A Neighbourly Wednesday in Kampong Sungei Durian

Hi All!

In this post, I will be sharing on one of the more meaningful trips to Ubin where I joined residents on March 20th, 2019 on what appears to be a casual Wednesday - but with a breakthrough in my efforts in understanding my family roots and community and a reminder of how blessed I am to be a part of the Malay Ubin community.



It's been almost 2 weeks since my last trip to Ubin - all thanks to a new addition to my family, hehe. My eldest brother welcomed his first daughter on Monday, 11th March 2019 and we were just in the midst of 'newborn fever'. And yup, that also means Ubin gets a new descendant in the list of Ubin blood!

Anyway, I finally got to Changi Village by 0900hrs and decided to not come empty-handed. I initially wanted to buy the delicious huge $1 curry puffs but the stall had not opened yet so I settled for some fresh bread from the nearby bakery.

Upon reaching the ferry terminal, I was honestly expecting a crowd considering that it is the midst of the first term school holiday but to my surprise, it was very ulu. I guess, maybe kids and families had other plans to celebrate their school breaks somewhere else in Singapore.

Anyway, when I reached Ubin I unlocked my orange bicycle parked peacefully by the jetty and I was pleasantly surprised that there weren't really excessive litter in my basket this time round; just one piece of balled-up tissue paper. After properly disposing the litter, I made my way down to visit Pak Ahmad as I knew he would be the only resident present in his home on a normal weekday like Wednesday.

En route, it felt good to reconnect after a fortnight away from my island home. Though what struck me was the sense of calm and peace in the midst of the absence of crowds that I got accustomed to during my usual weekend trips. The glimmering sunshine peeping through the leaves of the trees and sounds of birds chirping in the air; only this time round a strong burning smell was lingering in it too following the verge of entering haze season. This was also my first trip since news of the chemical spill in Sungei Kim Kim broke out and posed potential danger for Ubin given the river's direct flow straight into the island. Thankfully till now Ubin has remained safe from the spill but our thoughts and prayers still reach out to the many victims in Pasir Gudang.

As I approached the Malay kampong, my eyes were caught to a pleasant surprise. Nenek Yah and daughter, Cik Midah, Cik Osman and wife, Cik Ummi, and Cik Rosmala and husband, Cik Munir were all in their homes. The whole stretch of houses along Jalan Ubin less Cik Habsah and Cik Atan's were filled with life. As I cycled past, I waved hi to all of them - prompting me to also head down to their homes for months' worth of catching up to do.

I arrived to see Pak Ahmad and Nenek Piah doing fine, and as always they were seated at their serambi, at peace with each other's company - a true #relationshipgoal. Kak Ratnah served a nice glass of coffee and also brought me some Nasi Lemak. After a nice hour catching up with Pak Ahmad, I excused myself to walk and roam around the Malay kampong.

I arrived to Cik Rosmala and Cik Munir's house and finally saw what the whole kampong had been teasing them for not getting done; which was renovating their home. I was very happy to see so much progress done for their home and they were more than ecstatic to let me see their home. From what almost slipped off my mind, Cik Rosmala brought up about the Pesta Raya@Ubin celebration that I am organising exclusively for all the former and current Ubin residents and I told her that it was finally confirmed to take place on June 16th. 

Something we fail to appreciate is that our own Ubin residents such as Cik Munir are skilled carpenters and know how to build a kampong house from scratch if need be. Can we?

There was a huge smile of glee and excitement on their faces and Cik Rosmala wasted no time in sharing with me how much she loved celebrating Hari Raya at the kampong when she was still a kid. She even shared with me that she already contacted all her children and relatives to inform them about Pesta Raya@Ubin - way before I even managed to get started on creating my invitation letters, hehe. After chatting for a while, Cik Rosmala wanted to head down over to her neighbour's house, Cik Osman and Cik Ummi and wanted me to join her as Cik Munir continued his work in renovating their home.

This was actually my first formal introduction to Cik Osman and Cik Ummi, but they all knew me already, hehe. I learnt from Cik Ummi that Cik Osman was resting inside the house when we came to visit. He was involved in an accident by Jalan Noordin just the previous day when he fell from his motorcycle. His knees were all bandaged and so were his hands and it reminded me of my injury that I sustained last August from my cycling heritage tour. We did not want to disturb Cik Osman from his rest so Cik Rosmala and I decided to pay a visit to Nenek Yah and Cik Midah.

There was smoke in their serambi when we got closer and we found out that they just finished boiling a whole ton of mussels which they hunted for in a river nearby. It was a whole heap of them and Cik Midah even gave some to all the neighbours at the end of the day because it was simply way too much! Shortly after, Cik Ibrahim also just reached the kampong on his bicycle and decided to pay a visit to Nenek Yah, too before heading next door to see Cik Osman who just woke up from his rest and sat down at his serambi, too. After catching up with Nenek Yah and Cik Midah, we went back to join Cik Ibrahim next door.

