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Secret dwellers in Bukit Panjang canal

HIDEOUT: Bags and clothing were hung on makeshift clothes racks along the canal. Last Tuesday, IT engineer Leon found this home, which provided shelter to an unknown number of people.


    May 27, 2014

    Secret dwellers in Bukit Panjang canal

    HE WAS curious when he saw a man emerge from a drainage canal under a footbridge in Bukit Panjang Road a few weeks ago.

    The 43-year-old IT engineer, who wanted to be known only by his first name, Leon, decided to uncover the truth for himself last Tuesday.

    Armed with a torchlight and dressed in bermudas and slippers, Leon entered the canal on his own.

    He was shocked to discover it to be the secret home to an unknown number of people.

    As he wandered through a 600m-long and 2.5m-deep section of the canal, he came across a fully functioning home, which had two sleeping areas, a bathing area and even an area to wash clothes.

    Leon saw two giant beds - one holding three mattresses and the other, two - in two locations along the canal. They had been erected on bamboo stilts to a height of about 2m to protect the dwellers from rising water.

    "No other resident knows about this place," said Leon, who lives nearby in Bangkit Road.

    A major portion of the secret hideout was in a pitch-black tunnel and an open area shielded from prying eyes by thick vegetation.

    On Sunday evening, Leon took The New Paper into the underground system, which can be accessed, perilously, only from a tributary drain.

    None of the mysterious dwellers were there at the time. Walking nearly the entire stretch in ankle-deep water and guided only by Leon's torchlight, we got an idea of who might be living there.

    More than 50 pieces of neatly hung clothes, mostly belonging to men, and more than 10 pairs of footwear were seen among the canal's other inhabitants - toads, spiders and mosquitoes.

    These possessions were kept dry above the murky water by being hung on bamboo poles jammed into cracks and holes in the walls.

    Four toothbrushes, which looked clean and were used recently, were stuck into a crevice near a broken bathroom mirror on the wall.

    Items, like a child's school bag and pairs of women's shoes, suggested that a family could be living there. A photograph of a woman was stuck on another mirror.

    A guitar, a football, and some plastic toy balls were seen on the "clothing racks".

    It was Leon's fifth time there, and he said he had previously seen used condoms in the canal.

    When we were heading out to the entrance, we saw a man dressed only in shorts walking in the drain towards us carrying large bags.

    As soon as he spotted the lights from our torches and mobile phones, he dropped the bags and bolted in the other direction.

    Inside the bags were about 20 empty 1.5-litre bottles, which he was presumably going to fill from a pail near us. The pail had collected water flowing out from a hole in the wall.

    Said Leon: "When I first saw all these things, I couldn't believe it... But I had to find out.

    "No one patrols these canals, as far as I know. I want the authorities to do something about this. What if there are criminal activities here, right under where we live?"

    Other nearby residents also voiced their concerns about the underground home.

    The drainage canal leads from the central water-catchment area to Pang Sua pond in Bukit Panjang.

    It is not known how long the canal occupants have been living there.

    When contacted, a police spokesman said that they had received a report and an investigation is under way.