A time machine to the Singapore of the 60s

31 05 2016

It is wonderful that technology allows the wealth of photographs that exist of a Singapore we no longer see to be shared. Those especially taken by those whose stay in Singapore was temporary, offer perspectives of places as they were that the local might have thought little of capturing. One of my favourite sets of photographs are those of a David Ayres. Shared through a Flickr album Oldies SE Asia containing some 250 photographs, they take us back to Mr. Ayres’ days in the Royal Navy and include many scenes of places of the Singapore of my childhood that I would not otherwise have been able to ever see again.

A part of Singapore we can never go back to. The view is of the waterfront and the Inner Roads from a vantage point just across the mouth of the Stamford Canal from Esplanade or Queen Elizabeth Walk. Land reclamation has since taken this view away, replacing it with a view that will include One Raffles Link and Esplanade Theatres by the Bay (David Ayres on Flickr).

Mr. Ayres interactions in Singapore came from his two stints at HMS Terror (now Sembawang Camp) in the Naval Base. The first in 1963/64, just about the time I was born, and again in 1966/67. Now 71, he finally managed a trip that he said he he just had to make having not been back to Singapore since he last saw it almost 50 years ago at the end of his second stint in 1967.

A HMS Terror (now Sembawang Camp) barrack block, one that is familiar to me as it was the same block I was accommodated during my reservist in-camp training stints in the 1990s (David Ayres on Flickr).

I managed to say a quick hello to Mr. Ayres during his short visit, managing a short chat with him at a coffee shop in what had once been Sembawang Village, an area that is quite well represented in Mr. Ayres’ set of photographs.  Once a busy area of watering holes, shops and makeshift eating stalls located just across one of the main entrances to the huge Naval Base – an entrance used especially by personnel headed to HMS Terror,  all that it has since been reduced to is the row of two-storey shophouses in which the coffee shop was at.

David Ayres (R), with Phil and Nora, the founder of Old Sembawang Naval Base Facebook group.

David Ayres (R), with his mate Phil and Nora, the founder of Old Sembawang Naval Base Facebook group, in the shadow of the Nelson Bar of today.

The Nelson Bar as seen in 1967 (David Ayres on Flickr).

It was interesting to learn that there was much Mr. Ayres could still recognise from his walk earlier in the day around the former Naval Base, a walk he did with his mate Phil with the help of Nora of the Old Sembawang Naval Base Facebook group. It is perhaps fortunate for Mr. Ayres that Sembawang, a part of Singapore he would have been most familiar with, is one of few places left in Singapore in which much of its past is still to be found in the present.

The Red House, as the Fleet Sailing Centre was referred to because of its red roof (David Ayres on Flickr).

The Red House today as seen from SAF Yacht Club. It's red roof tiles have since been replaced by green ones and the sea pavilion is now in a rather dilapidated state.

The Red House today as seen from SAF Yacht Club. It’s red roof tiles have since been replaced by green ones and the sea pavilion is now in a rather dilapidated state.

A good part of the base housing still remains intact, as do the former dockyard and stores basin, both of which still operating under another guise. Part of HMS Terror is also still around, a part that is visible over its perimeter fence. There also is the former “Aggie Westons” on the hill across from the dockyard gates. This saw use as the Fernleaf Centre in the days when the NZ Force SEA had troops based in Sembawang and is now in use by HomeTeam NS as a recreation centre. A sea pavilion, which served as the Fleet Sailing Centre in the days of the Naval Base, is also still visible from the SAF Yacht Club. Referred to as the “Red House” for its red roof tiles, the pavilion has since been turned green and as observed by Mr. Ayres, now looks rather dilapidated.

‘Aggie Westons’ in David’s time in Sembawang, it became Fernleaf Centre during the days of the New Zealand Force SEA and is today used by HomeTeam NS as a recreation centre. David made a stop here during his recent visit to Sembawang (David Ayres on Flickr).

