The National Museum of Singapore – a day at the museum

We wanted to go to at least 1 museum in Singapore with my family and I went back and forth trying to decide on what museum to go to. I ended up going back and forth trying to decide between The Art Science Museum or the National Museum of Singapore.

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We ended up going to the National Museum of Singapore and spending a majority of our last full day there. This ended up being one our favorite things to do in Singapore (apart from eating of course) as we spend the day learning about the history of Singapore.

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The National Museum of Singapore is not located right at any MRT stations, so the easiest way to get there would be by Taxi or you can always follow this walking guide provided by the museum. We followed the guide (and Google Maps) from the Dhoby Ghaut MRT.

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160912b National Museum of Singapore _016Then National Museum of Singapore is one of the oldest museums in Singapore located in a beautiful white colonial building. It definitely is a good place to take pictures at with the white brick like facade. We happened to see a group of students taking their graduation pictures

And the aesthetic continues on as you enter the museum. On first impression we entered into a white building, with mostly white walls and then there is a modern black iron bike inspired installation standing in the middle of the lobby area.

That was where we walked along the perimeter to buy our tickets to see the rest of the National Museum of Singapore to learn more about this little city state.

It is FREE (if you are a citizen, permanent resident or a child under 6)
For everyone else, it’s SG$15 and SG$10 for seniors and students.

The Concourse and LUNCH at Food For Thought

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160912b National Museum of Singapore _084This museum is much bigger then it looks from the outside! And before we even made it to the Singapore History Gallery we spent time in The Concourse showing a little photography (competition) gallery. The Concourse is technically just a a very long hallway that connects the a modern building to the beautiful colonial building in the front.

But before actually learning about the history of Singapore we walked through a current and modern look of Singapore through photography.

I was inspired to take more pictures and play with perspectives etc. after seeing these. I almost felt as though I was just taking “travel” pictures and snapping a lot of quick pictures.

We came back to The Concourse after visiting the Singapore History Gallery for lunch at Food For Thought. The restaurant takes up half of The Concourse area and it would have been fun and relaxing to sit in The Concourse.

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160912c National Museum of Singapore Food for Thought _17But we were seated inside instead. The inside is small and nothing special (at least that was what the area we were seated in felt like). To be honest, I wouldn’t want to sit inside next time because we wanted lunch there for relaxing in the concourse more then the food.

The food features a “museum special” that is inspired by the stories in the museum. But I guess I’m not much of a foodie or I just wasn’t inspired by the museum enough to understand.

But everything was a unique combination of east meets west fusion style and ingredients that we don’t usually see together.

  • The Basil Almond Pesto Chicken with swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and tomato,
  • Grilled Tofu Mixed Mushroom Salad with balsamic soy braised mixed mushrooms, black and white fungus, pickled cucumber, and tempeh crisps.
  • Ginger Soy Baked Salmon with udon, asparagus, shimeji mushrooms, soy broth.
  • Soup of the Day: Mushroom Soup

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Singapore History Gallery

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It almost felt as though we walked through a time warp or something as we walked through the entrance to the Singapore History Gallery.

The Singapore History Gallery really takes you into a time line of Singapore and starts with Singapura 1299 – 1818, showing some of the earliest records of Singapore.

And then we are welcomed by a single ship and a single tree walking us through Singapore into the colonial period of Singapore. Where is the history of the Merlion? Like the story told to us at the Sentosa Merlion? (haha)

Singapore is strategically located in the Malacca Straits making it a perfect trading post into East Asia. And we finally see where some of the British sounding names like Raffles, Fort Canning, and Fullerton may come from.

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After getting a quick glimpse of some British Colonial history (you know, the stuff you usually learn about in text books), we walked into what Singapore was like during the colonial period from 1819 to 1941.

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The open area almost felt as though we have walked out into the streets of Singapore 1900 with a rickshaw on display. During this time period Singapore was becoming a modern city growing into a export and international financial centre and a diverse city. By then it was already the worlds second largest dry dock.

The most memorable parts were walking into a little opium den (The scary and seedy part of the city making up parts of Chinatown) and learning about the Indian men moving to Singapore and setting up loan shops.

And then came World War II. Which we learned more about in another exhibit upstairs after walking through the Singapore History Gallery.

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The final section of the Singapore History Gallery covers “Modern Singapore from 1945 to Present.”

I have seen a couple documentaries about Singapore on Youtube before, but I was quite excited to see this right here.

We sat down on one of the benches and watched this little documentary of how Mr. Lee Kwan Yew established Singapore as an independent city-state. In conclusion, my Mom learned why Lee Kwan Yew is a national hero (and why it was such a big deal when he passed away in few years ago) and in her words “Singapore was unwanted and therefore had to stand up on its own feet on its own.”

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So what did Singapore become as it “had to stand up on it’s own feet”? The government introduced industrialization, encouraged foreign investment and tourism, provided modern public housing and eduction, and cleaned up the environment.

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Well these are all things Singapore continues to do today.  One of my favorite displays of seeing how the times have changed is this fun and colorful display. We first walked into a dark room with all of these plain white light boxes then they start to light up, showing different aspects of Singapore over time. Do you recognize the financial display of money and stock tickers to Tiger Balm and the toll road signs to the Marina Bay Sands?

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As for the environment aspect. We took a short break under a modern electronic tree.

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And finally, before exiting the Singapore History Gallery, There is a big world map on display and smaller screens below where you can learn a little about Singapore’s relationship with other countries around the world.

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And then we headed upstairs to 4 additional exhibits. A couple of which were my favorite as we dove deeper into specific periods of Singapore history.

