Monday, 20 April 2015

Life of Dragon Kiln in the Jungle

It has been decades ago since I stepped into the jungle and the forests, where my late grandma's villages (built on 1940s) used to be, back in 1970s when I was a kid. My mum lived with her late mother (my late grandma-China b.1912-1999)'s villages when she was a baby. My late grandma's villages comprised four wooden houses side by side on the hill and surrounding the forests, lived with 16 children at that time when they were young. I was used to be Kampong Kid whenever my family and I visited my late grandma's kampongs during school holiday terms. 
Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle  (signboard)
As I stepped onto the jungle as I travelled back on time machine, I would be happy to see the life of the spirit kampongs. Their kampong houses are the exactly the same as my late grandma's house that were built wooden and flooring were made of stone-based. I am glad to see the living hall of their kampong are very much the same.
Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle
Well, I was eager to see the jungle where the Dragon Kiln is and their kampong life. Yesterday, my hubby and I joined the group conducted by Chinese Heritage Centre. I was told from my childhood friend who owns travel agency that she usually brings her guests/tourists in a group on her own company transport to Dragon Kiln in Singapore based on her work schedule in the afternoon on weekdays.
Golden Vase 
Have you notice the huge "Golden Vase" stands tall without everyone's notice, just a distance away from the entrance of the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle where the vehicles parked. It looks sparking when the sun shines and sadly some the scales of the vase peeled off or washed off. Such a beautiful sight and yet realistic looking.
Various types of Vases and Pots
 As we entered the entrance, we are surrounded by various of vases, pots and others of different sizes and shapes lying around the premises as if it had been there for so long. I was delighted to see a huge pot (photo above) on the foreground as I would remember that I used to bath with it as a kid in the kampong days and also at old HDB flat in 1970s till 1980s. Such a beautiful sight to see all the vases and pots.
Goddess of a vase
As I was wondering how could the lying vases as well as pots on the ground, would be taken care of on days and nights when the owners of the Thow Kwang are busy giving the lessons to the new artists members or groups in the hall or the events held at their premise. That is where I saw a Goddess of a vase stands under the tree facing from the entrance to the jungle. Legends has it, the house owner has to pray to a Goddess of a vase for protection and safety of the surrounding premise and their earthen wares and vases. It is either carved from limestone or were made of pottery, I wonder. I was told by my mum that she left a bottle of wine outside her door that she bought from Duty Free shop while on holiday. She forgot about this  after she went in. Later at night, her house God told her in her sleep that her item is lost. Out of sudden and fear, she woke up and hastily looked around the house and wondered what was it. Then she opened the door and saw a bottle of wine on the ground left outside the door for the whole late night. No one dared to steal it because her house God has taken care of. And she thanked to her house God and that was happened two years ago.
Ms Tan giving a Talk
Ms Tan gave a talk about the transformation of the Dragon Kiln and how a Pottery is made. It was indeed interesting and yet to learn more the life of the family of Thow Kwang, and how they coped the area of the living with Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln after the whole families settled in Singapore in 1965 from China. Thow Kwang was founded in 1965 by Tan Kim Seh and family. They were involved in the production of pottery wares.
Clay pot before firing
Ware after firing
Thow Kwang imports and exports a wide range of decorative and ceramics wares and has collaborated with renowned Asian potters to produce commissioned porcelain works. They provide pottery-making workshops and dragon kiln tours for all ages, young or old alike.
Pottery Workshop - Hand-making
There is a workshop for potters who join the lessons of 'Hand-making" pottery in action. They use their bare hands of making their pot, vase, cups and others. Even the children enjoy their making 'drinking' cups of their own bare hands, so the adults too.
All races of potters
As they are so engrossed on their pottery making with their bare hands and they enjoyed their class of merry making of pottery.
Hand-Made pottery without potter-wheel
The pot aka 'drinking' cup with a handle was done by teenage artist relaxes on doing his own clay cup (above photo). Once this clay cup is completed and leave it on the shelves to be ready to be fired in the Dragon Kiln.
Head of Dragon Kiln/front of firing chamber
Built in 1940s, 73- year old Thow Kwang's Dragon Kiln is one of the oldest surviving brick-built kilns in Singapore for wood-firing. The magic of wood kiln is that pots and wares are engulfed in a river of fire and the ashes reach with glaze to produce various colours and textures, thus producing unique piesces unlike firing by as and electric kilns nowadays. This 73-year old of Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln has been sitting quietly, waiting for them to stoke its fire.
