An attempt to capture the beautiful light as darkness falls at 7.42 pm on 19 May 2013 at Lower Peirce Reservoir.
An attempt to capture the beautiful light as darkness falls at 7.42 pm on 19 May 2013 at Lower Peirce Reservoir.
Once again, I found myself seeking the peace and joy of the twilight at Lower Peirce Reservoir away from the crowds on a Saturday evening, and have these two photographs taken in the semi-darkness with just enough light in the sky to permit both the sky and the surroundings to be evenly exposed. The photographs were taken at about half an hour after sundown, the first at 7.37 pm and the second at 7.43 pm.
While you can’t quite tiptoe through the tulips there is a good chance you can imagine yourself doing it right here in Singapore. For what could be the first time in Singapore at the Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Dome, a mini field of tulips will be in full bloom – from today, 29 April 2013 right up to 20 May 2013, the Flower Field will see a colourful sea of tulips. Some 20,000 tulip bulbs which were planted on last Tuesday by 100 volunteers have already started to bloom and are expected to be in full bloom this week.
The 20,000 bulbs in the Flower Field are part of a total 40,000 which were flown in from the Netherlands by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the official sponsor for Tulipmania. The three week event, will not just see the field of red, pink, yellow, white and purple tulips, but also other colourful spring flowers such as lilies, hyacinths, daffodils and muscari. To complement the display of tulips and the Dutch theme, five miniature windmills and giant wooden clogs placed both inside and outside the cooled conservatory. Further information on Tulipmania is available at the Gardens by the Bay’s Tulipmania page.
During Tulipmania, visitors can also look forward to activities that will appeal to the young and old. These include the opportunity to learn more about tulips through an Acivity Sheet; create handmade tulip clips; taste Dutch cheeses; create tulip postcards which can be mailed to friends; and celebrate Mother’s Day. Promotions during Tulipmania include discounted admission (15% discount) into the cooled conservatories during Mother’s Day weekend (10-12 May), and a chance to win a pair of tickets to Keukenhof, Holland, in 2014.
Stepping out from the MRT Station at Raffles Place, the sight of swing sets, see-saws and a merry-go-round, set on a bed of sand as playgrounds of the 1970s might have been, would probably seem odd. That, especially so considering what Raffles Place has become. What perhaps isn’t odd in the context of today’s world is how we have chosen to interact with it … not, if I may quote a friend “enjoyed with head in the wind”, but with the “face on the screen”.
The playground at Raffles Place is part of a National Parks Board (NParks) roving exhibition, “Playsets of Yesteryears” held to commemorate five decades of greening Singapore. The exhibition which also provides visitors with a look at the history of 12 parks including Toa Payoh Town Park and the Singapore Botanic Gardens will remain at Raffles Place until mid May before moving to East Coast Park in June and July, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park from mid August to mid October, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens in November to December.
The colours of twilight, Lower Peirce Reservoir, 7.21 pm, 16 March 2013. I thought the cloud formation together with its reflection off the waters of the reservoir resembled inkblots used in Rorschach psychological tests.
Stumbling across an old world nestled in the new brings great delight to me. It in a little pocket of space, not so distant from the rush and rumble of the streets of the urban world, where I did rediscover one, Pearl’s Terrace, set at the foot of the south facing slope of Pearl’s Hill.
Pearl’s Hill Terrace is a place one might have been reluctant to visit in times not so long ago. It was where the men in blue had ruled – where not just the home of the Police Force’s Headquarters as well as some important divisions of the force were located, but a place where police officers had called home.
Towering over the slope today, one sees a long slab block of apartments, seemingly an isolated block of public housing that lay forgotten. Built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for, it is one of several physical reminders of a world that had existed in the days before we last saw the snake (the last Chinese Year of the Snake, 2001). That block today, 201 Pearl’s Hill Terrace, has seen new life breathed into it. Not longer are its mix of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments rented to the junior police officers it was built in the late 1960s to house, it has since 2006 been turned into a hostel. Its 336 units are now offered to white-collared workers and students for rent.
It isn’t so much in that block where the charms of the old and perhaps where the reminders of the previous world can be discovered, but in the two lower but grander looking large edifices it overlooks. One, the Upper Barracks, set on a terrace immediately below the block of flats is 195 Pearl’s Hill Terrace. The other is a slightly taller building, the Lower Barracks which is at street level facing Eu Tong Sen Street. As their names suggest, both had also served as policemen’s quarters. Completed in 1934, and built in a simplified Neo-Classical style typical of public buildings of the era, the Public Works Department erected the two to house the Sikh Contingent of the then Straits Settlements Police (SSP).
The Upper Barracks now looks a little run down and is perhaps is accorded with a little less dignity than it deserves having been, since 2007, turned into offices spaces for lease. It is however where many ghosts not just of its past, but also of Singapore’s colonial past await discovery. Built to house married policemen, it is laid out in a bright and airy way – reminiscent perhaps of the Old Hill Street Police Station, with its six spacious courtyards, open corridors, and generous ventilation openings – giving a sense of light and space within the confines of its stern looking exterior.
With the disbanding of the SSP soon after the war, the two barracks were turned over to other civic uses. More recently serving as the Police Headquarters, the Upper Barracks had in the time since also served to house the Ministry of Interior and Defence, from Singapore’s independence to 1970, when the Ministry was split into the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA continued to be housed at the Upper Barracks until 1977 when it moved to Phoenix Park.
