It is always nice to drop in on a place that is reminiscent of a world we can no longer see such as the Blk 398 Canteen. Operating on the grounds of the former Seletar Camp since 1969, it was for long insulated against the winds of change which seem to sweep across much of the island of Singapore over the four decades that have passed. Said to be one of the last “kampong kopitiam” (village coffee shop) in Singapore, it maybe is less of the kampong kopitiam many of us might wish that it is, seemingly more like a world caught in transition, but one certainly in which time does seem to have long stood still.
The canteen takes its name from its address at 398 Piccadilly. The address is itself a throwback to to days now long forgotten when the area was part of the Royal Air Force’s RAF Seletar. Completed in 1928, the former air station and its grounds was for a long while after the 1971 British pullout, well preserved – an area rich in charm, the eastern side of the former air station was used to house several Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) military units, while some 378 colonial houses on its western side were turned over for civilian use. It was in the transition that the canteen commenced operations serving first the RAF personnel before their pullout and the SAF personnel after that.
The area the canteen is in is now undergoing yet another transition, one which will see the biggest transformation of the area since work commenced on RAF Seletar in the 1920s. The transformation will see the Jurong Town Corporation’s (JTC) Seletar Aerospace Park built over much of the area which the former RAF Seletar occupied and will see some 174 of the “black and white” houses – former homes of RAF personnel which provided the area with much of its charm, demolished. This transition is also one which will also see the 44 year old canteen go (it was supposed to have been closed last December) and with it one of the last chances to have that cup of kopi-o in Singapore today, as it might have been yesterday.