I guess the school of thrills for me was the roller coaster of the wonderful Wonderland Amusement Park in Singapore, back in my wonderful childhood in the Singapore of the 1970s. Then, Wonderland was the world to me and the roller coaster was where I spent most of my time at whenever I succeeded in pestering my mother to take me there. Wonderland offered no end of fun, and besides the roller coaster, I could also remember the kiddie train that went round a track and the Ovaltine cups that span around – ones which could be made to spin faster by turning a wheel in the centre of the cup (which I did very often, much to my younger sister’s discomfort).
The park had opened in 1969, just in time for me to have the many thrills and spills as I sought as a primary school boy. It was a time when interest in the “Worlds” of Singapore was waning and Singapore needed a new amusement park to bring fun to its children. The park, built on reclaimed land that had once been part of the old Kallang Airport, in its time hosted many corporate events as well, probably being one of the first places which saw family days being held in Singapore. It was a place that I enjoyed until I guess I outgrew the rides as I entered secondary school in the early 1980s and it was after this, in 1984, that an accident occurred in which planes fell off a merry-go-round injuring 16 people – the first accident in my memory what had been 15 years of accident free operation up to that point in time. I can’t quite remember when and what had shut the park, but based on newspaper archives, the park closed in 1988 to make way for the large open air carpark meant to serve the Kallang Indoor Stadium, a car park which is still with us today, bearing nothing to remind us of the good old amusement park.
By that time, my idea of thrills had evolved and looking for something more than what Wonderland offered, I was soon to find that in Bangkok. It was in the year of the accident (and around the time of it) that while in the Thai capital, I came to hear of a water themed amusement park (possibly the first water themed park in South-East Asia and one that featured a wave pool), some 20 kilometres outside of Bangkok, Siam Park. The park, which had opened some 4 years before, featured a looping roller-coaster, the Loop-the-Loop, something that had been unheard of in this part of the world. Without knowing a word of Thai, I bravely set out on the public transport system (being on a shoestring) that carried me over the dusty streets out of Bangkok, and there I soon was, staring in awe at what was in fact South-East Asia’s very first looping roller coaster.
My first ride wasn’t actually the best of experiences. Getting into the prime front row seat, I was soon locked in by the safety bar and looking forward to what was surely going to be the ride of my life. In all the excitement, I had somehow forgotten (as well as not being reminded by the staff on hand) to remove my glasses and was soon caught up in the anticipation of the ride as the roller coaster rode up on end of the rail and prepared for its descent. Down it quickly went amidst a chorus of screams, up the loop, as I braced myself for what would be my first heads-down roller coaster experience. That feeling that came with the moment the world turned upside down I still remember very well, with my heart feeling as if it had fallen out of my chest. The moment that happened, I felt my glasses falling as well, and that being something that I would have been at a lost without (being shortsighted and not having a spare pair on me), I shot my arms out, managing to somehow grab my glasses out of the air, relying perhaps on the reflexes that my early days playing football as a goalkeeper had developed in me. I had several more rides on the roller coaster, taking a break from it only to have the occasional dip in the wave pool, during which I made it a point to remove my glasses, and it was only at closing time that I made my way back into Bangkok, tired from the thrills and glad to have survived my first ever looping experience.