North-east mix of old and new

The 4.2km Punggol Waterway which connects the new Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs, runs through Punggol housing estate and provides residents with waterfront living and water activities.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Ask residents living in Singapore's diverse north-east region what defines their district and they are not likely to agree on any one thing.

According to boundaries drawn by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the diamond-shaped north-east consists of Ang Mo Kio, Serangoon and Hougang near the centre, and Seletar, Punggol and Sengkang near the northern coast.

Aside from the catchment areas, it is a largely residential region, a patchwork of old and new, private and public estates, long-time residents and recent arrivals.

In one corner, there is Ang Mo Kio. Built in the 1970s as a new town that came with all the modern conveniences, it is favoured by residents for its liveability.

A quick bus and train ride gets residents into town, and they are spoilt for choice when it comes to malls, eateries, schools and other amenities in the neighbourhood.

"I have six coffee shops around my house to choose from and, just below my block, there are rows of shops," said insurance broker Ramzan Shaik, 23, who has lived in the estate for the last 15 years.

Residents also see their town as more central than the north-east. A cab ride home from the city costs around $10 outside peak times.

In the opposite corner are Punggol and Sengkang - relatively young towns that are still growing.

The average Singaporean would think of these estates as being far-flung and underpopulated, but being "ulu" is not necessarily a bad thing, as it means you get seats on the train, said teacher Afizah Shaik Abdul Rahim, 38, who moved to Punggol about a year and a half ago.

"Even during the peak hours, you won't find the trains or buses overcrowded," she said.

What Punggol and Sengkang lack in accessibility and convenience, they make up for with the Punggol Waterway Park.

The 4.2km greenway was completed in October 2011, connecting Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs, and lets people walk or cycle from Hougang to Punggol. "It's a green space where I can go to for sports or just chill," said Miss Tan Li Ling, 20, an undergraduate, who has lived in Sengkang for 17 years.

At least six people submitted pictures of Punggol Waterway for The Straits Times National Day contest, which invited readers to post pictures of their favourite spot in Singapore on Instagram.

About 500 entries for #myspotinthedot have been submitted, since the contest began on June 22.

Those living in Serangoon, Kovan and Hougang, in the centre of the district, said one thing that stands out in the area is the good food.

The Upper Serangoon stretch is home to Punggol Nasi Lemak; Yong's Teochew Kueh; Teo Chew porridge at Alishan Restaurant; and Selegie Tau Huay (beancurd), among many popular eateries.

Independent financial adviser Marcus Thng, 31, a Hougang resident, said there are plenty of food options, from food courts to cafes.

Hougang, an opposition stronghold for over two decades, is known to be a Teochew enclave. "Most of what I need is available here," he said. "There is also a strong kampung spirit. Everyone seems to know each other."

Taxi driver Tan Kok Poo, 59, who has lived in Kovan for 30 years, said he has the best of both worlds - convenient access to both the Circle and North East lines, and a park connector to the Punggol Waterway.

Whether old or new, central or coastal, residents said a place becomes home when it is full of memories. Mr Tan said he has seen many changes, from MRT lines to new malls but hopes that the two wet markets and plant nursery in Kovan, which were there when he moved in, will remain.

"It is nice to walk around and still see familiar faces," he said.

This article was first published on July 13, 2015.
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