The Lower Barracks, to which there is currently no access to, is one which most would be familiar with being at street level. Built for unmarried policemen, the barracks housed several divisions of the law enforcement agencies under the MHA, the most recent being the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Other units it served as a home to include the Police ‘A’ Division, the Registry of Societies, the Anti-Vice Unit, and the Central Narcotics Bureau. Both the Upper and Lower Barracks were vacated in 2001 when the new Police Cantonment Complex opened. The Lower Barracks is at the present being refurbished for use as a students’ hostel which is opening this year.
While the Upper and Lower Barracks have been put to what does seem like less than dignified uses, both have in fact been given conservation status. More on this and as well as an architectural description of the buildings can be found at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Conservation of Built Heritage website, excerpts of which follow:
“The 3-storey Upper Barracks was built at a higher level on the hill, facing towards the Singapore River. At almost 160 metres in length, it is one of the longest pre-war civic buildings in existence. The combination of its impressive length and elevated position gives it a commanding presence overlooking the Chinatown area. The overall design treatment is more geometrical, with the details of the building articulated to greater emphasize the length of the thirty-one bays of the building. The building also has its ends emphasised through the protrusion of the building bays, while the central entrance is made prominent with the use of pairs of pilasters, in contrast with the single pilasters elsewhere. The features combine to give an overall appearance of palatial grandeur”.
“The 5-storey Lower Barracks are on street level. Set back from Eu Tong Sen Street with a generous plaza, it creates an impressive contrast to the prevalent two and three storey shophouses of Chinatown across the road. The building follows the Classical tradition of having the three parts of the building clearly articulated. The first storey gives a sense of firmness of appearance by having rusticated horizontal bands in the plaster-work. The top of the building is completed with a deep overhanging entablature with a strongly articulated geometric linear cornice line. The centre of the building is given greater emphasis through a shallow triangular pediment, surmounted by flag-poles”.
Besides the two barracks, there is also a smaller reminder of the old world close by that deserves to also be looked at, a two-storey villa which based on information at the URA Conservation of Built Heritage site, is though to have been built in the 1920s. Currently housing a education centre, the building at 18 Pearl’s Hill Terrace is also thought to have been built as accommodation for a higher ranking officer of the Police Force (or perhaps a high ranking prison warder – the terrace is known to have been where quarters of warders at the nearby Outram Prison (located where the former Outram Park flats were) were located. Most recently housing the Scene of Crime Unit, it has also housed a CID Training Centre and also from 1978 to 1988, the Syariah Court.
There is more of the old world to be found just up the hill close to where the somewhat iconic and very distinctive Pearl’s Bank Apartments stands. The block erected in 1976, a subject matter all on itself, stands next to the crest of the hill where a Victorian era service reservoir is located. It is around it where a green oasis in the midst of the city can be found offering an escape which can be hard to find in the overcrowded streets below it. That, together with the four buildings which have found a new lease of life, is where a reminder of world that we have forgotten to appreciate does seem to exist – for the time being at least. While we do know that three of the buildings are being conserved, it may not be very long before the urban world stakes a claim on it.
The area was part of a wider area which had been the subject of a URA planning exercise in the early 2000s. While in the plans developed then the area would still very much be a green space, developments planned for the area around – particularly at neighbouring York Hill across the Central Expressway (CTE) project that some 5,500 new homes will be built, together with landscaped deck across the CTE to link the two hills. While it is good to see that there are plans to open the wonderful green space up to the wider community, it does also mean that we may be seeing the last of a quiet and insulated space where the remnants of a charming and old world can still be found.
Information on Pearl’s Hill and Pearl’s Terrace:
Previous planning considerations for the area:
One of the few places in present day Singapore that I am able to find myself at home in is the Sembawang area along the northern coast. It is an area which has in the last two and a half decades, as with much (if not all) of Singapore, undergone a huge transformation and also one that is still being transformed. Despite the transformation – Sembawang now plays host to a new public housing estate, it is still a place in which a Singapore we have forgotten about can still be found – at least for the time being.
Sembawang is one of the last places left in which much of the past remains to be discovered. A past which perhaps with the planned future developments in the area, some for which preparations are already being made, is one which may soon be well forgotten. Best remembered for hosting a huge British naval base which was completed in 1938, Sembawang Shipyard which inherited the former Naval Dockyard in 1968 serves to remind us of that, as does the former Stores Basin, now used as a naval logistics base. It is however in several of the smaller reminders in which the past charms of the area can found in. These include the cluster of colonial bungalows (“black and white houses”) and in what is today Sembawang Park. Sembawang Park and perhaps the coastline east of it is where some of the old world does seem to have been left behind including what may be one of the last stretches of natural beaches in Singapore, the old jetty (sometimes referred to as the “Beaulieu”, prounounced “bew-lee” jetty, or “Mata” jetty), Beaulieu House, and a seawall which once belonged to Kampong Wak Hassan.
Besides traces that is associated with the former naval base, reminders do also exist of the area’s lesser known natural past. The area (as had much of the coastline around it) played host to a swamp. Much had already been cleared when the naval base was built with the course of two rivers around which the marshy ground formed altered. There were, however, remnants of the marshland that remained around an area of what is today the Sembawang River up to the 1980s when it was drained for the development of Sembawang New Town. This lay about a kilometre west of what was then Chong Pang Village, just north of the Ulu Sembawang area (an area of farms and freshwater ponds around where Gambas Avenue is today). It was known then to have been a fertile feeding ground for marsh birds, attracting herons, egrets, sandpipers and storks to it. While the swamps have all since vanished – HDB blocks of flats have risen where the wetlands had once thrived, the is today a canalised Sembawang/Senoko River which on the evidence of what we do see today, does see a return of some of the previously rich bird life. Besides the marsh birds, the area today also sees many other birds. These include common birds such as the yellow-vented bulbul, black naped oriole, pied fantail, ashy tailorbird, green pigeon, starling, Asian koel, several types of kingfisher, munia and sunbird. There have also been some less common sightings in the area including the Sunda woodpecker, brown hawk owl, milky stork, and what is perhaps an escapee, a white-rumped shama.
