Meet the last two people who still live on sleepy St John's island

Meet the last two people who still live on sleepy St John's island
IDYLLIC: Although Singapore's skyline can be seen from its shores, St John’s Island is far from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.

Peace and quiet.

That's the reason two men have made St John's Island their home away from home.

Mr Supar Saman, 67, says: "On the mainland, I can't sleep because there's so much noise.

"You can hear motorcycles and cars, even at night."

He and Mr Mohamed Sulih Supian, 69, are the last people still living on the sleepy island, a 30-minute ferry ride away from Singapore.

To get there, take the ferry from Marina South Pier. Return tickets cost $18 and the trip takes you first to St John's Island, then to Kusu Island.

A spokesman for Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) says St John's Island gets about 2,500 visitors a month.

The 39ha island has served different purposes in the past.

It was a quarantine station for migrants in the early 20th century. Later, it housed a rehabilitation centre for opium addicts.

Today, St John's Island is a haven for flora and fauna, with holiday camps for those who want to be closer to nature.

Mr Supar is the island's caretaker and he has been living there since his family moved here from Johor in 1955.

He was offered a caretaker role when SDC took over the running of the island in 1972.

The serious-looking Mr Supar works five and a half days a week but stays on the island even during his time off.

His official duties include monitoring the boats that arrive at the island's jetty, doing minor repairs to the holiday bungalows on the island and ensuring that visitors to the island know what time the last ferry leaves.

Unofficially, he also makes tea for the cleaners who work on the island.

"I just want to do it," he says.

He has a three-room flat in Chai Chee, where his wife, 69, lives with their 32-year-old daughter, her husband and young child.

But Mr Supar prefers his blue hut on St John's Island, about 50 metres from the coast. His wife visits him once a week.

He says: "I'm just more comfortable here. When I'm bored, I can go fishing."

Mr Supar adds, as his weathered face breaks into a smile: "There (on the mainland), I just sit between four walls."

Fellow islander Mr Sulih, who was born and grew up on St John's Island, also likes the idyllic life there.


Even though it's just the two of them on the island, they seem to prefer keeping to themselves, not out of hostility, but perhaps a sense of privacy.

When asked to if they could take a photo together, Mr Sulih demurs. "He needs to work," he says, pointing to where Mr Supar was talking to some visitors.

Mr Sulih too, was one of the island's caretakers, but retired in 2010.

Being able to go fishing anytime is one reason he still lives on the island.

He goes out to sea to check his fish traps every weekend when his eldest son visits. His other two adult children also visit with their families from time to time.

He says the haul has dropped in recent years, but he is still able to get about 20kg of fish whenever he checks his traps.

Now he spends his time mending and making more fish traps, and feeding the island's many cats.

Mr Sulih says he can live on the island because his wife, Madam Fauziyah Wakiman, 63, works for SDC as an island attendant at nearby Kusu island.

The couple have a flat in Pasir Ris.

While he hopes to continue living on the island, Mr Sulih is aware that it is not entirely up to him.

He says: "If it's possible, of course I want to live on the island."

This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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