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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bearfruit Railway Memories

Ever since my registration for the ‘Bearfruit Railway Memories’ event was confirmed a few days ago, I looked forward to the full day programme comprising an outdoor trail, an indoor memory writing workshop and a forum in the afternoon.

Bearfruit Railway Memories
Date: Saturday, 14 May 2011
Time: 7.30am – 4.00pm
Venue: National Library Building

7.30 – 7.40am: Registration at level 1, Reception Counter, National Library Building

7.40am – 8.15am: Bus departs at 7.50am

8.15am – 10.00am: Nature and heritage trail of Bukit Timah Railway

10.00am – 10.30am: Bus departs & returns to National Library

10.30am – 12.00noon Memory Writing Workshop at Visitors' Briefing Room at Level one, NLB

12.00noon – 12.45pm: Lunch provided by NLB

12.45pm– 2.00pm Memory Writing Workshop, part 2

2.00 – 4.00pm: Green Corridor Forum

Nature and heritage trail of Bukit Timah Railway

Photo: Courtesy of NLB Singapore Memory Project

Like many of the participants, I found the "Bearfruit Railway Memories" was a journey down memory lane.

We started the morning so early that I was not able to get a cup of coffee from Hans outside the main lobby of NLB. Following a suggestion from one of the tour mates, I walked over to Bras Basah Complex and got it from a coffee stall instead. With my body fuelled with hot coffee, I was fully charged for the exciting and interesting morning walk.

The Coach hired by NLB brought 30 of us to Upper Bukit Timah and we have a short walk before we arrived at an old rustic Bukit Timah Train Station. 

As all of us received the following advice after our registration was confirmed:

* Do wear loose but comfortable clothing, covered shoes, put on your sun block and wear a cap/hat for the outdoor trail

* Do bring along a poncho or umbrella in case of wet weather

* Do bring along your favourite writing materials and anything that best helps you to document your walking trail memories

We were able to shield ourselves from the morning sun with umbrella, scarf or sun block lotion. Most of us had our own camera or note pad. In the interests of instant output, NLB provided a few Polaroid cameras for those who wanted some tangible memories along the way.

With the rich green scenery running down the length of the railway track, our morning walk was filled with joy and inspiration.

Leading the trail was Ms Margaret E Hall (Margie Hall), Hon. Secretary from the Nature Society of Singapore. We, a group of 30 participants, were also accompanied by local author, Mr Pugalenthii, and Ms Nurulhuda Binte Subahan and Ms Athena Binte Abdul Aziz from NLB.

Our first stop is the old yet charming railway station surrounded by the woods. To most of us, it has its own unique heritage appeal as it looks like a house back in the 1950s or 1960s.
Ms Margie Hall's detailed narration of the "Key Changing System" was enlightening to most of us who never knew of its existence. When we were at the single track rail in the Upper Bukit Timah area, we saw the train travel in reverse direction to give way to the other train which held the key. The key is a symbolic token for right of way! No traffic light can replace this system and it is amazing to see how efficient the key system is in operation!

In addition, we also learned of the cessation of the Jurong line which is relatively new in Singapore's rail history (1960s-1990s).

As we are trailing the Green Corridor, this walking trail near the upper Bukit Timah railway also gave us some insights to the flora, fauna and heritage aspects of railways in Singapore.

After the short walk of 1.5 to 2 hours, we headed back to NLB by coach. I found the trail a bit short and I think I need to have my "Rail Memory" complete with a walk that covers Tanjong Pagar Station. I was a bit disappointed to realise that the main station was not part of our morning programme!

In my opinion, the Tanjong Pagar railway station, with its colonial-influenced architecture, is a symbolic icon of the rail system of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). The majestic building stands awkwardly amongst the skyscrapers of a business district and residential area, keeping its original look after over 80 years, signifying a paradox in Singapore history after her separation from Malaysia.

I think if the building and the rail track were not the property of the Malaysian Government, it would not have been able to keep its original look after so many decades. Come 1st July, these may all be in our memories when the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Tanjong Pagar railway station ceases its operations. I hope I will be lucky enough to follow another guided tour and have a nostalgic journey for this station. The only memory I have was a train ride departing from Tanjong Pagar station heading to KL during my secondary school holidays. That was my one and only train ride on this railway four decades ago.

Memory Writing Workshop at Visitors' Briefing Room at Level one, NLB

Before the walk, we were asked to think about:

Do you remember your first train ride or have personal memories of this railway station?

