A vast expanse of green, the kind that serves as featureless tributes to former forests or vanished villages, hides the last kampung from plain sight. And a good thing too. Or more real estate developers and their kind would descend upon this warm haven of soft grey earth to sully the soil with hopes of converting it into a cold heaven of hard gray floors.
A cluster of workshops along Gerald Drive off Yio Chu Kang Road gives the impression of a neglected corner, the sort that ends in a cul-de-sac of oily service centres and a growing heap of automobilar exoskeletons. But here, the way turns seamlessly into Lorong Buangkok, where instead of the usual regiment of rain trees or rigid Royal palms, we walk beneath a random mishmash of hardwoods and haphazard nuciferas. The edge of the road is untrimmed and betray signs of municipal neglect that would be a scandal in more uppity estates. Gatherings of dead leaves form scattered patterns in the wake of passing vehicles and a loopy-tailed puppy gallops after its sire. The dwellings are large and fussless in their upkeep, with even larger compounds and grounds that could well harbour generations of blind snakes and earthworms.
On its western front, the village is bordered by the canalised remains of upper Sungei Punggol. Even at hours where low tides are expected, the cloudy waters appear uncomfortably high, as if seeking a chance to make good their wrath at civilisation via an unseasonal surge into the adjacent gardens. Alas, the spring tides of each year are suffered mainly by the earnest horticulturalists on the right bank, who enjoy none of the raised embankments that protect loftier lodgings on the west bank from the threat of brackish bombardments.
A network of makeshift streams irrigates the plots of bananas, yams, ferns and fruit trees. Old door boards and unshaved boughs tied with jute offer a way to sleepy cottages surrounded by fowl both free and fettered. On this nameless trail the morning's rain had left pools marked by three-toed feet of avian origin. The exposed border of the canal made for unhappy walking in the half-hearted drizzle and so we backtracked to the main lane for a sojourn into more overgrown territory. Emerging defeated by the fear of fear itself, we took a breather by the bridge over a deep ditch where a lone peaceful dove harried us with brazen stares and an audacity of postures while I switched lenses and waddled within blinking distance of its nictitating membranes.
The way into the village proper is through the lane pictured above. By the drain a public notice of the sort more often seen on the east coast of Malaysia tells of the most recent bouts of highwater fury. Three men in a shop of unknown vintage plied their trade under stout motivations. They wondered aloud if we were presswhores and asked that their faces not be photographed. Beyond their premises is a narrow boulevard of cheerful, personalised letterboxes and homes of painted planks with zinc roofs that on wet nights would deafen via raindrops. Juice is wired to these residences on poles that lift up insulated bundles of copper to serve as perches for swallows. Five-foot porches are invaded by grasses and unkempt branches from stray pots. In the late afternoon stupor between a lacklustre shower and siestaic sun, little stirred amidst the dwellings save a few taciturn macheks tossing their trash.
The path of gravel and dirt is at parts adorned with a carpet of used rugs. The woven layers overlap one another and threaten to unleash a mouldy gush with each step. Worn and weathered couches line some outer walls, inviting wayfarers to a plush seat of dubious comfort. Piles of junk decorate the front doors of some abodes, hinting perhaps at their owners'
preoccupations, while gardens of an old school shunned by urban planners drape the boundaries of other homes, their shrubs unattended by shears and left to struggle against the elements and match their peers in robust exuberance.
We passed a modest surau, evidently too late to greet the day's weekly congregation of worshipers. Further down, a friendly pooch greets us on a side path with a cage of spring chickens and an ochre shrine. The terrain hinted increasingly of back mangroves as sea hibiscus trees loomed over a darkening turf with the characteristic scent of marine inundation. I spied a pied thriller flirting with a water hen while the loopy lagomorph hopped around in search of spiders.
At this point we turned back, and as we passed the house of Leong Chuan Kee enroute to the bus stop, a pair of pups abandoned their mauling of the remains of a pineapple to cheer the sudden treat of a bunny foot in hand. In dog years, the land on which they leap and lie has changed little, but still the city encroaches with high towers and mass rapid transits that already overshadow the nearby woods of Jalan Kayu. Against this demographic flood the trees and timbered huts have naught but the will of those who wish to preserve to ward off the wants of men who know only the price of land and never its value.