Editor's Note July 2016

Sinking Roots

Mic Tay

After years of planning, countless weekends checking out strangers’ homes and sleepless nights troubled by renovation woes, I am finally a proud HDB home owner. Finally. For most Singaporeans, it’s a milestone, sometimes conflated with getting married and setting up a family. For singles like me, it is a mark of middle age, possibly the few good things about middle age.

Like an actual milestone staked into the ground, owning an HDB in Singapore is a major life decision, to sink roots in a community and in the country. It was a huge step that I zealously prepared for, carefully poring through endless listings to pick a relatively new flat in a mature estate, rich with heritage and revitalised amenities.

For a start, my block is a mere 100 metres away from the MRT station. As long as the trains are working, I should never be late (but please don’t hold me to that). It is also connected by a sheltered walkway so I can pretty much do without umbrellas and say goodbye to sun damage. Behind my block, there is a large hawker centre with many renowned hawkers serving up cheap and good food. Should I decide to cook my meals, there is a large supermarket just next door. In fact, it is so close that I honestly deliberated on the necessity of buying a refrigerator. By the time the ink dried on the lease, I knew this was going to be my hood.

By the time the paint dried, I had formed an indelible attachment to my carefully selected furniture, the breeze from the kitchen window in the morning, the friendly neighbours who smile at me in the lift, and the convenience of having the MRT at my doorstep.

Of course, it did not come cheap. Public housing in Singapore may not be as pricey as private housing but it still means decades of mortgage servicing for most of us. I can truly empathise with Singaporeans who only have resale options when they relocate back home. Despite the weaker economy, the prices are still steep; even unseemly for a pigeon hole in the sky if you are used to having a backyard.

For me, that is not something that matters. I have maintained an alarming record of killing one of my Mother’s plants for every vacation she took. Give me a backyard and I will give you a desert. Instead, it is the connectivity and convenience that is the selling point.

Simply because our country is so small, everything is easily within reach. Our innovative Singapore Civil Defence Force capitalised on this by designing a mobile application myResponder to alert nearby first-aiders in the event of cardiac arrest. Before the arrival of the ambulance, a trained first aider can make the difference between life and death. The app even tells you the location of the nearest defibrillator to further improve chances of survival.

The innovation is even more evident in the design of the waterfront Punggol Northshore. Using computer modelling powered by rich sensor data, the HDB town planners can maximise wind flow, reduce heat build-up and plan the placement of community facilities like playgrounds and childcare centres. As the CEO of HDB, Dr Cheong Koon Hean explains in this TEDx video, the innovation extends to old estates as well, as we seek new ways to live sustainably and live well.

Many decades on, when my mobility is limited, I will look back at this decision and be glad that I chose to sink roots in our Smart Nation. For now, it’s time for some old school bee tai mak soup lunch.

Do they have this where you live?



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