Illuminated remembrances at the Wan Qing Yuan

9 09 2016

The terrazzo and mosaic faced playgrounds of yesteryear, symbols today of our longing for a Singapore we have discarded, have come back as lanterns.  Illuminated representations of four of these playgrounds, an elephant, a pelican, the iconic dragon and a watermelon, will decorate the lawn of the Wan Qing Yuan – the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (SYSNMH), for the museum’s Mid-Autumn celebrations. The lantern display is show every evening from 7 to 10 pm from 9 to 18 September.

A pair of lanterns depicting the watermelon playground at Tampines.

A pair of lanterns depicting the watermelon playground at Tampines.

The bulk of SYSNMH’s celebrations will be held over the weekend on 10 and 11 September. Activities to look forward to include lantern making and arts and crafts workshops, evening cultural performances, a public talk and shadow puppetry performances. Admission is free. More information on the Wan Qing Yuan’s celebrations and activities, do visit their Facebook Page.

Lanterns depicting the well-loved playgrounds of yesteryear at the Wan Qing Yuan.

Lanterns depicting the well-loved playgrounds of yesteryear at the Wan Qing Yuan.

jeromelim-2067

Impressions of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations at the Wan Qing Yuan.

jeromelim-2106

jeromelim-2052

jeromelim-2108





The last pelican

12 08 2016

I was going through my archives of photographs last weekend when I came across this photograph I took sometime in February 2012 of the last pelican playground; its backdrop a sea of greenery that left untamed brings a sense of calm that is missing in the manicured green spaces we in Singapore now seem to have too much of.

The last pelican, which went in June 2012.

Sadly, there seems little place in a Singapore that has little place for surroundings such as these. The pelican, which became a symbol of the loss many here feel for their well-loved places that no longer exist, is no more; demolished some four months after the photograph was captured. One of the more used themes adopted in the terrazzo and mosaic playgrounds introduced from the late 1970s, it served the children of Blocks 30 to 39 Dover Estate for some three decades before the death knell was sounded for it when the estate was taken back through a Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) exercise.

I had several encounters with a similar pelican themed playground in Ang Mo Kio where I had moved to in the second half of the 1970s. Small compared to the one in Toa Payoh where the better part of my childhood was spent in and with rather static implements, and for the fact that I had outgrown playgrounds by that time; I never found much fun in them. I found the all metal merry-go-round, with its chequered steel deck, especially hard to move as compared to the

The last pelican was among a handful that also includes a dove at the soon to go Dakota Crescent, that survived a cull of the locally designed playgrounds. Designed by a Housing and Development Board (HDB) team led by Mr Khor Ean Ghee, the series also included other animal based themes, the grandest of which was the mythical dragon. There were also elephantsfruits and vegetables, twakows and even fairy tale type clocks.

At least one of the playgrounds, which would have been most familiar to the children of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, will have its life extended. That, now sits abandoned by those whose lives it was a part of. Several of the blocks around it, including the twenty-storey tall Block 28, which was itself a landmark have since been demolished for redevelopment. In renewed surroundings that will include blocks of flats that will even be higher than Block 28, the orange dragon will at least stand tall, a reminder of the efforts of a dedicated team of designers who provided a generation of Singaporeans with something to remember that childhoods by.

See also:





What’s cooking on the museum’s front lawn

29 05 2014

The front lawn of the National Museum of Singapore seems to be a staging ground for some rather unusual and un-museum like happenings of late.  It was just last year that Malaysian artist Sharon Chin had a group of people taking a bath  taking a bath in full view of the public on the lawn. That followed the drama that involved the “sexiest woman in magic”, Singapore’s very own Magic Babe Ning, who pulled off a couple of dramatic Houdiniesque escape stunts.

It's masak-masak time on the museum's front lawn.

It’s masak-masak time on the museum’s front lawn.

The latest happening sees a curious effort perhaps to recreate the playgrounds that have somehow become a symbol of a new-found Singaporean desire to cling on to the worn and tired emblems of less complicated times. And, in the inflatable imitations that now appear, we perhaps see an attempt to reintroduce to a connected yet disconnected generation with the simple ways fun would have been packaged in the past.

