An Early History of the Singapore Jugglers

by Tan Yee Ling

If Singapore Jugglers is manifested in its regular practice sessions, then the club started back in the dark ages of 1991, with two lone jugglers (Loh Koah Fong and a friend) passing at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Another lone pair of jugglers (Lillian Wang and Colin Ng) also practised in a corner of the campus, but since that took place only two years later, the pairs never collided.

1993 was also the year that Ben Matthews, ex-president of the Oxford University Juggling Club and co-founder of the British Unicycling Association, landed in Singapore. A year later, he began teaching unicycling and juggling every Monday afternoon at the Circus Club of United World College. Presently Shannon, a student from a local secondary school (where Ben had given a juggling workshop), became so enamoured with juggling, he made the arduous journey from Tampines to Pasir Panjang every Sunday to practise with his sifu.

1994 was evidently the year for close encounters of the juggling kind: Ben met Lillian at a Flying Dutchmen performance when both were hauled up as "volunteers". Thus the Sunday practices grew, with Colin, Gavin, "a German guy", Philip the Magician and others likewise smitten by the art turning up at Ben's doorstep; the burgeoning group was even featured in a Straits Times article. But people moved on, and the juggling scene was fairly lethargic as 1995 rolled in.

Yet for 1995 a bright spot gleams in the annals of Singapore Jugglers' history: Jugglenaut. Set up by Lillian because it was impossible to get juggling equipment in Singapore, Jugglenaut was, until its closure in 2000, the only company in Singapore specialising in juggling equipment.

Late 1995 or 1996 saw Roy and Ben practising at the Substation every Wednesday "to bring Art closer to the public", and a revival of sorts was underway when Gavin, the two Philips, Julius and Rizal joined in; Koah Fong and Chin Hui threw their lot in with the others not long after, in early 1997. It was then too that the group was first named: to announce the practice sessions, Lillian created a simple website with the header "Singapore Jugglers!". The name stuck and, despite Chi Minh's attempts to change it to "On the Bola" at World Juggling Day 1999 (Singapore's first), has prevailed.

The group was again in the doldrums by the end of 1997; but Koah Fong, the fire of claw-catch-claw burning inexorably in his fevered brain, swiftly organised juggling sessions in NUS with Chin Hui and Wee Lee (who was destined for diabolo greatness). Thus the noble obsession was nurtured, exploding back upon the local scene in late 1998 with the return of Gavin.

Practices at the Substation began afresh, but poor lighting, vampiric insects and prop-eating trees drove the longsuffering jugglers into the welcoming bosom of the Youth Park in January 1999.

Where they have dwelt and flourished, even to this present day.

1991 Koah Fong and a friend juggle at NUS.
1993 Lillian and Colin juggle at NUS.
Ben arrives on the fair isle of Singapore.
1994 Ben starts teaching at UWC's Circus Club.
Regular Sunday juggling practices at Ben's home begin. More and more jugglers meet at Ben's home, juggling club featured in The Straits Times.
Then things quieten down as expats leave.
1995 Lillian starts Jugglenaut (it closes in 2000).
Roy and Ben start practising at the Substation on Wednesdays.
1996 Gavin, 2 Philips, Julius, Rizal join the practices (?).
1997 Koah Fong and Chin Hui join the practices.
Things quieten down again.
1998 Juggling practices restart at the Substation in October, after a busking session.
1999 Juggling moves to Youth Park in January.

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Created: 8 Oct 2001 | Updated: 8 Oct 2001