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The pumping pistons of the Singaporean dream machine are in full swing, turning this former rural backwater into the modern metropolis we know today. This sweeping modernisation definitely has its good points; Singapore has become the safest, cleanest and richest country in Southeast Asia, but at what cost?
Turn the clock back 50 or 60 years and a different picture of Singapore emerges. Dirt roads wind through small villages (kampongs), chickens roam through overgrown gardens, the only thing dominating the skies are the heat and the haze, and people don’t work insane overtime hours just to get ahead. Some would call this paradise, but some would rather destroy this way of life in favour of progress. That progress has bought wealth to the nation, but such a large lifestyle shift, in only 1 or 2 generations, left a hole in the soul of the country.
For better or worse this is the way of the world, but where Singapore stands out is that the people have no option for a quieter, rural life. Even in the most developed countries people still have the chance to head out of the cities to live in any way they see fit. Not in Singapore though. That option has been taken away; it’s the city life or nothing. Sure, they could move to another country (Malaysia is a close neighbour) and many do, but a Singaporean who wants to stay in Singapore has no real rural option.
Enter Kampong Buangkok, the last Kampong in mainland Singapore. These kampongs have been steadily disappearing from the landscape since the 1970s, to be replaced by characterless public housing buildings. One day you were playing in the bush, swimming in dirty creeks and living in a place with a proper sense of community, the next you were stuck in a concrete box in the middle of a hastily erected new town. It’s hard to imagine the fate of Kampong Buangkok residents being any different; it’s amazing they’ve managed to hold onto this way of life for so long, every year now seems like a bit of a bonus.
I visited Kampong Buangkok recently and it’s a place that every visitor to Singapore should check out. Just before we entered we saw a dead rat on the street, my first in Singapore. It was a sign that we were about to slip into another world, a world that at first looked like the kind of place you might get murdered with a chainsaw by some redneck family. Once you spend some time there it becomes apparent it’s just a quiet and peaceful village filled with people who want to hold on to their traditions.
There are no sites, museums or cafes in Kampong Buangkok and a visit there takes no longer than 30 minutes, but it is a truly unique place, a place I hope survives for many years to come. I first found out about it on the blog remembersingapore and what struck me about the article were all the comments left by Singaporeans. There seemed to be a genuine sadness that the kampong way of life has all but disappeared, a sentiment that I’m sure is shared by many of the older citizens in Singapore.
I had a great time looking around Kampong Buangkok, but it was also kind of saddening that the 28 families it currently houses are the only people in Singapore (apart from the residents of Pulau Ubin) that get to experience the traditional Singaporean way of life.