The children had pushed their way to the front of the group and stared in awed silence at the land in front of them. The silence was a sharp contrast to the laughter and chatter during the two-hour bus ride from Singapore to Desaru.
Mr Tan, with a sprightliness that belied his seventy four years, had finally managed to chase the two playful young mongrels into their cage. He waved at the gate. One child quickly slid the latch and the nine of them ran in, their slippers flip-flopping noisily toward the mound of sand behind the wooden house. IPhones, iPads and headphones, well as all notions of homework and enrichment classes were forgotten for an afternoon in the sun. Mr Tan’s 7-year-old grandson located his Ah Kong’s wheelbarrow and pushed it out. It contained a rake, a bucket, a hoe and some spades. Immediately, without any discussion whatsoever, the merry band of four girls and five boys ranging from 5 to 9 years of age started digging and raking and scooping the sand from the mound with momentous effort and concentration.
I stared at the scene in amazement, expecting one of the parents to issue a warning that it was too hot, dirty or dangerous or one of the children to get hurt or fall down or run into the shade complaining about one thing or the other.
But for the rest of the afternoon, none of that happened. The parents settled down in the shade and starting chatting. Every now and then, a child would come in for a drink before hurriedly running out into the sun again. Evidently, some collective narrative of the sand mound had emerged. Considering that it served to keep them motivated and engaged for three hours, it must have been a good one. “Probably some Bob the Builder thing,” one mother smiled. “Haven’t seen Singaporean kids play with sand for years,” someone else mused.