MyTurf: MacPherson Lane residents bound by food, friendships and familiarity

Madam Tan Gek Bee and Madam Soh Ah Tung, residents of MacPherson Lane. Madam Soh would walk over to Madam Tan's flat to chat with her three to four times a week.
Madam Tan Gek Bee and Madam Soh Ah Tung, residents of MacPherson Lane. Madam Soh would walk over to Madam Tan's flat to chat with her three to four times a week.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Madam Tan Gek Bee speaking to Madam Soh Ah Tung in the former's flat in MacPherson Lane.
Madam Tan Gek Bee speaking to Madam Soh Ah Tung in the former's flat in MacPherson Lane.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Block 82 MacPherson Lane, which has been opted into the SERS en-bloc programme.
Block 82 MacPherson Lane, which has been opted into the SERS en-bloc programme. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Block 83 MacPherson Lane, which has also been opted into the SERS en-bloc programme.
Block 83 MacPherson Lane, which has also been opted into the SERS en-bloc programme. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - For 20 years, MacPherson Lane was both home and a place of work for Madam Tan Gek Bee.

She lived in a two-room flat at Block 81 between 1968 and 1988.

She also used to sell prawn noodles and lor mee at a nearby wet market, which was demolished more than 15 years ago.

Between 1988 and 2004, Madam Tan moved to Bedok, Pasir Ris and Tampines, in search of a bigger flat as her family grew. But the ties with her former customers and neighbours made her move back to MacPherson Lane in 2004.

"As a hawker back then, I knew all the neighbours. I missed the time I spent here and wanted to grow old in a place that is familiar to me," said Madam Tan, now 74 and living at Block 82.

There were many stories of strong neighbourly bonds when The Straits Times visited recently.

But these bonds may come under test as Blocks 81 to 83 have been designated to be demolished under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

The initiative, which was announced on May 31, will affect 313 flats that are around 50 years old, along with 27 shops with living quarters and two eating houses.

Sers aims to redevelop older housing estates by introducing new buildings and facilities.

Affected flat owners will be given a package comprising compensation and rehousing benefits.

Most residents said they would take up the replacement flats near MacPherson MRT station and the Pan-Island Expressway. The flats are located about a 15-minute walk from their current homes.

 
 

Construction is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2023.

Madam Soh Ah Tung, 82, has lived in MacPherson Lane for around 45 years. The retiree recounted how her neighbours helped her when her husband fell ill several years ago.

They would help her call for the ambulance when needed and check on the well-being of her family.

Madam Soh, whose husband died eight months ago, would walk over from Block 83 to Madam Tan's flat in the next block to chat with her around three to four times a week.

Madam Soh said: "She has been my listening ear. She even helped me register for a phone line.

"That's why our phone numbers are so similar."

Others, like Madam Foo Yoke Lan, said they would miss the convenience of living in the area.

"The stalls and coffee shops downstairs make it very convenient for us," said Madam Foo, 66, a retired administrative staff officer. She has been a resident there for 30 years.

There are also provision shops, clinics, a pet shop and even a foot reflexology centre nearby.

For Mr Sim Ya Guang, a retiree who used to have his own media advertising company, the unique scenery is what he would miss most.

Just outside his three-room flat on the 10th storey, one can see a canal winding through several housing estates.

Beyond a cluster of low-rise flats and terraced houses, towering skyscrapers in the Central Business District dominate the skyline, with glimpses of the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands.

"How rare is it to have such a view in Singapore? The horizon is not blocked by any high-rise buildings," the 74-year-old said in Mandarin.

"We don't even have to go downtown to see the National Day fireworks," added Mr Sim, who paints in his free time.

As an ode to the skyline which has greeted him every morning for the past 15 years, Mr Sim said he would paint the scenery - a departure from his usual subjects of animals such as parrots and fishes, and realistic depictions of waterfalls.

He believes that the ties between the neighbours can be sustained despite the relocation.

"Even though we will miss the place a lot... it's inevitable that this place will be redeveloped, as Singapore has to keep moving with the times."

But other residents were saddened by the Sers announcement, saying they would miss the place.

Part-time security guard Ramanathan Ashoka Raj, 70, said he spent $3,000 painting his flat and changing his flooring last year.

"I will definitely miss this place - the familiar faces and the scenery," he said.

Some residents cried when they heard the news, said Madam Tan.

"Many of us are very old and we just hope to die in a place familiar to us," she added.