The ghosts on Forbidden Hill

27 11 2015

Fort Canning Hill, the scene of many a schoolboy adventure, is a place I constantly find myself drawn to. The attraction of the hill, where mortals once feared to tread in its days as Bukit Larangan – the Forbidden Hill, is perhaps the air of mystery that surrounds it. Its slopes were believed to be the abode of the kings of ancient Singapura, in life and in death. Even with the interventions of the ever changing world, it still is where the ghosts of a Singapore well forgotten, are ever present.

Not a typical ghost seen at Fort Canning Green.

Not a typical ghost seen at Fort Canning Green.

The area of the forbidden hill (what Bukit Larangan, its name in Malay, translates into) that I find the greatest fascination for is its north-eastern slope. Here, the opportunities for an encounter with a ghost of the past, are plenty. The slope is where a mysterious a tomb is found, purportedly that of the last of the kings of old Singapura, Iskandar Shah.

The Keramat, which some believe to be the tomb of the last king of Singapura, Iskandar Shah.

The Keramat, which some believe to be the tomb of the last king of Singapura, Iskandar Shah.

This tomb, venerated as a keramat, gained the attention of John Crawfurd on his first visit to the hill, just three years after the East India Company’s settlement was established. Crawfurd, who was later to be appointed Singapore’s second Resident, made a note of his walk around the hill in his diary. The interest he had on the hill was motivated perhaps by the observation that the “only remains of antiquity at Singapore, besides the (Singapore) stone, are contained on the hill”.

On the eastern slopes of Fort Canning Hill.

On the eastern slopes of Fort Canning Hill.

Crawfurd describes the ruins that were observed on “a greater part of the west and northern side of the hill”. Going further , he takes note of “another terrace, on the north declivity of the hill … said to have been the burying place of of Iskandar Shah“, a claim he suggested was apocryphal for good reason.  It should be noted that Crawfurd was mistaken in his assumption that the long axis of the hill ran east-west instead of north-northwest to south-southeast and he would have been referring to the eastern slope of the hill in relation to the location of the tomb.

An artist’s impression of Parameswara, thought to also be Iskandar Shah (source: Wikipedia).

The tomb seemed already a place of veneration even then. Crawfurd also takes note of the “rude structure” raised over the tomb, to which “since the formation of the new Settlement … Mohammedans, Hindoos, and Chinese equally resort to do homage”.  The tomb has certainly added much to the mystery and superstition that has surrounded the hill over the intervening years. One rumour has it that unexplained events that led to occupying Japanese troops abandoning the British Military built barrack blocks on the hill during the war, had be due to the intervention of the tomb’s occupant.

The barrack block at Cox Terrace with the cemetery in the foreground (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

The barrack block at Cox Terrace with the old Christian cemetery in the foreground (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

One of these barrack blocks, lies just northwest of the tomb at Cox Terrace. A squash centre in my schooldays and and arts centre after, it now masquerades as the fancy sounding Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris, a private art museum. The museum overlooks what is today a most wonderful of space we know as Fort Canning Green. It comes to life occasionally when events such as theatre and musical performances under the stars, are held on it. And when it is kept clear,  it is a place, as it was in the days of my youth, where an escape could be found in.

Fort Canning Green today, well manicured, but still where many ghosts of the past are to be found.

Fort Canning Green today, well manicured, but still where many ghosts of the past are to be found.

A stage set for the spirits of a Shakespearean play, The Tempest, at Fort Canning Green.

A stage set for the spirits of a Shakespearean play, The Tempest, at Fort Canning Green.

There is much on and surrounding the green that will remind us of its previous use. A brick wall that encompasses most of the grounds around much of its perimeter give very clear hints of its days as an old Christian cemetery, as do the two cross adorned Gothic style gates intended as entry points. Information on the cemetery, the second Christian cemetery to be used in Singapore, is mostly contained in a 1912 register compiled by H. A. Stallwood. The register was published in the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS) and was an attempt to create on as no register of burials for the cemetery could then be found.

A general view of the cemetery in the 1912 JSBRAS paper.

A general view of the cemetery in the included with the 1912 register.

