kayu. the Jalan Kayu Team brings you an exclusive interview with a long-time resident of this last kampong on mainland Singapore. The lady's name is "Chris" as she prefers to be known in this interview.

Q: How long have you been staying in the kampong?
A: 34 years

Q: Is the property owned by you or rented from another?
A: It is rented. The land is privately owned. The houses though were built by ourselves. So basically we would just rent the land from the owner but the cost of building the house falls onto us.

Q: Does this apply to all the residents or just you?
A: All the residents rent the land and build their own houses

Q: What can you tell me about this kampong?
A: In the past, about 10 years ago, a big developer made plans to buy over the land. I’m that the land wasn’t sold because if it was then this whole kampong would be gone.

Q: So who does this land belong to now?
A: The land belongs to the one of the residents who is still living inside here.

Q: How would you address him/her?
A: I believe her name is Mui Hong and she stays inside. She will be able to contribute whatever information that I cannot provide.

Q: This whole land (Kampong Lor Buangkok) belongs to her correct?A: Yes….Actually her dad but then it was passed down to her after he died.

Q: How many families are still living in here and which race is the predominant one?
A: About 28 families and most of them are malay. The thing about a kampong is that people come and go thus it keeps changing and there are still Chinese around.

Q: So if you were returning from, say the airport how would you tell the taxi driver to bring you here?
A: I would just tell him, Yio Chu Kang Lorong Buangkok. We don’t usually call this place a kampong.

Q: How long has the kampong been around?
A: Easily more than 50 years and above.

Q: Then could you tell us more about your life as you grew up in the kampong? Maybe what you did for entertainment and how you went to school?
A: The most common entertainment at that time when we were kids was marbles. This was swiftly followed by matchbox cars, catching and hide-and-seek. The kids also caught spiders and went fishing. Especially since there was a fishing pond behind my house. The pond belonged to a chinese family and during the weekend, we would buy our own fishing hooks and make our own fishing rods. This was definetly unlike the modern day fishing with its mechanized fishing rods. The owner knew of us fishing in his pond but back in those days we were all very neighborly and thus he did not mind. We also dug for worms to use as bait.

Q: Wow I have never played or done some of those things before.
A: The kampong is naturally very close to nature and I find that it’s a shame that children nowadays cannot get to do any of these things. I had 3 brothers then and we would play everything from match box cars to hide-and-seek. These were the games, the entertainment that we had back then.

Q: So was your school around this area?
A: Yes I shifted here when I was in primary 2. I was in the school that later became known as Crescent girls. That was when I was still staying at Holland road. After I shifted here then I went to Yio Chu Kang Primary.

Q: Where was Yio Chu Kang Primary?
A: It was somewhere in Hougang. Actually it is just next to the salvation army and a condominium.

Q: Was the school near enough for you to walk there?
A: Yes it was but usually my dad would drive us there though the walk to school was a very good one because we could walk by what is now the current Buangkok Green. There were a lot of flats there and it was a land full of colonial housing. It was very English like. I had a friend who stayed inside the area. We used to walk home together past Buangkok green. It was close to nature then, but now it is all cold hard concrete.

Q: Do you work in the kampong you stay in?
A: Generally, people who stayed in the kampong left for work by buses in the morning. The kampong is mainly residential and we do rear some animals like chickens for food.

Q: Did the government have any plans to develop the area?
A: The government did not plan to develop the area but a private developer offered to buy over the area. They did not agree on the price though and the plan fell through. There used to be a leprosy home, called “Sila Leprosy Home”, down the lane where I live on but it had been demolished already. They were all shifted to the mental hospital. The government wanted to acquire the land for housing estates.

Q: How was life like under the Japanese Occupation?
A: My parents used to tell me that there wasn’t much changes to their lifestyle during Japanese Occupation. They used to stay in another kampong at Holland Road and life in kampong was peaceful then.

Q: Did the race riots in the early 1960s affect the kampong?
A: The race riots did not affect us because we rented the houses to a lot of Malay people back in the kampong at Holland Road. We enjoyed good relations with the Malays and we lived peacefully together.

Q: What’s your opinion on the kampong being dubbed as “the last kampong”?
A: I felt that it was a shame that the kampong is fast disappearing. So many people who once lived here are shifting away because of their families. They grew up here since young, got married, shifted out and moved on with their lives. There was no reminiscence. I have stayed here for 32 years and I love the nature. Staying in flats makes me claustrophobic. I asked friends who stayed in flats and they did not even know who their neighbours were. I used to visit another friend of mine in a private estate and I hardly saw any neighbours around. People are so caught up in their own lives and have turned self-centred. You do not get to see such kampong friendliness around anymore.

