Kampong Buang Kok is the last of Singapore’s kampongs. It is home to 27 families – 6 Chinese, the rest Malay.
The land is owned by the Sng family – four siblings, 2 brothers, 2 sisters, now all 60+.
Their father first bought the land back in the 1950s and the family moved here as children. Two of the siblings have since moved away but the youngest Madam Sng, along with one of her brothers, still lives the kampong life.
The tenants rent the land from the Sngs and have built their own houses on it. These are simple structures, brightly painted, with tin roofs.
Nobody in the kampong has aircon.
“Nobody? Why not?”
As we are speaking, a Malay boy comes out of the house next door to feed his terrapin. He is gone again in an instant. Event though the majority of residents are Malay, it is only a few elderly Chinese gentlemen that can be seen outside in the midday sun.
Mr Sng’s younger sister manages the properties and takes care of the rent.
The Sngs haven’t made any effort to profit from their property.
“The last time we increased the rent was back in the 1970s.”
The monthly rental ranges from $6.50 to $30 per month per plot of land. Yes. Per month. Rent. Total.
To put it in perspective, just to rent a parking lot at the nearby HDB is $90 per month.
“Why don’t you charge more? You could certainly earn a lot more from rent. Even just $50?”
He shakes his head.
“Cannot. There are some people here that, if you charged $50 per month rent, they could not eat.”
The kampong is also home to a number of dogs and cats- hiding in the midday heat. But something is missing… chickens. Where are the chickens? What is a kampong without kampong chickens?
“We cannot have chickens. Government rules. One family has a two but we cannot keep too many. It’s because of… how to say? Oh yes – bird flu.”
Mr Sng jokes a bit that he has not exactly been a wise investor.
“Years ago we had to sell some land back to the government. We got $7,000. If we had bought an HDB it would be worth $300,000 now! We should have bought! Aiyah! Stupid!”
Before retiring, Mr Sng worked at a provision shop on Guillemard. His days are now spent pottering about the yard and taking walks along the nearby river. He seems oblivious to the fact that many would consider his fortune priceless.