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Is Kampung spirit alive?

January 10, 2017

 The little red dot: skyscrapers, HDBs, busy lives. 


Labelled as one of the four Asian tigers with the rise in economic development and quality of life, Singapore can be seen to be characterised as the words above. Over the years, the growing population and the lack of land have resulted in land use planning in the form of tall buildings and the extermination of attap houses prevalent in the early days of Singapore. Such social and economic development has many strengths, but it is not without consequences. One of it? The gradual loss of kampung spirit.

Meanwhile, let us introduce Pulau Ubin. Just a few kilometers off the coast of Changi Village, Pulau Ubin is an island situated away from the mainlands of Singapore, accessible by a short boat ride. Ubin is widely known for its plethora of recreational activities catering to nature expeditioners, mountain bikers, and even as a popular weekend getaway for the average Singaporean family. Beyond its beautiful scenery and the occasional sightings of wild boars, Ubin is also widely known for its revered Kampung Spirit, where residents are said to leave their doors unlocked and actively help one another when in need - despite being relatively backward as compared to modernised mainland Singapore. 


The Kampung Spirit 


The notion of a kampong spirit is an oft-cited and romanticized one, with many considering Kampung life to be a better alternative to modern livelihood. Think gotong royong, the spirit of caring and sharing, of “夜不闭户” (of not having to close the door at night as it is safe enough to leave the doors open, and how neighbors will look out for one another) and a slow-paced life. 

Before we continue, stop to think about these questions: 

  1. Would you want to stay in a kampong? Why or why not? 

  2. Between the choice between a kampong and modern city-state, which would you prefer to live in, and why? 

The "Kampung" Spirit reconsidered   


With the word ‘kampong’ meaning ‘village’ in Malay, many of us would link the kampong spirit to the notion of a village. With the old attap houses in a village being replaced by rows and rows of tall buildings as well as the changes to the lifestyle to become more and more hectic and competitive, many have claimed that the kampung spirit have ceased to exist in the mainland, where it has been preserved on the island as it is less developed. 


It is important to then ask whether the kampung spirit is still alive, and how it is present in the everyday lives of the island residents. Perhaps it could be the physical conditions or the identity held by the residents. Let us also consider the kampung spirit that remains on the island, and whether it is the same as what is being understood by the rest of the society. 


Moving back to mainland, we should consider whether have the kampung spirit has truly ceased to exist. If that is the case, what has caused it to disappear, and how has it changed the lives of the residents in Singapore? Or perhaps it is still present around us; and if so, where is the kampung spirit that has remained hidden in our daily interactions? 


Lastly, is the kampung spirit as portrayed by media and society overly romanticized? Is the notion of kampung lifestyle as good and useful to the society as we often think it is? Rather than taking the whole concept of kampung spirit, what elements of kampung should be kept and preserved, and how would they affect the organization of lives in the society? 


Modernization in Ubin 


Next, as Singapore have developed greatly over the years, industries and demands of the economy have changed. Over the years, Ubin has also become increasingly commercialized to changing from a mining town to a tourist hotspot and a haven for adventure-goers, adding a layer of economic competition within the Ubin community.  


Thus, we should consider how modernization affects/has affected the kampung spirit in the community. We can rethink if modernization has strengthened or weakened the notion of kampung spirit, or even redefined the notion of kampung spirit in the modern times. With these changes in mind, could we better understand how Ubin has changed over the years with the influence from mainland? 


During the trip, we would also share with you the numerous aspects present in the Ubin community. In the possible areas of conflict and negotiation, what remains as the kampung spirit and the identity of the residents as its environment change? 


Lastly, in light of all these, the ultimate question stands - is Ubin's widely revered Kampung Spirit simply a myth, or a reality?


Sociology Field Trip! : Pulau Ubin



In this field trip, we will be sharing with you the background knowledge of the island itself as well as some of the stories that we have learnt from the residents. We hope to provide this information to help you relook into the beauty of Ubin as well as some sociological insights that the community could bring to help you better understand. We hope you are equally excited as us to learn and understand Ubin from a brand new perspective!  


Come join us on 21st January for our Sociology Field Trip as we would explore Pulau Ubin, the sociological way :) 


Life on Ubin by Nparks:



Is kampong spirit dead, or just different?:



Can we nuture kampong spirit in Singapore?



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