Off The Beaten Track #9: Bidadari Memorial Garden

When we first started geo-caching our very first geo-cache was in the fork of a tree in the middle of a vast open field. It was criss-crossed with footpaths and had lots of big established shady trees and I didn’t for one second stop to wonder about how unusual it was that there was so much empty land in a country where empty land just doesn’t happen!

It turns out that the geo-cache was in the land once occupied by Bidadari cemetery. The cemetery opened in 1907 and when it closed for burials in 1972 over 147000 Christians, Muslims and Hindus were buried there. In 1996 the site was targeted for housing development and the exhumation of graves took place between 2002 and 2007. The development of Bidadari Estate should start in the next twelve months.

DSC01003The original gates of Bidadari Cemetery and 21 headstones were moved onto a new patch of land behind Mount Vernon Sanctuary, but will be moved to a new location once the housing on the old cemetery grounds is completed.

We’ve been having a bit of a drought in Singapore with no decent rain for at least 6 weeks, so the garden was not as lush and green as it would normally be but it was still a lovely, peaceful place. The gates are very impressive and the grounds are extremely well maintained with lots of information boards from the Singapore Heritage Board detailing the history of Bidadari.

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Singapore Heritage Board information board.

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The tombstone of Koona Vayloo Pillay.

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Muslim grave markers.

DSC00987 DSC00998 DSC01002Bidadari Memorial Garden is currently located on Mount Vernon Road. The gates are open daily and entry is free.

* information taken from The National Heritage Board website.

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Off The Beaten Track #8: Old Christian Cemetery

The Old Christian Cemetery isn’t strictly off the beaten track as it’s in Fort Canning Park. If you’ve been to a concert or a play at Fort Canning Park then you’ve visited the Old Christian Cemetery, as it’s now called Fort Canning Green.Fort Canning Green (2)

The area was used as a Christian cemetery from 1822 until 1865. By the 1950s most of the graves were in bad shape due to the harsh Singapore climate and it was decided to turn the area into a park. By 1954 most of the headstones had been removed and set into the brick wall that surrounds the area. A few were moved to the Armenian Church on Hill Street.*Fort Canning Green (10)

Interestingly, I canonly find references to the gravestones and memorials being removed and none that indicate the graves themselves were exhumed. Something to think about when you’re dancing along to Rick Astley at Retrolicious!

I visited the Cemetery on a weekday morning during a freaky bout of cool, breezy and low humidity weather and enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the wall. The inscriptions on the headstones look like they have been touched up at some stage and I’m not sure about whether this will help Fort Canning Green (12)to preserve them or not.

A you’d expect in Singapore the deceased cover a varied number of nationalities and it seems that a large proportion died at sea, with many monumnets erected by their fellow sailors. The inscriptions are brief and most seem far younger than I expected. Although life expectancy was shorter in the nineteenth century than it is today I assume that it was even shorter for Europeans who recently arrived in Singapore and were being newly exposed to tropical diseases.

Fort Canning Green (14)In the top left corner as you’re looking at the Fort Canning Centre there’s a large monument to James Brooke Napier, the infant son of Willam Napier and Maria Frances Napier. Nearby are two cupolas which were designed by G.D. Coleman, who was the first husband of Maria Frances Napier, was Singapore’s first architect and was buried within the cemetery.Fort Canning Green (3)

At the bottom end of the green (at the rear of the National Museum of Singapore) there’s a collection of 12 tombstones. I have no idea if this was where they were originally placed, although I suspect that they were moved here when the cemetery was cleared. Again, the deceased are from a variety of countries originally and the inscriptions reflect this given the different languages they are written in. The tombs also serve as a reminder of the changing attitudes to both death and monuments since the nineteenth century.

Fort Canning Green (a.k.a. The Old Christian Cemetery) is in Fort Canning Park. Entry to the green is via either of the Gothic Gates on Canning Rise. Entry is free.

References:

Chua, A. (2010), Fort Canning Cemetery, retrieved from http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1685_2010-07-14.html

Off The Beaten Track #7: Old Malay Cemetery

Firstly, I feel I need to clarify exactly what I mean when I say “Off The Beaten Track” – it’s not on the usual short-term tourist itinerary. If you google any of the places I’ve gone in the “Off The Beaten Track” series you’ll come up with scores of blog entries by other expats, but very few of these places would be visited by overseas tourists.

