Toa Payoh: Where the Stories of Life Run Deep - Alvinology

Toa Payoh: Where the Stories of Life Run Deep

I sat in front of Block 8 at Lorong 7 Toa Payoh. While waiting, I looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings and wondered why this seemingly old Housing & Development Board (HDB) block has been chosen as the meeting point for “Diverse City Trails”.

Block 8 at Lorong 7 Toa Payoh is where the trail starts.


“Diverse City Trails” is a collaboration between ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s and The Thought Collective, a social enterprise that runs two cafes, tuition schools, a magazine printing arm and educational trails. It comprises three separate 1.5-hour experiential trails that aim to give participants an understanding of modern Singapore. The three trails run weekly within Little India, Jalan Besar and Toa Payoh from 16 March to 16 September 2015.

Before long, the organisers and Tong Yee, co-founder of The Thought Collective, arrived, and we waited for the arrival of all the participants before we could embark on the trail.

Tong Yee (right) leads the group of participants on the Diverse City Trail at Toa Payoh.

The trail got off on a slow start. The affable Tong Yee, who was our trail guide, brought the group to the void deck of a HDB block and explained why Toa Payoh has been chosen as the venues for one of the three trails. On the surface, Toa Payoh looks just like any other typical Singapore town to me, except it has quite a number of old HDB flats compared to the newer towns. Indeed, Toa Payoh is the archetype of old-style HDB flats. “It is where the HDB prototypes started,” said Tong Yee.

Dwellers at a Toa Payoh flat take part in a social cohesion project by displaying such notices outside their homes.

Part of the objectives of the trail is to create a shared experience among participants and get them to think about issues such as social cohesion. In fact, the trail revolved around the theme of “social cohesion” very much for the evening. Along the way, we explored different blocks of flats within which Tong Yee showed interesting real-life instances of social cohesion (or the lack of).

Our group gets led into a block where one of the flats has a dark past.
This tree holds a secret which only a handful of residents in the area know.

Things started to get more exciting when we were led to a particular flat where a notorious murderer committed his crimes in the early 1980s. (And no, the current residents of that flat do not know the dark past of their dwelling, if that’s the question in your mind.) Tong Yee pointed out to us how the architectural design of the flat might have led to the crimes escaping the notice of the murderer’s neighbours back then.

After 1.5 hours, the entire trail ended on a sombre and poignant note. I would refrain from revealing the details of how we ended the trail a secret so as to keep the surprise element for new participants.

Truth be told, I had started off the trail thinking it would be a boring affair (and in my mind, I was blaming Alvin for sending me to such a remote corner of Singapore). The trail unexpectedly turned out to be educational, emotional and most of all, thought-provoking. Scratch beneath the surface of the old Toa Payoh flats, and you’ll discover that the stories of life run deep.

The trail ends on a sombre note within this corridor.

Members of the public can purchase trail tickets at $25 each at from 16 March 2015. In celebration of SG50 and the partnership, Ben & Jerry’s has also launched a renamed celebratory flavour called the ‘Nice-Kacang!’ All trail participants will receive vouchers to enjoy a discount off this ice cream flavour.

‘Nice Kacang!’ is a renamed ice cream flavour from Ben & Jerry’s, launched in celebration of SG50 and the partnership with The Thought Collective..
1 comment
  1. I find the trail very over priced and is not something that I will encourage my friends to go for as the objective of the trail was messy. Firstly, I think the trail will mainly benefit foreigners who rarely have an opportunity to visit the heartland areas. For me, the trail was akin to a group of friends taking a leisurely stroll in Toa Payoh. The objective of the trail [Social innovation] was not apparent throughout the whole trail and the stories and issues we talked about e.g. murder stories/objective of building a pavillion in Toa Payoh seemed so unrelated. Basically, the way conversation flowed was messy and didn’t seem related to “social innovation”. Thought provoking questions could have been better asked to get us to think out of the box. After all, these facilitators are supposed to be really experienced and good at providing such experiences.

    Secondly, the facilitator was inaudible at some points and wasn’t really engaging the group as a whole. I felt restless and found it draggy. A more projected voice would have worked better.

    Thirdly, I thought some group acitivites to bond the group or get us to know the other people would have been better. I felt like I paid $25 simply for the tour guide to lead us around Toa Payoh and tell us stories about the old Toa Payoh.

    On a side note, we got the chance to visit a rental flat and that was the only bit that I felt was meaningful throughout the whole trail. Overall, it isn’t something that i will want to pay $25 for again.

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