A mysterious green hut in Mandai Forest, believed to be an abandoned kampung hut, has reportedly been demolished two days after a news report by Mothership on the hut was published. Many netizens have expressed upset at this seemingly hasty destruction, opining that this was a wasted opportunity to preserve a piece of our country’s history.
Singapore already has precious few original and authentic reminders of our past. In the rapid modernisation of our nation, much of our heritage has already been knocked down to make way for “development”. As we see even more reminders of our past eroded, it is understandable for people to feel somewhat nostalgic wistful and maudlin for the past.
This green hut may have once been someone’s treasured home, a curiosity to spark sentimentality – something to inspire imagination and provoke historical inquiry.
Why is there a need to be rid of this harmless hut with such uncommon haste?
Contrast this to the fate of another house, 38 Oxley Road and the result could not be more different. Number 38 Oxley Road has been the subject of much controversy. It has caused a public spat between members of the most powerful family in Singapore and a lawsuit against the editor of this publication – which all started over whether or not this house should be demolished or preserved for posterity.
It mattered not that the man who lived there, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) had publicly stated his wishes for the house to be demolished. Instead, it was held that his house was such an indelible part of our nation’s history that its existence had to be preserved even if it was against LKY’s wishes.
So what’s the difference here with this little green hut?
One may argue that number 38 Oxley Road once housed the man that many see as the founding father of independent Singapore while the little green hut probably housed someone nameless and insignificant. But herein lies the question — what defines historical value?
The little green hut represents the past, a tribute to our roots. It was a true and “undressed up” testament to where we came from. It was not a trussed up and “modernised” version of the old like our Chinatown shophouses. It stood as it was, proud in its shabby and anonymous authenticity. With its demolition, we lose the quest to uncover who once lived there. With its loss, we sever a link to the common man who was part and parcel to the building of modern-day Singapore.
38 Oxley Road, on the other hand, is very well documented. We knew who lived there and what it stood for. Even if it was razed to the ground, there would always be a record of where it once stood and who lived there.
History should be a preservation of the past to remind us of where we came from. If 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved for its historical value, why not the little green hut?
The little green hut represents all of us and the role of the common man in creating history. 38 Oxley Road represents the power brokers who influence history. Yet, both parties co-create what would one day be history. Why then is one the subject of so much political to and fro while the other is torn down into oblivion without so much of a mention?
Perhaps, the preservation of 38 Oxley Road is more about its political magnitude than historical significance in the first place.