Singapore Story – The Museum Tour

Singapore MuseumThere were a few interesting things that I noticed as I wandered around Singapore visiting the various places. The first thing of note was that almost every body gave me a receipt for my purchases, even if it was a beer in a pub (I’ve never been given a receipt for a beer in a pub – I sought of wonder if it is some way of avoiding GST, but then again since every purchase is entered into the till I somehow doubt it, at least where the major pubs are concerned). Mind you, I said almost everywhere since I was never given a receipt for any of the food (or drinks) that I purchased in the hawkers markets. The other thing I noticed was that they don’t have paywave, which I thought was really odd considering that it is everywhere in Australia. Mind you, you still sign for your credit purchases over there as well (whereas in Australia nobody signs for purchases any more – it is all through the use of a pin, or paywave). Oh, I should also mentioned that you don’t see any beggars on the streets, but then again that actually doesn’t surprise me because, well, it is Singapore.

So, the next morning, my final day here in Singapore, I  once again made my way across the river, grabbed some breakfast, and headed towards the Fort Canning Park. Fort Canning is, as you might have guessed, the location of the original British Fort, which happens to be built on a hill overlooking the harbour. One thing that I noticed about Singapore is that it is fairly flat, unlike Hong Kong which is riddled with mountains. Anyway, as I was walking towards Fort Canning (and past a number of bars that I knew I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to visit – yeah, I should mention that also: the Singapore time zone is rather odd – for some reason it is still dark around 8:00 am, however it remains light until about 7:00 to 7:30 pm. Since it is on the equator, or should I say 2 degrees north, the hours of daylight do not change throughout the year) I noticed this rather interesting structure over one of the roads:

Toll Point
Actually, they’re everywhere

I pretty quickly worked out what it was – a toll gate. Basically you have to pay to drive on the roads in Singapore, or at least the major roads. Okay, I know, registering your car is technically paying to drive on the roads, but the thing with Singapore is that it is a very small island and with the population that it has it would become incredibly congested if everybody insisted on driving their own car. As such the cost of registering a vehicle is huge, and if you insist on actually driving it then you have to pay to travel on certain main roads. Okay, they do have a pretty good public transport system, but as I was walking past the toll point I couldn’t help thinking about how the Australian people would go through the roof if a government even thought of doing something like that. The funny thing is that despite the prohibitive cost of driving a car in Singapore, I still didn’t see the huge numbers of luxury cars that you would see plying the streets of Hong Kong.

Fort Canning

So, after crossing the road I made my way towards the park (and past a jogger that was running up and down some steps – a pointless exercise in my books) and discovered that there were numerous signs outlining the history of the area. I always appreciate a bit of history so I would stop at each one of them and have a bit of a read. Anyway, here are some photos of the entrance of the park (if only to break up the text).

Fort Canning Park EntranceFort Canning Path Fort Canning Park PathFort Canning Park Path

I also had this really strange urge to take some photos of the leaves on the ground, namely because they were pretty big, and also didn’t look like any of the leaves back in Australia.

Singaporean Leaves
The Simplest things fascinate me.

Okay, pictures of leaves are rather boring, but I find them rather curious. Yes I know, simple things amuse simple minds, but sometimes one can find amazing things in the most simplest of objects – such as fractals.

So, I made my way around to Raffles Terrace, which by the way isn’t named after the hotel – it is named after the British Officer that founded modern Singapore. Anyway, on Raffles Terrace you can still see the old light house, flag pole, and time ball that the ships in the harbour used to use to navigate the waterways. I did take a photo of the sign explaining the use of the time ball, but as it turned out I can’t read it (my camera doesn’t seem to be able to do signs all that well). As I wandered around here I saw somebody taking some wedding photos, so I gave them a wide berth and continued along the path.

Flag Pole
The Flagpole – used for signalling ships in the harbour using the semaphore system.
Light House
I’m sure you know what these are used for.
The Time Ball
The Time Ball – used for the ships to set the time while in harbour.

I then came across a cannon:

Boom !!!!

These old cannons are cool, but unfortunately you can’t fire them (and even if you could I would probably get into a lot of trouble if I did).

