Monoscapes: Dawn of a new world

19 07 2013

Seen against the light of dawn by the Tebrau or Johor Strait is a fence at the beach in Sembawang. More recently erected, it marked, for some reason, a long discarded boundary between what used to be a huge British naval base, vacated in 1971 and the area to its east, once occupied by coastal villages, the last of which was cleared in the later half of the 1990s. The fence came down two weeks ago, coinciding with the completion of “renewal” work at Sembawang Park which was developed at the end of the 1970s on the eastern edge of the former base. For long spared from the huge wave of development that has swept across much of the island of Singapore, the Sembawang area is in the midst of change as new public housing and luxury private residential developments in the area will transform what was an area with a well known laid-back feel and old world charm into another well populated and overly manicured neighbourhood in new Singapore.

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Monoscapes: Dark clouds over Tanjong Pagar

22 04 2013

A storm brewing blows dark clouds over the Tanjong Pagar (port) Terminal where several container berths of the huge Port of Singapore which only recently was surpassed by Shanghai as the world’s busiest port and container port. The city terminals at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Pulau Brani, which provide 29 out of a total of 52 container berths of the port – the remainder are at the Pasir Panjang Terminals, will eventually be moved westwards to Tuas Port. Work on expanding the Pasir Panjang terminals and on developing Tuas Port has already commenced. The lease on the city terminals expires in 2027 which will free waterfront land close to the city centre to be developed.

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The entire port of Singapore sees some 1000 vessels at any one time, with a ship arriving or leaving every 2 to 3 minutes. The port handles some 60000 containers in a day, coming a long way from its beginnings as a trading post for the British East India Company close to two centuries ago. The move westwards will end the port’s (and shipping companies) long established association with the Tanjong Pagar area, an association which has given much of the area its current flavour, and also one which can be said to have played a huge role in the transformation of Singapore to the modern and successful island nation it is today.





Monoscapes: Dawn on the strait

18 04 2013

7.20 am on the last day of March 2013, a man is seen casting a net, dwarfed by the silhouettes of towering structures of the approaching new world. The casting of the net, was an economic activity on the strait which was common in times past. Economic activities of the modern world have in the last four decades or so, made their appearance on the strait, and have made the activities of the old world less relevant.

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The Straits of Johor where this photograph was taken, also known as the Tebrau Strait or Selat Tebrau, was once the domain of a group of sea dwellers, a nomadic people referred to as the Orang Laut (which translates to “Sea People”) or Sea Gypsies. The sub-group of the Orang Laut,  referred to as the Orang Seletar or in their own language, Kon Seletar, moved around on boats which also served as homes through mangroves which once dominated both sides of the strait, living off the waters. The boats they lived on were about 20 feet long with a stove at one end and their dwellings at the other end under an awning of sorts.

The suggestions are that the group, who had already established themselves in the area well before Raffles landed in 1819 – it was reported that there were an estimated 200 Orang Seletar living on some 30 boats in Singapore when Raffles landed, took its name from the Sungei Seletar or Seletar River – which once spilled into the strait (it has since been dammed at its mouth).

Another suggestion is that the group had in fact given their name to the river. Seletar is also a name that the northern coastal area of Singapore which included what is Sembawang today (Sembawang Road was originally called Seletar Road) became known as. Seletar Island which is close to the mouth of Sungei Simpang, had in fact hosted a community of Orang Seletar up to 1967 or so.

One of the last to settle on land, the Orang Seletar have today largely assimilated into the larger Malay society and a greater number of them now live on the Johor side of the strait. In Singapore, there were several individuals from the community who intermarried and settled in Kampong Tanjong Irau. The kampong was also known to be the home of some Orang Kallang, another Orang Laut group who were originally from the mouth of the Kallang River who had initially been displaced from places such as Kampong Kallang Rokok on the Kallang River, moving first to the Seletar area. The construction of the airbase at Seletar meant they had to move again and some chose to move westwards to Tanjong Irau.





Monoscapes: The High Dam

17 04 2013

A mist shrouded scene in northern Singapore at 7.11 am on 16 April 2013, taken by the water’s edge. The body of water is Upper Seletar Reservoir created by the construction of a dam (seen running across the photograph) across the Seletar Valley.

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The origins of the reservoir can be traced to an initial attempt to build one in the 1920s which was abandoned when it became possible to pipe over water from the south of Johor with the completion of the Causeway. What came out of that was its use as a temporary source of water. In 1940, the reservoir was expanded and a permanent reservoir.

The huge and very picturesque body of water we see today, is the result of an expansion which took place in the late 1960s during which its capacity was expanded some 35 times. This required that the the dam across the Seletar Valley be enlarged.  The dam, referred to in its early years as the Seletar High Dam, is seen running across the photograph. The expansion of the reservoir also meant that Mandai Road had to be re-routed to skirt around the expanded reservoir.

More information on the dam and the reservoir can be found on a previous post:  A face that I still see.





Monoscapes: Death of a National icon

16 04 2013

6.56 pm on 8 February 2011. Descending storm clouds cast a pall of gloom over the last pieces standing of the National Stadium, the demolition of which was completed in the same month. Built at Kallang Park on a reclaimed plot of land which had once been used for Singapore’s first international civil airport, the stadium which was to become a National icon was completed in 1973. It was the year Singapore hosted its very first major international mass sporting event, the 7th South-East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games. The stadium also went on to be used as a home ground for the widely supported Singapore football team in the Malaysia Cup competition, packing as many as 70,000 spectators (its capacity was to later be capped at 55,000) and acquiring a fearsome reputation as the home of the “Kallang Roar”.

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Going the way of several other National icons from a less extravagant era in our history, its place will be taken by a new stadium which is being built as part of the new Singapore Sports Hub. The new stadium is scheduled to be completed in 2014.





Monoscapes: Moonlight on the Straits

10 04 2013

Moonlight on the Straits of Johor, on a night of the full moon, as seen from Pulau Ubin. Pulau Ubin is a granite island off the north-east Singapore, which in its natural state was dominated by mangrove swamps, much of which were cleared at the end of the 19th century to allow farming, plantation and quarrying activities to be carried out on the island. Described as Singapore’s “last wilderness”, it is today better know as an escape from the highly urbanised main island of Singapore. It is also known for its Outward Bound School and for the wetland reserve at Chek Jawa on its south-eastern tip.

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It was back in the 1980s that I first set foot on the island, joining friends on several overnight excursions around the island. Then, it played host to villages by the sea and fish farms, and its coastline was marked by boats and wooden jetties. Most have since disappeared, with just a small cluster of village houses close to where the jetty at which bumboats from the main island call at. The island, for which has been identified as a reserve for possible future housing development, was also where former a political detainee, Mr Lee Tee Tong was confined to after his release in February 1980. Lee was a former Barisan Socialis Assemblyman who was arrested during a crackdown on left-wing trade union activists under Operation Pechah in October 1963. In June 1978, some 131 Vietnamese Boat People, refugees who made the perilous escape from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon by boat up to the end of the 1970s, landed on the island. The island together with the neighbouring military training island of Pulau Tekong, is possibly the last habitat for the critically endangered Leopard Cat in Singapore.





Monoscapes: Mount Balwang

8 04 2013

The landscape at the top of Mount Balwang, Yongpyong, South Korea in winter. The peak at 1458 metres above sea level is accessible via cable-car from Yongpyong. The mountain is part of the Baekdudaegan mountain range which runs down almost the length of the Korean Peninsula.

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