There is another viewpoint though, and that is that the loss of Thambi and other places like the old Raffles Junior College Mt Sinai campus is inevitable and, in some ways, necessary. It suggests that one must keep moving forward, and being sentimental about the past does not do anyone any favours.

This view also casts progress (often economic) and pastness (often cultural) as polar opposites. The past, couched in feelings of nostalgia, lacks purpose and usefulness. This is especially so of places that are neglected or lack novelty for financial gain. Nostalgia becomes an enemy that stymies society’s evolution.

Such a view is of course simplistic and does not recognise the very real value that the past has for our everyday lives. Many individuals and organisations, like the Singapore Heritage Society, have advocated for preserving monuments, institutions and places that are deeply connected to our Singaporean heritage.

Heritage, especially places of heritage, serves as active and constant connections to who we were and how we became to be. The emotions of losing a place, even a neglected one, cannot simply be dismissed as sentimentality. Rather, that sense of loss is partly about losing a sense of continuity, an anchor to something or somewhere.

Thankfully, there have been many instances in the last few years where the past has taken precedence over a “development at all costs” or “carte blanche” approach to spaces and places in Singapore. The preservation of several buildings from the Old Police Academy along Thomson Road is very good example of such thinking.

Whilst walking through Bras Basah Complex a few weeks ago, I also encountered the Toast Box branch that had taken over Music Book Room’s unit. The coffee joint has a music-inspired theme and kept key elements like Music Book Room’s signage and flooring.


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