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Goh Wei Hao
Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014


Pulau Ubin: Weekend spot for many, home to a few

My Paper | Goh Wei Hao | Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

QUIET SPOT: Pulau Ubin, located off the north-eastern coast of Singapore, housed 2,000 villagers during its heyday. Now, just over 30 remain.

SINGAPORE - Today, just over 30 villagers remain on the once bustling island - all of whom are elderly.

Pulau Ubin, located off the north-eastern coast of Singapore, housed 2,000 villagers during its heyday.

"People started leaving for Singapore and Malaysia to look for jobs when the ubin (Malay for granite) quarry closed," said Madam Tan, the daughter-in-law of the dead village chief.

These days, Madam Tan can be found sitting on the front porch of her two-storey home, where she lives alone. She spends most of her time planting crops, cleaning the house and playing with her dog.

On weekends, her three sons and two daughters come to visit.

"Whenever my children come, they will keep asking me to move in with them," she said.

She has resisted their overtures.

"I like it here because it is less crowded," she explained. "The air is also fresher after the quarry closed and people stopped practising slash-and-burn farming."

Madam Tan, 76, married the village chief's eldest son when she was 15.

"My husband had eight brothers, so I had to take care of 10 people," she said. "I also had to rear the pigs and chickens, and help to tend my father-in-law's provision shop."

However, she was very contented. "If I was unhappy, I would have left ages ago!" quipped Madam Tan.

According to her, the main source of income for the villagers used to be from the quarries, rubber plantations and farming.

"I started working at a very young age, helping my father tap rubber sap and my mother push carts in the quarry," she said.

Today, these industries are obsolete. Instead, the main village is filled with bicycle rental shops and seafood restaurants, all vying for the patronage of visitors to the island.

One such store can be found deep within the island: a food and beverage store opened by Mr Ahmad, 78, and Ms Saipiah, 75 who have been together for more than 50 years.

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