Wet and wild along the Rail Corridor

19 05 2014

Photographs taken at yesterday’s rain-soaked run along the Rail Corridor. Known as the Green Corridor Run, what is turning out to be an annual event sees thousands descend on the former rail corridor (which became disused in July 2011). Yesterday’s event, which started off at the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, saw a huge turnout in spite of the heavy downpour with the several thousand runners flagged off in a few waves. The run involves a 10.5 km course that ends at the former Bukit Timah Railway Station.

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My Shanghai Story: Shanghai’s many shades of green

17 05 2014

One of the things that I did find great joy in my recent Shanghai Adventure was the discovery of some rather delightful green spaces, spaces that are perhaps not what one expects to find in the midst of the urban sprawl of one of the world’s most highly populated cities.

An oasis in the park - a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui - Guangqi Park.

An oasis in the park – a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui – Guangqi Park.

Of the Shanghai’s wonderful parks and gardens, Yu Yuan (豫园) or Yu Garden, is its best known, and a well visited tourist spot. A classical Suzhou style garden, Yu Yuan’s origins go back to the reign of the Ming Emperor Jiajing in the late 16th century.

The traditional garden - the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

The traditional garden – the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

The garden does count as one of Shanghai’s main attractions, and while it does tend to be overrun by hordes of tourists and as a result lack that serenity (its name does mean “peace and comfort”) it was designed to provide as the private garden of Pan Yunduan, is still well worth the 40 yuan it costs to enter its 2 hectare landscaped grounds.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

The grounds, encircled by a dragon on top of its perimeter wall, is a joy to wander through and in it one will find several fine examples of Chinese architecture that are mixed in with bridges that take the visitor over carp filled pools and labyrinths of walkways leading one to the garden’s many archways, rockeries and pavilions. A visit to Yu Yuan, would of course be incomplete without first negotiating the right angles of the nine-cornered bridge for that pause over tea at the Huxinting.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

Inside one of Yu Yuan's magnificent buildings.

Inside one of Yu Yuan’s magnificent buildings.

While calm may not be what one does now find within the grounds of Yu Yuan, it is a quality that there is no shortage of in two parks that I did get to see some distance from the hurly burly of the old city in Xujiahui on the western fringe of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

The first, the sprawling green oasis that is Xujiahui Park, is a more recent addition to Shanghai’s cityscape. The 8.6 hectare park, was apparently developed on a former industrial site that was occupied in part by the Great China Rubber Factory (大中华橡胶厂). A chimney seen rising over the tree-tops, a remnant of the factory, is now all that is left to remind Shanghai of the factory.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park's industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park’s industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

At the base of the chimney.

At the base of the chimney.

The park, now a popular place amongst the city folk looking for a respite from the insanity that city life does bring, is also where a gorgeous red brick villa – built to house the offices and recording studios of the Pathé Orient (a record company which was to be absorbed by EMI) is to be found. The Dutch style villa, which now houses a restaurant, was where the song that was to become the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China, March of the Volunteers, had first been recorded.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

A stone’s throw from the luscious greens of Xujiahui Park, is another pretty pocket of greenery, just south-west of Xujiahui Cathedral. The green space, Guangqi Park, is where a path that one enters through an ornamental archway, leads to the tomb of Xu Guangqi, a Ming Dynasty official who is responsible for the Xu in the name Xujiahui – where there once had been a confluence of rivers over which some of the district’s boulevards now run over.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

Xu Giangqi, also a learned scholar and an early Chinese convert to the Roman Catholic faith, collaborated and worked with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci whose influence was responsible for Xu’s conversion. It is not just in the tomb that the illustrious Xu is remembered, but also in a little memorial hall on the edge of the park, the Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