The top of the hill happens to be a reservoir, which is fenced off and has signs around the perimeter warning you that if you enter you will end up facing a guy with a machine gun. I thought the warning picture was cool so I took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook:

Warning Sign
Yep, I think I get the idea

At which point a friend of mine suggested that I could get into trouble for taking the photo. That left me slightly paranoid for the rest of the time I was in Singapore, especially when I was picked up for my tour at the hotel. I made sure that I checked into a location as I was leaving, just in case the Singapore Police rocked up while I was there and arrested me. However, I woke up in the morning in my hotel room (as opposed to a police cell) so I guess I dodged a bullet there.

The next part of Fort Canning is the old fortress gate, which you can walk through, look around, and walk back out again. People seem to like to take photos of that gate, so I decided to join in and take a couple of photos for myself.

Fort Canning Gate
Yeah, looks pretty cool.

There is even the old bunker (which they call the Battle Box) where the British Officers hid out during World War II while the Japanese were launching attacks against the city. Unfortunately the bunker was closed so I couldn’t go inside. There was another interesting side entrance, but the couple who were having their wedding photos taken had get there before me, so unfortunately that was off the agenda.

Bunker Entrance
Pretty cool location for an action film

What was on the agenda though was this fairly new art gallery called the Pinacothèque de Paris.

Pinacothèque de Paris

As I was wandering through the park I kept on seeing these banners advertising a collection of artwork and a Cleopatra exhibition at this place called the Pinacothèque de Paris. I’m not really sure what it is supposed to refer to (maybe some art gallery in Paris) but these two exhibitions looked pretty cool. Okay, you had to pay to go and see two of the exhibitions, but I wasn’t all that fussed, especially since one of them involved European Art, and the other involved Cleopatra. They also have a third section which is a collection of indigenous artwork from around the region, as well as some history of Early Singapore.

Asian CarvingAsian Statue

I love looking at some of these ancient relics because the detail and the skill that goes into making them is amazing. In many cases it reminded me of some of the artifacts that you would see in Egyptian and Roman collections around the place. Okay, they tend to be all hand made, but the thing about hand made artifacts is that each and every one tends to have a very unique characteristic. These days of mass production have nothing on these hand made objects. Mind you, somebody asked me if the gifts that I picked up in Thailand were hand made and I suggested that they where, however now that I come to think about it I probably wouldn’t be surprised if they were made in some factory somewhere and then flogged off to tourists as ‘authentic hand made goods’ (I’m not sure the consumer protection laws in Thailand aren’t anywhere near as strong as those in Australia).

So, after spending a few minutes looking at the Asian Art I then made my way into the next gallery, which was the European Art collection. It turned out that this gallery was really small. However just because it was small did not mean that what was inside was all that unimpressive – they contained some pretty decent works of art inside, including a Monet, a Picasso, and a Rembrandt. What I also noticed was that some of these pieces had little signs saying ‘no photographs’ (and a guard in the corner making sure that I played by the rules), while others you could photograph to your heart’s content. I concluded that the reason for this was that the items you weren’t allowed to photograph were subject to copyright.

So, here are photos of some artwork that I could photograph (as long as I didn’t use a flash – nobody likes flashes – apparently it ruins the artwork, which is why these galleries always tend to be dark).

Leanto Painting Painting of a Painter

Portrait of a Lady Painting of a party

Don’t ask me what they are called – I didn’t take notes

The next stop was the Cleopatra exhibition, however I will leave that for another post because it is something that I could write substantially more about – and beside that it would fall into the category of my other blog.

A Dystopian Vision

Once I had taken in all I was able to take in at the Pinacothèque de Paris it was time to move on to the next museum/gallery, however there was a little side trek that I needed to make. Namely because I wanted to go to:

Sarkies Road Sign
Well, my Dad said we could move if I found a street named after me.

When I got there, I not only discovered Sarkies Road but also:

Sarkies Mansionsand

Sarkies Gardensand not forgetting:

Sarkies GreenIn a way it was quite thrilling to see my last name plastered all over this part of Singapore. Okay, I’ll be honest and admit that the Sarkies brothers, the ones famous for setting up a hotel chain across South East Asia are no relation to me (they were from Persia where as my ancestry comes from Armenia) but it is still cool to know that I share a last name with some very wealthy individuals. Hey, my Dad even named our dog after one of them.

