So, I am beginning the local trail on an unassuming knoll beside the bustling Ang Mo Kio MRT Station. The bus stop at the foot of the hillock remains a regular pit-stop on my way home. Often, I stood at the base of the hillock daydreaming. But never did I envisage the story behind the swell of land. The 5-hectare hillock in question is Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East; home to several rubber trees and giant rubber seed sculptures. Once part of Cheng Sua Lai (a.k.a Green Hills Interior), the park is a tribute to the legacy of Ang Mo Kio as a former rubber settlement.
The settlement that comprised of a larger Hokkien and Teochew community probably derived its name from the hilly terrain. My heart was pumping as I scaled the short flight of stairs to the peak. Ok, I exaggerate – I was just not expecting the mini cardio workout under the midday sun.
At present, Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East serves as recreational park to residents. Planned and developed between the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was the first town garden built in Ang Mo Kio new town. This is also one of the few public places in Singapore where red brick paths, a popular design style in the 1970s, are still in use.Sign boards referencing the heritage and the different species of trees hint at a historical significance. But beyond that, little sets the park apart from the other neighbourhood parks.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon, the cluster of trees was barely a remnant of an old rubber estate. The odd Ah Kong (i.e. grandfather) and smattering of labourers taking a respite from the sweltering heat were almost a caricature of the villagers who may have once called the hillock home. The villagers were said to have been resettled in Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio with the development of Ang Mo Kio new town in the 1970s.
As I looped the park, contemporary urban landscape flanked greenery. Strolling among the groves of trees, the open space is barely reminiscent of a timeworn heartland, let alone an old Kampong. Yet, the surrounding HDB estates and landmarks (e.g. Cheng San Community Club) bore the name of the old rubber plantation. I guess that is the homage extended to history, the community that once was and the laterite track of Cheng Sua Lai, an area that once stretched from Serangoon Gardens to Upper Thompson.
Sitting on the bench with its peeling paint, pencil in hand, I wondered if the Singaporean youth scurrying through the core of the park knows about the heart of a rubber estate that once thrived. I know I didn’t.