By Marc Servos
Changi, a planning area located at the eastern tip of Singapore, initially strikes minds as being the location of the Changi Airport. However, the significance of the area is greater than you would think. For instance, in addition to this main gateway to Singapore, there are several additional ports of entry that offer ferry service in and out of the Lion City. Changi is also the home to several bases and facilities of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). For recreation, whether for a staycation or a leisurely outing, one can go to Changi Village which consists of many hotels and resorts along with Changi Beach Park, Changi Boardwalk and Changi Village Hawker Centre. Clubs and other amenities, such as those for sports, are also located in Changi Village.
During the late 1800s, when the district was a vast malaria mosquito-infested swampland consisting of several kampongs (traditional houses on stilts), British colonials redeveloped Changi as a summer house and getaway location. Changi Village, located in the northern tip, originated as one of these kampongs which was later redeveloped. Although redevelopment saw the introduction of far more modern structures, the kampong spirit remains in the area’s tranquillity and remoteness.
The Armed Forces
The military facilities in the Changi district can trace their roots to the 1920’s when the British started to build their military presence, beginning with the construction of barracks. This later led to the establishment of Royal Air Force (RAF) Hospital Chang, completed as military hospital in 1935. It was renamed several times, including a handover to the SAF and later in, 1976, to the Ministry of Health when it was renamed Changi Hospital. It merged with the now-defunct Toa Payoh Hospital in 1997 to form the present Changi General Hospital. The former Changi Hospital, which still stands but is closed to the public, has a notoriety as being haunted.
Other British military facilities included Johore Battery, a coastal artillery installation with three 15-inch guns designed to defend an enemy approach to the Sembawang naval facility during World War II. Changi Air Base originated as a British artillery camp when it was completed in 1940 and held many Allied prisoners of war (POWs) during the Japanese Occupation when two airfield strips were constructed. This led to its reestablishment of RAF Changi after the war. Then, in 1971, it was handed over to the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC), the forerunner of the Republic of Singapore Air Force, before the Singapore government acquired about two-thirds of it for the construction of Changi Airport, completed in 1981.
Changi and World War II
And there is Changi Prison. Not an attraction that one would care to visit, but this correctional facility has a history that serves as a reminder of the Japanese occupation. The former Changi Prison complex, built in 1936 for convicts, detained Allied civilians whereas the military POWs were held at the British Army’s Selarang Barracks. A prison chapel was built by Australian POWs in 1944 but was dismantled and relocated to the Canberra suburb of Duntroon, where it was unveiled in 1988 as part of the Prisoner of War National Memorial. A replica was erected in Singapore that same year and was relocated in 2001, being officially re-established as the Changi Chapel and Museum. The old prison was demolished in 2000 and replaced by a new complex, but the Changi Prison entrance gates of the old structure, complete with the towers and turrets, was moved to the present structure and serves as another memorial of the war.
Changi has lots to offer as a place of recreation and departure point to other places of interest, too. A 10- minute ferry ride across the water is Pulau Ubin, an island to the east of Singapore which is often considered the last kampung in Singapore. A trip to Ubin takes you back to 1960s Singapore where you can walk or cycle through dirt roads lined with coconut trees, explore shady trails in overgrown rubber plantations or relax on secluded beaches.
Back across to the Changi, reflecting on its waterfront are a few of Singapore’s remaining kalongs, offshore structures used primarily for fishing. Also dotted along the shoreline are water sport opportunities through the People’s Association Water Venture and the Changi Sailing Club, founded in 1936, which is great for evening drinks. Or if golf is more your thing you can a round at the Changi Golf Course.
There are many other districts in Singapore that provide sites with a deep history, as well as resorts, beach parks and various amenities, but the combination of these and the quaintness of Changi Village give this area a unique character.