Fire in the dragon's belly

Fire in the dragon's belly
Ian Jones, feeding the dragon with wood on Friday night.

SINGAPORE - The "dragon" is awake and ready to "breathe" fire.

Every year, the dragon kiln at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle at Lorong Tawas is prepared for firing the pots and ceramic artwork in its "belly".

Dragon kilns got their name from their long, tubular shapes. The design has been used for centuries in China.

This 30m long kiln was built in the 1940s. But the work it fires more artisan than industrial these days.

"Back then, we used to fire stuff meant for labour like pots for the rubber plantations to collect latex.

"Then we fired orchid pots during the orchid boom of the 70s," says the owner of Thow Kwang, Mr Tan Teck Yoke.

The 59-year-old is the second-generation owner of the furnace after he took over from his father.

Mr Tan's dragon kiln is one of the last two remaining in Singapore. The other is Guan Huat Dragon Kiln, located nearby.

The Awaken The Dragon festival is being held over the weekend to celebrate the firing of more than 1,000 ceramic pieces.

Aside from experiencing the sight - and heat - of a kiln in action, there are also local bands, art classes, a bazaar and even gongfu demonstrations.

In the months leading to the festival, pottery workshops were held in schools, offices and community centres to create pieces to be put in the kiln.

Invited artists are also firing their pieces.

I got a peek inside the kiln on Thursday afternoon, just before it was sealed for firing.

It resembled a catacomb of carefully positioned racks, all heaving with pots and bowls, from the plain to the ornate.

Australian Ian Jones was one of the invited artists and he took on the role of sealing the kiln.

Helping him were two other artists, Pim Sudhikam, 41, from Thailand, and local student Christopherson Ho, 26.

A potter since 1974, the 61-year-old artist searches for dragon kilns around the world.

"South-east Asia has some of the most interesting kilns," Mr Jones said enthusiastically.


Kiln work comes with risks. The burn marks on his forearms testified to that.

Sealing the kiln was no simple task. Bricking up the door, then filling gaps with a mixture of sand and clay took the trio from Thursday until Friday morning to complete.

At 7pm on Friday after traditional Chinese prayers were held, the first burning stick was fed into the kiln.

For this firing, three to five tonnes of wood will be used to create a gentler baking technique. Usually, the amount is between five and 10 tonnes.

The wood is supposed to burn until this afternoon.

"We hope to reach temperatures of about 1,300 degrees Celciusfor the front chamber and 1,000 degrees Celcius for the rear chamber," said Mr Jones as he fed wood into the kiln. "The artwork at the back are of a different grade of clay and can't withstand the extreme heat."

Although the festival ends today, the kiln work is not complete. It has to be left sealed for a week to let it cool down. Only then can the hundreds of ceramics be reclaimed by their creators.


WHAT: Awaken The Dragon festival

WHERE: Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle 85, Lorong Tawas

WHEN: For details of today's event go to


This article was first published on November 23, 2014.
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