Actually, I only have 2 sets of encounters with this little island. The first was from attending a 1-week camp organized by the National Junior College Outdoor Activities Club in April 1969. The second was from a couple of in-camp training sessions in the eighties. Surprisingly, I have more memories from the first encounter.
The 1-week camp in 1969 was very enjoyable and memorable. We did a lot of trekking and I remember seeing many rubber plantations and small Chinese temples. We also heard stories of people being bitten by hornets.
One of the most interesting sights was that of a hill full of tobacco plants. You must be surprised to know that tobacco was actually cultivated right here in Singapore. Fortunately, I still have a photo of this place.
The other thing I remember was the canoeing. We were assigned in pairs, 1 boy and 1 girl to a wooden boat, (unlike the modern fibre-glass kayaks that our kids enjoy today) and we had to row round the island. At one point I was so exhausted that I just had to stop. Just at that moment, one of the instructors came along and scolded me; “Do you want the lady to row for you?” And boy, did that bruise my ego?
(By the way, the chap on the extreme left is me)
Anyway, to continue with the story, that night we camped near a Malay kampong. The kampong folks were kind enough to let us use their well for our baths. Next morning, when I woke up, every muscle in my body ached.
Our base camp was at one of the schools. When we were not out on expeditions - they called them land, canoeing expeditions and so on - we had our meals there. On the last night, we had a big camp fire.
We were grouped into teams that had names like Andies, Rockies and Pyrenees. My team was called Rockies. Below are some members of my team.
As for the few in-camp training sessions in the 1980’s, I don’t have much recollections. The one thing that sticks to my mind was the incessant howling of dogs at night. Strange thing is that, the next morning, we couldn’t find any dogs around. According to the soldiers, the island was haunted; but then you know soldiers lah - they like to say things like that.
In fact, I have more memories of the trip to and from the island than the actual training in Tekong. For example, I remember returning to camp one Sunday night. We had to take the bumboat back from Changi Point. They were playing a song by Teresa Teng (你怎么说) on the bumboat.
It’s very strange. Somehow, when I was on the way back to camp on Sunday nights, the brain seemed to be especially receptive to surrounding stimuli. I remember another occasion, when I took a pirate taxi from Bt Timah, 7th Mile (the old Beauty World) to camp in SAFTI. That was in 1971 during my recruit or section leaders training days. We didn’t have much choice actually – so many soldiers going back to camp (Safti and 6th SIR in Tuas) and so few bus service 175’s. The pirates did our nation a valuable service if you ask me. I remember the song being played in the taxi was 心上人 by a local singer ( 张 小 英). There were several other occasions, in other camps; somehow the memory is very clear.
But nothing really beats the feeling of seeing the lights of SAFTI appear as our bus rounds the bend on old Jurong Road. Your heart simply sinks to the floor of Green Bus number 175.
Once, I brought my family to Changi Beach on a Sunday evening. We saw many army recruits returning to camp at the SAF ferry terminal. I wanted to tell the boys, “Guys, I know exactly how you feel.”