Anyway, after taking a few photographs of the place, I jumped back onto the train and proceeded to get off at the wrong stop, which meant that I had to meander my way through a massive shopping mall to get to where I was going. It wasn’t a complete waste of time because I decided to stick my head into one of the supermarkets to have a look around, though I must admit that there wasn’t all that much difference to the ones we have back home (with the exception that you see a lot more American brands on the shelves). Actually, there seems to be only one supermarket in Singapore – Cold Storage (though I have since discovered that there is another one, however I didn’t see any outlets in my travels).

My next stop was the Art Museum, though I was sort of expecting more of an Art Gallery (if there is a difference). As it turns out it used to be an old Catholic Mission, but has since been transformed into place where travelling exhibitions can be set up (it appears that most of the galleries in Singapore host travelling exhibitions – they don’t seem to have permanent collections as they do elsewhere). The exhibition that was on when I came here was called After Utopia. It was sort of some modern art type expo that explored what would more accurately be called a dystopian view of the world.

Before I continue I must say that there was this absolutely awesome security guard in this place. He was just so bubbly and full of life – the type of character that people just love to be around because he just exudes happiness. Anyway he was really helpful in showing me where I could put my back, though there was a catch: the thing with Singapore is that they recently changed their $1.00 coins and unfortunately none of the old machines actually accept the new coins. This means that you have to go and get an old coin to be able to put your bag in a locker. For a country that seems to have done everything right, this was a real surprise – this is something that I would expect to happen in Australia.

So, I went to have a look at the exhibition, which was set across four galleries with each gallery having a different theme. However, before I did that I simply had to marvel at the sculpture of the archaeopteryx:

Archaeopteryx Sculpture
It could be a turkey

So, the first gallery was all about gardens, and they had this interesting room where there were these famous Indonesian actors who were dressed in their birthday suits with white dots over their nether regions. The problem was that since Indonesia is an incredibly conservative country the white dots simply were not enough, so the exhibition was banned, which is why it landed up in Singapore. You weren’t supposed to take photos of it, and there was somebody at the door that made sure you didn’t. However, I was able to take photos of other parts of the garden exhibition:

Botanist's Desk Garden Artwork

The next gallery shifted from the garden to the urban world, though most of the works here were video, including one where somebody set up a camera opposite a notorious block of flats in Kuala Lumpar and recorded what happened at night (and you can see all of the customers going and visiting their favourite prostitutes). There was another room where the artist had created this huge map of Singapore, but with a difference – it was shaped like some guy throwing up. Sure, I could imagine cities like New York or Bangkok falling into this category, but not Singapore. I guess it has something to do with the veneer that seems to cover the city in that if you scratch beneath the surface even a place such as this has its own dark secrets (and apparently you can find that in Orchid).

However, it wasn’t until I got to the second level that I saw something absolutely amazing – a jet fighter straight out of some science-fiction movie. This was something that I simply never expected to find in an art gallery. In fact I thought it was so awesome I ended up spending five minutes simply staring at it in amazement.

Fighter Jet Fighter Jet

I really wanted to jump inside and take it for a spin

There were a couple of other interesting rooms as well. One of them had sculptures of famous communist leaders lying in coffins, and then the next room was completely white with the exception of a television screen where some advertising agency was putting a new shine on communist ideology (which is why it was white instead of red).

Dead Lenin Propeller Group

The final room that I will mention had some interesting works of art that seemed to portray the Malay Emergency (at least that is what I understood it to be) when the communists where attempting to take over Malaysia. While I could spend more time trying to unravel the mysteries of these works of art I think I will just paste a couple of pictures and then move on to my next destination.

War & Rebellion Malay Artwork

A little bit of India

I had been to Chinatown, but apparently you also need to travel to the other side of the downtown area and visit Little India. Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend a huge amount of time here, namely because there were some other places that I really wanted to visit. What I did want to see was if I could get a vindaloo. Unfortunately I failed in that quest, and I also have to admit that I simply walked around the area without even looking at my phone to see where I was. They did have a food court, but unfortunately this food court wasn’t specifically Indian. It ended up being like all the other food courts that I had visited in Singapore, and after wandering around it for five minutes, ended up settling on the only Indian restaurant that I could find. However they did serve up my meal on this huge leaf, which was different.

