Monday, June 19, 2006

Roots in Physical Space

Recently, while driving back from work, I was listening to a song by Neil Young, called Helpless. It can be found in numerous albums, including originally in one called Déjà Vu. This was produced back in the days of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, in the 1970s.

You can hear it performed here. The first verse caught my attention:

There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.

I don’t know the background to the song but the verse made me think about how the physical structures and landscapes of the places where we grew up can give us a sense of rootedness and belonging to these places. As the song suggests, they can also offer a form of comfort.

I wondered whether Queenstown would be like that for me. That’s where I grew up. Block 44, Tanglin Halt Rd; Block 63, Commonwealth Drive. Tanglin Primary School, Commonwealth Secondary School, Tanglin Technical School. The Church of the Blessed Sacrament. “All my changes were there.”

I visited these places last weekend. The blocks were still there, but had been upgraded and looked very different. The open field behind Block 63 had been replaced with a communal structure. The church was still there but it, too, had sprouted additional structures around it.

All three school complexes were gone. One of them had made way for a road between Queensway and the Ayer Rajah Expressway. A residential construction project stood where my other two schools used to stand.

I remembered other old Queenstown landmarks: The roundabout fountain where, now, there’s a busy road intersection with an MRT line running over it; the empty piece of land, where circuses used to perform and where a community centre and mosque now stand.

I felt that Queenstown had changed too much for me to now feel very much for the place. The roots in physical structures and landscapes had been cut. During the short visit, I felt very little sense of belonging. I felt more that a part of me had been lost, forever.


At 11:01 pm GMT+8, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading your observations on Queenstown, I was immediately brought back to where I spent many formative years, Lichfield Road.

I've passed by the neighbourhood many times, and with each, there is less nostalgia and less emotion because there is less recognition.

It is now an address that I used to carry on my identity card, but that identity that that address gave me can't be reconstructed - thank God.


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