Singapore’s National Treasure At The Largest Icon!

Posted: November 2, 2009 in Uncategorized

Captain’s log                               Stardate: 63337.9 (Nov 2nd, 2009)

When was the last time I visited the National Museum of Singapore? Hmm…as far as I can tell…that’s ages ago! Back in my days of secondary school. Its either when I was in Sec 2 or 3..can’t remember the exact level from there. Haha! =D

Anyway, yesterday (Sunday, Nov 1st), I had decided to drop by to the museum. Basically, my intention was to find out about the Singapore Stone. I had recently took part in this alternate reality game, known as “Uncover Singapore” which was developed by the National Library Board. Basically, it is an interactive game that captures the real world and the latest media as a platform, while at the same time, also as a fun and engaging way of learning about the island. There’s puzzles to solve, and even going for treasure hunts to get those facts about Singapore’s culture, heritage and attraction.

And besides, staying at home with nothing to do seems unbearable to me. So why not travel into the past by venturing through the museum =)

One of the missions was to locate the stone. It was title as “Stone of the Republic.” Obviously, once everybody (regardless whether you are expert in history or not) were asked about it, they will all mentioned the Singapore Stone. As history was stated, the stone currently was a fragment of a large sandstone slab which was originally stood at the mouth of the Singapore River. And that was centuries ago, which was believed to be date back at least the 13 century, before the island’s discovery by Sir Stamford Raffles. Amazing, it bore an undeciphered inscriptions which remains undeciphered to this day.

It was also stated, that the slab may be linked to the legendary stone of the 14th century strongman known as Badang (Asia version of Hercules. Haha!), who is said to have thrown a massive stone to the mouth of the Singapore River. Interesting…..

Before I began my destination truth…errr..I mean, search, I had conducted some self-research (really extensive one) just to find out more about the stone, and some of its related topics from the internet. Including about the strongman Badang, just to get some of the important facts drill into my mind. Not to mentioned, the history of the museum itself.

Located at 93 Stamford Road, it was the oldest museum in Singapore which dates back in 1849 as history recorded. Under the redevelopment work category, the museum was been given a make-over in restoration and reinvention, as well as adding new exhibitions and displays. It turns out that the new one will be twice as large as the old one. It was reopened in December 2006 after underwent a three and a half year make-over. Now that’s a lot of interesting gaps to get you, especially those who love history, to drool over with. Hee..=p

I suddenly find myself interested into history, ever since I started playing this reality game. I don’t know why, and when I was in secondary school, I never learned history cause my level at that time, where I was one of the Normal Technical students, doesn’t included history. We do learn social studies, but I wondered was it related as to history studies? Do pick up some historical topics here and there, but wasn’t all that focus into it at that time. Well, its not too late to start learning one, and doing it by self-study will still get you going there. But you don’t really necessarily have to study the whole BIG thing till your head explode, right?

Of course, my intention is not only for the stone. I too, had decided to spend my time there exploring the place and learn more from the rest of those unique exhibitions =)

Anyway, on that day, I set out my destination. Taking the train from Bedok to Dhoby Ghaut. The Museum was a 10-minute walk from the station. I was a little lost at first. But after viewing the map outside the train station, I managed to find it.

Welcome to the house of Singapore’s National Treasures!

Museum

The entry fee was $10, for adult. But surprisingly, it was free on that day. Free for all galleries, because of some special event taking place. Excellent! My ten dollars is save! =D

I was sooooo drool by the lobby that I didn’t even take a shot of it. I can’t really remember how it looks like when I first visited it decades ago. But I did remember how me and my friends just ran in through the halls without even waiting for instructions, and in the end, was called back outside where we get scolded by our teachers for behaving like monkeys. The management was not happy, obviously. Also, I remember one of the staff there, saying there’s a rumour that some would say that the museum is haunted, cause a few witnesses claimed that they happened to saw a ghost of Sir Stamford Raffles roaming through the halls! Of course, till this day, there’s no evidence to proof of such.