Little India Curry
It wasn’t the best that I’ve had.

I still spent some time wandering around the streets, though I didn’t go too far from the MRT station. It was interesting seeing all the stalls lined along the road selling produce and textiles. Okay, I have never been to India so I simply am not able to compare what I saw here with what it is like back in the mother country (though having an experience of Hong Kong I was able to appreciate Chinatown much more). What I did notice was a couple of girls sitting outside a tattoo parlour with some freshly minted tattoos. That liked really creepped me out. Call me old fashioned, but I really, really don’t like those huge tattoos that people get – especially since they tend to be permanent.

Anyway, here are some of the produce that I saw in the stalls.

Little India Produce Little India Spices

And one of the things that I love about India are the beautiful textiles that they wear:

Indian Textiles Indian Clothes

And here are some of the shops:

Little India Shopping Strip Little India Market

Oh, and before I forget, I saw something that I never thought I would ever see again in my life time:

Old Telephones
I used to use these all the time.

Childhood Fantasies

I still had a bit of time before I had to be back at my hotel for the night safari, which was a good thing because it meant that I could go and check out the Toy Museum that had been closed the day before. Okay, while I don’t have a toy collection myself, I thought this place would be really interesting, and I was not wrong. It didn’t take me all that long to wander through here, but the place sure did bring back memories. In fact the name say it all – it is a collection of toys, but not any old toys but toys dating back to the 1950s. In fact the entire collection has a huge sense of nostalgia about it, and the number of robots that they have in the science-fiction level suggests that whoever set this place up must have been an avid collector.

Robot Collection
A collection of Paranoid Androids

The museum is divided into five levels with a different theme on each level. The hosts suggested that I start at the top and work my way down, which I was happy to do because the science fiction display was on the top level. Anyway, as I suggested, there were heaps of toys on display, and I don’t want to even guess how much some of them are worth, such as the shrink wrapped star wars figures:

Star Wars Toys
To preserve or to play – that is the question

Of course, they had some old Doctor Who toys, including Daleks:

The all time favourite Dr Who villain

As well as a collection of toy laser guns:

Toy Laser
On loan from the military

And of course the ubiquitous space ship:

Space Ships
A virtual amarda

Any collection of 1950s toys wouldn’t be complete without Dan Dare:

Dan Dare
I only know him from a computer game

and a galactic space map:

Galactic Map
I can use this to get home

After managing to drag myself away from the science fiction collection I made my way downstairs to discover a huge collection of smurfs:

They used to sell these in petrol stations

I also found good old Popeye (even though he was never one of my favourite characters as a kid, despite the fact that I wanted to eat spinach so that I could become really strong like him and beat up all the Brutuses in my life):

A scrawny sailor man

If you were going to set up a toy museum, you had to have model trains:

Model Trains
Trains are cool

As well as the good old batmobile (I had one as a kid, but it ended up vanishing when I took it to school to play with – I still remember that I always landed up with the boat trailer while all the other kids fought over who would get the batmobile):

The good old fashioned one

I also found my favourite journalist of all time:

Tintin statue
Tintin’s awesome

However, what I found really cool was that whoever owned this collection sure had enough lunchboxes to choose from. The problem was that the lighting wasn’t all that good in here, which meant taking photos was really difficult (nobody likes you taking photos with a flash, and even then flashes don’t do all that good a job when the object that you are photographing is behind glass, but considering how much some of these items are worth, I’m not surprised that they have been secured away). However, here are two of the almost fifty odd lunchboxes that were on display:

One for every day of primary school

Anyway, that was a rather pleasant, and nostalgic, half hour, but it was time to move on. I made my way back towards Boat Quay so that I could hopefully squeeze in the Asian Civilisation Museum before I headed back to my hotel. Fortunately I did have enough time, as well as five minutes to sit at a really cool bar on the Boat Quay for a drink.

