””

People behind the old charm at Dakota Crescent

Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore's oldest public housing estates, has been drawing visitors interested in its old-school architecture. But speak to the residents and you'll learn a gem of a true Singapore story

Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore's oldest public housing estates, is a peculiar sight.

Swanky condominiums tower over it on one side, and the Sports Hub looms just down the road.

The low-rise estate was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the HDB's predecessor, in 1958.

About 60 years on, the end is nigh for the quaint estate of rental flats.

Residents have till the end of next year to move out, after redevelopment plans were announced last year. Many have already moved, but others are hoping to hold on to their homes as long as they can.

Madam Tian Ying Lee, 62, and her husband Wong Ah Fook, 53. The couple have lived in Dakota Crescent (below) for 21 years and share a love for singing. They have won several singing contests, and often invite their neighbours to join them for karaoke
Madam Tian Ying Lee, 62, and her husband Wong Ah Fook, 53. The couple have lived in Dakota Crescent for 21 years and share a love for singing. They have won several singing contests, and often invite their neighbours to join them for karaoke sessions. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Madam Velu Rukumani, 61, has lived in the estate for 14 years. She says she will miss her seventh-floor Chinese neighbour most, even though the women do not know each other's names and just call each other "auntie".
Madam Tian Ying Lee, 62, and her husband Wong Ah Fook, 53. The couple have lived in Dakota Crescent (above) for 21 years and share a love for singing. They have won several singing contests, and often invite their neighbours to join them for karaoke sessions. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Mr Lai Kok Chuen, 64, has lived in Dakota Crescent for decades. He is well-known among his neighbours for his ability to mimic sounds and for performing balancing tricks using his umbrella. The bachelor makes it a point to wear a tie every day - all
Mr Lai Kok Chuen, 64, has lived in Dakota Crescent for decades. He is well-known among his neighbours for his ability to mimic sounds and for performing balancing tricks using his umbrella. The bachelor makes it a point to wear a tie every day - all of which were given to him by people over the years. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Madam Yee Dew Eng, 77, a 36-year resident of Dakota Crescent. The sprightly cleaner, who lives alone, loves dogs and once lugged home a heavy dalmatian sculpture that she saw discarded by the road in Katong.
Madam Yee Dew Eng, 77, a 36-year resident of Dakota Crescent. The sprightly cleaner, who lives alone, loves dogs and once lugged home a heavy dalmatian sculpture that she saw discarded by the road in Katong. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Madam Velu Rukumani, 61, has lived in the estate for 14 years. She says she will miss her seventh-floor Chinese neighbour most, even though the women do not know each other's names and just call each other "auntie".
Madam Velu Rukumani, 61, has lived in the estate for 14 years. She says she will miss her seventh-floor Chinese neighbour most, even though the women do not know each other's names and just call each other "auntie". ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Mr Eric Ang, 46, with his pet birds in his living room. Mr Ang has lived in the estate all his life, and says that if he had the choice, he would not leave. He currently spends his time at home taking care of his bedridden elderly mother.
Mr Eric Ang, 46, with his pet birds in his living room. Mr Ang has lived in the estate all his life, and says that if he had the choice, he would not leave. He currently spends his time at home taking care of his bedridden elderly mother. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Mr Bilyy Koh, 61, in his living room. The decorations were inspired by his travels and work as a hairstylist in Europe and the Middle East. He has lived in the estate for more than 50 years and laments how the country is changing so quickly.
Mr Bilyy Koh, 61, in his living room. The decorations were inspired by his travels and work as a hairstylist in Europe and the Middle East. He has lived in the estate for more than 50 years and laments how the country is changing so quickly. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


Overview of the old blocks of flats at Dakota Crescent. The estate has been slated for redevelopment and residents have till end-2016 to move out. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


Overview of the old blocks of flats at Dakota Crescent. The estate has been slated for redevelopment and residents have till end-2016 to move out. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


The main door of a Dakota Crescent resident's flat adorned with Chinese religious paraphernalia. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


Scrawlings on the wall at a staircase landing at Dakota Crescent. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


An incense paper burner sitting atop of a resident's bicycle at the staircasr landing at Dakota Crescent. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan's flyer hanging on the door of a resident's flat at Dakota Crescent. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


The long corridors at one of the rental blocks at Dakota Crescent. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


Durian husks are arranged outside a resident's main door to keep stray cats away. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM


A stray cat napping at the staircase landing at Dakota Crescent. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

CHILDHOOD GAMES

I remember playing 'catching' with my neighbours, growing up. There were 20 of us, running up and down the long corridors.

MR ERIC ANG, 46, who has lived in Dakota Crescent all his life.

DIFFERENT BUT STILL FRIENDS

I will miss the seventh-floor auntie most... I speak to her in Malay and she speaks to me in Chinese. But we still understand each other.

MADAM VELU RUKUMANI, 61, and a resident of 14 years, on her Chinese neighbour, citing how they've helped each other over the years - from borrowing ingredients for cooking to running errands for each other.

"It is really quiet and peaceful here at night," long-time resident Bilyy Koh, 61, says while gazing out of his kitchen window overlooking the canal running beside the flats.

"I'm the only one left in this block so this is like my bungalow," says the former hairstylist.

The bachelor grew up at Block 12 Dakota Crescent - the same unique two-storey block that used to house the iconic Tian Kee provision store.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said that living in an HDB flat is "part and parcel of the Singaporean way of life".

This cannot be more evident than in Dakota Crescent - erected even before Singapore's independence.

Mr Eric Ang, 46, who has lived there all his life, says: "I remember playing 'catching' with my neighbours, growing up. There were 20 of us, running up and down the long corridors."

The estate has drawn visitors to its old-school architecture since news of the redevelopment broke.

But the real charm of Dakota Crescent stems from its people. From a karaoke-loving couple to a hoarder to a former hairstylist, this interesting mix of residents living on different floors is what makes Dakota Crescent a vertical kampung.

Many residents were glad to move to a newer flat with better facilities, but they also expressed sadness about parting ways with neighbours whom they've come to know well.

 

Madam Velu Rukumani, 61, says of her Chinese neighbour: "I will miss the seventh-floor auntie most."

She tells of how they've helped each other over the years - from borrowing ingredients for cooking to running errands.

The resident of 14 years adds: "I speak to her in Malay and she speaks to me in Chinese. But we still understand each other."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline 'People behind the old charm'. Print Edition | Subscribe