Ever since Singapore found its futuristic mojo, it hasn’t concerned itself too much with looking backwards. As anyone who has stood on Singaporean soil for more than an hour can verify, the city’s intention to transform itself into a living, breathing garden is well underway. But where Avatar-esque supertrees, 57 storey skyparks and night safaris may satisfy the frequent flyer and first time tourist, there are those who wonder where the locals go when the flashy façade of the Lion City gets just that little bit too bright.
Enter Punggol. A 5km stretch of water-skirting pathway that sits in a peaceful bubble, away from the high-rise, high-energy hotbed of the city centre and its satellites. Here, the concrete jungle is replaced with wood underfoot, as a snaking boardwalk winds its way alongside the Serangoon reservoir, and the only Flyers you’ll see here are likely to be of the insect variety, rather than the gigantic ferris wheel kind.
At regular intervals, the route is punctuated by an array of structures – some to be pondered over, some to be put to good use; more often than not, you’ll want to do both. A ship-shaped viewing platform, for example, offers visitors elevated views across the water so that they may glimpse the flickering illuminations of Malaysia’s Johor Bahru as the sun goes down, or sight a rare bit of birdlife on Coney Island, Pulau Ubin or in the nearby Lorong Halus wetland. Further down the path, exercise stations, sun shelters and small playgrounds feature seamlessly alongside serene lily ponds, photogenic bridges and specially crafted fibre-optic light installations (said to mimic the native lalang grass swaying in the gentle river breeze), all of which are carefully balanced so as not to make any one group of callers feel more catered to than the next.
In many ways, Punggol could be thought of as the conduit through which old Singapura meets new Singapore. On the one hand, its overall appearance is so slick it wouldn’t look out of place in one of those weighty, design-laden coffee table books we lust after in our down time; the perfect fit for a Southeast Asian metropolis on the move. On the other, its incorporation of heritage with a distinct family focus, hints at a keenness to keep its deeper side current. Heaven knows this is a place where historical waters really do run deep, as the terrible tragedy of Sook Ching will attest.
No matter what your purpose, you should happen upon the area with respect for everything that has come before. Keep in mind this is a rare place made, not for the sightseer, but for the citizen, and a way in which the ‘City in a Garden’ can suitably remember its roots.