Nestled in the western end of the Ang Mo Kio district, the Kebun Baru precinct is a hidden enclave frozen in time. Even as the years have gone by, the kampung (“village” in Malay language) spirit of Singapore’s former, pre-developmental years has remained deeply etched into the community here.
Kebun Baru is home to the island’s largest bird singing arena – the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club. On a quiet Tuesday morning, as the sun beat down on the sprawling grassland compound neatly lined by wooden bird cages perched on high poles, the symphony of birdsongs filled the air. Meanwhile, scattered about benches, metal shelters and coffee shops in the compound’s periphery, bird owners immersed in their own chatter.
This quaint bird singing community at the heart of Kebun Baru has withstood the test of time. With history that harks back to the 1970s, the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club began as a modest gathering of hobbyists who shared a common interest in bird singing. Amongst the early bird enthusiasts who convened at the then barren field was Teng Leng Foo. The 74-year-old, along with his fellow zebra dove aficionados, routinely visited the spot and erected their cages on trees.
As the congregation organically grew in size over the years, Teng and two friends rallied together to erect poles on the foothill in 1987. This marked the unofficial inception of Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club. Since then, the club has flourished to find strength in numbers and prominence amidst the local and Southeast Asian bird singing communities, counting itself as the largest integrated bird singing community in the region with a diverse range of songbirds. It is also the host of bird singing competitions.
In 2008, the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club was legally officiated when the club’s co-founder Robin Chua, a community volunteer at the Kebun Baru precinct since 1994, registered it with the Registrar of Societies.
“I was a community volunteer at the Kebun Baru constituency at the time when residents began expressing their unhappiness over the bird singing activities ongoing in the area. The member of parliament at the time, Inderjit Singh, assigned me to look into the case,” recalled Chua who has since paved the club’s path to legitimacy as a neatly organised community.
Today, the lush green pasture is lined by some 400 20-foot high poles and lower beams where ornate abodes of song birds are hoisted every morning. The area is also flanked by sheltered walkways and steel structure tarpaulins built – infrastructure built and maintained by the club.
Having dedicated more than a decade volunteering at the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club, few know the compound and its inhabitants (both the human and feathered kind) as well as Chua. Bird lovers flock to Kebun Baru from across the island. “The people who come here are very passionate about birds. They’re here as early as when the sun rises to hoist up their birds. Some of them are here nearly everyday except on Chinese New Year. That’s 363 days a year,” he mused.
Beyond his on-ground responsibilities, the 77-year-old also manages the club’s Facebook page where he regularly shares photographs of visitors of the compound, videos of song birds cooing, amongst other news pertaining to the club. “I get visitors from so many countries. It makes me happy to know that my work has not gone wasted,” he beamed with pride.
Interestingly, despite being so deeply involved and brimming with passion for the bird singing community, Chua neither owns a bird himself nor while away his hours in the idyllic grassland as birds coo in the background. Instead, Chua’s interests lie with the people, a demographic largely made up of middle-aged men and retirees. “The hobby allows people to bring their birds out, enjoy the fresh air and socialise. It takes away the loneliness of being alone at home. It’s a good activity for them that improves their mental health,” explained Chua.
Chua’s involvement in the community far supersedes the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club. In the past, he has served as the President of the Special Olympics and as the Vice President of MINDS. Given his exemplary track record of public service, bird singing club might be an unlikely place for Chua to extend his service but perhaps, given his first name – Robin – it was destiny.
Optimistic about the future of the bird singing community here, Chua firmly believes that it will continue to thrive in the years to come. “There are bird shops all over Singapore that are surviving. This means there’s a demand for the birds. People might not start the hobby when they’re young but it’s something that might develop later in life when they have more time,” he explained.
Ready to pass on the baton, Chua is currently on the lookout for a social media savvy counterpart to take over his administrative duties on Facebook.
Catch Robin’s old-time friend of the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club, Teng Leng Foo, in the Ang Mo Kio episode of the Under My Block series:
🎥 Check out the full Under My Block series and discover unique experiences in the heartlands around Singapore: https://bit.ly/3DpMvQR
📍 Wondering what else to do in Singapore? Here’s a handy map of all the locations featured in the articles and videos under this series: https://bit.ly/3srQf2m