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Jun 24, 2011

New World Amusement Park

The New World at Jalan Besar c 1950. Source: National Archives of Singapore. (NAS).
The New World
From Return to Malaya by R.H. Bruce Lockhart, 1936

I waved an arm towards the night. With a grin [my rikisha puller] seized the shafts, and off we jogged. Twenty-five years ago we should have pulled up at a brothel, for your rickisha puller, even if he is inarticulate, knows instinctively the tastes of the tourist, and in those days Malay Street was the obvious destination of a European setting out alone at night.

Fashions, however, have changed, and after a gentle trot my puller stopped before a gateway with a huge electric sign in English and flashing the words, "The New World". I got out and rather shyly followed the throng which was streaming through the open gates. Inside was a huge fair with theatres, opera, cinema, dancing-hall, side-shows, booths, refreshment stalls, and even a stadium. The crowd was of all classes and of all races...

The noise was deafening. Next door to an open Chinese theatre with the usual accompaniment of gongs, a Malay operatic company was performing Mashdur. From the sideshows came an endless broadside of chatter laughter. In the booths in the centre, Japanese and Chinese were selling toys which would have delighted the heart of any European child: voracious-looking dragons, clock-work crocodiles and snakes, miniature baby-carriages, wooden soldiers, and the quaintest of domestic animals.

Avoiding the cinema where alluring posters of Miss Mae West revealed the fact that I'm No Angel had been passed by the Singapore Board of Censors, I went into the dancing-hall. There was an excellent orchestra, hired, I think, from some liner. It was playing Aufwiedersehn when I came in, and a crowd of dancers, mostly young Chinese, the men in white European clothes with black patent-leather dancing shoes, the girls in their semi-European dresses slit at the side, filled the dancing-floor. Many of the dancers had their own partners. But when the dance was over I noticed a number of girls who left their partners as soon as the music stopped and went to join other girls in a kind of pen. They were the professional Chinese dancers who can be hired for a few cents a dance.

There were other Europeans dancing, and after asking an attendant how the thing was done I plucked up my courage and, as soon as the music started for the next dance, went over and engaged a partner. More intent on information than on pleasure I ambled slowly round the floor, I had no reason except my own clumsiness to feel self-conscious. My Chinese partner danced with the ethereal lightness of a Viennese. Her name was Tiger Lily, and she told me some of the secrets of her profession.

These Chinese girls are engaged by the management. They are very carefully selected, and breaches of discipline are severely punished. They are paid about eight cents a dance. Each dance is registered on a card, and at the end of the week the cards are vigilantly scrutinized. Girls who are in great request, and who can show a high average of dances, may be promoted. Others, whose engagements are below the fixed average, have their wages reduced. In the dancing-hall, at any rate, there is no social intercourse between guest and professional dancer. At the end of each dance the professional goes back to her barricaded seclusion. The decorum, indeed, was unimpeachable, and could not have been criticized even by a Wee Free minister in a North of Scotland parish. To me this model seeliness was even more extraordinary than the almost complete waiving of the color bar in a British colony.
The New World c 1945. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

The New World at night c 1953. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

The New World c 1960. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

The New World at night c 1962. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Jalan Besar c 1900. Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

For the benefit and convenience of those who are unable to visit the "THREE 'WORLDS' OF AMUSEMENTS" exhibition organised by the National Library Board, I am pleased to blog here with additional research topic on New World Amusement Park.

Acknowledge with thanks to the National Library Board, Singapore for sharing this exhibition on "THREE 'WORLDS' OF AMUSEMENTS" on this blog.

This exhibition is based on articles from Singapore Infopedia. For more information and sources about the three 'Worlds' and other topics related to Singapore, please visit Singapore Infopedia .

Singapore Infopedia is an electronic encyclopedia on Singapore, providing access to a collection of articles on Singapore's history, culture and people.


The first of the three "Worlds", New World Amusement Park at Jalan Besar was opened in 1923 by merchant Ong Boon Tat and his brother Ong Peng Hock. It was later sold to the Shaw Brothers.

It had Chinese and Malay opera halls, shops, restaurants, cinemas, boxing arenas, shooting galleries, and soon established a reputation for a vibrant carnival atmosphere. It boasted what was arguably the best opera in Malaya - the New World's City Opera. Its cabarets were much raved about, and it had the first air-conditioned cabaret hall in Malaya. Those preferring to dance to Malay tune patronized the Bunga Tanjong where bands played to the beat of ronggeng or asli, interspersed with cha-cha or rumba. On some nights, the bands also three in the "twist" or "rock-and-roll".

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew watching a ronggeng dance in 1964. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

A poster of the New World Cabaret in 1939. Source: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

A Calypso dancer with an attentive audience c 1956.

As the popularity of amusement parks declined and other forms of entertainment emerged, New World lost its appeal and faded from the night scene. The site was sold to a developer in 1987. Today, City Square Mall sits on part of the old amusement park sit.

The gate of the park was taken down and sent for repair and re-painting, after which it was reinstated at the main entrance of the new mall. The refurbished gate was unveiled in January 2011, a reminder of the vibrant New World that drew crowds of visitors in its glory days.

Photos of matchboxes of the "El Amigo Nite Club" and "Maxim Discotheque" at New World Amusement Park. Photo Credit: Yeo Hong Eng

Map of New World Amusement Park. Photo Credit: Yeo Hong Eng



Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Of the three 'worlds', this one was the truly 'happy world' of me. I spent many happy hours there as a kid. I guess for you it would be the Great World.

Those were such happy times, and not so long ago, how I wondered where they’ve gone. But they’re back again, just like a long lost friend ....

June 24, 2011 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger lim said...

Although I enjoyed watching basketball matches at the Gay World Stadium, the New World also held fond memories for me, especially during the Chinese New Year period when the whole place was bustling with life, not forgetting the delicious mutton soup stall at the side lane.

June 25, 2011 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for the related posts to the "New World Amusement Park" and "Happy World" blogs, Chun See.

Agreed, happy times of the past to remember them as long as these are fond memories to keep us happy. The happy moments we cherish them present to be happy in the the present would soon be the past!

June 26, 2011 at 12:47 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for sharing the memories of Happy World, Mr Lim.

The "Three Worlds of Amusement Parks" are now gone, but another "amusement world" which my children have grown up with was the "Uncle Kenny Funland" at Parkway Parade...a forthcoming blog topic in the pipeline.


June 26, 2011 at 12:52 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Mr Lim,

As promised, the "A New Generation of Funland" blog about the amusement park for my children - "Uncle Kenny Funland" is found here .

July 15, 2011 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger Selatke said...

I don't know why local people and books keep referring to 'three amusement parks'. The National Library Board even organised a "THREE 'WORLDS' OF AMUSEMENTS" exhibition, when its own Singapore Infopedia clearly mentions four 'worlds'.

The omitted one is the Beauty World at Upper Bukit Timah. It had performance stages for wayang and getai, cinema, dance hall, and food stalls like the other 'worlds'.

Is the omission due to collective amnesia or what?

August 24, 2011 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger dashing hongeng said...

Yes, I remember The Beauty World. Don't forget there was yet one more The Eastern World or 'Tai Tong Hong' at Geylang. There were shops, stalls, games, kiddie rides and an Oily Pole Challenge.

November 12, 2012 at 12:03 AM  

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