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”.
“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.
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.
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).
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.
Members of the public can purchase trail tickets at $25 each at trails.thethoughtcollective.com.sg 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.