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  New Paper 20 Aug 07
Singapore's last kampung peace and quiet
PRICELESS Land worth: $33million
Rent: $6.50 to $30.00
By Shree Ann Mathavan

New Paper 20 Aug 07
Owner of $33m Kampung: My family ties are not for sale

By Hedy Khoo

SAY you own a piece of land that the experts estimate to be worth tens of millions. Wouldn't you be happy? Not Ms Sng Mui Hong.

The 54-year-old feisty land owner has been in a foul mood since recent news reports suggested the land she co-owns in Lorong Buangkok is worth $33 million.

She guards her privacy jealously but since the reports, people have turned up in droves to look at her land, said to be Singapore's last kampung. Some of her tenants have been approached by property agents.

Ms Sng has also been sought after in the past. She remembers that some even asked for her hand in marriage, considering her a rich heiress.

But with so many strangers in the area now, she has become even more reclusive. When The New Paper on Sunday dropped by her home, Ms Sng initially refused to talk. But after three days, she slowly opened up and explained her stand.

At a time when many are thinking of making a killing on the property market, she just wants to be left alone on her land, roughly the size of three football fields.

And while some landlords are pushing up rents, she's maintaining hers, despite them remaining as low as $10 a month. Ms Sng co-owns the land with her siblings. She herself lives in an attap hut as the 'penghulu' (Malay for village leader) of a group of tenants who all want to be left alone. No media, no visitors, no gawkers and certainly no suitors.

Said Ms Sng in Mandarin: 'Since the reports, all sorts of strangers have come to the kampung.' She wants one thing made clear: 'I am not rich, and I am not selling my land.'

She added: 'I own this land, but now I have to act like a thief, hiding in my own house, when strangers come knocking on my door. 'Strange men come calling out my name at my door, so I have to hide. Same goes for property agents.'

She added: 'My father left us this land because he knew I wouldn't let go of it.' 'He didn't leave us any money, and even when he was alive, my father was not money-crazy. He charged the tenants a minimum rate to stay in the kampung.'

Currently, the kampung consists of 28 households, which pay monthly rents ranging between $6.50 and $30.

She said: 'I take after my father in my philosophy of life. As long as I have enough to eat, I don't hunger after money or to be rich.'

One of Ms Sng's tenants, Mr Ter Ah Seng, 68, an odd-job labourer said she is just like her father - easy-going and not calculative about money. He said: 'You won't find another landlady like her who keeps such a simple lifestyle and lives in harmony and gets along well with all her tenants.' He pays her $11.70 monthly to rent the land his house is on. He said the rental has increased only 30 per cent in the past decade.

Mr Ter said property agents have stalked him, thinking he's the land owner. He said: 'If they catch me around, I always tell them to look for Ms Sng, because I know what her answer to them would be.'

Which is? Said Ms Sng, raising her voice to make the point: 'I will never sell the land if I can help it, because if I do so, I will be unfilial.' The rugged woman - her skin tanned from hours spent in the sun - softened when she spoke about her mother.

Her mother died from leukaemia, soon after her father bought the land in 1956. 'My mother stayed here for only one month and two days before she passed away. I was only 3 years old then. 'That's why I must keep this land. It is my only memory of her,' Ms Sng said.

While her father willed the land to be jointly owned by Ms Sng and her three siblings, she said they have all moved to live in HDB flats.

But don't bother approaching them either. Unlike some families slugging it out in court over property, their family ties remain strong. She said: 'My siblings know I love this land, and I choose to live here because it is peaceful. Money simply can't compensate me for that.'

'Even if the land is really worth much, and I can sell the land and move to a huge bungalow with a big backyard, I can never regain this feeling of simplicity and freedom, and be close to my childhood memories.'

Her niece, who wanted to be known only as Miss Sng to avoid overnight friends, agrees with her aunt.

The 34-year-old clerk said: 'We are not rich, because if we are, I don't have to go out to work for a salary. We are just simple folk who appreciate the peaceful and quiet life here. I won't give this up, not even for a bungalow.'

But not all visitors are unwelcome. Ms Sng said: 'I love students who come to do projects or field trips, because they can learn so much about nature here.' And those interested to learn that family ties are not for sale may also want to drop by.

New Paper 20 Aug 07
Singapore's last kampung peace and quiet
PRICELESS Land worth: $33million
Rent: $6.50 to $30.00
By Shree Ann Mathavan

SMACK in the middle of Punggol, a place the Government plans to jazz up with apartments and waterfront living, is a plot of land about the size of three football fields (12,248 sq m). Here, everything is rustic.

This may well be Singapore's last remaining kampung at Lorong Buangkok. At first sight, the zinc-roofted colourful homes scattered haphazardly around appear rural on the outside, but within, it's far from primitive.