Dragon Kiln Belly
The belly of the dragon contains many tales and memories. The dragon kiln stands as a lasting testament to a centuries-old tradition of wood-fired kiln technology originally developed by potters in China. Its presence today in Singapore as a reminder of the entrepreneurial spirit of Singapore's migrant forefathers. The dragon kiln is a perfect legacy of a family trade started by Tan Kin Seh and now managed by the second generation headed by Tan Teck Yoke. In the 50 years under Thow Kwang care, the kiln has produced different types of earthenware and domestic pottery ware. The changing production is a reflection of the changing state of industry and consumer taste in Singapore as well as internationally abroad.
Mr Tan Teck Yoke on the Potter Wheel
Mr Tan on his art work of a clay vase on the potter wheel and carefully touched the vase while the spinning wheel is on going round non-stop.
Main Chamber of Dragon Kiln
Thow Kwang dragon kiln is 40 metres in length and 5 metres in width and contains three main parts - a front firing chamber, the main chamber (above photo) where ceramic pieces to be fired are placed and a chimney at the tail end where smoke is emitted.
Ceramic wares to be placed inside
Front Chamber of Dragon Kiln (inside)
Corner end of Dragon Kiln chamber (inside)
Hole of Dragon Kiln
Dragon kiln has 17 holes throughout the entire length of its body called stoke holes which the kiln operator uses during firing for observation and feeding of wood fuel. Its head is 1.2 metres tall and its tail rises to 2.6 metres tall, giving it the posture of a crouching dragon. Such a kiln design uses hot rising air to keep the top part of the kiln hot and dry and ensures that its moisture from pieces to be fired is removed.
Front Firing Chamber
Ashes Inside firing Chamber
I heard that they set up prayer spot in front of the Head Dragon Kiln and put lots of incense papers and put joss-stick for prayer to the God Fire in order to go smoothly.
Burner prayer
Preparing offerings to the Dragon Kiln God aka Fire God is not an easy job for Thow Kwang family even though it is their traditional way to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
Mdm Tan and her family's humble house
Mdm Tan is 78 year old and lives with her five children for 50 years, Mdm Tan is the same age as my mum who is still doing her hairdressing business when she (my mum) was about 19 year old in 1950s. Mdm Tan told me that she started doing pottery when she was about 28 year old, up till now she is still going strong despite of her weak legs. She is now making some clay flowers of her free time.
Me and Mdm Tan 
I managed to find my way to her humble house where I saw her sitting on the chair, making clay flowers with her hands as I remember I saw her in the news in April 2015 not long ago. I recognised her instantly and I had a good chat with her as she is friendly and kind, just like my mum of the same age. Well, at first she didn't know of my age as she thinks I am still young. She couldn't believe it when I told her of my age, around the same age of her children. I am a 3rd generation when my late grandma was alive and now my grandma passed on and it's 5th generations. I saw her house full of clay flowers that made by Mdm Tan and her house and the living hall is the same as my grandma's house with a huge field and 4 wooden house side by side as I could remember.
Clay Flowers - After firing
Clay Flowers - Before firing
Clay Flowers - Before firing
These clay of flowers is done by "Elder" Mdm Tan and she loves making flowers of her own whenever she is bored and kept to herself busy while her children are working at the workshops.
General Steps in Pottery making
There are 4 general steps in pottery making:
1) Prepare the clay mixture
2) Shape the clay
3) Decorate and glaze the work
4) Fire the item in a kiln.
Presently, apart from producing and importing decorative products, the Thow Kwang Pottery has collaborated with renowned pottery and porcelain works in China and Taiwan to develop and transfer traditional and Chinese ceramic artistry to Singapore.
In the early days of Singapore, there was a brick factory in the Bukit Merah (Alexandra) areas. I recalled what my hubby told me that there was brick factory in early 1970s where he and his colleagues went to the brick factory to attend the workshop talks and how they made brick from mud and straw. And also, he attended the talks at the wood factory as well as Bata shoes factory too. It was indeed an educational for the industry staffs to know how it worked in the factory and its safety procedures.
Unique products and wares
There are various types of unique products, ceramic wares, mini-wares for sale too. I bought two colourful ceramic cups each $1 and I put it on my display shelves.
Thow Kwang Pottery's Poster
If you want to find out more informations about pottery making, workshops and tours. You can look up at Thow Kwang Pottery's website. The 2nd lessons of Goli makings in 12th Apr and 1st of May 2015 (12pm - 2pm)
Firing of Goli in the Dragon Kiln is on the 19th and 20th June 2015

