Category Archives: Dragon

Chasing the Dragon

The mission starts with a brisk morning walk along the Gourock esplanade. We’re heading across the Clyde River to play in Argyll and Bute’s rolling hills and sea lochs. Our first destination is dockside for the passenger ferry to Dunoon. On the other side our independent garage car hire picks us up then it’s off to Argyll Street where we dine like kings on meat pies and beans at Black of Dunoon Bakers (5 stars for service and food in our books).

DSC08742Dunoon’s Victorian era dock, possibly the last on the Clyde River, is now in disrepair.

The Home Hardware just across the street from Black’s has all the items on our checklist though we’re a little disappointed with the lack of variety. For July in Scotland it’s baking hot and with arms full of supplies we walk up past the old church en route to a touch of guerilla fun and adventure.

Skirting tidal lochs, we wind around the base of hills thick with sky stretching firs before climbing steadily then dropping again through the valley of pheasants. The countryside is lush, dripping green. We’re on the lookout for a legendary quarry we last saw months ago. As we try to recall the location of a particular clearing, we stay alert for oncoming traffic on the long, narrow strips of single carriage roadway.

DSC08648 - Version 2Sky stretching firs

We’ve been bantering about this day for a few weeks. This is the one window we have to add our pastiche to a distinctive roadside attraction. As we slow down for road construction at the Tighnabruaich look off, we know we’re getting closer to our destination.

DSC08653View south and east along the Kyles of Bute from the Tighnabruaich look out

Then a few kilometres further on it’s upon us, a sculpture of stones ripped from the ground – bold, rampant, mythic – a greyish dragon partially encrusted in dried earth.

DSC08623Prepping the canvas.

Emerald green and sunburst yellow are absent as adornments for the beautiful beastie. The Dunoon hardware offers a limited selection of masonry paint. We toss about a few colour schemes and liberally begin to apply our palette of ochre red, pale yellow, black and white. I feel like a kid again creating something new, fresh, alive.

The air is heavy with the buzz of horse flies feasting on our legs and arms. It’s a three hour paint job in the salty, dripping sweat, afternoon sun. Quiet laughter, lighthearted complicity are the order of the day. With our hands caked in paint, there is contemplative appreciation for this new version of the rockin’ dragon of Tighnabruaich. We give a high five to the originators who brought together this magical combination of rocks. I think of the dragon as being under a creative commons license and of our daubs of paint as something building on and enhancing the original.

cIMG_0623compThe Dragon of Tighnabruaich casts a toothy grin on the Bxxxx

Traffic on the road is sparse as we go about our business but those who do notice us – lorry, delivery and post office drivers, tradespeople and families – give a wave as they zip past, a thumbs up, or a quick parp of the horn. Now I have to give credit where credit is due. This painting adventure is 100 percent papa’s idea. As the willing accomplice, it’s great to share this playful experience, a first of its kind for both of us.

New and freshDragon all dressed up with a fresh coat

Now some will say, like one of my colleagues, that this sculpture is a rendition of a rabbit. Looking at the teeth as the ears in the photo above, a rabbit’s head does look like the order of the day. But don’t believe it for a moment. This is just the result of a particular angle. This is a stone cold dragon that we’ve warmed up a wee bit with colour. Now I ask you, does this look like a rabbit?

DSC08647

We survey our work one last time before we start back down the road to Dunoon. We hope it will be a little bit more noticeable now to passersby and that it will give kids and adults alike cause to smile and maybe even laugh. We’re both well pleased with this play that had a few elements of work associated with it. Although it is broad daylight, I feel we are living moments of campfires burning bright with dragon breath in dark of night.

If I’m ever back that way, I’ll pull over and remember this afternoon when papa and I were kids again.

20140710_104941Selfie with Dragon

Going Philatelic in Singapore

Singapore Post recently gave a hats off to playgrounds with a special issue of commemorative stamps. The news release lists the six playgrounds featured on the stamps and extols the virtues of play in developing social skills and physical coordination.

