A crestfallen ghost of the past

7 11 2014

In a part in Singapore that is haunted by many of its ghosts of the past, is one that is quite a visible reminder of a time we may have forgotten. The area, temporarily a haven for trees and the winged creatures that find joy in their branches, is one in which a huge transformation will very soon be in the works, a change that will see most of its ghosts displaced.

The wooded oasis that is now the grounds of the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery.

The wooded oasis that is now the grounds of the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery.

The visible ghost of the past is an emblem that connects us with the post-war days when Singapore first found itself separated from the Peninsula states. The emblem, a coat of arms, granted to the Municipal Commission by the College of Heralds in April 1948, is one of several left from the era (one can also be found on Mount Emily), lying in front of a house standing stop a small slope.

The house on the mound.

The house on the mound.

The Coat of Arms.

The Coat of Arms.

A description (blazon) of the coat of arms provided by a site on heraldry, http://www.hubert-herald.nl/:

Arms: Gules, a tower Argent, on its battlements a lion passant guardant Or, and a chief embattled Or a pair of wings between two anchors Azure their ropes Argent.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter lambrequined Argent and Azure, a lion passant Or before a palm-tree proper.

Motto: MAJULAH SINGAPURA (Onward Singapore).

A view of the front of the house with the Coat of Arms on the ground at its front.

A view of the front of the house with the Coat of Arms on the ground at its front.

Interestingly, an article in the 25 September 1951 edition of The Straits Times, tells us of a mistake made in the 1948 warrant that was issued to the Municipal Commission referring to the municipality as the “City of Singapore”. Singapore was only proclaimed a city on City Day, 22 September 1951.

Evidence of works being carried out in the area.

Evidence of works being carried out in the area.

The area where the Coat of Arms and the building, which has the appearance of possibly dwelling of the past, is where the future Bidadari estate will soon come up. It is not known what will become of the building and the emblem standing where the boundary of the area’s Muslim and Hindu cemetery once had been. In the part where the pond is depicted in plans for the area (see an artist’s impression of it here), in all likelihood, it, as with the many ghosts inhabiting the area before it, will very soon have to go.

A last look at the wild green space?

A last look at the wild green space?





Horses dancing on the Istana’s lawn

5 11 2014

One of the memories that connects me to Tanah Merah, a magical place that I dearly miss by the sea, is of seeing what had first appeared to me to be grown men at play on cardboard horses. Tanah Merah was a wondrous place to me, not just because of that little moment of magic, but also due to its physical landscape. Set along a coast marked by cliffs from which the area derived its name, it a naturally beautiful world into which I could in my childhood, often find an escape in.

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Four decades now separates me that memory. The place has long been discarded by a Singapore that has little sentiment for its natural beauty, but what I remember of it, the horsemen I saw at play,  continues to be a source of fascination for me, play a dance that is surrounded by much mystique.

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The dance, known as Kuda Kepang here in Singapore, is thought to have its origins in the animistic practices of pre-Islamic Java and part of the mystery that surrounds it are the spirits invoked in joining man with the horses they stand astride on. The trance the horsemen fall into provide the ability to do what science cannot explain.

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I revisited these memories of what I had witness as a young child from the safety of the side of the road at the village of Kampong Ayer Gemuroh in Tanah Merah. With the familiar strains of the dizzying gamelan-like accompaniment playing, I watched, enthralled, as men possessed pranced on their two-dimensional horses in the shadows of a former royal palace .

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The palace, once the Istana Kampong Glam, is now a centre to promote the history and culture of the Malay community of which the descendants of the Javanese immigrants in Singapore have largely assimilated into. Known as the Malay Heritage Centre, it was on its now well manicured lawn on which I was able to catch what today is a rare performance of the age-old dance.

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Where it had once been quite commonly seen, especially at happy occasions such as weddings, performances in public have become few and far between as a change in lifestyles, social perceptions, and religious objections, have seen such ritual practices having been all but discarded.

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While I have in fact put up a post on the dance, sitting through an entire performance does mean I have a newer and more photographs of the dance to share in this post. My previous post does however contain a more complete description of my first impressions of Kuda Kepang and on the dance itself, and should you wish to visit it, it can be found at this link.


