Is Jalan Kukoh really a slum?

In a recently uploaded RICE Media video featuring their 18-year-old intern Belle Tustain, she related her experience of living in a Jalan Kukoh’s rental flat with her grandmother. She called her neighbourhood a slum and her grandmother a “stubborn hoarder”, while looking longingly at the Robertson Quay’s condos near her place.

It’s a well-produced video, poetically narrated by Belle, who is interning at RICE Media as part of a one-month programme called HATCH that pairs at-risk youth with industry internships.

Erm, so where on earth is this Jalan Kukoh you may ask? It’s a rental housing estate along Chin Swee Road, bordered by the CTE on one side, and the Havelock Road’s hotels and Robertson Quay on the other side.


It is not surprising that if you have never heard of Jalan Kukoh, because it is hidden from plain sight, even though it is smack in the middle of the city. And yes, you can even walk to Clarke Quay as Belle mentioned.

On face value, Belle does sound a wee bit entitled. I mean if you want a better life for yourself, you have to put in the hard work lah! It’s not really rocket science.

But to be fair to her, she does have a hard luck story, complete with a broken family in the background that she shared in an earlier RICE Media article. So I’m not dismissing or downplaying the life challenges she has gone through or is still going through.


But hor, I’m not too sure it is fair to call Jalan Kukoh a slum though. Com’on, just look at the bright pink buildings in the photo above. Have you seen slums in neighbouring countries where people really live next to raw sewage?

At least in Jalan Kukoh you have proper electricity, running water and proper sanitation. There is even a hawker centre with a famous Teochew kueh stall. How does that qualify as a slum? Hmmm…


Perhaps the comment above summed up what I truly felt about the video. Ok, I acknowledged that as the income gap in Singapore widens, it gets harder for the lower-income to break out of the poverty cycle.

Looks like education is the primary way to improve social mobility. Even Belle herself speaks and writes well, and I think you do have to credit the education system somewhat, although she said she dropped out of school at Sec 3 and took her “N” levels privately.

The point is this – it is probably better to be poor in Singapore than to be poor in any of the countries around Singapore. It is up to Belle to make a better life for herself using the talents she has, and we hope that Belle will fulfill her potential.

Good luck!