death by paper cut

{March 23, 2014}   enbloc

enbloc: in a lump or block; as a body or whole; all together.

Enbloc is a household name in Singaporean heartland living characterised by HDB housing where more than 80% of residents call home. The contraction for Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), Enbloc signifies for many, a herculean and collective move of a sizable portion of an estate to a newly built one. Although the new location is usually not too far from the original site, it is in effect an exodus because of the sheer numbers moving at the same time.

According to HDB, Enbloc is part of the Government’s Estate Renewal Strategy for the older public housing estates. Under SERS, the residents involved are given an opportunity to move from their old flats to new and better flats with fresh 99-year leases, served by modern facilities and set in a familiar neighbourhood.

This also means that from generation to generation all residents are constantly on the move, scrambled like mahjong tiles, without physical structures as memory landmarks. That being said, the scheduled Enbloc for the place I’ve lived for 30 years was literally falling apart and was not a place I’ll be nostalgic about. Somehow because for three decades I mentally compartmentalised living in my former apartment separate from the surrounding neighbourhood – as if suspended in a non-address – I am unable to relate my growing up experience to a fond memory of a particular hawker uncle or provision shop aunty downstairs. Perhaps also because I did not attend school near where I lived, my residential address was mostly a place to rest at night. Childhood friendships were formed along school project deadlines and proximity of classrooms rather than along HDB corridors or around playgrounds.

Still, the process of moving out is worth observing because it is a unifying experience in the national discourse and for the family/HDB unit, it means a period of 4 to 5 years of anticipation from the point of Enbloc notice that incrementally leads up to the stock-taking of the personal inventories, speculation of flat selection (based on order of ballot) and pouring over copious amount of paperwork involving CPF, HDB, mortgage loans in addition to interior designing. Although the new allocated apartment will be in a better condition, it is always smaller in size so re-thinking how the limited space is used is a constant source of contention. Multiply this experience with the hundreds of households grappling with the same issues at the same time, the units estate never felt more familiar with each other. In the meantime, construction work for the new place trudged on.


The process started in 2007 when the affected portion of the neighbourhood were informed that their blocks have been selected for Enbloc. Two years later, we received a letter from HDB to select the flat of choice, depending on what is left by the time it came to our turn.

Enbloc Notice 2007

Documents (1) Waiting in Line

There are two things to look at while waiting for our turn with the HDB officer. Firstly, the listing of available units and secondly the architectural model on display. You can keep an eye out on the flat you want on the screen, but if it the listing changes from blue to yellow then it means it has been taken and you are left with the next viable option, not unlike booking seats for a movie.

Waiting in Line (1)

Teban Vista Model (5) Teban Vista 25 Teban Vista Model (7)

Although the new apartment was selected in 2009, it would not be until mid 2012 that the building was ready for occupancy. In the meantime, people started vacating in droves. By the start of 2012, the efforts to chuck stuff indiscriminately ramped up and everyday I would return home to a new array of pre-own kitsch splayed across the floors that would even obstruct passage ways. Ghetto-like conditions would continue till unit by unit was inspected, locked up and re-possessed by the government.

En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 26

En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 33 En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 21 En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 23

En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 11

En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 34 En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 36 En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 18

En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 1

En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 35 En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 2

En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 32 En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 23

En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 9 En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 3 En Bloc - Old Block's Trash 10

Fewer and fewer flats would light up at night that year and eventually, after all units were turned inside out, the blocks were first cordoned by gates and then fenced up all around. Perhaps it was a security measure to prevent unsavoury characters from loitering around, because truth be told, toppled over bottles of beer would be found near the ground floors not belonging to the residents or former residents of the block together with the smell of pee. Soon barbed wires, like the new creepers in town, would curl themselves snugly around these fences.

En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 30 En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 22 En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 31

En Bloc - Moving Out of Old Block 29 Teban Fenced Up 5

Teban Fenced Up 16 Teban Fenced Up 10 Teban Fenced Up 4

I am not quite sure what will happen to these flats. There is a theory that these units will be rented out for a period of time before demolition. And then there are also rumours that a condominium will be built over this site. Either way, the bus that takes me to the new relocated blocks will wind its way around these fences as a constant reminder of urban decay.

Teban Fenced Up 19


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