Here There Be A Dragon

Singapore has more playgrounds that I can count — given that over 80% of the population lives in government housing, and all of the housing buildings (HDBs) have playgrounds nearby, the number must be in the hundreds. Most of the playgrounds are quite simple, such as this one, which I walk through ever day on my way to and from work:

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Some of Singapore’s playgrounds, however, are far more elaborate; there are playgrounds with fruit statues and playgrounds with airplanes, playgrounds with water parks and playgrounds with pirate ships. One of the newest playgrounds in town has 26 slides. But the most iconic playground, built in 1979, has a mosaic dragon:

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This is the dragon playground atĀ Lorong 6 in Toa Payoh. In Singapore, it’s famous. Everett, Anna and I paid it a visit last weekend:

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I have been fascinated with this dragon and its history for some time now. In the 1970s, with more young families moving into larger blocks of publicly-funded housing, the government here decided to start building more playgrounds — one for every 600 to 800 HDB flats. As these evolved, the government started a program of creating playgrounds with Asian designs and themes in order to reinforce people’s sense of cultural identity. It was in this spirit that the famous dragon playgrounds of Toa Payoh (there used to be several), inspired by dragons of Chinese art, were born.

As you can see, there’s a full dragon here. The head is made of ceramic tiles, the spine is an open walkway, and the whole thing sits in a sand pit.

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The head has two faces…

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… and you can peek out of the eyes:

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But the best part are the two slides at the bases of the sides of the dragon’s head:

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Three of the four of us attempted to go down this slide with varying degrees of success (no one loved it — concrete, it turns out, does not make the best slide material):

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We also enjoyed the extra-springy horse that sat somewhat randomly at the dragon’s base:

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What’s wonderful about this playground is that it’s entirely home-grown. While nearly every playground today is built from modular plastic somewhere overseas, this playground was dreamed up and built right here in Singapore — in fact, we even know the name of its designer, Khor Ean Ghee.

I also love that this one is still standing. Most of the other concrete playgrounds from the 1970s (whose central themes included, among other things, a pelican, a rickshaw, and a bumboat) have either been demolished or are on the chopping block. The reason? Safety — it turns out that open metal rings and giant slabs of concrete aren’t a great match for small people who are easily prone to falling over. I’m glad that this one is still here.

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