Worshiping  a temporary hero on the front lawn.

Worshiping a temporary hero on the front lawn.

While it may be sad that the imitations do seem to attract more love and interest than the real McCoys – the orange mosaic faced beast that is the somewhat iconic dragon of Toa Payoh and a lesser known elephant that is now only seen in Pasir Ris; the gimmicky adaptations, on the evidence of the droves of of bouncing children that turned up despite the unforgiving heat and humidity of the weekend, does seem to have worked to generate a buzz amongst the young at the museum that does go beyond the excitement I got as a child of hearing about the eerie happenings at the museum’s notorious spiral staircase.

The smaller imitation.

The smaller imitation.

The happenings on the front lawn, are all part of the Children’s Season at the national Museum that is titled Masak-Masak, launched to coincide with the June school holidays. Besides the air-filled version of the once ubiquitous playgrounds, Masak-Masak sees several interactive installations, a good number of which seem to revolve around the simplicity of play in less complicated times. One the kids would definitely have great fun participating in is Come and Play by Justin Lee at the Salon on Level 1. The activity allows children to use carton boxes to create a “dream-home”.

Come and Play at the Salon on Level 1.

Come and Play at the Salon on Level 1.

Besides what’s on the lawn and at Level 1 (there is also Larger-than-Life Games – literally larger-than-life versions of popular games of the past such as five-stones at the Concourse), there are also a host of interactive and immersive activites on Levels 2 and 3. Masa-Masak: My Childhood runs from 24 May to 3 Aug 2014 with the Playgrounds on the Lawn available only during the weekends (every Sat & Sun from 24 May to 3 Aug at 11am to 1pm & 3pm to 5pm). More information can be found on a downloadable exhibition brochure at the National Museum of Singapore’s website (click here).

Rouleaux by Anastassia Elias (France) on Level 2 features an eclectic collection of miniature dioramas.

Rouleaux by Anastassia Elias (France) on Level 2 features an eclectic collection of miniature dioramas.

An elated participant even as the bouncy versions of the playgrounds lie deflated.

An elated participant dancing on the lawn even as the bouncy versions of the playgrounds lie deflated.

JeromeLim-2347

 





Don’t miss the boat

11 09 2013

A bumboat sits high and dry, resting on a bed of sand in Pasir Ris, seemingly out of place in a sea not of water, but one of the concrete structures which now dominate much of Singapore’s suburban landscape. The boat is itself made of concrete, built not to carry the loads that the wooden vessels it is modelled after over water, but to provide a place where children of the neighbourhood it finds itself in can find amusement.

The bumboat of Pasir Ris.

The bumboat of Pasir Ris.

The boat, designed to resemble the bumboats or twakows – the workhorses of the once busy Singapore River, is one of several unique playground designs that hail from a time we seem to have forgotten. It was a time during which the Housing and Development Board (HDB) had a department within their Landscape Studios, dedicated to developing playground designs to complement the landscape of the public housing estates that were fast coming up, during which several notable playground designs were developed.

The starboard side.

The starboard side.

The efforts go back to the mid-1970s, when Mr Khor Ean Ghee designed the original dragon (playground) of Toa Payoh. That stood in a pit of sand at Toa Payoh Town Garden. This design was to serve as a basis for the sand-pit mosaic-faced dragons, pelicans, doves, elephants and spiders which would have been a familiar sight to the child of the late 1970s, the 1980s and perhaps the 1990s, with a vast number built together with the huge second public housing building wave which started in the mid-1970s which was to see the monster estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi being built. Several of these playgrounds were also installed in the older estates, of which a few are left. One is the orange dragon of Block 28 Toa Payoh and another, the last dove standing at Dakota Crescent.

Climbing the dragon at Toa Payoh Town Garden, 1975.

Climbing the dragon at Toa Payoh Town Garden, 1975.

