Finally, Singapore’s Botanic Gardens is now listed as one of the Unesco World Heritage Sites, a first for the nation. However, what does this mean for us locals who have been enjoying and growing up with the Botanic Gardens as part of our memory?
When I was little, my dad brought us siblings to visit the Botanic Gardens a few times. There were a lot of monkeys in the garden during those days and I was even chased by a monkey once. Nowadays, you hardly see a lot of monkeys in the garden which could also be a good thing. This prevents visitors from feeding the monkeys and conditioning these monkeys to depend on human for food and turning them into nuisance chasing and harassing visitors in the park as well as to those who live near the Botanic Gardens.
When I grew older, I began visiting the Botanic Gardens on my own and sometimes with my brother to catch fighting spiders among the shrubs near some tall bamboo shoots. During my early teens, I also used to wake up early around 5 am to jog from where I lived in Bukit Ho Swee area to the Botanic Gardens. I loved the fresh air and the beauty of the park and was never tired of jogging to the Botanic Gardens to have a short walk in the park before heading home. There were times when it rained, I had to take shelter at the hawker centre outside the Botanic Gardens.
Then during my school days, I was a member of the Junior Flying Club where I spent most of my time at the club house in Holland Road, my friends and I used to walk down to the hawker centre for a meal outside the Botanic Gardens where we affectionately named BG, not the famous pop band the Bee Gees, though we listened to their songs and survived the era of the Saturday Night Fever with this group. Incidentally a few year back when I last visited the souvenir shop in the Botanic Gardens, they were playing a Bee Gees’ song of the seventies and I was instantly transported back to my school days reminiscing those nostalgic days of innocence and joy.
There was once it rained so hard when my friends and I were at the Junior Flying Club house and the whole place was flooded. We were soaking wet by the time we reached the hawker centre outside the Botanic Gardens. The lakes in the garden of course overflew and a lot of fish escaped. There were plenty of fish in the drain along Holland Road to Napier Road all the way down to Tanglin Road and then to Orchard Road. Even a few days later when we walked down to the hawker centre, we saw a guy simply putting in a small fishing line with a hook into those small holes on the sides of the drain and out came a long eel.
Having grown up and settled down and with children studying in the Bukit Timah area and Anderson road nearby, I used to send my children to school very early in the morning everyday. Some days, I would just drive to the Botanic Gardens for a walk and jog after sending the children to schools. It would still be dark when I arrived and it would very bright by the time I left the garden.
The Botanic Gardens was an interesting sight in the morning. Besides joggers and walkers, there were different groups of people exercising at different parts of the park and some with musical accompaniment and another group holding swords. You might be mistaken you had gone into a park in China but the sword exercise in the midst of the beautiful park was indeed compatible and in fact quite lovely as well.
I often saw a woman near to middle age who would walk backwards swinging her arms up and down on a path back and forth singing loudly Chinese village songs for all to hear. Another middle age man while walking would likewise let loose his vocal chords to wake up all and sundry in the garden. No one was complaining though and this was the unique scene of the Botanic Gardens in the morning, a little different version of the song ‘In The Morning’ by the Bee Gees.
The Garden is very well kept and the air is very fresh. The lakes in the garden also provide a very nice and refreshing sight in the park. The trees, the plants and flowers and the iconic circular shelter in the park cover quite a large area in the city, which is a very much needed green belt to the surrounding high rise buildings in town.
Those who love photography would find this place a paradise for their indulgence. I once ran into some students from my elder daughter’s school from the photography club having a field day in the garden with their school teacher in charge snapping away happily.
With the children now all grown up, I hardly stepped into the Botanic Gardens anymore. There is a lovely cafeteria in the garden as well as another food court at the main entrance along Cluny Road. The gardens are still what it used to be, full of history and nostalgia for some of us.
Access to the gardens is now possible with the circle line on the MRT system besides buses for those who don’t drive. There are also live music performances every now and then during the weekends so a visit to the Gardens might not be a bad idea.
By the way, my wife and I had our wedding pictures taken in the Botanic Gardens more than two decades ago. Since the Botanic Gardens is now listed as an Unesco World Heritage Site, a visit to this attraction would be in order. We can always head down to Orchard Road for a meal and shopping after our visit.
So congratulations to the Botanic Gardens and to all those who make things happen over there keeping our heritage alive. Well done!