Strange Horizons: reflections on the alien invasion at the bay

28 05 2014

Maybe now not such a strange horizon – the view of the alien structures that have invaded the new world at Marina Bay’s Garden’s by the Bay, reflected off the Dragonfly Lake. The structures are probably among the most photographed in Singapore and are now very recognisable across the world. In the foreground, three of the garden’s 18 Supertrees are seen with the two cooled conservatories in the background. The taller of the cooled conservatories is the 58 metre high Cloud Forest, which replicates the moist cooled environments of the tropical montane regions and features a 35 metre man made mountain along with a 30 metre high waterfall. The longer of the two conservatories is the Flower Dome in which the cool-dry springtime climates of the Mediterranean and semi-arid sub-tropical regions is replicated. The Gardens by the Bay, which is now in its second year (having opened in June 2012), has become one of Singapore’s most visited tourist attractions.

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Fields of gold and more

22 04 2014

The Gardens by the Bay’s tulips are right at this moment, in full bloom and there will be just a few days to catch them before the next round of replanting commences. The tulips, at the Flower Dome, have been brought for Tulipmania and will colour the Flower Field until 4 May 2014. There was a little more excitement at this year’s Tulipmania – with appearances made by Miffy, the very popular Dutch children’s book character, who has been brought in by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Miffy was also around to witness an Easter egg hunt that was organised by KLM, on Sunday – a day that saw huge crowds descend on the Flower Dome and some lucky children walking away with much sought after Miffy merchandise. More information on Tulipmania including on a photo competition the Gardens by the Bay is running together with Canon Singapore can be found on a previous post: Colours of April: Going Dutch at the Gardens.

Photographs from Tulipmania 2014

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Singapore Landscapes: A body of water named after a municipal engineer

17 03 2014

Described in its early days as an area of picturesque loveliness, MacRitchie Reservoir and its surroundings, remains today an area in Singapore to find an escape in. Singapore’s first impounding reservoir, MacRitchie was first created by the building of a dam from 1864 to 1868, and has been enlarged twice to the size it is today. The reservoir is today set on the fringe of a secondary forest – now is part of the Central Catchment Reserve, that if not for the reservoir being there, might be with us today.

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An article in the 22 May 1869 edition of the Straits Times describes the reservoir:

“Probably within the radius of double its (the reservoir’s) distance from town, there exists no point in the island possessing the same charms of placid loveliness that the abortive reservoir offers to the view of the excursionist”.

The same article also describes the existence of the many “Malayan hamlets” that had existed when “pioneers of the work first intruded upon the solitude of the valley”, going on to describe how the fruit trees that had been left behind under “the shadow of the great primeval forest” has lent “an interest to the spot beyond the picturesque loveliness which the artificial lake has produced”.

The reservoir, once known as Thomson Road Reservoir, was named after James MacRitchie, a municipal engineer who had overseen the second expansion of the the reservoir in 1891. That expansion was to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity from what was an equivalent of 50 days supply to  a capacity which held 200 days of supply.

The much travelled Mr MacRitchie – he had taken up several appointments including ones that took him to Calcutta, Japan and South America, who had arrived in Singapore in late 1883; had an illustrious career in Singapore as the colony’s Municipal Engineer, before his untimely passing in 1895 at the age of 47.

Besides the waterworks and the improvement of its supply lines that included the laying of pipelines and the construction of filter beds , one group of which is located at the corner of Cavenagh Road and Bukit Timah Road, Mr MacRitchie was also responsible for overseeing several civil works, the most notable of which are the building of a number of bridges and several markets. These included some that were to become well-known landmarks such as the 1886 Coleman Bridge (dismantled in the late 1980s), the Read Bridge, the Pulau Saigon Bridge (dismantled in 1986) and the Telok Ayer Market (Lau Pa Sat).





The grass IS greener on the other side

14 03 2014

The prolonged dry spell in Singapore saw an extremely parched February become the driest ever month on record (since 1869). Only 0.2 mm of rain was recorded at the Changi climate station, and the absence of rain has resulted in many previously green spaces turn very brown, in contrast to some of the well taken care of spaces such as the many golf courses, which are one of the groups of heavy consumers of the precious resource.

