Revisiting Lost Spaces

Posted on March 25, 2011


I have moved homes a number of times now. Here is a timeline description of places that matter to me.

0) Before I was born, I knew that my father grew up on a farm. From what I have heard, lots of my relatives and distant relatives had farms. I don’t know if I would say they were farmers. The term ‘farmer’ seems to have other associations that I do not think are entirely relevant. My older cousins have seen the place. I have seen just photographs of the place. In the early days, or even just in the decade before I was born, Singapore had lots of family-run farms. The land was acquired by the government to make roads and plan towns. And now they have all ceased to exist. There are farms still of course, but more of tech-savvy, commercial workplaces. Many of those who lived on that farm had other jobs as well. I think one of my ancestors was a schoolmaster of some sort. I am not sure. Men were educated. Women were mostly not. I know that even the apartment I have called home the last ten years or so sits on a plot of land that used to be my distant relatives’. This history was not too far ago. Yet it seems like worlds apart from the present.

1) 1988 Bedok Reservoir Road, Singapore (flat):

This was home when I was born. I don’t recall anything about it.

2) 1989 – 1994 Toh Crescent, Singapore (grandmother’s semi-detached house):

I lived here till I was 6 years old. There were a lot of open spaces to play in. We would find kittens in our gardens, stray cats all around. There was a lot of cycling in alleyways, climbing drains, prowling through long grass. We would catch all kinds of insects in our garden and put them in plastic containers. Once, a spider got out of my container and onto my hand. I stopped catching spiders after that episode. There were also a lot of dogs people had as pets. Sometimes I liked them, sometimes they were scary. Once, I followed my brother and some other kids in the neighbourhood to an abandoned house and we broke in through the dog door.

3) 1995 – 1999 Elias Road, Singapore (housing board executive flat):

We were the first occupants of this new housing board unit. It was situated beside a river which I loved. My first friend at school was a neighbour from the next block. We lived beside a huge park and could easily access the sea. Lots of time was spent outdoors having fun beneath void decks, trailing the park, mangrove swarms and rivers.

4) 1999 – present Flora Road, Singapore (apartment / condominium):

Secured area with access to a pool, gym, and other facilities. Smaller area but comfortable. I spent the last two years of primary school, all of secondary school, junior college, and university calling this place home.

5) 2007 – 2009 Goldstein College, UNSW Sydney (student accommodation in Sydney):

Individual rooms, regular social activities, shared toilet and kitchen facilities. 74 residents at any one time.

6) 2010 – present Rothschild Avenue Rosebery, NSW (single-storey house with large backyard):

Spacious, easily accessed, good bus services and amenities all round. I have four housemates.


Revisiting Lost Spaces

The Attic

I used to live with my grandmother. Living at this house, I used to dream of a stairwell in a room. At the sloped ceiling of the stairwell would be this trap door that led to an attic. I always found myself staring at this trap door, wanting to get to it. When I awake, I would go looking for this stairwell and this trap door to the attic. I would not find it. I have dreamt of this stairwell many times. It was not the same dream, but it would involve me searching this house, searching for this room, searching for this stairwell, and then searching for this trap door to the attic. Once, I got close to opening it. But I don’t recall knowing what was on the other side. I don’t think I have ever made it to the other side.

I haven’t had this dream ever since I moved out of this house. It must have been nearly seventeen years now. This house was demolished some years back and no longer exists. I know that I can never revisit this house in the dream. I will never know what was behind that trap door.


I would be feeling an urge to use the toilet and I would come across a doorway. As I did enter, I would find different passageways, all leading to different spaces. All these spaces though, shared one thing in common – they were all some sort of bathroom or toilet facility. Some were large halls with numerous walls, pathways leading from one area to another, interconnecting rooms, windows that opened through walls. I always hesitated to use these toilets even though I really needed to. I would keep walking, and come across too many varieties of toilet facilities.

Once, I chanced upon this large room with numerous toilet bowls, facing different directions. I looked at several, trying to pick one that was in a space or direction that would offer me most privacy. Sometimes, these facilities were occupied. They were not all occupied though. Each time when I thought I might settle down even though conditions were not ideal, I would pause and reconsider, and then find myself too embarrassed. I would keep on searching in other rooms, often with the same outcome.

I have had this recurring dream tens of times now. Funnily, it would always be a different toilet plan, although once in a while I would recognise the space and know how to navigate. I would try different turns and corners, hoping to find a more acceptable spot.

Over the years, there had been a few times I did feel at ease in these spaces. This happened more so in recent years. But these toilets became purely functional and having no need to worry, there was no struggle and no need for exploration.

I wonder if I might find myself in the fantastic maze toilets of my childhood again. No doubt, those were uncomfortable moments, difficult times. But they were interesting ones.


I have only encountered this once. If I tell you what happened, it could sound rather traumatic. In the dream though, it was okay.

I had found myself in a dark room and I saw a small light in front of me. As I walked towards the flicker of light, it would become brighter although the room still remained pitch dark all round. There was an old lady crouching in front of this row of glass door cupboards, almost like bar fridges. It extended both ways and I never saw the ends of it. I could not tell how far it went. It was dark.

She would signal to me with her fingers to come closer and as I did, she opened the glass doors and inside were rows of jars. They were similarly sized but different. The lighting was dim, but it was sufficient. In each jar was a baby, preserved. Newborn, or premature perhaps. There were so many jars, so many babies. I would pry through rows of them. Then I would back away, and I would wake up.

Cat Nap

Once I had a kitty cat. I would have it sit on me and as I pulled my blanket over the both of us, it would roll around and snuggle. It was so very soft and cuddly. It was the best thing in the world. I would play with this cat all the time, and I would see it again in different dreams. I don’t know if it was the same cat, but I would always have it in my flat. It loved the ball of wool I threw at it.

In the morning, I would go looking for this cat. I had combed my entire flat looking for it knowing that I would never find it.

Special Powers

Once upon a time I learnt how to fly. I learnt how to fly when I realize that I just had to think that I could and I would. It started off quite bumpy, and then I would learn to get my feet off the ground easily. My body wouldn’t be in the best position though; sometimes my head and upper half would find trouble keeping upright. But still, I think I was quite good at it.

There was this other person who wanted to fly. He asked me how I did it. I explained to him, “Just like that, lift yourself!” He kept trying. He was very positive about it. He did manage to go slightly airborne. But I could tell, he was not too good at flying.

When I got out of bed the next day, I would immediately have myself stand upright. I would close my eyes and will myself to fly. I could never make it happen.

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