Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where is home?

Mr Mahbubani of the LKY School of Public Policy, Mr Edmund Cheng of Wing Tai and MP Amy Khor are right - a person's sense of home and belonging, or ownership - is inevitably bound by intangible factors. A home is more than mere concrete structures and designs, or even landscaped environments and community amenities represented by the latest and the best ideas imported from elsewhere. So when the URA announced plans to re-develop the East Coast area, not everyone, I would imagine, is celebrating. Instead, there is concern that URA's re-development gurus will sweep away what is near and dear to many people who have lived in that area for a long time, and who have organised their daily lives around that area, so much so that they identify with that place as home.

Memories of homeNot everything must be planned down to the last detail. The community must be allowed to grow organically on its own, sprouting places and corners that will uniquely identify it as one's home. Alas, this is often decided for us by some people who do not live among us, nor share the aspirations and memories of that community. What home is it when, after being overseas for the last 10 years on assignment, you return to find that there is nothing familiar around the place you used to live in since your childhood? What home is it when the playgrounds and landscape you grew up in gets constantly re-developed with the latest and greatest world-beating community features but which are totally foreign to your memories and sense of belonging - to your home?

I know only too well, these feelings. I am sure many others in Singapore do too. My childhood home has been all but demolished and replaced by spanking new highrise apartment buildings. Even the school buildings that was my Primary and Secondary schools are gone. Collectively, that represents 15 years of my life and memories. This is exactly what many felt when the old National Library building along Stamford Road was demolished. The National Theatre, in which signal events occured in our lives, has been demolished a long time ago. Nothing has since replaced that building on the soil on which it once stood. Therefore I envy my colleague, who owns a house near Cambridge, England. That house has stood for over 200 years, and except for occasional leaks here and there, is still home away from home for him.

In Singapore, more often than not, we mortgage our memories for that couple of hundred thousand dollars. Just as soon as the money is in our hands, it is then sunk into some other property. We are tied down by 99 year leases and, when not so, are plagued by en bloc sales that takes away not only our freehold houses but our homes with its familiar surroundings and memories of where, perhaps our first child grew up, and where the family went for breakfast every weekend at the corner coffeeshop. Our houses can also be forceably re-possessed by the authorities so that a highway can run over it someday. Losing our homes and its memories, whether intentional or not, seems to be a national past time.

How can we call anywhere home, where that home can soon be no more than a distant memory?

1 comment :

Lam Chun See said...

I completely agree with you. I particularly dislike the way they keep changing the names of places and established institutions.

I started my blog to share memories and stories of the old days with the young ones. Surprisingly well-received and now the NHB has roped me in to become a "friend" of Yesterday.sg. Maybe you would like to come on board as well.