App for Queenstown Heritage Trails

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They do not live in the neighbourhood, but a pair of undergraduates have made it their mission to document Queenstown’s heritage.

Mr Kwek Li Yong lives in Jurong and Mr Jasper Tan in Sengkang.  They spearheaded the creation of the MyQueenstown mobile app.

Launched in 2013, the app guides users along six heritage trails in the estate.  It has hundreds of photographs and audio-visual material relating to the memories of the estate’s long-time residents.

The duo, both 28, have worked painstakingly to piece together the neighbourhood’s history and published a book to commemorate the estate’s 60th anniversary in 2013.  It was published by The Straits Times Press.

They also plan to launch similar projects in two other neighbourhoods: Bukit Merah and Tampines.

Ten years ago, Mr Kwek visited some elderly folk in Queenstown while doing community service and became intrigued with the area.

“While older people tend to talk about themselves or their families, the people I visited in Queenstown kept talking about their estate and its history,” says Mr Kwek, a final year economics student at the National University of Singapore.  “They were clearly very proud of it.”

He had met Mr Tan while they were serving their national service, and approached him about working together to collect stories from Queenstown folk to feature on a blog (www.myqueenstown.blogspot.com), which is no longer actively updated.

“At first, it was just fun to hear stories from residents.  Then we started to realise that their personal and collective histories were very much linked,” says Mr Tan, an economics management graduate of the Singapore Institute of Management.  “Many of them tell the same stories.”

For example, many of the students spoke of an old kampong called Bo Beh Kang (literally “no tail river” in Hokkien) which Queenstown grew out of, and where Mei Ling Street is located now, says Mr Tan.

“I managed to find some of the original residents from the kampung and realised they knew one another because their memories were so similar.  They hadn’t been in contact with one another for decades.”

The pair founded MyCommunity, an informal grassroots group which they registered as a society to begin documenting the history of Queenstown.  It now comprises a dozen other heritage buffs.

Mr Kwek recalls the first time they went to a market in the neighbourhood and told an egg-seller about their project.

“She immediately called the whole market to come and help us,” says Mr Kwek with a laugh.  “It’s this kind of community spirit that I don’t see elsewhere.”

The two bachelors say they are expanding the scope of the project to include more estates as they feel that Singaporeans are slowly forgetting the ways in which their lives have changed.

Bukit Merah will mark a natural transition as it is “an old estate with a similar demographic” to Queenstown, says Mr Kwek.

“There is a large elderly population and many old housing blocks.  Many of the residents have lived there for 50 to 60 years.”

As for Tampines, the MyCommunity group is still in the preliminary stages of their research into the town’s history.  “Its a younger estate that has been shifting eastwards, but there’s still a lot of history there, including old fish farms and quarries most people don’t know about, says Mr Kwek.

While the positive feedback they have received from projects has whetted their appetite for more, both of them will not be documenting their own estates any time soon.

Mr Tan thinks his neighbourhood is too new to document.  Conversely, Mr Kwek feels recording his, Jurong, will prove too mammoth a task for now.

“I marvel at countries such as China and the United States and how they manage to document their history so well,” says Mr Kwek.

“The onus is on Singaporeans, not just those in Queenstown, to capture their own memories.

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[Source:  The Straits Times and NewspaperSG of the National Library Board, Singapore]

With thanks to Mr Kwek Li Yong and Mr Jasper Tan who invited me to attend the Media Preview of the Alexandra Heritage Trail on 4 April, 2015 as posted on this blog .

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Fellow blogger friends at the “Alexandra Heritage Trail on 4 April, 2015.

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