The memorial hall, in which one is immediately overcome by the sense of calm provided in the grounds of a traditional courtyard house, is where Xu’s tremendous achievements through his life and career are celebrated. The house in which it finds itself in, is also one to celebrate. The origins of what was previously the South (Nan) Chun Hua house also lies in the Ming Dynasty. Re-located from another location to the park, the house is a magnificent example of Chinese architecture and typical of the residential architecture of the period.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Guangqi Park as well as Xujiahui Park, given their proximity to the French Concession, is perhaps also a good starting point for a walking, or better still, a bicycle tour of what is another wonderfully green and architecturally rich part of Shanghai in the former French Concession. The area is well served by the Shanghai Metro, with the closest stop being Xujiahui. Yu Yuan, is also served by the Metro, with Yu Yuan Garden being the closest stop.


My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page (current deals include a pay one-way deal and a two-nights free accommodation deal).


Previous posts related to My Shanghai Story





The lost world

10 02 2014

With several friends that included some from the Nature Society (Singapore), I ventured into a lost world, one in which time and the urban world that surrounds us in Singapore seems to have well behind. The lost world, where the sounds are those of birds and the rustle of leaves, is one that does, strange as it might seem, have a connection with the success of the new Singapore.

A gateway into a lost world.

A gateway into a lost world.

A winged inhabitant of the lost world.

A winged inhabitant of the lost world.

Part of a stretch of the Jurong Railway Line that was laid in 1965 (it was only fully operational in March 1966), an effort that was undertaken by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to serve the ambitious industrial developments in the undeveloped west that became Jurong Industrial Estate, it last saw use in the early 1990s by which time the use of the efficient road transportation network in place on the island would have made more sense. The line, including this stretch, has since been abandoned, much of it lying largely forgotten.

Colours of the lost world.

Colours of the lost world.

More colours of the lost world.

More colours of the lost world.

Interesting, while much evidence of the main railway line that ran from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands up to the end of June 2011 has disappeared,  and beyond the two very visible bridges in the Clementi area, there are portions of the Jurong line that does lie largely intact. Although largely reclaimed by nature, it is in this lost world, where some of the lost railway line’s paraphernalia does still lie in evidence. This includes a tunnel – one of three tunnels that were built along the line that branched-off just south of Bukit Timah Railway Station that was built at a cost of some S$100,000. Work on the tunnel, which was to take trains (running on a single track) under Clementi Road, took some two months to complete with work starting on it some time at the end of 1964 – close to 50 years ago.

A view through the former railway tunnel under Clementi Road.

A view through the former railway tunnel under Clementi Road.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

Waterlogged tracks leading to the tunnel.

Waterlogged tracks leading to the tunnel.

Along the abandoned railway track now reclaimed by nature.

Along the abandoned railway track now reclaimed by nature.

The tunnel, now lying forgotten, is not anymore that gateway to a future that might have been hard to imagine when it was built, but to a Singapore we in the modern world now find hard to recall. It is a world in which the joy not just of discovery but one of nature’s recovery does await those willing to seek out the simple pleasures it offers. Now incorporated as part of the former rail corridor that will see its preservation in now unknown ways as a green corridor, it is one where the madding world we live in can very quickly be left behind. It is my wish that whatever the future does hold for the rail corridor as a meaningful space for the community, the pockets of wooded areas such as this lost world, does remain ones in which we can still lose ourselves in.

A view inside the tunnel.

A view inside the tunnel.

A non-native cockatoo - the area now plays host to nesting cockatoos.

A non-native cockatoo – the area now plays host to nesting cockatoos.

More photographs of the lost world:

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A granite rock face along the cut - part of the cut had made by blasted through granite rocks in the area.

A granite rock face along the cut – part of the cut had made by blasted through granite rocks in the area.

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Clementi Road Railway Tunnel

The tunnel under construction in the early 1960s (posted by Peter Tan on On a Little Street in Singapore).





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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Riding on in a world that will soon change

26 11 2013

One of the few places in central Singapore left untouched by the spread of the concrete jungle, the area bounded by Thomson, Whitley Road (Pan Island Expressway) and Lornie Road, will in the not so distant future, see the change it has long resisted.