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The contrast can’t be any more striking than when viewed at the transition between the manicured greens of a golf course with a public space such as is seen in the photograph. The photograph was taken on 9 March 2014 from the fringe of one of the two Singapore Island Country Club’s (SICC) courses at its Bukit location where there is an adjoining public space by the water’s edge at MacRitchie Reservoir. The Bukit location is where one of the courses that the SICC will return to the government for use as a public course, when its lease expires in 2021.





The catwalk in the sky

12 03 2014

Photographs from an unusual event that was held at the Gardens by the Bay’s OCBC Skyway last week at which I was a guest …

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With an eye for the unusual in the selection of catwalks, it probably came as no surprise when model and entrepreneur Jessica Minh Anh picked the OCBC Skyway as the setting for the latest in her series of fashion shows held against the backdrop against iconic venues around the world that have included the Grand Canyon Skywalk, London’s Tower Bridge and PETRONAS Twin Towers’ Skybridge.

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The J Spring Fashion Show, which was held on 5 March 2014, saw models strutting down the 128 metre long aerial walkway – said to be “the most unconventional catwalk yet”, dressed in a combination of Haute Couture and Prêt-à-Porter collections from UK, Russia, Singapore, China, Kenya, India, and Lebanon. The event, which proved to be a little too hot to handle for many of the VIP guests under the unforgiving Singapore sun, was followed by a J Spring After Party held at the Pan PacificOrchard Hotel in the evening.

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Silhouettes of a joy we have forgotten

3 03 2014

Silhouettes of the morning in a place by the sea, the simple joy of which we have long forgotten. The place, Sembawang, is one that hangs on to one of the last stretches of natural beaches left in Singapore. It is where I often find myself celebrating the new day, being one of the few places left in Singapore that is able to take me back to days when finding joy did seem a lot less complicated.

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(photographs taken on the morning of 2 March 2014)





The joy of an unmanicured space

21 01 2014

Living in the overcrowded and highly built-up environment that the land scarce and overpopulated island-state of Singapore has become, there is no better joy than that immersing oneself in green and untamed surroundings brings. Although less common in a country obsessed with creating planned and overly manicured urban spaces, there thankfully are still seemingly wild public spaces, although man-made, that does provide that much-needed respite from the madness of the urban world.

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One such space, as is seen in the accompanying photographs, is UpperPeirceReservoirPark, on the fringes of the Central Catchment Reserve. One of the less accessible parks found by the cluster impounding reservoirs in central Singapore, the park with the body of water it has been set-up next to, is where one can discover a tranquillity absent in the overcrowded public spaces we seem to have too many of.

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Having opened when I was living in not so far away Ang Mo Kio, the park to which I would often ride a bicycle, has long served as an escape for me. Complementing the beautiful body of water that is the Upper Peirce Reservoir, the park is where one can sit in the shade of the now mature trees and hear the rustle of dried leaves below one’s feet.

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Created through the construction of a 30 metre high and 350 wide dam and four smaller dams upstream from the Lower Peirce dam over a period of two years from May 1972 to May 1974, the reservoir was officially opened by Singapore’s then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew in February 1977. With a storage capacity of some 27.8 million cubic metres and a surface area of 304 ha, the reservoir is in fact Singapore’s largest impounding reservoir, stretching from the main dam that also separates it from Lower Peirce Reservoir some 3.5 kilometres westwards as the crow flies, close to the Bukit Timah Expressway. The park, which is accesible via a 1.7 kilometre road in from Old Upper Thomson Road, was opened in May 1979.

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Light after dark: The Pier @ Peirce

21 12 2013

Capturing the cloud painted twilight, 7.44 pm 21 December 2013, Lower Peirce Reservoir.

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Celebrating a new day in an old world made new

18 12 2013

The celebration of the new day as seen in the relatively new world at Lower Seletar Reservoir Park.

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Work on the reservoir, formed by the damming of the Sungei Seletar estuary, was completed in the late 1985. The construction of the 975 metre long dam at a cost of some S$60.8 million, cut off a river around which the Nee Soon area developed and with which is an association with the indigenous community of sea dwellers known as the Orang Seletar.