Before the performance

Prayers offered before the performance.

Prayers offered before the performance.

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Preliminaries

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During the Dance

Smoke from the kemenyan (incense) being breathed in.

Smoke from the kemenyan (incense) being breathed in.

Men becoming one with the horse.

Men becoming one with the horse.

The performers are obviously in a trance-like state.

The performers are obviously in a trance-like state.

Drinking from a bucket of water.

Drinking from a bucket of water.

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The horses are whipped, apparently without any pain being felt.

The horses are whipped, apparently without any pain being felt.

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The Barong

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Performers being brought out of the trance

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An Ocean of Possibilities

4 11 2014

In An Ocean of Possibilities, we may find a sea of change. A photography exhibition brought to Singapore through a collaboration between Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) and Noorderlicht International Photo Festival in Groningen, An Ocean of Possibilities features the thought provoking works of 34 internationally acclaimed photographers who find unlikely forces for change in the midst of  the trials and tribulations of tragedy, conflict and upheaval.

Finding out how a camera obscura works in An Ocean of Possibilities.

Hands-on in finding out how a camera obscura works in An Ocean of Possibilities.

It is a theme that SIPF Festival Director, Gwen Lee, says that Singapore is no stranger to, having overcome many obstacles in charting its course through to an improved future. To Ms Lee,  the ocean “signifies a test of our courage, imagination and capabilities to take the path less trodden”, a path that is taken by the subject in the works.

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The exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, which opened on 31 October 2014 and will run until 28 December, sees over 200 works – photographs and videos, on display. Among the photographs are the works of two Singaporeans, Zhao Renhui and Lim Weixiang in the 34 that have been selected from over 1000 submissions.

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The works that I thought were especially provoking are those of Alex Masi, Ana Galan, Matthew O’Brien and Loulou d’Aki. Masi’s Bhopal Second Disaster is particularly so in examining the continuing fallout of the Bhopal disaster, 30 years on, through a series of haunting images. In all this, Masi finds hope in adversity, a hope that a population abandoned by those who should be making wrongs right, have found from within.

Photographs from Alex Mesi's Bhopal Second Disaster.

Photographs from Alex Masi’s Bhopal Second Disaster.

d’Aki also finds hope in the future – through the faces of the youth of the Middle East and in their dreams and ambitions in Make A Wish, while O’Brien finds beauty in the common folk of Colombia in lives where the threat of violence and misery is ever present through a series of Polaroids in No Dar Papaya. In Galan’s In a Quest for Utopia, we are made to take a look at a Myanmar, which in spite of democratic reforms, continues to be dominated by the politics of the past half a century. Galan’s work sees a homage paid to activists who in continuing a fight for freedom put their lives and their own personal freedom at risk.

Ana Galan's portrait of Nay Yee Ba Swe with the words of Article 37 of the Burmese Constitution superimposed.

Ana Galan’s portrait of Nay Yee Ba Swe with the words of Article 37 of the Burmese Constitution superimposed.

Polaroids from Matthew O'Brien's No Dar Papaya.

Polaroids from Matthew O’Brien’s No Dar Papaya.

Loulou d'Aki's Make A Wish - hope for the future seen in the faces of the youth of the post Arab Spring Middle East.

Loulou d’Aki’s Make A Wish – hope for the future seen in the faces of the youth of the post Arab Spring Middle East.

A quite enjoyable part of the exhibition are the interactive activities that Hands On Lenses, curated by artscientist Isabella Desjeux, that visitors can participate in. Participants will be able to make their own magnifier, understand how a camera obscura works and use their smart phones to take photos of magnified objects. Hands On Lenses workshops will be conducted by Isabella Desjuex on 8 and 9 and 22 November, 13 and 20 December. In addition to this, Marina Bay Sands’ resident photographers will be conducting two courses, Photographing Stories on 23 and 30 November and Shooting Travel Photos like a Pro on 13 December.

Hands on Lenses.

Hands on Lenses.

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In addition to this, ArtScience Museum will also be organising a free symposium on 8 November, Digital Frontiers: Exploring the context of Digital Imaging. This will see academic experts in the art and science field, Dr Vasillios Vonikakis from Advanced Digital Sciences Center and Associate Prof Oh Soon-Hwa from Nanyang Technological University exploring how digital photography has changed our perception of images today. The session will also include a discussion on how technological advances have spurred greater progress in key areas within the artistic and scientific domains.

