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.

Into the belly of the Dragon

29 06 2011

I took a peek into the belly of the Dragon that at the height of its fury, burns a white hot 1260 degrees Celcius. It is one that lies somewhat forgotten and hidden in the woods, and is roused from its deep slumber every six months to a year, when it is able to vent its full fury. The dragon is not of course that mythical beast that we would have heard about in our childhoods, by one that lays firmly on the ground – a kiln, referred to as a dragon kiln for the shape it takes, that rises up a slope with a firing box at one end, and to a chimney at the end of what is a single chamber kiln.

The Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.

The belly of the sleeping dragon.

The dragon kiln I visited, the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln at Jalan Tawas off Jalan Bahar, is one of two still left in what was an area known for its white clay which made ideal material for the pottery that the kilns fired. Mrs Yulianti Tan, whose father-in-law bought the kiln in 1965, was kind enough to show me and my companions around the kiln and around an exhibition of clay pottery that was from a recent firing of the kiln.

The firing box at the end of the kiln. Wood is used to fire the kiln and the ash actually provides unglazed pottery with a natural glazing.

I was to learn that the kiln and another neighbouring one was one of nine similar pottery kilns that were built from the 13th to the 17th milestone of Jurong Road to exploit the availability of white clay which could be used for then popular pottery items such as latex cups. The historical Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln dates back to 1940, and was apparently built on a site of what is thought to be a Hokkien 3 chamber kiln – evidence of which was only recently found after work to refurbish the kiln uncovered the stepped part of one of the chambers of the original kiln next to the Dragon Kiln and the stoke holes of the chamber. Not much is known about the the older kiln as no records exist. The newer kiln was owned by a certain Goh family from whom Mrs Tan’s father-in-law purchased it from.

Evidence of what is thought to be a Hokkien kiln.

Stoke holes found of the earlier Hokkien kiln on the site of the dragon kiln.

It has to be passion that drives Mrs Tan and he family to maintain the kiln – a handful of very dedicated clay artists exercise their creativity there and alway wait in anticipation for a firing to be able to see the fruits of their labour finished up. Clay pottery classes are also run at the kiln to extend the knowledge of clay pottery to the general public. The land on which the kiln is built on and its surroundings is on a lease which is renewed every year … and with development in what is still a fairly wooded area already making inroads into the areas that surround the kiln and its neighbouring kiln, it may not be long before we see another reminder of our past and a reminder of what the area around was once like, pass into history to be forgotten by a Singapore that seems to have no desire or no need to remember its past.

The entrance to the belly of the dragon.

Into the belly of the dragon.

Evidence of the long slumber ... cobwebs on a stoke hole of the kiln.

A view inside the belly of the dragon into the firing box end of the kiln.

Bricks bearing the names of long lost brick kilns in which they were fired in.

A kick wheel used by clay potters.

A model of the kiln by a display of pottery made at the kiln.

The kiln is also a peaceful retreat from urban life.

On display at the kiln is clay work fired at the kiln made by a group of dedicated clay artists.

Unglazed pottery is glazed by ash from the wood fire mixed with salt thrown in.

The natural beauty of wood fire kiln fired pottery - the windward side is glazed by the ash and salt while the other side is left unglazed.