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Travel, Singapore

Lee Jian Xuan
Sunday, May 18, 2014

Travel, Singapore

Chinese Gardens' faded glory

The Straits Times | Lee Jian Xuan | Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Chinese Garden sees scores of foreign workers having picnics and taking photos on weekends. Once, a popular tourist destination in the 1970s and 1980s, it has now become a relic, sanded by time and decay, even as surrounding Jurong has advanced.

The heady climb up the seven-storey pagoda at the Chinese Garden yields a bird's-eye view of Jurong.

At your feet, a blanket of greenery curling around Jurong Lake. To the east, condominiums and Housing Board flats; to the north, the factories and power plants that populate Jurong Industrial Estate.

But what also catches the eye is the graffiti on the walls of the pagoda. The roof beams sag, and there are tiny cracks in the walls.

"No one comes here any more. Why would they come here when there are attractions like Gardens by the Bay around?" said a 59-year-old part-time vendor, who sells potato chips and soft drinks at the entrance. He gave his name only as Mr Lee, saying he used to be an art designer.

Once a popular tourist haunt in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese Garden is seldom promoted as an attraction now and is deserted on most days, save for the odd runner.

Earlier this month, its caretaker, JTC Corporation, said it had planned a long list of refurbishment works for Chinese Garden, including architectural repairs and new paint.

Designed by prominent Taiwanese architect Yu Yuen-chen, Chinese Garden was touted as "Singapore's architectural pride" when it opened in 1975, a phoenix risen from what used to be marshes and swamps.

It drew many visitors from near and far, as well as couples taking wedding pictures.

Office clerk Judith Tan, 47, who took her wedding photos at Chinese Garden in 1989, said: "Back in those days, there weren't many places as scenic as Chinese Garden." Her elder sister also had her wedding shoot there.

Chef Benton Toh, 52, a Taman Jurong resident who jogs at the park, compared Chinese Garden to Haw Par Villa, a tourist attraction at Pasir Panjang.

He said: "In the '80s, this used to be a big attraction like Haw Par Villa, you know? "They had these $3 tours for Singaporeans to come here and visit. Then you could sit around and have picnics by the lakes." Chinese Garden's bamboo groves, bonsai gardens and Song Dynasty-style architecture made it a filming spot for local martial arts dramas in the 1980s and 1990s, recalled visitors such as freelance photographer Kelvin Ong, 30.

One such pugilistic drama was Men Of Valour, broadcast in 1986, about Song Dynasty Chinese general Yue Fei. It starred veteran actors Xiang Yun, Chen Liping and Chen Tianwen.

Cut to today and boards have gone up and the shutters have come down at its Stone Boat building, which used to house eateries.

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