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More information on the exhibition and workshops can be found at the ArtScience Museum’s site and also the SIPF website. A exhibition guide can be downloaded here.

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Artistic Impressions by Shunji Matsuo

3 11 2014

Renowned for his artistic creations in the hair salon, hairstylist Shunji Matsuo unleashes another dimension in his creative genius in Artistic Impressions, an exhibition running until 13 November 2014, which showcases not only his contribution to hairstyles, but also some 40 paintings and over 20 sculptures and headdresses. The exhibition, curated by Steven Lim, a late bloomer in the field of art – interestingly he was a ship designer before he put himself through art school close to the age of 60, is being held at the Japan Creative Centre in Nassim Road.

A model dressed in Shunji Matsuo's happy colours at the opening of the exhibition on Friday.

A model dressed in Shunji Matsuo’s happy colours at the opening of the exhibition on Friday.

I thought that the works, which in most part have a recurring theme centered around women and hairstyles – have also been inspired by contemporary artists such as Yayoi Kusama and subjects such the Amasan in Japan, are rich in colour (yellow is said to be his happy colour) and have a rather intriguing child-like quality.

A work inspired by Yayoi Kusama.

A work inspired by Yayoi Kusama.

Matsuo at the opening.

Matsuo at the opening.

The exhibition is well worth a visit not just for Matsuo’s happy expressions of creativity, but also because it gives you an opportunity to step into the gorgeous old world house that the Japan Creative Centre is housed in. More information is available at http://www.sg.emb-japan.go.jp/JCC/invite_shunji%20matsuo.html.

The gorgeous house the Japan Creative Centre is housed in.

The gorgeous house the Japan Creative Centre is housed in.

Matsuo's contributions to 50 years of fashion evolution.

Matsuo’s contributions to 50 years of fashion evolution.

Curator, Steven Lim.

Curator, Steven Lim.

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One hundred steps to a new heaven?

28 10 2014

It has been a while since I last ventured to the once magical world of Mount Sophia. Perched one hundred feet above the city, scaling its heights was best done on foot via a flight of one hundred steps (and a little more these days), taking you into a world that seemed to me to be the closest thing that there might have been to heaven on earth.

The new world reflecting on a past being erased..

The new world reflecting on a past being erased.

What remains of the former MGS.

All that remains of an old school.

Heaven, as it might have been when I made the first of my wanderings through the area in the 1970s, was much changed place by the time I was reacquainted with the hill in more recent times. Much of its magic faded when Eu Villa, a mansion that was the stuff of which fairy tales are made, was demolished at the start of the 1980s. Scarred today by the barbs that have replaced its once wondrous architectural landscape, much of the charm of its days of glory, has never been seen again.

Eu Villa - the magical home of Eu Tong Sen (Source: www.singapedia.com.sg).

Eu Villa – the magical home of Eu Tong Sen (Source: http://www.singapedia.com.sg).

The triumph of the weapons of past destruction.

The triumph of the weapons of past destruction.

A more recent loss was that of the large cluster of buildings that has collectively been referred to as “Old School”, leaving but a few reminders of a yesterday that has largely been forgotten. The complex of buildings was where over six decades of the memories of old girls of Methodist Girls School (MGS), until 1992, had been made. All that remains today is a lone building, abandoned by its companions, but soon to forge new friendships.

Last one standing - Olson building, abandoned by the other buildings of old MGS.

Last one standing – Olson building, abandoned by the other buildings of old MGS.

And the walls come tumbling down. A retaining wall belonging to the former MGS being demolished.

And the walls come tumbling down. A retaining wall belonging to the former MGS being demolished.

The lone structure, now sitting forlornly surrounded by a scene of devastation, the Olson building, dates back to 1928 – having been built to facilitate the school’s move up the hill from nearby Short Street that had been attributed to the then principal Mary Olson, after whom the building was named. Destined now to be a clubhouse within the Sophia Hills residential development that will colonise a good part of Mount Sophia, it is one of four reminders of an enchanted past that have been conserved on the hill.

