Sunday, 23 May 2010

Punggol End or End of Punggol? - Br Edward Seah

At our recent Diocesan Vocation Retreat, I learnt that quite a number of participants could not find the way to the Seminary. How is that possible considering Singapore is [according to a minister from one of our neighbouring countries] just a little red dot? Then I recall the very few occasions I had taxi rides to the place. The drivers did not seem to know where Ponggol 17 Ave or Ponggol End were. One only knew when I said ‘It’s near the end of Punggol’.

At a table conversation during the vocation retreat, I learnt that it seems many drivers did not quite understand when passengers requested for ‘Punggol 17 Avenue’. Then I learnt of a new name given to this place. The taxi drivers call it simply: Punggol 17. Hmm, that’s a cool name for sure!

Punggol End or Punggol 17 is a new place for me. It is the part of Singapore I am not very familiar having spent the first part of my life in Bendemeer-Rangoon area and the rest of my years, prior to coming here, mostly in Katong. My memories of Punggol could only go back to the once-upon-a-time time even before the air was filled with the ‘ketiak’ [armpits] odour of pigs. Once in a blue moon, my mum used to visit a Middleton Hospital colleage of hers for some ‘see-sek’ [chinese gambling cards game or what I thought was the female version of majong] session which lasted like a whole day. When evening came, the aunties either put up the dimly-lit oil lamps or the very brightly pumped kerosene lamps like those commonly used then by stall holders at Pasar Malam. I could still recall the challenge of going home once the aunties transfigured into ‘zombies’ after a day of ‘puak see-sek’. Someone would carry a torch light and lead us through a narrow dirt track before we reach the bus stop for the same bus number 82. It was scary as we believed pontianaks roam in the dark looking for guys [so hold on to your shorts tight] and we were advised never to look back if we smell the sweet fragrance of flowers especially from the frangipani tree.

Many years later, in 2009, I was back again to this place near the end of Punggol. It was different from what I had seen before. There were less trees, less farms though this last stretch of Ponggol Road still look the same narrow road quite like before. Once settled in the Seminary, I had the wonderful opportunity of experiencing the cool weather especially at night and in the early morning. I remember I did not need to use the fan in my room on my first two weeks here. My room faces the forest next door. I was often awakened at night by the sound of wild boar among other creatures and during the day watched different kinds of birds and abundant squirrels in their daily routines. At times, the monkeys made their special guest appearances.

Photo: Is this ….. Down-Under or somewhere? Courtesy of Br. Gregory Chan

Photo: A dream world right across the road. Courtesy of Br. Gregory Chan

I was amazed with the amount of wild lives present in this small remaining pocket of forest. Within a year, the surrounding places changed. Over a period of time, we could hear excavators pulling down the trees one by one. As the struggle went on between the excavator and each tree, I watched the swinging of other trees as if they were trying to uproot themselves so as to seek refuge somewhere else. For a while, the seminary also became like a passage way or crossing for many crawlies including the poisonous cobras. I have no idea where the creatures have gone to now but hopefully they have made their exodus to some other promising lands.

I must say that it has been a privileged for me to be here at this time where Punggol is undergoing major transition. I arrived just in time to catch the breath of the green lung of Punggol. For those who come to attend the next Vocation Recollection, be sure to catch a glimpse of the little old Punggol and give Him the highest glory and praise while admiring the plants of the earth, the bird in the sky, and the wild beasts and tame before the next change comes: the much anticipated Punggol 21. Come and see not only Punggol 17 but if you have time, go beyond … right to the end of Punggol.

Photo: Punggol Road and the bus stop for 17th Avenue.

Photo: Where Punggol Road meets Punggol 17th Avenue.

Photo: What else to do next?

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