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The dam now provides a link between what is today the Yishun (the public housing estate named after Nee Soon) area of Singapore with the Seletar area and has created a reservoir with a surface area of some 352 hectares. The reservoir was originally named as the Sungei Seletar Reservoir, and was renamed in May 1992.

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Fast fading memories of a world we want only to forget …

16 12 2013

Besides the lost coastline running along the Changi and Tanah Merah areas, another place by the sea that I was acquainted with as a young child was the seaside parks around the Pasir Panjang area. One was Pasir Panjang Park, a rather small park west of Pasir Panjang Power Station and a cluster of schools (the buildings of some are still around) fanned by the breeze of the sea, one of which was Batu Berlayer School at which my mother taught at for a short while in the later half of the 1960s.

The sea fronted Pasir Panjang Park in 1967.

The sea fronted Pasir Panjang Park in 1967.

The area today, is one no longer fanned by the sea breeze, having for long been abandoned by the sea. The shoreline in the area, initially altered by the reclamation in the early 1970s, has since been moved well away by land on which a new container terminal is being built on as an expansion of the capacity of the Port of Singapore (this before all port facilities are eventually consolidated in the far west of the island in some 20 years time).

The container port being developed on land reclaimed more recently.

The container port being developed on land reclaimed more recently beyond the reclamation of the 1970s.

Visiting what remains of the park, which took on the face of how I had known it around 1956/57, I realise that that is little evidence of what I had known that remains. In place of the metal railing by the seawall is a concrete balustrade that looks now well worn with age and also neglect and one for which the future is probably rather bleak. Sitting on what would have been the edge of a seawall beyond which a rather unattractive stretch of beach was exposed when the tide receded, it would have been put up in the late 1960s or very early 1970s .   

The crumbling concrete balustrade.

The crumbling concrete balustrade.

Stairs which once would have led to the beach and the sea are also clearly in evidence off the seawall. The stairs now lead not to the wide expense of water which once played host to many sea sports events, but to an even more unattractive body of water, the reach of which is limited by a concrete canal wall that runs parallel to the seawall. 

The former seawall and the canal where the sea once was.

The former seawall and the canal where the sea once was.

One item which belonged to the park that I was hoping to see, is a cannon that featured prominently in photographs I had taken of me in the park in later part of the 1960s. That, sadly, along with the playground where I did spend many moments on the swings and see-saws on, is now, like the long forgotten sea shore, only a very distant memory – although the cannon, on the evidence of this November 2010 post on Victor Koo’s “Taking Up the Challenge” blog, seemed to have been there until not so long ago.

The metal railings before the concrete balustrade came up.

The metal railings before the concrete balustrade came up.

The post does identify how the cannon came to be placed at the park, being a gift from a Mr. H J C Kulasingha, an immigrant from Sri Lanka, who came to Singapore in 1941 by way of Kuala Lumpur. A long time resident of Pasir Panjang, Mr. Kulasingha, who passed away in 1982, had quite an illustrious life in serving the community.

Developments which has erased much of what we remember of the area include an elevated highway over Pasir Panjang Road ...

Developments which has erased much of what we remember of the area include an elevated highway over Pasir Panjang Road …

And the construction of the MRT.

And the construction of the MRT.

Besides being a prominent politician (he represented the Progressive Party, the Liberal Socialist Party and in 1959 stood as an independent candidate) and a member of the Legislative Council from 1951 to 1955, Mr Kulasingha also held many other public appointments including serving on the Rural Board and as a Director of the Jurong Bird Park in the early 1970s. Thinking about all this, what would really be nice is if the old cannon that Mr Kulasingha donated, is restored to the area to commemorate Mr Kulasingha’s life and to celebrate the many important contributions an otherwise forgotten pioneer has made to our society.

A view of a world and memories attached to it which is fading with the rising of the new Singapore sun.

A view of a world and memories attached to it which is fading with the rising of the new Singapore sun.





Splashing by the bay

30 11 2013

A sneak peek at the Gardens by the Bay – Far East Organization one hectare Children’s Garden which is scheduled to be open in January 2014. The garden, being set up on a site adjacent to the Cloud Forest will feature river scapes, lush greenery, a special toddler’s play zone, Rainforest tree houses and a water play area and on the evidence of the sneak preview that the young guests of the Gardens by the Bay and Far East Organization got over the weekend, will provide kids a splashing good time.

