Tan Wen Xin remembered growing up as a child in Kampong Ilham. By the tender age of six, her family had to leave the Kampong to relocate to a HDB flat in the late 1950s.

At a time when things were slow, you know

That so fast children they grow

So we say by and bye to a place that now will only lie

Buried in our forefathers time,

Goodbye…

Ruins of old houses. Photo credit: Tan Wen Xin

40 years on, I brought my children to re-visit the land where our houses once stood. What remained were the ruins of what were once beautiful attap houses…

Because I left when I was really young, my memory of Kampong Ilham is very incomplete, but I remember there being a small stream near our house that we would go to catch fish. I do not know what happened to the stream and its exact whereabouts, but nevertheless, we did find several small streams that may have remained. Of course, I told my children that I would be bringing them to see where mummy used to go to catch fish, and my daughter even enthusiastically brought along her toy fishing rod! Oh, such nostalgia when I think of how my kids have grown and how long I have come since leaving my old Kampong home!

Small stream. Photo credit: Tan Wen Xin

I remember that Kampong Ilham was located just a stone’s throw from Kampong Bugis. We were just a small Kampong, almost like a village within a village – our groceries had to be obtained from Kampong Bugis. It is no wonder then that we were the first to be moved out.

Ilham, according to legend, is the name of a Malay boy who jumped into the river during a monsoon storm to save his drowning fisherman father from being swept away. When he returned to the village, he was given a hero’s welcome and a small part of the village eventually became known after him.

Because I left when I was really young, my memory of Kampong Ilham is very incomplete, but I remember there being a small stream near our house that we would go to catch fish.

Over time, the name of Kampong Ilham faded away into the recesses of history. The name, when brought up, is very often mispronounced and uttered as Il-lum (instead of Il-ham). It is my belief that the name of the Illuma shopping centre (now known as Bugis+) drew its inspiration from Kampong Ilham as perhaps, the Kampongs once stood near the vicinity that is now the shopping centre.

So here I am, sitting at home on the eve of the new year, reminiscing, writing poems, and thinking back to those days…

Tan Wen Xin’s story first appeared here on the Singapore Memory Project portal.
Read about other kampong stories here and be inspired by memories of Singapore’s past!

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