The south east corner of the cemetery in 1921 (The cemetery seen in 1912 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

The south east corner of the cemetery in 1921 (The cemetery seen in 1912 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

We see from the register that the cemetery was divided down its east-west axis by a wall. The cemetery’s Anglican section was located south of this division, with the northern half allocated to the burials of other Christian denominations. The background to the cemetery is also given:

The Cemetery stands on the slope of Fort Canning Hill, and is approached from the South by Fort Canning Road, through a gateway designed partly in the Gothic style of Architecture. It was opened in 1822 to take the place of the first Christian Cemetery which was situated close to where the flag-staff at Fort Canning now stands. It was closed when the Cemetery in Bukit Timah Road was opened in 1865.

One of the two gothic gates that serve as the entrances to the old Christian cemetery at Fort Canning (source: JSBRAS paper). The gates are still standing.

One of the two gothic gates that serve as the entrances to the old Christian cemetery at Fort Canning – also from the 1912 register. The gates are still standing.

Possibly one of the last burials to have taken place, that of young Ada Sutcliffe (year of death incorrectly recorded in the JSBRAS paper as 1865).

Possibly one of the last burials to have taken place, that of young Ada Sutcliffe (year of death incorrectly recorded in the 1912 Regsiter as 1865).

Close-up of a tomb, possibly taken in the late 1940s by Richard Stone (online: http://www.stone-family.info/stone-richard-photos.html).

Close-up of a tomb, possibly taken in the late 1940s by Richard Stone (online: http://www.stone-family.info/stone-richard-photos.html).

The register makes mention of the attraction of the grounds to “those who appreciate quiet, contemplative surroundings“, something that as mentioned above, is the case even today. We are also reminded of the cemetery’s historical value, what perhaps was the main motivation for Stallwood’s effort:

To those who feel an interest in Singapore and its history, few places in the Settlement offer so much of interest.  Many old residents lie buried here, and many tombstones testify to the number of lives sacrificed by members of the Civil Service, who were called to rest at a very early age, whilst taking their share in the administration of this Settlement, of which we are all so proud. The United Services also yield their quota of names, unfortunately, some well-known, if not illustrious, in the annals of their country.

Fort Canning Green is still an attraction for those who appreciate quiet, contemplative surroundings.

Fort Canning Green is still an attraction for those who appreciate quiet, contemplative surroundings.

The layout of the cemetery from the 1912 Register.

The layout of the cemetery from the 1912 Register.

The oldest tomb identified by Stallwood, one from 1821, belongs to a John C. Collingwood of the ship “Susan”. Its presence in the cemetery, which was only opened in 1822, was attributed to it having been relocated from the original cemetery. The last burial was however incorrectly identified as being that of two year old Marie Dominica Scott in 1868. A check against the register’s listing of graves has the child’s death occurring instead in 1858. The 1858 death was also confirmed by the brother of the deceased in a letter published in the Straits Times on 17 July 1912, written to point the error out.

A photograph from the JSBRAS paper. The memorial to the men of HMS Niger mentioned in the paper, is in the centre of the picture.

A photograph from the 1912 Register. A memorial to the men of HMS Niger that is also mentioned in the paper, is in the centre of the picture.

The cemetery seen in 1912 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

The cemetery seen in 1912 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

Within the walls, two noticeable structures that belonged to the cemetery remain. Both are in the southwest corner. The larger of the two, said to have been the largest in the former cemetery, is dedicated to the memory of James Brooke Napier, the infant son of William Napier. It was after William, a lawyer and the founder of the Singapore Free Press, that Napier Road was named.

A photograph of the memorial to James Brooke Napier from the JSBRAS paper.

A photograph of the memorial to James Brooke Napier from the 1912 Register.

The Napier Memorial and a former barrack block turned art museum at the top of Fort Canning Green.

The Napier Memorial and a former barrack block turned art museum at the top of Fort Canning Green.

William Napier was for a short while the Lieutenant-Governor of Labuan. He serve under Governor James Brooke, who is better known to us as the first of the white Rajahs of Sarawak. It was after Brooke that the infant was named. James Brooke Napier died at sea on 17 February 1848 at the age of 5 months and 24 days. His mother was Maria Frances Napier was the widow of the illustrious George D. Coleman, who Napier married not long after Coleman’s death in October 1844.

The memorial today.

The memorial today.