As we poured over some photographs Mr. Ayres had printed over glasses of lime juice, he also made mention that the row of shophouses we were at had not been around during his first stint at HMS Terror. One of the area’s last additions, it had been put up before Mr. Ayres came back for his second tour. It is in the row that several bars including the Nelson Bar were housed and was a popular drinking spot for servicemen up to the days when the New Zealand forces had a presence in the area. It is also worth mentioning that the cluster of stalls found in the area, popular as stopover for personnel looking for a quick bite, was where the improvised hawker dish we know as Roti John is said to have originated from.

The cluster of food stalls at Sembawang Village, where Roti John was said to have been invented (David Ayres on Flickr).

Besides those in and around the Naval Base, Mr. Ayres captures include many other places that featured in my younger days; places in and around the city centre, then referred to as Singapore, as well as a few far flung places such as Changi. There are also scenes found in the set taken in peninsula Malaysia that are familiar to me from the drives my father was fond of making north of the Causeway. The photographs of the city centre have proved to be particularly fascinating to younger Singaporeans. One taken of Raffles Place in its landscape car-park rooftop garden days  in the direction of Battery Road, made its rounds in 2012, going viral in Singapore. One impression of the modern city that had replaced the one in his photographs that Mr. Ayres and his friend Phil had, was of seeing very few elderly people in it; this perhaps is a manifestation of the disconnect with the brave new world that the city centre has become many in the older generation feel.

Mr. Ayres’ capture of Raffles Place in 1966 made its rounds around the internet in 2012 (David Ayres on Flickr).

Mr Ayres’ photographs have a quality that goes beyond simple snapshots. Well composed and often offering a wider view of the places he found himself in, they not only take us back to the places we once knew but also immerse us into the scene being captured. The photographs are for me, a means to travel back in time, back to the places I could otherwise have little hope of seeing again, and back to a world I would not otherwise have been able to go home to.

A street that once came alive in the evenings with its food offerings – the section of Albert Street at its Selegie Road end where Albert Court Hotel is today (David Ayres on Flickr).

An “Ice Water Stall” outside what is today the National Museum (David Ayres on Flickr).

The gate post and the Indian Rubber tree today. The tree has since gained the status of a protected tree, having been listed as one of Singapore’s 256 Heritage Trees.

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Changi Creek, 1966 (David Ayres on Flickr).

Changi Creek today.

Changi Creek today.

A familiar scene along Canberra Road that Mr. Ayres captured in 1966. The convoy of dockyard (and later Sembawang Shipyard) workers rushing home was seen into the 1980s (David Ayres on Flickr).

Jalan Sendudok in Sembawang. Notice that the Chinese characters used for Sembawang differ from those used today. The road, which still exists, has since been realigned (David Ayres on Flickr).

Where Selegie met Serangoon over the Rochor Canal, 1966. This photograph helps take me back to visits to Tekka market, the roof of which can be seen on the left of the photo, with my mother whenever mutton curry was on the menu (David Ayres on Flickr).

The same area today, Sans the open canal and and unfamiliar buildings, it now looks completely different.

The same area today, Sans the open canal and and now unfamiliar buildings, it looks a completely different place.

1966. The North Bridge Road that I knew, close to its junction with Bras Basah Road, close to where Jubilee and Odeon Theatres were, which would have been behind the photographer (David Ayres on Flickr).

The same area today.

The same area today.

Further down North Bridge Road in 1966 – a back entrance to Raffles Institution is seen on the left and the walls of the former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (now CHIJMES) can be seen on the other side of the road (David Ayres on Flickr).

The same area today.

The same area today.

A river crossing in Malaysia in 1967. Not in Singapore but many from Singapore who travelled up north by road would have had this experience before road bridges across the major rivers were completed. One such crossing was at Muar. This existed up to the 1960s. My own experience was of two crossings on the road up to Kuantan in the 1970s and early 1980s. One had been at Endau, at which a tow boat similar to what is seen here was used. The other was a narrower crossing at Rompin that utilised a ferry pulled by wire-rope (David Ayres on Flickr).

 

 





The opening of the revamped permanent galleries at the National Museum

21 09 2015

The official opening of the revamped permanent galleries of the National Museum of Singapore (see a previous post: The new permanent: a sneak peek at the museum’s revamped galleries) by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday 19 September 2015 in photographs:

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revisits the plaque he unveiled a quarter of a century ago as the first Deputy Prime Minister.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revisits the plaque he unveiled a quarter of a century ago to commemorate the reopening of the restored National Museum building during independent Singapore’s Silver Jubilee as the First Deputy Prime Minister.