The area bounded by Thomson Road, Lornie Road and Whitley Road, hides some beautiful sights which has long resisted the advance of the concrete world.

The area bounded by Thomson Road, Lornie Road and Whitley Road, hides some beautiful sights which has long resisted the advance of the concrete world.

The area, a large part of which Bukit Brown Cemetery and the cemeteries adjoining it occupies, is where a calm and peaceful world now exists, one not just of cemetery land reclaimed in part by nature, but of laid back open spaces, colonial era bungalows beautifully set in lush greenery, and where horses sometimes outnumber cars on a few of its roads.

Gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

While it may be a while before the concrete invasion arrives – much of the area has been earmarked for housing developments in the longer term, the winds of change have begun to pick up speed. Alien structures related to the MRT Station have already landed and exhumation of graves affected by the new road through Bukit Brown will commence soon.

Notices of exhumation at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Notices of exhumation at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Close-by, across Thomson Road, which will soon see construction work beginning on the North-South Expressway, Toa Payoh Rise has been widened and looks nothing like the quiet and peaceful road it once was.

Toa Payoh Rise losing its gentle feel in 2010 as work started to widen the once laid-back road.

Marymount Convent, a long time occupant of the mound next to Toa Payoh Rise, already once affected by the construction of Marymount Road, held its last mass – the convent will have to vacate the land on which it has occupied for some 63 years. Not far away – at the corner where Mount Pleasant Road runs through, the houses and the Old Police Academy another with a long association with the area, will also not be spared. The expansive grounds of the academy was where many would have spent a Sunday afternoon in simpler days watching grown men kicking a ball on the field. Besides football matches close-up, one could sometimes get a treat of a glimpse at a parade or a Police Tattoo practice session as one passed on the bus.

Riding off into a sunset - the Old Police Academy south of the Polo Club will be one of the victims of the winds of change will may soon blow into the area.

Riding off into a sunset – the Old Police Academy south of the Polo Club will be one of the victims of the winds of change will may soon blow into the area.

With the many changes about to descend on the area, one probably constant along that stretch of Thomson Road – or at least the hope is there that it would be, is the Singapore Polo Club. A feature in the area for more than seven decades, the club first moved to the location, just as the dark days of the Occupation were upon us in 1941.

The Polo Club's grounds as seen from Thomson Road.

The Polo Club’s grounds as seen from Thomson Road.

Sitting across the huge monsoon drain in which many boys would once have been seen wading in to catch tiny fishes, the grounds of the Polo Club – with it huge green playing field, is one that I almost always kept a look out for, in the hope of catching a glimpse of a match underway.

Some of us would have fond memories of catching fish from the huge monsoon drain running by the eastern edge of the Polo Club.

Some of us would have fond memories of catching fish from the huge monsoon drain running by the eastern edge of the Polo Club.

The grounds, the lease on which the club holds for another 20 years, wasn’t the club’s first. One of the oldest polo clubs in the region (as well as being one of the oldest sporting clubs in Singapore) dating back to 1886 by officers of the King’s Own Regiment – not too long after the rules of modern polo was formalised. The first grounds on which the sport was played at was one shared with golfers of the Singapore Golf Club at the Race Course or what is Farrer Park today.

The Polo Club's Indoor Arena and Stables.

The Polo Club’s Indoor Arena and Stables.

It does seem that from a 1938 newspaper article contributed by René Onraet, the Inspector General of the Straits Settlements Police from 1935 to 1939, who was a keen polo player and also a President of the club that the game was also played at the reclamation site across Beach Road in front of Raffles Hotel. This was where the NAAFI Britannia Club / SAF NCO Club and Beach Road Camp were to come up, a site currently being developed into the massive Foster + Partners designed South Beach residential and commercial complex.

The grounds at Balestier Road which hosted the Singapore Polo Club from 1914 to 1941.

