With all overseas holiday plans having to be put on hold, there is no better time than now to be going off the beaten track in Singapore.

My first visit to the Sembawang Hot Spring Park left me pleasantly surprised. I was expecting to explore a local place of interest but ended up finding a close-knit community as well!

Looking to make our day off worthwhile, my fiancee and I decided to explore the northern part of Singapore and we ended up soaking in the warmth of not just the hot spring water, but also in the kindness we received.

When we got there, we felt like novices, fascinated with experiencing soaking our feet outdoors in the natural spring water ranging from 50 to 70 degree Celsius.

We tried dipping our toes in the cascading common pool, but the heat was unbearable and so we decided to walk back to the cafe near the park entrance where we could rent buckets.

Finding a community in the unlikeliest of places

After filling our buckets with the hot spring water, we found a shady spot to sit while we waited for our water to cool. That was where we made our discovery.

Just a stone’s throw away from where we sat, we noticed an uncle and auntie looking comfortable in their little corner. They had set up a makeshift table to charge their handphones with portable chargers (shows how long they spend their day there!) with two to three huge pails filled with spring water, one even with herbs floating in it.

“They must be the experts at hot spring baths,” I thought to myself.

Soon after, two other women joined the couple and they were even more well-equipped with a portable canvas bathtub that looked big enough to easily sit in.

“Set it up here.. Can hide from the sun,” I overheard the uncle telling them in Mandarin as he helped them move the canvas bathtub to the shade. As they were walking to and fro with pails to fill up their bathtub, they must have seen my fiancee and I watching them with barely disguised admiration as we were sitting there with our two tiny buckets.

“You rented your buckets? Your first time here?” asked one of the aunties, probably puzzled by how out of place we looked, milling about awkwardly while waiting for the water in our buckets to cool.

“Yes, do you live nearby? Where did you guys buy these bathtubs and what are they called?” I asked, curious as to how to find them online.

That sparked off a conversation and we found out that this group of people also started off as strangers. They all lived in the Yishun and Sembawang areas and their friendship blossomed over their frequent visits to the hot spring park where they now meet regularly a few days a week.

Making friends at Sembawang Hot Spring
Image source: Daryl Lim

When the water cooled down to a temperature that we could finally soak our feet in, another uncle came by on his bicycle and the group greeted him warmly, asking why he joined them so early that day. We overheard his candid reply: “ It’s so warm at home I can’t take a nap so I decided to come out.”

It is nice to see a small community borne out of a leisure activity and listening to their conversations, I was convinced that it provided a space where these elderly folks can talk and socialise with one another.

Just ten minutes into the conversation, it already felt like we were included into their community. They told us to use their pails to fetch cold water to cool down the scalding hot spring water and even offered us herbs that they said had some medicinal properties good for the body!

It was our first time there but we were warmed by the hot spring waters as well as the kindness of their community spirit.

I recall feeling alive again after the circuit breaker, during Phase 2 when I walked the streets and saw shops opening and people dining in.

During this pandemic, we have grown used to safe distancing measures and have minimised social gatherings. These feelings of isolation and quarantine fatigue may cause us to neglect reaching out and connecting with people once again.

Our little trip to the hot springs reminded my fiancee and I that little moments of kindness are still important no matter the circumstances, and friendships can be found in the oddest of places.

Some may worry about the uncertainty that this pandemic created to our lives, but as we look ahead towards Phase 3 and an effective vaccine can be developed to transition us into a safer nation, let’s not forget to connect with each other on an intrinsic human level.

Daryl Lim

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Top Image: Daryl Lim