They may cause some inconvenience, but the rains that come with the arrival of the northeast monsoons in Singapore are welcomed for the air of cool and freshness that they bring. I am one who takes great joy in their arrival and find reason to celebrate the downpours as much as I did in the wondrous moments of my childhood. I recall splashing through the puddles the opening up of the skies left, an activity that often left me soaked, inviting a strong reprimand. I also recall the calls of “hor lai lor” – “rain is coming” in the Hokkien vernacular that accompanied the rains’ prelude. In days when the community spirit was much stronger, these calls were intended as a prompt for the mad scramble to get in the laundry that would follow.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the rain, especially in days before the efforts to improve drainage became effective, was flooding. There were many instances when flooding was especially severe, more often than not on days when the falling torrents coincided with high spring tides. Many low lying areas would be affected, including the places where I went to kindergarten and primary school. Wading through ankle or knee deep flood waters was quite a regular occurrence and a fairly common sight that accompanied them was that of school children wading through the waters with what would probably have been an only pair of school shoes, tied together by their laces and slung over their shoulders.
There were also the monster floods. Two occasions when this happened that come to mind are in 1969 and 1978 when the waters rose to a level that only the roofs of houses in many of the low lying areas could be seen. The damage to property and people’s livelihood – when many were still involved in farming and rearing livestock – was tremendous. The continuous effort made to improve drainage over the years has seen the incidence and severity of flooding reduce and the grumble most often heard these days is not of disruptions caused by floods but of ones caused instead by a less than reliable mass rapid transit system.