Monday, July 5, 2010

A genuine slice of Malaysia in the heart of Singapore

I enjoyed reading Neel Chowdhury's account of a journey to Malaysia from Singapore's Tanjong Pagar railway station, which is set to close later this year following the resolution of a long-running land dispute between the two neighbouring countries.

As he puts it in his Time magazine piece, "the frigid efficiencies of the city-state fell quickly away as I stepped under the 78-year-old station's Roman-style arches."

The station, which is owned by the Malaysian government, is like a little slice of Malaysia in the heart of Singapore, which goes some way to explaining why its continued existence proved to be such a thorny issue for both sides.

With no departures board, no air conditioning and filthy toilets that you have to pay to use, it is certainly not an efficient travel hub. And the train journeys through Singapore, over the causeway and into Malaysia, are painfully slow and often delayed or cancelled.

Yet the station is one of the most evocative places in often sterile Singapore. I'm a particular fan of the 24-hour food court, with its plastic tables and chairs that spill out onto the train platform, the cats (and rats) that scurry up and down the tracks and some of the best teh tarik and roti prata you're likely to find south of the Johor Straits.

Singapore and Malaysia have much to gain by making it easier for people to travel between the two countries and the eventual plan to connect the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru to Singapore's MRT network could prove transformative.

But, unlike Chowdhury, who seemed put out by the quirks of the Malaysian railway system, I will still mourn the loss of the Tanjong Pagar station and its almost inevitable replacement by some identikit skyscraper.

1 comment:

  1. I would be surprised if the PAP allowed an easy connection between Sing and Malaysia. Suburbanization would be a challenge to PAP control.

    If Singaporeans could easily commute, they'd live in cheaper flats in JB, depriving the PAP of the revenue and power that HDB brings. Plus, some Singaporeans might decide that more freedom and democracy (even if it's Malay style) is worth a little less safety, cleanliness and GDP growth. If that idea ever took hold, the PAP would be doomed.