Sembawang is toady, a world in which the charm of a forgotten old world missing from most of the redeveloped spaces on the island, can still be found. It is a world which has thus far, managed to remain free from the crowds and clutter which now seems to dominate almost all of the urban world we now find around us. The area is one which had for a long while boasted of welcome pockets of greenery and un-manicured beauty. But all that I fear, is soon going to change. Sembawang Park for one is already in the midst of a “renewal” which I feel will see it lose the character and charm which attracted me there since the days of my childhood as it becomes just another well manicured park cluttered with paraphernalia which Singapore really has too many of.
As I look around me, I also see huge tracts of land which were once held much beauty behind hoardings and in the midst of being cleared. That I understand is part of the effort to provide new homes. What that also means is that the crowds the area has hitherto been spared from would soon descend on it, attracted not just by the homes, but the inevitable as it now seems – a huge redevelopment effort which has been outlined in the recently released Land Use Plan intended to supplement the somewhat controversial Population White Paper. That speaks of ”new waterfront land along the Sembawang Coastline being freed up once existing shipyard facilities are phased out” with the aim “of providing land for new business activities”. With that it will not just be the character and charm of the area that will be lost, but what it does also mean is that it will see the breaking of what may be the last links it has with its past.
Inevitable as it may seem, that future is one that I hope, perhaps for selfish reasons, is one that will never come. Development which has broken many of our links to our past as well as the more recent wave of immigration has without a doubt provided great economic benefit to us living in Singapore. For many of us however, it has also come at a huge cost, a cost which has also seen us lose the soul of who we are as a people. The country is today, one where I find it a struggle to feel at home in. Much of what once was familiar and a source of joy and comfort is no longer with us, creating in us that sense of longing for what has been lost, as well as a sense of loss … a feeling which perhaps can best be described by the Welsh word Hiraeth or the Portuguese word Saudade.
One of the positive things that did come out of the land use plan is that it makes mention of some of the more immediate future developments to provide public housing at Bidadari, Tengah and Tampines North. What that does mean is that for the time being at least, the large parcel of land reserved for the future Simpang New Town, an area by the northern coast part of which was once a land of idyllic coastal villages and prawn farming ponds will be left undeveloped. What that also means is that while the area will certainly become more crowded over time, it will for a while, be spared from an even bigger one, remaining as a final frontier where not just the birds, but also free spirits such as myself can still find space to roam free.
Tucked in the far north of the island of Singapore is a huge 86 hectare shipyard which seems far out of place. Its location is far from the large concentration of shipyards and related industries which has grown in the far west of Singapore. The shipyard, Sembawang Shipyard, today stands as a physical reminder of a legacy left by the former colonial masters of Singapore. The British operated the yard as a Naval Dockyard which was an important component of a huge naval base which had stretched some six and a half kilometres along the northern coast from Woodlands (close to where the Causeway is) to Sembawang (the eastern boundary ran along the northern end of Sembawang Road from its junction with Canberra Road to where Sembawang Park is today).
The dockyard and the base was for a long time, an important source of employment in Singapore. A report in 1961 put the local workforce of the dockyard at 10,700, with the base accounting for as much as 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Singapore. What this did mean was that when the accelerated pullout of the British forces was announced in 1968, there were huge concerns, not only from a security viewpoint, but also on unemployment. As part of the arrangements made in the lead-up to the pullout, the dockyard was transferred to the Singapore government for a token $1 in 1968. Sembawang Shipyard Pte. Ltd. was established on 19th of June that year and a British commercial shipyard, Swan Hunter roped in to manage the transition of the yard to a commercial one.
A key component of the transition was in training the local workforce, not just on the ground but also management staff to eventually take-over the running of the yard. Besides Swan Hunter, the British Ministry of Defence also seconded some 150 Naval Officers and civilians in the first year to ensure that the transition from a naval dockyard to a commercial one, over the three years it was to take the pullout to be completed, would go smoothly. The arrival of the first commercial ship came in March 1969 and by the time the year had ended, Sembawang Shipyard had docked some 66 merchant vessels and was well on its way to becoming a leading ship repair yard. The success of the shipyard was one of Singapore’s early success stories and by 1978, the tenth anniversary of the yard, a mainly local management team was in place to run the yard. The yard also introduced a highly successful apprenticeship programme in 1972 – from which many of the skilled labour and second generation supervisory staff were to come from and was key in not just raising skills levels, but also in improving productivity of the local workforce necessary to become competitive in the ship repair market.
The yard as we see today, has seen a huge expansion in its capacity with the addition of many facilities since it inherited the already well equipped dockyard in 1968. In addition to the King George VI graving dock (referred to affectionately as ‘KG6′), which when it was completed in 1938 was described as the largest graving dock east of the Suez (and the largest naval graving dock in the world – more on it can be found in a previous post on the Naval Base), the yard now has a huge 400,000 DWT capacity graving dock – Premier Dock built next to KG6, as well as three large floating docks. Premier Dock was an early addition to the yard, having been completed in 1975 at a cost of $50 million and opened by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Plans for the huge dock which measures some 384 metres in length and is 64 metres wide, built to meet a demand for the repair of huge Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) which were being constructed, were drawn up as early as in 1968, although the go-ahead was only given in 1972. The 150,000 DWT President Floating Dock which was one of the largest floating docks in Asia at the time was added in 1981.