Doing the honours 25 years later to opened the revamped Permanent Galleries in independent Singapore's Golden Jubilee year.

Doing the honours 25 years later to opened the revamped Permanent Galleries in independent Singapore’s Golden Jubilee year.

ESM Goh and Minister Lawrence Wong coming face to face with a replica of a Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tank in the revamped Singapore History Gallery.

ESM Goh and Minister Lawrence Wong coming face to face with a replica of a Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tank in the revamped Singapore History Gallery.

At the Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

At the Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

Mr Low Kam Hoong with the ministers. Mr Low donated a flexidisc with a recording of the original version of the Majulah Singapura.

Mr Low Kam Hoong with the ministers. Mr Low donated a flexidisc with a recording of the original version of the Majulah Singapura.

Coming face to face with Mr David Marshall, Singapore's first Chief Minister.

Coming face to face with Mr David Marshall, Singapore’s first Chief Minister.

Visiting a HDB flat even after the GE.

Visiting a HDB flat even after the GE (a display at the Singapore History Gallery).

Prof. Tommy Koh showing his Chapteh skills at the Opening Weekend Carnival.

Prof. Tommy Koh showing his Chapteh skills at the Opening Weekend Carnival.

At the opening.

At the opening.

Opening the revamped permanent galleries.

Opening the revamped permanent galleries.

 

 





The new permanent: a sneak peek at the museum’s revamped galleries

18 09 2015

Much has improved at the National Museum of Singapore since my days as a schoolboy. Then, I thought of it as cold, dark and maybe a little forbidding, a place where, if not for the spiral staircase, the sight of which would induce a spike in the heart rate,  one would be utterly bored to death. The museum these days isn’t just much less forbidding. It has gone far beyond telling history through the display of dimly lit and poorly labelled specimens and artefacts to a place where the history is an experience; and, it promises to get even better when the doors to its permanent galleries, closed for the better part of a year for a revamp, re-opens  this Saturday (19 September 2015).

The National Museum, now a much more welcoming place.

The National Museum, now a much more welcoming place.

The mysterious spiral staircase.

The mysterious spiral staircase.

The revamp, which sees in particular a huge improvement to the layout of the Singapore History Gallery, is summed up by Ms. Angelita Teo, Director of National Museum of Singapore:

With a refreshed layout and updated narrative, visitors can look forward to a more engaging and immersive experience; a bit like stepping back in time to the different periods of our history. Innovative displays, interactive elements and compelling personal stories make history and the artefacts come to life, and through them, we hope that visitors will form a greater emotional connection to the museum and to Singapore’s history.

The Separation Story seen at the new Singapore History Gallery.

The Separation Story seen at the new Singapore History Gallery.

Visitors will be able to contribute their own stories on an interactive map in the Singapore History Gallery’s Global City section. The map contains memories of places in Singapore from the Singapore Memory Project and lesser known facts about Singapore’s global footprints.

Visitors will be able to contribute their own stories on an interactive map in the Singapore History Gallery’s Global City section. The map contains memories of places in Singapore from the Singapore Memory Project and lesser known facts about Singapore’s global footprints.

A large number of artefacts, more than 1,700, include will be on display in the permanent galleries. Many, from the National Collection, would previously have been seen. One that will catch the attention of the visitor is the so-called Singapore Stone, a surviving portion of a sandstone boulder that had been located at the mouth of the Singapore River. The boulder, which was blasted out by the British, bears inscriptions that have not fully been deciphered and is thought to have originated in the days of Temasek or early Singapura. It has been associated with the legend of Badang, a strong man. A tale told in the Malay Annals or Sejarah Melayu has Badang winning a challenge by hurling the boulder to the mouth of the river.

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The Singapore Stone (or at least the surviving part of it).

An archaeological find that provides evidence of links in the 14th century.

An archaeological find that provides evidence of links in the 14th century.

