For anyone looking to take a trip down memory lane, or perhaps a trip back in time to catch a glimpse of what life might have been like in the Singapore of the 1960s, the Singapore 1960 exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore offers a chance to do just that. The exhibition which opened on 3 June, the anniversary of self-government, runs up to 22 August and features a display of more than 300 items from the 1960s. The exhibits include items which were commonly found in the 1960s as well as scenes of the life replayed in black and white providing a view into the vibrant cultural and entertainment scene of Singapore in the 1960s, including a view of the different “worlds”: Gay World, Great World, and New World, which played a big role in keeping Singaporeans amused and entertained.
It was a trip back in time for me as well, as I browsed through the exhibits. Some were familiar to me, transporting me back to the Singapore of my childhood, to a Singapore that was a very different place from the one we know of today. There were many reminders of the era, as well as the place, in which I had spent my early years in. One such reminder was in the form of a cigarette tin. I remember tins such as the one on display particularly well. This was from being sent regularly to the provision shop to buy a couple of sticks of cigarettes by my father. Cigarettes could then be purchased individually over the counter and this would be taken out of a tin. At that time, my father was trying then to curb his smoking habit and decided not to have a packet at his disposal at home, and so I would invariably be sent to the shops below whenever he felt like a cigarette (something that was possible then as there were no restrictions on minors buying cigarettes, and something I never enjoyed doing) to buy two sticks at a time.
There were many of the other exhibits that were familiar to me: a metal Player’s Navy Cut ashtray commonly found on the marble topped tables of coffee shops which brought with it memories of the coffee shops of old and spittoons that I never seemed to avoid kicking below the marble topped tables. There were two Magnolia soft drink bottles which brought memories of the Magnolia Grape soft drink that was one of my favourites once upon a time, as well reminded me of how Magnolia Milk was sold in similar bottles. A Smith Corona typewriter displayed on a desk brought back memories of how offices were once like when the constant sound of the clickaty-clack of the typewriters would always be heard in the background.
There are also pages from the newspapers of the era to browse through, providing an insight into a turbulent and violent decade in Singapore’s history, as well as images of a time some half a century ago, which provides an appreciation of how it once had been before Singapore became the clean and sanitised world that is the Singapore that we now know.