The sheer size of yard can probably only be fully appreciated attempting to walk from its entrance at Admiralty Road West to the far end of it located just west of the former Stores Basin of the Naval Base (now used by the US Navy as a logistics base) – an end which is visible from the old jetty at Beaulieu House. It does take a good half an hour to 45 minutes to do just that – an effort that I regularly had to make to get to Berths 8 and 9 of the yard during the six long months I spent undergoing training at the yard in 1983/1984 (so much so that many of us ended up bringing our own bicycles to reduce the effort). That six months is probably one that was for me best forgotten – the slump in demand for ship repair then meant many hours spent squatting in a designated area when there was no work assigned to the work gangs we were attached to. Tea-time was always a time to look forward to then – it provided that much needed break in monotony. As trainees, one of the tasks assigned was to head to kiosks located at strategic locations along the wharf sides to buy pre-packed packets of tea and coffee as well as snacks for the rest of the gang.
The yard, besides being the location of a historically significant graving dock, is also where a conserved building in the form of the former Sembawang Fire Station can be found in. While it does look like the yard is a long time fixture in the area and so the future of this historical part of Sembawang is quite safe, we do know that the winds of change is right now sweeping across large parts of the area close by. The expansion of Yishun town and Sembawang town will bring high-rise developments that will do much to alter a unique character and charm that has been associated with the area since the days of the Naval Base. The area to the east of the yard is itself undergoing a tremendous change. A renewal programme will see the park feel a lot less like the quiet corner many like me had found an escape in, and more like any other overly manicured seaside spot in Singapore. That does I suppose does complement the private development just to its east. That development will see a shoreline where idyllic seaside kampungs could once be enjoyed and a shoreline I have continued to find an escape in, become a place in which that charm will no longer be found.
I was fortunate to have been able to catch Royston Tan’s sequel to Old Places, Old Romances, at its premiere on Saturday morning. Old Romances, described by the director as ‘45 personalised love letters to forgotten places’, is not just about personal romances in and with each of the 45 places featured, but about continuing a love affair that has been rekindled by the making of Old Places for a Singapore we might otherwise have forgotten about. The 45 places are all, on their own, fascinating. They are places that many must have deep in their hearts in one way or another. While some, in the two years it took to complete the documentary, have become like that lost love, painfully present in our distant memories; there are many that are there for us to discover a love we might have not known is there.
One place that is featured in which I took the opportunity to find a new love in is the Japanese Cemetery at Chuan Hoe Avenue. The cemetery, said to be the largest burial ground for Japanese outside of Japan (it has also become the resting place for an estimated 10,000 war dead), is a space that I have found to be extremely interesting as a link to a world that we largely have forgotten about. It is however the tales that the sleeping residents tell that thoroughly fascinates me. The 910 graves found on the grounds does each have an interesting story to tell, and among it you will find tales of many extraordinary lives as well as insights into the early Japanese community in Singapore.
The cemetery now serves as a memorial park, having been closed to burials in 1973. It does have a long history and counts as one of the oldest cemeteries still in existence in Singapore, tracing its history to the end of the 1800s. Its owes its founding to three brothel owners, Futaki Takajiro, Shibuya Ginji and Nakagawa Kikuzo, who in 1891 sought the colony’s approval to convert up to 12 acres of land including some of their own (they owned rubber estates in the area too) into a cemetery for the burial of destitute Japanese prostitutes, the Karayuki-san. Burials in the grounds do however predate its official establishment, Shibuya and Futaki had reportedly moved the remains of 27 Japanese from a mass grave to the grounds in 1888. Also in 1981, a survey conducted found three gravestones which dated back to 1889.
The cemetery is interesting also in contrasting it to the largest cemetery in Japan at Mount Koya or Koyasan which I also had the opportunity to visit recently. While many of the 200,000 graves in Koyasan are those who had a high station in life, many of the graves in the cemetery in Singapore are of those with a humble social status – at least a third of the graves belong to Karayuki-san.
The Japanese cemetery today occupies a 3 ha. (about a 7 acre) site. No longer set amongst rubber trees (a reminder of that is perhaps a cluster of rubber trees found in the grounds), it today finds itself in the middle of a residential neigbourhood. Stepping into the grounds, an air of serenity greets you. The well-kept cemetery is quietly beautiful and takes one far from the hustle of the urban world that is now at its doorstep. Much of what we see of the very well-kept grounds today is the result of effort undertaken in 1987 by the Japanese Association (which has maintained the cemetery since 1969) to beautify the cemetery in commemoration of its (the association’s) 30th Anniversary (post-war) using donations from the community as well as with assistance from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The largest structure we see in the grounds, is that of the beautifully constructed Prayer Hall or Worship Hall, built in 1986 on the site of two previous Saiyuji temple buildings. The Saiyuji was a Soto sect temple which traces its history to the arrival of its founding monk, Shakushu Baisen of Hyogo in 1892. The first building which was constructed in 1912 and was pulled down in 1960. It was replaced by a second building in which the altars of two disused temples in the city had found a home in. It is the second building that the secular Prayer Hall was built to replace.
The small cluster of rubber trees are the remnants perhaps of the 1000 trees the monk Baisen is said to have planted. That was done to honour the act of philanthropy of the cemetery’s founders, as well as to provide an income for the temple. The cluster can be found in the cemetery’s south-west corner. The corner is also where a set of three memorial stones erected by Japanese Prisoners of War in memory of those who lost their lives during the Pacific War can be found. Behind the memorial, a single concrete gravestone stands, marking the spot where the ashes of the 10,000 war dead, recovered from the Syonan Chureito in Bukit Batok, lie buried. The largest of the rubber trees is one of two heritage trees found on the grounds. The other is a non-fruiting lychee tree found at the side of the Prayer Hall (next to the caretaker’s quarters).
