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Hurt Like Heaven

I am fascinated with the HDB (Housing Development Board) flats in Singapore. Each time I visit Singapore, I spend time looking at the beautiful colours of these flats. These flats not only have colourful paint jobs, they always look fresh. My friend told me that the authorities require repainting of these flats every few years.


From afar, these beautiful and “freshly painted” HDB flats dominate the Singapore skyline, turning the country into a clean, organised space to live. It gives the impression of a healthy lifestyle without any social illness. 


These Hurt Like Heaven images that I am presenting are photographs of the walls at the void decks of HDB flats in Singapore. They are of different HDB flats from different parts of Singapore. The concept of a void deck is very new to me and, of course, a fascinating one. I like the idea that the void deck sort of belongs to the community and yet it also doesn’t. I believe providing a common space where the residents have an area to rest or to socialise with the neighbours is an excellent idea.  But there are things that the residents can’t do in this space. It is prohibited to play ball games or to skateboard in this area. Again, comparing the HDB void deck to modern society, our lives belong to us but then again, our lives do not belong to us.


Looking at the HDB flats from up close made me realise that things are not as beautiful and colourful as it seems. I have noticed the imperfections of the walls. Cracks in the wall, peeling of paint, and dirty hand marks are normal. I suppose such wear-and-tear is inevitable, as it is a space where people live. But these problems keep resurfacing, even though the authorities keep covering them with fresh coats of paint. The solution might not be just applying a new coat of paint onto these walls every few years; it doesn’t last without scraping off the old paint before applying the new paint. Or maybe the building is meant to have an expiry date and upon passing this date, the flats are meant to be demolished and replaced.


Looking at these flats from afar and now spending time up close, I have totally changed my perception of HDBs and Singapore.


I also think peoples’ lives in a modern society are very similar to the HDB flats. From afar, everyone looks good, happy and content with life. Everyone is beautiful and there is no problem in his or her life. Well, at least that is the impression if all is being viewed from afar. If anyone sort of complains about his tough life or how unhappy he is with his life, he will be told to toughen up and be strong or change his lifestyle. It is similar to the new coat of paint that is being applied on these HDB flats every few years … layer on layer.


Often when we get to know someone better or on a more personal level, we start to see more cracks; and multiple layers of problems will surface. It is like when we start to understand that it is more than just not feeling well or having an unhappy life. These problems are usually not minor problems that a pill can resolve but usually it affects various different faculties of life. The problem is also not about being weak. 


After exhausting all ideas and possibilities, this someone finally chooses death as a solution, not because he wanted to achieve death but rather to end the life that he is currently living . Ending a life seems like a cruel thing to do. To most, if he has a choice, he would not choose ending his life as a solution. The choice to end life may be because he has tried all possibilities of getting better. To him, his quality of life has been reduced to the point where it is not worthwhile (or too painful) to stay alive and this is when he decides to end it all via assisted suicide (better known as euthanasia). Sometimes, with modern medicine (though it is very advanced now), the treatments only prolong life, but do not cure the illness.


These images are of walls at most void decks, which are in the various shades of white. I enjoy looking at various tones of white because of its link with light. White has deep roots in the human psyche and like things we think are divine, white can simultaneously inspire awe but also instill terror in our hearts. White is also being seen as positive or as having a transcendent religious quality. Hence, Heaven.

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