Several artefacts from recent times, some never seen before, also make their appearance. These include personal objects of national significance that were either donated or are on loan such as a 1959 flexidisc recording of “Majulah Singapura” and a complete Temasek Green National Service uniform set, the very first to be used by our NS enlistees. The flexidisc features the only known recording of Zubir Said’s original 1958 version of the song that was later to be modified for use as Singapore’s National Anthem. The version was one composed for the Singapore City Council and the flexidisc, a souvenir produced to commemorate the attainment of full self-government in May 1959. The flexidisc was donated to the museum by Mr. Low Kam Hoong, a friend and former colleague (see also a post related to the flexidisc on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“).

Singapore's first National Service Uniform.

Singapore’s first National Service Uniform.

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Stories of war through the telephone.

Stories of war told through the telephone.

In the new galleries, the artefacts are given greater meaning through the use of contextual displays, ambient sounds, multimedia platforms as well as interactive platforms, giving a much more immersive experience to visitors. Another dimension is given to the experience in some cases, where scents, a powerful trigger for memories, supplement the displays. Produced and sponsored by Givaudan, one of the scents recreates that hard to forget stench of the once polluted Singapore River!

Contextual set-up of a HDB Flat.

Contextual set-up of a HDB Flat in the Singapore History Gallery.

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Many of the historical artefacts will be found in the remodelled Singapore History Gallery. With its entrance now located on Level 1, it has been made a lot more accessible. Its now more linear layout also allows a literal walk-through of 700 years of our history as Singapura / Singapore, which begins with a monsoon storm. The winds, responsible for bringing traders and visitors from far and wide to the region, will in the new Singapore History Gallery blow visitors on a journey through the days of Singapura (1299 to 1818), the years of the Crown Colony (1819–1941), the dark days of Syonan-to (1942–1945), and post-war Singapore (1945 to present).

The entrance to the new Singapore History Gallery on Level 1.

The entrance to the new Singapore History Gallery on Level 1.

Abraham Ortelius' 1570 map of the East Indies and a storm greets visitors to the new Singapore History Gallery.

Abraham Ortelius’ 1570 map of the East Indies and a storm greets visitors to the new Singapore History Gallery.

The passing of the storm, a light and sound show over a 1570 map of the East Indies, brings visitors to Singapura at its beginnings, an period of time described in the Sejarah Melayu. The accounts of a Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, also tell us of the links the island may have had to the Middle Kingdom. This is supported by evidence from archaeological excavations in Singapore that visitors will see on display, which also tell us of the links early Singapura may have had to kingdoms in Siam and in India.

Visitors are taken on a voyage of discovery that spans over 700 years.

Visitors are taken on a voyage of discovery that spans over 700 years.

Pages from the Malay Annals.

Pages from the Malay Annals.

14th Century Chinese porcelain unearthed during an archaeological dig.

14th Century Chinese porcelain unearthed during an archaeological dig.

In a year in which we also commemorate 70 years of the end of World War II, the exhibits relating to Syonan-to may be of particular interest. One very significant artefact from the period in the Singapore History Gallery, which is on display during a one-year loan period, is the Surrender Table. The six legged teak table was the one on which the surrender of Singapore to Japan was signed in the boardroom of the Ford Factory at Bukit Timah on 15 February 1942. Donated by the Ford Motor Company of Malaysia to the Australian War Memorial in November 1964, the table is on loan to the National Museum.

The Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

The Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

The war years in the Singapore History Gallery.

The war years in the Singapore History Gallery.

Several other exhibits may also be of interest in the Syonan-to section. One recalls Mrs. Elizabeth Choy, a war heroine who was held and tortured by the Kempeitai. The display includes the set of clothes that Mrs. Choy wore during her imprisonment, and also a gold necklace. The necklace was donated by Mrs. Choy’s daughter Bridget and was one given to Mrs. Choy by Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas. A family heirloom, the gift was made by Lady Thomas in gratitude for the help Mrs. Choy had provided Lady Thomas with during the latter’s internment during the occupation.

The clothes worn by war heroine Elizabeth Choy when she was held by the Kempeitai.

The clothes worn by war heroine Mrs. Elizabeth Choy when she was held by the Kempeitai.

