Note: Hi guys! Sorry for the radio silence on the blog these past two months or so- Sarach and I have been really busy with school and work, so it’s been difficult to sit down and write, let alone find cool things to write about. But the semester is over, summer break is here, and the blog posts are gonna come back. We promise.
Call me a weirdo, but I enjoy walking. I’ve got no problems walking from Dhoby Ghaut to Orchard, and if the weather wasn’t so warm, I’d walk a lot further. So when Eisen and Jinhua, my friends from the SG Twitterverse, asked me if I wanted to join the team for their iteration of Jane’s Walk this year, I was game.
Before I go on, let me explain what Jane’s Walk is all about. Jane’s Walk is a global event, a series of citizen-led walking tours, held every year on the first weekend of May in honour of urbanist Jane Jacobs, who championed a community-based approach to city planning and building. You can read more about her and about the whole Jane’s Walk process over on the main website, and it’s an interesting way to celebrate the life of a fascinating woman.
Eisen and Jinhua did a tour on Toa Payoh last year, but this year they focused their energies on a part of Singapore that’s going to disappear very soon – the old Woodlands Town Centre. Woodlands, as most of us know, is probably the main heart of Northern Singapore, and it’s centre right now is the area around the Causeway Point mall. However, before that was developed, its main centre was near the actual Causeway, filled with everything you’d expect in a town centre – supermarkets, hawker centres, kindergartens, theatres.
While the old Woodlands Town Centre (henceforth referred to as OWTC because I’m lazy to type the whole thing out every time) fell into a state of vague neglect as a result of the town centre shifting away, it still remained a home to many people, filled with shops still peddling their wares, hawker centres filled with delicious food and people living in the old-style walk-up HDB flats that don’t exist anymore. However, it’s going to be demolished to become an extension of Woodlands Checkpoint – meaning that all this brightly coloured history will soon be nothing but photographs and memory.
As a result, Eisen and Jinhua took people on a tour of the old neighbourhood, telling us stories of what it used to be. We must have walked at least 5KM each day, our journey taking us from Marsiling MRT Station all the way into the heart of OWTC.
We learnt about the history of Singapore’s North-South Line (did you know that Bukit Batok, Bukit Gombak and Choa Chu Kang stations used to be a separate branch line off Jurong East?), about an unsolved arson case that killed several people living in the shophouses, about the bizarre case of how one would clear Malaysian customs and ‘enter’ Malaysia at the old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station but only ‘exit’ Singapore at Woodlands, and about the interesting circular architecture of OWTC. We learnt about how tables have turned – OWTC used to be a popular spot for Malaysians to buy items like bedsheets because it was cheaper in Singapore, and how some things never change, like Singaporeans being identified by shopkeepers by going around in slippers.
Jinhua even had some vintage Coca-Cola glasses that he showed to the crowd, and I contributed an old VHS tape (of my K1 concert) to the tale of how the cinemas in OWTC struggled with the rise of VHS.
It was a very interesting experience, and I learnt a lot about a part of Woodlands that no one really thinks very much about. It’s a place rich in history, and lots of people have fond memories of the place. Many of the shopkeepers are holding out, refusing to move until they truly have no choice, and for some, the redevelopment of OWTC signals the end of businesses that have been around for decades. It certainly gave me a lot of food for thought – as Eisen asked the crowd, at the end of each walk: if a housing estate is redeveloped, and its residents moved and resettled elsewhere, did that housing estate really exist? It’s an interesting thing to mull over, and I’m afraid I don’t have an answer.
Musings aside, I had so much fun at #JanesWalkOWTC! It may not have been the best idea to walk all three days (we had a walk a day from Fri-Sun and by Saturday night my legs were shaking at the dinner table), but I had a great time. Here’s to more walks in the future, and to learning new things about Singapore ;D
P.S: I planned on doing a video about the Walk, but I’m having some trouble with my video-editing software so it’ll probably take me a while (: keep your eyes peeled.