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We walked into the Modern Colony exhibit and almost felt as though we were welcomed into a Singaporean home with the rattan chairs.

By the 1020’s Singapore was becoming a modern and developed city. There were influences coming from both Asia and Europe as a trade port connecting the continents. The people of Singapore were prosperous.

In this exhibit we saw the everyday lives of the affluent Straits-born and migrant Chinese. And learned about Singapore’s progressiveness through the evolution of women’s identity and their enhanced social status during this period.

160912b National Museum of Singapore _128It really stuck me when I saw a pair of tiny shoes on display along side several pairs of normal sized shoes. I remembered seeing similar tiny shoes when I visited China in 2006 sold as souvenirs and even as children’s shoes.

That’s what prompted me to learn more about these shoes and learn that they are not children’s shoes but shoes for women with bound feet! Parents used to break their daughters feet and that was a symbol of status. I was happy to see that women of status still had beautiful shoes if they wanted and did not need to break their feet to do so (but then again, we women still put our feet through some pain sometimes for a cute pair of heels).

I envisioned walking through the streets of Singapore seeing Chinese women wearing things ranging from the traditional Chinese changsam dresses to a modern fusion version to time period appropriate western attire. Music blaring from old and ornate phonograph thing. I think I’m seeing a period tv show from Hong Kong?

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Surviving Syonan

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On 15 February 1942, the British surrendered Singapore to the victorious Imperial Japanese Army. Japan’s Rising Sun flag now flew from all corners of the city, heralding the start of the darkest chapter in Singapore’s history.

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160912b National Museum of Singapore _148Today, Japan during World War II are remembered by the Pearl Harbor attach in the US and the ever controversial remembrance of Nanking in China. By the 1942, Japan had made their way through Korea, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and then into Singapore.

“Life had to go on. Everybody just tried their best to survive and hope for better times.”

It was interesting to see Japanese propaganda on display. I actually thought some of it was quite beautiful and some to be quite cute.

Everything including the currency changed too! Japan really was taking over Asia. I remember my friends telling me that their parents speak Japanese because they were raised during the Japanese occupation. It was always so odd to me. Here, we learned a little bit of that seeing how Japanese was taught to the diverse population of Singapore. There are textbooks for each and as a part of the exhibit a fun little display using Chinese characters to pronounce Japanese.

Growing Up

I think this was my parents favorite exhibit because my parents were “growing up” during this time period as well-ish. The 1950’s and 60’s of Singapore.

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My parents were really excited to point out familiar toys they had when they were kids. Today, these toys look so simple.

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And tucked in a corner is a display of the celebrities and movies of their time. Even Yuntiha and I recognized some of the names and were really amused that they were once young and beautiful/handsome (not the old grandparents they now play.)

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The generation of discos.

Voices of Singapore

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The Voices In Singapore gallery focuses on the arts and culture scene in Singapore from 1975 to 1985. And I personally enjoyed this exhibit the most where we see the “vintage” version of what we know today.

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Things like film and old cameras were on display.

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My family sat on these bleacher seats for a while as they watched some old Singapore tourist attraction flyers and pictures on display on a giant monitor.

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And we chatted about the places we went to versus the places I opted to skip with my family. I was surprised as I was thinking back about why I chose not go to the Jurong Bird Park with my family (because I only remember the amazing waterfall and opted for the Gardens by the Bay Cloud Dome waterfall instead) and Haw Paw Villa (because it’s an odd little place..but I would consider taking them their next time).

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160912d National Museum of Singapore _086Can you imagine a whole drive-in movie theatre in a museum? I was wondering why people were spending so much time in the second half of this exhibit and was wonderfully surprised.

You can pick a car and enjoyed a whole drive-in movie. I felt more like a photo op for most people. And for us, it was during the interval.

Then came an exhibit that puzzled me a little bit.

Desire and Danger

The Desire and Danger exhibit sounds exhilarating. I wondered if this was the next exhibit in the time line (after 1985). Desire and Danger had nothing to do with that.

The National Museum of Singapore describes this exhibit as a “stimulating new exhibition…Featuring creatures that arouse appetites and instill fear, and exotic plants sought for their ability to induce pleasure or pain, this selection of drawings from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings explores the complex and sometimes uneasy relationship between man and nature.”

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I actually liked the first half of this exhibit as we sniffed through these smelling things and smelled plants and flowers one after another. We feared we would smell things that were not pleasant, but lucky for us I don’t remember anything that was particularly repulsive.

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The walls of the exhibit were lined with William Farquhar’s  Collection of Natural History Drawings etc.

But the other things displayed also included taxidermy animals etc. too. I honestly still don’t know what this has to do with Singapore History. But it is a permanent exhibit at the National Museum of Singapore.

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The National Museum of Singapore really is a stunning place to just see. Most of it is a monochrome with simple details.

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There were so many corners and places throughout the museum for stunning pictures.

It’s also quite fun to find that the National Museum of Singapore is quite amazing when it comes to social media. I found some beautiful wedding and pre-wedding pictures taken here.

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And to end my very long tour of our day at the National Museum of Singapore is an interesting contrast of the things I saw. A modern book vending machine vs. a vintage looking building through vintage looking window.

Just a little disclaimer. This was my interpretation of the history we learned from the National Museum of Singapore.

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4 comments

  1. What is a modern electronic tree? Does it do anything cool?!

    1. Hmm. Now that I think back, I honestly don’t really know what that tree was about. I wonder if the supertrees at the Gardens by the Bay are more electric?

  2. The museum seems to have a little bit of everything!

    1. It sure does have a little bit of everything. Definitely was worth the visit.

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