The Purple Turtle
A cool little bar

Civilisations of Asia

I had finally managed to get myself to the Asian Civilisation Museum (having intended to go there the day before but I was running out of time, despite the fact that it did close at 7:00 pm), and what was even better I discovered that since it was Singapore’s 50th birthday everybody was allowed to go in for free. Actually, I discovered that at the Art Museum as well, so I guess I came to Singapore at just the right time. There was a little problem. Singapore had recently remintted its one dollar coins, but these coins were different to the previous one dollar coins, which meant that none of the old machines accepted them. As such you had to go to the counter and get an old dollar coin if you wanted to put your bag in a locker (which was what I wanted to go since I had been lugging my laptop around all day).

So, after stashing my bag I entered the first gallery, which I must admit was really boring, namely because it was this sterile display about Singapore. On one wall there was this display that demonstrated how wonderful conscription was because it gives young people a job and some money, as well as skills to be able them to get a better job.

Point taken

While I know that there are a lot of people who don’t like conscription, looking back on my life and how I was basically a rat-bag during my teenage years, I feel that if I had to join the army it may drilled some discipline into me. I actually don’t think conscription is a bad thing, if it is used properly. If I were around during World War I, or even the Vietnam War, I would have been completely opposed to conscription since it involved forcing young men to go and fight in a war that they may not have agreed with (particularly in the case of Vietnam). However, as a means of teaching young men discipline, and providing them with a springboard into their adult working career, then I believe that it has its benefits.

Oh, and I also saw a Singaporean $10,000 bank note here as well:

There were also some displays of things that Singapore produced (which included air-hostesses) but as I said, this room was boring.

Air Hostess Dress Technology

The interesting part of the Museum was actually upstairs, and when I went up there I discovered that they had an exhibition from the Buddha Museum in Kolkata India. Even though I’m not a Buddhist, I decided to check it out anyway, and as it turned it was more than just a collection of Buddha statues (which is usually what I think about when I hear the word Buddha, even though the fat golden Buddha statue is actually Chinese – in Thailand Buddha is quite slender).

Buddha Carving Buddha Carving

What I found interesting about this exhibition were the number of carvings that depicted scenes from the life of Buddha (though unfortunately I can’t remember the stories that the carvings represented).

Buddha Story Carving Buddha Story Carving

Looking through the photos though I notice that a lot of the images of Buddha seem to reflect the style that I see in Thailand rather than that which I see in China. While I am not an expert on Buddhism I have noticed that in Thailand you get a much more Hindu flavour where as in China, which was not a Hindu country, the flavour is a lot different, in many cases reflecting the underlying Taoist traditions.

Buddha Statue Buddha Statue

I guess it was a shame that not only did I not have much time to really take the exhibition in (I probably needed a couple of more days in Singapore to allow me to pay more attention to the exhibition) but I didn’t bring a note pad either, meaning that I wasn’t able to take down any notes (I really should start doing that more often when I visit museums and art galleries). At least I can spend some more time reading the plaques, and then making notes (that I probably won’t be able to read when I actually sit down write the post) about the exhibition. I know, I could always use my phone, but honestly, I’ve tried that in the past and I really hate typing things into that machine.

Goddess Carving Goddess Carving

It seems as if I’m just waffling on to give myself some more space to post other pictures that I took, however I have discovered that the Asian Civilisations Museum has a short write up on the exhibition, but it doesn’t actually say all that much. Anyway, is another photo that I took:

Buddha CarvingOh, and they also had a Buddha bell:

Buddha Bell

My next stop was to visit the museum’s permanent displays, which was located across the hall from the Buddha exhibition. I walked past some pictures of a pagoda and into what I call the India Room – namely because it is full of artifacts from India, and this was the first statue I saw:

Multi-Armed God
Looks like it is from Indiana Jones

Once again I didn’t spend a huge amount of time reading the plaques beside the exhibits, namely because I really didn’t have the time, but one thing I did notice was how they suggested that there was some Greek influence in Indian art due to Alexander’s incursion into the sub-continent. However it wasn’t just his incursion because there was trade between the Greco-roman civilisation and India, and I also suspect that there was some earlier influences from Persia.

