The glow in the park

12 05 2015

The quiet green surroundings of Fort Canning Hill provides the setting for the Pinacothèque de Paris’ home away from home, in a building whose best features the museum seems to have brought out, especially with its nighttime illuminations. The rather majestic looking building, looking resplendent after a huge makeover, dates back to 1926, beginning its life as a barracks block of the Malaya Command Headquarters. The Malaya Command HQ occupied a large part of the grounds of a mid-18oos British fortification, of which part of the wall and a gate, the Fort Gate, remains. Named after Lord Canning, the Governor-General and Viceroy of British India at that time, the fort was also what gave the hill its modern name.

The new glow at the formerly very dark cemetery at Fort Canning.

The new glow at the formerly very dark cemetery at Fort Canning.

I first got to know the three storey building that is now the Pinacothèque in my days of youthful adventure when the hill was a draw for as much for its seclusion of the hill, as it was for its mystery. Known also as Bukit Larangan, the Forbidden Hill, it was so named as it was the abode of the ancient kings both in life and in the afterlife. The dark and uncertain slopes, desecrated by the ornaments of the new order the most noticeable of which were the reminders of Singapore’s first Christian burial ground, seemed more forbidding  then than forbidden.

Fort Canning Centre at the start of its transformation into the Pinacotheque de Paris.

Fort Canning Centre at the start of its transformation into the Pinacotheque de Paris.

The monuments on the hill to the garrison no one imagined could be defeated, were less forbidding. In former barracks block, then converted into the “world’s largest squash centre”, Singapore Squash Centre, one was never without company. Established in 1977 when the game of squash rackets was at the peak of its popularity in Singapore, the centre boasted of 25 courts and as a facility for the game, was well used up until the 1980s. Unfortunately, the good times were to be brought to an end at the end of the 1980s. Plans were announced in 1985 to revamp Fort Canning Hill into a focal point for cultural and recreational activities in the city, with the barracks block serving as its hub. Following the expiration of the centre’s lease for the building in 1987, the building was renovated and unveiled as the Fort Canning Centre in 1991 into which arts related tenants such dance studios and theatre groups moved.

The building in the 1980s (National Archives of Singapore).

Overlooking Fort Canning Green, the site of the former Christian cemetery, the Pinacothèque de Paris, which opens its doors on 30 May 2015, adds not just a stunning backdrop to the now open-air concert venue, but also provides a good reason to head up a hill on whose slopes much of our early history was written.


A gem of a find in the heart of Joo Chiat

17 04 2012

Set in the heart of an area that is synonymous with the Chinese Peranakan community in Singapore, Joo Chiat, is a little gem of a place that awaits discovery – The Intan, which in Malay translates to ‘rose-cut diamond’. The Intan is a Peranakan home-museum which is owned by an antique collector, Alvin Yapp and is set in a somewhat nondescript house that is typical of the area. It is only in stepping through the door that the pure delight of the place becomes evident as one sets foot in a world where the rich culture of a forgotten time awaits discovery.

The Intan is a home-museum owned by an antique collector, Mr Alvin Yapp, located in the heart of the Joo Chiat area.

The entrance of The Intan as seen from the loft.

The ancestral altar is one of three altars usually found in a Peranakan house.

The house that The Intan is set in, is typical of houses that are associated with the community. It is long and narrow – an architectural feature that takes one back to a time when taxes to be paid were determined based on the number of windows a house had. Once inside, the soft light that filters through its narrow openings and skylights reveals the wealth of what The Intan holds – a superb collection of all things unmistakably Peranakan. This includes larger items of furniture, very distinctly coloured Peranakan pieces of porcelain, as well as personal items that include jewellery, embroidery and kasut manek (beaded slippers).

The long and narrow showcase of all things Peranakan that is The Intan.

A view of the loft.

Beaded slippers or kasut manek.

Old tiffin carriers form part of the collection - the trophy is a personal item on which Alvin has an interesting story to share.

The collection and the acquisition of knowledge of the culture for Alvin started when back as a teenager, watching a play triggered an increased awareness of his cultural background. This brought about a quest to understand a sub-culture that was fast being diluted by the gravitation towards a common Chinese identity. With requests received from friends first to view his collection which extended to requests to sample food from the kitchen, the idea to convert his home – then a flat in Marine Parade, into a museum. The Intan itself was started in 2003 and today hosts visits (by appointment only for a minimum of eight persons) for tea or dinner which includes a guided tour of the house, a sharing of insights into the Peranakan culture as well as a sharing of some fascinating personal stories. The Intan also hosts private functions, art sales and small concerts. More information on The Intan, which was invited to become a member of the Museum Roundtable and won the Best Overall Experience Award at the Museum Roundtable Awards 2011, is available at their website Appointments can be made by calling +65 6440 1148.

Alvin Yapp shares his passion for all things Peranakan.

The Intan is open for visits by appointment which include either tea or dinner (for a minimum of eight).

Porcelain pieces on the ancestral altar. The Peranakans commissioned uniquely and very distinctly coloured porcelain to be made in Jiangxi, China. Colours displayed also have a significance - with the blue and white pieces displayed during periods of mourning.

A wedding altar from Penang.

The collection includes quite a few pieces of Peranakan furniture which features intricately carved floral and phoenix motifs.

Furniture details.

Bead work on display on the altar.