Holding onto my hat

Holding onto my hat

Friday, August 14, 2015

A BURIED FORT - THE SPIRIT OF KATONG AWAITS RELEASE

In 2004, over 1000 volunteers worked to uncover Fort Tanjong Katong in Katong Park and, in the process, recovered and fortified their community ties.

A dry season in 2001 uncovered an outline of a bastion wall, capturing the attention of Mountbatten resident, Jack Sim, who urged authorities to investigate the site. In 2004, archaeologists were commissioned to excavate the buried Fort. The initiative grew at a rapid pace and in space of four weeks, $200,000 had been raised to fund the excavation.

Archaeologists and volunteers worked tirelessly to uncover a military structure so intact that experts were quick to call it Singapore’s only ‘true fort’. It was hailed as one of Singapore’s most important archaeological finds.

The uncovering of the Fort created an atmosphere of euphoria as more than 1000 volunteers, ranging from students to working professionals, came together to assist archaeologists. Lim Chen Sian, archaeologist and Head Project Manager of the 2004 Fort Tanjong Katong excavation, marvelled the project’s effect on the local community:

“It triggered something in themselves and their environment [because] it’s more than just ‘My school teacher told me this’ or ‘My textbook taught me that’. It became something organic.” – Lim Chen Sian
(Source - http://www.goingplacessingapore.sg/heritage/2014/FortTanjongKatong.aspx)

The Fort stirred a fierce spirit within the residents of Mountbatten. The discovery of history and the reappearance of a remnant of a different era created a sense of ownership among the people. They united with a new spirit – bersatu dengan semangat yang baru – to uncover and perhaps even recover something they could call their own. Something unique to their neighbourhood; a landmark they could be proud of.

The restoration of the Fort represented a similar re-building of a spirit of community buried in the hearts of Mountbatten’s residents. As the Fort was increasingly revealed, so were the ties of community. The Fort became an important symbol of the neighbourhood’s identity, something not immediately obvious, but clearly felt by the hundreds who volunteered in that period.


Unfortunately, efforts to uncover the Fort have run into obstacles over the years as the government cited costs of excavation and maintenance, and problems arising from the fact that the Fort extends into state land. It is a shame that local government organizations like the People’s Association did not push for initiatives like these to be completed. It is disappointing that Mountbatten’s political leaders did not seize this momentous opportunity to listen to its community and work with them to rediscover heritage and strengthen communal ties. This is certainly a let-down for the community at large. The Fort not only possesses a historical significance, but it also could have also served as a symbol of pride and identity for Mountbatten residents and for Singaporeans at large.


As the over a century-old Fort is reburied into the ground, the atmosphere of community excitement surrounding it has also died down. The hundreds of volunteers have since fragmented and moved on with their own lives – perhaps wistfully holding on to the memory of a time when Mountbatten came together uncover a piece of history they could claim as their own. In short, a golden opportunity for community-building has been squandered.

But the short excavation gave us a glimpse of Mountbatten’s potential. A fort is a defensive structure that allows a group of people to defend and fight as a stronger unit.  It is designed to turn away foes and to strengthen a community of people. It surrounds, it protects, and it inspires. It is a physical symbol of the courage and resilience of a people, because it sends the message, “We are here; we are in this together; and we are staying.”

But a fort does not need to be standing to draw a community together. Its metaphorical walls also can remind people of their unity and spirit.

In 2004, the Fort allowed a community to be greater than the sum of its parts.  The gathering of 1000 enthusiastic volunteers shows that the community can be strong and vigorous when it is united for a cause.

I believe that this is but a tantalising taste of what Mountbatten as a community is capable of when it is able to come together. I only hope that the community will be given another opportunity to rediscover its identity and be proud of its heritage.

If elected, I would fight for the well-being of the Mountbatten community, defend its heritage and champion its unity of spirit.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Making Singapore Exceptional - Singapore's Challenges, Mountbatten's Story

Singapore’s Golden Jubilee makes me feel unspeakably proud. Since our improbable conception as an independent nation sited within an unstable geopolitical environment, we’ve managed to vault into pole position in the region, punching well above our weight both economically and geopolitically.

With the pride comes a deep sense of awe and humility as I use this landmark anniversary to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead for Singapore in general, and Mountbatten in particular.

To my mind, it’s not enough to ask what we need to do to maintain Singapore’s standing: we need to push ourselves to ask what it will take for us to make Singapore an exceptional country.

To me, the answer to that question lies in our people and our communities.

One of the greatest challenges we face as a nation moving ahead will be to maintain and strengthen community bonds in the face of increasing population pressures.

Nationally, increasing social mobility is critical to keeping Singapore strong and cohesive. Our national philosophy of meritocracy must continue being our guiding light, but we need to recognize that as each succeeding generation of Singaporeans passes, our system of meritocracy confers inherent advantages to those already ahead that the less economically well off do not benefit from.

Locally, what makes Singapore strong is our sense of community, reflected in our built environment and our common spaces. When we speak of bringing back the “kampong spirit”, we must never lose sight of the fact that for the “kampong spirit” to thrive, our “kampongs” need to be preserved.

