There are many things that are unique about Sembawang. Most, if not quite all of them are down to its location. It is perched on the northern most tip of Singapore’s North Region, and is the most northerly part of the nation. In fact, it is much closer to Johor Bahru (just a kilometre away over the Straits of Johor) than it is to Singapore’s CBD.
Much of its history, character and charm comes from its relationship with the sea, but its name is very much land based in nature, which is believed to come from the local name for the Mesua ferruginea tree – the Sembawang, some examples of which are still dotted around the area. Sembawang is also home to Singapore’s only mainland natural hot spring. Its waters, which can be accessed via nearby taps, are still taken by visitors every day, and are said to be able to relieve such ailments as arthritis and eczema.
It is the sea though that draws most people to Sembawang, and indeed keeps them there. It is also what brought the British, where they based their naval base, the core of which remains today, as a commercial enterprise. Other remnants of its military past can still be seen in the area, such as second world war pill boxes on Bermuda Road and the ventilation shafts of underground bunkers on Durban Road. There is also what remains of the British built jetty that was subsequently bombed by the Japanese.
All that is in the past though, Sembawang today is renowned for its laid back, tranquil, homely and scenic atmosphere. Along with Changi and Labrador, it boasts one of the last remaining natural beaches on the island, and it is that that sums up Sembawang – natural beauty and rustic charm in the face of an ever-changing world. Visiting this northern enclave is like stepping back in time. This is not to say Sembawang is backwards, far from it, it is just that it is confident enough in its own image, in its own uniqueness that it doesn’t feel the need to go the way of so many of the other parts of the island. It still retains the things that made it attractive to its residents over the years. The places people go to eat, drink, meet and talk are the same that they did a generation ago, albeit maybe with a new lick of paint and better air conditioning.
Things are changing however, albeit slowly, as more and more people are attracted to the prospect of living next to the sea, and surrounded by lush greenery. Developers are moving in and more and more Singapore condos are sprouting in places that were previously dominated by public and landed housing.
Other developments such as the nearby Seletar Aerospace Park and the forthcoming Woodlands Regional Centre and North Coast Wafer Fabrication Park will bring more job opportunities into the region, while Canberra MRT Station on the North South Line (joining the existing Sembawang Station) will open in 2019 improving connectivity for its residents.
The biggest test for Sembawang will be if it is able to embrace these changes, without sacrificing its authenticity, its heritage and its…. Sembawangness. I for one hope it can.
Other new condos