Sunday, February 20, 2011

#9 Water Kiosk at Corner of Boon Teck Road

Seeing the water kiosk along Boon Teck Road was refreshing (pun intended) because it felt so out of place and distant in a place surrounded by shopping malls and coffee houses. The sheet metal containers and the simplicity of the stand were reminiscent of a time long gone, and the gesture of giving out something free was even more archaic.

The sign which, embarrassingly, I could not read, apparently reads "Charitable Service provided by Thong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sia". The temple, also situated along Boon Teck Street, used to provide water and tea for free to anyone who needed a drink. This gesture was made all the more significant because it was initiated in a time where drinking clean and safe water was a privilege, and not a right.

Sadly, by the time we reached the kiosk, the temple attendant had just come to lock up the kiosk and retrieve the metal containers. From what I understand from my research, one container would dispense water, while the other would dispense "Su Teh", which I believe is simply Teochew for tea. Personally, I wanted to try the water and tea in the containers, but I was pretty sure that I wouldn't like what was in either container. I actually felt quite relieved.

I guess, if you asked anyone what the relevance of the water kiosk is today, they'd simply point you in the direction of the nearest water cooler (even tap water has fallen out of favour). The water kiosk serves as a silent reminder of a time where life in Singapore was hard, and day-to-day living was a struggle. I'm sure the water in these containers would have tasted metallic or stale from being left out in the open all day. And the cups they provided were excellent bacteria and germ spreaders as well. But I like to think that none of this would have mattered because the goodwill of the temple allowed men and women who slogged all day, under the scorching sun, to quench their thirsts before carrying on their daily duties.

However, I feel that more could be done to promote the awareness of this water kiosk. It is a unique, one-of-a-kind landmark that has probably remained unnoticed and unused since Singapore became more affluent. I wonder how many days has a temple attendant carted back two full containers of water, and how they can overlook that and continue with their tradition of giving. The water kiosk's allure lies in the fact that it is so discreet that one hardly even notices it, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb in its surroundings. However, that, too, is why it will eventually fade into a backdrop of modernity.

- Daryl

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