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Study shows Pulau Ubin is thriving despite its dwindling population

SINGAPORE — While its population has dwindled over the decades to a mere 38 residents, Pulau Ubin remains socially connected to society at large and has its own small-scale local economy and culture, according to an ongoing study on the island’s social history.

SINGAPORE — While its population has dwindled over the decades to a mere 38 residents, Pulau Ubin remains socially connected to society at large and has its own small-scale local economy and culture, according to an ongoing study on the island’s social history.

Commissioned by the National Heritage Board (NHB), the cultural mapping project of Ubin finds that residents contentedly make a living off fishing and farming, selling their goods to each other and to visitors, and occasionally on the mainland. Special interest groups — from mountain bikers to nature enthusiasts — have also made efforts over the years to preserve the island’s charm.

The study, which is led by Dr Vivienne Wee, project director of strategic research consultancy Ethnographica, and involved four other researchers, started in April.

The researchers, who have talked to more than 40 former and current residents, expect to complete their field work by December or January.

A research report will be shared with government agencies and the Friends of Ubin Network for ideas and suggestions on how the heritage and rustic charm of Pulau Ubin can be enhanced for future generations.

Mr Alvin Tan, assistant chief executive of policy and development at the NHB, said: “Before we did this project, we do have some preconceptions that the economy and the people (on Ubin) might not be thriving ... (But) it is actually the opposite.

“There are a lot of community-initiated initiatives, a lot of people participating and making this whole island a thriving hub ...”

He added: “There are people who live on the mainland, but they come back because they have memories of growing up in Ubin ... So, the Ubin population based on the study is much bigger and more extensive than just the people who are staying (on the island) ...”

The research has also documented the rich and diverse social networks of the island, such as those who attend religious festivals, namely the annual Tua Pek Kong Festival, that are hosted on Ubin.

New interest groups, from mountain bikers to gardening enthusiasts, have also been making their way to the island.

Dr Wee said: “We need to value the knowledge that the people have as custodians of not just the Ubin culture, but the kampung way of life that no longer exists in Singapore.”

Ubin residents, who make an average of S$50 a day, cherish the simplicity of their lifestyle and the low cost of living there, the researchers found.

They run small businesses on the island, and engage in other activities such as fishing, farming vegetables, and growing fruit trees.

Ms Ivy Zhu, 52, who has been running a drinks stall with her mother, Madam Wong Ya San, 76, for the last 20 years, expressed her hope that the island remains protected from urban development.

“My mother is used to the quiet and simple lifestyle here,” she said in Mandarin.

In conjunction with the study, the NHB has launched a three-minute documentary featuring Mdm Wong on its YouTube HeritageTV platform. A 20-minute video documentary showcasing Ubin residents will be uploaded at a later date.

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