No. 85 Lorong Tawas, Singapore 639823
Operating House: 9am - 5pm Daily
Tel: 6265 5808 / 6268 6121

DIrections to Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle
By Public Transport
Board bus 199 from Boon Lay Bus Interchange. Alight before Lorong Danau, Nanyang Avenue (Bus Stop 27171)
By Driving
Jalan Bahar Exit 36, keep left to Nanyang Ave, Keep left to Clean Tech Loop.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Transit Road in its Last Call

Transit Road to Nee Soon Camp
Gone were the days....fate in transit road was 'hit' hard to the owner of the shops in one 'last remaining' will be recorded in its history.
Transit Road in its heyday....remembering...the place Nee Soon camp is located opposite where my hubby and my younger brother were at Nee Soon Camp (BMT) in early 1970s and 1980s respectively. 
Nee Soon in its heyday... there was lined on both sides of the street with bars, nightclubs and rows of shops selling everything under the sun. There was also wooden huts (Nee Soon Villages) within the area at that time.
Last Remaining shophouses
The surrounding area in Nee Soon was once filled with servicemen hanging around the bars in Transit road till the British pulled out in 1971 while other NZ army stayed put till 1980s. In the late 90s, when the new SAF BMTC (Basic Military Training Centre) was opened at Pulau Tekong. All newly enlisted recruits were no longer trained at Nee Soon Camp thus the crowds passing through Transit Road became considerably lesser. The place in Nee Soon and transit road making a slow journey as times goes by....
Arson fire at shophouses
Credit: NewpaperSG - New Nation
There were also several fires along Transit Road in 1970s and 1980s. The huge fires burned down the majority of the shops on each side of Transit Road and wiped out many businesses thus never recovered well enough to relive their former glory.
But before that, there was also fire in 1977 swept through a row of shop-houses and wooden huts in Transit road, caused more than $1 million damages in goods and property. 33 people out of 12 families made homeless by the blaze that gutted 10 shops, 10 attap and wooden plank huts. The fire started at the electrical shop just next door to Yong Lee provision shop, Parisilk (lucky store) was situated at the end of the row and other shops that were not affected until when the 1st fire engine came in 30 mins and took sometime to locate the fire hydrant. By then the flames spread out the entire row of the shop-houses and behind the shops there were wooden huts (villages) caught fire as 3 more fire engines came. It took firemen to put out the fires in 4 long hours!
Parisilk Store
I heard the owners in the wooden shop-houses had been plying the trades since 1940s after WWII. The Pari Silk Store (now Parisilk Electronics and Computers Pte Ltd) set up its 1st store in 1952 at 22 Transit road which had been in operation over 6 decades, had another 2 shops (Central outlets) in 1980s and 1990s in Holland Village a few stones away from my place while two shops at East outlet and one at North outlet.
Hock Gift shop (two shops under roof)
The Hock Gift shop has been operating its business since 1979, their first shop - Chua Peng Hock Trading Co at Nee Soon Barrack (Nee Soon Camp), the shop sold tid-bits, cold drinks, plastic bags, army field camp products, provided sewing service, name tag embroidery, ID tag and name tag engraving then in 1984, it renamed to Hock Gift Shop. In 1991, the shop relocated at 21 Transit Road (two shops under one roof) just outside Nee Soon Camp till April 2015 and the shop incorporated as Hock Gift Shop Pte Ltd, relocated to Kaki Bukit road, Shun Li Industrial Park after the final closed at transit road. Hock Gift Shop has another unit next door - Embroidery Machines and engraving system for pouches, badges as well as gift items.
Badges and others
Drawing of Hock Gift Shop
A piece of drawing paper of Hock Gift shop pasted on the glass panel of the shop.
Danny Tattoo Art
Passing by at Danny Tattoo Art which is located next door from Hock Gift shop. This shop is founded in 1950s, this tattoo business was started by the late Johnny Gurkha during the British Occupation in Sg, located in Transit Road, nearby Nee Soon Camp which was formerly known as School of Basic Military Training (BMT). During the 1950s to the 1970s, their customers were mostly former servicemen; consisting of mainly British stationed in Singapore's military bases. After the passing of Johnny Gurkha in 1976, Danny (also known as Ramlal),19, was his successor and took over the business. Since then, he has been working for over 30 years in Transit Road with many regular customers. Danny's Tattoo Art has relocated at 110 Owen Road, and has been running the tattoo business there and the nearest Mrt -  Farrer Park Exit D.
Rambo Gift Store
While other shops... 7-eleven and Rambo Gift Store also moved out and they will not continue their business as they have been around for over 30 years.
Forest Hills Condo@transit Road
After an hour, my hubby and I walked around at Forest Hill Condo close to Nee Soon Camp. He talked about his army days in Nee Soon camp in 1970s. He and his platoon mates were lucky to have their bunk, no windows but has aircon in their room. Really? I said to him. Then I laughed. So good to you and your platoon we continued to walk as he talked... So anyone or you had your luck to the 'aircon' room?
Our journey will end when the last remaining shophouses will torn down at the end of this month to make way for development of condominium.