George Coleman, Singapore’s first public works architect, is best known to us as the man behind the beautiful Armenian Church and for lending his name to the street on which he had his house and to a bridge over the Singapore river. There is much of the former cemetery connected to him. The Gothic gates are ones that Coleman designed, along with the second set of the large structures mentioned, the two cupolas. Located just down the slope from the Napier memorial, the cupolas are of ornamental value, intended it is suggested, to provide shelter for rest and for contemplation.

The southwest area of the cemetery with the cuploas clearly visible. Possibly taken in the late 1940s it is from a wonderful online collection of photographs taken in Singapore from 1948 to the mid-1950s by Richard Stone (online: http://www.stone-family.info/stone-richard-photos.html).

The southwest area of the cemetery with the cuploas and the memorial to James Brooke Napier visible. Possibly taken in the late 1940s, it is from a wonderful online collection of photographs taken in Singapore from 1948 to the mid-1950s by Richard Stone (online: http://www.stone-family.info/stone-richard-photos.html).

The cupolas today.

The cupolas today.

Coleman was also laid to rest in the cemetery. An Irishman, he was believed to have been a member of the Church of Ireland. A mausoleum to Coleman, who died in 1844, was located at the non-Anglican section, in the cemetery’s northwest corner. All that remains of that is its memorial tablet, which can be found embedded in the western wall of Fort Canning Green, not far from where his mausoleum was located.

Coleman's cupolas with a view towards the northern Gothic gate.

Coleman’s cupolas with a view towards the northern Gothic gate.

The tablet belonging to the grave of George D. Coleman on the western wall - just below Fort Canning Centre.

The tablet belonging to the tomb of George D. Coleman on the western wall – just below Fort Canning Centre.

George D. Coleman's tomb in the northwest corner seen in 1956. The tomb was one of about 120 graves retained when the cemetery was converted into a 'Garden of Memory' in 1954 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

George D. Coleman’s tomb in the northwest corner seen in 1956. The tomb was one of about 120 graves retained when the cemetery was converted into a ‘Garden of Memory’ in 1954 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

Coleman’s tomb was one of those that stood until the early 1970s. It was one of some 120 tombs identified for preservation by the Committee for the Preservation of Historic Sites when a decision was taken in the 1950s to turn the cemetery into a “garden of memory” in the early 1950s. The decision, prompted by the state of neglect and ruin the historic site was in, resulted in the exhumation of more than four hundred graves. An effort was also made to preserve the memory of those buried in the exhumed graves by embedding the headstones and memorial tablets of the removed graves into the walls of the cemetery. An extension to the existing wall had also to be constructed at then open eastern perimeter to permit this and the work was completed in 1954.

The garden, still with a scattering of graves, in 1974 ( (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

The garden, still with a scattering of graves, in 1974 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

Another view of the former cemetery in 1974 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

Another view of the former cemetery in 1974 (photo online at http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

Gravestones embedded into the walls.

Gravestones embedded into the walls.

The writing on the walls now include grave stones from a mid-1970s exercise that saw all remaining graves exhumed and yields a rather interesting mix of stories from the former graves. In it we see many who came from far and wide bringing a diversity to the new settlement. We also see many names of notable personalities from the settlement’s earliest days. Examples of both include names such as Aristake Sarkies, who was Singapore’s first Armenian merchant, and also Jose D’Almeida, who was to be knighted by the Queen of Portugal and who was to become the first Portuguese Consul General to the Straits Settlements. D’Almeida Street is named after him.

The memorial tablets embedded in the walls tell us of many who came from far and wide in the early decades of British Singapore.

The memorial tablets embedded in the walls tell us of many who came from far and wide in the early decades of British Singapore.

A tablet belonging to the grave of Aristake Sarkies.

A tablet belonging to the grave of Aristake Sarkies.

From the grave of Charles Spottiswoode, a merchant after whom Spottiswoode Park is named.

From the grave of Charles Spottiswoode, a merchant after whom Spottiswoode Park is named.

There are also the stories of those who are less recognisable. One name that I could not help but notice on the walls is that of Emily Louisa Ottoson. Ottoson is a name that I am familiar with as that of Singapore’s first Japanese resident, John Matthew, also known as Otokichi Yamamoto. Behind the name is a fascinating tale that begins with Otokichi’s unitended departure from the country of his birth (a previous post on the Japanese Cemetery touches on the story). Emily Louisa it turns out, was John Matthew’s young daughter. She died in November 1852, a few months short of her fifth birthday.

