Preserve our past for the future

Straits Times Forum 20 Apr 13;

Reading In Search Of Singapore's Past (SundayLife!, April 14), I was reminded of what a friend told me about his mother who had died last year.

He said it had been difficult for her in her twilight years. All the places that were familiar to her, where she had raised her children, were gone. She was not just losing her mind, but also losing her daily compass points. Her links to her past were disappearing one by one. To me, that is a microcosm of what Singaporeans face if we do not make efforts to preserve our past.

Most of the Alexandra-Redhill area - the schools, low-rise flats, market and the streets where I grew up - is gone. The area is fast becoming an upmarket condo belt, which is so incongruous and remote from what I remembered.

But a lot of other memories are fading too, such as those associated with the now-defunct Capitol Theatre and the old MPH building. The buildings may still be there, but the people, such as the kacang puteh man, the sarabat stalls and other repositories of our memories, including the old National Library, have vanished and become apparitions in my mind.

Our memories are physically eviscerated every few years in the name of progress - urban renewal and en-bloc sales. The list of places where we find comfort and refuge in our daily lives keeps getting shorter.

For example, how long did Borders last, compared to the MPH Bookstore on Stamford Road?

What is the point of being asset-rich when we are deprived of our collective memories?

If we do not make the effort to preserve our heritage, as in the case of Bukit Brown cemetery, we may end up living our twilight years in ever-shrinking shoeboxes in a giant, bubblegum-free theme park surrounded by pockets of artificially manicured and what I call bonsai attractions, such as Gardens by the Bay.

How can we call a place home when we are forever lost in transition, if the old keep vanishing and the young keep forgetting?

Leow Aik Jiang