The utterance of the name Pulau Tekong instills fear into the hearts and minds of eighteen year-olds all around Singapore. Home to the Singapore Armed Forces' Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC), the island is where young Singaporeans start thier National Service journey.
It wasn't always like this. Before the army took over the island in the 1980s, it housed up to 5,000 inhabitants and had 16 Kampongs, police stations, temples, plantations, schools and Community Centres. In other words, it was a community that was thriving -- with many memories being made there by residents.
Be it as a cultural marker for its role in National Service, or as a home to thousands of residents, Tekong is definately part of the grander Singaporean story. It's just easily forgotten considering the island's inaccesibility and obscurity. That's why we decided to look into the island's history and find out how it has changed over the years.
Ladang Camp is currently home to BMTC's School I, II and III. It's where most of the action takes place on the island -- with the 24/7 medical centre and ferry terminal being located there. Considering that it is relatively new and well maintained, it is also where parents tour BMTC and drop thier sons and daughters off on enlistment date.
Similarly, during the 1970s, the Ladang area served as the heart of the island. With a Police Station, Community Centre, Primary School and Kampong, the area was the gateway to the rest of Tekong.
Then: Pulau Tekong Police Station
Now: BMTC Parade Square
Then: Pulau Tekong Primary School
Now: Raven, Pegasus, Ninja, Orion, Mohawk and Leopard Company Bunks and Swimming Pool
Then: Pulau Tekong Community Centre
Now: Forested area north of BMTC parade square
Rocky Hill Camp
Rocky Hill camp is where BMTC School IV is located. Located a few kilometres away from the Ladang Camp, Rocky Hill is relatively ulu, with recruits sometimes complaining of weak mobile coverage.
Its past however, is less colourful. Before Rocky Hill camp was established, there was nothing in its place. The two closest landmarks were Kampong Batu Koyok (which means Monkey-Looking Rock) and a Malay cemetery directly next to the current bunks.
In other words there might be some truth to the Rocky Hill ghost stories.
Field Camp Sites
One of the most dreaded parts of BMT is the four day long field camp. Sleeping in the middle of the jungle with little shelter and protection from the elements is obviously a tough thing for most recruits.
Oddly enough, the very place that is meant to make you feel not-at-home was once home to hundreds of villagers. Three villages - Kampong Ayer Samak, Kampong Ayer Samak Darat and Kampong Pasir - form most of the current designated field camp areas. Now though, almost all traces of the Kampongs have been erased, with trees being replanted to facilitate fire and movement drills.
There are some clues as to the area's former past. Some of the Urban Operations training buildings seem to be once that were left behind from original villages.
The area was also home to the Kampong Pasir Malay School -- a school which then Prime Minister Mr. Lee Kuan Yew opened himself during a 1963 tour of the Changi Constituency.
Being currently 24.43 km2 big, Pulau Tekong is bigger than neighbourhoods like Bedok, Ang Mo Kio and Jurong East. To add to this, the island is undergoing a massive land reclamation project, which would give it extra land the size of two Toa Payoh towns.
Precisely because of this abundence of space, city planners have often looked at Tekong as a new frontier. In the 1991 Concept Plan, the government announced its intentions to build high-density HDB flats on Pulau Tekong and Ubin. These flats would then be complemented by light industries and businesses. To connect the island to the mainland, the plan was to build a highway and a MRT line, straight into the heart of Tekong. Both of these connections would then proceed to Pulau Ubin.
Eventually though, the government backed out of thse plans. The next Concept Plan in 2001 took away the MRT line and decreased the area allocated to housing and industry. Then in the 2011 plan, the HDBs, industry and highway were dropped all together.
This was because the island was completely reserved for the Singapore Armed Forces, as in the future, it will seemingly replace all training grounds on the main island.