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Temporarily eternal

16 11 2013

Long a quiet and peaceful corner in Singapore on a plot of land adjoining the former Bidadari Cemetery, is an area of Mount Vernon which once hosted Singapore’s first public crematorium. The crematorium which started in October 1962, ceased operations in June 2004 and the plot of land now plays a columbarium which dates back to 1978 as well as privately run funeral parlours of more recent times.

The sun streams through the trees of a green and tranquil part of Mount Vernon.

The sun streams through the trees of a green and tranquil part of Mount Vernon.

It will not be long before this green oasis of calm goes. Along with the parkland which the former cemetery has been turned into, it will be redeveloped as part of Bidadari public housing estate. The estate’s development will  see some reminders of the area’s past being incorporated into it. However, the area on which the columbarium, which besides the beautiful park like setting it finds itself in, is also known for its pagoda columbarium which has become a landmark in the area, sits will be built over.

An artist’s overview of the proposed Bidadari development from the HDB as posted on http://www.todayonline.com

The pagoda along with a two-storey building which also houses columbarium niches, was the columbarium’s most recent addition which was completed in December 1987 – adding some 13230  niches to the 10392 niches which were added over the years starting with 3000 when it opened in late 1978. Extensions were also made in 1982 and 1985 adding 5280 and 2112 niches respectively, coming at a time when with pressure on land-usage increasing, cremating the dead was encouraged as an alternative to burials.

The nine-storey pagoda which was completed in 1987.

The nine-storey pagoda which was completed in 1987.

The columbarium is quite distinct in its setting compared to other publicly run ones with the older free standing structures in the garden like setting – a beautiful and respectful space for dead which like the fast disappearing beautiful spaces for the living, Singapore, has no more room to accommodate.

The two-storey building containing niches which was added at the same time as the pagoda.

The two-storey building containing niches which was added at the same time as the pagoda.

A privately run funeral parlour.

A privately run funeral parlour.





The green, green grass, disappearing from home

8 11 2013

In a Singapore inundated with the clutter that urbanisation brings, open spaces – wild, and green, however transient, are always ones to be celebrated. Open spaces such as this one on which a former cemetery, Bidadari once stood, are fast being lost to the tide of steel, glass and concrete from which they had served as a respite from  - sanctuaries where a much needed sense of space otherwise missing in the clutter and crowds, can be found.

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The cemetery was one of Singapore’s largest and with burials taking place over six and the half decades from 1907 to 1972, contained as many as 147,000 graves of members across the communities. Converted into a temporary park after the completion of exhumation in 2006, the grounds, even in its days in which the resting places of the departed decorated the landscape, has been a place to find peace in.

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With its days now numbered – a recent announcement by the HDB on plans for its redevelopment as a housing estate has the first developments taking place by 2015, there is not much time before the joy it now provides will be lost to the urban world it has for so long resisted.

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The plans put forward by the HDB do show some sensitivity to what the place might once have been or represented, with the cemetery and the greenery it provided not completely forgotten.

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Besides the preservation of some of the cemetery’s heritage, one promise that the development of the 93 ha. site holds is that of a 10 ha. green space which will incorporate a man-made lake – said to be inspired by the famous lake which belong to the Alkaff Lake Gardens we now only see photographs of.

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While that does create a very pleasant environment to live and play in, it will not provide what the space now provides, that escape I find myself seeking more and more of from the overly cluttered and crowded world our many of our urban spaces have become.

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Other disappearing or already vanished open and green places:

Some newly found, existing or reclaimed spaces:






A look at a dump

30 10 2013

Travelling down the Tampines Road of old back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was hard not to miss the convoys of trucks on their eastward journeys down the road.  The trucks, laden with much of what Singapore discarded, were headed to what then became Singapore’s last onshore dumping ground, occupying some 234 hectares of land on the right bank of Sungei Serangoon, which before the conversion to a rubbish dump site in 1970, was a large swamp (mangrove swamps lined much of Singapore’s original coastline, particularly along the northern coast) rich in bird life.

