Friday, March 18, 2011

Pulau Tekong

Today’s Pulau Tekong is used exclusively as a training base for the Singapore Arm forces. It is home to the Basic Military Training Centre. In mid-1970s when I had my first camping on the island as a student, it was occupied by civilians who settled there for generations. We shared the wells with the local Malays who lived near our camp sites. I first tasted the challenge of using a bucket to scope water from the well. Also for the very first time, I saw men and women bathing themselves naked under the coconut trees.

In 1978 when I enlisted to Singapore Polytechnic, we called one of our classmates as Tekong simply because he came from Pulau Tekong. During weekdays, he stayed with his uncle in Bedok. Every morning, he caught bus number 2 to North Bridge Road, and changed to bus number 209 to Singapore Polytechnic (Dover Road campus). He had to spend more then 3 hours on public buses during school terms. During weekends, he would take a bumboat from Changi Point back to his hometown.

(Tekong's fun time. c.1979)

In 1981 when I served my national service, Pulau Tekong was occupied by a mixed of civilian residents and training troops. Pulau Tekong camp I and camp II were also used for reservists’ in-camp training for a short period during my national service days of which I was posted there as trainer for several months. Life on the island was rather boring. We had nothing better to do at night apart from gathering around the small canteen to watch TV programmes. Although the signal reception was poor, it was better than none. For many army boys, the main attraction would be to “xian-tau” with the canteen girl.

The canteen girl was about 20 years old then and like a blossom flower. She liked to wear white collarless T-shirt and green colour skirt. Sometime she pretended to be angry when being disturbed by the guys but turned to happy face once the guys apologised and bought more bottled drinks from her. The same scene kept repeating night after night. Those were the days for most of us in that growing up years.

Occasionally, we would explore the island for its beautiful nature and looked up for durians when the season was right. Most of the durian trees belonged to the local owners. It was illegal to pick those durians under their charge. We were mindful of the SAF acts and would only pick those durians at no-man land. Tekong durians were simply first class probably due to the soil and the sea breeze. They tasted better than D24.

(Pulau Tekong - places that seldom explored. According to Mr Brown who left a comment for this article, the rock of the 4th picture is Batu Berleher (rock with a neck) c.1982)

At that time, we could travel to Pulau Tekong via bumboat from Changi Point or via RPL next to the Commando Camp at Hendon Road. The travelling times for bumboat and RPL were about 25 minutes and 45 minutes, respectively. Of course our preferred travelling mode was to pay $1.50 for the bumboat so that we could spend 20 minutes more on Singapore main land. On return trips, sometime we would stop at Tekong jetty and had a sumptuous meal at Tekong Seafood Restaurant before headed back to main land.

Whether spending my days on Pulau Tekong as a trainee or as a trainer, the common denominator was no training on Thursday night. There was a rumour spreading around that on a particular Thursday night, a soldier went missing during route march. The very next day when his lifeless body was found, his internal organs were exposed, citing the speculation that it was the work of supernatural being or might be just stomach rupture. Since then, his spirit would fly around the island on every Thursday night where many soldiers claimed that they had seen what not supposed to be seen. Whether ghostly encounter did happen was questionable because soldiers started to imagine and hallucinate about thing when under certain stress conditions. Nevertheless, it had become a classic Pulau Tekong ghost story.

Pulau Tekong appears in the Franklin and Jackson's 1828 Singapore map as Po. Takung where Takung might be a direct translation from the Malay word "tukar" which carries a meaning as “change”. The early name could have arisen because Pulau Tekong served as a trading station for both residents from nearby Pulau Ubin and the state of Johor.

(Franklin and Jackson's 1828 Singapore map. Po. Takung (Pulau Tekong) is at the top right hand corner)

(Pulau Tekong - the missing scenes)

Today’s Pulau Tekong is much larger then what it used to be because of land reclamation and joining Pulau Tekong Kechil with the main Tekong island. Land reclamation work at Pulau Tekong and Pulau Tekong Kechil had caused discomfort for Malaysia. Malaysia referred the reclamation issue to International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in July 2003. Subsequently, the tribunal ordered a year-long joint study on the issue. The conflict was resolved in April 2005 following a signing of agreement between the two countries. The agreement includes modifications of the island in "Area D". The signed agreement was sent to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for final judgment.

(Land reclamation 2003)

There are two other significant events occurred on Pulau Tekong. On 29 May 1990, national servicemen spotted a family of three runaway Asian elephants. These elephants swam 1.5 km across the Straits of Johor and landed on Pulau Tekong. On 10 June, all three elephants were captured and relocated back to the jungle in Malaysia.

In March 2004, Pulau Tekong was the hiding place for three armed robbers. They fled from Malaysia, sparking off a massive manhunt involving RSAF helicopters, commandos, ground surveillance radar, troops from the 2nd Singapore Infantry Regiment and the Singapore Police Force. All three were caught by police officers; two by members of the Gurkha Contingent and one by the Police Coast Guard. They were later charged with illegal entry to Singapore.


