Sunday, August 3, 2014

National Museum of Singapore: Past, Present and Future Under One Roof!

It being a public holiday, the playground in the front lawn was closed, and would have been fun. 

Public holidays are precious to us as this is when the children are off school and Daddy is not working, creating the opportunity for us to do a little travel or exploration. Mummy is a huge museum lover, and gravitates toward them whenever we travel overseas. She appreciates geography, history and culture, but we realize we never spent much time appreciating the museums back here in Singapore. Perhaps it was the effect of National Day round the corner, or simply our daughter's rave reviews of her overnight field trip to the Singapore Philatelic Museum. This Hari Raya, we had the car for the weekend and decided to capitalize on it by spending the day out at the National Museum of Singapore (NMS). So how did it compare to the collections overseas? Read on to find out!

Yay! It's open house today!

We reached NMS in the morning at about 10.30 am, and decided to park right in front of the main entrance. There were still many parking lots available despite half an hour after opening time, but we later realized the $2.50 per hour charge was the likely reason. We also realized later that there was an alternative parking just behind the museum, which was free on public holidays!

A scene from the past.

The first exhibition that caught our eye was Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore's Islands. The small gallery was interesting to us as it tells stories around themes of kampung life, change over time and even biodiversity through interesting artifacts, multimedia and eye-catching displays. We spent close to 45 minutes in the small gallery alone!

The gallery!

There were informative pamphlets to guide visitors, and they were even multi-lingual!

A pamphlet to take home, highlighting the marine biodiversity of the southern islands and threats to their sustainability.

Did you know these graceful mammals have been sighted in our waters?

The dugong still can be found on our shores.

A feature wall with an interactive screen where you can compare the coastal outline of Singapore throughout the years as they change due to developments and reclamation.

The exhibition revolved around the stories of the current and former residents of the islands. There were photo albums with old photographs and video interviews.

Shark jaws!

Mollusks and enchinoderms!

Yep, that's the one we use to make chili crab!

What's this? Is it real?

A closeup of the curated croc.

More shells! Some of these are really rare now... 

Traditional musical instruments and artifacts from the islands.

Future plans for the islands...

A face that only his mummy can love... Mr Stonefish!

A mini theatre featuring a video on the reefs and natural treasures of Singapore!

We proceeded through the Museum Label (souvenir shop) and on the other end were 'Larger-than-Life-Games' set up as part of Children's Season at NMS from 24 May to 3 August, entitled Masak Masak. In collaboration with School Of The Arts (SOTA), these were giant-sized improvisations of well-known kampung games such as marbles, five-stones and pick-up sticks. The number of kids clustered all over these booths was a testament to the effectiveness of the set-ups to promote cultural learning, interaction and play among the young visitors to the museum that day.

The Museum Label gift shop!

Over sized improvisations of kampung games!

K with her game face on!

Not sure if we were playing according to the rules, but we sure had fun!

The kids kept us at the booths for a while before we convinced them that there was still much to see upstairs. One level up, we were met by a craft corner where kids could request paper cut-outs to colour and paste. We decided to collect the materials and try them at home as the corner will crowded and it was difficult to find a place to sit around the small tables. Next to the booth was an interesting interactive on-screen game called 'Word-Out' where children attempted to spell words by twisting their bodies to form the letters. There were varying levels of difficulty, and it was a draw for our girls once they figured out how the game worked.

There was an assistant on site to teach us how to play the game. Even Daddy had a go at it.

The Rouleaux is a clever piece by Anastassia Elias from France, appearing as a little wall with little holes,... what's inside these tunnels that kiddo is looking at?

Miniature paper cut-outs scenes!

Who's that on the other end?

Collecting our paper crafts.
Just about 30 metres away  were artistic installations that were a cross between sculpture and village games derived from what looked like scrap objects found in a kampung! This exhibit was called 'Sulpture Scribbles'. We joined the queue and each wave was given 10 minutes to view and try the games. Helpful staff were on site to demonstrate how to play the games. We split up to cover all the games, but 10 minutes was not sufficient!

The staff at the exhibit were helpful in teaching us the tricks to succeeding at the games. 

Further down, was one of the highlights of the museum: The Singapore History Gallery! The walk-through exhibits are accompanied by an electronic interactive audio tour-guide called the 'companion' (handed out only to patrons above the age of 7), and allows the visitor to choose their paths between personal stories (Personal Path) and perspectives of national events (Events Path). We journeyed down 'Personal Path'. It was easy for the kids to follow along as the explanation was done in the form of first person narration. "Just like stories", according to the girls. Hearing the history of Singapore from 'those involved' and seeing events through their eyes, added a very emotional perspective to our journey. Empathy, anger, sadness, loneliness....we felt them all. We had spent too much time enjoying all the exhibits that by the time it was 1pm, (way past lunch time) we were only half way through the entire gallery and had to leave prematurely during the 'Japanese Occupation' section. Mummy would love to come back and finish it another day. In her words," This exhibition is definitely of a world class standard. We need at least 4 hours here.". She would know since she has visited so many museums.

Being briefed on how to use the Companion.

All-around screen with images of Singaporeans, light and sound!

By entering the number according to the markers on the ground into the Companion, visitors are a running commentary based on the exhibit we are viewing.

