Anyone passing by Cheong Boo Wee’s semi-detached house at Jalan Chempaka Kuning for the first time will invariably do a double take.
It is, after all, adorned with more than 40 different sculptures and figurines – which includes a giant fish, monkeys, parrots and even life-sized statues of fictional superheroes Batman and Green Lantern – as well as 15 varieties of plants, making it near-impossible to miss along the otherwise nondescript street.
However, if you somehow fail to notice the decorations, then the noticeable squawking of parrots – Cheong owns about 20 – will surely draw your attention to the distinctively ornamented house.
As you would expect, Cheong’s house, which he has labelled a “theme park”, has become a popular attraction in the neighbourhood.
Built over the past 25 years at an estimated cost of S$150,000, it is so unique that people from all over Singapore often drop by to see it for themselves.
The theme park has also unsurprisingly garnered a fair bit of attention from the media.
However, Cheong told The Pride that generating widespread attention and publicity were not the reasons he decided to build the park.
Instead, it stemmed from his simple desire to foster the kampung spirit in his neighbourhood.
“I wanted to make this (park) into a place which would be interesting for the community…a place where my neighbours can come to have a good time mingling and bonding,” the 63-year-old freelance consultant said.
“So, I bought all these things not just because I like them, but because I want to share my passion for plants, animals and antiques with my neighbours as well.”
So far, Cheong’s endeavours to bring the community closer together using the theme park has worked.
On an almost daily basis, Cheong and a few of his neighbours will gather at the theme park in the evenings for a chat and to mingle, often times over snacks and drinks.
“Most of us in this community have stayed in this area for a very long time now, so we’re already familiar with one another,” revealed Cheong. “But, these meet-up sessions have helped us to bring our relationship with one another to the next level, where our interactions are more meaningful and not so shallow.”
One of the Jalan Chempaka Kuning residents who can often be found at these meet-ups is Eddy Kok, 63.
The sales director told The Pride that he appreciates Cheong’s efforts in building up the theme park for the community.
“I think it’s taken a lot of time, effort and money to do up this theme park for the neighbourhood, so we are all very thankful to him (Cheong) for that,” said Kok, who has lived in the estate for 12 years.
“A lot of us enjoy coming down here to catch up with one another and unwind. The park adds colour and vibrancy to the neighbourhood and is a nice setting for our meet-up sessions, which is something we all look forward to as all of us enjoy the camaraderie.”
But, while most of Cheong’s neighbours are grateful for the theme park, not all are enamoured by it.
Following a complaint by a resident in the estate, Cheong has been instructed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to clear the sculptures and plants that are currently outside his house, as it is considered to be an obstruction on the public walkway.
Cheong has since rearranged his sculptures and plants to ensure there is sufficient space for pedestrians to utilise the footpath.
LTA, however, remains adamant that Cheong removes all of his ornaments from the public space, and has warned that he will be issued a fine should he fail to do so.
Nonetheless, Cheong is determined to keep his theme park as it is and has already appealed to the relevant authorities over this issue.
“I’ve already adjusted my sculptures…it’s aligned to the lampposts now, so people will definitely be able to walk on the pathway,” Cheong explained. “I don’t think it’s an obstruction, so hopefully the authorities will let me keep my park.
“After all, I bring all these things out for my neighbours to enjoy. I believe in sharing, not just keeping things for myself. Many of us consider it a part of the community…it’s only one person complaining, and I think the complaints have no merit.”
The prospect of having the theme park “taken away” is something that long-time Jalan Chempaka Kuning resident, Jimmy Kiong, hopes will not come to pass.
The 76-year-old retiree said: “We know there’s been a complaint against the park, but we really hope that the authorities let us keep it. This park is a part of our community…some of us have even contributed to building it by giving him (Cheong) our plants. It’ll be a huge waste if it has to be cleared.
“It has definitely managed to bring us (neighbours) closer, and I find what we have here to be similar to the kampungs of old, which is rare in Singapore nowadays. All of us are friends now, and we are always looking out for each other.”
But, even with the future of his theme park up in the air, Cheong insists the bond that he and his neighbours have forged over the past few years will remain strong.
“I’m quite encouraged to see so many of us (in the neighbourhood) come out to socialise with one another,” Cheong said. “When I came back to Singapore for good in 2015 after working overseas for seven years, I knew I wanted to cultivate this spirit of neighbourliness in my community.
“I had hoped to help create not just harmony and peace in the neighbourhood, but familiarity between one another. I’m glad that today, we as a community are generally tightly-knit, and I’m sure this will continue for years to come.
“It makes me really happy when I see all of us enjoy each other’s company and help one another out when we can, because that, to me, is what neighbourliness is all about.”