Friday, September 3, 2010

Charming Changi, Rustic Ubin





My kids' loving godma Angele (NOT a typo) is my go-to person for ideas to 'edutain' my restless monsters. Last Wednesday was a school holiday in Singapore, being Teacher's Day.
Both of us, with four kids in tow, hopped on the public bus No.2 through old Changi. With sprawling grounds that once housed the colonial British military, Changi still retains the essence of an era that no longer exists. A quick travel through it brings to mind what life must have been like when the soldiers lived there and Singapore was still a colony. It's a slice of important history and of all the places I love in Singapore, I truly sincerely hope that the government will preserve the area for generations to experience.
The area is significant for my family for several reasons:
- In the 60s, my older sisters would drive there to buy fresh coconut drinks, fish or just picnic.
- In the 50s and 60s, my family spent weekends and Christmases at a bungalow in Loyang. The beach was reclaimed and the structure and its surroundings were later steamrolled to make way for the airport runways.
- My family would constantly preface every nostalgic moment about Changi with "Poor Sharon, she wasn't born yet and she missed those good old days".

Never mind. While a few of them were living in London in the 70s, my neighbors Aunty Paddy and Uncle Chou would take me, along with their charges, to their Changi Swimming Club on Friday nights. It was a precursor to what my own sister does with my kids today, bringing them to swim at one of the clubs. Back then, the adults played tombola while the kids swam in the pool, had dinner of fried rice smothered with ketchup, and then watched movies in the open-air hall which jutted out into the sea. With seawaves calling in the background, I saw 'The Pink Panther' and 'The Thief of Baghdad' there. When 'Jaws' came out, the kids either wanted very badly to swim in the dark sea thereafter, or run as far away as possible from the beach. Cowardly me was the latter, of course.

We also passed through the famous Changi prison now quadrupled in size but still retaining the old watchtowers with antique search beams. I speculate that this is probably where my addictive Polar curry puffs and chicken pies are made by prisoners. Angele and I also talked about the spooky old Changi Hospital which has since been left empty and derelict. Back in the 70s, even while driving past the well-lit building with its long-stemmed ceiling fans and open-air wards set on a hilltop, one could feel the isolation and grimness of this outpost. It was the military hospital for the British, and was apparently used as a torture site during the Japanese Occupation. No prizes for guessing what supposedly comes after in the paranormal sphere.

The bus ride eventually led us to our destination - Changi Point Ferry Terminal. A ten minute wait to gather twelve passengers enabled us to take a rickety bumboat across the sea. A short ten minutes later and we landed at Pulau Ubin.

Ubin is a good example of the government's effort to preserve something old after a frenzy of building everything new. Yet, there's nothing contrived about this place. There is still lush rainforest and sprinkles of old kampong houses with authentic residents to boot.
The way to the mangrove swamp was to hike or bike there - or in our case, haggle with a van driver for a round trip, in the process receiving stares from nature lovers for polluting hallowed grounds. We strolled on the boardwalk through the swamp. I'm no fan of snakes (only reason why I've never made it to Africa though I am a big animal lover), and was jumpy that one would greet me. Thankfully, they gave me a pass. But by the time we got to the seaside jetty, the breeze and lull of the sea made for a thankfulness that we had come all this way. And for me, a disbelief that this was a cheap and equally good alternative to The Datai in Langkawi. My mind was racing to think up of an eco-resort one could potentially build on Ubin.

Ubin was a highlight for me when I was 14. As part of the National Cadet Corps, we were required to attend the Outward Bound School. We learnt how to tie the ends of the legs of pants to make an emergency floating device if stranded at sea. I learnt to sail. Most memorable is the exercise where we were shuffled down a manhole, only to get stuck in the middle of the dark tunnel because the OBS instructors had sent down another team to the manhole on the other end. The objective was overcoming panic, the fear of darkness and confined space.

We ended our trip with lunch at the seafood restaurant not too far from the jetty. The restaurant was a throwback to the old Punggol seafood stalls in the 70s, with natural sea breeze and sunlight filtering in, amidst upright plastic tanks of fish and crab.

The excursion was one that my father would have done in a heartbeat ten years ago with his posse of old retirees. A bus ride, a cheap boatride and a leisurely outing to an environment of their youth. Ange and I were very satisfied with our day's activity and so were the kids. They may not have exhibited any form of epiphanous insight but I'm sure they will recall the adventure with fondness sometime later.

The next day, Ange and I met up with an old KC friend for breakfast. We got a kick out of taking a drive to see the old Changi Hospital, up close.








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