graffiti town

Toa Payoh girl
The Toa Payoh MRT station - photo by J, graffiti by Y

The Straits Times yesterday contained a 13-page special report on Toa Payoh, J's neighbourhood. The report detailed how this first public housing project in the 60s, has been "upgraded" in the last few years:
It was Singapore's first comprehensive Housing Board town, and the blueprint for many more. Then it aged, looked tired and grew unappealing. Now a $2.2bm effort is refreshing Toa Payoh, its changing landscape is attracting new residents and visitors...showing how to breathe new life into old towns. - ST, Special Report, p1
Cynical me thought It must be that elections are coming soon! After all, all the stories of Toa Payoh's residents contained in that report were cheerful ones of prosperity (the high sale value of the properties were cited, their high-end flat-screen televisions described) and contented retirement.

I guess we all want to be able to shape the environments we live in some way or other - to have that sense of agency, to be able to leave a mark. Hence the most basic form of graffiti says "XYZ was here", more crude than cave paintings! But since we can't legally mark public property with spray paint, I reckon us islanders spend lots of money dressing up our private 100sqm of public housing (hear the cash registers at Ikea!).

And I suppose in the case of Toa Payoh, the upgrading serve as a form of political graffiti - a marking of political territory.

The report gave a sliver of print to the 12 blocks of flats in Toa Payoh Lorong 8 that are under the Opposition ward of Chiam See Tong. It is obvious to any visitor which 12 blocks these are.
Mention the relative lack of upgrading and Mr Peter Tan Seng Tong,68, who owns the minimart...bristles. "We're very happy here!"
Maybe I am biased by my own romantic notions about the opposition party, but these 12 blocks of flats are, without doubt, one of the liveliest spots in Toa Payoh. Where the gardens in the rest of Toa Payoh are mostly trimmed and bear the British legacy of geometric-patterned gardens, these 12 blocks share a tiny patch of green where residents have placed random pots of plants.

OK, political-romances aside, if Toa Payoh is a lovely neighburhood to live in, it is not, as the ST report suggests, because the political markings of "upgrading" has brought it "new life". On the contrary, it is the old - whatever has been allowed to take root - that provides for its new life, organically, naturally, persistently. My favourite is this faraway tree. It's a kind of junkyard graffiti that, despite being destroyed once by upgrading, finds new life simply because whoever makes this tree continues to live there.

For me, it's Toa Payoh that has left its marks on me - these memories! I spent most of my Primary and Secondary school years there. I took my first (and only) jump off the 5m platform in the Toa Payoh swimming pool. For the past 4 years or so, there's been Lorong 8 where J lives - its corridors, BBQ wings, kids and cats. And every weekday morning now, I get off the train at the Toa Payoh MRT station to wait for J on our way to work. So to reciprocate its generosity, I leave on Toa Payoh the virtual graffiti above. :)


nice post. Toa Payoh for me has always been where my mum used to work and old-looking buildings and coffeeshops with fantastic food.

Today, its still a great place for food! =)
Unknown said…
auntie has lived in the same 2-room flat and owned a coffee stall in toa payoh since the beginning of time. many a warm abc stout and milo (f.o.c) have been consumed there. we don't go often though .. being katong peoples ourselves it's a bit of a journey by sg standards =P
ampulets said…
ru, SB - Toa Payoh does have a large number of coffeeshops!

Katong, ah, so genteel!

Funny how in such a tiny tiny island, there's still room for regionalism ;> I myself can't imagine ever living in the west or east ends of the island.
Unknown said…
i know !! so bizarre. even a few kms makes a huuuuge difference. i guess it's a scale thing. i tried staying in hougang before n i hated it =( the food was meh. the transport was meh.
me too, can't imagine living in the east or west. i like it around here!

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