Notions of an 'ulu' place- one which time forgot, were jolted when The New Paper on Sunday visited the kampung. 'Ulu', a Malay term, is used to describe a place that is economically or technologically backward

Here in Singapore, kampungs come with the works, just like any other snazzy Orchard Road condo. From running water, electricity, to the various electrical appliances, these homes have it.

But there's something else here that's priceless. Peace. It's so quiet here, you can hear crickets chirping and chickens clucking.

Although it's dusty, muddy and the road is uneven, the air you breathe is fresh and crisp.

You may have heard that kampung folk are always friendly. It's true. Despite us poking our noses into their lives, the two families we spoke were friendly and willing to help, if camera-shy.

Requests to take a tour of their homes were greeted with warms smiles and nods, not suspicious looks.

The average urbanised Singaporean, I suspect, might not be as forthcoming.

People here actually do like each other. Stretched across the plot are 28 single-storied houses.

One resident, Mr Ter Ah Sing, 68, a retiree, estimates there are 50-odd residents living here. Some, like him, have lived there for more than 30 years.

It doesn't hurt that the rent they pay is low, from $6.50 to $30 a month.

Mr Nicholas Mak, Knight Frank's director of research and consultancy said the area could be worth 'as low as $20 million or as high as over $100 million'. The wide range, he noted, depended on the development charge, the land zoning (which determines what the land can be used for) and the plot ratio.The plot ratio of a site is the ratio of the gross floor area of a building to its site area.

The New Paper on Sunday paid a visit to the homes of Mr Ter and Nur Farhana Hilmi, 14. Inside Mr Ter's house were leather couches, a television set, a dining table with chairs, two telephones (one cordless) and a cluster of family snapshots on the wall.

In the kitchen we found a washing machine, fridge, sink and stove. The furniture didn't look new, but thanks to Mr Ter's diligence in painting the mint-and-cream exterior each year, the place looked well-kept.

Mr Ter, who has lived there for 35 years, agrees that life in the kampung today is 'quite modern and convenient'.

He said the nearest convenience store and coffeeshop at Buangkok Crescent was just a 10-minute walk away.

He lives with his wife, Madam See Ah Chian, a housewife in her 60s, and daughter, Miss Ter, in her 40s. He declined to reveal his daughter's full name or occupation, saying she would not like to have her details in the papers. He also has three sons - one is in the marble trade and is 45, another is a taxi-driver, 46, and the third, 48, who works in an oil company. They have all married and moved out.

His three sons give him and his wife about $1,500 each month.His rent of $11.70, is paid by his daughter, who also meets all the household expenses.

According to Miss Sng Mui Hong, 54, the landlady, modern amenities like running water, and electricity have been in place at the kampung since 1962.

She recalled: 'It was only in the 50s, that there were no proper roads, just yellow mud tracks and you could see people raising pigs nearby.'

Modern conveniences or not, Mr Ter insists, there are perks of kampung living that urban life can never provide. Said Mr Ter in Mandarin: 'I don't want to move into a flat. For what? All I can do there is look at the walls or go to downstairs to the coffeshop and sit.

'Here, there's more space, the air is better, it's easier for me to live life here, I feel free and easy.'

At his beloved kampung, Mr Ter occupies his days tending to his chilli and bougainvillea plants and regularly visiting his neighbours' homes for a chat.

Friendly neighbourly ties are also aided by the fact that houses here are closely packed together - with each about five metres apart.

Now that it's the seventh month, MrTer busies himself with folding joss paper. He said: 'We are like one family here. Everybody, Malay or Chinese, gets along very well. There's no robbery and we trust each other.'

While they might be years apart, teenager Farhana, a Sec 2 student at Woodlands Secondary, feels just as sentimental about her village as MrTer.

While most of her peers are into trawling the shopping malls or listening to loud music, Farhana loves the peace and serenity of her village. One of her favourite spots is the black sofa at home, because the window overlooks her mother's garden which has about 30 plants.

Said the teenager with a toothy smile: 'Sometimes, I take a nap there and when I wake up looking at all the green, it cheers me up.' Farhana said: 'Even when I grow up, I'll still like to live here, it's so peaceful, maybe I can even bring work home from the office to finish here.'

She lives with her mother, Madam Sharifah Rodziah, 39, a housewife, father, 40, a driver, her sister, 15, and two brothers, one 16 and the other 6 months old.

Responding to a previous media report that the kampung land was apparently worth $33 million, the jolly Madam Sharifah grew sombre.

She said: 'I don't think it's worth that much. If developers want to buy over this land, of course I will be sad, I've lived here all my life. 'But if that happens, what can I do? I have no choice.'

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