The first gallery depicts some of the artifacts excavated from the days of historical kings and empires that ruled Singapore.

Pottery and jewelry tell a tale of the Malayan inhabitants long before the arrival of the first Europeans and Chinese.

Intently listening to the stories narrated by our Companion.

The Sejarah Melayu is an important manuscript of the legends and tales that might possibly be some of the oldest known records of Singapore's history.

A giant-screen theatre screens re-enactments of the some of the stories recorded in the Sejarah Melayu.

Artwork depicting what life was like upon the arrival of the British.

The Companion is a touch-screen tablet with earphones.

Each of the pieces have option numbers we could key into our Companions for commentaries.

Listening to stories of merchants and traders who arrived in Singapore.

Early pre-war Singapore was an amalgamation of ethnic backgrounds from all over the world.

A gallery describing the life of a Japanese migrant worker in early Singapore.

Listening to stories of women in Singapore. Here, we find out more about the life of a socialite and entertainer.

The 'Ah-Mahs' were a special breed who possessed both strength and loyalty to the families they served.

They were hardy and slept in minimalists rooms with wooden beds and stone pillows.

Typical outfit of 'Ah-Mah'.

Listening to stories of dancers and performers who came to Singapore seeking a better life.

A special gallery was dedicated to the pioneers who started education for girls.

Sophia Blackmore was one of the earliest pioneers who believed that education should be provided for girls too.

Sitting in the 'real' setting, the stories narrated became more real as we were surrounded by both sight and sound

Mummy, having studied feminism in university, the gallery describing the lives, the plight and rise of women in early Singapore was especially engaging.

The start of the war,... and our tummies are grumbling. Time to find a way out of the gallery. Till next time!

We returned our Companions and decided to eat at the museum so that we could continue our tour after. Food For Thought at the ground floor looked appetizing, and judging from the length of the queue even at a late lunch hour of 1.00 pm, the food was probably pretty good. The restaurant was rather crowded but the queue moved quickly. On the menu were all day breakfast favourites, and looking around, it seemed that many people were having them for lunch! We chose kids'meals for the girls and a couple of special dishes for us to share!

It's 1.00 pm and there's still a queue! Everyone probably got caught up playing and forgot to eat. There were many kids here today.

Check out the stroller parking area outside the restaurant.

Shrimp linguine.

Kids' meal spaghetti for K.

Fish fingers and chips for A.

The very hungry ladies tuck into their food. The Mamee was snacks we had while in the queue. Nostalgic and appropriate for a visit to the historical archives! I wonder if one day Mamee will be an exhibit in the museum under 'national snacks'.

The freshly brewed coffee was simply fragrant and strong!

Daddy and Mummy had fun carving up the braised baby-back ribs! Sauce and salad were great, but as with all good ribs, a little too much saturated fat!

After lunch, we decided to head to the third floor where there were large children-themed galleries as part of the recently opened PLAY@NMS exhibition. There are three main sections: Explore, Create and Perform. The Explore gallery encourages children to learn about Singapore's cultures in the setting of a home with a bedroom, kitchen, garden and living room. There are plenty of interactive props and activities here, and there's even an outdoor sundeck where kids can graffiti the chalkboard walls with their impressions and artwork.

We're in the 'Explore' section!

In the 'kitchen', we appreciate what we appreciate best... FOOD! The girls had fun embossing paper with their favourite local dish, the Ice Kachang!

There were helpful staff who taught the younger kids how to go about embossing the paper with the manual press.

Cooking toys are a hit at home, but you haven't seen a cooking toy set this big before! Lots of ingredients here to toy around with.

Throw in the right ingredients to make your favourite dish!

In the 'bedroom' there was a comfy tent screening cartoons. The kids would take off their footwear before sprawling on the mattress to enjoy the show.

Trying cutouts of various ethnic costumes and having fun looking at themselves in the mirror.

The garden area.

Outside, the sun deck area with large chalk board walls to doodle... and doodle... and doodle!

Our fingers got a little dusty after, but it was well worth the fun. Beware if you have a sensitive airway though, as the chalk gets in the air sometimes.

We spent quite a bit of time at Explore, and decided to move on to the next section. To our disappointment, the Perform gallery was closed. Apparently, there are exhibits there that encourage the children to show their stage flair.

Sob sob...
It was getting late in the day, and we decided to make a quick stop at the Salon. Oh my were we surprised at the range of crafts parents were engaged in with their kids! The best thing about these were that the materials used were simple and stuff we used as kids in school, such as cardboard, paper, glue and paints Here, children were encouraged to 'build their home' and be appreciative of everything they already have. We marveled at the creations, but decided reluctantly that it was time to head home.

It was crowded today.

Having fun in a large cardboard box house.

Adults assisting the younger ones build little models of their dreams and visions for Singapore.

There you go... some of the finished products on display.

Even though we'd spent five hours there only, we were overwhelmed by the volume of information and variety of the exhibits. An entire day there would not have had been enough to cover everything. We have not even finished some other exhibitions. Using today's experience as a gauge, we were rather impressed with the quality of the institution and proud that right here in Singapore was such a treasure of an archive. Visiting during the Children's Season made it even more fun for the entire family. We're now even more inspired to seek out other museums in our own backyard! We learnt that there are over 50 museums in Singapore. Mummy is getting really excited right now...

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