Friday, February 23, 2007

Springing a leak

Everyone knows by now about the incessant rain that poured over Singapore, and much of the region, causing floods and loss of life, over last December and January. Although Singapore has, over the years, built canals and other civil works that ensures the efficient drainage of water, a part of the island was still inundated with significant losses to businesses in and around the vicinity of these floods. Fortunately, no life was lost.

Then my wife noticed that a corner of the ceiling in one of our rooms was mouldy and, on closer inspection, we were horrified to note that the wall was wet - on the inside! Apparently, the sustained 'pounding' and 'pouring' of the rain waters against the wall had caused water to seep through it! Coupled with the heat (it had stopped raining for a couple of weeks then) and wallah - we had mould growing on the cornice, ruining it. And to think, this was only a 5 year old house and cost us almost $700K!. I was incensed and dismayed, but not surprised. We complained to the management and they quickly arranged for the thing to be fixed, as if this was a common occurrence. I mentioned this to a colleague in the construction business and he seemed to be saying that this is quite common. I cannot understand how the construction industry can be so seemingly nonchalant. Even my aging $2K widescreen TV (pre-dating the LCD TVs increasingly becoming common today), which is more than 10 years old, is still working fine. It hasn't had to be repaired at all in all the years of faithful service it has provided me.

I supposed buildings nowadays are not built to last. Cracking walls are not uncommon to Singapore. Ask any Singaporean living in public housing and even condos and they will have a 'cracking' story for you. Witness the en-bloc fever and you begin to understand the psyche behind modern architects and builders. I suppose nobody nowadays expects their house to be a castle anymore - more like a pile of virtual cash to be used as a springboard to another pile of virtual cash. They'd sell at the first opportunity of making a profit and start anew in another house. Meanwhile, the house gets torn down and another brand new one will rise in its place. That's permanence for you in Singapore.

Which reminds me of the civilian quarters in the Naval Base I used to live in during my childhood. Those walls were rock solid. I know because one day, my father attempted to drill a hold in the wall (using a power drill, no less), but he wasn't able to make much headway at first. I remember him saying that those walls were tough, as only the British would make them. I am also reminded of a colleague who bought a house in Britain to live in as he travelled there every year. In itself this is uninteresting, except that this house is probably over a hundred years old. I am not praising the British for building houses that last, it is just a fact, and probably not a good idea in hindsight. If we did this in Singapore, our civil engineers will soon be out of work once the island is fully 'built-up', and doing SERS and MUPs and such can get very painful and expensive.

So I am not sure how long those billion $ IRs that many Singaporeans are looking forward to will last. Probably as long as necessary to recoup the investment, only to be redeveloped some time down the road in the name of progress.

I only regret that the concept of permanence in housing is as foreign on our soil as snow is. Can you blame people who cannot think of Singapore as a permanent home?


gecko said...

When all people have are memories - and not places - to keep, they can only become mobile and leave, since the place can no longer be visited except in the mind.

Epilogos said...

Unfortunately, the mind and memories too, will fail. The only thing that will remind us of the past are the structures and the pictures and the writings. May they have greater permanence so that we have a history to teach our children in years to come.

gecko said...

That is, unfortunately, too late for most of the historical structures of our island. Especially for those who've left this country for more than 20 years, the difference is vast. What about us? Will we suffer such difference in 20 years' time? The answer is rather clear to me at least. I hope there is permanence to some structures too... but the National Library episode teaches me a good lesson.