Recently, I set off to visit my grandmother Wan Yit Poh’s flat - at Block 29, Havelock Road - for the first time since she died back in 1999 at the age of 77.
I have only childhood memories of the area, as my por por (Cantonese for maternal grandmother) died when I was 13.
Now, 14 years later, I am walking down memory lane on a breezy weekday afternoon. I’m glad to see that Giok Hong Tian, or Jade Emperor Temple, which is over a century old, still stands, and that its facade is still its signature chilli-red.
The lush, green hill behind the temple is still there, too, and I remember my mother telling me how she and her siblings would sit on cardboard and slide down it when they were young.
I arrive at where Block 29 should be. But it - or its remnants - are shrouded in grey material.
A sign says: Demolition.
Through a slit in the hoarding, I see the familiar staircase behind the block. When I was a child, it seemed overwhelmingly high. Today, it is a comforting sight, in the midst of change.
I am sad, and then grow angry that time - and development - did not wait for my return.
The sound of drilling, and the sight of debris falling to the ground, is taunting.
Opposite the site is Kim Seng Community Centre. A man at the reception counter tells me, with a wan smile, I am too late.
The block was vacated last December, and demolition commenced in February. I fight back tears. And imagine Block 29 as it used to be.
At ground-level are the coffeeshop, provision shop and the photo studio where my parents’ wedding pictures were taken.
I see the steps where my father would set us down when we visited por por, before he went to look for a carpark lot.
Bicycle bells ring. Children laugh as they cycle at the void deck.
Back to reality, and I am heartened by these memories, enough to walk on. My footsteps quicken when I see Block 22 in the distance - I realise it has the same facade as Block 29.
I snap pictures of Block 22’s diamond-patterned alcoves. As a child, I used to peer out from such “windows”, moving from one diamond to another.
Por por lived on the 15th floor. I take the lift to the equivalent floor here.
The narrow corridor is lined with potted plants. I think of all the plants that por por used grow outside her flat, and her green fingers which could revive the limpest of flowers.
I hear the sounds of a television, people chattering. I smell food being prepared for dinner. Por por would sit on the floor with a pestle and mortar, pounding chillies, shrimp, ginger, garlic, everything. She could cook so well. Chinese New Years were a feast.
A grandmother comes out of her flat, a toddler in her arms.
I watch as she talks to him, and points out Block 29. I see excavators pounding mercilessly away at the block.
I approach the grandmother and tell her about my por por.
What a pity, she says. You should have come earlier.
Yes, I should have, I say in reply, and bid her goodbye. It feels as though I am saying goodbye to por por again.
email@example.comPick up a copy of The Straits Times to read Bryna Singh's full story on Havelock in Secret Journeys In Singapore, the National Day Special.