Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Kampong Glam Walk

The Original Singapore Walks by Journeys Pte Ltd has never failed to take me to "the roads less travelled". I dare say that Journeys Pte Ltd operates one of the best tours in Singapore. That is one of the reasons why you keep seeing me going onboard its tours every now and then.

With the painstaking amount of research and the guides' love for heritage behind every single of its tour, this is one tour that the locals in Singapore should consider going for if they have half-a-day to spare. You simply don't know what you are missing unless you join one of The Original Singapore Walks.

I had taken annual leave on the morning of 17 Aug 2006, and decided that one of the best way for me to spend the morning was to join one of The Original Singapore Walks. It seems always delightful and enriching for me to get to know more about this country that I was born and grew up in. Somehow, heritage tours often remind me never to take the present for granted. In addition, there almost always seem to be lessons to be learnt from history itself.

The walk that I had attended on 17 Aug 06 was titled: Sultans of Spice. Savita was the tour guide of the day. At the start of the tour, the guide explained to us why the tour was named as it is.

In a nutshell, this walk takes one about the Kampong Glam area of Singapore. As many locals in Singapore might know, the word Kampong means to "Village" in Malay language.

For the rest of the post, I shall let the photographs that I have taken do the large part of the talking. I must emphasis that the best part of this tour is not in the sceneries that you would get to see. Instead, the best part of the tour is the stories from the past that you will get to hear and the rich heritage that you will experience while onboard. As such, the best way to know more is to simply join the walk.

This walk is ideal for everyone, locals and friends from overseas. Its charges are very reasonable considering the amount of quality research that has been put in to back up the tours.

Although born and raised in Singapore, I must admit that I often find that I still do not know enough about this island-country that I have been living in. The Sultans of Spice brought me to routes that I have never travelled before. Right above this paragraph, you should see two photographs of a lane in Singapore. Before the tour, I have never been to this lane, as best as my memory recollects. It may seem to be insignficant, but there is something special about this lane. To find out, join the tour and hear from the guide, of course.

When I was walking with the tour group along Kampong Glam area, I found myself intrigued by the architectures of the buildings in the area.

Bussorah Street

Other than hearing about the mysterious keris (dagger-looking weapon), and actually seeing them, we also get to gain insights to the practice of chewing sireh. Out of curiosity, I chewed a small section of a betel leaf. It tasted kind of peppery. This URL gives a short account on the practice of eating sireh:

Items used for chewing sireh.

We also stopped by a shop that sells prayer rugs amongst other things. No, not for shopping, but to hear about the holy city of Mecca, and its significance to the Islam religion. Here's a site on the subject of the city of Mecca that I have came across:

At another shop, Grandfather's Collections, located at 42 Bussorah Street, I got to see the cash register that operates based on the theory of the pulley system. You can imagine a fascinated look on face when I saw this. At that instant, I also recalled a post by Victor titled: Yesterday's Office Equipment (1).

The cash register.
It's commonly seen in many traditional grocery stores in the past.

At Grandfather's Collections, I saw that it sells digital postcards (postcards that contains digital photos taken from various parts of Singapore). I was looking high and low for one of these some months ago. Without much effort, I had actually found it there. Anyway, the shop's owner is a very helpful, humourous and friendly gentleman. He even gave the tour group a demonstration of how to tie the sarong for different purposes. I never knew that the sarong could be so functional until this tour.

Sultan Mosque.

One of the stops of the tour was the Sultan Mosque. The tour guide pointed us to guess the material that was used to make the black-colour-looking ring that winds itself just below the golden dome. There is a noteworthy story behind it.

I was well-prepared with long sleeves clothings to enter the mosque's compounds. In this part of the tour, the tour guide shared with us insights about the Islamic religion, and it has been enlightening.

I think it is helpful to gain an appreciation of the various religions as this would help one better understand the ways of life and the perspectives of others. Understanding, in my opinion, promotes respect and peace. I think the tour guide has done a good job in her delivery of the materials, and that certainly helps to promote a good understanding and respect of the Islamic religion.

The next stop was a shop that sells Malay traditional medicine, if I remember correctly. The best thing I remember was the delicious dates that I was treated to at the shop, compliments of Journeys Pte Ltd.