A gold necklace, in the shape of a snake. A family heirloom given to Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas, the necklace was given to Elizabeth Choy, as a token of gratitude. Mrs Choy later gave the necklace to her eldest daughter, Bridget, as a present for her 21st birthday.

A gold necklace, in the shape of a snake. A family heirloom given to Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas, the necklace was given to Elizabeth Choy, as a token of gratitude for her help during Lady Thomas’ internment. Mrs Choy later gave this to her eldest daughter, Bridget, as a present for her 21st birthday.

An exhibit that will certainly catch the eye in the Syonan-to section is a replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank. The light, fast and highly manoeuvrable tanks were widely deployed during the Second World War and used in the Battle for Singapore. The replica is one of four constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).

A replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank, one of 4 constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).

A replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank, one of 4 constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).

A view through a Changi Prsion door.

A view through a Changi Prsion door.

Anchor from the RMS Empress of Asia troopship, which was bombed and sunk.

Anchor from the RMS Empress of Asia troopship, which was bombed and sunk.

We are also reminded of the scourge of opium addiction.

We are also reminded of the scourge of opium addiction.

A revolver seized during the tumultuous 1950s.

A revolver seized during the tumultuous 1950s.

The period of self-government.

The period of self-government.

The road to nationhood.

The road to nationhood.

The period of industrialisation seen in the Singapore History Gallery.

The period of industrialisation seen in the Singapore History Gallery.

The war years also feature in one of the four Life in Singapore: The Past 100 Years galleries (previously the Living Galleries) located on Level 2, in a gallery dedicated to Surviving Syonan. The four galleries will allow visitors to immerse themselves in four more important periods of Singapore’s recent history, in part, through the experiences of those who lived through them.

Surviving Syonan.

Surviving Syonan.

Small business licenses issued during the Syonan years,

Small business licenses issued during the Syonan years,

A bicycle license.

A bicycle license.

The occupation years are ones in which visitors can see how hope and love could overcome despair and uncertainty. A glimpse is also provided in the three other galleries into life in the 1920s–1930s in the Modern Colony, the turbulent 1950s and 1960s in Growing Up, as well as into the years that shaped the new Singapore and Singapore identity in the 1970s and the 1980s in Voices of Singapore.

A father's tribute to a son who passed on during the Syonan years.

A father’s tribute to a son who passed on during the Syonan years.

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The Modern Colony Gallery.

The Modern Colony Gallery.

A baby carrier used by amahs.

A baby carrier used by amahs.

A display of women's shoes in Modern Colony - a reflection of the evolving identities of women in early 20th century Singapore.

A display of women’s shoes in Modern Colony – a reflection of the evolving identities of women in early 20th century Singapore.

Toy swords - commonly sold at the pasar malams that accompanied wayangs.

Toy swords – commonly sold at the pasar malams that accompanied wayangs.

The zoetrope in the Growing Up gallery, inspired by stories of female Olympians in the 1950s.

The zoetrope in the Growing Up gallery, inspired by stories of female Olympians in the 1950s.

Games of a forgotten age in Growing Up.

Games of a forgotten age in Growing Up.

A rather interesting display in Voices of Singapore, one many in my generation will identify with is an installation that attempts a recreation of Singapore’s first and only ever drive-in cinema, Remembering the Jurong Drive-in cinema. The installation features a video montage by Singaporean filmmaker Eva Tang, who is inspired by the different film genres and themes popular with Singaporean audiences in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jurong Drive-in.

Jurong Drive-in.

Familiar landmarks in the Pursuit of Leisure TV Wall Projection in the Voices of Singapore gallery.

Familiar landmarks in the Pursuit of Leisure TV Wall Projection in the Voices of Singapore gallery.

Cameras and film.

Cameras and film.

The last of the permanent galleries will be found at the Goh Choo Seng Gallery on Level 2. Here, we find Desire and Danger, which aims to show how fine a line sometimes exists between the two in the natural environment. The gallery features a selection of drawings from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, which is combined with scents and specimens that tell us of the complex and often uneasy relationship between man and nature.

Desire and Danger.

Desire and Danger?

A puffer fish specimen.

A puffer fish specimen.

Scents and in-sensibilities.

Scents and in-sensibilities.