After eyeing the dome from the lobby, I found my way heading up to the second floor, of what appears to be the glass passage, cause the ceiling were made out of stained glass panels. What a make-over!

Museum

Check this out! They reminds me of those life-size Terracotta Army of the Qin Dynasty that was found in China! =D

Museum

Next, I began to explore two galleries on this side of the level. One is Fashion and the other one is Photography. From here, I let the pictures do the talking =) Besides, this are some of the interesting pictures I’ve taken, and very historically unique in such a way.

Museum

Check out this old fashion studio camera. Its about time that I managed to saw it as the actual feature! =)

Museum

And what comes next was a series of cameras that were used from generations before the digital was born. I was so engrossed to it that I ended up spending my time in that particular room longer than I thought as I study their features =) Without a doubt, a few of these antiques might no longer be in the market. Perhaps, the Cash Converter still had those on sale! Hah! =D

Museum

Next, I made my way down. Cause earlier I happened to spotted some hall that looks so grant several meters away from the entrance and after the staircase that I took. I was greeted with activity here. The upper surrounding was enclosed with glass. Took me to realize that this must be the concourse of the museum. On my right was a restaurant, while on my left, some children were displaying their sets of art and crafts. Seems like there’s a “Free Children’s Craft!” taking place.

Museum

Behind the parapet wall where the kids area were, there’s an escalator heading up, that adjoins with the steps that leads up to the Atelier. I’m surprised to notice that there’s a path next to the Atelier that faces Fort Canning. Cool! Easy access from here! =)

I’m amazed by this! Models of cities hangs from the ceiling!

Meseum

I descend down the steps, and walk across the vast space of the concourse upper level towards the Singapore History Gallery. Its come to my attention that this is where, history takes place, which adopts a story-telling approach. Unveiling different views as you travel through the past. Ancient artifacts, the struggles that early settlers had to overcome, you named it. Not to mention, the Singapore Stone. All preserved inside here for future generations to get in touch of the past of old Singapore.

I walk across a ramp that leads up to the entry of the Gallery. There, a cute female staff handed me in what appears to be a multimedia handheld device, that was specially designed to guide the visitors once they were inside the Gallery. It was known as the “Companion” and each comprise of an LCD display, a pair or earphones and a keypad which enables visitors to enjoy the audio, visual and content which describes the physical collection of artifacts and history.

Museum

Its literally our personal tour guide, and as according to the staff, each exhibition had certain numbers located on the floor. Such as this one:

Museum

This numbers, also referred as zone code were tagged to each, and all you have to do is to keyed in the relevant number that belongs to that particular exhibition onto the Companion, and the voices will explained the history behind it. Let’s say for example, this exhibition features Sir Stamford Raffles, and its tagged number is 14. From the Companion, keyed in 1 and 4, and pressed the “GO” button. And there you go. You’ll be hearing voices soon. Hah! =D

Really fascinating. Its a wonder why I don’t see any tour guides around. Seems like these “tour guides” or should I say, Mr Companion were effective enough as our personal tour guide =)

I followed down a spiral ramp once I passed the entry. Within 50 meters, it leads to a dim-lit room. There, my eyes went wide opened. I never really expected it to be exhibit as the first showcase. But there it is, still preserved. Still intact. The last fragment of it. Found it at last!

The Singapore Stone

Museum

And me, posed with it as been instructed from the game, while holding up a paper with “Uncover.Sg” written on it =)

As you may have notice that the photos were taken without FLASH. It was one of the rules here that visitors have to comply with. Camera (excluding video camera) can be brought in, but without the use of FLASH.

It turns out good anyway 😉

I began to spend a few moments studying the stone. Also listening to part of its history from Mr Companion. Those inscriptions…..so profound, bore an undeciphered look on such a tolerably hard block of sand-stone till to this day. Ultimately, it is upon the inner surface of the stone that the inscription is engraved. The last of this piece was been saved, after its original slab was blown to pieces in 1843. The same question asked. Was it old Javanese or Sanskrit? Even Sir Stamford Raffles himself had once tried to decipher the inscriptions on the original sandstone slab when he learned about it. Many would have thought, it was such a powerful belief. What secrets lies behind those inscriptions? If there’s any, what does it mean? From all those centuries, it was so profound that I sometimes doubted there would be much difference between discovery and revelation to this. This very artifact, the last piece of evidence had arisen in the shadows, for reasons unfathomable but endlessly compelling…..