Moving into Ang Mo Kio in the late 1970s, it was the pelican that I encountered not far from where I lived in Block 306. These playgrounds also marked a shift in playground layout. Whereas the ones I played on in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many with tubular steel structures on a hard concrete ground, were set expansively such that children playing seemed to have no boundaries, the new designs were a lot more compact sets of concrete with terrazzo and mosaic finishes placed in a a raised pit of sand, had well defined boundaries. Perhaps I had by the time outgrown playing at the playground, but having spent most of my childhood climbing on metal waves and globes, swinging from swings suspended by long lengths of chains, and sliding down high steel slides, the new playgrounds offered  a lot less enjoyment to me.

The playground with Lorong 4, the Lorong 4 market, and Lorong 3 in the background (scan of a postcard courtesy of David Jess James - On a Little Street in Singapore).

The playground I derived the most pleasure from – the one in front of Block 53 Toa Payoh when I lived there (scan of a postcard courtesy of David Jess James – On a Little Street in Singapore).

The last pelican which has been demolished.

The last pelican which has been demolished.

From the animals of the early 1980s, the designers explored fresher themes during a two year period from 1983 to 1985. These efforts yielded designs which revolved around well-known fables such as the tortoise and the hare and also familiar local objects such as kampung houses and trishaws. It was from the next creative wave from 1986 to 1990 that the bumboat was designed. One of 23 designs from the period, the bumboat was one of several which included a kelong designed to represent elements of our multi-racial heritage – the bumboat a representation of Chinese heritage (the twakows were wooden boats used by Chinese traders to carry goods from the ocean-going ships anchored in the inner harbour to warehouses up river).

JeromeLim 277A9573

JeromeLim 277A9567

The period also yielded other rather interesting designs which included those which revolved around nursery rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty and the  Old Woman who lived in a Shoe; popular childhood games such as snakes and ladders; designs inspired by fruits and vegetables such as the watermelon, mangosteen, pineapple, mushroom and egg plant; and also insects such as ladybirds. A few of these can still be found including a watermelon and mangosteen in Tampines and a double clock in Bishan. Other interesting structures put up during the time included everyday objects, of which the clock is one example, a telephone, a lorry, and not so common (at the time) items such as a bullock cart.

The passing of time. A last clock stands in Bishan.

The passing of time. A last clock stands in Bishan.

During the same period, attempts were also made to provide the newer estates being built with their own identity. Playground designs were also selected for new towns on the basis of this identity. An example of this is the use of fruits and vegetable themed playgrounds in Choa Chu Kang – developed from what was a rural and farming area of Singapore. While the selection of playgrounds were very much left to the architects responsible for the designs of each neighbourhood, an attempt was made to allow for some variety across each estate in which playgrounds were distributed such that there was one for every 400 to 800 dwelling units by limiting the use of any design to maximum of five per estate.

The more complete face - with the hands intact.

The more complete face – with the hands intact.

The death knell for many of the homegrown playground designs was probably sounded with the advent of modular play equipment in the 1990s. This, coupled with safety concerns raised by a Canadian playground safety expert which followed an incident in 1993 in which a five-year old boy had his thumb severed whilst sliding down a poorly maintained metal slide in an older playgrounds (fortunately his thumb could be reattached) saw a change in direction on the part of the HDB. While there was probably a conflict of interest on the part of the expert who also represented a Canadian modular play equipment manufacturer, the safety concerns could not be ignored.

The watermelon.

The watermelon.

While some of the older playgrounds were upgraded to improve their safety including having sand pits which were thought to be too shallow replaced with rubber mats which provided a soft landing, a massive wave of upgrading efforts which swept through many of the older HDB estates in the 1990s and 2000s did see many of these playgrounds demolished in favour of modular equipment which were also a lot easier to maintain and the population of the distinctive mosaic faced structures dwindled over time to the handful we find today.  Although there is hope that at least one, the dragon of Toa Payoh (see news report dated 19 May 2013)  will be kept for some of us to remember a time which will soon be forgotten, there probably is not much time left for some of the others for children of the 1980s and 1990s to catch the boat to bring them back to their childhoods (a dove, one of two that did remain, was very recently demolished) before these structures along with much that is familiar is erased from our ever evolving suburban landscape.

