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Benedict Leow

Lorong Ong Lye

A kampong or compound house along Lorong Ong Lye in Paya Lebar. Benedict Leow, 64, lived there from 1950 to 1983 with more than 20 family members from three generations.

Communal living

We stayed in a compound house with more than 20 people from three generations – my grandparents, parents, seven siblings, extended family and a whole lot of chickens, ducks, pigs, turkeys, dogs and cats. It was really communal living.

Our house was surrounded by fruit trees, so when rambutan season arrived, my siblings would climb the trees to pick the fruits. The garden had many herbs, bushes and medicinal plants. It simply evolved naturally. Whenever any of us fell sick with fever, measles or stomachache, my parents would pick herbs from all over the place and use them as medicine. We hardly had to see the doctor.

"I guess in me is that desire to relive what I went through when I was younger – living with a connection to the outdoors."

Mending the Road

Lorong Ong Lye was originally a sloped muddy track for bullock carts. The road was used so often it became uneven with many potholes. My grandfather often instructed us to patch the road for easier commute and we would run away when he called for help.

Mum worked very hard. Every hour was spent doing something for the family. At age 7, I was already helping her chop firewood and feed livestock. I became very good at breeding chickens. Before my siblings were born, mum would buy around 30 chicks and we would rear them until they grew big and slaughter them for confinement.

In those days, chicken meat was reserved for special occasions like baby showers and birthdays. I was 11 years old when I slaughtered my first chicken, One thing I learnt early – the faster they die, the better because it would be less painful.

Cleaning Wells

There was no tap then. We obtained water from a well in our backyard using pulley system. The well was so deep – from the rim to the water surface was as high as the floor to ceiling. We’d clean the well once a year. It was a big activity where my uncles would spend a weekend taking out all the water, bucket by bucket. The bottom of the well was very dirty and full of toothbrushes, empty cans or anything that fell in by accident. We’d fish out these things using a long metal stick with a hook, then pour in a big bag of sea salt to pour in to cleanse the well.

As our family of nine grew bigger my parents decided to have a space of our own. Today, the home I live in with my wife and two daughters is shaped by my childhood experience. I guess in me is that desire to relive what I went through when I was younger – living with a connection to the outdoors.

"We were always caring for others or for the animals."