Katong Park felt like a lonely oasis of green fenced in by the wide, bleak lanes of tarmac that made up Fort and Meyer Road. I had the sense I was walking through an urban desert as I approached it, for the buildings and construction sites on both sides looked bone-dry under the glare of a late afternoon sun. As I stepped onto the stone path leading into the park I couldn’t pick up any trace of human presence at first, which unnerved me for a split second before I reckoned that this would be a nice place to move away from the fast lane in this otherwise heavily-urbanised island. There were signboards relating the history of the park as the former site of a British military fort and later a previously-popular leisure destination, but even those appeared forgotten and forlorn against the tide of urban life that swept past and away from the park.
I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with a gentleman that I met sitting under a pavilion in the middle of the park, after spending a few moments gesticulating at him from a distance to ask if I could take his photograph. I shan’t attempt to introduce him any further, but let his words speak for themselves about another dimension of the human experience in Singapore.
“I come here to relax until 5, 6; then I go to work, I’m in the security line over at the Dhoby Ghaut side. I’m here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but not Saturday and Sunday because I work the double shift. I just sleep here until work. It’s nice here–fresh air, quiet, no crowds. In the morning I go to the market down the road for a good breakfast of half-boiled eggs, then I come back here. Before work I’ll go to the swimming complex to shower, you have to pay 50 cents to go in. Sometimes I bring my laundry to the place where you put the coin in and watch it spin, wash it for $5. Sometimes tour buses come here to talk about the history of the area. They sometimes hold discussions here and they ask me, ‘Excuse me can you please move’ so I’ll move all the way to the other side.
I used to live in one of the condos around the area; that was 25 years ago. I’m married, I have two sons. Eldest is 28 and working in the shipping industry. You don’t hear about people like us in the newspaper. They like to say ‘Singapore is number 1 at everything’ but you still have people living in hardship. At East Coast Park there is a free shower area, the homeless families go there to wash their clothes. On Nicoll Highway you can also see homeless family members sleeping. I don’t like Singapore. Singaporeans are like robots–go to work, come back, go to work, come back. And–sorry to say–but children in Singapore aren’t filial to their parents, they live very far from each other. Singapore is safe, but I think you should experience life in a foreign country.
I would move to Indonesia, Batam, Malaysia. Batam is a 45-minute ferry ride from Harbourfront. Batam is very nice; I used to go there. Many good places for diving, and shopping there is very cheap. Here in Singapore everything is expensive. Is there anything I would change… I just want a more comfortable life. I want to lead a simple life elsewhere.
I can’t say I ever feel happy. I can’t feel happy in Singapore. But I have friends who cheer up. I like to make other people cheer up. And I think as long as you have two hands, two legs, then you should continue working. Everyone needs to sustain themselves.”