It is in the gravestones of the voiceless that perhaps have the loudest voices. It is thought that a large proportion of the 494 graves of the identifiable graves which do not bear a date are those of the Karayuki-san. There probably were a lot more – a 1947 survey did show that there were 1270 graves and many of the graves of the Karayuki-san had simple wooden grave-markers (before they were replaced with stone) which could have decayed with age.
That a substantial number of the graves belonged to the Karayuki-san, provides an insight into the first Japanese nationals to arrive in Singapore – their first recorded arrival in 1877 coinciding with a period of development which began in the 1870s that provided opportunities which attracted many male immigrants to Singapore. The brothels that the Karayuki-san worked in were centered mainly in what is today the Bugis area (Bugis Junction), first on Malay Street, before spreading to Malabar, Hylam and Bugis Streets with as many as 109 brothels recorded in 1905 employing some 633 Karayuki-san. It was in the area that the early Japanese community was also to establish themselves – Middle Road was referred to by the community as ‘Chuo Dori‘ or ‘Central Street’.
Besides the many graves of the voiceless, there are several (some are memorials rather than graves) which belong to notable personalities. One is the grave of Count Hisaichi Terauchi, a Field Marshal who was the Supreme Commander of Southern Command of the Japanese Imperial Army which swept across South-East Asia. Count Terauchi died in Johor as a Prisoner of War in 1946 and his ashes were sent back to his family in Japan. It is thought however that some of his remains and his insignia is however buried in the cemetery.
One grave that does have a fascinating story to tell is that of a certain John Matthew Ottoson. Described as an adventurer, Ottoson is does seem to have been almost a legendary life of adventure. Better known by his native name Otokichi, his adventures started at the age of fourteen in 1832 when he found himself cast adrift off the coast of Japan on a storm damaged ship, the Hojunmaru, on which he was a deckhand. He survived, but not before a fourteen month ordeal which took him across the Pacific to the shores of what is today Washington State. He and two other survivors found washed ashore and soon found themselves in the care of the native Makah tribe.
The next chapter in his adventures took him first to London, then to Macau, and on to Shanghai. It was in Macau that he is thought to have had a hand in the first translation of the Bible into Japanese. He became a British subject in the process, returning to Japan twice as a translator in the service of the British. His second return in late 1854 is significant in that it led to the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity between the United Kingdom and Japan. He married a Malay woman later in life and eventually found himself residing in Singapore where he was a trader in local farm products from 1862 until his death in 1867 at the age of 49. In 2004, Otokochi’s remains which had been relocated from the original burial site were found to be at Choa Chu Kang. The remains were exhumed and cremated. Some of his ashes were brought to Japan with a portion is kept in the charnel next to the Prayer Hall at the Japanese Cemetery Park. More about the life of Otokichi can be found in this Japan Times article (click here).
Among the other graves and memorial stones of the notable is one that is a memorial to novelist Futabatei Shimei (二葉亭 四迷) in the south-eastern corner of the grounds close to Count Terauchi’s grave. Futabatei Shimei’s work published in 1887, Ukigumo (Floating Clouds) is regarded as Japan’s first modern novel and he was returning from Russia as a special correspondent for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper at the time of his untimely death in 1909. The memorial has apparently been a venerated spot, particularly with visiting Japanese newsmen. Next to the memorial, the unique gravestone belonging to the grave of Kantaro Ueyama can be found. Kantaro Ueyama, who perished in a plane crash at Sembawang in 1942, was the first son of inventor of the mosquito coil, Eiichiro Ueyama.
Along the northern boundary of the grounds is the memorial plaza where there is a cluster of memorial stones placed to commemorate several well known figures. One is that of another somewhat legendary figure, a Terengganu born Japanese bandit popularly known as Harimau (Malay for Tiger), Harimau Malaya (Tiger of Malaya), Raja Harimau (King Tiger). Immortalised by the 1943 Japanese film Marai No Tora (マライの虎) or ‘Tiger of Malaya’, he was apparently notorious along the East Coast of Malaya and Southern Thailand where he led a band of some 3,000 Malay bandits and portrayed as a Robin Hood like character. Harimau, whose family had run a barber shop in Terengganu’s motivation in leading the bandits was to seek revenge for a sister Shizuko who was murdered by a Chinese mob angered by the Manchurian Incident. He later served as an agent for a Japanese Imperial Army intelligence unit and succumbed to Malaria at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore at the age of 32 on 17 March 1942. His remains are thought to have been buried in a Muslim cemetery near the hospital.
Besides the grave-markers that have vanished with time and the Saiyuji over which the Prayer Hall has been built, there would have also been a two chamber crematorium in the grounds of the cemetery that was also used for non-Japanese cremations and a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, of which there are no more traces of. The crematorium which began as a wood-fired one is possibly the first crematorium to be built in Singapore having come up in the first decade of the 1900s. For a period of time following the end of the war, the crematorium was leased to the Singapore Casket Company.
Despite not being fond of hanging around cemeteries, I did spend 3 hours or so at this one. The cemetery is one that I will certainly visit again for the little piece of calm in the storm that has swept across modern Singapore it offers and to perhaps seek more tales that the gravestones hold. The Japanese Cemetery Park (日本人墓地公園 or Nihonjin Bochi Koen) is located at 22 Chuan Hoe Avenue and is about a 300 metre walk in from the junction of Chuan Hoe Avenue with Yio Chu Kang Road. The park is open to visitors from 8 am to 7 pm daily.
