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Thursday, July 06, 2006

reminiscing residences

I was just thinking of all the places I have ever stayed in in my lifetime of almost twenty-seven years, and thought about the good and bad and favourite things about them all. I cannot say that I have a specific favourite place I have ever stayed in, though I think I tend to like the rustic, quieter and more sparsely populated places.


The first place I can actually remember staying, not from photos or stories retold by my parents, but from direct memories I collected since I learnt to remember anything, is in Toa Payoh. I stayed there when I was in my kindergarten years, and perhaps during the time I went into primary school too. It was a three-room flat, on the second floor. The carpet was green. I watched my first ever SBC channel 8 dramas there: The Awakening, Flying Fish, etc. I also did many other firsts, such as, going out of the house by myself. I did that one afternoon when I was bored and by myself as usual, with nothing to do, and probably feeling contemplative, with too many thoughts but nowhere to run. I unlocked the lock on the main gate and went out of the house quietly so my maid, the only guardian at home at the time, would not be able to hear me going out. It was in the afternoon, probably a weekday, a work-day. I walked down the stairs which were right next to my flat, and hung around outside the confectionery downstairs, pacing as far as the coffeeshop, the provision store, and back. There was a man deep-frying some french fries at the confectionery. I wished to myself that I had money to buy a packet of fries too, lightly yet visibly salted, but hot, and I did some futile calculations in my mind on how I could get that kind of money. (Not possible, the fries were a dollar a packet, even by the age of seven my pocket money was only seventy cents a day). As I sat on the steps, just looking at the greyish world go past, I sometimes stared at the confectionery man. Soon enough I experienced some kindness: the confectionery man offered me a fry! I went back upstairs after consuming the fry, and no one knew anything about my solitary walk at the age of five years old (or so, I cannot remember for sure). I only recently told my mom this incident, it actually still worried her when she heard this, even after twenty years on. When I was due to enter primary one, staying in Toa Payoh, my parents tried to enrol me in CHIJ primary, but then we lost the ballot, and I, very thankfully actually, ended up in Rosyth Primary 1F. I guess that's partially why we moved nearer my school after that.


I think we moved to Jalan Limbok, off Phillips Avenue. That was probably when I was nine years old. If in doubt where this place is, it is near the Japanese cemetary, which is a rather quaint place actually, they say Yamashita was buried there. There was a saga seed tree along Phillips Avenue, at the fork of the road near the cemetary, but I am pretty sure it is no longer there now. My house had a rambutan tree in the garden, one which neighbours tried to harvest after tasting our gifts of the fruit. There was also a flowering bush, I think it is the allamanda flower. My primary school friend Goi stayed near me, on the same street.


Subsequently I think we moved to somewhere in Seletar when I was ten years old. It is even quieter than Phillips Avenue, I remember even sighting an owl once, perched on a road sign. It was also near the old Woodbridge hospital, the original site at Jalan Woodbridge. My primary school friend Paul stayed near me, on the next street. I had a balcony adjoining my room, and this was how I got to know my neighbours, two children, a boy and a girl. We figured we could visit each other through our balconies, which we did, of course the boy did more climbing than we did, and I think I got along more with him than I did with his sister, who was younger, and possibly too girly for me. I didn't do very much girly things when I was young, I remember him, but I don't really remember her. Opposite my house there was a playground, I played there with my neighbours too, and learnt how to walk on seesaws from one end to another right there.


When I was about eleven we moved to Serangoon Gardens, which I have to say is one of my favourite places. I loved the old second hand bookshop (now Happy Daze), Times the bookshop which is no longer there too, eating kueh tu tu from the Johnson Duck coffeeshop, and fish soup from Chomp Chomp, among others. One of the best parts was that I could visit my best friend Julie who also stayed in Gardens. I remember that there was a point where my cousins stayed with me, and my parents were away in Malaysia, leaving me with my auntie and uncle as guardians, in the very same house. I hate staying with relatives, this and other future experiences proved this true again and again. But my cousins and I had much fun cycling around the neighbourhood, catching tadpoles and building campfires at the plot of empty land behind my house (now the French School), cycling to 7-11 to get our snack loot. It is absolutely charming growing up in Gardens.


When I entered secondary school, my parents were still away, though they came back for brief moments, and I remember having to stay in Jurong with another aunt and family at that time. I hate Jurong, it is far, it is gloomy, and it was depressing. I used to take bus 66 from school all the way home, and because the journey was so long - I start from Macpherson - I used to sleep on the bus so much that the bus uncle scolded me when he had to wake me up at the interchange two days in a row. Soon after this, my mom rescued me with a solution: I moved to JB to stay with my parents, and commuted to school daily across the causeway.


