It was an overcast, muggy sort of Saturday afternoon. The sun was trying, its rays muffled, reduced to just a dull,warm sensation by light grey clouds.
There wasn’t much to do; I was just idling around the heartlands, mindlessly browsing through the Chinese new year bazaars.
“What awesome weather for a walk,” as you’d hear quite a few Singaporeans comment, relieved to take a break from the usual beating hot sun.
And that’s exactly what happened. It was a spontaneous decision, and now a race against time to explore the Chinese Gardens before the sky begins to pour.
Conveniently located 5 minutes away from the train station (literally Chinese Gardens on the east-west line), I was able to arrive at the gardens in half an hour flat from the heartland of Serangoon.
As the train, which travelled above ground along a sky track, ventured out to further east of the island, tall buildings became fewer, broader, and land became more abundant.
By the time I’d arrived at Chinese Gardens station, I was standing in the middle of a spaciously large, green field. Feeling a little bit disorientated, I followed the sign and headed towards the gardens, thunder very softly clapping behind me.
The Chinese Garden is a precious, 13- hectare piece of land, filled with intricate replica of Chinese architecture from the Sung dynasty (960-1279AD). Cleverly designed by Taiwanese architect, professor Yuen Che Yu, this peaceful place allows one to be utterly whisked away to the Sung dynasty times- that is, the little corners of high rise HDB (government) flats peeking out behind picturesque scenery serving as the only reminder of reality and the 21st century.
I was greeted at the entrance by a long, wooden bridge lined with bright red railings, connecting civilised land and the other side over a large body of water, where the gardens lay.
(Now this bridge really resembled the one in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, where Chihiro crosses the bridge to the bathhouse. I also made the mistake of attempting to hold my breath while crossing the bridge as she did, and sputtering, gasping for air in front of the stall vendor selling drinks on the other side really wasn’t the best way to announce my arrival at the Chinese Gardens I tell ya)
I’d crossed the bridge into serenity. A 7 -storey pagoda stood majestically in the middle of the garden, a standing emblem surrounded by lucious greenery.
There was just something about this place that made your footsteps slow to a relaxing stroll, and your racing thoughts halt to a calm.
I was slowly sucked in, feet carrying me further. Along my left was Ixora Land, also home to statues of the 8 great heros of ancient Chinese culture.
I saluted Zheng He (郑和), navigator of the sea, whose wanderlust led to harmonious relationships between China and the West.
I observed Yue Fei (岳飞), loyally kneeled over in submission before the war, his mother burning words into the small of his back, a mark of courage on a soldier before his battle to come.
I smiled at MuLan (花木兰), the look of feminine determination and bravery in her eyes, her taut body disguised in bulky, masculine armour, arms equipped with a sword that would lead her people to safety.
Behind me, the clouds were darkening, and thunder protested, a louder clap this time. The breeze blew a little bit stronger behind me now, rebelliously urging me further in its direction.
I found myself wandering into an open door and into a courtyard of a wealthy, ancient Chinese teahouse. Its simple looking exterior was actually a maze on the inside; i’d crossed large holes in the walls into section after section, each showing me a different slice of Sung dynasty life- bonsais, plants, stone tables and chairs, ornaments.
I hadn’t realised how long it’d been since I had walked into the teahouse (was this how it was living in the past with little means of time keeping?) and it wasn’t until later that I came across what I assumed to be the main courtyard, holding a large pagoda suspended atop a stone waterfall.
I could smell the wet scent of a threatening thunderstorm, and felt the first few dots of drizzle from the sky. Unwilling to submit to natural elements, I took cover under a little side shelter that over looked the languid courtyard, resting myself on a small seat.
I watched as the clouds tinted the entire scene grey, powdered moisture beginning to fall thinly from the sky, leaving miniscule dark stains on the stone ground.
From the safety of my little seat, I watched as photographers and cosplay models scuttled into shelter, annoyed at the disturbance of their outdoor shoot.
Leaves rustled roughly in the background, huskily voicing the growing strength of the wind. The stone waterfall trickled rhythmically, it’s small, green bed of water rippling with drizzle from the rain.
I absorbed tranquil in the cool air, savouring every rare moment of peace I had to myself. Every now and again a lone bird would chirp; a warning of the storm to come. The sombre scene was strangely splendid.
I started awake, still perched on the little bench. The sky was angry now, turning darker with indignance. I was alone; everyone left to find escape from the oncoming storm. Feeling a tinge of sadness, I jumped onto my feet, finally deciding it was time to leave.
Thick drops of rain began to pelt urgently as I tried to navigate my way out. The walls no longer worked to my favour, and the corridors became confusing. I moved as quickly as i could like a thief through the house, refusing to get drenched in rain.
I’d arrived at the mouth of the long wooden bridge lined with red railings again, only to find waterproof tarp and string covered across the mini fridge and stands of the small stall selling drinks. The vendor was busy slipping his arms into a plastic rain jacket.
I glanced over my shoulder for a last glimpse. Behind the tip of the 7 storey pagoda, a bolt of lightning flashed, boldly contorted. It was still beautiful.