Museum land

Museum land
Singapore, Singapore

Singapore, Singapore

Things to do in Singapore: run round the reservoir. Failed. Ready to go at 5.30, to make the most of the light/heat trade off, but a hefty storm spoiled it. Go to the zoo: decided against, zoo – majestic as it sounds. Head for the museums: well alright. There are several in the same area, though I didn’t know that when I set off.

Grassy lawn and a park nearby, with tall skyscrapers behind
From Fort Canning.

I walked down to the National Museum, near where I’d got to the day before. The $10 entry fee seemed entirely reasonable, even before I found it gives entry to the Peranakan and Art museums (pay for NMS, get PM and SAM too – all acronymical on the map). The exhibits are in the basement and on the second floor, not sure what’s happening with the first. I headed for the basement first, which turned out to be a Singapore Biennale special, Singaporean art in the first room and specially commissioned installations in the second. I liked the Singaporean art; obviously none of it is old, with the country only being 50 years old, and I think they’d not claim to have a style yet, but there was a great sense of energy and vibrancy. Maybe it’s me projecting, but it seemed natural for a young country to have lively art.

One each of a purple, green and blue two-storey building, in the low streets, while tall apartment blocks appear behind
Local shops.

Walking into the second room was odd, at first I thought there was a group of people looking straight at me. I walked under the chandeliers just inside the entrance; one for each nuclear country, the more reactors, the bigger the chandelier. Very pretty, but still that crowd was watching me. But they were projections, each a video of a Chinese person eating – the banality a parody of the national inquisition. It was certainly effective in making me feel watched.

Outside I was grabbed by a man with a questionnaire. I’m going to have to lose my habit of answering anything when I’m home but no harm here. I’m not sure I was much use – did you come to Singapore for the biennale? No. Have you heard of any of these? Well, only from reading the booklet I’m holding right now. Upstairs is the main exhibit; given an audio guide and instructions on the way in, I walked across a bridge and then down a long and winding ramp as my guide told me about Singapore. It’s an immaculately curated museum, and this history section is exhaustive, numbers to press for information everywhere. If you really want to take it in, you’re going to need to come more than once, I think. I really liked the extra content on the start of the colonial period, though that was partly because I found a spot to sit down and listen to them. But with the introduction of Raffles and Farquhar, the content is particularly rich, with the choice of an events or people path. Fantastic.

Round the corner, after lunch in a cafe next to a university at which I discovered that my university credentials let me login to their eduroam network, is the Peranakan museum, dedicated to this mixed race group who in some areas have their own culture. Only in some because they are a group with widespread influences, and so widespread ways of doing things. I liked the pictures and testimonies of ‘how I feel Peranakan’ downstairs, wasn’t so fussed for the wedding gallery and enjoyed the Peranakan public life bit, especially where it was revision on what I’d learned at NMS. Because of the biennale there were special exhibits, needlework from a women’s prison, Cambodian history seen through book extracts (the name of the book escapes me) and others.

A portrait of a small boy, Ryan Choo, looking cheeky.
Peranakan museum.

Finally I headed to the art museum. They let me know I could also see the SAM @8q, and short on time I went straight there. It turned out to be a great choice, interactive and funny exhibits, starting with some street intervention videos on the first floor. They had a group of cyclists in Vietnam with umbrellas, making a car, a man lifting paving stones in London, putting a squeaky toy underneath and filming people’s reaction and so on. Upstairs was a gel bath into which coins thrown sank very slowly, an ink lake, a slides how on the desolation left in Vietnam as a tower block faces destruction. It was a fairly wild experience, and a great gallery with willing volunteers explaining it. Not quite a place where visitors could go and play with everything, but more than a ‘wander slowly and appreciate’ gallery, too.

I headed back for my reservoir run, but the storm intruded so I went later, down the Kallang river, dramatic as lightning lit up the sky periodically, and then the Singapore river, with lights gleaming from the business district. It was a pretty fair second choice. Theoretically I could still get up early the next day for the 12 miles to, round and back from the reservoir, but it was unlikely, given the need to head for the airport at 9.30, and sure enough I didn’t make it. I found time to check another meal off the list Stefen had given me; chicken rice, completely delicious. Of course, I was back in my favourite canteen food court, and had barely spent anything yet, so I ate again, sweet and sour fish which left me highly satisfied and enormously full. I topped it off by trying the bright purple drink from the fruit stall – dragon fruit. Despite the dramatic name it is quite mild, like a cross between watermelon and blackberry. Full now, I picked up a couple of cans of expensive beer – that’s all they do here – and headed back to the hostel.

“The upshot was that the German language, and the game’s lexicon, were both enriched with an assortment of cricket-specific compound words. So the game stops for a teepause, batsmen can be out feldbehinderung, and if your foot crosses the schlaglinie, that’s a wurfschwung.” The Spin, from the Guardian.

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