The wonderful colours of sunset that brought what turned out to be an exceptionally beautiful day to an end …
Step into the Flower Dome, one of the two cooled conservatories at the Gardens by the Bay, this October and November and what will greet you is the surprise of the orange glow of 1,500 pumpkins, on show as part of the Autumn Harvest seasonal display at the Flower Field. The 850 square metre Flower Field, the centrepiece of the Flower Dome, has as part of the Autumn Harvest display, been decorated with some 18,000 blooms – Sunflowers, Marigolds, Lavenders, Heucheras, Calla Lilies, Tomatoes, Kales and Chrysanthemums, which mixed with scarecrows, wheelbarrows, hay, hay rabbits, a cornucopia, and different coloured ears of corn, gives that sense of the time of harvest that is associated with the warm glow of autumn.
The pumpkins, a fruit which ripens in the autumn, are at the heart of the display. A total of 10 varieties including green marbled and white miniature pumpkins with a combined weight of 1 tonne have been flown in from Oregon, USA, specially for the display. Amongst the 1500 pumpkins and exotically shaped gourds, there is one that will certainly catch the eye – a giant pumpkin, the diameter of which I have been told is about 1 metre!
Autumn Harvest will be on display from now up until the end of November and is part of the changing display on the Flower Field that reflects different seasons and festivals through the year. More information on the Gardens by the Bay, opening times and admission charges to the conservatories can be found at the website.
Other recent views around the Gardens by the Bay
With the September school holidays upon us in Singapore, the Gardens by the Bay which has not seen any let up in the flow of visitors since it opened at the end of June, has been running what is the first of their school holiday programmes which they hope to extend to the future school holidays as well. The programmes, named “Kids at the Conservatories“, is a series of specially curated guided tours aimed at children between the ages of 4 to 9 and each includes a tour of the two conservatories with an interactive activity at the end of each which reinforces the key lessons learnt during the tour.
I was able to follow one of the activities, Talented Plants, designed for children of ages 4 – 6. While at the initial introduction, many of the young participants seemed reluctant to part with their parents, most had warmed up by the time the guided walk took them into the cool conservatories, starting with the Australian Garden in the Flower Dome and participated in answering questions that the guide, who introduced herself as ‘Teacher’ Grace, posed along stops where she introduced plants and their usefulness to other living things around them.
The walk also took the kids (and their parents) through the Cloud Forest, where one of the things I did learn was that tree frogs lay their eggs in water holding plants known as bromeliads. The walk which took a little over an hour ended with an activity during which the participants were able to participate in a craft activity using recycled materials – used plastic bottles and newspapers – which were transformed into a ‘bottle tree’ which they were introduced to during the visit to the Flower Dome – which judging by the smiles on the faces of the kids at the end of it, was very well received. The tours, more information about which can be found at the Gardens by the Bay’s website (click here), are unfortunately all fully booked for this holidays, but do look out for more at the next school holidays.
Photographs of the spectacular break of day I was very fortunate to have witnessed on the morning of Singapore’s 47th birthday. The first photograph was taken at 6.41 am and the last at 7.15 am and were taken at a natural beach along Singapore’s northern coastline that I hope will be left as it is …
The varying moods of a place that in being left behind (at least for now) by the rest of Singapore, that in its imperfection holds a beauty we seem to have forgotten how to appreciate …
The colours of the fading of day to night seen at a spot that I consider to be one of the more scenic places in Singapore and a place that I often find an escape in.
Standing somewhat forgotten and hidden under the roots of a tree is a marker of what used to be the perimeter of what had once been described as the largest naval base east of the Suez – the Royal Navy base at Sembawang that extended for some six and a half kilometres as the crow flies from Woodlands (close to the Causeway) to Sembawang (where Sembawang Park is today). The marker, a gate post belonging to the former Rotherham Gate, the northernmost gate into the former base, is the last remnant of several entrances into the huge naval facility that had once been the pride of the British Empire and a significant source of employment for residents of Singapore.
The gate located at the western edge of the Naval Base and one of the main entrances into the base (the others being Sembawang Gate and Canberra Gate to the east and the southeast) was renamed as the Rotherham Gate in 1945 in commemoration of the role of the Commander of the RN Destroyer HMS Rotherham in the acceptance of the surrender of men from the Japanese Imperial Navy at the Naval Base in September 1945. Along with the other gates, the gate was manned by security personnel deployed by the Royal Navy stationed at the guard-houses that had once stood by the entrances, right until the end of October 1971 when British Forces formally withdrew from Singapore. Remnants of some of the gates in the form of gate posts and guard posts had in fact stood for some time after including that of the Rotherham Gate. Based on an account by a former resident of the base, Mr Kamal Abu Serah, the guard-house that had stood inside the gate had actually housed a provision shop after the opening up of the Naval Base in 1971.
The gate post today, serves as a marker of the western end of what is the recent redeveloped Woodlands Waterfront , an area that for a long while had been left behind by the pace of redevelopment that has swept through much of the rest of Singapore. The area had after the opening up of the Naval Base, long been a haunt for anglers and was in fact one of the places that I frequented in the 1970s for fishing and to catch crabs. A derelict jetty which was missing most of its deck planks had been one of two jetties that my father sometimes took me to. The jetty, the old Ruthenia Oiling jetty (which my father had referred to as the Naval Base jetty) has since been demolished. It was one of several jetties that jutted out of the coastline in the area, the only one that was accessible to the public in the 1970s and became quite a popular spot for crab fishing before it was demolished. The other jetties were the Customs Jetty, the Shell Jetty (Woodlands Jetty), and the large L-shaped jetty that was used by the Royal Malaysian Navy – the Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM).
