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The man who lived in a Singapore forest for 30 years

English News

The man who lived in a Singapore forest for 30 years

Sunakhari News/Kathmandu –

Singapore is known for being one of the world’s most highly urbanised countries, with no lack of gleaming skyscrapers and luxury apartments. But for one man, that couldn’t be further from the place he called home – a makeshift shelter in one of the country’s forests.


On meeting Oh Go Seng the first thing that strikes you is the glint in his eye. He wears his 79 years very lightly, looking in far better shape than many people half his age. Earlier this month, the story of Mr Oh living in a forest went viral in Singapore – with many across the country reacting with shock. Some questioned why more help was not been given to him – and even more curiously, how he had managed to live this life unnoticed for 30 years.


Living in the forest
Mr Oh grew up together with his family in Sungei Tengah – a local kampong – or village. In the 1980s however, these kampongs were knocked down, to make way for new high-rise buildings. Most kampong residents were offered new homes by the government, but Mr Oh was unable to secure a place of his own. His brother however, did get a government flat and Mr Oh was invited to live there – but he eventually moved out as he said he did not want to impose on the family.


So, he headed back to a forest close to where his old home once stood and started to spend nights in a makeshift shelter built from pieces of wood, bamboo and tarpaulin. Upon approaching the shelter, you see ashes in the doorway from the open fire that Mr Oh would cook on. Piles of his belongings sit in the middle of the shelter, with the back of the tent used as his sleeping area. The garden near his tent is where he would grow his own food. Clothes lines zig-zag between the trees and a fence protects the vegetable plot from intruders.

Mr Oh grows vegetables and chillies in his garden
The towering jackfruit tree over his tent he says, provided ample shade, and he never felt uncomfortable – despite Singapore’s sweltering tropical heat and humidity. Loneliness was never a problem either, he says. He kept himself busy tending his garden, although that, he adds, was made easy by the good growing conditions.


The worst aspect of living in the forest, he says, was the mice. They would find their way into his shelter and chew holes in his clothes. He also worked at various casual jobs when he could get them. Mr Oh would sometimes use the money he earned to take a ferry to Batam, a small island in neighbouring Indonesia. It was there that he met Madam Tacih with whom he had a daughter.


Still, after his regular weekend visits to Batam, Mr Oh would return to his forest home in Singapore. Like his family in Singapore, Mr Oh’s wife and daughter, who is now 17, say they had no idea about how he lived. He would always answer questions about where he lived by saying he “lived in a garden”, a relative says. Mr Oh’s trips to Batam stopped once the pandemic hit, with Singapore largely closing its borders and allowing travel only for those willing to pay for quarantine and Covid-19 tests.


However, he still persisted in helping his family financially by sending them between S$500 – S$600 a month. Homelessness is relatively rare in Singapore. The country has, on average, one of the wealthiest populations on Earth. The city state’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita stands at almost $60,000 (£44,300), according to the latest figures from the World Bank.


Singapore also has an extensive public housing system, with close to 80% of its residents living in property subsidised, built and managed by the Housing Development Board (HDB). However, although rough sleepers are not a common sight in the city it has been estimated that around 1,000 Singaporeans are homeless. BBC