I stayed in a then sparsely populated town, now it is more crowded of course, but at that time, there weren't even phone lines. We got burglarised twice, and I lost my Sony walkman forever. I do remember nice moments though: I remember seeing a beautiful flash of lightning that illuminated the sky one late afternoon. Because storms in JB are more dramatic, that second of light in a city-lightless town, made the view outside my house look surreal, like we were in a partial eclipse of the sun, but only for a moment. There was also nice wantan mee in this town, (yes, for the over-informed, it is the same guy who flips the noodles real high), and other JB food.


Subsequently I moved somewhere nearer to town, where it cost me only about four or five ringgit to take a cab from the customs checkpoint. It was at this house where I met my dog. We would go for walks to the nearby Pelangi shopping centre, where she would then go off to play by herself in the neighbourhood while I went shopping, and ate delicious Baskin Robbins ice cream. In this house I stayed in the attic, where I sought refuge, where I did my art, where I wrote my diary, where God found me. A spacious solace.


When it was time for JC I told my parents I had to move out, because I wouldn't be able to bear any longer, the commuting to and from JB to Singapore, with longer school hours now. My parents moved again too, to another favourite place of mine, a town not very much further away, Melodies Garden. My mom and my dad would sit in the front porch of our house, near the fish pond, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and chat till two a.m. Once when H and I were at my place we climbed out of my room window and sat chatting on the roof, watching whatever stars we could find. My parents stayed in this house for a few years, till about over a year ago when they bought a new place again, smaller now, single-storey so my mom doesnt have to climb the stairs to talk to my dad if they were on different stories.


So when I was seventeen, I moved out of my parents' house and stayed with another family of relatives, in Ang Mo Kio. I moved there the night before my JC orientation. I lasted eight months. Never again will I stay with relatives I can ever help it.


I then moved to Potong Pasir, a place I was already familiar with, as it was near my secondary school, and I had bunked in with a friend here during my O level weeks so I could get to school for exams easier. Now, I rented a room from my mom's friend who also stayed in that quaint estate. My first real shot at freedom, without the relatives. I do remember Potong Pasir fondly. I remember the river. Now the St Andrew's Village cuts over it, but before, it was a nice quiet stroll you would have wanted to take, longer, if only to enjoy the view.


I moved home after my A levels, back to Melodies Garden, for a couple of years before moving out again, this time back to Ang Mo Kio, where I rented a room through a friend, to stay with their grandparents in their spare room. It was lonely, but I overcame it. Ang Mo Kio is fun to live in if you like to take late night strolls to s-11 to have tea and supper, something H and I often did too, when we both had stayed in AMK at the same time, and Enid was nearby in Bishan. Ang Mo Kio folks are really one of a kind though, they like to gather in crowds like wildfire to see anything: fights, accidents, snake oil, hot pants on sale for two dollars, etc. The police might be nonchalant to this AMK behaviour - they took more than twenty minutes to arrive at a scene where a fight (albeit a small one) broke out after a call had been made. And completely dismissed whatever bystanders had to say too. I felt slighted at that. But then again, I probably was behaving like a typical Ang Mo Kio-ian bystander at the time.


Subsequently I moved to Woodlands to stay, which I didn't particularly enjoy, because Woodlands is far from anywhere (except JB, Yishun, AMK), and Woodlands is dangerous. No police patrols, only two police stations in the whole of the Sembawang GRC, and I once witnessed policemen behaving like ruffians in public. (I did once submit this feedback to the Police, via a form, urged by a policeman, who also stayed in Woodlands, so I have done my part and am just stating the facts at the time.) I stopped taking night jogs. I did however brave the danger and walked out to meet H for suppers; he had also moved to Woodlands.


Then, eight months later, I moved to Clementi, which was a nice change. No suppers now, Clementi, in fact the west in general has nothing much to eat at supper time. I had rented a flat by myself, and had the opportunity to entertain friends and absolve much loneliness through both good and bad ways. It was at this point in time where I revived this blog, on my archaic laptop. I also remember there was once a power outage in the area. C told me, when I first got to know him, that he initiated the sparklers light up in Holland V at the time of this power outage.


One day God answered a specific prayer I made over the years past; a desire for a place of my own: my parents decided to go to HDB to see if we could buy a flat, so that I could pay mortgage instead of rent. That is how I am now in Ubi, happily, and always thankful to God for answering my prayer. I like Ubi because the people here are friendly, they never shove, not like in say Boon Lay or Tampines, and they always smile and say hello if they have seen you around. Something like Katong, but more down to earth and less sleazy. I actually enjoy talking to my neighbour. There are many things to eat here, and it is a self sufficient kampung, save for perhaps a Guardian pharmacy or Watsons. East Coast is ten bus stops away, town is seven bucks away, Geylang and Old Airport Road etc. are all near enough. Oh and the Geylang NPC police folk in charge of my area are the best I have ever encountered. In years to come I might move again, but for now, I am really, really thankful to God for this house. Time for a house party!

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