Monday, 23 January 2017

Void decks remain a vital slice of HDB life

Mdm Chen Yuemei (left), 68, & her husband, Mr Wang Ye, 69, both retirees, teach elderly residents how to make dumplings at Palmwalk Cafe Corner, which is located at the void deck of Block 839, Tampines Street 83. The newly opened community cafe is where residents can interact informally over coffee and tea.ST FOTO: LIM YAOHUI

It is a Tuesday morning, about 20 elderly women are huddled at the void deck of Block 839, Tampines Street 83. 2 neighbours are teaching them how to make dumplings while they slurp free coffee and tea at the block's newly opened community cafe.

Also at the void deck is a mobile library filled with children's books, including comics & literary classics -- the perfect after-school treat for students living nearby.

A few streets away, beneath Block 718, Tampines Street 72, a group of senior citizens are engrossed in a regular session of tile game Rummy-O which, as retiree Tan Bak Muay puts it, is "good for the brain & eyes".

related:Yishun residents turn void deck into 'kumpung central'
No staring into the void for these folks

The story behind when the “void deck” was introduced and how it was invented
The term “void deck” is a truly Singaporean invention

Every Singaporean, especially those who live in the Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates, knows what a void deck is.

They are the open communal spaces located on the ground floor of most of Singapore’s 10,000 HDB blocks.

They are the spaces of fun (youth strumming guitar, boys playing football, elderly playing chess), the spaces of joy (Malay weddings), and the spaces of grief (funeral wakes) for many Singaporeans.

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Creating a void in our HDB void decks
10 Everyday Void Deck Scenes We Will Soon Never See Again

Tanjong Pagar Town Council has since confirmed that the railings were set up to prevent ball games, following complaints from residents.

What is becoming more obvious is that we are less and less able to do the things that were once possible at the community void deck of HDB housing estates.

The HDB flat is the essence of a Singaporean identity, but here are some of the things that we may no longer be able to see at our void decks in the future.

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Bird-Singing Corner - Uniquely Singapore
A group gather to stare and listen to the birds of their friends and possibly competitors

Bird-singing corners are the only places legal for old men to display their birds for all to see, and while this unique activity is slowly dwindling, there still remains a healthy number of mainly male hobbyist looking to keep their birds in tip-top condition.

Located mainly at void-decks or communal areas in neighbourhoods, bird-singing corners are easily distinguished by the tunes of prized birds such as the oriental white-eye or mata puteh. So prized are these birds that most cages that hang from their iron hooks are made of finely-carved ornate wooden furnishings, with some even having blue-jade bowls to contain water.

The history of these bird-singing corners however remains very much a mystery, and the many prideful uncles I spoke to often rattled on about irrelevant stuff before concluding that this hobby must have been either born from the days of catching birds in the kampong or something almost in the line of a sub-culture involving shorts, singlets, cigarettes and good old kopi.

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