Gay World (Happy World)



Gay World was one of three amusement parks built in Singapore before World War II and around which Singapore’s nightlife revolved from the 1920s to the ’60s. The other two were New World and Great World. Gay World was a popular entertainment joint before the advent of television and shopping malls. It combined a heady mix of eastern and western forms of entertainment including cabaret, operas, movies, gaming, sport matches, stunts and shopping. Ravaged by fires many times, Eng Wah Organisation terminated the lease to the park in 2000, marking Gay World’s exit from Singapore’s amusement park scene.1

History
Gay World was one of the three “World” amusement parks that provided affordable entertainment for Singaporeans. The other two were Great World (early 1930s–78) and New World (1923–87). Before the days of television and shopping malls, Singaporeans of all ages and from all walks of life sought out thrills provided by these amusement parks. Gay World, located between Mountbatten and Geylang roads, was officially opened in May 1937. The founder was George Lee Geok Eng of George Lee Motors, and the park was originally known as Happy World. Happy World catered mainly to families with children.2

Before the war, Happy World patrons were kept enthralled by an east-meets-west mix of entertainment: cabaret, ronggeng, bangsawan, wayang, movies, gaming, sport matches, stunts, circus and shopping. The fees to these recreations were affordable, even for youths.3

Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
In the years leading to World War II, Happy World was caught up with mainland China's war effort. Singapore’s Straits Chinese China Relief Fund Committee organised activities to collect funds for China, including staging a modern bangsawan for 3,000 babas and nyonyas. Shortly before the Occupation, the Aihua Musical Society, which supported resistance against the Japanese, promoted concerts by Wuhan Choir from China, who sang in Mandarin to packed audiences at Happy World for 10 evenings. When Japanese air raids hit Singapore between December 1941 and January 1942, business at Happy World continued, and the cabaret had blackout dances (with no lights) to escape the Japanese bombings.4


During the war, the Japanese turned all the Worlds into gambling farms, encouraging Chinese businessmen, such as the Shaw Brothers, to operate gambling dens at the amusement parks. As these dens were precluded from raids, the bright lights at the Worlds continued to attract many gamblers and the dens were often crowded. The popularity of the gambling dens helped the Japanese profit substantially from the revenue collected from tax and licence fees of the gambling dens. The Japanese were not allowed in the gambling dens, but they could patronise the cabarets and nightclubs. When rumours about the Japanese surrender were rife in August 1945, the gambling stalls in all the Worlds closed down.5

Postwar developments
After the war, Singaporeans thronged Happy World and business was better than before. It was renamed Gay World in 1966. However, the slow decline of the amusement parks began in the 1950s, with the availability of radios, then followed by television. By the 1980s, the amusement park was considered outdated, as the new cineplexes, glitzy shopping malls and game arcades had begun to attract the crowds. The four long-standing main tenants that remained were Gay World stadium, Datoh Rajah Theatre and Cabaret, Tai Thong Restaurant and New Happy Cinema.6


Gay World was ravaged by fire many times. In 1962, a fire broke out twice in two months, destroying a theatre, part of the cabaret and 26 stalls. More blazes happened at least twice in 1972, and once in 1976 damaging the stadium, and again in 1977 and 1988. In 1996, Gay World was in a shabby state with a number of shops and the Gay World Exhibition Centre, which was in fact a furniture store. There was also a food centre with a seafood restaurant.7

In 2000, the Land Office, owner of the 3.2-hectare site, gave notice to 150 tenants of Gay World to vacate the premises by 31 March that year. The site had been slated for residential development. The main tenant, Eng Wah Organisation, who also managed the park then, ended its lease. About 40 tenants housed mainly in sheds stayed on when the lease was extended till 30 June, using rented generators and car batteries for electricity when power and water were cut off. Three tenants – Tai Thong Restaurant, New Happy Cinema and Datoh Rajah Theatre and Cabaret – stayed on beyond the deadline on temporary leases. Datoh Rajah had loyal patrons and attracted up to 300 patrons each weekend up until the last days. The Gay World indoor stadium, later renamed Geylang Indoor Stadium and managed by the Singapore Sports Council, continued to operate at the site until it was demolished in 2001. Gay World was the last of the three Worlds to go.8

Entertainment
Apart from the usual recreational activities – movies, operas, cabaret, sports, shopping – Gay World also hosted many cultural shows in the 1960s, including a six-week-long Singapore Festival in 1968.9


In addition, Gay World was a sporting arena. The indoor Gay World Stadium was once billed as the greatest covered stadium in Southeast Asia. Later known as Geylang Indoor Stadium, the octagonal stadium was ideal for many types of indoor sports and could take up to 7,000 spectators. It was the venue for Malaya’s first Thomas Cup for badminton in 1952. In 1973, the government selected it as one of the venues for the 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsula Games. Boxing and wrestling fights also attracted crowds to Gay World Stadium, who had to pay only 20 cents each to see wrestlers such as Tiger Ahmad and King Kong. The stadium occasionally also held circus shows.10

There was a dance hall that could accommodate 300 couples. The dance hall was equipped with good acoustics and a floor skirted by marbled columns for couples to dance. In the 1930s, entry to the cabaret cost between 50 cents and a dollar and ordering drinks was mandatory. The dance hostesses or cabaret girls were also known as “taxi girls” or “taxi dancers”. While most of the 100-odd dancers were local girls, some were from China, Thailand and the Philippines. Customers could engage their services by buying dance coupons priced at one dollar for three dances. Other forms of dancing in Gay World were the Malay ronggeng and joget, catering to the Malays and babas. Gay World had a ronggeng kiosk like a bandstand, and men could find a dance partner at one dollar for three dances.11

