Elderly man, 79, lived in S'pore forest alone for past 33 years

Discovered only recently, he was homeless for more than three decades.

Belmont Lay | February 03, 2022, 04:56 PM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates: https://t.me/mothershipsg

A 79-year-old elderly man was living in the Sungei Tengah forest in Singapore all by himself for 33 years before being discovered recently.

His homeless status was only detected by the authorities after he was caught illegally hawking vegetables in Teck Whye Lane in Choa Chu Kang on Dec. 25, 2021.

The vegetables, which were confiscated, were believed to have been grown by him.

Lived by pond, tended to own garden

The sensational story about a man having resided in the wild over so many years was originally published by Shin Min Daily News on Jan. 17.

A follow-up piece in English about the man moving to a one-room rental flat was subsequently published by The Straits Times on Jan. 28, and makes for a mind-boggling read.

The articles essentially highlighted how it is possible for a person in Singapore to be a rough sleeper for more than three decades by making do with very little and just a makeshift tent in the forest.

Lived in Sungei Tengah forest

According to ST, Oh Go Seng was living in the forest in the northwestern part of the island, but the exact location was not disclosed.

He had remained in the area after his kampung home was cleared.

He is understood to have been shuttling between his forest residence and the wider nearby housing estate to be acquainted with the rest of society to earn money by selling vegetables there and finding work as a hard labourer.

As he was living in the forest, he grew his own vegetables, such as chilli padi and pandan leaves.

He would cook with an open fire and ate mostly porridge with preserved vegetables.

He would draw untreated water from a nearby pond for cleaning purposes.

And the clothes he wore were given to him by other people.

His tent was made out of plastic canvas and propped up with wooden sticks.

Photographs of his dwelling showed the barebones state of his accommodation in the midst of lush and haphazard greenery, with the barefoot man wearing filthy and torn clothing, while sitting on the ground strewn with rubbish, such as plastic packaging, soiled containers, and empty cardboard egg holders.

To catch a glimpse of how dense the Sungei Tengah forest is, you can check out a runner's vlog that also showed how deserted it can be.

Claims to have family in Indonesia

Speaking in Hokkien, Oh was quoted by ST as saying that he never saw snakes in the forest, and that mosquitoes were his friend.

He also claimed to have a wife in her 50s and a daughter, 19, who is studying medicine, and that they both live in Batam.

He also said he sends them S$500 monthly -- money he saved up working as a labourer.

But his wife and daughter are unaware of his well-being, according to Oh.

Over the past two years after the pandemic struck, his savings started to run out when he could no longer work as a labourer at the pasar malam (night markets).

Relocated to rental flat

After he was caught illegally selling vegetables and given a warning, his situation became known to Bukit Panjang MP Liang Eng Hwa.

The authorities checked and found that Oh has a relative who lives in Bukit Panjang, Shin Min reported in a follow-up article on Jan. 18.

The relative is the daughter-in-law of Oh's late brother.

She was asked if she could give him shelter temporarily.

Oh then moved in with her and her family for about a week as a one-room rental flat in Choa Chu Kang was arranged for him.

Oh has since been relocated to the rental flat.

Still has to work at age 79

ST reported that volunteers will work with the grassroots in his new community to find him spaces to continue to grow his vegetables.

Besides a new dwelling, it was also reported that Oh has since found a job as a gardener at a horticulture company and earns S$1,200 monthly, but has to pay rent for his flat.

It was not mentioned how much rent he now has to pay.

People in community knew about his existence in the forest

Chatter online after Oh's story broke suggested that people in the Choa Chu Kang area were aware of Oh's existence sleeping rough.

This was so as they gave him food for sustenance and clothing over the years, and people in the Teck Whye estate do buy his vegetables.

Hikers and runners have also said on social media they have come across Oh and his dwelling in the Sungei Tengah forest, and were also aware that he was living there.

The sentiment expressed by those who claimed to have seen the elderly man in the forest said they chose to let him be.

Not everyone processed this news the same way though.

Over on the ST forum, one letter writer understood the story somewhat differently from the rest of the population, as he praised the elderly man for showing resilience to overcome adversity.

Top photos via Shin Min Daily News & RunUncleRun Kok Chin Teow YouTube

Follow and listen to our podcast here