NUS students help 80-year-old Ah Ma rebuild her drink stall at Pulau Ubin

Kampung spirit!

Zhangxin Zheng | October 07, 2018, 07:46 PM

Whenever you visit Pulau Ubin to hike or cycle, there will definitely be times when you crave some drinks to quench your thirst.

One of the more famous drink stalls is Ah Ma Drink Stall, a rustic-looking blue wooden stall, just before Jelutong Bridge where kayakers commonly gather.

Here's a photo of Ah Ma, Mdm Ong Ang Kui, and her drink stall where she sells drinks on weekends.

Photo by WildSingapore Ria Tan

Map by NParks

Woes of Ah Ma Drink Stall

Being near the bridge however also meant that during high tides and especially spring tides, water from the nearby mangrove swamp can enter the low-lying stall.

Like this.

Photo by Victor from Kayakasia

And this.

This got so bad that the Drink Stall even slanted as it lost some parts to soil erosion and became structurally unsound for people to stay in.

The stall was built over 20 years ago by Ah Ma's late husband and son-in-law.

It served as a source of income for the 80-year-old Ah Ma who still prefers living on the island than joining her children on mainland Singapore.

Rebuilt Ah Ma Drink Stall

To help Ah Ma and to preserve the cultural heritage on Pulau Ubin, a community known as Kawan Ubin (Friends of Ubin) conceptualised Project Ah Ma Drink Stall as part of a bigger community-led restoration initiative known as Revitalizing Ubin as living Kampung (RUK).

Photo by Siak Juay

The group consists of individuals from Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), the Department of Architecture from National University of Singapore (NUS) and Philip Lim from Sea Angel contributing various forms of expertise to ensure the new Ah Ma Drink Stall is well constructed and preserves the original kampung style and spirit.

The project also involved National Parks Board (NParks) which funded and provided workshop space and a consulting firm, PH consulting, which provided pro-bono engineering advice.

It was announced last June that the project would begin with site surveys and interviews with Ah Ma and her family conducted by 32 architecture students in August last year.

They then helped to move out the items from the drink stall for safekeeping before the construction began.

Last Ubin Day on Jun. 24, the students also showed the Second Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee the progress of their work when he visited the site.

Photo from NUS News

The students also worked together with NParks contractors and residents to design the new timber structure. For example, Lim who is a resident on Ubin taught the students traditional carpentry and timber construction techniques.

Photo from NUS News

In an interview with the campus circular NUS News, the students' project supervisor Dr Tan Beng Kiang also highlighted the need to incorporate empathy into architectural design and that's what she hoped the students would take away from this community service work.

“It was a good learning opportunity for our Architecture students to participate in so we volunteered to do a design-and-build in collaboration with other stakeholders…as a local hands-on community service project.”

"Through this project, I believe that empathy is the seed of a good designer. Through this project, I wish to foster empathy in my students and hope to inspire them to be socially responsible architects and designers who will be changemakers for a better world."

Launch of the new drink stall

Fast forward to August, and the new Ah Ma Drink Stall is ready for business again.

The stall looks much more spacious and sturdy but managed to keep the same iconic blue planks and old signages handwritten by Ah Ma's late husband.

The stall has also been leveled up so that it will no longer be flooded during high tides.

Photo by Ching Yan, from Tan Beng Kiang's Facebook post

In celebration of the new Ah Ma Drink Stall, the Kawan Ubin community also had an official launch for the stall on Sept. 22.

Photo by Lay Bee, from Lisa Lim's Facebook post

The launch happened on the Saturday right before the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Photo by Lisa Lim

NUS Architecture students and Ah Ma with their sparklers.

Photo by Lisa Lim

Kampung spirit for sure.

You can read more from these two posts or simply drop by Ah Ma Drink Stall at Ubin next weekend!

Top photo collage from Kayakasia Facebook post and Tan Beng Kiang's Facebook post.