If you happen to see an orange cat nearby, it's probably Cik Osman's. If you happen to see more than one, it's also probably Cik Osman's too.

What struck me about Cik Osman was that even as he was in pain, he went through the troubles of serving me popcorn while Cik Ummi went to serve up a nice glass of Milo. I can't help but spot this never-ending pattern of hospitality towards me and it made me humble and paiseh at the same time for troubling them - but as truth tells it; this has been the Malay way for treating guests and neighbours since the time of our ancestors, too.

At that moment, I got to witness every neighbour sitting down at Cik Osman's serambi, enjoying their time in each other's company and it made me elated to witness an actual gathering of old-time neighbours. It was through their recollection of fond childhood memories that prompted me to seek verification on the map I did following my mom's recollection of the kampongs there.

Through their collective memories, I was able to receive over 90 houses spread across Kampong Chek Jawa, Kampong Surau, Kampong Bamap (Mamam), Kampong Bahru and Kampong Sungei Durian which were predominantly resided by the Ubin Malay community. By the way, the names listed were just that of the owners, not just the whole family who lived with them which averages to about at least five people living in a single house. (We're potentially looking at nearly 500 Ubin descendants!)

It was such an exhilarating moment to see how Cik Osman, Cik Rosmala and Cik Ibrahim came together and listed out every single home out of their memory and helped filled in each other's lapses. There was also excitement and happiness in their eyes as they listed out everything they remembered. It was through their burst of joy that I was exposed to the lives of over 90 new former residents. Today was clearly a breakthrough in my effort in discovering my community roots!

After a while, Cik Rosmala and I headed back to her home while everyone else also went back to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in their presence of theirs. While Cik Munir was still working hard in sawing the different wooden planks for his wall skirts, Cik Rosmala prepared a simple lunch for us - lontong with serunding and sambal. It was indeed very powerful and tasty - so never let a simple meal fool you.

Wefie for lunch because why not?

I thanked them for the meal before heading back to Pak Ahmad's house for Zuhur prayers. Right before that though, NParks contractors were outside his house with a lorry and crane at their disposal. Pak Ahmad had to cut his shower short and tended to them as I later found out that they were there following Pak Ahmad's request. Pak Ahmad complained of monkeys constantly trespassing into his garden and particularly he wanted to ensure that the monkeys would stay away from his durian tree as it was the season for the durian flowers to bloom. He instructed the contractors to remove the branches from the tree that was next to his durian tree as the branches were extended near enough for monkeys to leap from it and onto the durian tree, posing a huge headache for Pak Ahmad in preserving his durian supply for the incoming season.

 Contractors equipped with a chainsaw in their hands get ready to trim the branches.


The branches have since been trimmed and hopefully monkeys are no longer able to easily leap onto Pak Ahmad's durian tree now.

Shortly after I completed my Zuhur prayers, Kak Ratinah prepared another meal for me - this time round it was mee goreng! It really made me feel uncomfortable again that all of the people whom I've visited constantly gave me food and drinks - but traditions and customs are something we Malays take pride of.

The rest of the day was spent with me doing my own mini kampong clean-up again. I just started to weed away the plants in Pak Ahmad's garden before I started finding myself at Cik Rosmala's house to help and tend to her plants as well. Cik Rosmala mentioned that she would be going back to Singapore and arranged for Cik Azman to pick them up at 6pm. Nenek Yah and Cik Midah joined in too. I also decided to return to Singapore with them as well.

Cat and mouse? Nah, on Ubin it's cat and monitor lizard, baby!

As the golden hour approached, I wasted no time in capturing beautiful panoramic views of Kampong Sungei Durian; a gentle reminder that while the kampongs are beautiful already physically, it is the people who live in them that really brings out the beauty, majesty and grace of a kampong. 

From left to right, the land of the Kassim (Pak Ahmad) family.

From left to right: Cik Habsah, Cik Rosmala, Cik Osman and Nenek Yah's house.

Cik Azman came on time and we all boarded his van - my bike, too. I was just happy at that moment to be a part of something bigger. A part of something that is extremely valuable to me and that is being one with the Ubin Malay community. I never would have expected that a simple trip on a Wednesday could reap in such an emotional day for me that taught me on the values of tradition, customs, hospitality and the real sense of neighbourliness which I can never find anywhere else than on the island of my family's origins.

I hope to pursue even further in understanding my Ubin community and now, there's a whole list for me to be my guide and goal in life. I will do my best in sharing the joys, memories and stories of Ubin and its people and I hope you may enjoy them as much as the residents and I do.

 It's not easy waiting for a boat at this timing, and even when we did, other groups get to go first because they're all just nice 12 pax each.


May Pulau Ubin thrive again, with its people in its heart.

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