Lam Chun See said...

I too did a few ICTs in P Tekong, mostly at Camp I (the one nearer to the sea) and one time at Camp II (the one further in). In camp I, the one thing that I remember most is that at night we heard a lot of dogs howling. But in the day time, we did not see any dogs.

Have you read my Memories of Pulau Tekong?

....... said...

Ya, my heart sank to the bottom when I had to book in, whether by 2159 as a trainee, or 2359 after the training days. 苦命,like 12莲花.


Marz said...

the 6th pic - Batu Berleher..(rock with a neck).. haunted.. :)

123ABC said...

Nice blog! Most people would associate Tekong with NS. But for me, Tekong is more than that, I spent my younger years there and later did my BMT there too. My mum was from there.(Most of the villagers there were somehow related to one another)

Aprt from those famous ghosts stories & the hot spring @ Unum, Tekong was actually 'land of the Kings' in the past, not many people
knew abt this.

Currently I'm doing a personal project abt this island, I intend to uncover all the mysteries & histories. Anyone interested?

KL said...

Hi Skidmaiden07, it is an awesome feeling to know someone growing up in Pulau Tekong in the good old days. I am eagerly looking forward to learn more about Tekong from the "locals".

123ABC said...

I hope I can tell you more, but I was so young then. I'm collecting the stories from ex-folks of the island, hopefully I can make my own blog on it. Of course, its never easy to get hold of the senior folks who knew more abt the island, most are no longer around.

Will update again...though not so soon. Thanks!

123ABC said...

Hello there, just a little update from me - my new blog -


KL said...

Hi skidmaiden07,
You have started a very nice "Once upon a time Pulau Tekong". Through it I learned that for the Tekong's residents, "most of the Malays were of Pahang/Terengganu descent. In the 1850s, there was a conflict in Pahang which forced its people to seek refuge in Johor, Pulau Tekong Kechil, Pulau Tekong Besar, and Singapore." This is really exciting.

Hope Tekong will be reconstructed again and flourish with your heart under your blog.

123ABC said...

Hello there,

It has been months since I last post on this blog, very bz with work. Therefore I haven't got much
updates abt. P. Tekong :(.

Anyway, can I ask for your permission to 'borrow' a few of your P. Tekong pics for my personal mini project?
Thank you..!

KL said...

You may use the pics with good course. Looking forward to the P.Tekong reconstruct.

123ABC said...

Hello there,

Hope you are doing good, I'm back, at least for a while. It has been tough finding info or facts about this island... as for now I'm going to share some info regarding
the name 'Tekong' and a few of its villages.

Based on the books 'S'pore Street Names, A Study of Toponymics' and 'Dust Laden...History of Tekong Island', it is mentioned that 'Tekong' means 'obstruct' or 'block' in Malay.

Apart from that, having gone thru several old newspaper articles, old and new Malay dictionaries and asking ex-folks of Tekong regardng the name 'Tekong', I found many other variations of the word

As mentioned above on earlier,
'Tekong'= obstruct or block, I assumed that 'Tekong' is being mistaken for 'Kepong', 'Tekong'
has different meanings (Based on Malay dictionaries), none about obstructing or blocking. To obstruct or block in Malay is
'Kepong' rather.

According to ex-folks, near the beaches of Kg Pahang there seem to be many rocks that would stagnate or hold water due to their shapes, these are called 'batu bertakung'.
As Tekong was called 'Takung' from the 1828 Franklin', there seem to be a match here, therefore
I conclude that this MAY be the original name of Pulau Tekong. How 'Takung' becomes 'Tekong' later on, is probably due to mixed pronounciations from different races.

Rgd the villages, the 1st ever village to emerge there is Kg Seminei in the 1700s. Later on Kg Selabin and Batu Koyok came about in the 1860s. Selabin was named after a person while Batu Koyok was actually a rock shaped like a monkey (koyok, old Malay language for monkey), hence the name.
Later on other villages started emerging.

As mentioned before regarding refugees of T'ganu & Pahang that came to Tekong during the Pahang civil war in the 1850s, most settled down in Kg Selabin, Batu Koyok, Pahang, Ladang & Pasir.

Kg Permatang may even be the earliest of all villages however the location may just be a trading port rather than a village. Kg Ladang, initially was only a 'ladang' (farm or plantations etc).

Will be back with more...thank you...! (skidmaiden07)

KL said...

Skidmaiden 07, Impressive finding! Please push on. Thank you for sharing.

DiagnoVeritas said...

About the 3 illegal immigrants, the one who caught those people first before the Gurkhas came and we handed over was from 542SIR (ex -6SIR) during our 12th In-Camp executing a TEWT; Training Exercise Without Troops.

....... said...

Thank DiagnoVeritas for updating the reservists' contribution to this security.

Unknown said...

I spent many childhood years on Tekong where my grand parents settled. There was beautiful beach facing Johore where we used to go camping. The late philanthropist Lee Kung Qian built a bungalow on a hill along the beach which in Hakka we called Batang.