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The 60s meets the future; Tiger Balm Gardens, Singapore

October 23, 2012

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.”

I explained the nature of my quest and once convinced that I was not to be deterred she counselled me not to be “too disappointed” and not to go at night as its “really creepy.”

“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.

Just inside is where this lovely picture of my Grandmother was taken, it’s still pretty much the same just more garish and with a lot more greenery!

Just inside this grand entrance is the old ticketing area. Since tickets are no longer necessary it is now derelict.

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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2012 12:22 pm

    This series is just brilliant.

  2. October 23, 2012 12:52 pm

    What a sad story. The new paint job has clearly not done the place any favours, but that said I am sure that it would be far worse if something had not been done. I am however now slightly confused. I had always thought that the gardens were on the coast and that you could see the sea from the grounds. I suppose the key contributor to this belief is the picture of mum sitting on the wall with the ocean based horizon coming in at her neck height. From what you have said about trading estates I now can not make any sense on that picture in terms of its perspective.
    I also don’t know if you are just teasing or whether it has actually gone, but the snake pit, so vivid in my memories, is not shown. It was directly under the pagoda with the Budha on the top. You can just see the head of a huge blue snake, at the bottom of the original picture of pagoda. Is it that the citizens of Singapore have got fed up with snakes or have you just had enough of them.
    Something that there are no pictures of, but I remember being discussed is that there were also models of scenes of torture there for your entertainment. Oscar mentioned that he remembers similar scenes in Melaka. I suppose it is really no different from people going to things like “The London Dungeon” these days. Having posted pictures of mermaids do I take it that the place has been sanitized. I believe that the torture scenes and the snake pit were supposed to be representations of hell and designed to make sure a wayward population stayed on the straight and narrow.

  3. October 23, 2012 4:25 pm

    I also believe this place is a bit creepy. But your pictures 50 years old later are incredible 🙂 Thanks to share these thoughts 🙂 Antoine

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