Leave it next, please

SINGAPORE - Sometimes, Singapore feels like a sunny graveyard.

Ghosts of roads and buildings past, with stories drifting around them, rise out of the ground and fade away as I walk by. Their outlines are only as distinct as the emotions that power them.

I recently walked past an unusually shaped bus-stop shelter near the Marina Bay MRT station. Its organic-looking structural design made it seem like a sun-bleached spine of a massive prehistoric creature, its flesh rotted away.

It suddenly resurrected in my mind the ghostly shape of the Marina South entertainment complex which once stood nearby.

Then for a few seconds, sounds, heat and colour rushed back as I remembered the area when it was still steaming with hotpot restaurants and vain-pot Ah Lians.

I had not cared for that old, gaudy version of Marina South, but it probably meant something to couples who shared steamboat dinners and assorted torrid memories there.

Where do Singaporeans go to reheat old romances if places keep disappearing?

Maybe a story or two from this National Day Special quickened your pulse and you now plan to explore new places as well as old haunts - trigger fingers hovering over the Instagram app, the sketchbook pencil, the camera button. Take that picture, be quick on the draw, for the places could go sooner than you think.

Perhaps there is no need to be so sentimental. Commit to the country as a whole, but accept that neighbourhoods come and go, so make the decision to fall in and out of love with them in double-quick time.

I used to be afraid of, yet drawn to, a short shadowy pathway near where I lived as a teen by the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The curving path was cracked where powerful roots pushed their way from the dark earth through the asphalt surface.

Trees leaned overhead like giants curious to see what a girl was doing, wandering in their dimly lit domain.

In the middle of the urban jungle that is Singapore, it felt like I was heading into the woods of an unhappy fairy tale, like I was walking to another land. Actually, it did literally lead to another land, for standing at the end of it, right in the interior of Singapore, was a gateway to Malaysia in the form of the railway station. Malaysian rail operator Keretapi Tanah Melayuused the land for the station under a 999-year lease with the tracks leading to Johor. The station was closed in 2011 and the land returned to Singapore.

The pathway was a shortcut to the hot tea and curry puffs sold in the cafeteria of the now defunct station - another ghost fading away in the railyard as the last train had rolled off the tracks a couple of years ago.

But there was an almost secret fork in the path which led deeper into a tiny, forested area at the top of the slope. Secret, because nature tried to cover the tracks with grass, roots and leaves. Maybe there was not even another path. Maybe I just made my own way and wandered off on the side like a stray cat. When I tilted my head up, I saw only trees softly fringing a view of the night sky, which lifted me slightly out of reality since views in Singapore were more often sharply framed by brick, glass and concrete.

The faint little stars hung in space like fragile fairy lights.

Today, when I stand again at the edge of this path, views of buildings peek through the greenery. Pricey condos are piling up around it. Perhaps that pathway will also soon give up the ghost.

Bury it, I say. I have stumbled upon this realisation on my own life journey: that by just doing what I like - wandering/wondering - I can find new paths. If Singaporeans go on doing what they like, living full lives, they will create interesting new neighbourhoods by their very actions.

Love to drink an espresso with a local-flavoured macaron in a beautiful cafe interior? More streets of quirky, independent cafes and bakeries will percolate into existence.

Love to kick a football around with your mates? More grassy spaces will win unofficial status as neighbourhood pitches.

Let go, like something new. Love the next one.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.