The memorial tablet for Emily Louisa Ottoson, the four year old daughter of John Matthew Ottoson a.k.a. Otokichi. A resident of Japanese origin, Otokichi had a very eventful life out of Japan that started with him being lost at sea fro 14 months (see: https://thelongnwindingroad.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/voices-from-a-forgotten-past/).

The memorial tablet for Emily Louisa Ottoson, the four year old daughter of John Matthew Ottoson a.k.a. Otokichi. A resident of Japanese origin, Otokichi had a very eventful life out of Japan that started with him being lost at sea for 14 months (see: Voices from a Forgotten Past).

The young ages of many who were interred in the cemetery is also hard not to notice. Many names in the walls are those of children and infants. There are also many who passed on in their prime, which the 1912 register touches on, saying: “many tombstones testify to the number of lives sacrificed by members of the Civil Service, who were called to rest at a very early age, whilst taking their share in the administration of this Settlement, of which we are all so proud“.

A tablet from the grave of Edward Presgrave, a civil servant who passed away at the age of 35.

A tablet from the grave of Edward Presgrave, a civil servant who passed away at the age of 35.

One in this category was an Edward Presgrave. A contemporary of John Crawfurd, Presgrave served as the Registrar of Imports and Exports and concurrently as the Deputy Resident of Singapore. He reportedly died from a sudden attack of paralysis in 1830. On the basis of the register, he shared a vault with the Rev. Robert Burn. The Reverend, who died in 1833, was the first Anglican Resident Chaplain in Singapore and his appointment in 1826 is significant from the perspective that it marks the founding of the Anglican Church in Singapore.

A tablet belonging to Rev. Robert Burn, Chaplain of the Settlement, who apparently shared the same vault as Edward Presgrave in the Anglican section at the top of the slope.

A tablet belonging to Rev. Robert Burn, Chaplain of the Settlement, who apparently shared the same vault as Edward Presgrave in the Anglican section at the top of the slope.

There are many more stories that are to be found in the walls. Estimates of the number buried in the cemetery vary greatly. The 1912 register has list of over 550 names, while a Straits Times report in September 1952 has it as more than 700. The vast majority of those buried would have been of those of European descent. There are however a substantial number of Chinese, early converts to Christianity, who were also buried there, evident from the embedded grave stones with Chinese inscriptions. From these we can also see that the tradition was maintained in the manner the graves were inscribed, even with the embrace of a non-traditional faith.

A tablet in Chinese.

A Chinese head stone.

An example of an early Chinese Christian grave in which the Chinese tradition is maintained found another old cemetery in Singapore.

An example of an early Chinese Christian grave in which the Chinese tradition is maintained found another old cemetery in Singapore.

Mixed into the reminders of the old (Christian Cemetery), there are also the reminders of the new (Christian Cemetery). The “New Cemetery” or the Bukit Timah Christian Cemetery, replaced the Fort Canning cemetery as a Christian burial site and it was from the new cemetery that the cluster of gravestones seen in the northeast corner of the grounds had been moved from. The move was made when the graves in the new cemetery, located at what is today Kampong Java Park, were exhumed in 1970. The twelve graves stones that were moved were ones deemed to be of historical value by the then sub-committee on the Preservation of Buildings and Sites of Architectural and Historical Interest.

Gravestones moved from the 'New Cemetery' at the northeastern corner of Fort Canning Green.

Gravestones moved from the ‘New Cemetery’ at the northeastern corner of Fort Canning Green.

The exhumation of the remaining graves, undertaken in the mid 1970s, was part of an exercise to turn turn the hill into a huge park and green lung in the city. Named Central Park, it extended the reach of a previous public park, King George V Park on the west side of the hill, across to the east of the hill and incorporated parts of which had previously been used by the military, as well as the former cemetery site. Plans then included a roller skating rink, which was built, and also a cascading founding. The latter would have occupied the grounds of the cemetery and was fortunately not built, leaving us with a space in which the ghosts of the past are not forgotten.

King George V Park.

King George V Park.

A southward view through the James Brooke Napier memorial.

A southward view through the James Brooke Napier memorial.

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Inuits will paint the town red this weekend

20 08 2015

The highly anticipated Singapore Night Festival is back!

