Friday, April 02, 2010

A Friday Revisited

Today is a good Friday.

I had the opportunity to revisit a place I have not stepped into for many years. A place from my childhood while I was still living in the village called Kampong Ladang or directly translated as Plantation Village.

Being a Good Friday public holiday here, I had the opportunity to visit my old mosque, Masjid Alkaff Kampung Melayu. This time with my son.

Being a public holiday, the mosques all over Singapore will be overflowed with worshipers. Many will find themselves praying under hot sun or worse still, wet if it rains.

Our usual and nearest mosque in Tampines is Masjid Darul-Ghufran. Though new and has a larger prayer space, it still is not immune to the overflow of worshipers on public holidays. The Muslim population has gotten larger in Tampines that over the years, the mosque is always filled to the brim during Friday prayers.

Not taking chances to get ourselves either fried in the midday sun or most likely, wet from the rainy weather we have been having for the past weeks, we decided to take a bus and travel a little farther away to Bedok Reservoir to have our prayers at Masjid Alkaff.

We had to walk a 5 minutes distance to the bus stop along Tampines Avenue 10 and catch bus Service 58 to reach the mosque.

Being our first time taking the bus to there, I kept in mind to look out for our stop to alight. The many Muslim Bangladeshis with their songkok haji or white prayer hats riding in the bus became our unofficial guide to our stop. We followed them alighting the bus.

As we walked towards the mosque, I told my son about my childhood days, when we needed to go for Friday prayers...

From our village, we had to walk about 45 minutes to reach the mosque. We had to go through many types of terrains from our village to this mosque. It was smaller then, with its trademark dark-green dome and tall minaret that could be seen from far distances.

From sandy grounds of our village, we would head out and uphill on earthen path, cutting across the rubber plantation, then further uphill across the grassy coconut plantation before we reach the rows of houses of the Chinese village.

We would have to walk a little distance further out from that village to finally reach the tarmac road where Kaki Bukit Bus Depot was. The depot only served one bus service, Service 51.

Though we had the option to take the bus Service 51 to the mosque, a 15 minute walk on the tarmac road was much more fun when we walked with a group of village friends.

Of course it was great doing so on sunny; it was a mess on rainy days... we would get soaked regardless if we had our umbrellas, our feet would be muddy and disgusting. Our backs would have splashes of mud from the flicks our slippers made while we walked. Totally not in a condition for prayers.

I remember the many beautiful "upper-class" village homes along that winding tarmac road. Synonymous with Malay homes in the Kaki Bukit or Foot Hill area, the wooden walls were painted in beautiful colours. Many houses had glass-louvered windows as oppose to wooden shutters. Every home had beautifully landscaped flower gardens and grass compound... all proudly and stately fenced-up.

Unlike the kampong life, with its open-concept compound homes that was our village. Wired fences were non-existent and the many houses were in close proximity between one another.

We did have our own front and back compounds, marked by little bushes lined-up as "fences." Where everyone respected everbody's private spaces, yet at the same time open enough to welcome fellow neighbours.

The bus depot was beside a fenced-up Kaki Bukit Water Reservoir. It served clean, drinking tap water to the residents there as well as serving, as far as our village. Most probably that was how the other Malay kampong beside it got its name from, Jalan Pagak or Fenced Road.

The rocket-like red-white checkered, high water tower doubled as a famous landmark by the residents around the area.

The structure was also used by visitors to our village - to know that they took the right bus when they got down at the depot. They would use it again to navigate their back way out to the depot. It was quite hard though, because they would only knew that they were heading the right direction out when they got sight of the tower, after coming out from the tall rubber trees.

The terrain would become near impossible for any visitor to get in to or out from our village because it was so dark at night under the shades of the tall trees, not to mention a little spooky too. There were no street lights so torch lights were essential items.

The red light on top of the water tower would turn on at night but would only be a good after one got out into the clearing. So villagers would normally escort their guests out of our village to the bus depot.

I remember I always had to be the one to get out of the village at darkness of the night, armed with only a torchlight and umbrellas when it rained, to fetch my sisters when they came back from their night-shift work.

Never were there reports of any villager being bitten by snakes while traversing the route to and from our village under darkness. I also do not remember being scared of spooks or snakes back then. I do not think I am that brave anymore now!

Wow! That was a long road down memory lane!

Anyway, the original Masjid Alkaff was torn down and a new multi-storey one was built in its place to accommodate more people residing in Bedok Reservoir area. It was a very different building then, back in my childhood days.

I prefer the deco here and its use of space than at Tampines' Masjid Darul-Ghufran; where the awkward spaces made for inefficient use.

The many diamond-shaped halls made for lesser worshipers to occupy and many parts lack proper ventilation when the halls are packed with people.

I still feel that Darul-Ghufran mosque was poorly designed especially on the upper floors. The way it was designed made movements from one hall or level very restrictive. The poor ventilation at the stairways and some parts of the classrooms-turned Friday prayer halls made worshiping a taxing affair.

I do not know why I did not think of going to Masjid Alkaff sooner!

The Friday prayer at Alkaff Mosque today was seen with a bearable number of worshipers. We did not have to do our prayers stretched all the way outside the building and being opened to the elements for an hour.

Sonny was happy of the place too because it was very airy and relaxed. There was no need to rush for a squeeze of a place when it was time for prayers to start.

We have settled for this serene mosque to be our place of worship on future public holidays, like Hari Raya Puasa and Haji. I felt happy there as I was when I was little.


  1. This is very interesting. I like reading about your childhood and youth.

  2. Hello Donna,

    It is always a pleasure to have you here.

    I have so many good memories, rich in happy times during my childhood days. I can go on forever about it and almost like reliving it all over again when I do reminisce about it.

    Always a regret not having pictures of the old village because some details are slowly but surely fading from my mind. Thus, this blog for posterity.

    Hope you will have great outdoor adventures this spring!

  3. I was wondering about photos from your childhood village. It's sad that you don't have them. I have childhood photos, but my parents were lower middle income here in the USA in the 60s and 70s, so there are not that many (and being pre-digital age, many of the ones we do have are of poor quality.)

    It was interesting to read of your childhood and of your reflections about worship, both things I too hold dear. It seems you are a nostalgic person? I most certainly am. I think being nostalgic gives us perhaps more vivid memories, yes? I consider it a gift.

  4. Hi
    I really need to apologise...I had my comments moderation switched on and got nobody's comments for a long while.Please forgive me...


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