Looking Back at Singapore’s Past

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

“I entered an old military post built above the hill over the Siloso Beach in Singapore by the British in the 19th century. Suddenly, a sound of gun fire, successive shots, and panicked soldiers came out. There was some sort of alert declaring that the enemy was coming from the sea.
For a moment, I got goose bumps and felt like entering a time machine that brought me back to many years before, when the Japanese was invading Singapore from a direction that the British had never expected. The diorama, along with the perfect sounds effect triggered by a censor had perfectly evoked the past, when Singapore entered the World War II.”

Fort Siloso

The idea of visiting some historical places in Singapore came up when I felt like I had seen all interesting places in that country. Of all the places I had on the list, I picked up Fort Siloso at Sentosa Island as the first one to go. I learned about this place for the first time some twenty two years ago when I received a brochure from Singapore Embassy in Jakarta.

How life was in Singapore during the Japanese occupation was clearly described inside the museum that was located inside a former military office equipped with a bunker underneath it. It was interesting to me that each ethnic group in Singapore played a different role at that time of war. Malay, as the native, got a privilege that others didn’t.

All this time, the moment when the Japanese surrendered to the British could only be seen in a picture captured with a camera. That day, I got a much better picture of the moment by standing really close to the statues of gentlemen who were about to put an end to the war.

I was fascinated by how they preserved the former barracks and watch tower above the hill over Siloso beach. And to enhance the sense of the place, they put audio systems that would be soon turned on as we got inside the barracks. That way, it would be much easier for us to feel how it was like to be in the barrack centuries ago.

Image of Singapore

Singapore boasts its multicultural society which comprises four major ethnic groups. Each ethnic is unique and come from different parts of the world. At the museum named Image of Singapore, visitors can learn more about the history of each ethnic such as how they came and set their footings in Singapore, and also their customs and traditions.

I was excited to find a diorama showing the early Javanese migrants in Singapore. They were depicted as a street food vendor selling satay and also a puppeteer. As time went by, they became regarded as Malay ethnic group.

One room at the museum was set to be dark as it was only illuminated by light coming from candles. The ambiance suggested that we were in a small room packed with Chinese male workers who were preoccupied with opium. It seemed to me that they smoked to release the stress caused by the pressure of life. That’s how they depicted the Chinese migrants in Singapore. They were pictured to live a hard life as rickshaw drivers or manual labors. The superior group in the past was of course the British. They were regarded as the founder of modern Singapore.

Peranakan Museum

Not like other two peranakan museums I had seen in Penang and Melaka, this one of Singapore was less authentic. The previous ones were located in former peranakan houses which allowed them to set all the furniture and collections in the real condition as it had used to.

As for the one in Singapore, it occupied a former Chinese school, not far from Fort Canning. It was a very well designed museum. The lighting was nice and the circulation allowed us to see the display in order. It was best if we join the guided tour which was held at certain hours.

In general, the information we obtained was not different from the ones we got in Penang and Melaka. What we hadn’t seen in previous peranakan museums were interactive devices such as touched screen LCD or phones that played the daily conversations in peranakan dialect.

The conversation was cute as it mixed the Chinese dialect with local Malay’s. Something I had never heard before. Sadly, it was not easy to find that kind of conversation in today’s Singapore. In fact, nearly all traditions showed in the museum did no longer exist.

The day I left Singapore for Jakarta, I realized that Singapore still had more interesting historical places to see. I was interested to explore more about Javanese migrants who once settled at Kampong Glam and also the old tomb stone of Javanese king inside the Fort Canning complex.

For whatever they worth, I am willing to return and see them for the sake of getting back in time.

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