As the cool breeze wafts over Joyful Garden along with relaxing sounds of water streams, it is easy to feel tranquil and at peace.
This was the purpose of the garden; to make people feel relaxed as they enter the sanctuary that stretches across 0.39 acres of land at a private residence in Kampong Subok.
The compound which has a chalet-style two-storey house is enveloped with Bougainvillea flowers that carry significant meaning to owner Wilson Lim.
As the 55-year-old sat on a wooden table just outside the house, he looked around the garden and admired his work while telling his staff to move furniture around – making sure everything is perfect for visitors.
“Do good and good will come to you,” he told The Bruneian and proceeded to share the story behind the birth of Joyful Garden.
An ode to eternal love
Like many love stories that we read or hear, when a loved one passes, they are honoured more often than not, in personal ways.
Whether it be small gestures or extravagant displays, the message is clear; love is powerful and transcends time.
Take for example the stunning 17th-century white marble Taj Mahal – it was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth.
The monument of love, which took approximately 20 years to build, symbolised his declaration of lasting love to his departed soul mate.
For Lim, Joyful Garden is his way of paying tribute to an extraordinary woman who embodied love and generosity.
Several years ago, Lim’s wife was suffering from cancer and to further alleviate her pain, the couple decided to take up other alternatives than just relying on modern medicine.
“We flew to Malaysia and stayed for a year to learn Qi Gong, a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control related to Tai Chi,” he added.
“It was proven to help lower the risks (of her sickness) and my wife felt so much better after practicing it. I then acquired a certificate to become an instructor and brought my knowledge back to Brunei.”
Back in the sultanate, Lim and his wife held sessions at Tasek Lama Recreational Park and brought along their friends who enjoyed the exercise that involves moving meditation, coordinated slow-flowing movements and deep rhythmic breathing to achieve a calm meditative state of mind.
“After quite some time, my wife and friends felt embarrassed to continue practicing at the park because some people laughed at us due to certain moves (of the exercise).”
He then sought to acquire exclusive areas around the country to practice Qi Gong and stumbled upon a private hall at a local fire station.
However, it did not last long as, after a month, Lim and company were asked to find a place elsewhere.
“My wife continued to just practice at home but soon lost interest and that’s when her condition got worse. She then passed away in 2012.”
“I was so sad and thought that if I could have just a built a place for her to practice Qi Gong, she would’ve gotten better. But I was also too busy taking care of her to think about other things.”
That was when the businessman decided to construct Joyful Garden – mainly to pay tribute to his late wife of 22 years and to encourage more people to learn more about Qi Gong and its benefits.
Joy to one, a joy to all
Upon completion of the garden, Lim invited friends and family over to practice Qi Gong three days a week, receiving great responses during the first few months.
“As time went by, my students started to miss lessons until there was only one person left. I felt sad that no one wanted to learn (anymore) but sometimes you can’t help it – they might have other things to do.”
He then decided to open the garden to the public more than a year ago, and first invited the villagers to come visit.
“I thought to myself – I’m happy that this garden exists and why not share the joy with others?”
Sure enough, popularity of the garden escalated right after, averaging 60 visitors daily.
“Seeing people happy going into the garden made me happy. It was then that I knew, I made the right decision.”
Blooming with love
Stepping into the property, visitors are first greeted with a plethora of plants and flowers – where one can already feel the positive energy upon arrival.
“When it was first completed six years ago, I bought over 1000 lavenders and planted it around the garden because of my late wife’s love for them,” shared Lim.
Sadly, after a month, the flowers died but despite that, he did not give up and searched for other flowers that could withstand the heat.
After multiple attempts, Lim finally landed on the Bougainvillea flower and placed them around the garden.
“I wanted to find something that would bloom all year round, just like my love for my late wife,” added the entrepreneur gleefully.
Each part of the house is decorated with ornaments inspired by the Chinese culture including marble statues and vases, lanterns, gazebos and wooden swings brought back from China and hand-picked by Lim himself.
Visitors can also relax by a pond while watching ducks swim around or enjoy the view from the second floor overlooking a magnificent artificial fountain – making every part of the garden picture-worthy.
While on the top floor, guests can admire a vast mural depicting the Great Wall of China and furniture with a significant history dating back to 2000 years ago including an ancient bed used by Chinese emperors.
“I want items in the house to be authentic for the enjoyment of all including myself as I love collecting pieces during trips,” he said, adding that he hopes visitors will also learn more about the Chinese culture.
He encourages guests to take pictures and capture moments around Joyful Garden while keeping the area clean.
While food and drinks are not allowed in the garden, Lim makes an exception for students who visit during the school holidays.
“Those who intend to have a photoshoot here for their graduation or wedding are welcomed to do so by informing us in advance.”
“My late wife left me with good memories and I hope to do the same at Joyful garden; give other people good memories,” he added.
The proprietor is looking to re-start Qi Gong classes soon and organise activities for the public to enjoy including making Tangyuan, a Chinese dessert made of glutinous rice flour and water that is either boiled or deep-fried.
Lim and the Village Consultative Council (MPK) of Kampong Subok are currently in talks with travel agents and Tourism Development Department to turn Joyful Garden into a tourist destination.
“At the moment we’ve stopped tourists from coming over due to COVID-19 and have just reopened the garden to visitors after being on hiatus for over a month.”
“We are also in the midst of opening a restaurant and souvenir shop in Kiulap that is hoped to gain profit for the maintenance of the garden.”
According to Lim, the restaurant will be serving local dishes such as ambuyat, dry biscuits, soto and curry while the souvenir shop will be selling hand-made items.
“We want tourists to know that Brunei has great food while bringing home a piece of the country from the shop.”
The entrance to Joyful Garden is free and open every Wednesday to Sunday from 8am to 11.30am and 1pm to 5.30pm.
It is located at No. 40, Simpang 214, Kampung Subok.
The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN