From ‘Whoa, pause before scaling that Wallhola’, 20 June 2012, ST Forum
(Ng Chee Kheon): AT THE risk of being labelled paranoid, over-protective and risk-adverse, I feel that climbing up the Wallhola (a ‘vertical playground’) is more hazardous than doing so on an indoor rock wall (‘High time for play in Bishan’; last Friday).
Unlike rock wall climbing, it appears that no safety gear is required when climbing the Wallhola. As shown in the photograph accompanying the report, none of the climbers was wearing a safety helmet. One of the children was bare-footed while another was wearing a pair of sandals.
On the other hand, a helmet and a pair of climbing shoes are standard safety gear worn during rock wall climbing. In addition, the climber will also wear a harness attached to a climbing rope, which is held by a belayer, to stop him from falling to the ground.
Although the maximum climbing height of the Wallhola appears to be only about 3m, any child aged five to 12 falling from this height may suffer serious injury, and worse if he falls wrongly. As prevention is always better than cure, the relevant agency may wish to stipulate that certain basic safety precautions must be taken when climbing the Wallhola.
Comparing the 3m high steel cage of vertical mayhem vs indoor rock climbing is like saying bumper cars are more hazardous than a carousel. It may well be true, but where is the fun and adventure in being strapped to cables and scaling a fixed wall under the watchful eyes of ‘belayers’? Rather, how is indoor rock climbing a form of ‘play’ whatsoever? Kids should let their imagination run wild in a ‘battleground’ with colourful plastic obstacles that is the modern playground. They want ropes and swinging objects that respond to the touch, to defy the laws of physics or succumb rapturously to them, to chase each other through tunnels and down slides, not grapple with harnesses in an activity that most adults are forced to face during motivation camp.
Unlike adult ‘play’, kids don’t see the need to ‘achieve’ anything when they’re having fun, and the very design of a foreboding rock wall demands that you seek a ‘goal’ and makes you a loser if you don’t make it to the top. A weak kid who fails to get past the first rock will banish the sport for life and suffer a blow to his self-esteem, and rock-climbing’s anti-social nature makes it plain lonely and BORING, unless the kid wants to be a sherpa when he grows up. And that’s the point of a playground; that there IS no POINT and no challenge that can’t be overcome. It doesn’t have a rigid narrative to determine how you interact with it and doesn’t discriminate the little Type A high-achievers from those who just want to sit on the springy horsies. More importantly it doesn’t require you to wear silly-looking cumbersome safety gear that makes you look like a contestant on Junior Ninja Warror. Any kid who dons a helmet at the Wallhola will be a laughing stock, and parents worried about every little loose plank or bolt might as well put their kids on a leash and get ready a fireman’s safety net when he tumbles.
But turning the Wallhola into a fat over-padded bouncy castle isn’t going to take away the fact that ANY playground is a potential hazard because accidents happen, and parents (or maids) are not there ALL the time to supervise. The humble concrete slide of the eighties can be a menacing back-breaker. Someone once called for the ban of MONKEY BARS because his kid fractured an elbow. You could fall off swings, or get your teeth chipped from a rising see saw. Things hidden in the sand can impale your foot (Teen injured by metal plates left in playground, 30 July 2004, ST), or you may get your legs trapped in a ‘mini-ski’ in the ironically named fitness corner. Sometimes it’s not even the playground’s fault that you get hurt. In 200o, a BEER MUG was flung towards a playground out of a window, hitting a girl on the head (Mug hurled down hits kid’s head, 10 July 20oo). That won’t be a problem for the Wallhola, no not even stray footballs or falling plaster from the 17th floor of a HDB block would rankle this behemoth. Let’s not even talk about the treacherous perils that the outside world may bring. Kids can be hospitalised for falling off SOFAS at home, and unlike the Wallhola these things haven’t been certified safe for jumping on.
If you made playgrounds too safe and lack any sense of ‘danger’ whatsover, the only outlet where kids could release their boundless energy is in reckless parkour, a far more dangerous way to pass time. Or they would ride a mattress down a flight of HDB stairs. The Wallhola, for all its intimidating cage design that would make any mixed martial arts fighter feel at home, is at least a safer option than what was proposed in the seventies, a monster contraption of steel bars and poles that can only serve as a training tool for professional stuntmen, or construction workers.