The grounds at Balestier Road which hosted the Singapore Polo Club from 1914 to 1941.

The club sought new premises after being prevented from using the Race Course grounds in 1913 – moving to its first dedicated grounds at Balestier Road (Rumah Miskin) in June 1914 – grounds now occupied by the cluster of buildings which once were used by the Balestier Boys’s School, Balestier Mixed School and Balestier Girls’ School.

The Prince of Wales playing polo at the Balestier Road ground in 1922 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

The Prince of Wales playing polo at the Balestier Road ground in 1922 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

The grounds were unfortunately limited in size, and a search was initiated for a new ground at the end of the 1930s. It was the club’s President, René Onraet, who was instrumental in securing the current premises, which incidentally was right by what was the Police Training School – the Old Police Academy.

The Singapore Polo Club has occupied its current grounds since 1941.

The Singapore Polo Club has occupied its current grounds since 1941. The grounds were said to have been used as vegetable plots during the Japanese Occupation.

Although the grounds were ready at the end of 1941, it wasn’t until 1946 that the first game of polo was played on the grounds which by the time required some effort to restore it. The war had seen the grounds turned, as a couple of newspaper reports would have it, into vegetable plots – complete with drainage ditches and water wells. The club’s website makes mention of the Japanese Imperial Army converting the grounds into a gun emplacement area, before turning it into a squatter’s camp.

Prince Charles participating in a game on the Thomson Road ground in 1974 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

Prince Charles participating in a game on the Thomson Road ground in 1974 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

Over the years, the club has expanded it membership and now includes activities such as equestrian sports, as well as having facilities for other sports. Along with club, the area around the club, also plays host to the likes of the Riding for the Disabled Association and the National Equestrian Centre at Jalan Mashhor.

The sun rises on Jalan Mashhor, home of the RDA and National Equestrian Centre.

The sun rises on Jalan Mashhor, home of the RDA and National Equestrian Centre.

Another view of Jalan Mashhor.

Another view of Jalan Mashhor.

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

The National Equestrian Centre - with the Mediacorp Caldecott Broadcast Centre seen in the background. The Broadcast Centre is scheduled to move to Buona Vista in 2015.

The National Equestrian Centre – with the Mediacorp Caldecott Broadcast Centre seen in the background. The Broadcast Centre is scheduled to move to Buona Vista in 2015.

The area where a healthy cluster of horse related activity centres are located is one which based on the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Draft Master Plan 2013 will be retained for sports and recreation use in the future.

Masjid Omar Salmah, at Jalan Mashhor which was built in the 1970s and is now long abandoned by Kampong Jantai it was built to serve.

Masjid Omar Salmah, at Jalan Mashhor which was built in the 1970s and is now long abandoned by Kampong Jantai it was built to serve.

Another view of the National Equestrian Centre.

Another view of the National Equestrian Centre.

The area where the Polo Club is (in green) on the recently released URA Draft Master Plan, is designated for Sports and Recreation use, but the rest of the area around it may see a change.

The area where the Polo Club is (in green) on the recently released 2014 URA Master Plan, is designated for Sports and Recreation use, but the rest of the area around it may see a change (https://www.ura.gov.sg/maps/).

While it does look like this might remain a beautiful world for some time to come, time is being called on the gorgeous world which now surrounds it. It won’t be long before the wooded areas across Thomson Road are cleared for development. The greater loss will however be the places of escape to the west. That is the green and beautiful world of the cemetery grounds. Grounds where men and horses, and perhaps the good spirits of the world beyond us, have but a few precious moments in which they can continue to roam freely in.

Jalan Mashhor at sunrise.

Jalan Mashhor at sunrise.

The road to nowhere ... at least for the time being.

The road to nowhere … at least for the time being (MRT related structures are clearly visible).


More on the game of Polo and how it is played in Singapore: A Royal Salute to the sport of kings.





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: