One day in Buangkok - Morning

Early bustle as residents start day

8.17AM: Lorong Buangkok resident Seah Hui Yun, nine, enjoys her breakfast. As the day starts, some residents busy themselves with chores, such as doing the laundry.
8.17AM: Lorong Buangkok resident Seah Hui Yun, nine, enjoys her breakfast. As the day starts, some residents busy themselves with chores, such as doing the laundry. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
8.06AM:  Above: Ms Aton, 64, rests at her porch with a copy of the Berita Harian.
8.06AM: Above: Ms Aton, 64, rests at her porch with a copy of the Berita Harian.
11.06AM: Students from a nearby school explore Kampung Lorong Buangkok. Such visits have become a routine affair for the kampung dwellers.
11.06AM: Students from a nearby school explore Kampung Lorong Buangkok. Such visits have become a routine affair for the kampung dwellers.

As the end looms for Singapore's last kampung, journalist Ng Huiwen charts a day of the throwback lifestyle - from leaky roofs to sharing food with neighbours - of the 26 families who remain there.

Before the first rays of sunlight strike Kampung Lorong Buangkok, Mr Ter Ah Seng is already out on the front porch of his zinc-roofed, wooden house, stretching his aching muscles.

It is 6.30am on Friday and the 78-year-old retiree is up slightly earlier than usual because of a bad cough.

His neighbour's roosters give several hearty squawks and several birds chime in, but Mr Ter does not seem to notice the countryside cacophony. After all, he has been living in Lorong Buangkok - Singapore's last surviving kampung on the mainland - with his family for about 50 years. Today, his wife and only daughter, who is in her late 40s, continue to live with him there.

"It is part of kampung life. I just like getting up early because the air is fresh, and I will cycle out to have breakfast or meet my friends," he says in Mandarin.

He uses a rag to wipe down his 20-year-old bicycle, recently given a new coat of sleek black paint, before hopping on and pedalling down the gravelly path.

Soon after, more residents stir from their sleep. Some head to their spartan kitchens to prepare breakfast, while others busy themselves with simple chores. A loud clang from the nearby construction site sounds across the kampung, signalling that work has begun. Several new Build-To-Order blocks of flats have risen at the sprawling worksite, which hugs the fringes of the kampung.

As the sound of drilling and knocking hum in the background, 64-year-old Aton, who goes by only one name, sweeps her doorstep with a traditional straw broom. She takes the Berita Harian newspaper in, before sitting on a wooden armchair outside.

She says, in a mix of English and Malay: "Maybe later, I will cook. Sometimes it is chicken, sometimes fish with some spices."

A few doors away, her childhood friend, Ms Sng Mui Hong, calls out to a golden-coloured stray cat. "Niao gong," she says, referring to the male feline. It is feeding time.

Ms Sng, 65, is known as the kampung's "towkay". Her father, a traditional Chinese medicine seller, had bought the 1.22ha land in 1956, renting it out to families. When he died in 1997, he passed it down to her and her three siblings. Her siblings have moved to Housing Board flats. She collects rent from the 26 families still living on the private land, which is about the size of three football fields. With six big dogs in her home - mostly strays that she had adopted - it would be impossible for her to keep the cat indoors, she says.

At about 8.30am, she is seen waving to housewife Lina, 47, who is pushing a trolley of groceries down the dirt path, while two of her dogs run free in the garden.

Madam Lina, who declines to give her full name, has just returned from the recently opened Giant supermarket with her 20-year-old son. Being just 400m away, it takes them only about 15 minutes to walk there.

After a short chat in Malay, Madam Lina casually passes a $10 bill to Ms Sng over her gate and receives a blue handwritten receipt. Her monthly rent is $9.10, but she does not fuss over the change.

She says: "Mui Hong will sometimes come to our door to collect (the rent), or we will just give it to her if we see her. Our system is very simple; we trust each other."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 08, 2017, with the headline 'Early bustle as residents start day'. Print Edition | Subscribe