There is no better place to reflect on these challenges than from the vantage point of Mountbatten.

Within the constituency, there’s a diverse range of people from different socio-economic backgrounds: some of the wealthiest in our country live in the landed estates in the constituency, while some of the poorest live in rental housing estates.

Singapore’s challenge, in closing the mobility gap between those who’ve made it and those who aspire to make it, is writ large in Mountbatten. This is a challenge we need to confront, and a gap we need to close.

Singapore’s challenge to preserve, promote and enhance our national identity, is also Mountbatten’s. Mountbatten is a constituency with a unique identity and a rich history.

Encompassing parts of Katong, Mountbatten has a distinctly “Katong” spirit that’s hard to put your finger on but which you’d immediately recognize if you chit chat with the elderly convent schooled aunties at Dakota Crescent.

The built environment of Mountbatten is also unique: one of Mountbatten’s most recognizable estates is the 17 blocks at Dakota Crescent, with the iconic small tiled dove playground.

To keep our Mountbatten community strong, we need to preserve, promote and enhance the built environment of Mountbatten, as well as the local businesses that have taken root in the community and which sustain it.

Mountbatten is a small constituency, but one with a distinct identity. I believe Mountbatten, like Singapore, can punch above its weight if we get our priorities right.

While celebrating how far we’ve come as a nation economically and on the world stage, it’s important never to lose sight of the people and communities that make up Singapore. Our people and our communities have made Singapore strong, and I am committed to strengthening our people and our communities because I believe that together, we can make Singapore exceptional.

Happy National Day. Majulah Singapura!

An exceptional view of an exceptional country. Happy Birthday Singapore!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mrs Seow Peck Leng - Spirit of Mountbatten


In 1959, the people of Mountbatten voted in a female opposition candidate. She successfully campaigned for change on a nationwide level and the result was the passing of the landmark Women’s Charter in 1961. Mountbatten voted and Singapore evolved.

The odds were stacked heavily against Seow Peck Leng. She took part in the 1959 General Election as an opposition candidate and faced four other opponents, including a PAP candidate. She emerged victorious.

Her underdog status did not end after elections. When Seow Peck Leng entered parliament, she was an opposition MP facing an overwhelming PAP majority. Furthermore, she was the only female opposition MP in a male-dominated Legislative Assembly during her term. Undeterred, Seow Peck Leng embarked on a nation-changing cause for women and again emerged victorious.

Seow Peck Leng dared to dream big. She envisioned a Singapore where women and men stood on equal footing. A future in which polygamy was abolished and wages were paid equally. Mountbatten believed in her ambitious vision and voted to allow her to represent the community. In return, Seow Peck Leng gave Mountbatten a noble cause to fight for and a new identity.

Mountbatten hitched its fortunes to Seow Peck Leng and she became the spirit of the community - a fiery, passionate, noble leader representing her community on a national stage. Both Mountbatten and Seow Peck Leng became synonymous in the fight for gender equality across Singaporean society.

Seow Peck Leng was more than a mere politician and Mountbatten saw that in her. She tackled a large problem in society and dared to envision a better Singapore. Mountbatten endorsed her and in doing so, backed her vision. Mountbatten voted for Seow Peck Leng to the Legislative Assembly and Singapore experienced genuine legislative progress.

Despite being an opposition Assemblyman, she successfully reached across the aisle and worked with the PAP to achieve a goal of national importance. She reminded the PAP of their pledge in their manifesto, and worked with them on constructive legislation. She could have spent her term opposing the PAP; but instead, she worked with them, and together they produced ground-breaking legislation that took provided national leadership and took into account the needs of all Singaporeans.

Mountbatten’s people were passionate, and voted in a passionate social activist. They were ambitious, and voted in an ambitious leader. They were courageous, and voted in a courageous woman. A marriage of such a community and a strong leader had a tremendous impact on Singapore society.


I believe that the story of Seow Peck Leng shows what a leader of a relatively small SMC can do for people all over the nation when given the opportunity. Seow Peck Leng gave Mountbatten a glimpse of an alternative Singaporean narrative in which both genders were equal in and out of the workplace. When Mountbatten endorsed her and gave her the platform as a Member of Parliament, she immediately set out to achieve a nationwide goal. Her parliamentary term brought about the passing of the Women's Charter, which paved the way for ground-breaking change in Singapore.

Seow Peck Leng was an inaugural member of Singapore Women's Hall of Fame.  As Singapore turns 50, it’s a good time for us to remember the contributions of a pioneer Singaporean and Honourable Member of Parliament for Mountbatten.

Seow Peck Leng has passed on, but her spirit remains in Mountbatten. She rose dauntless to meet the challenges of her day, vindicating her voters for having chosen her over others to be their voice in parliament.  

Today in Singapore, the tried and tested solutions are either becoming less and less effective, or not effective anymore.  As we grapple with the many national issues which hog our conversations, we will do well to recall the trailblazing, feisty spirit of Seow Peck Leong.  In those days, the people of Mountbatten boldly elected a bold lady, and the nation took a big step forward. 

Shall we repeat history?