It happened by chance. I reconnected with one of my 1965 O-Level classmates and suggested we should meet with a few other kakis for a drink. His reply came immediately: “Why waste time drinking? Let’s all go for a walk.”
That terse reply led to the launching of the group called Walking Kakis four years ago and the four kakis have never looked back since. We meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at different MRT stations and plot our walking routes from there.
The walks have become liberating experiences. We walk past bushes, streams and parks taking us to places we had never thought existed in our little green dot.
The Khatib-to-Mandai adventure was memorable. That was the route where we cut through streams, saw abandoned huts and waded our way through wild lalang. It was also where we spotted the distinctively red-breasted crimson sunbird, which has been informally declared as the country’s official bird. Despite its tiny form, it looked majestic. The bird watcher among us said: “This bird is simply stunning. It can be a great showcase for Singapore. It defies its small frame with its stunning looks and long beak.”
Our favourite little spot is the Sembawang Park and its fringes. We have gone back there many times, reliving memories of an era gone by. The kampongs have gone, but the nostalgic smell of Sembawang remains with its charming black and white bungalows and undulating landscape.
All of us grew up in the area and every time we go there, different memories remind us of our care-free kampong life. Alfred Dass was the most enthusiastic. “I remember I used to date my girl friend there,” he said pointing to a secluded spot on the beach.
Once we met a bedraggled figure of skinny frame and sunken eyes. One of us recognised him as an old boy of our school, Naval Base Secondary. We tried to talk to him but he was withdrawn and somewhat uncommunicative. Later, we found out that his love affair had turned sour and he has been roaming
in the park ever since. On another occasion, a chance meeting with another former Sembawang kaki ended up with him telling us about his meeting with the former leader of the Sri Lankan Tigers, V Prabhakaran, his detention in a Sri Lankan jail and his legal battle to get out of the country.
And how to forget that scary moment when a stealthy crocodile was waiting to strike as we walked through the Sungei Buloh Wetlands? It all happened in a blip of a second that makes retelling the story difficult. All I remember is the sound of something moving quickly and a sudden splash of water with a vague glimpse of crocodile eyes submerging into the stream. And it was sheer coincidence that we once ended up in Kampung Buangkok, a rare reminder of a tranquil Singapore lifestyle wiped out by the unyielding bulldozers of modernity.
All this would not have been possible without the park connectors, which have become great spots to reconnect with long-lost friends, Nature and places that have slipped out of our collective memory. It was in 1992 that former Minister of National Development S Dhanabalan planted a Tembusu tree at the Kallang Park Connector to allow Singaporeans to escape into placid and serene settings away from the harsh and over-crowded living in a small and fast city. Today, the length of these connectors has reached 300 km. And plans are in the works to build a trail that will take a nature buff round the whole island with links to other park connectors. That is good news for people like us who are always on the hunt for new places to walk to.
Although we started on this journey about four years ago, we know that we are not even half way
to through visiting all the green nooks and corners of Singapore. That thought in itself puts a spring in our steps.