Olson building will become a clubhouse as part of the Sophia Hills development.

The sprawling condominium development, spread not only over the grounds of the former MGS, but will also include the former premises of Nan Hwa Girls’ School at the junction of Adis Road and Sophia Road, and the area next to Old School that was used by Trinity Theological College (TTC), will also include two of the remanining three conserved structures. One is the pre-war building that housed Nan Hwa, which will be put to use as a kindergarten cum childcare centre. The other is the former TTC chapel, which is intended for use as a fine-dining restaurant.

The former Nan Hwa Girls' School.

The former Nan Hwa Girls’ School.

The former Nan Hwa will be leased out as a kindergarten cum childcare centre.

The former chapel of TTC - being turned into a fine-dining restaurant.

The former chapel of TTC – being turned into a fine-dining restaurant.

The chapel, which has stood out on the hill since the 1960s, is recognisable from its very distinctive roof structure, which takes the form of the Chinese character representing people or人 (ren), when viewed from the front. A fourth conserved structure on the hill that is not part of the development, is the former Tower House, which now houses House on the Hill, a childcare centre.

An artist’s impression of what the fine-dining restaurant will look like.

House on the Hill across the road from the Sophia Hills development.

House on the Hill across the road from the Sophia Hills development.

With the chill brought by the winds of change sweeping through a once familiar part of Singapore, comes much pain. We have to be numb as there is little room to be sentimental in a Singapore where looking to the future makes us forget the past. There are the small reminders of yesterday we sometimes hold on to. These, however, often lose their meaning in being made into a part of tomorrow.

The once magical hilltop of Mount Sophia being cleared for new magic to be created.

The once magical hilltop of Mount Sophia being cleared for new magic to be created.

There is the promise of a new magic. But to feel its enchantment, we have to fall out of love with the Singapore we have grown to love. It is only then that we can fall in love again, with a Singapore where love for anything else but all that now glisters, is hard to find.

The promised land as seen on a hoarding at the site.

The promised land as seen on a hoarding at the site.





145 Neil Road

27 10 2014

145 Neil Road, a transitional-style shophouse, stands right next to the house where Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, spent part of his childhood. It was quite recently in the spotlight, not because of any association it may have had with the adjacent dwelling, but as one of two Category B winners of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Architectural Heritage Awards (AHA) this year.

A stairway into a heavenly old world.

A new stairway into a heavenly old world.

There is little not to admire about the very tastefully restored house. Owned by Ms Ho Ren Yung, the restoration efforts were the work of architects Ong and Ong Pte Ltd. While it may be the gaudy shade of blue of the house’s exterior – thought to be close to the colour of its original coat of paint (determined through a process that required stripping off each layer of paint added over the years) that first draws attention to the two storey dwelling; it is what’s seen in the inside that is a joy to behold.

The exterior of 145 Neil Road, wearing what has been determined to have been the colour of its original coat of paint.

The exterior of 145 Neil Road, wearing what has been determined to have been the colour of its original coat of paint.

A window into the past in the present.

A window from the past into the present.

The house’s interior is a wonderful recreation that blends easy on the eye new elements with the reminders of the past. It is where we find a space celebrated even with the separation of the spaces on the ground level through the clever use of features such as the new staircase, the old in the open courtyard, and the kitchen in the extension beyond the courtyard. It is the courtyard where we see the old take centrestage with the retention of its beautiful fish shaped waterspout, carved relief wall panels and wall tiles on the ground level, above which the shuttered windows into the past tells a story of its own.

The joy of space, even with the separation of space.

The joy of space, even with the separation of space.

The open courtyard with its fish-spout.

The open courtyard with its fish spout, carved relief wall panels and antiquated pigmented wall tiles.

 

The wooden shuttered windows overlooking the courtyard.

The wooden shuttered windows overlooking the courtyard.

The kitchen.

The kitchen.

Space is also delightfully celebrated on the house’s upper levels. On the second level this is seen especially in the living area. One also finds a very nicely furnished landing area, a study and a bedroom on the floor, beyond which the staircase leads to the attic. There is also a lovely little terrace behind the original roof – a perfect place to escape to that is also accessible through a red-brick wall encased new spiral staircase at the house’s rear. Used as a screen at the top of the staircase are two memories of the past. One is a section of the old iron front gate and the other a shuttered wooden window, a wonderful example of how the house in being transformed for the future, hangs on it what must have been a glorious past. For more information on the house and its restoration, a detailed write up can be found on the URA’s AHA site.