One of the highlights of this year’s festival has to be the appearance of the world’s smallest and perhaps the most lovable Inuits, Anooki (Anook and Nooki). The Inuits, the creation of David Passegand and Moetu Batlle, have come all the way from France to run riot and paint the town, of rather the façade of the National Museum of Singapore. red, green, purple and blue and put a smile on the faces of the the crowds that will descend on the museum’s front lawn on the weekends of 21/22 and 28/29 August.

Annoki Celebrate Singapore on the façade of the National Museum of Singapore.

The Anooki wreaking havoc on the façade of the National Museum of Singapore.

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David Passegand and Moetu Batlle.

David Passegand and Moetu Batlle.

The Inuits, which are said to have taken the animation world by storm, will feature in one of several performances specially commissioned for the jubilee year edition of the Singapore Night Festival. The fun and energetic projection, Anooki Celebrate Singapore, will anchor the festival’s Night Lights – a popular segment that promises to be bigger and better this year. Night Lights also sees several other light installations colour the night in and around the museum. One, Cédric Le Borgne’s le Desir et la Menace brings the huge banyan tree in front of the museum to life with giant illuminated bird wire sculptures. Another, Drawn in Light by Ralf Westerhof, recreates sights typical of Amsterdam using rotating illuminated wire frames suspended above the ground.

Le Desir et la Menace.

Le Desir et la Menace.

Drawn in Light.

Drawn in Light.

Inside the museum, Night Light offerings include And So They Say and A Little Nonya’s Dreams. The former is a documentary project that features interviews with 25 senior citizens that will also be seen at SOTA, DECK (at Prinsep Street) and the National Design Centre. The latter, sees three animators come together to individually interpret a little’s girls’ dreams.

And So They Say.

And So They Say.

From A Little Nonya's Dreams.

From A Little Nonya’s Dreams.

Playing with fire … and light over at the Singapore Art Museum, will be the Starlight Alchemy, an audience favourite and regular feature at the Singapore Night Festival. This year, sees the locally based group perform a specially commissioned Alchemy that tells of the reconciliation between Apollo from the world of Ethereal Light and Nuri from the world of Ethereal Flame, in another must-catch performance.

Fire ....

Fire ….

... and light meet at the SAM.

… and light meet at the SAM.

Other performances to catch include Goldies, who will take us back into Singapore’s musical world from the 50s to the 80s in a ticketed performance; Fields in Bloom, which sees flowers glowing in a spectrum of colours on the steps of SOTA and the Lorong Boys – 5 award winning Singaporean musicians who perform in both the concert hall and on the streets. Another interesting performance to catch is Lost Vegas, which features the giant puppets of Frank Malachi – an award winning puppeteer based in Singapore.

Meet Christine, who will be seen in Lost Vegas.

Meet Christine, who will be seen in Lost Vegas.

3 of the 5 Lorong Boys.

3 of the 5 Lorong Boys.

Flieds in Bloom.

Fields in Bloom.

Goldies.

Goldies.

The Singapore Night Festival 2015 runs over two weekends (Friday and Saturday nights), on 21 and 22 August and on 28 and 29 August, from 7 pm until 2 am. The festival will be held across 5 zones, the National Museum of Singapore, Armenian Street (which will again be closed for the festival), the House of Glamour (at the field across from the Cathay), the Festival Village at SMU and the Singapore Art Museum and Queen Street (including the National Design Centre, DECK at 120A Prinsep Street), Waterloo Street and SOTA). Besides light and music performances, festival goers can also look forward to lots of food offerings. More information on the festival can be found at the Singapore Night Festival Website at which a Festival Guide can also be downloaded.

Singapore Night Festival creative director Christie Chua.

Singapore Night Festival creative director Christie Chua.

 

 





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.





Connecting to reconnect with the convent

10 11 2014

Several hundred girls from CHIJ Toa Payoh secondary and primary schools found themselves back in school on Sunday, not in the familiar surroundings of Toa Payoh, but in ones once familiar in Victoria Street. It had been in Victoria Street some 160 years ago, that four nuns of the Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus’, having arrived following a long and arduous journey from Europe to the Singapore via Penang, began their mission in Caldwell House with just a bed, 2 mats, 2 chairs and 2 stools, establishing the convent in February 1854.

Back to school in once familiar surroundings.

Back to school in once familiar surroundings.

