Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kampong Glam and the Malay Heritage Centre

Last November R and I finally made it to the Malay Heritage Centre, which is the national museum dedicated to the culture and history of Singapore's original ethnic group (there are also museums for the Chinese, Eurasian and Peranakan--mixed Chinese-Malay--ethnic groups).
The domes of Sultan Mosque are clearly visible from the museum grounds
Street of shophouses: I love them
When Singapore was founded, it was geographically divided on ethnic lines, and to some extent these demarcations still apply (Little India is very Indian, for example): the museum is located in the heart of the old Malay district, Kampong Glam, a short walk from one of Singapore's oldest and most important mosques, Sultan Mosque (still a center for Muslim activities).
Sultan Mosque, a national landmark
Like most mosques I've visited, non-Muslims are not allowed inside the prayer hall. With appropriate dress (hijabs are provided) you CAN peek inside, however.
The surrounding area is quite charming and a popular destination for 1. fabric shopping (all the best fabric stores are located along nearby Arab Street) 2. Arab-themed nightlife (lots of sheesha or hookah places) and 3. Middle Eastern restaurants. The architecture is mostly shophouses, which to me means an attractive, walkable environment.
Pedestrian-only street: in the evening many restaurants have open-air dining here
R and I ate Malay food at a traditional street restaurant. I had Beef Rendang(in spicy coconut-based sauce, so good), green beans and fried rice. R had soy milk, rice and ice cream: she hates all spicy food.
The museum itself is lodged in the old Astana (palace) of the sultan of Johor (who ceded Singapore to the British in 1819 in exchange for a hefty payment, enough to live in comfortable luxury). When we visited, the museum was holding a very interesting exhibit on traditional Malay medicine and health care.
R pointing out things of interest to me
Traditional medicine is of course plant-based, many of which are edible and consumed as tonics
Tigers used to be used for medicinal purposes too. I like this picture because it's so cliche, white fully clothed guy with a gun, a dead predator, and lots of unnamed "bearers".
I found the section on childbirth the most interesting
Wrapping (what the woman is doing in the bottom picture) postpartum is still ubiquitous here and I know multiple people who have had it done (Malay and otherwise). It's supposed to considerably aid in recovery and I think if I had a child here I would get it done.
It was surprisingly child friendly, with many interactive elements, including film, audio and even the opportunity to smell some of the different herbs used medicinally. I was impressed.
R loves the video elements
Display on male circumcision, which traditionally is done around 12 or 13 without painkillers. Ouch!
Smell station, so cool
The museum also hosts various child friendly public events, including shadow puppet performances, the chance to play traditional Malay games, movie nights and so on. I look forward to taking R to some in the near future.

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