Squatting By the Sea

It’s F1 weekend and the jetset are in town for some vroom.  With the impressive line-up of after track entertainment, Singapore’s all geared for some hedonistic partying in and around the deluxe tents set up along the circuit.

But just a few kilometers down along the ECP, there are tents of a very different variety.

photo 2 (16)Primary schools were closed today for the PSLE, so I went for an early morning beach walk with Megan. As we passed the usual joggers and aunties practicing qi gong, I pointed out the “permanent tents” set up on the beach to the daughter.

At first glance, you’d think that these are weekend campers but a closer look tells another story. The tents have an added sheet of tarpaulin to prevent wear and tear and trolleys bearing all manner of household items are parked alongside. An assortment of chairs are strewn haphazardly around the area and clothes recently washed at the East Coast Park toilets flap happily on lines strung up between coconut trees.

Welcome to Singapore’s “squatters”.

photo 1 (1)From newspaper reports, these are believed to be individuals displaced by divorce or bad times. With nowhere to go or stay, they have set up permanent camp by the sea. Campers generally need permits that are valid for a few days, but these are very obviously staying for longer. I saw a whole family that had parked their tents conveniently by a park gazebo, the stone benches turned into make-shift tables bearing newspapers, deck chairs, pots, bikes, canvas bags of clothes and I-don’t-know-what. You know, the kind of stuff you’d normally find in a well-lived home.

In the toilets, I see the families washing their clothes and utensils. Others are sleepily brushing their teeth. One of them turns to glare at me, silently accusing me of invading her private bathroom when I go in to wash my hands.

This weekend, Singapore will turn on the glitz to show the world her shimmering beauty. Just don’t look too hard under that glamorous veneer though. You might see a non-too-pretty underbelly beneath.