Place of Interest – Toa Payoh

A Brief History of Toa Payoh by Kok Buck Song


they say
there is no history
made in Toa Payoh,
that Economy, Polity, State
are major tenants
in Significance’s estate

but this being,
whose amniotic fluids,
swamp and swill,
were channelled seaward
through monsoon drains,
instant rivers,
was once a brave new world
of giant pigeonholes sky looking,
rigid under morning sun,
a pioneer in its time,
so should not earliness and vision
receive, as in Sentosa’s museum,
decorum, grace
and privilege of place?

the pride and self-sufficiency
of early settlers
town centre, bus terminal, the first SEAP Games,
the emporium’s sacks of fragrant rice,
children’s playgrounds, the garden’s lake and town,
the Queen’s lookout
excite no more
and the children of Toa Payoh
are the mothers and fathers
of Woodlands, Pasir Ris,
distant orbits of the new satellites

this town delivered so fast,
labour pains
now claim a second strike:
this time, cranes and the wrecker’s ball
strip the old town
colonise once more
this, one of Modernisation’s
first ports of call

in our History’s eye,
growth is so swift
rebirth also
gets short shrift

TP 1

Toa Payoh Village in 1963

(Image taken from

Toa Payoh is located in the center of Singapore. It was once an undeveloped area full of farms. There were many squatters living in this area. In 1962, Singapore was developing thus it needed more land for development and to construct better facilities and housing for the growing population. At that time, the people living at Toa Payoh had to move to other places. Over a few years, Toa Payoh had slowly developed and it was one of the earliest area with public housing estates.

TP 2

Toa Payoh New Town

(Image taken from,_Aug_06.JPG)

Currently, Toa Payoh has been developed into a new town where the housing and facilities within this new town could fulfill the needs of the residents living in this area. From Kok’s poem, it illustrates the development of Toa Payoh from the past to the present. Kok might have felt that the changes of Toa Payoh from the previous swampy area to the fully developed new town happened all so quickly that no one could remember Toa Payoh’s past. In the past, Toa Payoh was once a swampy area with low living standard. Developments occurred due to the economy growth, policies and government. Over the years, upgrading works were constantly done in Toa Payoh to keep up with the changing demands of the population so that the living conditions and standards could be improved. Soon, Toa Payoh is developed into a town filled with the necessary facilities and transportation that could cater to the needs of the residents living in this area. Due to the advancing economy and technology, the government also started developing Woodlands and Pasir Ris into new towns just like Toa Payoh.

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