If the immersion into history starts to get too heavy this re-opening weekend, there will be distractions on offer at the Opening Weekend Carnival that the museum is also holding. The carnival, from 10 am to 6 pm on 19 and 20 September, will provide some excitement to both the young and the old, including a chance to relive the good old days through once familiar childhood favourites such as kacang puteh, ting ting candy, sng bao and tikam-tikam. Also to look out for are special guided tours of the Singapore History Gallery this weekend. Information on this, the re-opening and more on the carnival can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s Opening Weekend Page.

The Level 2 galleries.

The Level 2 galleries.


Opening and Admission Information:

The permanent galleries will be opened from 10am to 7pm (last admission 6.30pm) daily.

Admission is free for Citizens, Permanent Residents (unless otherwise stated) and visitors aged 6 years and below.

Otherwise, these admission fees apply: Adults $10, Students & Seniors aged 60 above with valid ID $5.

Tickets includes admission to all permanent galleries and exhibitions and are available from the National Museum Visitor Services counter and SISTIC.

Beyond opening weekend, guided tours will commence from 3 October 2015 for which visitors can enquire at the Visitor Services counter for guided tours.






Playing with fire

22 08 2013

Photographs taken at last evening’s media preview of the Singapore Night Festival of a performance, Redux, by Starlight Alchemy – one of the highlights of the annual festival which be held over two weekends in the Bras Basah precinct this year which will see a nocturnal extravaganza of performances over four days.

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Describing themselves as “a constellation of international artists orbiting around Singapore that manipulate light, fire and skill toys to bring a sense of wonder to the performing arts” it was indeed with much wonder that a sneak peek of their performance – set against the façade of the National Museum, Redux, was greeted last evening.  Their performances will take place during the first weekend on 23 and 24 August 2013 at 8.45 pm, 10 pm and 11.15 pm. The last performance of each night will allow some interactivity with a free jam-and-play session at the end during which visitors will get to play with LED manipulation tools the group will use in their performances along with fire.

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Interactivity will be a feature of this year’s edition of the festival – the Night Lights segment of it will see several projections which will permit interaction.  The festival also promises to be bigger and better with the participation of an increased number of stakeholders and partners from the area – more than twice that of 2012. It will also see the addition of several more venues stretching from Plaza Singapura to Raffles City. New venues this year include the two malls mentioned, as well CHIJMES, 222 Queen Street and Sculpture Square. This year will also see lots of food on offer with Hawker Food Alley set up at the alleyway between The Substation and Armenian Street and So Sedap at the SMRT Walkway along Stamford Road.

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Re-branded from “Night Festival” to the “Singapore Night Festival” to reflect it being a platform to highlight and showcase local talents, this year’s festival runs over two weekends on the evenings of 23 and 24 August 2013 and 30 and 31 August 2013. There is also late night free admission to the participating museums to look out for during the festival. These museums are the National Museum of Singapore, the Peranakan Museum, and the Singapore Art Museum and will be on the festival nights from 7 pm to 2 am.  Do stay tuned for more festival highlights see at the preview for the first weekend. More information on the Singapore Night Festival can be obtained from the festival’s website.

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Information on Singapore Night Festival






Perspectives of the museum

4 05 2013

As a child, the Museum, as I referred to the National Museum of Singapore, was a dark, somewhat mysterious and not a particularly interesting place to me. My earliest encounters were ones which besides being filled with tales of the supernatural occurrences the museum had a reputation for, I would most remember for the overpowering smell of the museum preservatives which filled some of the galleries, and also for the huge skeleton of a whale suspended from its ceiling.

The museum today attracts a lot more visitors than it did in my younger days.

The museum today attracts a lot more visitors than it did in my younger days.

The encounters I had with the museum during my days attending nearby St. Joseph’s Institution were to be the ones I was to remember most. The time my schoolmates and I had in between technical workshop sessions on Tuesdays and a quick lunch before school, meant there was ample time to wander around. The museum, as was the MPH bookstore at the corner of Stamford Road and Armenian Street, was an obvious destination on days when it was a little too hot to out, because of the cool relief its air-conditioning provided.

The skeleton of a whale which hung inside the museum until 1974 when it was presented to the Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur.

