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Jul 7, 2017

Memories are the 'Soul of the Nation'

Ponggol (Punggol) Seashore in 1890 (Courtesy of NAS)

Teenagers having a picnic at Punggol Beach in 1949

Singapore has many stories to tell.  As a young nation with a culturally diverse population, Singapore has seen incredible growth and change over the past.  With development and progress comes a lot of changes from one generation to another generation.

In a time of ever-accelerating change, memory still provides important threads of identity and connection to the past.  Many people, the rich and famous or just the ordinary people in the street have shared their stories in books or other forms of media.  If their stories are not recorded for us to share, whole areas of social history risk being obliterated from memory altogether.

No two different people have the same life stories to tell; even among the twins, born by the same parents at the same birth place, same date but different time, a few minutes apart.

It is fortunate for those who have "memory-aids" of old photographs preserved in "treasure chests" (in boxes, photo albums or envelopes). However, these precious old photos were thrown away during the annual spring-cleaning to save storage spaces at home before the Chinese New Year.  They could so easily have been lost or simply decayed beyond recovery in our tropical climate.

Moreover, many people with personal stories may not be willing to share them as a matter of privacy or not feeling like telling them.

When they leave this world, all their memories would leave with them.  They did not realise that these stories could provide lessons to teach their children, grandchildren or great grandchildren for posterity.

On the other hand, these stories may not find a receptive audience at the right moment. The younger grandchildren may not be interested and refuse to listen to the grandfather's stories as history and the 'generation gap' between the young and old widens the bridge of the family relationship.

The stories of the pioneer generations would take an effort of imagination on the part of a listener from a younger generation, whose on life is already so much changed that they find it hard to relate to such tales from the past.  For example, the grandchildren could not visualise the living condition in a kampong when they are born in HDB flats, condominums or private bungalows.

Kampong Punggol in the Past

With the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore to share the archived photos of Kampong Punggol to share on the blog.

Punggol Point with Coney Island in the background.  c 1985

View of Punggol River c 1985

Punggol River c 1986

Malay stilt house at Punggol Point c 1985

House at Punggol Point c 1985

Punggol farmer's house in 1985

Punggol farmer's shed and the back of the house

The farmer's wooden latrine using 'bucket system'.  A closed-up photo of the wooden latrine (below).

Punggol Village c 1985

Roof-top of Masjid Wak Sumang in Punggol  c 1986

Punggol Village Track 13 Chinese Temple c 1986

Punggol Road water ponds and fruit trees c 1988

Punggol Road pigsty c 1987

Punggol Road shed to store husked coconuts c 1987 (above & below)

The village at Punggol Point with heaps of sea mussel in 1985 (above & below)

A seafood restaurant worker steaming sea mussels.  The seafood restaurants in Punggol Point were abundantly supplied from the Punggol River.

A Punggol village man making mould for charcoal stoves (above) and the completed charcoal stoves for sale (below).  This is one of the cottage industry in the Punggol kampong.

A shipyard at Kampong Punggol  c 1986

Punggol village 'Yak Seng Pig Farm' at Punggol Farmway1 c 1986 (above & below)

Punggol Village Track 13 Chicken Farm (above & below)

Children playing in front of house in Kampong Punggol  c 1985

Memories of Punggol in the past

I know very little about Punggol when it was still a kampong, nor stepped into the place before it was developed and changed into a sprawling HDB housing estate.

However, I could vaguely remember that in the 1980s, I invited my former colleagues to a seafood restaurant for a treat of chilli crabs on my birthday (couldn't remember which year but was in my early 20s when I was still single) to celebrate with me.  We went in a colleague's car and arrived at Punggol Point where the few seafood restaurants were located.  There was a pier overlooking the sea and also the bus terminal for buses.

Unfortunately, no photo was taken on that occasion.  We could only recollect from memories, the "cameras in our minds".  Unlike now, when smartphones are taken to capture the moments of every event, occasion at the drop of a hat.  Even alone, 'selfie' photos are taken to post to Facebook on the spot to let everybody to know where the guy or gal go to, what to do or eat ...  we did not even take a photo of the big plate of chilli crabs we eat and slurp the "shiok" gravy with bread.

The only photo I had was taken with my former OPS colleague on an outing to a kelong opposite Punggol Pier in 1978.  That's me on (first right) of the photo. I couldn't recognize me :)

Fond memories of sleepy, rural Punggol

Source: The Straits Times, 28 September 2012 (excerpt with thanks to NewspaperSG of the National Library Board, Singapore).

Sleepy Punggol Point, once known for its rows of seafood eateries, may no longer be a place in the Singapore today, but it still has a place in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's heart.

The Prime Minister can remember the first time he visited the area in 1967, when he was a 15-year-old boarding the ferry from Punggol Point to the Outward Bound School.

"Punggol was a very rural environment," he said, recalling how he would get "suddenly lost" non orienteering exercises in the kampong and secondary jungle areas.

"Today, you can't get lost in Punggol any more," he said with a tinge of nostalgia.

Mr Lee was responding to a question on whether he loved or missed any part of Singapore which has since been built over.

The importance of memories in defining the "soul of the nation" was a key theme of the Prime Minister's National Rally in August, 2012.

In his speech, he reminisced about vanished places dear to him, and stressed the importance of memories of old places and friends in keeping Singapore the best home.

His memories of Punggol Point, however, were sparked by a visit to the "beautiful new town" of Punggol West in 2012.  The areas has undergone an extensive makeover over the years, from pig farms being resettled from the 1970s and bustling seafood restaurants moving out in 1994 to the building of new housing estates.

And while he has fond memories of old Punggol, the new Punggol is "better" and the town would be almost as big as Ang Mo Kio.

At the same time, Prime Minister took comfort in the fact that a bit of the old Punggol has been retained.

Kelong Bridge, one of five foot-bridges along the waterway, looks like one of the old fishing villages which used to dot Punggol's shoreline.  A stretch of Old Punggol Road, which used to lead to Punggol Point, and an old bus stop have also been conserved.

He quipped, "they've kept the old bus stop".  "I think it's a nice microcosm of how Singapore has changed in one generation".

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during his tour of Punggol constituency on 2 June, 1963

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew cutting the ribbon for the official opening of the Kelong Bridge in Punggol on 2 June, 1963.

54 years ago on 2 June, 1963 when the Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew toured the Punggol constituency, the kampong folks warmly welcome him and the opportunity to meet him.

In these archived photos shared on this blog with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore, the babies and young boys and girls would now be over 50 years old. 

How many of those who were present at the memorable event and who are now still living in Punggol?

We hope that anyone who could recognise the photos of the parents, grandparents, the family or neighbors to share your fond nostalgic memories of Punggol when it was once a kampong.

The Punggol Waterway Park 

How different the Kampong Punggol in Singapore have transformed into a park and nature reserve in over 50 years. Please take a look here at the same place in the past, present and future for everyone in Singapore.



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