Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Changing with time

"Even Ubin is not spared in fast paced singapore... [Not visit Ubin] for a couple of months and [you'll find] everything changed"
- Anecdotal, in response to this story

I tend to have the impression that Ubin is an idlylic island frozen in time, immune to the winds of change. Having not been there for almost half a year, yet I still expect every rock and every tree to be untouched, awaiting for my return, to welcome me from the same spot I left them months before.

Never had I expected not only changes but familiar sights lost and never to be seen again.

The biggest lost is ultimately the German Girl Shrine area facing Pulau Ketam and near Aik Hwa Quarry. I hardly recognised it as I cycled down the mountain of gravel. Originally, I was rather dissapointed when I heard earlier in the day that the area was closed off due to construction but as we were about to call it a day, we heard that the area was accessible and happily rounded the sharp turn from Thai temple to the German Girl Shrine.

What greeted me as we cycled pass the "under construction" sign totally shocked me. It was the first time I could see the sea from anywhere beyond the beach itself. What used to be a nice patch of mangroves and coastal trees that lined the rocky beach and hid the sea from view had been totally removed. Nothing indicated its previous existence except for the stump of a chopped coconut tree. The only things left are my fond memories of admiring the serene coastline along the shade of the sea hibiscus trees, exclaiming the biology of fire ants.

According to some stories I heard during the Pedal Ubin guide training sessions, this area is actually under development to become an off-road biking trail. Behind the beach is actually hills of gravel that create an artificial terrain for the adventurous. On one hand, this is good as it would offer an alternative to the adventurous slashing through the forest, creating new trails in the slowly reforesting Ubin. It has also been said during these training sessions that the gravel is actually from mainland singapore, a product of tunneling for the circle line.

This was a relatively desserted land to the west of Ubin, near the Thai temple and Aik Hwa quarry where my grandfather used to work. Today, fences can be seen admist the sea of gravel. No trees in sight. Further from the Shrine, in the background of the photo, a barge can be seen near the coast, transferring gravel to the island.

(l-r) Before [source] and After

Fortunately, the German Girl Shrine can still be seen with its signature Sea Almond tree by its side, a lone figure in the barren landscape. In fact, it even received a face lift! No longer mysterious or creepy with its dingy old housing and crickety door and chain around its gates. Now it is airy and brightly lit as the renovator has taken pains to include windows for sunlight to shine through. The urn is prominently displayed with a rather modern looking female vanity as tribute to the local divinity.

The Urn of the German Girl [source]

While this may indicate that the Shrine is here to stay and will withstand the test of time and the intrusion of development, some of us who knew and loved the old shrine will miss it. The old shrine gave the mystery of the German Girl its flavour and supernatural aura. Its upgraded look could now pass off as any shrine on the island on mainland. It seems to no longer captivate the imagination asit once used to.

A very old picture of the shrine [source]

Perhaps my biggest regret in this time of change is not cherishing every tree and place enough, capturing them on photo and revering them while they were around. I had assumed they would be there when I returned, weeks later. This surely serves as a lesson to me and others, not to be complacent any longer.

There is no use crying over spilt milk of course. My absence these few months has taught me that regular visits are a must. Every visit is a unique experience, cherish every moment and we will be able to learn and encounter new things. Perhaps this way we might be able to prevent our losses before it is too late. Take our memories with us in photos and stories and share it with everyone.

Pulau Ubin Stories Archives: Mystery Girl of Ubin - reproduction of Tan Shzr Ee's article in The Straits Times, 9th March 2003.

Find the German Girl. Webpage by Frische-Medien (Germany) to gather information about the girl and the shrine. The project is headed Ho Choon Hiong (Singapore), who is backed by Amie S. Williams (Balmaidenfilm Productions, USA).

1 comment:

Slaats, M said...

Thank you for the information about the German Girl Shrine. I'm an artist that is doing research for a project in Singapore next summer. Much of my work focuses on situated narrative. At the moment, I'm trying to find interesting stories that go along with places. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear what you have to say about Pulau Ubin.