Monday, November 20, 2006

Beginning with stamps: WWII Civic District Trail

I am very glad that I have decided to wake up early on a Sunday morning to visit the Singapore Philatelic Museum and be onboard the World War II Civic District Trail. I have had an enriching tour onboard this walking tour, and most important, I have learnt a little more about the history of Singapore.

I had previously been to the Singapore Philatelic Museum for a few times, but it was only after I attended the WWII Civic District Trail did I better appreciate that stamps can lend us a lot of insights to our history and heritage.

The tour started in a gallery that housed the exhibition titled The End...The Beginning. It seemed appropriate that the WWII Civic District Trail began with stamps. The docent gave each of us the stamps that you see below:

The docent then began to relate to us accounts that made me start to realise that if one diligently does research on each and every stamp, one can actually uncover a whole load of history and information about a place.

Do you noticed the word "BMA" on two of the above stamps? BMA stands for British Military Administration. After the surrender of the Japanese, Singapore was temporarily administered by the British Military Administration. The docent also shared with us about the stamps that were used during the Japanese Occupation and I was fascinated by the fact that I was learning something new!

By the way, on this tour, I have learnt that the building that now houses the Singapore Philatelic Museum was the formerly part of the Anglo Chinese School. Check this link for information about the museum and its architectural history:

The Philatelic Museum has such a long history indeed. I have a feeling that the design of the post-box that stands outside this museum can be traced way back to a time before I was born.

After spending some time hearing about World War II at the gallery of the museum, we headed for Fort Canning Park. While we did not get up close to the Battle Box, this part of the tour was just as good as a visit to the Battle Box. The docent gave us accounts of factors that could have contributed to the British surrender. One part that was new to me was the significance of Lieutenant–General Percival's request to the Japanese after the British had surrendered. He had requested for the Japanese troops to only march into the city after day-break the next day. Upon much reflection, there was much wisdom in this request, wasn't it?

The next stop was somewhere opposite the National Museum of Singapore. I particularly enjoyed the walk from Fort Canning Park to the next stop. The reason? There were many trees along the way that had provided shade on a very sunny Sunday morning.

Did you see a patch of green land on the photo above? It triggered a sense of nostalgia in me. A few years ago on this patch of green land stood a library which I had used to spend about an hour every fornight in. And now, that library has made way for what you see right below:

A tunnel for vehicles.

National Museum of Singapore

At the spot opposite the National Museum of Singapore and at a spot nearby the Singapore Management University, our docent shared with us about the Kempeitai, and some anecdotes that had happened during the Japanese Occupation.

Before attending this trail, I did not know that the original statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was kept in the National Museum of Singapore during the Japanese Occupation. Now I do.

A few other things on this trail had caught my interest. During this trail, the docent showed us a photograph of the old YMCA building. I also got to see a photograph of the building that now houses the Rendezvous Hotel. While I could recognise the building, the present building does not look exactly like how it did in the past. Perhaps change is the only thing that is constant in life?

Our last stop was City Hall. On the way to City Hall, we passed by the St Andrew's Cathedral. I could not help but take a photograph of the cross that you would see in the photo below. This cross was erected in memory of Colonel Macpherson, who is the designer of the St Andrew's Cathedral.

Finally, we had reached the City Hall. This was the place where the formal signing of the surrender instrument by the Japanese was held on September 12, 1945.

City Hall

Overall, the WWII Civic District Trail has been very informative and enriching. It reminded me that history has many lessons to teach us. Maybe it is time for us to find time to learn from history?

Special thanks to the docent, Jimmy, for a most delightful walking tour that day.

By the way, Tym has also blogged about this very WWII Civic District Trail. Do check it out:

If you have missed the above trail and are keen for heritage-related activities this few months, please check out


The Singapore Philatelic Museum
Supreme Court - History
World War 2 in the city

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Culture Clubbin' at Malay Heritage Centre

On 4 Nov 06, I was at Sultan Mosque to check out the Singapore Biennale 2006 exhibits there. The Malay Heritage Centre was within walking distance away. As such, I was able to kill two birds with one stone, and visit these two places on the same day.

There was a special event: Culture Clubbin' at the Malay Heritage Centre that day. The event was the Explore Singapore! Opening Special.

I particularly like the outdoor landscapes of the Malay Heritage Centre. It has one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Kampong Glam area. It was no surprise when I realised that I have captured quite a number of shots of its beautiful landscapes.

I had to wait for the sun to move a little before I can get Sultan Mosque to appear visible in the background.

The volume of the music at the event was too loud for my ears. I could only try to cope but trying to be as unresponsive to the rest of the world as possible. I had ear plugs with me but decided that it was too much of a hassle to have them put on. Personally, I think the music did not quite suit the landscapes of the Malay Heritage Centre. However, it seemed to be quite appropriate for the street art exhibition held in conjunction with the event. I might have been able to bear with the music if it were much softer in volume.

Since I was there, I decided to check out the Malay Heritage museum and Twin Exhibition featuring Bugis & Johor-Riau-Lingga Star Exhibits. I had visited the museum about a year ago, and I felt quite disappointed yesterday as I did not notice much major improvements in the exhibits since my last visit.

