image by J
It was like a stage. Or maybe a bear-baiting pit.
In a section of a canal that cuts across Mr Chiam's sliver of Toa Payoh and joined an even larger monsoon canal from PAP's Bishan towards the Kallang River, residents from both constituencies were joined in watching the spectacle of 4 men wading in the murky water.
A pot-bellied and bald Chinese man was moving barefoot, miraculously avoiding all the chips of cement and rock on the canal bed. Another a track-suited Malay man in jogging shoes was on the other side of the canal, similarly dancing about without slipping on the algae. They wade in the water that is knee-high by the sides, and waist-high in the middle of the canal. Above them, walking on a large beam that held a (sewerage?) pipe were two other men, skinny and monkey-like.
A fishing net was half-sunken in the water.
The audience joked, shouted instructions, or watched curiously. Boys scrambled about above ground and tossed them rocks and chunks of broken brick and cement. They were all united in weighing down the base of the net to the canal bed, before raising the top with bright yellow nylon ropes tied to the beam.
Someone shouted that there was a school of fish coming. There was a flurry of activity, and shouts for more rocks. Bald Chinese porky man rushes ahead towards the net, slips and soaks himself from head to toe. He laughs - we all did.
Last evening, there was no fish caught when J and I left the show. I don't really know what kinds of fish swim in those canals, or the water they tasted of. Later that evening, we passed by the same spot again. It was dark and the men were already gone. There were 3 boys sitting in the canal, chatting away. The water level has receded.
Every weekend, this stretch of the canal is partly given to the fishermen among us - or sometimes the fishermen among our foreign laborers. I hesitate to call these scenes idyllic, romanticise the kampong or how even the canals in Mr Chiam's ward have more spontaneous life - of fishes or man - lest the short walk becomes less solid, less real. But, of course, it is already less real now.
an image from Taipei
All I recall now is thinking there's been talk about turning the canal into some ludicrous "water sport zone". I recall J and I remarking how murky the water is, how kids have no fear of germs or strange skin infections, and where we should be heading for dinner before the week began again. And another recent conversation about communities - their sometimes cruel, selfish or ultimately self-damning exclusivity. Perhaps as a kind of theatre, communities can be more inclusive - the line of spectators almost elastic.