Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Out at the Marina Barrage

 Ovidia--Every Other Tuesday

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks here—I have a non-mystery, non-book project in the works; a monologue on the life of Madam Kwa Geok Choo. Madam Kwa was the wife of our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

(sorry for the self-promo--but it's what's taking up most of the space in my head right now!)

Kwa Geok Choo was also one of the first female lawyers in Singapore and, in Lee Kuan Yew’s words, “Brighter than I was”. 
She also went to the school l attended years later (so yes, we grew up hearing about her) and most importantly for today’s post, she wrote the text for the water supply contract during Singapore's separation from Malaysia in 1965. 
She made water a priority--from cleaning up our rivers to providing every household with safe, clean water.

Because when you're an island surrounded by water you can't drink, water becomes very, very important.

I grew up in a Singapore heavily dependent on rainfall. We had few natural water sources and little space to store what water we have. Of course during the monsoon season there could be too much water—I remember not being able to get home from school and spending the night in the Principal’s house (fortunately an old style raised building). 
What I remember most clearly (sorry, I was eight years old) was the shock and thrill of peeing directly into the muddy brown flood waters through a hole in the toilet floor!

But dry spells were even worse. I’m told that the year I was born, the water supply was cut off for six hours a day four times a week—yes, in the days before disposable diapers. I’m lucky they kept me! 

Our current Water Agreement with Malaysia (signed in 1962 and expiring in 2061) entitles Singapore to buy and use 250 million gallons of raw water per day from the Johor River. In return, we provide (sell at cost) Johor with treated water up to 2% of the water imported. 
This sounds like a great arrangement. The problem is, it seems like every time there’s a political disagreement, Malaysia threatens to cut off our water supply prematurely. So we’ve been trying to stabilise our water supply in other ways. 

The Marina Barrage is one of those ways.

The Marina Barrage is our largest and most urbanised catchment area (10,000 hectares!) built across the mouth of the Marina Channel and fed by five rivers running through the city centre of Singapore.
Which is why it felt an appropriate photoshoot location for a show celebrating Kwa Geok Choo—champion of our water supply!

There was a good warm wind blowing and birds and kites flying and it felt so good to be out of doors. And yes, I put on my mask again once the shoot was done.

It's a lot more crowded here when there are dragon boat races, but this afternoon it was mostly fishermen, a few kayakers, joggers and cyclists.

It was a cyclist who asked me to include this photo "to show Shimano makes rods as well as bikes!" something he likened to Yamaha creating pianos as well as motorcycles. 

(btw Yamaha branching into motorcycles after WW2 is another fascinating story)

And all around us there are people walking and sitting on green grass next to clean water under a clear sky with kites instead of bomber planes or projectiles.  

It feels almost wrong, given everything else that's happening in the world right now.
But everything we have now is thanks to those who went before us. 

It would definitely be wrong not to accept it and be grateful--while doing everything we can to make things better for those who come after.



  1. Somehow I hadn't thought about water as an issue...one always misses the obvious.
    Is your book a biography or a fictionalized account? She sounds a very interesting woman.

    1. Hi Michael, it's a play--and it's a fictionalised account anchored by facts. She Was pretty remarkable!

  2. Thank you, Ovidia, for giving us all a moment of peaceful reflection among times of anything but! Can't wait to read the play.