The four men down at the Ulu Pandan canal would have gotten passersby amused. It was an unusual sight, especially within the concrete jungle of Singapore.
The men were fishing – not with a net, or a hook – but a bedsheet they retrieved from a garbage collector at Holland Grove Avenue. The mattress served as a net as the other men used their bodies to corner the fishes into their makeshift net.
It was a very long time ago when they went fishing with a bedsheet.
He only wants to be known as Reuben. He said it reminded him of his childhood, as he hoisted the bedsheet full of fishes on to the side of the canal.
The 34-year-old is a construction worker. He arrived in Singapore five years ago from a remote village in Bangladesh. He had not been home since.
“I used to do this when I was a small boy. Near my home, there is a river. A very big river runs all the way to another village. In the evening, I and my friends go there to catch fish, like now. We use cloth because we don’t have other things.”
He said: “I like Singapore. I find the life here is good. But sometimes, I miss my home.” Reuben’s brother and parents live in Bangladesh.
His other friends nodded.
They usually spent their afternoon breaks at the playground at Holland Grove Avenue – one of the few locations with trees large enough to shade them from the scorching heat.
“Usually we just lie around under the trees and sleep. But it is boring.
“So today first time we try to fish,” he said.
But little do these men know that a long time ago, local children used to fish at the canal too. Like Rueben and his friends, they used bottles, plastic bags – or anything they can find – to catch fishes.
They called it longkang fishing.
One Singaporean, Ronnie Tan, wrote about his memory of longkang fishing in his blog:
“Every school day when the weather permitted and when the stream’s water level was ankle-deep, few of my schoolmates would go down into the stream with plastic bags to catch the guppies…
“On a good day, one was able to harvest scores of them but of course, when the stream swelled during or after the rain, all fishing activities stopped as the swift flowing currents could prove too strong, even for the strongest of swimmers.”
Now longkang fishing is something of the past.
Yet at the Ulu Pandan canal, framed by concrete buildings and an MRT station, Rueben and his friends relive their past.
“Tonight, we going to barbeque and eat. Nothing to do at night. So we come together and eat.”