The convent was to grow, establishing within the walls of its expanded premises on Victoria Street,  not just an enlarged physical presence that was to be defined by the wonderful examples of architecture built to the glory of the supreme being, but also as a leading institution that provided both care for many in need as well as one that has and continues to play a significant role in providing education to girls in Singapore.

Late for school - 30 years too late! The schools moved out from the premises of the former convent at the end of 1983 after almost 130 years.

Late for school – 30 years too late! The schools moved out from the premises of the former convent at the end of 1983 after almost 130 years.

While it is sad that the magnificent buildings erected for the nuns to carry out their mission can no longer be used for the purpose – the convent having had to vacate its oasis in the city in 1983 (the schools in the premises moved to Toa Payoh in 1984 and a third school, CHIJ St. Nicholas, to Ang Mo Kio), and even sadder that the complex has been repurposed in a way that trivialises the original intent; it is good to see that there is still a connection that the schools can make with their spiritual home, now called CHIJMES.

Once familiar scenes returned for a day to the corridors of the old convent.

Once familiar scenes (except for the mobile devices) returned for a day to the corridors of the old convent.

The girls, dressed in the familiar blue pinafores, made more than that connection yesterday. Together with their teachers and members of their alumni, a physical connection was also established, with 402 lining up, tallest to the shortest, with hands joined to form what is believed to a world record for the longest human chain (tallest to shortest) – subject to confirmation by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Confirmation  of a Singapore Record.

Confirmation of a Singapore Record.

Primary school participants being arranged in order of height.

Primary school participants being arranged in order of height.

Hand-in-hand for the world record attempt.

Hand-in-hand for the world record attempt.

Part of the schools’ commemoration of their 160th Anniversaries, the apparent success of the effort dubbed IJ Link, was celebrated in song and dance immediately after. Along with the world record attempt, which surpasses the previously held record of 311, a bazaar, brunch at the former chapel and arts performances were also held on the grounds of the former convent.

The celebration after ...

The celebration after …

An assembly held in the field behind the chapel.

An assembly held in the field behind the chapel in the good old days (photograph: National Archives of Singapore).

Happy days were here again!

Happy days were here again!


More photographs:

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Divine faces in the dark

22 08 2014

Take a walk on the dark and somewhat mysterious side of the Bras Basah.Bugis precinct this weekend (and the next), and you might stumble upon a few surprises, all of which, if you are lucky enough, have nothing to do with the time of the year from the perspective of the Chinese calendar.  The precinct plays host to the annual Singapore Night Festival that brings life and colour to the streets and greens of the area along with a wonderful show of light in Night Lights.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore's Armenian Church.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore’s Armenian Church.

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (** Ryf's Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (Ryf’s **Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights this year has installations that range from one inspired by a giant jellyfish inspired to the divine. The enchanting line-up of lights, include some of which I got to have a glimpse at last night. Standing out, not just among the installations, but also among the trees is Clement Briend’s Divine Trees found just east of the National Museum of Singapore. While seeing Briend’s projections, which leave ghostly like faces of divine figures imprinted on the leaves of several of the trees by the National Museum, can be initially a little disconcerting; it would certainly leave the view in awe as to how alive the seemingly three-dimensional projections seem. The installation is an attempt by the artist to “blur the divide between reality and imagination” and “a study of the divine and the spiritual in the world made visible by projection onto objects of nature”.

Divine faces in the dark.

Divine faces in the dark.

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Over at Singapore’s oldest church building, the Armenian Church, we see more ghostly figures, this time set among the gravestones of the exhumed graves of the church’s yard.  The figures, glowing in a ever changing change of colours, are dresses woven from 40 kilometres of fibre optic cable. Dresses of Memory is all the work of Taegon Kim,  the glow-in-the-dark figures are intended to convey the celebration of “being in love” and having “a lover’s silhouette imprinted on the webs of one’s memory”.

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The Armenian Church is also where a rather enjoyable installation, Scenocosme’s Alsos*, can be found. The installation, at first glance seemingly nothing more than a illuminated tangle of twigs, is one that invites the visitor to interact with it. By shinning a light on its flowers, and altering the light’s intensity, the visitor creates his or her own set of sounds with each flower filling the air with a different sound.

