Old world charm

Old world charm
Cabaret performances will be part of the New World of Singapore exhibition, which will bring New World Amusement Park to life

An older generation will have fond memories of New World Amusement Park, a colourful theme park filled with nightclubs, rides and games situated in Jalan Besar. It entertained Singaporeans for 60 years before it closed in 1987.

Now, all that is left of the place is a gateway bearing the name "The New World" at City Square Mall.

But thanks to a new exhibition at that same shopping centre, you can relive the colourful heyday of New World, which was declared Malaya's "pioneer amusement park" by its owners Ong Peng Hock and Ong Boon Tat at its opening in 1923.

Held from April 27 to May 3, New World of Singapore will paint a picture of the theme park and its historical significance with photographs and videos. There will also be live performances of the kinds of dances and songs popular in the nightlife spot.

New research will also reveal lesser-known facts about New World. For example, it was the site that launched a number of arranged marriages as families often set their children up on dates there.

The curators Tan Teng Teng and Genine Loo said New World was the first entertainment spot in Singapore that was accessible to the public. Visitors paid a small entrance fee and could enjoy all the park's facilities.

Before New World opened, such nightlife spots were available only to the Europeans or the well-heeled.

New World was also significant in setting other records. It was once advertised as having the largest air-conditioned cabaret East of the Suez, and had Singapore's first open-air raised stage for dance performances.

Unsurprisingly, it attracted interesting characters who gave the place a seedier reputation. Cheongsam- wearing "taxi girls" were so-called because men could purchase dances with them, whether Malay folk dances such as joget and ronggeng, or the ubiquitous cha-cha.

Some big names started their careers at New World as well, such as a-go-go singer Sakura Teng and exotic dancer Rose Chan, known locally as the Queen of Striptease.

The exhibition will pay special tribute to Chan. Besides being known for acts which involved python wrestling and bending iron rods with her throat, she also did a lot of charity work.

To bring the experience of New World to life, there will be live performances on May 1 and 2, including cabaret and joget dances.

"Taxi girls" will also share a dance with visitors while a singer will serenade the crowd with English and Chinese tunes.

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