The Green on
Race Course Road
by Pallavi Narayan
Race Course Road is a long and well-known avenue in Singapore. The stretch I lived on through 2019 is, to my eyes, the most beautiful. Buddhist temples large and small are strewn throughout, and tranquil Chinese crystal stores lie along the sheltered walk. Branching off from one of the nine exits of Farrer Park MRT station, the lane once started with a large rectangle of green. Though located in a rather densely populated area in a country where space is at a premium, this sort of garden gave the residents a park area in which children played informal games of football, elders strolled through gently, and a collegiality naturally emerged in the otherwise sanitized environment of the city-state.
I used to love stopping there for a breath of fresh air, straight out of the crowded evening train from work. The neighborhood’s middle-aged women—and some young girls and children—enjoyed aerobics in the garden every Friday evening. This seemed to segue nicely into the weekend. It was pleasant to stop there for a few moments of a Saturday while lugging bags of groceries home from the Fairprice in City Square mall, or vegetables from the Indian wet grocer on the next street. I’d pick out fresh eggplant and bananas, fiery apples, healthy green coriander, the odd striated pumpkin, and of course the mainstays of tomatoes and potatoes by the dozen. Then I’d trudge back across the welcoming green with that heavy load, the sky often expectant with a promise of rain. I’d take my bags indoors and, after cooling off in the aircon, perhaps pick up my sketchbook and wend my way back to Old Hen, my favorite café across from the wet grocer’s. I’d sip my iced mocha and take my time painting the dappled light and shadows across the green.
After six to seven months of this peaceful routine, I was in for a rude shock. About half the green had been cemented over with an officious-looking structure. Everyone was agog with curiosity and we went up the few steps to learn that the Housing Development Board would be introducing changes to the public housing apartments and this was to be their main office. While we dimly comprehended this was for future betterment, it was still the precursor to a kind of mourning. The aerobics aunties continued, halfheartedly, to pump their arms, chant their slogans for the next few Fridays, and cheer the place up by wearing their best fluorescent t-shirts, but there was a distinct lack of laughter. Now we had barely any room to play or converse.
As the weeks wore on, the rumble of bulldozers and hum of power saws took over the entire lane, leaving us in various stages of grieving. When I moved out at the end of the year, I was grateful to have experienced the lane for even a little of its heyday of lovely serenity.
Dr. Pallavi Narayan specializes in urban studies and fiction in her academic work. She is also an editor, poet, and artist.