Go on literary walks with authors

Writers who have lived in different parts of the island bring mundane places to life in tours

If you think Singapore is all concrete and glass, try this: Turn off the busy Dunearn Road thoroughfare and park your car at Swiss Cottage Estate. Follow the road on foot and wander through Moulmein Goldhill Neighbourhood Committee Community Garden until you reach a small service road at the far end.

Now, follow that road for about a hundred metres as it curves gently to the left. When you round the corner, you will be greeted by more than 7ha of lush, green expanse, dotted with trees and carpeted by a thick blanket of grass.

Writer and editor Verena Tay, 49, calls this spot her "secret valley", where she used to jog as a teenager. It is one of 10 stops on two literary walks on Nov 2 and 9, which are part of the Singapore Writers Festival.

Each tour will feature five authors who have contributed to the Balik Kampung series of books, each comprising between eight and 11 short stories, edited by Tay. There are three books in the series, which chronicles the experiences of writers who have lived in different parts of Singapore for at least 10 years.

Each tour can take up to 35 people, who will travel between locations on a chartered bus. Each stop on the tour will last about 15 minutes.

Tay moved into a terraced house in Goldhill Drive in 1968 and lived there until 1996. Her part of the tour will circle past the Wayang Satu flyover, which is near Raffles Town Club, as well as around the area near her old house.

"I'm trying to evoke memories of names that used to be in this area," she says. The area used to be home to the Wayang Satu Police Station and provision shops bearing the name, but now the only thing which remains is a white pentagon-shaped sign which reads Wayang Satu (Whitley) Flyover.

Other authors are also looking forward to sharing their stories. Carena Chor, a 63-year-old retired Institute of Technical Education lecturer, lived in Chinatown in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The starting point of her walk is in Sago Street.

"That's the street with the famous mooncake shop, Tai Chong Kok, and I used to live in one of the houses there," she says. "During the mooncake festival, we would ask them for egg whites and they would give them to us for free because they used only the yolk to make the mooncakes. We used the egg whites in soup, which was an extra dish for us." Her tour will also take participants back in time, down one of Chinatown's back alleys. "In Chinatown in the 1950s and 1960s, that's where bootleg liquor was made. Sometimes I was sent out to buy some for cooking," she recalls.

Teacher Colin Cheong, 49, will be taking people to Yishun Street 61, which is off Yishun Ring Road, where he lived in the 1980s and 1990s.

"It's quite interesting to see how a place which is very ordinary and mundane can bring to life a funny story or something a bit darker. The point of all these locations is that they aren't strange or weird or exotic, they're just HDB towns."

Writer Christopher Fok, 27, does not want to reveal too much about his section of the tour, which will take place at Choa Chu Kang park. All he will say is that some part of it was inspired by a "violent crime" which happened in the area, and how "archtypal spaces can hold certain urban legends".

"I've always thought of Choa Chu Kang as a sleepy village on the outskirts of Singapore. Maybe the natural atmosphere of this place has a kind of Sleepy Hollow feel, which inspires such stories as well," says Fok, who has lived in the Choa Chu Kang area for more than 18 years.

Sleepy Hollow is a ghostly, haunted village, which was immortalised in American author Washington Irving's short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820). In 1999, it was turned into a horror film, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.

Fok also hopes that the tour will give people fresh eyes with which to take in Singapore. "There are many stories around, and I want people to understand and approach things with a new awareness of the space around them."