A very natural looking man made stream close to the area where a village, Kampong Beremban, once was.

A very natural looking man made stream close to the area where a village, Kampong Beremban, once was.

Taking a look around the former Lorong Halus dumping grounds these days, it is hard to imagine that it as a dump site for close to three decades (it was closed on 31 March 1999 and incinerated refuse has since been dumped offshore at Pulau Semakau). Part of the area today has been remade and is now a man-made wildlife sanctuary, the Lorong Halus Wetland. Despite the obvious signs of human intervention, the area (including that beyond the sanctuary) does have an aesthetic value from a natural environment (albeit man made) perspective, and offers that escape that can be hard to find in an island overgrown with too much concrete.

Another part of the former dump site.

Another part of the former dump site.

The wetland, is also linked to a bridge across what has since the mouth of the river was dammed, become Singapore’s 17th reservoir, the Serangoon Reservoir. The bridge provides access to what was the left bank of Sungei Serangoon, where the new public housing estate of Punggol has been developed, via the Punggol Promenade Riverside Walk.

Sungei Serangoon today.

Sungei Serangoon today.

For those familiar with the area, the area of Sungei Serangoon upstream from Lorong Halus at the end of Upper Serangoon Road was where old Kangkar Village was. Kangkar Village was a fishing port and once a base for fish traders and also Singapore’s fishing fleet, which numbered some ninety vessels in 1984 when it was closed to be moved to Punggol. The location of Kangkar today would be close to where Buangkok East Drive is.

Punggol Estate looming in the background on the left bank of Sungei Sernagoon.

Punggol and Sengkang public housing estates looming in the background on the left bank of Sungei Serangoon – Sengkang was the area where Kangkar Village was.

Interestingly, Lorong Halus was also where Singapore’s last night soil collection centre was located. The practice of collecting night soil (human waste) using buckets in both urban and rural areas, was carried out from the 1890s up to early 1987 when the last rural outhouses were used. Besides the rufuse that was generated by Singapore, also buried at Lorong Halus is the remains of a false killer whale which was stranded in shallow waters off Tuas in early 1994. The wetland was opened in 2011 and more information can be found at this link.

The bridge across the reservoir.

The bridge across the reservoir.

The view on the bridge.

The view on the bridge.

A resident of the wetland.

A resident of the wetland.

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Thorns in the urban landscape

22 10 2013

Intended to be an icon of a new Singapore, a building topped with a crown of thorns blocks the view from a once well-loved part of Singapore where many enjoy a meal of satay by the sea. The building, which houses Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, which was completed in 2002, steals its name from the once popular promenade from which we could gaze out into the openness of the old harbour we can no longer see.

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The building is one some of us in Singapore struggle to find a connection in the same we have connected with the old National Library and the National Theatre and even that wonderful promenade by the sea that the real Esplanade was. Those icons, now erased from the new urban landscape, were ones which for many of us symbolised Singapore’s coming into the world as a nation, and point to humbler times we now seem not to want to be reminded of. This does perhaps exemplify what the new Singapore has become for some of us – a place we struggle to recognise and connect with, and one which has become a  Singapore we find hard to call home.





A sunrise over Singapore’s green lung

19 10 2013

The rising sun seen at 6.51 am on 3 October 2013 emerging over the cover of the trees along the eastern edge of the Central Catchment Reserve in Singapore. Together with adjoining Bukit Timah Nature reserve and with an area in excess of 3000 hectares – just over 4% of the total land area of Singapore, the reserves maintain a huge area of forest in central Singapore. The reserve is also an important water catchment area in Singapore and is where four of Singapore’s main reservoirs are located.

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Silhouettes of times soon to be forgotten

28 09 2013

The silhouette of a coconut tree along the shoreline at Sembawang is seen against colours painted by the setting of the sun at 7.09 pm on 22 September 2013. Coconut trees bending to the sea, once a common sight along the shoreline, are becoming less common with development which has taken away much of Singapore’s natural coastline as well as the manicuring of many of our coastal areas. The beach at Sembawang is one of the last natural beaches left on the main island and is one of the few places left in Singapore where I am still able to find bits of that wonderful Singapore I grew up in.

