Sunday, June 01, 2008
Dragon Kiln & Pottery Jungle
There is a wonderful place hidden away down a bumpy bush lined road which in my opinion is a must see if you're looking for off-the-beaten-track Singapore. Or good, inexpensive pottery. It's called the Dragon Kiln & Pottery Jungle and is located in the west of the island just off the Jalan Bahar exit from the PIE. I first discoverd this place a few months ago but had Carl in tow and believe me, small children and towering stacks of breakable pottery don't mix, so it was a brief visit. Determined to return however, I gathered up a couple of girlfriends and headed off in the car. This is a place you can't really get to with public transport which may explain why hardly anybody seems to have heard of it.
As you enter the property the first thing you see is a huge expanse of pots spread out across what would be a big carpark if there was any room for cars left! Pots of every size and colour, from little tubs to huge pots you could house a small family in; whatever you want, its here and in 20 different colours. This display is just to get your interest piqued because the real draw is inside the sprawling complex of slightly ramshackle buildings nearby.
You first walk past the Dragon Kiln, a traditional Chinese 44 m long brick and earth structure that runs along the ground, slightly uphill. A fire is lit at the bottom end and the heat and smoke go through the kiln to exit at the other end. Temperatures reach up to 1400C! The Jalan Bahar kiln is one of the two remaining dragon kilns in Singapore. In the 1960s and 70s, it was used to fire latex cups for the surrounding rubber plantations, flower pots and other items, but fell into disrepair when demand for these items dropped. With the help of the National Heritage Board, Singapore Tourism Board and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, the Dragon Kiln was rescued and brought back to life in September 2006. These days it's only fired up once a year to demonstrate how it works. It must be impressive and incredibly uncomfortable to be near.
After the kiln its time to wander through the Pottery Jungle, a huge maze of pottery and ceramics from all over Asia (mostly China) covering every conceivalbe different style of pot. Traditional blue and white constrasts with modern swirls of vibrant reds and yellow; ginger jars and rice pots vie for attention with modern vases and abstract decorative pieces. Figurines, platters, bowls, fountains, foot stools, animals, wall panels, vases, urns and even complete outdoor picnic table and chair sets...all made from pottery in a thousand different hues. As you wander from one open-sided barn to the next you start to wonder if the collection will ever end. You'll soon spot the resident monkeys scooting around the beams in the roof. And yes, apparently they do break the pottery sometimes. One of the staff there told us that the monkeys "can be very naughty sometimes". Hopefully they don't actually hurl the pieces at hapless customers below!
It's an incredible place and what makes it even more appealing is that, for the most part, the pottery is quite inexpensive. What I would call the more contemporary collection of tall red/blue/yellow hued pieces were quite pricey but I picked up a traditional rice urn (to be used as a potato jar as it will provide cool dark storage) and a huge platter perfect for a pavlova or fruit or even a big salad, for just $35 each .
The staff are very pleasant and keen to answer questions. The lady who helped us was quite knowledgable about the origin of the various pieces we were interested in. Inevitably with such a huge open set up the pottery can be quite dusty, but you have to remember that a quick wipe down is all it takes to reveal the beauty beneath. This is no high street store; comfy shoes are recommended to navigate the dirt or wooden steps and pathways. We spent two hours there in the end, revived half way by bottles of chilled mineral water provided for free by the staff, a nice touch which was certainly appreciated.
My one splurge was the lamp which I bought hubby as an anniversary present, and obviously I'm not going to reveal what that cost! But it is beautiful. An air-conditioned room is stuffed with dozens of differnt lamps and lampshades, protected from the humidity by the cimate control. I've tried to photograph it but actually it's come out a bit dark; the red and blue is brighter than shown here but you'll get the idea. With typical Dutch reticence hubby's response was "hmmmmm................it's very big". I think that means he likes it.