The Old Malay Cemetery is situated behind the Malabar Mosque in Kampong Glam, between Victoria Street and Rochor Canal Road. There’s actually two cemeteries here, and as there aren’t any signs you can distinguish the two by standing at the corner of Jalan Kubor and Victoria Street and facing the cemeteries. The one on your right is the Old Malay Cemetery and the one of your left is the Muslim Cemetery.

The Old Malay Cemetery dates back beyond 1836, when it’s mentioned in a map by J.B. Tassin who recorded it as “The Tombs of the Malayan Princes. The cemetery appears as though it is in ruins but you only have to spend a short time living in the tropics to realise that decay happens very fast in this climate, so it’s a testament to the people of Singapore’s hard work that the cemetery still exists. The grounds are looked after but it’s still a good idea to wear closed-in shoes as there is lots of leaf litter and the ground is quite spongy. Also, bring some insect repellant as there are plenty of flying critters around.

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One section of the cemetery is built on a platform which you reach vis a set of concrete stairs, and six headstones (or are they also footstones?) in the centre are draped with cloth. Apparently it is a Malay custom to drape headstones with cloth in order to keep the spirits in the ground. One website tells me that this was done by the homeless people living in the cemetery, but I can’t verify this. I imagine that the people buried up here are somehow different from those buried in the rest of the cemetery, so perhaps they are the tombs of the Malayan Princes?

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The Muslim Cemetery features the same small concrete stones that are in the Old Malay Cemetery, arranged in seemingly haphazard fashion. There are no orderly rows that you typically see in a Western cemetery, but both cemeteries are quite charming. However, the Muslim Cemetery hasn’t always been peaceful as it was the scene of a police shoot-out in the early 1970’s when two brothers involved in gun smuggling were cornered here by police. I was the only visitor the day I went, though!

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The Old Malay Cemetery is between Rochor Canal Road and Victoria Street and is intersected by Jalan Kubor. Coupon car parking is available on Jalan Kubor. Bugis is the nearest MRT station.

Off The Beaten Track #6: Sembawang Hot Spring

Singapore has a natural hot spring! Who knew?

I’ve been to hot springs before and they are typically teamed with “treatments” like massages and floatation tanks that cost a great wad of cash, but Singapore’s hot spring is free and very low-key. So low-key that there are no signs on the main road. The land that the hot spring is on belongs to the Sembawang Air Base but there’s a public walk way from Gambas Avenue to the spring, although there aren’t any signs on Gambas Avenue itself. Parking is about 400 metres away in the HDB’s on Yishun Ave 7.

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Walk down the pathway at this sign on Gambas Avenue, but do not wash your clothes, set up an ice cream stand, skateboard, litter (?), bring your dog or you bike/motorbike!

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Keep walking, you’re almost there!

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Once you see this sign you know you’ve made it.

The area is an open concrete space with three sets of taps and a brick pump house in the middle. There are lots of plastic chairs and buckets about so you just grab a chair, fill up a bucket and do your thing. Although you may need to wait awhile as the water is very hot, and if you use the set of taps in the middle of the area you’ll find that the water is at boiling point.

At one point while my friend and I were trying to put our sensitive feet into a bucket of piping hot water a local lady came over to gather more buckets, and she told us that she comes to bathe here every day. I tried to ask what were the benefits of bathing in this water but it got lost in the translation. A couple of friends and her were set up in the opposite corner to us and while they kept their clothes on they were washing their whole bodies and, I think, some clothes.

Apparently the water is safe to drink (or so the information sign says) but it has a very strong sulphur smell so i wasn’t tempted to try. It was an interesting and quirky adventure!

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Pumphouse

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Taps.

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Locals. The lady behind the granny trolley is sitting in her bucket.

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Ahhhhh…..

Sembawang Hot Spring is at Gambas Avenue, Sembawang.

Operating hours are 7am until 7pm.

Coupon parking is available at the HDB complex on Yishun Ave 7

Off The Beaten Track #5: Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club

I first heard about the “men with the caged birds on long sticks” soon after arriving in Singapore, and made a mental note to try to find them. A mental note that got misplaced, as mental notes are wont to do. However, the mental note finally reappeared and google located the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club despite my vague search terms.

