An escape from Singapore in Singapore

23 08 2011

Despite the beginnings of the encroachment of the urban world that the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle has for long been spared from, the previously tranquil spot set in the woods that are fast disappearing still offers a quiet escape far from the madding crowds that descend on much of the public areas in Singapore over the weekend (and the weekdays for that matter). The so-called pottery jungle is set around the oldest surviving dragon kiln in Singapore, the Thow Kwang kiln, built in 1940, and has become a haven for potters seeking to do their creative work in an environment that they can draw upon for inspiration.

Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is set in what was for a long time a tranquil spot in Jurong.

Besides the sale of imported pottery pieces, the potters’ activities have  become a main focus of the kiln which was last used commercially in the late 1990s. For the potters, working at the kiln offers not just an escape from the confines of walled air-conditioned studios, but also a chance to fire their works in a one of two surviving wood fired kilns in Singapore, a process that adds an element of randomness in the way pottery pieces are finished – a natural glaze is obtained on the otherwise unglazed pieces from ash and salt (which is thrown into the kiln) that is deposited on the windward side of the pottery pieces. Since a pottery workshop started on the premises in 2001, the size of the pottery community working at the pottery jungle has steadily grown and at least ten potters spend most of their weekends there.

One is never far from nature at Thow Kwang.

The chamber of the dragon kiln. Wood fired kilns add an element of randomness in the manner pottery pieces fired in them are finished.

For others, Thow Kwang offers more than an escape. What is left of the woods and greenery around it is rich in birds and other creatures that we have gotten used to not seeing in the urban world most of us live and work in. Sitting by the pond besides the dance of the butterflies and dragonflies that often greets the eye, one can see and hear kingfishers as well as woodpeckers in the trees around and a sudden burst of blue darting against the backdrop of green isn’t hard to spot. It is for this that I find myself drawn to the pottery jungle, spending more time than I normally would in the company of some in the community of potters that have become friends. It is a world that is there to enjoy, and one that offers the visitor a world that is hard to find in the world we have found ourselves in.

Common flameback woodpeckers colour the rural landscape that is fast vanishing.

Koi in a pond. The pond and the land around the pond is being returned to the SLA.

The pottery jungle has imported pieces for sale.

Another piece on display.

A thickness scale on a clay slab roller.

A water lily in bloom at Thow Kwang.

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Another bit of paradise soon to be lost

26 07 2011

Having been caught up in the frenzy of what has been a frenetic two months, I am grateful for the doses of peace and calm that does come my way every now and again. I did finally manage to have a large dose of that on Sunday when I got up bright and early, meaning to catch the first rays of the sun streaming through woods that will in the very near future disappear as much of the Singapore we have once known has. While the low clouds in the east had conspired to deprive me of what must surely be a gorgeous view of the rays of the sun streaming through the trees, I was able to better become acquainted with the area around which I had only a month or so earlier visited, spending the entire morning at one of two of the last dragon kilns in Singapore, the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.

Water Lilies in a pond at Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.

The Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is built around the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln which the Tan family has operated since 1965.

It was mostly around a pond, that I spent most of my morning, first indulging in a leisurely breakfast and being entertained by the excited songs of the early morning that the winged creatures that were perched on the branches of the trees that surrounded the pond were adding to the otherwise calm surroundings. It seemed for a while that I was in a little bit paradise, one that is certainly hard to find in the cold grey world that dominates our daily lives in Singapore. The pond is a magnet for creatures of all kinds, butterflies and dragonflies could be seen, colouring the otherwise single coloured surface of a body of water that was carved out of the remnants of the gaps in the earth left behind from the harvest of white Jurong clay that attracted as many as nine similiar kilns to the area. Fishermen of both the winged variety, resplendent in the bright colours of the feathered suits they adorn, and of the human kind, are also regular visitors to the pond, in search of a meal harvested from its depths.

The land on which the pond is will be returned to the JTC.

An incense burner by the pond.

A close-up of the potter's hut.

Fishing by a potter's hut.

Even with my brief encounter with the so-called Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle which surrounds the kiln, I find it sad thinking about the encroachment of the grey world on the area that was happening right at that moment I was there – the earth just beyond the gates of the pottery jungle had already scarred by the bulldozers that were seen up the road. Much of the land that surrounds the pottery jungle is being stripped bare of the trees that not only provide shade to the pottery jungle, but also insulate the area from the urban world that lies just beyond the soon to be lost woods. The area is being cleared by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) to make way for the development of a CleanTech Park. It is not only the woods that would be lost (at least to the pottery jungle), but also the pond at which I spent the morning – the pickets of intended green fences that many detest are already up to remind us that the land on which the pond sits, is being returned to the JTC (the land on which the kiln and the potery jungle is on is leased on an annual basis).

Bulldozers have moved into the area and are clearing the woods that surround the area for a CleanTech Park development.

While the sleeping dragon will continue to sleep, rising occasionally, it is its companions which it will find that are no longer there who will probably feel the loss of the woods in the area most. And as the woods of grey replace the woods of green in the area, those of us who have sought to deprive the dragon’s of its companions may have also deprived ourselves and our future generations of the joy that could be found in that little bit of paradise that once existed in the woods.

A pathway not into the woods anymore, but to what will be the CleanTech Park.

A dragonfly frolicking over the pond.

A Common Flameback Woodpecker seen on the trunk of a tree near the pond.

A skink scampers across a footpath ...

A centipede.