Does reflecting on any of your train ride journeys or walking along the railway tracks bring back significant memories?

After the trail, we are guided by Mr Pugalenthii, author of the famous Singapore Ghost Stories Series and many best seller titles, to share our thoughts, memories and feelings about the walk, etc.

Many of the participants are good in writing and we had a fruitful sharing session. Most of them have interesting experiences and memories linked to rail way stations and train rides from childhood to adulthood. It was not a difficult task for them to identify with the topic, as memories seem to flow back easily with the inspiration from the rail walk.

To me, the writing workshop allows the patching of new experience over my limited old memories. To most of the participants, sharing their sentiments, digging their old memories is a joyful re-creation. Through our collaborative efforts, we were able to relive our fading memories with nostalgic touch and reconstruct them to form our collective treasure.

At this point, I would like to thank NLB, Nature Society of Singapore and Mr Pugalenthii for helping us:

* Restructure our memories to form part of a huge collection of memories

* Craft a personalised creative writing work of our experiences and contribute it to a bigger memory pool

* Bring the above home and have our very own memorabilia of this trip!

After the writing workshop, we proceeded to the ‘Green Corridor Forum’:

The Green Corridor Forum

Saturday, 14 May, 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Level 16, POD, National Library

The ‘Green Corridor’ forum is a public discussion on the idea of converting the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway track literally into a “green corridor”, free of urban re-development plans once the land parcel is handed over to Singapore on 1 July 2011.

This includes reasons why Singapore should protect the natural biodiversity already existing along the railway tracks as well as the community benefits that it brings.

Moderator: Ms Olivia Choong, Founder, Green Drinks Singapore

About the Speakers

Dr Ho Hua Chew is currently the Vice-Chairman of the Conservation Committee in the Nature Society of Singapore. He co-ordinates conservation activities of the Society, such as the formulation of conservation proposals, feedback to government land-use and development plans, biodiversity surveys, etc. He has been doing conservation work for the Nature Society for more than a decade, in the course of which he was involved in the formulation of the conservation plan for Sungei Buloh, the Master Plan for the Conservation of Nature in Singapore, the Society's EIA pertaining to the government's golf course at Lower Pierce, etc.

His main field of expertise is bird life and biodiversity conservation, for which he has obtained a great deal of field experience in Singapore and Malaysia, and formal training from Imperial College and the University of East Anglia. He also lectures part-time on Environmental Ethics as well as on Biodiversity Conservation at tertiary institutions.

Tham Wai Hon’s interest in the Green Corridor sprang from his final year thesis at NUS Architecture School in 2006-it questioned the future of Malayan Railway Land. Wai Hon has worked in the fields of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and is currently working on the National ArtGallery, Singapore at studio Milou Singapore.

Neu Wa O'Neill has previously worked on issues of biodiversity and connectivity with the Wildlands Project in Montana and Colorado in the U.S.A., mapping areas of roadless wilderness and habitat for endangered species. Neu-Wa has a BA in Urban Planning from the University of Hawaii and a Master's in Architecture from the University of Toronto, and currently works as an architecture associate in Singapore.

Madeleine Lee, is an award-winning investment manager and poet. Although she is from a financial background, she has a great love for writing. As president of the Raffles Girls School Alumni for 12 years, she led a group of RGS girls to share the Rail walk experience through reciting their poems.

The forum attracted over 60 participants and the discussion centred on the idea of converting the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway track literally into a “green corridor”, free of urban re-development plans.

This includes reasons why Singapore should protect the natural biodiversity already existing along the railway tracks as well as the community benefits that it brings. Some shared their ideas and proposed plans of what’s to become of the old railway tracks.

Participants of ‘Bear Fruit: Railway Memories’ also presented their works based on their memories of the Malayan railway.

In general, the ‘Green Corridor’ Forum raised awareness of the project proposed by the Nature Society of Singapore. It also allows like-minded participants to share their views, sentiments and memories about the railways.

In conclusion, I would like to cite some lines from the Green Corridor proposal:

"This proposal for the KTM Railway should not be viewed as a barrier to development. After all, the railway has been a symbol of progress in the past and should continue to be so."

If you missed this forum and would like to read more about the Green Corridor proposal, visit:

1 comment:

Nurul said...

Lovely! Great to know you enjoyed the walk & managed to reignite your past memories of the railway as well as learn more about 'The Green Corridor'..=)