Q: Are there any examples to show that the environment in kampongs was really so different from staying in flats?
A: I can hear the birds chirping and raindrops splattering on your rooftops. The air I breathe feels so refreshing. My father used to grow flowers and curry leaves. Unlike kampong, housing estates appear more cooped up and you’re devoid of human interaction. I feel so much closer to nature.

Q: So where is your favourite hide out in the kampong?
A: I like the entire area around my place. If you appreciate nature, even the smallest life form is beautiful. When my nieces and nephews come for a visit, they’ll play traditional games like catching and chasing around. But all they do in their homes are just computer games all day long. If the government does not resettle us, I’ll remain here in this kampong as long as I can.

Q: Do you think the government will resettle you?
A: Yes I think so. I got the hint when the government closed down the leprosy home. It was like a hint to us all. People’s reaction was “Oh, the leprosy home has been shifted, so we will be shifted too?” A representative from the Ministry of Environment came down for a check on dengue fever recently. The elderly here will feel very reluctant to leave, so they will cherish the time they have left here in this kampong. An Indian gentleman told me that he returns to India without fail every year when he takes his annual leave. Even after staying in flats for 30 years, he could not get use to it.

Q: Are there more concrete hints to imply the government’s intention of resettling the kampong?
A: No, it was just hearsay but we took the relocation of the leprosy home as a hint.

Q: Has anyone written in to newspapers or ministries requesting for the kampong to stay?
A: No, as far as I know of, no one has written in. We recognize our common sentiments when we spoke to each other on this issue. If the government intends to sell the land, we will acquire it.

Q: Life in kampong seems slow paced and carefree. So do you find any pitfalls or problems staying in a kampong?
A: People complain about the mosquito. My brother who grew up in the kampong, now staying in a flat, visits my parents occasionally. When his family sees the mosquitoes, they would run miles away. Their lifestyles have changed so much. They grew up in the kampong area since young, so it’s unfair to complain about the mosquitoes. I have a friend who stays in Jalan Riduk. It is a private estate, but the mosquitoes there are fanatic. Basically, if you get used to the mosquitoes, falling leaves and the heat, the kampong wouldn’t be a bad place to live in.

Q: From the papers, there has been flooding in recent years. Was that an acute problem?
A: 20 years ago there was a big flood that occurred. It affected our work land, the place where we built our houses, because it was built on a lower height. After we shifted, we raised the height of our houses and flooding was never a problem since. It was a rather bad flood to waist level high. We had to use a sampan to shift people out temporarily. The flood was probably caused by the bad drainage around Jalan Kayu. It subsided pretty quickly though. A big drain was created after the flood.

Q: I read that some polytechnic students actually came to help out with the flooding?
A: Yes. Over the past few years, students have been coming down to do their projects. They just come and go. Nothing much was done though. There was once an MP came down too but it was more for publicity sake. I believe if the government intends to retain the area, they would have implementations or contributions to make the cause worthwhile.

Q: Throughout all these times that you’ve stayed here, were there any crimes that occurred or attempted?
A: Yes there was one incident where my father’s bicycle parked in front of our house got stolen. Otherwise the area is rather safe. It’s safe even into the wee hours.

Q: Do the Malay residents here converse in English?
A: No, they converse in Malay.

Q: So were you fluent in Malay?
A: No, just mediocre because we used to rent out the place to Malays in the past.

Q: How much has the kampong shrunk over the years?
A: At least 70%

Q: Is that figure in terms of the number of people or the number of houses?
A: 70% refers to the number of people. The number of houses has probably shrunk by 50%. There are a few big houses on stilts opposite my place. The owner of the Tian Hua Press owns them. He rents the land nearby out to the welding industries.


Anonymous said…
i am doing a project. an animation to be exact. and your interview surely helped me on the project.i want to say thanks to 'chris', the lady who was interviewed. my animation is about afour girls trying to save the kampong from an impersonater. if i win this project for my school, i will tell you about the story. if not, i will still sy thanks again.

bye, huamin.
Anonymous said…
Dear Huamin,

Could you leave the JK Trail team your contact? Email us so we can stay in touch.

Jk Trail Team
Anonymous said…
Hi my school is interested in doing a school holiday trip to the kampong (life style awareness). we need help. could someone advise on how to go by it.
Any help and advise is much appreciated. said…
hey JK trail team

I am a student from NJC and we are currently doing a project on the conservation on kampong also. We are thinking about getting a website for the kampong and creating a documentary. You interview has been very helpful and I'd like to say thank you here. By the way, Do you mind if I put your essay on our website cos this is a really good one?

oh and my email is
thank you
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