《周而复始》— Where does the cycle ends?

This piece of writing was inspired by the news of Dakota Crescent’s redevelopment and it explores the intangible values of estates in the historical, cultural and social realms.

Advice: You may want to read the Chinese writing below first if you are a Chinese reader, and return to the english introduction afterwards. The following paragraphs in English are meant to summarise the content (in case you are unable to understand Chinese), and explain the background of Dakota Crescent as well as how I was inspired.

Dakota Crescent is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore and has a significant historical value. These low-rise flats are located at Old Airport Road, part of the larger residential zone known as the “Old Kallang Airport Estate”. The red-bricked walls, old provision shops in void decks and Dakota’s iconic Dove playground all told a story of Singapore’s past and were part of many’s childhood memories.

The spacious playgrounds and large public spaces are now extremely rare among HDB flats
The handmade old signboard was iconic of this old provision shop which has been around for over 50 years

Despite its substantial history and valuable architecture styles, Dakota Crescent could not escape the fate of redevelopment. This is discernible, as the conditions of the amenities and buildings were deteriorating with time, and pretty much everything was just falling way behind the development of modern HDB flats.

Surely, from a macro-perspective, it seems like the redevelopment is beneficial for sustainable developments of our public housing.

Yet, a mini tour around Dakota Crescent got me pondering about the other perspectives. As one of the residents shared his stories of how he grew up in Dakota Crescent, this place became more than a physical space with a tangible value – through the vivid descriptions of interesting stories, the old days of Dakota Crescent came to life in front of me.

I saw how an estate could be imbued with a significant value beyond anything monetary; how the homes were not just four walls and places to sleep or eat, but places where important memories were rooted in.

And this makes perfect sense, because according to neuroscience, memories are inextricably tied to places in our brains. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania has discovered how our memories are “geotagged” based on location using a GPS-like brain system. These “geotags” bring back a flood of memories associated with specific places from your past. The nostalgia of being home for the holidays is a perfect example of this type of memory encoding. And feeling an emotional attachment to the place you’ve been growing up in, is yet another common example of this works.

Hence, while I can’t entirely relate to the immense grief felt by Dakota residents for being uprooted, I felt a sense of anxiety and fear when I simply extrapolated their experiences into my future.

Remember how the Kampungs were burnt down and people had to move in HDB flats? Now people are moving out of HDB flats and moving into fancier HDB flats. What’s in for the future then? Other than having to abandon the places of memories, the evolving of infrastructures and buildings also meant that people are more easily displaced. Not just geographically displaced, but culturally displaced. Are we sure that we will be spared from the geographical and cultural displacement in the future? How would the changes in these buildings and redevelopment of cultural sites also affect our sense of belonging and identity?

Fortunately though, parts of Dakota Crescent, such as the iconic Dove playground will be preserved, and it is conspicuous that the government is striving to strike a balance between development and preservation. Surely, it would be over-idealistic to always indulge in a sense of nostalgia and reject change, and I discern the fact that sometimes we just have to move on and create new memories in new spaces. However, this writing is dedicated to the alternative perspectives of the residents and wishes to explore the boundaries between when development is “necessary” for a higher standard of living and when development becomes “excessive” with our insatiable greed.

1960年,一场大火,两万人失去了甘榜家园

   阿嫲哭着坐在地上,抱着烧得面目全非的衣物,不愿意相信几十年来的家就这么毁于一旦。她愤懑地捶打着地,哀哭着,恍惚间,仿佛听到了老伴临终前嘱咐她:“人啊,平安就好,你好好顾着这个家,儿孙有得吃有得穿,一家子在一起,我就安心了。” 抬头看着早已倒塌的亚答屋,好似老伴未能实现的遗愿般支离破碎。

   她无奈、绝望地哭着。她没能守好这个家。

   身边的儿孙不解地看着阿嫲,心中对甘榜虽然有些不舍,却更加期待着搬进新组屋后的生活。“阿嫲,走了啦,我们要住新组屋了,有好日子过咯!” 阿嫲哭着摇头,又摇头,低声呢喃:“你们小孩子,不懂呐……不懂呐…..“ 眼泪滴落在泥土里,迅速地渗入,最终一丝痕迹也未留下。

2018年,有着将近60年历史的达哥打湾(Dakota Crescent)面临重建

   一串串嬉笑声从远处传入耳中。

  阿伯木讷地看着对面鸽子游乐场上尽情玩耍的孩子们。那欢乐童真甚好,却也衬得这四面徒壁愈发的冷清寂静。这已经是他搬到新组屋来的第20天了,但每天阿伯都还是会忍不住来到窗前,凝视着对面那熟悉的一隅,只望在从小长大的达哥打湾化为废墟之前,多看看它几眼。

  每次望着望着,阿伯的眼前总会忍不住浮现往日的热闹场景:常来这里的流动摊贩吆喝着卖小吃、街坊邻居聚在咖啡店里一起喝茶聊天、他最喜欢的那家“天记”老招牌前面排着长龙,生意好得不得了。那家的老板跟他很熟,还常常给他“加料”。想着想着,阿伯的嘴角总是禁不住翘起来。

  只是,回过神来,往来光景,尽是虚无。阿伯眼前的街道空荡荡的,老字号咖啡店也早已大门关闭,等着拆迁。牵起的嘴角变得有些僵硬,阿伯哀痛的目光停滞在对面一栋组屋的某一户,即使没有戴老花眼镜,他也能认得出那是原本的家。这度过了大半生的地方,每一方寸之地都早已刻入血液里。

   难以割舍,无法割舍。

    崭新、诺大的房子里,阿伯一个人伫立在窗前,一动不动的。佝偻着的背被现实压至更为卑微的角度,他的体内好似有什么东西,如对面那即将灯枯油尽的房子一般,正在共同缓缓地死去。

2XXX年,告别最后一座组屋

  我心中百味杂陈地签了手上的合同书,身边进行接洽工作的人员不厌其烦地强调新式公共公寓的种种好处——整个房子里里外外安装了智能系统,能自动调节温度、自动感测火灾和入室抢劫、自动清洗、自动……她笑着接过了合同书,说:“总而言之,这真的是非常划算的搬迁计划,这套公寓会比你现在的组屋方便、高科技很多,也更适合老人居住,里面甚至有智能助理料理你的生活起居,你什么都不用担心。“ 我心不在焉地点点头,送走了接洽人员。

   现在的科技简直是日新月异啊!连组屋都要被淘汰了……我自嘲地想了想,也没什么不好的,估计以后儿女不来看我都没要紧了,反正生活里里外外都会被那个什么智能助理打理得妥妥帖帖的,哈。

   回头仔细看看这一室的东西,却终究还是抑制不住心头泛起的不舍。这一室的东西,也是一帧帧的回忆啊……以前看新闻报道人们从甘榜搬迁至组屋、从旧组屋搬迁至新组屋时,还心无波澜,总觉得这是时代的进步,总觉得不过是搬一个家的事情。没想到真轮到了自己,才体会到了这个中滋味,才感觉到了被时代淘汰的感觉是什么。时代的洪流下,渺小如蜉蝣的我们,只好随波逐流,不断地适应这些改变。只是在这一轮轮周而复始的更新、淘汰中,最后留下了什么?家,又意味着什么?

  木心说:所谓无底深渊,下去 也是前程万里。

  我想:所谓前程万里, 下去 也是无底深渊。

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