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The Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club is located in a field between Block 159 on Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5 and the Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West. There’s plenty of coupon parking nearby and the Mayflower Market is also close.

People bring their caged birds to the field where they hoist them up 20-foot tall poles using a rope pulley. Apparently the walk to the field does the birds good as they have to grip their perches tight, and this helps to improve their fitness.

Although only about 50 or so of the hundreds of poles were being used when I visited on a weekday morning you couldstill hear the birds singing, and there were more free birds around than I’ve seen anywhere else in Singapore. I guess birds of a feather…….. The more the caged birds hang out with other birds the better they will sing, and presumably they’ll have a better chance of winning the regular competitions. I think weekend mornings are the busiest times (and during competitions) but it was still a very unique site on a quiet Wednesday morning. The bird owners hang their birds up and then retire to the shade to chat, and hang out.

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A forest of bird-cage poles.

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Poles.

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Hoisting the caged bird up.

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Fancy cage!

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I love the exactness of the poles positioning. Very precise!

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Singing birds.

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I wonder if it’s frustrating for the birds to see this much sky and not be able to fly?

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Chess and a lawn full of bird pole.

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The quieter part of the field.

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Taking his birds for a walk.

I’d fill you in on all the details about what sort of birds they have, but I’m not very knowledgeable/interested in birds so I have no idea! Some appeared to be dove-type birds, and others had a red  feathery spike on their heads but that’s all I know. Sorry!

Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club is at

the open field behind Block 159 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5.

Parking is by coupon and admission is free.

Off The Beaten Track #4: Kampong Buang Kok

Kampong Buang Kok (also called ‘The Last Kampong’ as it’s the last kampong left in mainland Singapore) has been on my Bucket List since I first heard about it a good two years ago.

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Before Singapore gave itself the mother of all makeovers in the 1960’s most of Singapore lived in kampongs, or villages. Most people in Singapore now live in the sky, with the majority living in HDB flats. There’s far too many people in Singapore to live kampong-style now, but the residents of Kampong Buang Kok are hanging on to their heritage and have thus far avoided being “developed”. I really hope that the Singapore government lets this kampong remain as it’s a very important piece of living history that gives visitors the chance to view a different way of life. A lifestyle that is miles away from the way most Singaporeans live. It would be a complete tragedy for Singapore if this place disappears.

I didn’t spend long at the kampong. There was a storm brewing, I was parked illegally on the road side and I felt like I was intruding even though a lovely resident told me it was perfectly fine to wander along the road that runs through the kampong. If you decide to visit you do need to be mindful that this place isn’t designed as tourist attraction. Real people live in these real houses and I personally think it’s good manners to ask the owners if you’re going to take snaps of their houses so I stuck to the public areas.

Although it’s only a very short walk from a cluster of towering HDB’s the vibe inside the kampong is like nothing I’ve felt anywhere in Singapore. It was quiet and peaceful and I can see why the residents choose to live there.

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Home made swing!

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The Last Kampong is on

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Look for the sign pictured in the first paragraph.

Off The Beaten Track #3: Japanese Cemetery Park

The Japanese Cemetery Park is hidden away in the back streets near to Yio Chu Kang Road. I doubt it will ever appear on any list of “Things to see and Do in Singapore” but it’s a really lovely and unusual place to visit.

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The Cemetery was founded in 1891 by a Japanese brothel owner named Tagajiro Fukaki,  providing a final resting place for young, destitute Japanese women. There are over 900 tombs or graves that are from the pre-war period, but there’s also the ashes of about 10000 Japanese people who died in Singapore during the Second World War. The grave of Field-Marshal Terauchi, who was the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in South-east Asia at the end of the war is one of the more notable Japanese people buried here. Over 200 executed war criminals are also buried in the cemetery.

The cemetery has had an interesting history. After the Japanese occupation of Singapore, and their eventual surrender, all Japanese people were repatriated and Singapore took ownership of the cemetery, with plans for all remains to be created and returned to Japan. This plan didn’t eventuate and in 1969 ownership was transferred to the re-formed Japanese Association. The last burial here took place in 1973.

I really enjoyed my wander through this memorial, although it was a spur of the moment thing and I wish I had known more about the history of the place before I went. The majority of the information signs are in Japanese so a bit of research before you visit is recommended.

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The Japanese Cemetery Park is at:

825B Chuan Hoe Ave, 549853

Gates are open between 7am and 7pm daily.

