A day in the life: Ubin's postman

Mr Salleh Mohd Adam could be the last postman to deliver to the kampung island
Priscilla Tan The New Paper 26 Jan 17;

His job is unique.

Weekdays see him go from the smooth roads and orderliness of mainland Singapore to one of the island's last true kampungs.

Mr Salleh Mohd Adam knows the trails and people of Pulau Ubin better than most. He is the island's postman.

The 46-year-old has been working the Ubin route for two years now, after taking over from SingPost's then-oldest postman, Mr Haron Jomahat.

This particular journey began even before Mr Haron retired at age 75 when Mr Salleh was asked to prepare himself to be a replacement should Mr Haron be unable to make the route for the day.

Mr Salleh's work starts at 7am with the sorting of mail. His trips to Ubin generally span two hours - more if it rains - and end around midday.

It's not just the island life for Mr Salleh. Upon returning, he continues on with his mail route of Simpang Bedok too.

NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

The unconventional mail route, although short in duration, comes with its own set of trials.

Mr Salleh does not have an exclusive transport to the island. Like everyone else, Mr Salleh travels to Changi Point Ferry Terminal and waits for the bumboat to fill up with 12 passengers.

He also pays the $3 fee.

On a good day, it can take just 10 minutes for the boat to fill up. When he's not so lucky, it can be 30 or even 45 minutes.

Another challenge is the weather.

The postman of Pulau Ubin hand-delivers the mail on a motorbike and rain can make soon turn the roads muddy and too dangerous to ride on.

In the event of gloomy weather, he has no choice but to wait till the dark clouds pass.

His route is also peppered with guard dogs and strays. Animal sightings also include snakes and a wild boar or two.

While this might sound enchanting to some, it came as a fright to this reporter when seemingly-aggressive canines advanced when Mr Salleh was in the process of dropping off the mail.

The frequent Ubin commuter remained unfazed.

He has a contingency plan to hand. Should the situation ever get out of hand, he would simply zoom off on his motorbike.

Thankfully, the postman has yet to find himself in such a position.

THE KAMPUNG SPIRIT

Yet for its trials, this is a very special route and one the Mr Salleh relishes for one particular reason - the people of Ubin.

"This is the special thing down here. They are very friendly and it is very nice to talk to them," Mr Salleh commented.

Like his predecessor, Mr Salleh has come to know the island's inhabitants well.

The small community of about 38 is about as homely as it is possible to be.

"There are a lot of old ladies here. They're like my grandmother," Mr Salleh jokes.

Throughout his route, the friendly familiarity this postman has with residents is always on display.

When talking about the kampung-style environment, Mr Salleh brings up the reception he receives from the residents as one of the key differences between delivering mail on the mainland and at Ubin.

The residents freely share home-grown rambutans and durians — Mr Salleh literally enjoys the fruits of their labour.

There is much camaraderie. Mr Salleh can freely leave mail at their shops, or simply on tables outside their homes, without fear of it being taken away.

A not so friendly fixture of Pulau Ubin? The heat and mosquitoes. Not even the postman is spared.

SECRETS OF THE ISLAND

The frequent trips have him well acquainted with the nooks and crannies of the island.

Mr Salleh has a map of the island seared in his memory, but just to be on the safe side, he has a map which he keeps folded in his postman bag.

The map, unlike the maps available to the public, Mr Salleh's is hand-drawn and weathered, providing a outline of Ubin in postman terms.

Many of the roads are not paved, and at times, even his trusty motorbike is unable to take him to his destination.

Then, the mailman makes his journey on foot, through overgrown grass and weeds.

His knowledge has come in handy — especially useful during motorbike mishaps — when he has to navigate out of the foliage.

"I had one experience on the way to a house very far from the jetty. My motorbike broke down briefly and a tyre punctured. From the house, I had to push my bike all the way to the road.

It was a very slow journey back to the jetty."

While Mr. Salleh does know his way around, there are certain things he would rather not know about the island.

There have been a number of apocryphal tales of ghosts. On the topic Mr Salleh quickly says with a laugh: "I'd rather not know!"

Since 2015, there has been a trial and talk of drones taking over the delivery of island post.

Should that happen, Mr. Salleh will miss his island visits.

What will he miss most?

"The environment down there. Nowadays in Singapore, where got kampung?"

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