Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Singapore Philatelic Museum and Chinatown Heritage Museum

Our friend A is visiting from the US, so I spent yesterday and today touring around Singapore with him. Yesterday we visited the Singapore Botanical Garden, which was as beautiful and perfectly manicured as I remembered. We also visited the Children's Garden (to which adults unaccompanied by children are not admitted: thanks for escorting us little R!), which was by far the best children's garden I have ever been to. If you have small children, it is a must-visit attraction: it had water features to play in, a cave, a rope bridge and all sorts of interesting plants. Then we toured Orchard Road and ate at Crystal Jade restaurant (so delicious!).

Today little R was with the babysitter in the morning while A and I visited the Singapore Philatelic Museum (he is very interested in all things postage-related, as that's how he makes most of his money). Many postal museums are boring (lots of focus on the history of postal bureaucracy, for instance), but this one was incredibly well-done. The history of Singapore was well-covered through the medium of postage, with many interesting facts (like that it used to take 117 days to deliver a letter from Singapore to London: can you imagine only being able to communicate with your family at six-month intervals?). The standard of museum practice was also very high: there were many interactives (some at child height, which is not something you typically see), the text was succinct and comprehensible, and the topics covered were interesting and relevant. I have never been to a better museum on the subject; even if you aren't very interested in postage, it is worth a visit.

We lunched at the local hawker centre, and then hung around home while little R took her afternoon nap. Once she woke up, B returned home and we all went to Chinatown, where we toured some of the interesting shops/neighborhoods (one of which sells A's products), and visited the Chinatown Heritage Centre. I actually had visited this museum before with a friend (though I didn't write about it here, tsk), and was very impressed, so I convinced A and B to go. This was a wise decision, as they both really enjoyed it.

The centre covers the history of the Chinese population in Singapore, from their origins in poor, war-torn China, to their difficult migration packed in junks to Singapore, and then to their lives as striving (and frequently struggling) migrants. A wide range of topics is covered, including weddings, food, opium smoking, gang violence, clan or guild organizations, entertainment, prostitution and holidays. The museum uses a mixture of personal interviews, videos, music, reconstructions, and art to immerse you in the world of the migrants. It is all highly interesting, clearly narrated, and extremely well-done. They also have a reconstruction of a typical house in 1950s Chinatown (lived in by many different families due to poverty), which was very illuminating about typical lifestyles. I would highly recommend this museum to anyone with any interest in Singapore or Chinese history.

After the museum, A went to have dinner with another friend of his while B, little R and I ate delicious Chinese food at the nearby market.

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