Lost Singapore: The hundred steps to a thousand Buddhas

1 11 2017

Of the many places in Singapore we have lost over the years, none might have possessed the magical quality of the Hall of A Thousand Buddhas standing at the top of Mount Washington. From its isolated perch, even if it was merely 80 metres above sea level, it would have seemed that heaven was a lot closer to it than was earth. A sanctuary for prayer, and perhaps for contemplation, the ascent to it would – at least for the devoted – involved a climb of a hundred steps.

A view from afar with the two 19th century Guanyin temples also seen (photo posted by Tan Chee Wee on On A Little Street in Singapore).

In as magical a fashion as the hall might have been, photographs of the temple have quite recently come to the surface – in the same wonderful photograph sets posted by Lies Strijker-Klaij On a Little Street in Singapore. The same set includes those of the Anchor Brewery and its railway siding that made an appearance in my previous post.

The Hall of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (potsed by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

The prayer hall, also referred to as a temple, was erected by the World Buddhist Society in 1966 to commemorate the first anniversary of Singapore’s independence. An accompanying pagoda, standing close to the hall, was actually built before the hall and had been in existence since 1957 when it was built in commemoration of the then Malaya’s Merdeka. Besides the pair, two other temple buildings – built onto the slope below the hall – were also found by the long staircase. Both were dedicated to Kwan In – the goddess of mercy, with the upper temple intended for male worshippers having been of a 1871 vintage and the lower temple – for women – thought to have been built in 1884. The complex of structures adorned the summit of Mount Washington, also known as Telok Blangah Hill or Thousand Buddha Hill until the late 1980s. That was when the land on which it stood was acquired to allow an extension to Mount Faber Park, across Henderson Road (a 1972 addition), to be built; despite the appeals that were made against it. The World Buddhist Society’s headquarters, housed in the Alkaff Mansion downslope since 1970, was also acquired during the same exercise.

The Hall of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (potsed by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

The Pagoda of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (potsed by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

A close-up of the Pagoda of A Thousand Buddhas, c. 1960s. Photo: TH. A. STRIJKER (posted by Lies Strijker-Klaij on On A Little Street in Singapore).

A postcard of the hall and the pagoda.

 

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150 metres above Beach Road

31 07 2015

JeromeLim-7742 DHL Balloon (s)Many will remember the DHL Balloon at Tan Quee Lan Street.

Rising high above the Bugis and Rochor areas of Singapore for a short while in the 2000s, the brightly coloured attraction, added not just a burst of colour to an area painted grey by the march of urban redevelopment, but also offered the hundreds of thousands who were to be carried on its gondola a view then unsurpassed over the area from a height of some 150 metres up in the air.

The balloon, touted as the “world’s largest tethered helium balloon” at its launch in April 2006, required the efforts of 40 people over the 12 hours to fill the 6,500 cubic metres of helium it took to inflate it. Once inflated, the balloon at a diameter of 22 metres, was as high as a six storey building. Carrying a maximum of 29 passengers in a gondola suspended below it, it gave a wonderful view of the developments around that were rapidly changing the face of the Beach Road and Marina Bay areas.

Sadly for us, the end came for the DHL Balloon just a little over two years after it was launched as the land on which it was operated (as well as that of its neighbour – the rather iconic New Seventh Storey Hotel) was required for development of the Downtown MRT line’s Bugis Station.  The popular attraction closed at the end of September 2008, by which time the Singapore Flyer was up and running and the balloon was deflated in early October 2008 in half an hour.


Information on the DHL Balloon previously carried by its operator, Singapore Ducktours:

Launched at a cost of S$2.5 million, the DHL Balloon was a joint venture by Aerophile Balloon Singapore Pte Ltd and Vertical Adventure Pte Ltd, and took one year to plan. The project was sponsored by global courier, freight and logistics company DHL, for which it gets exclusive advertising space on the balloon. The business partners involved in the project worked with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Singapore Land Authority and Singapore Tourism Board to allow public advertising on the balloon, and arrange for the lease for the site at over S$1 million for two years. S$800,000 was spent priming the ground for the balloon, and another S$60,000 for the helium.

On 19 April 2006, 40 crew members took 12 hours to inflate the French-made balloon, which took its first passengers in May 2006. The DHL Balloon is operated by Singapore Ducktours, a Singapore company which also offers city tours on its amphibious vehicles. As of September 2007, more than 150,000 people have ridden on the DHL Balloon, 70% of whom are tourists. Up to 1,000 people ride the balloon on weekends. Its ridership is the highest among all of Aerophile’s balloons.

The DHL Balloon’s lease on its site on Tan Quee Lan Street will expire on August 2008, and URA has indicated that the lease will not be extended as it has plans for the site. Singapore Ducktours is considering three alternative sites: Beach Road near Park View Hotel, Clarke Quay near Novotel Clarke Quay Hotel, and Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay. Other plans include relocating the balloon to Kuala Lumpur or Johor Baru in Malaysia. Terminating the venture will cost the company S$1.2 million.

NB: With a capacity of 7,800 cubic metres, Johannesburg and Mexico City are believed to be the largest passenger carrying tethered helium balloons currently in operation.

Ride
Passengers aboard the DHL Balloon can have a bird’s eye view of Singapore’s Central Area, including the central business district, Suntec City, Marina Bay, Orchard Road and Little India, and as far as Indonesia and Malaysia.Standard flights to 150 metres typically lasts between seven to ten minutes, über flights to 180 metres last up to 13 minutes.

Features and specifications

The DHL Balloon measures 22 metres in diameter, and is filled with 6,500 cubic metres of helium. While it is the world’s largest tethered helium balloon, it has been certified as an aircraft. There are only fifteen like it around the world, in cities including Paris and Hongkong.

As the balloon is anchored to the ground with a metal cable, it only ascends and descends vertically. The DHL Balloon was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to ascend to a maximum altitude of 180 metres, or around 48 stories. Flights to either 150 metres or 180 metres are offered. It can accommodate a maximum of 29 passengers in its gondola.

Piloting

The balloon, which flies between two to six times an hour, is operated by a pilot within the gondola. A hydro-electric winch system controls take-off and landing. As a safety measure, the balloon is not flown when there is lightning, rain, or when the wind speed exceeds five knots on the ground, as measured by an anemometer, on location.

Maintenance

A crew of six pilots, who work in rotation with one pilot working at any one time, conduct routine checks daily, weekly and every three months on the balloon and its equipment. The helium is replenished every four to six months, and engineers visit the balloon every year to conduct an inspection.


Another photograph of the balloon at the Aerophile website: DHL Balloon Singapore.