The Housing and Development Board (HDB) turns 60 this 2020 (#HDBTurns60). For the past six decades, the HDB has pursued excellence in public housing in line with its vision: fulfilling aspirations for homes and establishing communities that all Singaporeans can be proud of.
As #HDBTurns60, we interview Madam Chen Soi Moi, 65, who shares her story of moving from a kampung to her first-ever HDB home in Aljunied.
How would you describe your living conditions before HDB flats were built?
“Growing up in a big family of 15 members, I vividly remember a simpler time, long before the towering HDB blocks that pepper our housing estates redefined our vision of home. Back then, our home was a wooden kampung in Yio Chu Kang.”
HDB blocks redefined our vision of home.
Madam Chen added that doing the laundry did not entail pushing a button on a washing machine – it was a two-person job that involved drawing water from a well at her house. Getting around to do your regular grocery run could be a time-consuming endeavour if you’re up for a one and a half-hour bike ride to the nearest market. Even at a young age, Madam Chen was independent enough to shoulder some of the household chores to help her mother – including raising a pig, ducks, and chickens.
Photo: Kampong Lorong Buangkok, a village located in Buangkok in Hougang. Built in 1956- the last surviving kampong in Singapore
Madam Chen recalls her daily commute to school before the sheltered and concrete walkways. Back then, she endured walking on unpaved paths that turned into streams of mud whenever it rained. She recalls that water would seep into her shoes, but she had to keep wearing them until they were beyond repair.
Nevertheless, Madam Chen wouldn’t trade her rustic childhood for the world.
What changed after you moved to an HDB flat?
At 16 years old, Madam Chen and her family moved into the first HDB flat in Aljunied. When asked about the living conditions after moving into an HDB flat, Madam Chen said, “Life in the HDB flat was refreshing. The crisp cool air didn’t have the kampung smell.”
Compared with their kampung lifestyle, it was like night and day. Gone were the restless nights sleeping on straw mats under a roof that leaked whenever it rained. Instead, she slept soundly on a comfortable mattress in a brand-new bedroom. No one in the family had to sleep in the living room as the HDB flat had enough space for everyone.
The air in HDB blocks doesn’t have the kampung smell.
Back in the kampung, four wooden walls without a roof sheltered them when taking a bath. Fetching water from the well and using buckets was also part and parcel of her childhood. These stand in stark contrast to the modern conveniences of today’s HDB flats.
How many times have you moved in your life?
“After moving to Aljunied, I subsequently moved to the Ang Mo Kio flat with my husband when I got married at 26. But because of en-bloc sales, I moved a third time, still in Ang Mo Kio.”
I have moved four times in my life.
After nine years, Madam Chen moved a fourth time, surprisingly to a flat in the same estate. There must have been something special in Ang Mo Kio for Madam Chen and her family.
We asked her son, Ohmyhome’s Private Sales Manager, Louis Tay, to share his perspective on what makes Ang Mo Kio special for his mom. He said, “I believe she continues to stay in Ang Mo Kio because most of her sisters are staying in the same town, and the familiarity of the estate gives her a sense of security.”
What was your favourite memory of your first HDB home?
“I enjoyed most the small garden and river in our Aljunied flat. The food court had very good food. While in my first matrimonial home in Ang Mo Kio, if I have no work and the children are studying, I will go for an exercise near the garden every morning.”
Photo: Ang Mo Kio, Singapore during sunset.
Louis added that his mom has so many good memories in Ang Mo Kio where she raised him and his brother. Madam Chen has a strong sense of belonging and she’s always excited to talk about where she lives.
“Living in an HDB flat feels good and comfortable,” Madam Chen concludes.
Indeed, we’ve got this far in our Singapore housing journey. If your goal is to settle down in a home of your own, HDB can definitely make that dream come true.
Living in an HDB flat feels good!
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