After that, we continued walking and stopped by a Hajj supplies store. There is a lot of walking to be done, but I love it. Remember, there is no shopping on this tour. This tour's main focus is on experiencing heritage and history. At this tour, I learnt a bit more about the hajj. I was very intrigued to learn about the use of a wooden stick that you would see in the photo right below.

This Hajj supplies store also sells perfume containing no alcohol. I take my hats off the great sense of smell that the man concocting the perfume has.

One of my favourite parts of the tour was the section at the Old Istana Kampong Glam, now known as the Malay Heritage Centre. It was here that the tour guide revealed to us a part of our Singapore's history that was totally unknown to me. Somehow, the story that was revealed to me reminded me of the value of humility, at the same time, fair-play. Even if fair-play might not seem to get one anyway too far initially.

Istana Kampong Gelam was the historic seat of the Malay royalty of Singapore. Now the Malay Heritage Centre.

Gedung Kuning.
Within the premises of the the Malay Heritage Centre.

The tour ends at what I consider an unusual place for a tour: A graveyard. But this is no ordinary graveyard if we were thoughtful enough to infer from the clues staring at us at this graveyard. Please join the walk to find out more. I am neither a tour-guide nor a story-teller to be able to tell you anything much.

While I was at the graveyard, I kept wondering how much we are doing as a community to preserve our rich heritage. Would this graveyard make way for what we call "new developments"? How can we strike a good balance between preserving our heritage and ensuring spaces for developments?

Somehow, such thoughts reminded me of Scotland. Scotland is a developed country, with a rich heritage, and the community takes pride in preserving it. Because of the community's active efforts in preserving its rich heritage, I dare say that Scotland is more unique than Singapore, at least for now. I suppose that is why I fondly miss Scotland. I sometimes wish that I could see such a phenonemon in Singapore, and I hope I could see it within my lifetime.

In my opinion, it is not the state-of-art infrastructure that would make a country truly unique, it is the soul behind it. The soul arising from a rich and unique heritage.

What I have been sharing in this post is just less than 10% of the best parts of the tour. If you don't mind the sun, the climate of Singapore and the walking, it is highly unlikely that you would ever regret being onboard this tour: Sultans of Spices.

Enriching and educational, this tour is a must for anyone who is keen to understand more about the history of Singapore, gain an appreciation of the Islamic religion and the way of life of the Malay and Arab community in Kampong Glam.

For more information, please check out the home page of The Original Singapore Walks:

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Back to the ancient world, miscellaneous

After writing Part I and Part II of this series, I still have an urge to write a bit about the Raw Dragon Bones. As such, here's a post of the miscellaneous other things that I have experienced at the exhibition: DINOSAURS.

Sheng Longgu (Raw Dragon Bones)

I have heard about the Traditional Chinese Medicine having this item called Longgu (Dragon bones). I used to wonder how these dragon bones were derived from.

The answer was being revealed at the exhibition. Chinese legends believe that dragons lived under the surface of the Earth. As such, what were actually fossilised bones of prehistoric animals, were thought to be dragon bones and dragon teeth.

For the Chemistry-inclined people, the main components of dragon bones are Calcium Carbonate and Calcium Phosphate.

After having seen Dragon bones at the exhibition, I am beginning to suspect that the Chinese's depiction of the dragon could have been inspired by some Chinese folks coming across with fossils of dinosaurs by chance? Maybe this was only my imagination?

At the exhibition, I also saw fossils of plants. In understanding dinosaurs, it seems vital to also understand the plants that had exist during the times of the dinosaurs. The fossils of these plants appear to lend insight to the kind of environment that the dinosaurs had lived in million years ago.

I learnt from one of the documentary shows that was being shown at the exhibition that there was no grass at the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

If there were no grass, what conditions could have made it favourable for the large dinosaurs to thrive in those days?

For those of you who would like to browse for more information regarding dinosaurs, I found out that has some interesting articles on dinosaurs. Check this out:

And here's a site on Sue:

Also read:

Back to the ancient world,
Back to the ancient world Part II

Back to the ancient world, Part II

Has anyone reading this post been to the exhibition: Dinosaurs! A T. rex named SUE and Friends already?

It was fairly crowded when I was there on National Day. I expected that it would get more crowded as people rush to catch the exhibition by 20 Aug 2006. I have survived the crowd on National Day, so I reckon that there isn't much harm joining the crowd?