The TLDM had maintained not just a large jetty in the area – Woodlands had in fact hosted the main base of the TLDM, KD Malaya, up until 1979, the base having first been established in 1949 with the setting up of the Malayan Naval Forces (MNF). The TLDM continued to operate KD Malaya as a training facility even after the shift of the main naval base to Lumut up until December 1997 together with the jetty. The jetty has since been incorporated as part of the Woodlands Waterfront redevelopment and is now opened to the public. Both the jetty and the former TLDM barracks, which can be seen along Admiralty Road West, remain as a reminder of the Malaysian navy’s long-standing presence in what was an independent Singapore.
In between the Shell Jetty and the former TLDM Jetty is where a river, Sungei Cina, spills into the sea. Sungei Cina, for most part, still has its natural banks. The vegetation that one finds along its banks is probably representative of the vegetation which would have been found along much of the swampy shoreline that had existed before extensive reclamation work during part of the ten years it took to construct the base in between 1928 to 1938 – construction which saw substantial parts of the coastal swampland filled with earth – some of which came from excavation work around where the Naval Dockyard was being constructed to the east of the Naval Base. A large part of the land on which the Naval Base had been built was that which had acquired by the Straits Settlements from belonged to the Bukit Sembawang rubber estate and given to the Royal Navy for its use. The huge excavations around the area of the Naval Dockyard was not just to provide a dockyard that since 1968 has been used by Sembawang Shipyard, it also provided the largest naval graving (dry) dock in the world when it was opened in February 1938 – the King George VI dock (known also as ‘KG6′) which is still one of the largest dry docks in South East Asia.
Speaking of the graving dock, it has been reported that a ‘keramat tree’ was said to have been responsible for a delay in its completion, as a consequence, the completion of Naval Base. The ‘keramat tree’ had been a lone tree standing (after the rubber trees around it had already been cleared) on a hill which needed to be leveled to allow the graving dock to be constructed. The coolies assigned to cut the tree, which was thought to have stood where the top of the graving dock now is, could not be persuaded to do so, believing the tree to be occupied by evil spirits. An anonymous letter was said to have mysteriously appeared carrying a warning that if a certain sum of money was not paid to allow gifts to be offered to appease the spirits, three heads of the firm involved would die. The warning wasn’t heeded and the tree eventually blown up and an increase in malaria cases followed which was put down to the act. That wasn’t all, as was predicted, three untimely deaths did follow – that of an agent for the contractors, the managing director and a sub-agent.
The tree that has taken root on the last gate post does perhaps serve to remind us of the tree that had had resisted the base’s construction. It does however serve, more importantly, to remind us of more than that, preserving within the tight grasp of it roots a memory of the wider area’s association with a huge and strategic naval facility. The facility was one that, large enough to accommodate half of the British Empire’s fleet, provided jobs to one in ten in Singapore accounting for one-fifth of its GDP at the time and one that should not be forgotten.
In Pictures: The Bay South Garden which opened on 29 June 2012 and its two cooled conservatories in full bloom.
All photographs in this post have been taken using a Sony α57 (SLT-A57) DSLR camera.
Fresh from my visit to the ‘Enchanted Garden‘, I found myself visiting what has to be several gardens of enchantment – exquisite garden displays that I got a peek at during a media preview of the fourth edition of what had to be the top garden and flower show in Asia – the biennial Singapore Garden Festival (SGF). The event which opens today at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, will be held from 7 to 15 July 2012, bringing together some 39 designers from 19 countries who have produced some exquisite garden and flower designs and displays and is expected to draw some 300,000 visitors over the nine-day period.
The draw of the exhibition must certainly be the experience on Level 6 where 37 masterpieces, the most since the Festival started in 2006 – 15 Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens and 15 Floral Windows to the World, and seven Balcony Garden displays are displayed, featuring both local and international garden designers – 80 percent of whom are making their debut appearance.
The elevator all dressed up in a garden theme – with artificial turf on its floor, was perhaps a sign of what was to come – stepping out it is the land of fairy tales that greets the visitor – the walkway leading to the exhibition has been dressed up with a fairytale castle themed entrance display with 5-metre tall topiary arches, animal-shaped topiaries, pixies and frog soldiers peeking out from colourful flowering plants and simulated castle walls decorated with climbing plants.
One of the winning Fantasy show gardens does in fact incorporate a fairy-tale theme – ‘Garden of Tales’ which is the creation of award-winning local designer Damian Tang which was not only a Gold Medal winner but was also named as the Best of Show for the Fantasy Category. It was one of two that I was drawn to – the other being ‘Luminescent Perspective’ by John Cullen … ones that will certainly leave the visitor enchanted. The ‘Garden of Tales’ inspired by children’s love of fairy tales, is one that through the clever use of frames into each of its five areas – scenes each with a fairy-tale to discover, draws one into it – well described in the fact sheet as “tempting us to peek into different realms of magic, mystery and wonder”. The garden features a one-thousand year old olive tree which was specially shipped in from Spain in a refrigerated shipping container – we were told that the roots of the tree were over two metres wide and the tree almost cold not fit into the container.
John Cullen’s ‘Luminescent Perspective’ is one that celebrates the ever-changing nature of gardens and features a lighting sequence that every two minutes will take visitors through the changes in light through the day – from dawn to dusk. The garden which picked up the Gold and People’s Choice Award also features a rotating carousel and was my personal favourite – being one that welcomes the visitor in – one in the word of the designer in which children can be children in.
