On my quest for black-and-white homeowners to interview for our theme this month, I decided to start close to home – in Seletar.
Having been moved out of our homes at Seletar Air Base from mid-2008 to make way for an Aerospace Park, many of my fellow former residents have now started moving back to the area, into the newly renovated places that are not going to be knocked down – at least for a while.
It’s not the same as it was, but it’s still wonderful. Familiar faces have started to pop up, too – including my former next-door neighbours, Frank and Edith, now two houses down from me.
Frank and Edith grew up in Singapore from the mid-70s to mid-80s. They met at the Hollandse Club – both are Dutch – and went to UWCSEA. Edith, two years younger, says she always had a not-so-secret crush on Frank; she admits her diaries from school were mainly about him. Frank knew about it, only “she was a bit young!”
When they left Singapore for college, they kept in touch occasionally through a mutual friend and a few letters – no Facebook or email then. Frank was in college in the US before coming across to Perth to continue studying and coaching tennis. Meanwhile, Edith had moved back to her hometown in Holland. After seeing each other while Frank was on his way to visit his parents, the pair decided to travel through the UK. Their fate was sealed: Edith joined Frank in Perth and two years later they were married – she was only 23.
They had missed Singapore, especially the mix of cultures and socialising with other people who had travelled. So they decided to return.
Back in Singapore, Frank was soon working as a tennis coach, seven days a week, from early morning to late at night. The realisation kicked in that life was going to be very different than it had been as expat kids. They bought a second-hand VW van and moved to an old apartment in Chestnut Avenue for $500 a month.
When he was growing up, Frank’s parents, Wim and Winny, had lived in a wonderful black and white on Adam Drive. I spoke to them while they were visiting recently. Wim is a geologist and was transferred to Singapore from Australia where they had been living for a while. He had been shown around the house on a look-see, but by the time they came back, the HR of his company had signed the lease. He was really nervous about showing Winny; luckily it was a winner. She recalls: “It was just a huge empty shell in the middle of the jungle but I loved it. There were giant fans, so we didn’t put in air-conditioning – not for the 15 years we were there, in fact. Many of Frank’s friends wouldn’t sleep over because of that; they weren’t too keen on the snakes and bugs either! In those days, wives couldn’t work. I used to help out at a Vietnamese refugee camp that was set up for the original boat people from the Vietnam War, and I taught Dutch to refugees who were going to The Netherlands. In my free time, I enjoyed painting.”
After Chestnut Avenue, Frank and Edith heard about a house at Seletar Air Base that was considered “miles” out of town. It was available for rent at $1,400. So, one Sunday, they loaded their bicycles into their VW and discovered Hyde Park Gate, literally cycling into the houses that had been derelict there for three years. It wasn’t just the good price that got them in – in fact, it was still a bit of a push financially – rather, it was going back to a way of life that Frank, in particular, was used to: one with greenery and space. It was also very similar in style to their house on Adam Drive.