The skeleton of a whale which hung inside the museum until 1974 when it was presented to the Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur (photograph: National Archives online catalogue http://a2o.nas.sg/picas).

A gallery we would frequent was one where full length portraits hung along its long hallway. Located in the museum’s west wing, it was part of the National Museum’s Art Gallery which had been opened at the end of 1974. The portraits which seemed to glow in their illuminations would at times appear to come alive – which could be a reason why that particular gallery did not receive many visitors. This made it a wonderful place to escape to and to read and find some quiet in, particularly with the generously wide cushioned benches found in the gallery which were especially comfortable.

A couple viewing a photography exhibit at "Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang".

A couple viewing a photography exhibit at “Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang”.

Another look at "Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang".

Another look at “Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang”.

The museum has undergone tremendous changes over the three and a half decades or so since my youthful encounters, and has certainly become a much more interesting destination. Physically, the museum was to undergo a makeover in the mid 2000s during which time a modern glass and steel extension was added to the existing neo-classical building which has been a landmark in the area. Gazetted as a National Monument in 1992, the original building built to house the Raffles Library and Museum, is one that dates back to 1887.

The National Museum of Singapore.

The original National Museum of Singapore building was gazetted as a National Monument in 1992.

Yet another look at "Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang".

Yet another look at “Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang”.

These days, it is not so much for the air-conditioning that I find myself visiting the museum. The museum’s many galleries which have been made a lot more interesting and changing exhibitions provide not just a reason to do that, but also an opportunity to take delight in the wonderful mix of old and new in its architecture. The permanent exhibitions in the Singapore Living Galleries and in the Singapore History Gallery provides a wonderful appreciation of what makes us who we are as Singaporean today and certainly ones which every Singaporean should visit. For me, the museum offers a little more than all this, it does also provide me with many opportunities to capture moments in photographs beyond what the streets outside do offer and what perhaps is another perspective of the building and its exhibits.

A glass ceiling added at the original buiding's rear.

A glass ceiling added at the original buiding’s rear.

Information portal.

Information portal?





Trading stories with six tradesmen

15 03 2013

An often overlooked chapter in the Singapore story is the one that is written by our pioneering tradesmen. Many had little choice to turn to their trades as a means of income, but in doing so, they were able to contribute to society by serving the many important needs of the growing population in the early days of the development of Singapore. While many of these trades have fallen victim to the rapid pace of change, as well as perhaps to the globalisation, and have been forgotten about; there are some which have managed to stay relevant or have evolved to meet the changing needs of today’s society. An exhibition which opens to the public today at the National Museum of Singapore, Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen, looks at some of the tales of these tradesmen, through personal accounts from six pioneering tradesmen, some who have retired from their trades, and some whose trades are still very much alive today.

Exhibition panels featuring former Samsui woman, Mdm Ng Moey Chye, 81, who was actually the daughter of another Samsui woman.

Exhibition panels featuring former Samsui woman, Mdm Ng Moey Chye, 81, who was actually the daughter of another Samsui woman.

Letter writer Mr Thangaraju s/o Singaram, who is 85 years old and was from Tamil Nadu, India.

Letter writer Mr Thangaraju s/o Singaram, who is 85 years old and was from Tamil Nadu, India.

Exhibition panels featuring tukang urut, Mdm Runtik Binti Murtono, a 53 year old immigrant from Surabaya.

Exhibition panels featuring tukang urut, Mdm Runtik Binti Murtono, a 53 year old immigrant from Surabaya.

The exhibition which will be on until 23 June 2013, features the stories of a traditional goldsmith, a movie poster painter, a tukang urut (or Malay confinement lady), a Samsui woman, a poultry farmer and a letter writer, recounting the colourful journeys taken and the experiences of these tradesmen.  In doing so, we do not only hear tales of sacrifice and struggle in the early days of Singapore, we also gain many insights into the trades themselves and perhaps in them, many other stories that would otherwise not have been told, such as that of the Achari craftsmen caste and the wows to remain single that many Samsui women took.

Mr Ho Seng Choon, of Lian Wah Hang Quail and Poultry Farm, one of the six tradesmen featured, speaking to Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at the opening of the exhibition.

