Great World Amusement Park, 1956
Great World City, 2006
It is a total physical and visual transformation; a phenomenon of reconstruction which has been sweeping over Singapore for the past three decades or so. The landscape of modern Singapore is ever-changing, ever-evolving - a visual yardstick of economic progress in all the big cities of the world.
Great World holds fond memories for me as a young street urchin of Bukit Ho Swee some fifty years ago.
As an 11-year-old who grew up in Havelock Road in the 1950s, I was then attending Delta Primary School. Great World could be seen from the top of the “crooked bridge” (“Khiow Ku Keo” in Hokkien) behind the school. The “crooked bridge” was actually formed by the bent arch of the huge water pipeline running from the Johor causeway.
My first visit to Great World was with my mother during the December school holidays when I was in Primary 5. The amusement park was very crowded during the “Trade Fair”, an event which is usually held to coincide with the mid-year and end-year school holidays.
Whenever a Trade Fair was held, a ray of white light will be beamed from Great World into the night sky and could be seen from miles away.
New “Made-in-Singapore” products were launched at the Trade Fair; with special offer and free gifts. I vividly remembered an Indian sales promoter who delivers his sales pitch and wisecracks over the loud-hailer in fluent Hokkien. Another gimmick which attracted the crowd at the exhibition stalls was when the advertising products were thrown into the air and everyone tried to grab for these free stuff.
There were 4 cinemas in Great World – Sky, Globe, Atlantic and Canton, all owned by the Shaw cinema magnates. Sky (see photo - right) and Globe screened films in English while the shows in Atlantic (see photo - middle) and Canton (see photo - bottom) were usually in Mandarin or Cantonese.
There were times when Atlantic would screen 2 “third-run” Chinese films for the price of 50 cents during day shows. I have watched most of the “kungfu” films during these matinee shows. “Third-run” means that these films have been screened in the major cinemas in town as new or “first-run” films several months earlier at “first-run” ticket price of $2.50 each.
Movie-watching was my favorite pastime during my childhood days in Bukit Ho Swee. I would save my daily pocket money of 10 or 20 cents for these occasional treats. I spend money only on the show tickets; no tidbits, drinks or bus-fare as Great World was within walking distance from my home in Havelock Road.
The amusing stuff of Great World as an amusement park are the kiddie joy rides (outdated compared to the funland machines today). The “ghost trains” was most popular. (It was not scary at all because the ghost effigies were made of papier-mache and attendants were walking around the “ghost town” to push the carts which are jammed in the rail). The ride will only frighten those who kept their eyes closed; not those who dare to open their eyes throughout the ride and found it fun and amusing.
There were also the carousel, merry-go-round aeroplanes, mini roller-coaster, and motor-engine operated joy rides with simple, unsophisticated designs and features. The rides were usually priced at 20 or 30 cents each.
I will always remember my first toy race-car ride at Great World one night when I was 12. I bent my mouth so close to the steering wheel of the race-car that when there was a collision with another car, my front teeth was hit. The gap between the top row of my middle teeth was chipped (a dentist will be able to describe it in less words) and it gradually decay and that was how I lose my teeth one night in Great World. It taught me something about safe driving. I will also be skipping Formula 1 in Singapore next year because of this one bad experience as a childhood racer.