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Monday, February 06, 2006 

Life's A Beach 2

This is a continuation from my earlier post. I apologise if it's been a bit late and disjointed. I thought I had better tell the rest of the story, though it's no guarantee I'd be finishing by the end of this post. Here goes...


Previously, I mentioned that the couple was "extended" a helping hand in relocating to more permanent housing. This relocation effort came about in early Dec last year during one of my visits and I'd like to expand a little on that experience. I was in two minds about going down to Changi Beach to visit them as it was drizzling and I wasn't looking forward to the 1 hour bus journey that lay ahead. I prayed about it and felt moved to go so I finally set off mid afternoon for the visit.

On reaching the beach, I couldn't find them in their usual spot. I knew they were being harassed by the park rangers and had to shift the tent continually to pacify the rangers. Took me a while before I found them at the far end of the beach, they had just moved to the new spot and were in the process of pitching up their tent. After a quick update, I found out that they had been given a stack of application forms in order to get the paperwork going for their new rental flat but were unsure as to how to fill them out. They had not been extended any assistance with the application process.

I stepped away from the beach to make a phone call and at that instance, I noticed a large group of official looking folks making their way to the couple's spot on the beach (see picture above). Counted at least 40 persons, and they all descended upon the hapless couple. Turns out there were park rangers, public relations administrators from NParks, police officers, social workers, reporters and photographers. A heated discussion ensued between Cik Nik and one of the park rangers. They started to confiscate some of the couple's belongings and you could see tears rolling down Cik Nik's cheeks. It was a sad sight to behold and it must have been quite overwhelming for the couple to have this much unwanted attention heaped upon them so suddenly. The presence of so many officials was rather oppressive and clearly meant as a show of force. Needless to say they succumbed to the harassment and had their tent taken away. It was at this point when I whipped out my camera to capture the heart wrenching scenes. The NParks folks and police tried to stop me but with the newspaper photographers clicking away, they had no valid reason from preventing me doing likewise. I only had my manual panoramic camera loaded with very slow film at the time so I apologise if the shots didn't turn out that well. It was kinda hard focusing manually and under such poor lighting conditions. I'm diverging here, sorry, but it's the photographer in me doing the talking.


There wasn't much else I could do at this point. The couple had been left with only some clothes and without shelter, everything else had been taken away.

It took almost a month from the time all this happened before their new rental flat was ready. The wait was due mainly to the many administrative hurdles that had to be crossed... rental deposits, background checks, submitting a ton of application forms... I would've thought the process could have been sped up a little, considering the two of them had to seek refuge under one of the many open air pavillions on the beach, exposed to the rainy December days.

As mentioned in the first post. Their story did have a somewhat happy ending. They now live in a small single room flat in Kallang Bahru. Jemilah had been working for a month as a cleaning lady but has since lost that job. Cik Nik is still unemployed but hopes to start as a taxi driver next month. Their flat is very sparsely decorated and they lack basic appliances like a stove and refridgerator but they've somehow made do with what little they have and seem happy. My visits to them have been less frequent now as they learn to grow to be more independent.

I don't think their story will ever end, at least for me. I just got back from a visit to them this evening and Jemilah looks like she's lost quite a bit of weight. I think they have been missing meals as I didn't see much food in the flat. It's so sad, I will post my thoughts on that in another instalment. Sigh...

How could the officials confiscate their things and most importantly the tent? I am horrified and appalled by the lack of understanding and sympathy from the many govn. officials.

How can we help?

KN, thanks for the offer. Am trying to wean them off further aid for the time being as they need to be more independent. They have enough at the moment to get themselves going.

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