Some might remember a time when Punggol Point lay at the end of a somewhat long and winding road – the old Punggol Road that meandered through a countryside that we have since lost. The road, which started at its junction with Upper Serangoon Road where the St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary served as a landmark, took one past some five miles of the many tracks of Punggol, villages and farms with attap and zinc roofed houses and a lot of which I don’t quite remember. What I did remember was the unmistakeable pong that hung in the air – one that was fed by the numerous poultry and pig farms that had thrived in the area, and perhaps the evening’s chorus of squeals – that of pigs calling for their dinner.
The end of the road offered a lot to those who did brave the journey. There was first and foremost the cluster of seafood restaurants that drew many with the reward of reputedly some of the best and freshest seafood dishes on the menu in which service always seemed to begin with the customary basin in which one found the table’s utensils and teacups, cleansed in the water that the basin held. There was also the weekend crowd that came: those armed with rods to fish at the jetty, or board a boat to attempt to reel in a bigger catch offshore – which invariably included a lot of Ikan Sembilang; and those who sought to satisfy a need for speed planing over the water on waterskis – either off Punggol Point or at nearby Coney Island. For some, Punggol Point also offered a quiet escape from the fast moving concrete world that was taking over much of the rest of Singapore – the fishing village it hosted by the sea adding to the rustic charm that the area already held.
The last I saw of that Punggol Point and of Punggol Road was at a time when I was still in my youth, and with the distractions of a decade when I made the transition from being a curious child to adulthood, a decade that probably saw the most significant change in Singapore’s rural landscape – the 1980s, the clearing of Punggol as it was at the end of the 1980s seemed to have passed me by. Some business at Punggol Point like the seafood restaurants and boatels did have an extended lease of life, but they too went in the early 1990s, and Punggol, as with much of Singapore, was to be changed forever.
I was to discover how much has changed as I made my way over the weekend for the first time in over two decades to Punggol Point for the official opening of Punggol Point Walk and Punggol Point Park. The journey was there of course now made a lot easier by the Tampines Expressway (TPE) which runs below an elevated stretch of Punggol Road, no longer was there a need to make one’s way over Upper Serangoon Road to the start of that long and narrow Punggol Road. There wasn’t much that I had expected to see that would have reminded me of the old Punggol Road and Punggol Point, as I tirelessly drove along what is now a wide dual carriageway, flanked not by attap and zince roofed houses and greenery, but by the new HDB estate that has risen out of the ashes of the old Punggol. A surprise awaited at the last stretch of the road – the dual carriageway merged, after a wide junction into a stretch on which for a moment, gave me a feeling that I was on my way to that old Punggol Point. Flanked by a line of trees which provided cover to the short but winding stretch of road, it did look as if I was heading down the old Punggol Road – which this stretch was a part of, kept almost as it might have been as a heritage road. Althought the ‘Tracks’ of Punggol Road were gone, there is still a couple of familar streets – one Ponggol Seventeenth Avenue brings with it memories I have of campfires and walks by a narrow beach that led to the mouth of Sungei Punggol. It is after the next familiar name, Ponggol Twenty-Fourth Avenue, that the realisation sinks in that it is not to that old Punggol Point that I was heading to, as the break in the cover of trees reveals the brand new world which will attempt to retain some of that rustic charm that the old Punggol Point had been known for.
Past the Outward Bound School, I soon arrived at the end of the road. Desperate to see what Punggol Point has become, I quickly make my way up a viewing deck, which I was to find out later, shaped like a ship. The viewing deck offered a wonderful panorama of the Straits of Johor and Pasir Gudang beyond the jetty which it overlooked, where stakes used to moor boats and the boats tied to them would have once greeted the eye. On both sides, a beach that looked a lot cleaner than the one I remembered ran up and down the coastline, cleared of the boatels and the stilted houses of a Malay kampung that once stood close to the water’s edge. The beach, and perhaps the jetty are perhaps what can connect us with the past, and a reminder in the form of a National Heritage Board sign of an unfortunate and tragic episode in our history that took place on the beach – the Sook Ching Massacre.
The lookout that I stepped on to, is part of what is a 1.2 km promenade and park, the Punggol Point Walk and Punggol Point Park, which is one of three thematic zones of the $16.7 million 4.9 km long Punggol Promenade project undertaken by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) that was officially opened by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on 20 Nov 2011. This is a component of its Parks and Waterbodies and Identities Plans which aims to open up and introduce new recreational activities and amenities to coastal areas, and also preserve the laid-back and village-like appeal that the areas are known for. Punggol Promenade will link up two recreational clusters at Punggol Point and Punggol East, as well as link to the park connectors along Punggol Reservoir and Serangoon Reservoir. This will form a continuous 17 km loop around the north-eastern part of Singapore. The two other thematic zones are the 1.3 km Riverside Walk which anchors a growing recreational cluster at Punggol East which opened in March this year and a 2.5 km Nature Walk, scheduled to be completed next year.
The Punggol Point Park offers a lot more besides the viewing deck and the beach, there are also the calm of Lily Ponds, a 81 metre by 10 metre Event Plaza and a Children’s Playground to draw families to enjoy the newly opened park. There is certainly more to look forward to – a reserve site has been released by the URA for sale by tender for food and beverage development – which will perhaps see the return of seafood to the area, and a horse-riding school will also soon open. The Promenade at Punggol Point Walk will feature both a 3 metre wide cycling track for use by cyclists and roller skaters and a parallel 3 metre wide footpath constructed of simulated timber. A sustainable approach is in fact adopted in the selection of materials for use in the project that also involves the use of permeable Tegula pavers on hard scaped area which eliminate the need for drainage systems, the use of bio-swales to filter surface run-offs and the use of Laterite earth.
I must say that although I didn’t really find much of the old Punggol Point that I might have hoped for, I am grateful to have taken the opportunity to visit the area. The drive through the heritage road did help trigger a few memories that I have stored away, as did my walk around the new park. While much of the old world rustic charm has inevitably been lost, there is still some of that charm that is left to draw vistors to the area and to also draw me back not just for the chance to escape from the urban world, but also for the opportunity it offers me to rediscover and reconnect with a part of Singapore I have might have almost forgotten about.