20 Dec 2020
Last week we visited Jurong Lake Gardens where parts of it were still being landscaped.
The lake joins the Jurong River (Sungei Jurong) which passes my flat on its way to the sea.
16 years back, this park had few footpaths. Its relative inaccessibility & mosquito presence was ironically an ideal gathering place for former farmers or elderly labourers who had much time and some money on their hand, but not many places to go.
Under the banyan trees that skirted the water, these old men sat on roots and decaying trunks to play chess, chat quietly about their kampong childhood or just smoked in silence.
But most of all, they showed kindness to Margo & Mikhail, two stray dogs that had sought refuge in the relative wildness of the undeveloped park. Like these old men who had been forgotten by progress, these dogs also had no place to go.
The female stray dog had a delicate frame and would prance gazelle-like to her food when I whistled for her. Sometimes I could see her stretch out in the moonlight when my taxi passed by. So I named her Margo, after the british ballerina, Margo Fonteyn.
The male stray was more cautious and would only come to eat after I had walked away. I named him Mikhail, after Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Russian ballet dancer who defected to the West.
When Margo’s life was under threat from complaints lodged against her by joggers and cyclists who felt threatened by her barking, one of her elderly protectors who loved her the most asked me to find her a real home.
And my friend and her husband gave Margo a home, and doted on her till she passed on at a ripe old age.
For a week after Margo left the park, Mikhail still turned up for his meals. Then he was never seen again.
Today both old men and dogs are gone. But the banyan trees that listened to happy chatters and bore witness to kindness to two homeless dogs are still there.
So on this recent visit, I thought I would name two old banyan trees, Margo and Mikhail, in honour of the blessed encounters between Man & Nature, long before the Jurong Lake Gardens was accessible as a place of leisure.