I remember that since I was a child, I have been fascinated with dinosaurs. These animals are extinct and shrouded in mystery. How do they look like? Why do they disappear from this Earth? I suppose that there should be a lot of other curious souls like myself who cannot resist the temptations to find out more about the dinosaurs.

"(Dinosaurs) belong to a group of reptiles called diapsids, which means they had two temporal openings in the back of their skull..."

In my previous post, Back to the ancient world, I have mentioned that I was quite puzzled over what two temporal openings in the back of the dinosaur skull should look like.

To be honest, I did not manage to find out the answer to this question while I was at the exhibition. Somehow, I must have missed the exhibit that would have lend me clues to this question. So I searched using Google for what might lend me some clues, and I found this link. Try looking out for the two temporal openings in the photos below.

Dinosaurs! A T. rex named SUE and Friends seems to be catered for the young and old. There are exhibits that can keep the energetic young children entertained while educating them about dinosaurs.

If you were at the exhibition, you will notice that there will almost always be a queue at the fossil dig corner. At this section, the children role-play themselves as fossil hunters, trying to discover and uncover fossils of dinosaurs. Don't the children seem to be engaged in the role-play?

There was also a queue sighted for the exhibit that stimulates the field of vision of the Triceratops. I remember that Triceratops have wide field vision. While the wide field vision can serve a good function, it also has its blind spot. To find out more, check out the DINOSAURS! exhibition of course.

At one particular section of the exhibition, visitors can also learn to pronounce the names of the dinosaurs. There are also quizzes and puzzles to challenge the mind. This section seems quite popular with children too.

There are also video shows on dinosaurs that can win the attention of almost anyone, young and old.

Other than being able to view exhibits on dinosaurs, one can get to view exhibits of living fossils. Did you know that cockroaches have first appeared on Earth about 350 million years ago? Some of the cockroaches that we see today are fairly similar to those that had lived million years ago. Dragonflies have also been around since the very ancient times. I wonder what are their secrets for surviving?


The fibre-glass model of the Indonesian Coelacanth was one of the exhibits that had caught my eye. This model was made from a specimen of the coelacanth. After the exhibition, I was intrigued with this primitive fish that I went to search for more information about it and found this link:

Other species of animals considered as living fossils are the crocodiles and the horseshoe crabs. Another question on my mind is: How did the crocodiles outlive the dinosaurs?

Estuarine Crocodile Skull

Horseshoe crab

Some animals are however, not able to survive. They have become extinct. Make a guess of the name of the bird below.

Yes, it is the Dodo. It is now extinct due to overhunting by human, and the destruction of its natural habitats.

These birds are now extinct in Singapore.

Visitors can also get to see specimens of rare animals. Perhaps the organisers of the exhibition had wanted us to pause and think seriously about conserving our natural heritage? If we do not do anything, these rare animals could soon become extinct.

Otter civet

Rhinoceros Hornbill. Rare in Singapore.

There is a section on Conserving Singapore's Natural Heritage. I suppose the lessons drawn from the past can help us learn the importance of preserving the biodiversity on our island? There will be no use of regretting once an animal whom we know so fondly becomes extinct, not due to the forces of nature, but due to the destructions made by mankind.

At the exit, I saw drawings by children mounted on a wall that has a title that goes: What colour is a T-rex?. It seems like the children will never get to feel bored if they were to come for this exhibition? There seem to be just so many things for them to do and to learn.

If you are now tempted to catch this exhibition, more information can be found here:

By the way, for fellow bloggers, you may like to know that there is a contest at Submit an original blog post to about your experience at the exhibition, and you may stand to win prizes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Back to the ancient world

It was National Day. I decided it would be a good idea to visit the exhibition: Dinosaurs! A T. rex named SUE and Friends that day, since I had to meet someone at a locality relatively near the Singapore Science Centre in the morning.

Despite the crowd, the trip to the above-mentioned exhibition proved to be an enriching one. I felt I was being transported back in time to find out more about the ancient world. The ancient world that dates back to about 248 - 65 million years ago.

Interestingly, the exhibition also provides links to how the knowledge of the ancient past may serve use to us, even million years later.


