RICE

ASIA, UNFILTERED

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At 2 AM, the last slivers of moonlight retreat behind advancing clouds. Any light that remains comes from the glow of streetlamps lining the roads of Dakota Crescent.

It’s deathly quiet, except for the distant murmur of cars passing by on the highway next to the estate.

As one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates, and one of the last remaining guardians of the kampung spirit, Dakota Crescent was home to hundreds of families not too long ago.

Today, the deserted estate remains unused after residents moved out at the end of last year to make way for redevelopment.

It’s been more than a year since we were told that Dakota Crescent would be replaced. Yet neither construction nor conservation has begun. Former residents hoping for closure have no choice but to keep on waiting.  

Wandering the abandoned grounds, I imagine what it must have once been like: the comforting scent of home-cooked dinners, the sound of family banter, the pitter-patter of children running around.

There is a sense of belonging that lingers. But who does sense belong to?

To the estate, which once used to mean something? Or to residents, many of whom were forced to give up the only real home they ever knew?

As night falls upon the empty estate, I continue to navigate the concrete pathways that lead to each block.

Like most en-bloc estates in limbo, this one too appears unsure of its future. For now, nature moves slowly but surely over everything; reclaiming, redecorating.

Just hours ago, the darkness had seemed less oppressive. There was still the occasional jogger and car.

Having known nothing but HDB estates that buzz with signs of life, even when everyone’s asleep, something about these unoccupied buildings seems completely unnatural. It’s as though the ghosts of previous lives continue peeking out from the decay.

Letter boxes stuffed with unopened letters, paper notices are stuck on shuttered doors, and stray cigarette butts litter sheltered walkways.

A gentle breeze blows a stained, empty styrofoam cup onto my path. And I think, perhaps new ghosts have found their home here.

When I peer through the shutters into a ground floor flat, I see condom wrappers and a cigarette box scattered on the floor.

At the famous Dakota Crescent dove playground, the swings that once carried children into the air still creak. Even then, there is no wind. Just air.

Looking across at Cassia Crescent where former residents Dakota Crescents have been relocated, barely a stone’s throw away, I think about how they get a bird’s eye view of their previous homes every day. It’s a reality they have accepted a long time ago—progress in exchange for memories.

They are reminded everyday of this sacrifice they did not choose to make.

I wonder if they wondered, “Was I simply getting in the way? Where do I belong in this 50-year-young country’s vision of progress?”

It is almost 3am now. I am suddenly keenly aware that I am alone.

Before I leave, I decide to check out another block. When I reach the void deck, I let out a breath I didn’t even realise I was holding.

Any respite I was looking forward to makes way for morbid curiosity.

More cigarette boxes, broken glass, and needles lie strewn in the darkest corners. At least people are still finding uses for this dying estate.

Peeking into the houses boarded up by plywood, I make out the shapes of furniture left behind. There is the odd dining chair, a misshapen dresser, and flyers haphazardly thrown across the pattern-tiled floors.

My imagination gets the better of me and I instinctively pull away, fearful that I would see a face looking back—and that it would be human.

Under my breath, I swear at Stephen King.

I make my way back towards the main road, inching closer and closer to civilisation with every step, and further and further away from a place that others before me have already left behind.
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