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A surprise very different and with a far less mysterious flavour awaited me along a narrow alleyway. That was where a bunch of some rather tough looking characters, ones you wouldn’t really want to mess with, seemed to be spoiling for a fight. The fight the tough dudes were looking for were fortunately not with us, but among themselves – they would be meeting in a wrestling ring that would be set up right on on Armenian Street next weekend (29 and 30 August) in the Singapore Pro Wrestling event as part of the exciting line-up of events for the Singapore Night Festival.

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to the alleyways ...

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to as alleyway …

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For more information on how to catch the wrestlers in action, the light installations, and the rest of the excitement at the Singapore Night Festival do visit the festival’s website at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer. Do also refer to a previous post Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it for more photographs and an introduction to this year’s festival.


A second look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature at SAM for #SGNightFest

Through once familiar archways ...

Through once familiar archways …

... another look at WeComeInPeace's Spirits of Nature.

… another look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature.

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Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it

21 08 2014

Bold and Beautiful – in line with its theme for this year, the ever so magical Singapore Night Festival, is back! This year’s festival, on for two Fridays and Saturdays on 22 and 23 August and 29 and 30 August 2014 across the arts and cultural Bras Basah. Bugis Precinct, sees it being organised around five key zones, that will include for the first time, a Festival Village at Cathay Green – which will not be short of delectable offerings, entertainment and shopping opportunities. Two venues will also feature for the first time at the Night Festival, with the historic Armenian Church seeing two Night Lights installations and the National Design Centre (the former St. Anthony’s Convent), which will see a mini interactive exhibition with a ceiling of white illuminated helium filled balloons as well as two light installations.

The Singapore Night Festival is back - bolder and more beautiful.

The Singapore Night Festival is back – bolder and more beautiful – and sure to pull-in the crowds.

The highlight of this year's Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum's front lawn.

The highlight of this year’s Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn.

The highlight of the festival has to be the William Close performing on his Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn – one of several spectacular performances being lined up for the Pretty Arty festival zone based at the museum. The Earth Harp Close creates for the Night Festival, sees the huge harp strung across to the National Museum’s façade – the use of architecture as part of his harp, is inspired by a quote “architecture is frozen music” from Frank Lloyd Wright. Close, who was a second runner-up in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent, will collaborate with several local and international  artists such as Singapore’s drum group ZingO and songstresses in the form of Sound of Sirens as well as the fire and lights of Austrian collective Phoenix over both festival weekends.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Close close-up.

Close close-up.

ZingO - a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

ZingO – a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

The festival sees the return of Singapore’s very own Starlight Alchemy, playing not so much with fire this time, but with light and acrobatics beside the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Information Systems in a zone intended to reach out to Young Hearts around SMU Green. The acts will include AcroYogis – an acrobatic partner yoga presentation in which the audience can participate in, as well as Illuminated Playtime in which participants will be invited to play with LED lights.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

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Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

The 10 DJs on stage.

The 10 DJs on stage.

Always a crowd-pleaser, Night Lights, will also return – this time doubling in scale – with installations spread across the festival’s zones. Night Lights never spares the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), a building I always enjoy seeing bathed in light – like outstretched arms its wings are always welcoming as it had been when I went to school there all those years ago. This year the façade of the SAM will be see a nature inspired multi-media presentation, Spirits of Nature, by WeComeInPeace from France.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design's Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers ...

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers …

... the installation requires one to pause - only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

… the installation requires one to pause – only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

Greenhouse Effect - another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Greenhouse Effect – another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Other eye-catching Night Lights installations I got to see a preview of include Cyanea, inspired by the Cyanea capillata – one of the largest jellyfish in the world, spread across Cathay Green. The installation, illuminated by a set of colour-changing lights, with smoke and sounds for effect, is being put up by Cumulus Collectif also from France.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Back to the SAM, where the Roundabout Midnight zone is based around, there are several installations to look out for. These include, The Cloud of Unknowing  by Ho Tzu Nyen in the Chapel on 29 and 30 August, 2014 – a cinematic exploration of the cloud as image, metaphor and carrier for divine illumination; a NOISE Weekend @ SAM on 22 and 23 August at 8Q Plaza, SAM at 8Q that will feature emerging bands and musicians from NOISE Singapore’s Music Programme; Darker Than Wax DJs at SAM on 29 August; and The Local People x SAM Night Market on 30 August, 2014 – where visitors can eat, listen and shop at the art market along Queen Street.

