Being an opposition ward for close to three decades has given Potong Pasir a unique culture. It is in a sense one of the last places in Singapore that can claim to have genuine kampung spirit and — upgrading works notwithstanding — takes you back to a simpler time. If you grew up in Potong Pasir, you’ll remember that…
1. There were just three bus services, but that was enough
Your humble list of buses connected you to every part of Singapore between Pasir Ris and City Hall long before the arrival of the MRT in 2003.
2. Election season was always something to look forward to
While the majority of constituencies saw nothing more than a victory procession after a walkover win, Potong Pasir was always a battleground. And whenever the results were announced, people of all ages and races would pour out onto the streets to follow the lorry carrying the victorious candidate all along the route from Avenue 1.
3. Chiam See Tong was a one-of-a-kind MP
For six general elections in a row, from 1984 to 2006, that victorious candidate was Chiam See Tong. In his 27 years as a Member of Parliament, he became a part of daily life in Potong Pasir. If he was invited to a wedding, you could be sure that he would attend, and he had the ability to interact effortlessly with residents young and old. After his meet-the-people sessions, held in the void deck of Block 108, he would often head to one of the coffee shops with his team before calling it a day.
4. St. Andrew’s is always a topic of conversation
St. Andrew’s School (Primary and Secondary) arrived in neighbouring Woodsville in 1940 and expanded into Potong Pasir in 1986. The Junior College would join the village in 2005. For parents, it was the first choice school for their boys, and even if you didn’t manage to get an aggregate good enough to get in, you still got to visit on carnival days. About a third of attendees at carnivals were residents.
5. You knew the river as more than a giant longkang
Most rivers in Singapore are nothing more than giant drains, but back in the day, the Kallang River that runs through Potong Pasir was a real river. You could swim in it, you could walk across it at low tide and at night, you could go fishing and hunting for crabs in the river bed.
6. HDB void decks were your favourite playgrounds
You had your old sandy playgrounds, but HDB blocks were your favourite fields of play — whether you were honing world class skills in the time-honoured sport of catching, or pockmarking the pristine walls with football-shaped stains during under-block matches. You were a considerate kid though, changing blocks from day to day to avoid being chased away by angry residents.
7. You didn’t — and still don’t — need a mall
Growing up here, you had no nearby malls, so coffee shops became your favourite haunts – particularly the 24-hour establishment in front of the temple. Shouts of “Saman!” bring back good memories for you as you remember the coffee shops emptying out each time a parking warden was spotted.
8. You have first-hand experience of kampung spirit
“Kampung spirit” can be an abstract ideal, especially for younger Singaporeans, but you witnessed it in its truest form. The older generation of residents here were uprooted from their kampungs and moved in, but managed to keep the village vibe alive. Everybody knew everybody, which meant that there was plenty of gossiping to be done each day, but that familiarity also gave you a sense of security.
9. You fear that the kampung spirit might soon disappear
Since the 2011 general election, when Potong Pasir was won by People’s Action Party candidate Sitoh Yih Pin, change has been in the air. Long-awaited upgrading works finally arrived under the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, Home Improvement Programme and Enhancement for Active Seniors programme. While these improvements were much needed, it does make you feel like Potong Pasir is becoming like every other estate.
10. It’s the only estate you want to live in
At the end of the day, Potong Pasir has been, is, and – you hope – always will be your kind of town. It’s home and you want to keep it that way.
Special thanks to Hussin Ismail for sharing his memories with us.
Photos: Gavin Khoo