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The area where the coconut tree is, just around the bend of Beaulieu Road leading to the jetty (we could once drive down to the jetty), is at the western end of the beach. The waters of the sea just beyond the little stretch of beach and rocks just below the tree was where, on the many nights I spent at the jetty fishing for crabs, I would had have a grand time in catching scooping pufferfish out of the waters and watching them inflate in the 1970s and early 1980s. The area is in the midst of change with both luxury residential housing just to the east of the beach and public housing developments fast coming up which will alter the area’s character. Another change which is imminent is the moving of the shipyard – a finger pier with its cranes and ships and floating docks moored along it is also seen in the photograph. The shipyard, Sembawang Shipyard, is a remnant of what was once a huge British naval base (the yard was the former naval dockyard)  which stretched all the way to the Causeway.





Light after dark (Lower Peirce on the rocks)

24 09 2013

Twilight, 7.33 pm 21 September 2013.

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A big stink (but a welcome one) hits the Gardens

18 09 2013

The very first successful hybrid of the so-called ‘Corpse Flower’, the Amorphophallus titanum and the Amorphophallus variabilis, the Amorphophallus ‘John Tan’ – being seen for the first time in Singapore, has bloomed and now on display at the Cloud Forest, one of the two cooled conservatories in the Gardens by the Bay.

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The Corpse Flower, which is native to Sumatra and grows at 120 to 365 metres above sea level, is so-named for the foul smell it emits which is similar to the smell of decaying meat. The hybrid is attributed to Ralph D. Mangelsdorff who was successful in crossing the seed parent plant of the Amorphophallus variabilis, which grows at 700 to 900 metres above sea level in Indonesia and the Philippines, with the pollen parent plant of the Amorphophallus titanum. The flower of the Amorphophallus variabilis produces a durian-like smell to attract pollinators.

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The Amorphophallus ‘John Tan’ on display, the blooming of which is unpredictable, stands at 205 cm and is named after a Singaporean, John Tan Jiew Hoe, for his support of the Amorphophallus hybridisation programme. The 5.9 kg tuber was donated by John Tan to the Gardens by the Bay on 27 August 2013. The bloom is expected to last for only two days and for the very rare opportunity to view it, the Gardens by the Bay is offering 15% discount off standard rate single conservatory tickets on 18 and 19 September 2013. The conservatory is opened from 9 am to 11 pm on both days (I did not quite get a smell – but I was told it is stronger in the evenings).

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Don’t miss the boat

11 09 2013

A bumboat sits high and dry, resting on a bed of sand in Pasir Ris, seemingly out of place in a sea not of water, but one of the concrete structures which now dominate much of Singapore’s suburban landscape. The boat is itself made of concrete, built not to carry the loads that the wooden vessels it is modelled after over water, but to provide a place where children of the neighbourhood it finds itself in can find amusement.

The bumboat of Pasir Ris.

The bumboat of Pasir Ris.

The boat, designed to resemble the bumboats or twakows – the workhorses of the once busy Singapore River, is one of several unique playground designs that hail from a time we seem to have forgotten. It was a time during which the Housing and Development Board (HDB) had a department within their Landscape Studios, dedicated to developing playground designs to complement the landscape of the public housing estates that were fast coming up, during which several notable playground designs were developed.

The starboard side.

The starboard side.

The efforts go back to the mid-1970s, when Mr Khor Ean Ghee designed the original dragon (playground) of Toa Payoh. That stood in a pit of sand at Toa Payoh Town Garden. This design was to serve as a basis for the sand-pit mosaic-faced dragons, pelicans, doves, elephants and spiders which would have been a familiar sight to the child of the late 1970s, the 1980s and perhaps the 1990s, with a vast number built together with the huge second public housing building wave which started in the mid-1970s which was to see the monster estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi being built. Several of these playgrounds were also installed in the older estates, of which a few are left. One is the orange dragon of Block 28 Toa Payoh and another, the last dove standing at Dakota Crescent.

Climbing the dragon at Toa Payoh Town Garden, 1975.

Climbing the dragon at Toa Payoh Town Garden, 1975.

