The glow in the park

12 05 2015

The quiet green surroundings of Fort Canning Hill provides the setting for the Pinacothèque de Paris’ home away from home, in a building whose best features the museum seems to have brought out, especially with its nighttime illuminations. The rather majestic looking building, looking resplendent after a huge makeover, dates back to 1926, beginning its life as a barracks block of the Malaya Command Headquarters. The Malaya Command HQ occupied a large part of the grounds of a mid-18oos British fortification, of which part of the wall and a gate, the Fort Gate, remains. Named after Lord Canning, the Governor-General and Viceroy of British India at that time, the fort was also what gave the hill its modern name.

The new glow at the formerly very dark cemetery at Fort Canning.

The new glow at the formerly very dark cemetery at Fort Canning.

I first got to know the three storey building that is now the Pinacothèque in my days of youthful adventure when the hill was a draw for as much for its seclusion of the hill, as it was for its mystery. Known also as Bukit Larangan, the Forbidden Hill, it was so named as it was the abode of the ancient kings both in life and in the afterlife. The dark and uncertain slopes, desecrated by the ornaments of the new order the most noticeable of which were the reminders of Singapore’s first Christian burial ground, seemed more forbidding  then than forbidden.

Fort Canning Centre at the start of its transformation into the Pinacotheque de Paris.

Fort Canning Centre at the start of its transformation into the Pinacotheque de Paris.

The monuments on the hill to the garrison no one imagined could be defeated, were less forbidding. In former barracks block, then converted into the “world’s largest squash centre”, Singapore Squash Centre, one was never without company. Established in 1977 when the game of squash rackets was at the peak of its popularity in Singapore, the centre boasted of 25 courts and as a facility for the game, was well used up until the 1980s. Unfortunately, the good times were to be brought to an end at the end of the 1980s. Plans were announced in 1985 to revamp Fort Canning Hill into a focal point for cultural and recreational activities in the city, with the barracks block serving as its hub. Following the expiration of the centre’s lease for the building in 1987, the building was renovated and unveiled as the Fort Canning Centre in 1991 into which arts related tenants such dance studios and theatre groups moved.

The building in the 1980s (National Archives of Singapore).

Overlooking Fort Canning Green, the site of the former Christian cemetery, the Pinacothèque de Paris, which opens its doors on 30 May 2015, adds not just a stunning backdrop to the now open-air concert venue, but also provides a good reason to head up a hill on whose slopes much of our early history was written.

A paddle through the Jalan Gemala Nature Area

15 12 2014

The Jalan Gemala area at Lim Chu Kang is as remote and wild as it can possibly get on the island of Singapore. Set along the banks of the upper reaches of the Sungei Kranji, once a tidal river lined with rich mangrove forests up to the extent of the tidal influence,  it finds itself at the edge of a reservoir of freshwater, created by the damming of the mouth of the Kranji River.JeromeLim-0667 2

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The river itself had in the past been one that served as a communication link, bringing in settlement to an area where early gambler plantations had been established. An area of mangroves – the river was lined with the watery forests up to the limits of the tidal influence, it now supports an area of freshwater marshes, wet grasslands and secondary woodland that is teeming with bird, plant and insect life – it is thought to support a colony of fireflies.



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The area was one of two identified in the 2013 Land Use Plan and subsequently the URA Master Plan for conservation as Nature Areas – the other being Pulau Unum and Beting Bronok.  The Land Use Plan has this to say about the area:

Jalan Gemala at Lim Chu Kang has varied habitats such as wet grassland, freshwater marshes as well as tall secondary woodland and freshwater reservoir that are near the area. Its addition as a nature area is significant given its rich wet grassland, with two rare plants (Leea angulata and Cayratia trifolia) being sighted. The inclusion of Jalan Gemala will also help secure the sustainability of the existing Kranji Marshes site at Neo Tiew Lane. The Pink-necked Green Pigeons and Mallotus paniculatus, a quick growing shrub that provides food for small birds are some wildlife species that can be found here.