Another display which has lighting effects – as well as sound and movement, is New Zealand’s Danny Kamo’s and Andy Ellis’ ‘Ruaumoko’. The Fantasy Show Garden is named after the Maori god of earthquakes – Ruaumoko – the unborn son of Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother) whose movements in his mother’s womb is said in Maori mythology to be felt as earthquakes across the world. It features an earthquake like movement that lasts 40 seconds – the length of the large shock that hit the designers’ home city of Christchurch in February 2011. The garden picked up a Gold Medal for SGF.
An eye-catching display in the Floral Windows to the World Category is the ‘Floral Kaleidoscope’ designed by Harijanto Setiawan which picked up a Gold Medal as well as being named the Best of Show for the category. I loved kaleidoscopes as a child and seeing the display has certainly rekindled my fascination for kaleidoscopes. The display is a celebration of life and the never end change in nature.
A new and interesting category at this year’s festival is the Balcony Gardens competition. This will feature displays that are very appropriate for us in Singapore – displays that creatively make use of 3 metre by 3 metre spaces. Out of seven entries, there were two Gold Medal winners – Toh Lee Hua and Veera Sekaran. Toh Lee Hua’s ‘A Breath of the Wind’ – the Best of Show winner, takes city-dwellers’ busy lifestyles and creates a green space in an urban environment that requires minimum upkeep.
On the evidence of what I had a quick glance at, there is a lot more visual treats that’s there to discover and I would, if I could, have spent the entire day walking around the displays on level 6 (there is more to see on level 4 which I have not yet seen) and I would certainly be back for more over the next nine days. Tickets for the show are available at the ticketing kiosks located at level 3 of the Suntec Convention Centre during the show period. Ticket Prices are S$10 (Weekdays – Monday to Friday) and S$14 (Weekends – Saturday and Sunday) for adults and S$5 / S$8 for children, students and senior citizens (children under 0.9 metres in height go in free). Family Tickets (2 Adults and 3 Children) are also available at S$20 (weekdays) and S$38 (weekends).
Visitors to the show can also participate in the SGF “Colours” photography competition which offers great prizes that include a Sony Nex-F3 camera. Participants can take a photo they feel best depicts the theme “Colours” and submit it through Singapore Garden Festival’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/sggardenfest. The public can then vote for their favourite photo on the Facebook page’s contest tab. A range of prizes are up for grabs for both participants and voters. The Festival is organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and its key partners, the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia (OSSEA), Singapore Gardening Society and Singapore Tourism Board (STB). For more information, please visit the Singapore Garden Festival website or Facebook page.
All photographs accompanying this post have been taken using a Sony α57 (SLT-A57) DSLR camera.
The opening weekend of Bay South Garden of the Gardens by the Bay saw crowds turning up in droves to have a look at the latest attraction – one of several developments that adds to the futuristic looking part of the city that is fast coming up on land that once had been the sea. The opening day – a Friday, had attracted as many as 30,000 visitors to the garden, 15,000 of which came for the first of two open air concerts held at the garden’s The Meadow – a sellout featuring Jason Mraz. The concert was part of a host of activities held to celebrate the garden’s opening. I managed to attend the second concert, a one-and-a-half hour performance in which Singapore born singer – the very talented Corrinne May, impressed the 5,000 audience with a soulful repertoire of songs which she had herself written. Both concerts were very well received and the garden is set to become the location, much as New York’s Central Park is, for open-air concerts in Singapore.
After the madness that accompanied the opening weekend, I was glad to able to find the time to take a walk through part of the 54 hectare garden without the distraction of the crowd on a weekday evening. Free from the distraction of the weekend crowds, I was able to see how, as day turned into night, the garden being transformed into a world like none other – a world bathed in a magical glow of the illuminations of its rather curious but strangely captivating man-made structures. The visual highlight of the garden by night must certainly be the garden’s Supertrees of which there are three clusters which seem to sprout around the two cooled conservatories. The Supertrees, of which there are 18 in total, are really vertical gardens that are planted on steel structures arranged around a concrete core that ranges from 25 to 50 metres in height. The vertical displays of plants are primarily of tropical flowering climbers, epiphytes and ferns. The largest cluster, the Supertree Grove, is made up of 12 Supretrees. The other two clusters are each of three Supertrees in the Golden Garden (near the Arrival Square) and in the Silver Garden (near the Dragonfly Lake).
The Supertree Grove is the cluster that will certainly draw the most interest, not just because it is the largest cluster and also where the largest Supertrees are found – the 50 metre tall one which will house a treetop bistro and two 42 metre tall ones between which a curved 128 metre long aerial walkway, the OCBC Skyway, is suspended. The OCBC Skyway, 22 metres above ground, offers not only an amazing view of the garden, but also a view that extends east towards the Marina Barrage and west where the Marina Bay Sands Complex stands.
The Supertree Grove also plays host to a 15 minute long audio-visual spectacle – the OCBC Light and Sound Show (which opened on 2nd July 2012). The show will come on twice every night at 7.45 pm and 8.45 pm and is something that certainly should not be missed.
Another part of the gardens that I found to be quite a wonder at night is inside one of the two cooled conservatories – the Cloud Forest. Whether by day or by night, the entrance into the Cloud Forest is one which would be greeted by a spectacular sight – that of a 30 metre high waterfall that falls from Cloud Mountain. It is however at night that the waterfall bathed in the purple-blue of its illumination takes on a magical appearance. The conservatory takes on a warmer and a more welcoming appearance by night and it is for this, the conservatories magical waterfall, and the glow of the Supertrees that makes what seems almost like an enchanted garden, very much worth a visit after night has fallen.
All photographs accompanying this post have been taken using a Sony α57 (SLT-A57) DSLR camera.