Moving into Ang Mo Kio in the late 1970s, it was the pelican that I encountered not far from where I lived in Block 306. These playgrounds also marked a shift in playground layout. Whereas the ones I played on in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many with tubular steel structures on a hard concrete ground, were set expansively such that children playing seemed to have no boundaries, the new designs were a lot more compact sets of concrete with terrazzo and mosaic finishes placed in a a raised pit of sand, had well defined boundaries. Perhaps I had by the time outgrown playing at the playground, but having spent most of my childhood climbing on metal waves and globes, swinging from swings suspended by long lengths of chains, and sliding down high steel slides, the new playgrounds offered  a lot less enjoyment to me.

The playground with Lorong 4, the Lorong 4 market, and Lorong 3 in the background (scan of a postcard courtesy of David Jess James - On a Little Street in Singapore).

The playground I derived the most pleasure from – the one in front of Block 53 Toa Payoh when I lived there (scan of a postcard courtesy of David Jess James – On a Little Street in Singapore).

The last pelican which has been demolished.

The last pelican which has been demolished.

From the animals of the early 1980s, the designers explored fresher themes during a two year period from 1983 to 1985. These efforts yielded designs which revolved around well-known fables such as the tortoise and the hare and also familiar local objects such as kampung houses and trishaws. It was from the next creative wave from 1986 to 1990 that the bumboat was designed. One of 23 designs from the period, the bumboat was one of several which included a kelong designed to represent elements of our multi-racial heritage – the bumboat a representation of Chinese heritage (the twakows were wooden boats used by Chinese traders to carry goods from the ocean-going ships anchored in the inner harbour to warehouses up river).

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JeromeLim 277A9567

The period also yielded other rather interesting designs which included those which revolved around nursery rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty and the  Old Woman who lived in a Shoe; popular childhood games such as snakes and ladders; designs inspired by fruits and vegetables such as the watermelon, mangosteen, pineapple, mushroom and egg plant; and also insects such as ladybirds. A few of these can still be found including a watermelon and mangosteen in Tampines and a double clock in Bishan. Other interesting structures put up during the time included everyday objects, of which the clock is one example, a telephone, a lorry, and not so common (at the time) items such as a bullock cart.

The passing of time. A last clock stands in Bishan.

The passing of time. A last clock stands in Bishan.

During the same period, attempts were also made to provide the newer estates being built with their own identity. Playground designs were also selected for new towns on the basis of this identity. An example of this is the use of fruits and vegetable themed playgrounds in Choa Chu Kang – developed from what was a rural and farming area of Singapore. While the selection of playgrounds were very much left to the architects responsible for the designs of each neighbourhood, an attempt was made to allow for some variety across each estate in which playgrounds were distributed such that there was one for every 400 to 800 dwelling units by limiting the use of any design to maximum of five per estate.

The more complete face - with the hands intact.

The more complete face – with the hands intact.

The death knell for many of the homegrown playground designs was probably sounded with the advent of modular play equipment in the 1990s. This, coupled with safety concerns raised by a Canadian playground safety expert which followed an incident in 1993 in which a five-year old boy had his thumb severed whilst sliding down a poorly maintained metal slide in an older playgrounds (fortunately his thumb could be reattached) saw a change in direction on the part of the HDB. While there was probably a conflict of interest on the part of the expert who also represented a Canadian modular play equipment manufacturer, the safety concerns could not be ignored.

The watermelon.

The watermelon.

While some of the older playgrounds were upgraded to improve their safety including having sand pits which were thought to be too shallow replaced with rubber mats which provided a soft landing, a massive wave of upgrading efforts which swept through many of the older HDB estates in the 1990s and 2000s did see many of these playgrounds demolished in favour of modular equipment which were also a lot easier to maintain and the population of the distinctive mosaic faced structures dwindled over time to the handful we find today.  Although there is hope that at least one, the dragon of Toa Payoh (see news report dated 19 May 2013)  will be kept for some of us to remember a time which will soon be forgotten, there probably is not much time left for some of the others for children of the 1980s and 1990s to catch the boat to bring them back to their childhoods (a dove, one of two that did remain, was very recently demolished) before these structures along with much that is familiar is erased from our ever evolving suburban landscape.

Mangosteen.

The mangosteen.


Old playgrounds:








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