Based on information provided by the Nature Society (Singapore) the Jalan Gemala Nature Area is spread along a length of 4 to 5 kilometres and includes secondary forest, grassland and wetland running along the Kangkar inlet into Kranji Reservoir and is adjacent to Kranji Marsh.


A blue-tailed bee eater in flight




A rare blue-eared kingfisher

Works being currently bing carried out by NParks



Colourful and secret gardens by the bay

18 08 2014

Back for a fifth time, the biennial Singapore Garden Festival (SGF), as on previous occasions, promises visitors a visual feast of beautifully conceived gardens as well as a kaleidoscope of colour. Organised by the National Parks Board (NParks) and Gardens by the Bay (where it is being held for the very first time), the nine-day SGF 2014 (held from 16 to 24 August) sees the introduction of a competitive Floral Table Series and a showcase of Miniature Garden Designs in addition to the mix of designer and fantasy gardens.

The Gardens by the Bay provides the setting for this year's SGF.

The Gardens by the Bay provides the setting for this year’s SGF.

The fantsay world of Tartarus by James Basson of Monaco.

The fantsay world of Tartarus by James Basson of Monaco.

The Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens, with 7 and 8 exhibits respectively this year, are always a treat at SGF. This year’s location provides a somewhat more natural setting for the Landscape Show Gardens which are on display in the open at The Meadow. Among the exhibits in these two categories, I especially enjoyed Tartarus, a Fantasy Garden by Monaco’s James Basson, that has the effect of takes one right into the fantasy world of a secret forest.

Another secret garden - Winter Illusion by Kate Hiller and Dan Rutherford of New Zealand.

A peek into another secret garden – Winter Illusion by Kate Hiller and Dan Rutherford of New Zealand.

From the Landscape Show Garden category.

Out in the open at The Meadow – one from the Landscape Show Garden category.

The bulk of the displays are at The Meadow.

The bulk of the displays are at The Meadow.

Beside the Fantasy and Landscape Show Gardens, the displays at The Meadow, where the main part of SGF is being held at, include the always delightful Balcony Gardens, 8 of which are on display, Floral Windows to the World, Celebrations! Floral Table Series, the Minature Garden Displays, the Community in Bloom displays and a Learning Garden.

A Balcony Garden.

A Balcony Garden.

From the Community in Bloom displays.

From the Community in Bloom displays.

The Learning Garden.

The Learning Garden.



A Miniature Garden display.

A Miniature Garden display.

The Ice Queen's Spring Breath (Floral Windows into the World).

The Ice Queen’s Spring Breath (Floral Windows to the World).

Passion (Floral Windows into the World).

Passion (Floral Windows to the World).

Dining in Mangrove (Celebrations! Floral Table Series).

Dining in Mangrove (Celebrations! Floral Table Series).

Another from Celebrations! Floral Table Series.

Another from Celebrations! Floral Table Series.


Also to look out for this SGF, is the Orchid Extravaganza at the Flower Dome. The display, designed by award-winning landscape architect Jun-ichi Inada, features some 18,000 plants and more than 40 orchid species and hybrids that includes a 10 metre Orchid Kaleidoscope. Also at the Orchid Extravaganza is a gallery of competition orchids put on show by the Orchid Society of South East Asia. Orchid Extravaganza, which opened with SGF 2014, will be on display for much longer, until 21 September.

The Orchid Kaleidoscope at the Flower Dome.

The Orchid Kaleidoscope at the Flower Dome.

Inside the Orchid Kaleidoscope.

Inside the Orchid Kaleidoscope.

A display of competition orchids at Orchid Extravaganza.

A display of competition orchids at Orchid Extravaganza.

For photography enthusiasts, a photography contest, COLOURS, will be held during SGF 2014. Those who wish to participate may submit photographs that best represent the theme Colours through the contest Facebook app, from 16 August to 7 September. The contest is open to Singaporeans and residents of Singapore who are above 13 years old and have a Facebook account. Prizes include the top prize of a Canon DSLR camera and printer worth S$1528/-. For more information on the contest and SGF (including ticketing), do visit the Singapore Garden Festival’s website or Facebook Page.

More of the orchids at Orchid Extravaganza









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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.


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.


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