The second level living area.

The second level living area.

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A study on the second level.

A study on the second level.

The roof terrace.

The roof terrace.

A new spiral staircase to the roof terrace.

A new spiral staircase to the roof terrace.

The view upwards.

The view upwards.

Reminders of the past: the old iron front gate and shuttered windows.

Reminders of the past: the old iron front gate and shuttered windows.

145 Neil Road in 1982 with its cast iron gate (From the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

145 Neil Road in 1982 with its old iron front gate (From the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

The attic.

The attic.

 

Ms Ho Ren Yung receiving the AHA Award on 2 October 2014.

Ms Ho Ren Yung receiving the AHA Award on 2 October 2014.

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A life-changing slice of toast

22 10 2014

P1040768It is going to be hard to look at the humble kaya loti (kaya toast in local speak) in the same way again. Long a breakfast item for the man-on-the-street, it now finds itself elevated into one of two life-changing Singapore experiences for the visitor – thanks to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015 in which Singapore tops the list of ten countries to visit next year.

To celebrate the Singapore’s elevation to the top of the pile, which in part is due to the fact that Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of full independence next year,  Singapore Tourism Board (STB) / Lonely Planet decided to bring out the best in kaya – the sweet paste sometimes referred to as “coconut egg jam” made from coconut milk, pandan, sugar and eggs, that can be irresistible on a buttered slice of toast, at a hands-on event at 2am Dessert Bar on Tuesday.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast - a kaya toast cocktail.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast – a kaya toast cocktail.

There is nothing not to love about kaya toast, which in many ways, is representative of what Singapore is as a country – the fusion of many influences and one that continues to evolve. Kaya and kaya toast, besides in the many more traditional variations in which one can find it served today, also provides the inspiration for evolving food and beverage creations –  two of which came to light at yesterdays event.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

The first, is the creation of the much celebrated pastry chef, Janice Wong, the creative energy behind 2am. Reputed to have herself blindfolded so as not to allow what she creates be influenced by what she sees, Janice gave an introduction to “Shades of Green” – a dessert in which flavours many who have grown up in Singapore would quite easily identify with are reinterpreted. The dessert, which I got an opportunity to try assembling, discharging a spray of coco-mousse into two unfortunate participants in the process; features a custard of pandan flavoured palm sugar (gula melaka) is combined with gula melaka ice cream, coco-mousse, pistachio sponge and pistachio crumble, and is topped with a kuih bang kit meringue.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green was quickly followed by more shades of green in the form of a kaya-making demo, after which came what to me was the highlight – putting together a kaya-toast cocktail conceived by cocktail bar Bitters and Love. A combination of rum, lemon juice, sugar, honey, peach liqueur, egg white and a dash of kaya, it does put an interesting twist on the lori kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

Putting a new twist both on Singapore and kaya loti, is Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015. Of Singapore, Lonely Planet has this to say: “As one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, Singapore is always celebrating something. But Asia’s smallest state has an extra reason to put on her party hat in 2015 for it’s golden jubilee”. There is indeed much to celebrate in the cultural crossroads that is Singapore. While the city-state’s rapid modernisation, in which it has discarded too much of its fascinating past, has shifted emphasis on the development of mega-attractions and the staging of gala-events; there is that curious mix of age-old traditions and architecture with the ultra-modern that does makes Singapore, where the Lonely Planet says answering the door in one’s underwear is a no-no, a country one just has to visit.

Lonely Planet's Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Lonely Planet’s Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Along with Singapore, the countries in the top ten for 2015 are Namibia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Ireland, Republic of Congo, Serbia, The Philippines, St Lucia and Morocco. Lonely Planet draws recommendations for Best in Travel from hundreds of ideas submitted by Lonely Planet’s staff, authors, and extended family of travellers, bloggers and tweeters. The suggestions are refined by a panel of in-house travel experts based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor. More information on Best of Travel can be found at Lonely Planet’s website.








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