Mr Ho Seng Choon, of Lian Wah Hang Quail and Poultry Farm, one of the six tradesmen featured, speaking to Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at the opening of the exhibition.

Panels featuring Mr Murugaian s/o Ratnaswami Asari, 72 a goldsmith who came as a carpenter from Tamil Nadu, India in 1957.

Panels featuring Mr Murugaian s/o Ratnaswami Asari, 72 a goldsmith who came as a carpenter from Tamil Nadu, India in 1957.

Former movie poster painter Mr Ang Hao Sai. Behind him is a hand-painted movie poster made for his 2008 film, My Magic.

Former movie poster painter Mr Ang Hao Sai. Behind him is a mock up of a traditional cinema on wheels (peep-show) and a hand-painted movie poster loaned by filmmaker Eric Khoo that was made for his 2008 film, My Magic.

Besides the six tradesmen, the exhibition also includes a community segment which features over 20 exhibits contributed by the community. These include private artefacts and keepsakes, locally produced documentaries and a community photography exhibit. One which caught my attention is khat calligrapher, Mr Faizal Somadi’s beautifully executed works of Jawi calligraphy. Jawi is a less often used traditional Malay script which in more recent times has been replaced by the romanised script. Visitors to the exhibition will also be encouraged to leave some of their personal memories of old trades behind by posting notes on a wall.

A reflection of a fan with Chinese calligraphy with a showcase of showing the tools of the trade.

A reflection of a fan with Chinese calligraphy with a showcase of showing the tools of the trade.

Mr Faizal Somadi, a khat calligrapher whose works are on display, speaking to Mr Sam Tan.

Mr Faizal Somadi, a khat calligrapher whose works are on display, speaking to Mr Sam Tan.

Visitors can leave some of their own memories of old trades behind.

Visitors can leave some of their own memories of old trades behind.

Also to look out for as part of the exhibition, is a series of street theatre performances and demonstrations of the old trades. This will take place at the museum on weekends in May and June. The museum has introduced programmes for primary and secondary school students. Trading Stories runs from 15 March to 23 June 2013 at the museum’s Stamford Gallery and opens from 10 am to 6 pm daily. Admission is free. More information can be found at www.nhb.gov.sg/tradingstories.

Photographs and memories of spaces where some of the trades once thrived - my personal contribution to the exhibition.

Photographs of spaces where some of the trades once thrived – my personal contribution to the exhibition.





Corridors of Trade

14 03 2013

A feature of the once ubiquitous shophouse is the five-foot-way. The corridors, conceived as shelter for pedestrians, also made an inexpensive space for many a tradesman to conduct business.

A mobile phone vendor along a five-foot-way at Serangoon Road.

A mobile phone vendor along a five-foot-way at Serangoon Road.

The five-foot-way was often what we visited to pick the newspaper up; get our hair done; have our shoes mended; and, where we could indulge in that favourite bowl of noodles.

A treat I would look forward to as a child was having my favourite bowl of beef-ball soup sitting at a table on a five-foot-way along Hock Lam Street.

My maternal grandmother might also have plied her trade on the five-foot-way – she sold appam in the vicinity of Simon Road Market in the uncertain days that followed the end of the war.

The surviving corridors are mostly silent, abandoned by tradesmen we no longer have need for, except for a few.

(A contribution to National Heritage Board’s “Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen” exhibition which will be on at the National Museum of Singapore from 15 March to 23 June 2013)


Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen is a community exhibition on old trade­­­­­­­s in Singapore and how tradesmen have coped with the challenge of changing times. Featuring the lives of six individuals who have made their living as a traditional goldsmith, movie poster painter, tukang urut or Malay confinement lady, Samsui woman, poultry farmer and letter writer, the exhibition sheds light on some of Singapore’s old trades through their personal stories – stories of sacrifices and struggles, of passion and fortitude, of entrepreneurial courage and adaptability.

This community exhibition at the Stamford Gallery also features numerous community contributions such as the loan of private keepsakes, locally produced documentaries and a community photography exhibit on old local trades. Members of the public are also invited to contribute to the exhibition by sharing their personal memories and stories of old trades in Singapore.








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