Admission is free.

Off The Beaten Track #2: Haw Par Villa

I mentioned in the last Off The Beaten Track installment that the Missies and I have started geo-caching, and the great thing about it is that it’s taken us to parts of Singapore that we normally wouldn’t visit or even have heard of.  Who knew there were hidden capsules all around the world??

Haw Par Villa has been on my “must see” radar for a while, but it’s not on the usual tourist list of things to see and do in Singapore so when I saw there was a geo-cache there I finally had the motivation to visit.  It calls itself a “theme park” but may be best described as a sculpture garden as there’s no thrill rides, which is what I generally associate with theme parks. It was originally known as “Tiger Balm Gardens”, as it was founded by the brothers who first started selling Tiger Balm. There’s around 1000 statues which all tell stories from Chinese mythology and folklore. There are information signs in Singapore’s 4 official languages in front of each diorama so that you can understand what’s happening.

I’m going to be honest – this place is odd! But in a completely fascinating and kitschy kind of way. It’s so bad that it’s good! A lot of the exhibits are showing wear but there were teams painting some displays and others had obviously been painted recently. In this humid climate painting is a never-ending task!

The prize exhibit is the Ten Courts of Hell. It’s pretty gruesome but no more so than the torture displays I’ve seen at Madame Tussaud’s and other Western tourist attractions.

I didn’t have enough time to stop and read all the information but it was a quirky way to spend an hour or so.

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Haw Par Villa

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Formerly called Tiger Balm Gardens

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People with duck heads.

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Hmmmm….

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Freshly painted display. All the better to see the hyena type creature biting off the boy’s leg.

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Mixed in with the macabre are cutesy characters that Asia seem to love.

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This one reminded me of the torture chamber at Madame Tussaud’s.

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*shudder*

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Ten Courts of Hell. Not for kiddies.

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Ouch.

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A woman breast-feeding her father-in-law. As you do.

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This is a bit Watership Down-ish.

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And the prize for the most out-of-place statue goes to The Statue of Liberty!

Haw Par Villa is at 262 Pasir Panjang Rd Singapore 118628.

Admission is free but parking is $5.

Opening hourse are between 9am and 7pm.

Off The Beaten Track #1: Turf City Junk Shop

I’ve been puzzled by the lack of second-hand/vintage/junk/charity/opportunity shops in Singapore. Prior to our move here I ran an online used book shop and spent a lot of time searching for treasures and love losing myself for hours in these kind of shops.

With Singapore’s fascination with “new” I had been kind of puzzled where does all the “old” go?

Thanks to a tip-off from my neighbour I found the mother of all second-hand shops! I’d tell you its name but I actually couldn’t find it anywhere and the guys working there that day and I had a few communication issues.  It’s at Turf City (now renamed The Grandstand) in Turf Club Road.  If you head along the road that runs to the Blue House International School and keep going you will come to some old stables that are full of stuff. That’s the shop!

I think there are two different shops here – the first stable has a sign saying “Antiques” and is full of really cool vintage stuff. I particularly liked a brown leather jacket which may have been a pilot’s jacket during a war as it had a series of bombs hand painted onto it. As someone who is fascinated in social history I imagine this is the airman’s way of keeping track of how many missions he flew. That’s the great thing about these sort of shops – creating an item’s history!

The rest of the stables is taken up by the unnamed junk shop and it’s HUGE! Nothing has been restored, there are no prices and nothing is ever dusted but (in my opinion) it’s incredibly cool. There’s no way to see everything so you may have to move stuff out-of-the-way to see things you’re interested in. I wanted to find the price of two items and the man took photos on his mobile and texted them to his boss, but his phone was playing up and couldn’t give me a price. *sigh* I guess I’ll just have to go back another day……

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The shop from the outside (and through my car windshield).

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Matchbooks

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Old sign. I’m guessing this company is no longer operational?

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Old toy plane.

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Vintage stereo.

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Jukebox!

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Freaky looking clown.

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Your own personal prayer thingy? And an opium pillow box. I like the juxta-position of these two things!

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It’s crammed!

Off The Beaten Track is a new blog post series that I’ll endeavour to update regularly.  The Missies and I have started geo-caching and it’s taken us to parts of Singapore we would never normally visit and its great fun!