Saying hello to an old acquaintance

20 04 2010

A grey granite block balanced on a red brick plinth stands on the grounds of the former Anglo Chinese School (ACS) at Coleman Street. Hidden from view even on its perch, the stone and its significance seems to have been well forgotten.

The stone had once occupied a position of greater prominence and one fitting of its intended purpose. Placed along the seaside promenade by Fullerton Road, the stone was unveiled by the late President Yusof Ishak in 1970 as the foundation for a monument to Singapore’s early founders. With its foundation stone laid in the 12 month period during which the 150th anniversary of Raffles’ landing was being commemorated, the monument was to honour the many immigrants whose names and faces we know little of, but whose toil and endeavour contributed as much to the Singapore of modern times.

The foundation stone for a monument intended to honour the early immigrants who contributed much to the development of modern Singapore at its current location outside the lobby of the National Archives.

It was through the numerous walks I made as a child along the same promenade that I became acquainted with the stone. Although I was guilty of ignoring it or passing no more than a cursory glance at it on most occasions, there were times when I would stop to trace the inscriptions on its faces with my fingers, wondering if the promise the words spoke of would ever be fulfilled. The walks became less frequent with the passing of my childhood and with strolls around the area made much less enjoyable with its development, they stopped altogether and forgotten with time was the stone – until I was reminded of its existence quite recently.

Inscription on the foundation stone reads: THE FOUNDATION STONE OF THE MONUMENT IN TRIBUTE TO THE EARLY FOUNDERS OF SINGAPORE WAS LAID BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE ON THE 18TH DAY OF JANUARY 1970.

I found my old acquaintance just outside the entrance to what is today the National Archives of Singapore – a temporary home since the turn of the century. Sitting in the shadows of the plants it now finds company in, it seems to hide from a Singapore that just like me, has chosen to forget it.  Although it does look none the worse for wear, it looked worn and tired and wears little of the promise with which it was laid – a promise that after forty years remains unfulfilled.

Inscription in Chinese.

When the idea for the monument was mooted by the Alumni International Singapore, it seemed that it would only be a matter of time before $200,000 required to build it would be raised. A temporary site was selected for its forerunner, the foundation stone. Its position at the end of the seafront along which many immigrants would have come ashore was one of significance. However, attempts at finding a suitable design through a competition and to raise the necessary funds, proved unsuccessful. Neither a suitable design was arrived at nor were sufficient funds raised and in time. The Alumni International would make an about turn on the monument and the funds raised were channelled instead into other areas in 1985.

View from the street through the fence of the National Archives.

That the monument was never built and that the foundation stone now lies in relative obscurity, is perhaps a reflection of who we have become as Singaporeans; lacking in the sense of who we really are and also of how we have got to where we are. We now embrace the new, the modern adornments we have decorated our city with, and have discarded much of what connected us with our humble past.

Not all of course has been lost. In what we have held on too we find a glimmer of hope, as the case for the stone may be. What would certainly be good to see is the monument built in time perhaps for the bicentennial in 2019 of modern Singapore’s founding – a milestone that is certainly an opportune time to remember those who came from far and wide to make Singapore what it is today.

Another view of the early founders’ stone from the inside of the National Archives compound.

The stone is located somewhat hidden from view in front of the lobby of the National Archives.


Update (July 2010):

The Foundation Stone was returned to the Collyer Quay area in July 2010, placed outside the Singapore River end of the Fullerton Building.

JeromeLim-0025

Its new position as of July 2010, by the Fullerton Building.