Saturday, August 4, 2012
Singapore River Boatman
Living on a boat in Hong Kong, and commuting daily to shore and back by sampan, I'm constantly aware of the necessity of the small boats and their crews to the working life of the Typhoon Shelter.
During my most recent visit to Singapore, where I've lived for many years, I was taken by how much development is now completed along the Singapore River, with luxury hotels, high rise condos, restaurants, and manicured landscaping, to the point that it little resembles the area of rundown "godown" warehouses that I use to photograph years ago from muddy foot paths along its banks.
The Singapore River has been highly regulated for decades now, with no private, commercial or recreational usage permitted. Even the old wooden bumboats, Singapore's version of the Hong Kong Typhoon Shelter sampans, have disappeared. A number of these small open boats had operated for years as tourist sightseeing rides, and to provide some scenic appearance of activity on Singapore's small inland waterway. The periodic efforts to promote their use as "water taxis" never was successful.
In recent years, the bumboats were removed and experimentally replaced by everything from brightly colored plastic tour boats, sleek enclosed air conditioned European canal boats, to even a Venice style gondola. To me, all of these looked very out of place, and had nothing in common with the history of the Singapore River.
The latest incarnation to Singapore's river transport is a return to wooden boats, with efforts of vintage design, but now with enclosed cabins. They look very similar to the small boats that ferry diners to Aberdeen's Jumbo Floating Restaurant.
While the authentic, if little used bumboats of the past are now gone, I was able to spot and photograph a lone boatman working on his more modern reproduction of a vintage river ferry that has replaced them. The tattooed boatman at least appeared to be the real thing, and perhaps to be himself the most authentic reminder of the River's working past.