Asia Singapore Travel

The Old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station circa 2011

Despite being in plain sight in a well-populated area, surprisingly few people knew that we had a functional railway station. Specifically, one that brought us to Malaysia.

I must have passed by this building a million times but have always thought that it was some government building due to its atas colonial exterior. It might have looked welcoming 50 years ago but not in my lifetime.

Image from Wikipedia’s Tanjong Pagar Railway Station entry

Anyway, back in 2011, it was in the papers everywhere that the old railway station was going to shut. We did a bit of research, packed our bags and took a weekend trip by rail…to Penang (which is really mostly an island that didn’t have a rail connection but I didn’t think this through).

We found out a few things. The first was that tickets cost numerically the same in Singapore dollars and Malaysian ringgit if you bought them in Singapore/Malaysia respectively. This is quite substantial since the Singapore dollar is at roughly 2-2.5x the value of the ringgit back then. There were people who would buy a ticket to the nearest Malaysian stop and then buy another ticket onward to save on costs. We were short on time so we never did that.

Gates not seen to the outside world since 1900.

Since this was before the age of #nofilter and I did ashamedly just discover the use of filters, I had to apply Nostalgia on everything. Entering the station seemed like a step back in time. As someone evidently not great with multitasking, working a camera while gawking is #toomuchbrain.

The atmosphere felt more Malaysian than Singaporean even though
the interiors were architecturally British. There was a small food canteen which seemed more from the 20th century than of the 21st century. I’ve always wanted to use that phrase in a sentence somewhere.

Image again from Wikimedia

We took an overnight train to Butterworth in Malaysia and I think night time was an appropriate time to travel by train to soak up the melancholy. Unless there’s no other reasonable option, I do think train travel takes a certain amount of pensiveness. Or an obsession to live in a Wong Kar Wai film.

There are no stories of being wowed by the sights of green pastures, rolling hills and farm animals that sang in choirs since we were travelling at night. People who rave about their tranquil, enriching 12h train journey have possibly inhaled too much engine exhaust.

Those aren’t your friends.

We slept through most of the night. And day. And arrived at Butterworth in the morning.

Didn’t find butter. Disappointed.

Supposedly, the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was going to be rebuilt or re-purposed over the next 10 years. Since most Singaporeans have this running joke that we’ve never seen <insert area> not in the process of renovation/construction since memory serves us, I don’t think we weren’t expecting that.

When we do see the station in its new form though. I think the only thing that will remain is its facade.