Our Memories

Going 'Home'

I lived in Singapore from 1973-4 after dad did his tour of Vietnam. I was 7 when we arrived and it was such a completely new experience to what I had known in Australia. Dad was a corporal at the time so our house was quite modest, located on Jalan Lengkok Sembawang. While food was a big part of the experience we had (who could ever forget their first taste of a peanut satay) for me being a bit younger it wasn't an overriding factor of what Singapore meant. For me Singapore represented a completely alien life to what I had known before but it was also completely enjoyable. I reminisce on the little things like have a amah, going to the local Kampong (Kampong Mata Ayah), fishing in the local creek with a net, collecting cartoon characters that where found under the bottle lids of certain soft drinks, flavoured milk at school, playing outside in monsoon showers, visiting the amah market etc. etc. Add to that the different sounds like the sound of a approaching Chinese funereal (which we experienced regularly due to us living near a Chinese cemetery), the smells (some good like food, some bad like the Singapore river), the people (both local and those from NZ and Australia) and of course the sights.

All these things burnt a deep fondness of Singapore into my mind that I will never forget.

Advance almost 40 year and I finally went back in 2010. While traveling oversea is always exciting (and Singapore was just part of our trip that included Chiang Mai & Bangkok in Thailand) I was so excited about returning to the country I had fallen in love with all those years ago. I was amazed at what Singapore had become, a thriving ultramodern city that was so clean and so well run. I loved it but I did miss and lament how sanitised it had become and the fact that it didn't have the earthy character I remembered. There are glimpse of this dotted around Singapore but you have to look for them now. This made me a little sad.

I again returned in 2013 but this time with a mission. With all the development in Singapore I had thought my old house has long disappeared. I discovered it was in fact still there and is now a child care centre. Before I left Australia I contacted the centre and arranged to be able to have a look in my old house. We caught the MRT to Yushin Town (an amazing development of flats and units in an area that was literally jungle when I had lived in Singapore) and then a taxi to my house. Driving down my old street the memories came flooding back. A lot had changed but there were still things I remembered so vividly from all those years ago.

When I saw my old house I almost cried. Things had changed (it was a different colour, the hedges out the front had gone and there were cartoon characters on the outside walls) but it still looked so familiar. When went inside a once again things had changed a lot yet something's like the tiled floor in the lounge area and concertina grid front doors where exactly the same. My eyes teared up now and it took me a minute or two to compose myself. I took great joy in describing things to my wife and son (and the owners of the centre) as I remembered them. We stayed there for about half an hour before we left. We walked around my whole street (which is a circuit) looking at what was the same and what wasn't, once reminiscing stories with my family as I went. It was amazing and I was glad I did it and more so thankful that I could get the chance and that I am so lucky my house is still there.

In some ways it has given me some closure to a part of my life I have pined for since I left Singapore in 1974. I now except that that was a golden time in my life and something I doubt I will ever experience again. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity that I did. While I am sure I will visit Singapore again in the future I now longer have that burning desire to return because it has changed so much (partly for the good, partly for the bad) and I loved my time living there so much I feel if I was to continue to return regularly I would diminish those wonderful memories.

I am glad I am part of this group and grateful to Jo for setting it up and allowing me to relive those wonderful times with people who went through the same experience as me.

Chris Leeman
ANZMBOS Brat 73-74