There were four cinemas in Gay World, including an open-air one that became a favourite for courting couples. By 1987, however, only one was left. Gay World also housed Eng Wah’s first three cinemas – Victory, Silver City and Happy. They only showed Chinese films until 1988, when they started screening English movies. In 1982, New Happy Cinema screened Tamil films exclusively, the first cinema in Singapore to do that. It survived the turn of the century and, with just one screen, was the smallest cinema operator in Singapore. Up until the end, New Happy cinema still attracted about 10 viewers on a weekday and a much bigger crowd during the weekend.12

Timeline
1937:
Happy World (the predecessor of Gay World) is opened.13

1942–45: Converted into a military workshop during the Japanese Occupation.
1962: Fire breaks out twice in two months, destroying the theatre, part of the cabaret and 26 stalls. Fires continue to trouble the theme park, in 1972, 1976 and 1977.
1966: Happy World is renamed Gay World.
1973: Used as one of the venues for the 7th Southeast Asian Peninsula Games.14
1 Jan 1987: Free admission is started. However, the measure does not help with visitorship, with only one cinema remaining.15
May–Jul 2000: 150 tenants are given notice to move out and Eng Wah Organisation, the main tenant, terminates the lease. Despite the power and water cut, 40 tenants remain, using portable power supply.
2001: Gay World is demolished together with Geylang Indoor Stadium.16



Authors
Marsita Omar & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman




References
1. Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 21, 28. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmarks Book Pte Ltd, p. 201. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Leong, W. K. (2000, May 20). The last days of Gay World. The Straits Times, p. 69; Ho, J. (1996, April 18). Great to be back in a whole new World. The Straits Times, p. 2; Goh, C. L. (2004, June 14). Gay World no more. The Straits Times, p. 2; De Souza, A. (1998, July 16). Of fights and sweaty diners. The Straits Times, p. 29; Tong, K. (1997, October 11). Once, the World was great. The Straits Times, p. 1; Leong, W. K. (2000, July 18). Business as usual for Gay World tenants. The Straits Times, p. 40; Then & now. (2004, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 21–22. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmarks Book Pte Ltd, p. 201. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Ho, J. (1996, April 18). Great to be back in a whole new World. The Straits Times, p. 2; de Souza, A. (1998, July 16). Of fights and sweaty diners. The Straits Times, p. 29; Tong, K. (1997, October 11). Once, the World was great. The Straits Times, p. 1; Goh, C. L. (2004, June 14). Gay World no more. The Straits Times, p. 2; Singapore’s new cabaret opens tonight. (1937, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmarks Book Pte Ltd, p. 200. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 21–22, 25, 28. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO)
4. Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 24, 29. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Bose, R. (2012). Singapore at war: Secrets from the fall, liberation & aftermath of WWII. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 BOS-[WAR]); Warren, A. (2002). Singapore 1942: Britain’s greatest defeat. Singapore: Talisman, p. 212. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425 WAR-[WAR])
5. Ho, J. (1996, April 18). Great to be back in a whole new World. The Straits Times, p. 2; Tong, K. (1997, October 11). Once, the World was great. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO)
6. Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, p. 30. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Then & now. (2004, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2; Goh, C. L. (2004, June 14). Gay World no more. The Straits Times, p. 2; Leong, W. K. (2000, May 20). The last days of Gay World. The Straits Times, p. 69. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Then & now. (2004, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three worlds. In Sanjay Krishnan et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, p. 31. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO)
8. Leong, W. K. (2000, July 18). Business as usual for Gay World tenants. The Straits Times, p. 40; Leong, W. K. (2000, May 20). The last days of Gay World. The Straits Times, p. 69; Then & now. (2004, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Singapore Festival ’68 will last one month. (1967, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 5; The big turnout is proof of public support. (1968, January 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmarks Book Pte Ltd, p. 201. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Goh, C. L. (2004, June 14). Gay World no more. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 23, 28. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Goh, C. L. (2004, June 14). Gay World no more. The Straits Times, p. 2; Chan, K. S. (2000, June 12). Worlds of fun and games. The Straits Times, p. 7; Leong, W. K. (2000, May 20). The last days of Gay World. The Straits Times, p. 69; De Souza, A. (1998, July 16). Of fights and sweaty diners. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Goh, C. L. (2004, June 14). Gay World no more. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three Worlds. In Krishnan, S. et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, pp. 25–28. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO); Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmarks Book Pte Ltd, p. 200. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
12. Chee, F. (2009, February 22). Open-air cinema makes a comeback. The Straits Times, p. 45; De Souza, A. (1998, July 16). Of fights and sweaty diners. The Straits Times, p. 29; Growing up on film. (2002, October 2). The Straits Times, p. 3; Ho, K. (2002, October 2). Goes places. The Straits Times, p. 3; He’s happy to run just 1 screen. (1998, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore’s new cabaret opens tonight. (1937, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Rudolph, J. (1996). Amusements in the three worlds. In Krishnan,S., et al. (Eds.), Looking at culture. Singapore: Artres Design and Communications, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 306.095957 LOO)
14. Then & now. (2004, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
15. Pleasure domes of the past. (1987, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 2; Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Then & now. (2004, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2005 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Places of interest
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Recreation>>Places of Interest
Amusement parks--Singapore--History--20th century