The weather looked fairly dull when I reached the Singapore Science Centre that day. Some level of patience would be needed to queue and get the ticket at the counter near the main exit. I was given a ticket that has the logo of the Singapore Science Centre printed on it. When I entered the Science Centre, I walked towards Annex D.

I found out that at the ticketing counter at Annex D, it is selling tickets that has the image of the T-rex printed on it. So, if you would prefer to get a ticket with the image of a T-rex printed on it (instead of the one with the logo of the Science Centre), I figured that you should not purchase your tickets at the main entrance of the Science Centre. You should purchase the tickets at Annex D.

If you are not sure where Annex D, try looking for what I call the "protruding dinosaur head" (see right below).

Annex D

What better way to start the exhibition than to find out what exactly is a dinosaur?

"(Dinosaurs) belong to a group of reptiles called diapsids, which means they had two temporal openings in the back of their skull..."

The explanation seem to get very scientific, but it was enriching for a lay-man to be exposed to the terms. However, I don't know what a temporal opening in the back of the skull should look like. I just kept the terms and concepts at the back of my mind, hoping that those questions that I have might be answered along the way.

The first dinosaur cast that greeted me was that of the Tarbosaurus bataar. This dinosaur was a hunter, as we can induce from its ferocious looking teeth. I read that it was a lizard-hipped dinosaur.

Tarbosaurus bataar

Tarbosaurus bataar

One thing that I remember after this exhibition was that in general, dinosaurs can be either lizard-hipped or bird-hipped. Or did I get this wrong?

The amusing part when I was at the exhibition was when I overheard a few children trying to debate with the adults whether the exhibits on display were real or were not. Innocence has its beauty.

Unknowingly, I seemed to have taken an interest in dinosaur-eggs. I took at least three different photos of exhibits of dinosaur-eggs. I overheard from one of the video clips shown at the exhibition that no matter how large a dinosaur was, its egg would not be bigger than the size of a football.

This exhibition is not just about dinosaurs. Visitors will also get to see casts of primitive reptiles, theriodonts (mammal-like reptiles?). These animals had roamed on Earth million years ago.

Scutosaurus Karpinskii

But who can ever resist viewing the star of the exhibition? Yes, the T-rex (Tyrannosaurus rex) named Sue. Almost everyone with a camera on his hand wanted to take photographs of this very exhibit. That included myself.


That was not all. There were exhibits that displayed replica of different specific parts of Sue (e.g. the teeth, the hips, the skull). There was an exhibit that focuses on the very good sense of smell that T-rex had. Yet an exhibit touches on how the fossils of Sue was found. There was even a section that focuses on how the technology of CT Scan has helped scientists gain better insights to T-rex and its behaviours.

Nearby, there was an exhibit of another T-rex, Stan. Actually, it was much easier to take photographs of Sue, than of Stan. The way the lightings were shone on Stan has made it challenging to get a good angle to capture shots of him. If the glaring-looking spotlights stare in your face, that is exactly what I meant by "challenging to get a good angle".


I went to catch the show The Truth about Killer Dinosuars! at the auditorium. It has been educational. I learnt how the T-rex and the Velociraptor hunt and prey for food. The interesting finding was that according to this show, Velociraptors actually had feathers.

Feathers. I had associated feathers with birds. Perhaps because of this association, I was particularly intrigued with this segment of the exhibition that has a title: Birds are Dinosaurs!

Visitors to the exhibition were even invited to identify the similarities between the skeleton of a Moa and a Velociraptor. By the way, did you realise that birds have scales on their legs? After watching The Truth about Killer Dinosuars!, I was somehow being planted with this idea that "feathers are actually highly evolved scales". Nature is so amazingly, I think.

Moa and a Velociraptor

Moa and a Velociraptor

Velociraptor. Imagine it with feathers.

At the exhibition, there was a replica of a fossil of an animal that would serve to be a good example of what might have been the transitional form between the modern bird and the related dinosaurs.

With the idea that birds are evolved from certain dinosaurs, I started looking at these bird specimens with a slightly different eye.

There are more to be seen at the exhibition. If you would like to read more about my experience at the exhibition, please stay tune for part two. It may take a while for part two to be published, so if you cannot wait to find out more about the exhibition, you may wish to travel to the Singapore Science Centre, Annex D. Please hurry though, this exhibition ends on 20 Aug 2006.

Visitor information of the Science Centre can be found here.