Mangosteen.

The mangosteen.


Old playgrounds:





Critically endangered

29 08 2013

With the recent death of the neglected but beautiful dove in the island’s west, there is only one that’s left to remember one of several terrazzo and mosaic creations that many who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s would have had fond memories of playing in. The dove, is one of several playground designs – the work of the Housing and Development Board’s Mr Khor Ean Ghee, with a uniquely and very distinctly Singaporean flavour that decorated Singapore’s public housing estates in the late 1970s and through the 1980s and 1990s.

Beyond a wall with decorative ventilation openings from a bygone era lies a critically endangered dove.

Beyond a wall with decorative ventilation openings from a bygone era lies a critically endangered dove.

The surviving dove at Dakota  Crescent.

The surviving dove at Dakota Crescent.

The dove at Dakota Crescent is one which although well worn and exhibiting obvious signs of age, is remarkably preserved – a testament perhaps to play structures put up in times when they were built to last. Still with its sand-pit, a feature of the playgrounds of  the era, it does also feature rubber tyre swings and a slide. There are several more of these structures left behind, including the well-loved dragon of Toa Payoh, which many hope will be preserved, not just to preserve the many memories there are of happy childhood moments, but also because they are structures which we can quite easily identify with Singapore, from a time when we did not yet forget to express who we are.

The dove's last surviving sibling was reduced to rubble very recently.

The dove’s last surviving sibling was reduced to rubble very recently.

What is also nice about the very last dove, is that it resides in a rather charming old neighbourhood, one Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) built flats which came up in the late 1950s, well before the dove was put there. The estate it is in, Kallang Airport Estate, was developed in the area at the end of the extended Kallang Airport runway – land which was freed after 1955, when the airport was closed. Some 21 seven-storey and 20 four-storey blocks were built from 1956 to 1959. The estate was officially opened in July 1958 and the cluster of flats the dove finds itself in the midst of, are amongst the few that have survived.

JeromeLim-9441

JeromeLim-9440

JeromeLim-9438

JeromeLim-9436

JeromeLim-9435

JeromeLim-9433

JeromeLim-9424


A quick glance around the dove

JeromeLim-9452

JeromeLim-9454-2

JeromeLim-9455-4





Final days for the dove?

20 08 2013

It does look as if the dove, on which I put in an entry on just last week (see: A dove that’s dying), may be in its final days. Work is commencing on a Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP)in the area it has resided in for some three decades or so and hoardings have already come up around what is one of two remaining dove playgrounds designed by Mr Khor Ean Ghee in Singapore. A notice relating to the work being carried out does not give any clues to the fate of the long neglected playground, other than stating “the upgrading works includes the construction of facilities such as Covered Linkways, Drop-off Points, Pavillion, Recreation Park, Playground, …”

20130820-091752.jpg

It would be a shame if the dove is indeed going as it does stand as a reminder of a significant point of time in the evolution of Singapore’s highly successful public housing programme. It also is one of the last of the much celebrated playgrounds built using Mr Khor’s uniquely Singaporean designs left for us to admire.

20130820-092241.jpg


Update on 21 August 2013

Work to demolish the playground commenced on 20 August 2013 …

s seen on the morning of 21 August 2013.

As seen on the morning of 21 August 2013.






Taming the elephant

19 08 2013

Photographs I took of another one of the surviving few mosaic and terrazzo playgrounds left in Singapore, one that is very well preserved and free of vandalism (probably because of its location at the Home Team NS Pasir Ris Chalets). The playground is another one of the series of playgrounds designed by Mr Khor Ean Ghee that has a very uniquely Singaporean flavour.

277A9496

277A9476

277A9485

277A9490

277A9500

277A9502

277A9503

277A9505

277A9510

277A9521

277A9537








%d bloggers like this: