Pulau Ubin Stories

Stories, old and new, about Pulau Ubin, Singapore

Friday, May 21, 2004

Have you been to Ubin yet?

Today on a bus ride home, I chanced upon a conversation between 2 persons discussing a trip to Ubin. It took me by surprise that I would so fortuitously hear Ubin mentioned on such a random occassion. Then again, I have been living on a pendulum of opinions (between thinking everybody has been to Ubin or the other extreme) ever since I started guiding with Pedal Ubin!

My first trip to Ubin was in the late 80s or early 90s (the timing is rather fuzzy to me by now). I remember I was still a primary school kid and my dad has dragged me out with him to a mosquito infested, dirty, smelly jetty early in the morning. The jetty was brimming with people and I learned that we were going to Pulau Ubin to visit the Ma Zu Temple (a deity that looks after the seafaring folks - fishermen, islanders etc) on the island.

The Ma Zu Temple seemed like a really popular spot for the devotees on mainland Singapore and on the island. That day, I was also reminded by my father that my mother was born on the island of Ubin and lived there till the age of 12. We walked around the island after visiting the temple and my dad pointed out the prawn pond and ramshackled, desserted hut that was once the home of my mother and her family.

That was the last time I've seen the house and the Ma Zu Temple. All of it is now Outward Bound School (OBS) land. The temple, house and along with one third of the land on Ubin was cleared to make way for the school and I heard they are still considering expansion. Personally I feel a deep lost for my personal heritage. I would never be able to see my mother's home with the eyes of a comprehending appreciative adult.

Nonetheless, the next time I stepped foot on Ubin was in 2003. I went with 2 other photographers to photograph the sights of the island, touted as the last "kampong" in Singapore. To my knowledge, many different groups of people visit Ubin consistently. Thus, I had the impression that Ubin was as well visited and as well known as Sentosa. Afterall, both had resorts and man-made lagoons.

However, during a session of Pedal Ubin on April 25th 2004, in a conversation with one of my guests, a gentleman I estimated to be in his 60s, I was shocked to discover that in all his years since birth in Singapore, he has never stepped foot on Pulau Ubin until that very day. After sounding my parents out, they affirm that in their experience, it comes as no surprise that as much as there are many Singaporeans visiting the island every year, there are just as much or more who has never been on the island.

I was fortunate enough to have had a glimpse of my mother's home in my lifetime but there are many others who never had the chance to see it as it is now. Perhaps it is time to head down to Ubin now and revel in it before its all gone.

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