treeshine before and after

Once a unique resting place where senior citizens could seek shade and mingle with neighbours, is now a disfigured and barren land.

tanglin halt shrineFor years, the tree shrine at Tanglin Halt has acted as a space where senior citizens regularly gather to chat with one another. Some of those who visit the area at the shrine are ex-residents of the area, visiting their old friends at the estate to keep in touch.

According to residents, the site is around 20 years old and there have been several attempts to get them to move by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) but they hung on.

The shrine is meant for the worshipping of Datuk Kong; local guardian spirits worshipped in Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia. There are remains of a big banyan at the back of the shrine, an altar and a series of other deity figurines. The banyan tree was said to be struck by lightning a couple of years back.

There are also different groups of guys who hang out at the area, such as lorry and taxi drivers who took mid-day breaks when the carpark was open. The other side of the path used to be a hangout for a songbird club made up of mostly Malay guys with merbok doves.

The last time SLA tried to clear the shrine was in 2011. However, SLA came back recently and put up a notice to ask the residents to go away. The notice wrote that the residents have carried out plantings on state land without lawful authority and that they are requested to remove the plantings or cultivations by 4 June.

letter from SLA
Letter from SLA affixed to a bamboo stem

The uncles who used to gather at the place used to clean the space and pick up the trash. Since the SLA’s notice, they have been scared to gather there, and a lot of trash started to gather around the bamboo grove and the pathway.

This led to a group of volunteers moving in to start an initiative to clean up the place.  Apart from the accumulation of rubbish, the group also noted that abandoned spaces without community investment and engagement attract crime.

The volunteers attempted to connect with the local Member of Parliament, Dr Chia Shi Lu to look into alternative arrangements to use the space, such as

But before the meeting on 2 June could take place, SLA went ahead to clear the area.

When the shrine was cleared. Mr Tan, who is understood to be the shrine’s caretaker for the past few years, was visibly distraught over the cutting of the bamboo and the removal of his gardening tools.

If one were to look at the map, the location of the shrine is just next to the green corridor. It is uncertain what plans does SLA have for the shrine or SLA is just enforcing its duties on the encroachment of state land.

tanglin halt tree shrine
What the tree shrine used to look like before SLA moved in

Although the area around the tree shrine has been desecrated through the actions of SLA, the residents and volunteers are still hopeful that an arrangement can be made for the elderly folks. They will still be going ahead with the meeting that they had arranged with Dr Chia.

TOC has written to Dr Chia Shi-Lu for his comments on Saturday and will update his reply to us when he respond.

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