The 60s meets the future; Tiger Balm Gardens, Singapore
One of the places I was most looking forwards to visiting in Singapore was the Tiger Balm gardens. This is because my favourite picture of my grandmother was taken there circa 1962 and therefore of all the locations in my family photographs that I needed to track down this felt like one of the most important. When I arrived at the hostel the owner pulled out a map and sketched walking routes and directions to the main attractions on there. “What I’d really like to visit is the Tiger Balm gardens,” I said. She made a face.
“Don’t go there, its old and creepy and far away from everything else.”
“When we are children,” she said, “we love to go there; it is like Disneyland. But now, no-one go.” I figured there was no time like the present and hopped on the underground. As advised, it took 2 changes and about and hour to get there, after the previous night’s fitful sleep on the overnight bus from Penang I was shattered and my head was dipping onto my chest on the train. When I finally emerged at Haw Par Villa the sky was a thunderous grey and a faint drizzle was falling on the industrial estates and warehouses that surrounded the entrance. I set off up the path and found the unmanned entrance to the Tiger Balm Gardens, two boys were playing in the entrance way and as I lined up my camera to replicate the picture above I realised that I had left my memory card back at the hostel with my computer. I decided that was a sign and returned to sleep away half the afternoon.
The next day I returned feeling much better about the world, the sun was shining and with my memory card was firmly in its slot.
As you can see, the biggest difference (asides from the lack of people) is all the trees which have grown up at the side. I assume this is to create a barrier between the park and the industrial estates and tower blocks next to it. You can still hear the traffic roaring past though.
I spent quite some time looking for this gorilla and when I finally tracked him down a few things were immediately obvious – one; he’s had a paint-job. Two; he’s been de-fanged like a pet-shop snake! Obviously they first tried to break the right fang off but broke a chunk of his teeth off instead so the second one they just filed down. The overall effect has been to leave him looking rather gummy and geriatric, I think he looks more like Grandpa Simpson than King Kong now which I suppose is appropriate considering the overall vibe of the place.
Here’s a few more pictures from around the park, overall it was a nice kitschy sort of place but a little sad, it seems to be the only thing in Singapore without a shining future. It has to be said that I never dreamed that I would find a place in gleaming glass and steel Singapore that reminded me quite so much of Barry Island. Next stop, Melacca.