Nevertheless, there were good things about the museum that kept my disappointments to the minimal. I felt pleased to see a photo of the previous Sultan Mosque that was completed completed in 1826, with its double-tiered roof. I quite like the multi-media interactive station found in the gallery describing the past of Kampong Glam. In the museum, there stood a replica of a room of a kampung house on stilts. It was nothing new to me, but it still felt nice to walk into it.

In general, I felt that while there was much historic value behind each of the exhibits and collections, there was a lack of substantial historical research to weave together the story behind the historically significant Istana Kampong Gelam (now known as the Malay Heritage Centre) and the rest of Kampong Glam area. I felt that I was merely entering a gallery housing a collection of items from the past, but I did not gain much insights to the rich past and heritage of the Kampong Glam area and its community. Anyway, the beautiful outdoor landscapes helped make up for the disappointments that I had felt.

The temporary exhibition, the Twin Exhibition, has a fairly good collection of important artefacts. However, I felt there was a lack of information to educate novice like myself on how to appreciate the cultural and historical significance of these artefacts. As such, while I was aware that those artefacts were important and priceless, I left the exhibition gaining almost little insight to the cultural heritage of the Bugis and the Johor-Riau-Lingga period.

If I were asked to give a feedback, I would suggest that the museum organise regular guided-tours to guide visitors to the exhibits in the museum. This may help make visitors' visit more enriching and meaningful. Perhaps the guides of the guided tours could be volunteers who have lived in Kampong Glam for many years. What better ways to learn about the heritage of Kampong Glam and the community there than to hear these from these folks?

Hopefully, there could be more donors to this centre, and perhaps with more funds, the Malay Heritage Centre could have enough resources to engage researchers to conduct in-depth research on the history of Kampong Glam and the heritage of the various communities that live or had lived in this area.

The museum does not permit digital photography within its premises. As such, I only had the permission to take a photograph of the above exhibit which permitted photography. I like the striking colours of this exhibit.

After visiting the museum, I checked out the street art exhibition that was part of the Culture Clubbin' event. In addition, I was quite attracted to the signboards below. I like the lines, they look cool!

Yet, I still like the outdoor landscapes so much better.

I was particularly fascinated by the thatched roofs that I saw on a few of the structures.

Closed-up of a thatched roof.

When I was at the Malay Heritage Centre, there was some private function at the nearby Gedung Kuning, and I could not help but like its bright yellow walls.

I left the Malay Heritage Centre fairly early. As such, I had missed the performance by Mak Yong Kedek. Before I had left the Malay Heritage Centre, I had overheard the members of Mak Yong Kedek rehearsing at the backyard, and they sound very good. Good rhythms and an infectious zest.

A few fellow bloggers had the good fortune to catch Mak Yong Kedek's performance, and they have blogged about their experience at Culture Clubbin'. Check out their posts:
- Culture Clubbed at MHC by Toycon.
- Getting into the Rhythm by Tym.

There are more events lining up as part of the Explore Singapore! Campaign (Nov 06 - Jan 07). For information, please check out:

SB2006 site at Sultan Mosque

One thing that I like about the Singapore Biennale 2006 (SB2006) is the choice of its exhibition venues. The exhibition venues, in my opinion, complement the theme of the Biennale: Belief.

I travelled to Sultan Mosque yesterday to view the SB2006 exhibits at that site. The Sultan Mosque has a rich history and I urge that readers take some time to read about it:

At Sultan Mosque, the exhibits for the Singapore Biennale 2006 are found at the basement, the third level and the roof-top of the Annex building. As I walked up to the roof-top, I found myself fascinated with the designs of the building.

I like the simple yet dignified design of the stairway.

I was attracted to the designs of the window-frames.

On the roof-top, I saw some interesting views. I could not help but capture these using my camera.

Kampong Glam. This is for Kunstemaecker. The white building in the background is the hotel that he had stayed in when he was here last December.

Aerial view of the Malay Heritage Centre, and more of Kampong Glam.

I particularly like Qureshi's Wuzu 2 and the ingenious way that Qureshi has marked the walls and floors (see below).

On the third level, the visitor would be treated with Abdul Aziz's Ten Triangles. I like the way that she uses her background in Mathematics and Science as her main source of inspirations for her works. Ten Triangles employs an organised geometrical system that I have yet to understand. What I can say for sure is that the work itself looks pleasing and balanced.

At the basement, one can find Jennifer Wen, Ma's Alms and Qureshi's Wuzu 1.

Wuzu 1

I can say that the Sultan Mosque is quite a good choice of venue to house the exhibits displayed there. As I viewed the exhibits, I cannot help but to think about how geometry influences Islamic art, and how the Islamic religion and culture have guide the lives of its followers. It struck me that our beliefs have strong influences on our behaviours, and that they shape the way we perceive the world.

After visiting the SB2006 site at Sultan Mosque, I walked about to enjoy the beauty of the Kampong Glam area.

Sultan Mosque is such a prominent building in the Kampong area that I can see it visbibly while I was walking along one of the back lanes.

Other than the familiar Orchard Road (not that I go there often),
I suppose that there are still many parts of Singapore worth exploring.

Check out the Singapore Biennale 2006 before it ends on 12 Nov 06.