Guess I’ve said too much. Can’t help myself get attached to it. As exactly been describe and shown in the internet of how it will appeared. Only God knows what those undeciphered inscriptions means….

Leading the reality game, named Agent Damon, will be pleased to know that the Stone of the Republic is safe and secure =)

Ok, its time to move on. There’s a lot more history here to catch up then just the stone itself. We have time travel into the past. Old Singapore under the British rule. Listening to the most important evidence from Mr Companion as we explore exhibition after exhibition. Within these dim-lit environment, it just feel so magically isolated, as you seeked answers to the ultimate questions of existence. If you just concentrate hard enough, you might even stumble into something unexpected from the history itself.

Here’s the first wave of interesting exhibits I’ve taken.

Museum

Then, I stumble into, where lies of the invasion. The Fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942. World War II is here. The stronghold of the Empire of Japan occupied the island after defeating the combined Australian, British, Indian and Malayan garrison. In their desperate struggle to defend the island, the alliance were eventually outnumbered as their fortress, one after another till the last remaining were destroyed. The British surrender, eventually. As such, Singapore was renamed to “Syonan-to” by the Japs which means “Island of the Light of the South” or “Southern Island.”

Then, the Japs introduced the “Sook Ching” which was a massacre of certain Chinese in Singapore. The killing was been decided on a policy of “eliminating” those who were harboured strong anti-Japanese sentiments. Several sites for the killings were chosen, and the most notable ones were Changi Beach, Punggol Beach and Sentosa, formally Pulau Belakang Mati.

But there are others, who survive the Sook Ching. A narrow escape to say the least. Their stories, their own voices were heard from Mr Companion. Hearing from each one of them really drawn me into it. Especially those who were Prisoners Of War (POW). How they were beaten up, tortured, not been given enough food, that left many of them malnutrition. Those hard times were brutal, been treated inhumanly by the Japs. Can’t imagine what it might have felt. Those horrors, those critical moments, seems unbearable to hear. Yet, these people survive to share those painful memories that shall be remembered from generations to generations when Singapore was under the Japanese Occupation.

Museum
Every part of it does catches me in the eye. Cold hard evidence, as I would prefer. The stories behind were still left preserved, untouched. The artifacts, old documents were a staggering piece of discovery within these grasp of timeline.

Now came to the end of it all. As the years extended, Singapore progress. Our Minister Mentor, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was then Prime Minister at that time had continued from where Sir Stamford Raffles had left, to improve the country’s image. From third world to first world. From kampong life, to skyscrapers. Our common heritage had lived to its success. Singapore had struggle from its own roots after all those terrible years. In a multilingual society like ours, it is only to be expected what the future will lies ahead.

Museum

Check out this cool stuff. Fancy various of displays, don’t you think? Hee…;)

Museum

I had no clue to this one. Was it some kind of a microwave oven? Or some vacuum cleaner? But one thing for sure, it does reminds me of a space helmet! =D

Museum
From there, the path leads to the exit where I had to say goodbye to Mr Companion. I gave the museum one last look before I left.

So far, I managed to grab some of the important facts of Singapore history. Of course, I can still looked up from the internet or historical books. But if you really want to touch and hear the past, its better to visit the museum. Some things in there just couldn’t be missed out =)

Apart from that, I managed to get an upclose observation of the Singapore Stone. The whole day was such a discovery for me, and I’m glad that I had stepped into the museum once again after my recent trip decades ago =)



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Comments
  1. Scapula says:

    It’s such an enriching experience isn’t it? 😉

    So much to learn and you’re right about the part about interacting with history.

    Hope that kids today can be introduced to this kind of history learning and experience at school.

  2. Steve says:

    Dude, nice write up! I’m impressed. Seems like you are really into historu this time =)

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