Ubin residents bid their birds farewell
By Nora Seah
The Straits Times, 7 February 2004
FOR the past 23 years, Pulau Ubin farmer Tan Long Jee, 62, has been rearing chickens. That ended yesterday. Next week, he will head to the mainland to look for work for the first time.
The career switch became necessary after the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) yesterday cleared the island of most of its remaining chickens, ducks and geese, as a precaution to keep out the bird flu.
The farms and residents had been given until yesterday to sell off 728 birds. The AVA and the Poultry Merchants' Association bought 544 birds, while the rest were sold to the public over the last few days.
Although Ubin residents can keep 10 birds each as pets, Mr Tan, who lives on the island with his wife, will still need to look for a new job.
Speaking in Mandarin, he said: 'I've been staying here since 1981 and have kept chickens since then, but now I'll have to look for other work, like becoming a cleaner at a hawker centre.'
His wife, Madam Kuek Ah Soy, 58, agreed: 'We are old and uneducated, so we can take up only jobs like dish-washing or serving coffee in coffee shops.'
Although unhappy, most of the residents and farmers accepted the need to give up the birds after AVA officials and members of the association went door to door explaining the urgency.
'We are just glad that it has not been necessary for us to confiscate any birds,' said Mr Melvin Tan, a senior corporate communications executive from AVA.
It helped that many birds were bought by visitors to the island over the last few days. Said farmer Mr Tan: 'We have no choice but to sell our chickens as this is government policy but, thanks to the publicity, I've already managed to sell about 210 chickens to the public. I'm just happy that I was able to recoup my losses.'
It took a lot more persuasion to get Madam Ang Siew Eng, 76, to part with the birds she has been rearing for more than 30 years.
Her six children - including her youngest son, Mr Chua Peng Hong, 34, who flew back from working in Thailand - had to make the boat ride across to Ubin before she finally relented and agreed to sell more than 100 birds.
Mr Chua said: 'We were worried that she would feel upset about losing her chickens after all the hard work she has put in. But we told her that we had to cooperate with the Government.'
Said Madam Ang wistfully as all but 10 birds were taken away: 'I'll just have to get used to it. At least I'm still allowed to keep some chickens.'