The Toa Payoh Dragon Head Playground (50¢) is thought to be one of the last of its kind in Singapore. In Asian cultures, dragons are auspicious and have historically been identified as emblems of China’s emperors and their high ranking court members.

The tiled dragon sandlot playgrounds now seem destined for extinction – a cruel and ironic fate for a mythical creature that symbolizes power and ascendancy in the heavens. Unlike European and North American cousins – Tolkien’s Smaug, or Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff – it’s doubtful that these dragons of play will be eternally enshrined in Singapore’s popular culture.

Writer and designer Justin Zhuang is taking a particular interest in Singapore’s older playground stock as evidenced in his recent CNN Go report Playing with dragons — Singapore’s playgrounds of the past. He laments the passing of these unique playspaces and continues to comment on Singapore’s playgrounds past and present.

Our playgrounds today are cookie-cutter and instructive — climb up, slide down… then repeat the cycle again. The designs leave children with very little to imagine and explore. With its generic look and conservative safety standards, the playground is designed to be safe for everyone but fun for no one.

Justin Zhuang

It’s time to come out and play was originally published in Singapore Architect #252 and his flickr photos set Old Singapore Playgrounds (18 images) is a growing documentary record.

If you live in Singapore, or are fortunate enough to visit, Justin has created a handy Google Map identifying the whereabouts of the playgrounds that he and his contemporaries loved to play in while growing up.

Some of the playgrounds are visible using the street view function. By clicking through and peeking in, it’s almost like you can hear the bustle of the city. Safety concerns are amongst the primary reasons cited for the phasing out of these uniquely sculptured spaces. In other jurisdictions, concerned citizens have banded together to preserve similar play areas and have them designated as heritage and historical resources. PlayGroundology will share more about this creative strategy in a future post.

The National Library of Singapore has posted a small collection of photos celebrating playgrounds. The library has created a short slide show that pays tribute to vanishing stock and documents the newer playgrounds that are replacing older, local designs. Thanks to sgpix for her assistance in preparing the material so it could be included in this post.


The photos in the slide show are also available as a flicker set with captions – Playgrounds, in Singapore (24 images) – which is part of the much larger Singapore National Album of Pictures.

Scene This Scene That has blogged three of the five remaining playground locations – Sengkang Sculpture Park (65¢), Pasir Ris Park ($1.10), and the West Coast Park (1st Local).

Parents appreciate the play spaces at Vivo City (85¢) one of Singapore’s largest retail complexes. With numerous play stations and a water park area it’s an ideal spot for the kids to get away from shopping mayhem and cool off.
Thanks to xcode for the Vivo City snap. He’s also a bit of a playground buff and is building his own Playground flickr set (95 images).

In addition to the flora and fauna, the Hindhede Nature Park ($2.00) offers a rustic playground experience. Equipment constructed from logs is attuned to the surrounding natural environment. Tire swings are a reminder that the congestion of the city is not too far away. A few flickr photos can be found here.

In the Singapore city-state there is a playground nostalgia in the air. People reminisce about sand, tiled mosaics and the relevant local designs of their youth. Will the remaining older playgrounds just fade away like a puff of dragon’s breath or will there be a move to preserve and maintain the more interesting designs? Perhaps a new cultural aesthetic will emerge that incorporates distinctly Singaporean traits into the playground experience and cultivates another generation of parents and kids who are passionate about their playspaces.

Thanks to Singapore Post for inspiring these few words and thanks to those who provided images. I’ve been looking for commemorative postage stamps of playgrounds from other jurisdictions but have come up empty. If you’re aware of any please drop me a line.

Image credits in order of appearance.

    1. 1.

Singapore Post

    1. 2.

hsalnat – Lash Tan

    1. 3.

National Library of Singapore

    1. 4.

xcode – Jerry Wong

    1. 5.

Singapore Post

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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