Cyanea from its inside.

Cyanea from its inside.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

The last zone, Block Party @ Armenian Street, will see a wild and happening Armenian Street where parties to late will be taking place. The parties will include one that will see much excitement with a ring put up on the second weekend right in the middle of Armenian Street (which will be closed to traffic from 8 pm to 2 am on festival nights). The ring will see wrestling bouts that will pit stars of Singapore Pro Wrestling – another first at the Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

A performance that might be worth catching at Block Party is How Drama ‘s Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap, in Something Borrowed, Something New at The Substation Theatre, which will probably have you in stitches – not just because of the speed performance of 31 plays in an hour by the Singapore based improvisational performers, but also for their rather amusing take on current happenings. The performance, which will see the audience determine the sequence, has the audience laughing at the funny side of issues such as the much talked about Singapore Tourism Board’s “Honey, Look!” video advertisement as well as the National Library’s tango with the removal of children’s books from the shelves.

Honey, Look!

Honey, Look!

Admission to the Singapore Night Festival (including to the participating museums) is free. More information, including the festival guide, details of the performances, installations and also the artists, can be found at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer.

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The flicker of tradition

21 04 2014

It is in the flicker of the sea of candlelight that illuminates the compound of the Church of St. Joseph in Victoria Street, that we see a side of Singapore that seems lost to us, one that lies buried behind the narrow definitions that we now use to define the Singapore of today.

Candles lit for the annual Good Friday procession at the Church of St. Joseph.

Candles lit for the annual Good Friday procession at the Church of St. Joseph.

The flicker is of an annual procession, part of the commemoration of Holy Week, that borrows from the Portuguese tradition – the church was established by the Portuguese missionaries and came under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese Diocese of Macau until as recently as 1981. And, it is in its very visible commemoration that we are made aware of one of the many cultural and religious influences that has given Singapore as a whole, a very unique flavour.

Participants in the procession fill the compound of the church in anticipation of the procession.

Participants in the procession gather outside the church in anticipation of the procession.

The procession comes at the end of a Good Friday service during which the Passion of Christ is commemorated through the Stations of the Cross, following which the crucifixion and the lowering of the body of Chirst  is reenacted. During the procession, a bier carrying the life-sized representation of the body of Christ is carried around the church, followed by a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and the clergy and congregation as well as the many who have gathered holding candles outside the church.

The reenactment of the crucifixion inside the church.

The reenactment of the crucifixion inside the church.

The representation of the body of Christ being lowered.

The representation of the body of Christ being lowered.

The procession attracts many thousands of Catholics each year, and beside the 1500 or so who make their way into the church, and the many more who gather inside the compound, the crowd does also spill over to Queen Street and Waterloo Centre, the second floor of which does provide an excellent vantage point. It was on Queen Street, that we did once see many candle vendors, hawking long candles – some taller than the height of a person which had to be supported by a backbone of wood, adding to the colour of the occasion.

The bier being carried during the procession.

The bier being carried during the procession.

Members of the church dressed as Roman soldiers (Jerusalem was a colony of Rome during the time of Christ).

Members of the church dressed as Roman soldiers (Jerusalem was a colony of Rome during the time of Christ).

The procession, as well as the commemoration of Holy Week in this manner in Singapore, is thought to have had its origins in the early days of the church, which was originally established in the 1850s. It is one of several such similar commemorations that is seen across Asia where the religious influences of the Portuguese remain strong, such as in Macau and close-by in Malacca, which was a former Portuguese colony and where many of the Portuguese Eurasian community found in Singapore have their roots in. The Church of St. Joseph, which at some point was referred to as the Portuguese church,  is perhaps the last bastion for a community that is rich in tradition and one of the many that has made Singapore what it is today.

Altar boys at the head of the procession.

Altar boys at the head of the procession.

Archbishop William Goh.

Archbishop William Goh, followed by members of the clergy.

A member of the church playing Veronica showing the 'Veil of Veronica'.

A member of the church playing Veronica showing the ‘Veil of Veronica’.

Flower girls.

Flower girls.

The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Reflections of the procession in the rain.

Reflections of the procession in the rain.

The crowd seen through a reflection off a traffic mirror.

The crowd seen through a reflection off a traffic mirror.

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