Saturday, June 03, 2006

Gone yesterday, disappear tomorrow

Memories of SeletarIt looks very likely that yet another historical area in Singapore that holds much memories for common folks like you and I will bite the dust, literally. Seletar Airbase and much of its surrounding pre-war British Black-and-White houses will become dust once the government starts to re-develop that area into a new integrated aerospace industry cluster. This is yet another development project that, hopefully, will spur the economy to ever greater heights, according to the Economic Development Board (EDB).

But not all Singaporeans are in favour of this latest development, especially those who live or have lived in the area. To these people, their homes, and more importantly, their deep memories of the place where they grew up, in time, will be become just that - memories. There will be nothing to return to to re-live those memories, and no place to take their children to to share with them the quaint environment they grew up in, to share the wonder of wandering over a large expanse of space that characterised growing up in that time and place. I can empathise with it because I once lived in the British Naval Base, which today does not exist anymore except for a small cluster of Black-and-Whites in the vicinity of Admiralty Road.

Unfortunately, our government planners have no such experiences and memories. They cannot leave well alone. There must, at some time or other, be some project that is grand and exciting. For not doing so will not only stunt Singapore's economic development, it will stunt their career developments more. The planners talk of preserving some of the character of the place, or the historical pre-war buildings that today still serve as living quarters. But the only memories made from careful planning are called Museums. The life and times in these places cannot be replaced with some carefully constructed or preserved buildings. You cannot re-construct the ambience that is today's residential environment around Seletar airbase. How can you when you have not lived a single day in the place?

In time to come, there will be nothing to remember about Sembawang, except through the obligatory Documentaries that Mediacorp will shoot about the place - before it is carved up. Our children cannot be rooted to personal histories. There will be no place worth defending. Yes, we have new spanking apartments, but those are often the object of our trading up or out of to ever newer places, but often places without soul. The memories that I have of the Naval Base is far far deeper than I have of Ang Mo Kio, the town that my family moved to from the Base.

There are some who would turn back the clock, if it were even possible. There are some who do not want economic development at such a great expense. Can anything be done at all? The realist and the sceptic among us are resigned to this latest project. The idealist will still hold out for a rescinding of this redevelopment plan. Whichever it is, an old part of Singapore will be buried by the sands of time.

Do we wonder why we do not want to commit our lives and memories totally to this piece of rock called Singapore?

No comments :