Greco-Roman Art
Looks a little Greek to me

However the one thing you do notice, which again is not surprising, is that there is a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist artifacts – namely because Buddhism originally arose in India.

Hindu Statues Buddha Statue

There was also this rather interesting piece, though don’t ask me what it is:

Tall Carving
Not sure what it is but it looks cool

The next room was what I call the China room (they have rooms for the major civilisations in Asia). This one was actually quite dark (and they don’t like flash photography, but then again nobody likes flash photography) so taking photos was a little difficult. However I did see a garment that I recognised from a recent exhibition at the NGV international in Melbourne.

Chinese Garment
Do they still make these today?

Most of this display was actually everyday items, including clothes and jewellery, rather than statues and carvings. Of interest to me were the collection of knives they had on display:

Chinese Swords
Everything an assassin could need.

Of course you can’t have a China exhibit without a dragon:

Chinese Dragons
I prefer the western ones better

Here are some statues that I saw in what I suspect was the Thailand room:

Thai Statues Thai Buddha

Of course you can’t have an Asian Civilisation Museum without a stuffed tiger:

Stuffed Tiger

Anyway, it was time to go, so I made my way out, but not before taking a photo this this water buffalo skull (which resulted in a rather interesting response from a friend of mine on Facebook):

Water Bufallo Skull

A Night at the Zoo

For some strange reason, when I was flicking through the book that my travel agent had given me I noticed that there was a tour called ‘The Night Safari‘. That sounded interesting, and it wasn’t all that expensive, so I decided to sign up to it. I normally don’t go on tours because I find that they can be quite restrictive at times, but they can be useful, particularly if you are travelling to a place that is not all that easy to get to (or you basically don’t even know where it is – as was the case with the castles in Bavaria and the Tiger Temple). However I did go on a couple of tours when I was in Hong Kong a couple of years ago and I discovered that you can meet some interesting people. In fact on the tour of Shenzhen our group got on really well together (and the tour of Macau that I went on I met this really funny Italian guy that seemed to have a thing for Audis). Mind you, the group can be a little hit or miss because the tours that I went on in Thailand simply didn’t have the same atmosphere (or maybe it was because I was nursing a hangover that I had picked up in Bangkok). The other thing that I like about tours is that the guide will tell some really interesting stories, and in fact some of them are really cool to chat with (such as the one in Shenzhen). However, the downside is that to be a tour guide you must have lived in the country for pretty much all your life.

As we were boarding our buses to head off to the safari one of the guide’s noticed my last name – in fact the only Singaporean that I met who was familiar with my last name (and that is probably because he is a tour guide). Anyway, we headed off to what turned out to be the Singapore Zoo, however one of the things about the Zoo is that it is set up in a way so that the animals are in the best habitat as possible. The Night Safari one of the attractions at the zoo, the other being the River Safari, which is basically aquatic animals living in various river habitats. As you can probably guess, the Night Safari deals with nocturnal animals.

Night Safari EntranceAs I expected, we started off with a buffet dinner at one of the restaurants clustered around the entrance (they always have buffet dinners/lunches on tours – probably to cater for as many people as possible, though I did notice that they didn’t have any halal food there), and then went off on the safari. Basically you board this ‘tram’ (which is not actually a tram, rather it is a bus, but they call it a tram so I will entertain them) which then drives along a road through the park and you, if you are lucky, get to see all these nocturnal animals. Mind you, it isn’t all that easy taking photos of them. As for the tour, there were good things, and bad things. The good thing was that you got to cut to the front of the line for the tram (there was a huge line, and it probably took longer to get onto the tram due to all the tour groups cutting in). However you couldn’t get off the tram until you got to the end (there is a stop halfway along the route). You can walk through the park though, and there are a number of walking trails to explore.

Night Safari MapOur final event at the safari was the animal show, where we all sat in the ampitheatre and watched some of the zookeepers play with some of the animals. The show was probably no longer than 15 minutes, and there was some audience participation, but not a huge amount. Anyway, it was then time to go home simply because I had a plane to catch in the morning – to Phuket.

Creative Commons LicenseSingapore Story – The Museum Tour by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

3 thoughts on “Singapore Story – The Museum Tour

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