Thursday, November 20, 2008

What legacy can we leave behind?

Image courtesy of National Library Singapore.

My visit to the exhibition, The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee & Lee Kong Chian, has been very inspiring such that one single post on it would not do it justice.

As mentioned in my previous post on this exhibition, this exhibition highlights the contributions of two of Singapore’s most successful entrepreneurs and millionaires, Tan Kah Kee (1874 - 1961) and Lee Kong Chian (1891 - 1967).

Above: Gallery 2. Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

Other than Gallery 1 and 2, I would recommend that visitors should not miss Gallery 4 of the exhibition. Gallery 4 is titled "Leaving a Strong Legacy". This gallery may seem simple in its design, yet a careful observer would soon realise that this very gallery has been very creatively thought out. It is so creatively thought out that visitors to this gallery will be inspired to reflect and ponder how they themselves can leave behind a legacy for their future generations even if they are humble, ordinary folks who may not have great wealth.

Above: Gallery 4. Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

The exhibition panels that you see in the photo right above challenges us visitors to think about what we can do for the society. Some of us may mistakenly think that one must have lots of money, lots of free time and/or a special talent before we can contribute to the society. This gallery proves that all these are not necessary. Everyone can contribute something to the society, even if he or she does not have lots of money, free time and/or talent. The way that we can contribute can come in many forms depending on our skills and resources.

Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

Visitors to Gallery 4 can also listen to audio recordings of people or representatives from organisations who have benefited from the legacy left behind by Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian. I have found it a peaceful and insightful experience to sit on the seats provided to listen to the audio recordings. Somehow, the curator has very thoughtfully provided fairly large spaces in Gallery 4. Somehow, the large spaces provided the ambience that facilitate me to do some reflection.

The lifespans of Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian were like any average person. However, the legacy that they have left behind, thanks to their farsighted vision and selfless drive, have helped built a better world for their fellow men, and more importantly, the impact of their legacy extends way beyond their own lifetime.

I believe that the objectives of the exhibition is certainly not just to disseminate mere information on these two pioneers and exemplary personalities. My sense is that the organisers hope that the exhibition would prompt us visitors to start to think about how we ourselves, no matter how ordinary we are, can contribute to the society. What legacy can we leave behind?

Anyway, after her visit to the exhibition, my friend who accompanied me, shared that perhaps her visit to the exhibition was a calling by a higher order to inspire her to contribute to the society.

Perhaps everything starts from a decision: The decision to make a difference, and to contribute.

The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian, “承前启后 继往开来:陈嘉庚与李光前” is held from 18 Jul to 31 Dec 2008, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Closed on public holidays).

Exhibition website:

Venue: Level 10, National Library,
100 Victoria Street
Singapore 188064

Free admission.

Organisers : National Library Singapore, Tan Kah Kee Foundation.

My heartfelt appreciation to the National Library Singapore, for granting me the permission to use the photographs published in this post.

Many thanks to the Friends of who have given me the support to facilitate my writing of this post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Deeply moved by "The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee & Lee Kong Chian"

Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

I have heard about the exhibition, The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee & Lee Kong Chian, many months ago and had wanted to check it out. Was it the fast pace of city life or the heavy demands of work? I had shelved aside my plans to visit the exhibition for as long as four months!

I am glad that I have finally managed to go for this exhibition eventually, on 8 November 2008, with one of my good friends. It is an exhibition that has made me feel deeply moved and inspired.

In essence, this exhibition highlights the contributions of two of Singapore’s most successful entrepreneurs and millionaires, Tan Kah Kee (1874 - 1961) and Lee Kong Chian (1891 - 1967). The exhibition is divided into four main sections: Entrepreneurs, Promoters of Education, Community Leaders and Leaving a Strong Legacy.

My favourite section of the exhibition was Promoters of Education. As for my accompanying friend, her favourite section was Leaving a Strong Legacy.

Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

The lay-out of Gallery 2, Promoters of Education, is very thoughtfully designed. Initiailly, visitors who step into Gallery 2 may think that they have stepped into an old classroom. I simply love the wooden tables and chairs that are found in Gallery 2. They brought back much positive feelings of nostalgia in me.

When I was a Secondary Two student about slightly more than a decade ago, I had felt very privileged to be using one of those wooden tables and chairs that are shown in the photo right above. Back then, my class was the only class in the entire cohort to use wooden tables and chairs when everyone else in the cohort were using the light-weight plastic chairs and tables. Simply looking at wooden tables and chairs of that kind of design would trigger a fond sense of nostalgia in me. It was not the tables and chairs that count, it was the fond memories of having spent meaningful days in a unique classroom that happened to have wooden tables and chairs.

Back to the exhibition. Visitors to Gallery 2 of this exhibition are likely to delight themselves when they lift up the top cover of each of the wooden table. Inside each table, one would find interesting exhibits that lend visitors some insights to the common classroom objects from the past.

Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

Being a visual learner myself, I particularly like the three videos that were being screened at Gallery 2. They lent me glimpses to the worldview of these two exemplary philanthropists, Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian. I spent quite some time just sitting on one of the wooden chairs in Gallery 2 so that I could watch all the three videos. I was not the only one who did that. I saw a few other visitors who sat through to watch all the three videos. This section is worth one's time.

One quote by Tan Kah Kee has left a deep impression in my mind. It goes, "I must have economic foundations before I can contribute to the society."

The quote left me to ponder: What motivations and visions did these two philanthropists have that drive them to work towards securing economic success so that they could contribute selflessly, devotely and generously to the society?

With this thought in mind, it became very natural that I went back to Gallery 1 to take a closer read about Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian as entrepreneurs. I believe that they became successful in their businesses not by sheer luck, but because of their positive attitude, strong positive values and their perserverance.

At this exhibition, I read this powerful quote by Tan Kah Kee which I think is worth sharing. It goes: "Treat people with sincerity. Do things with perseverance."

Photo courtesy of National Library Singapore.

There are a lot of inspirations that one can draw from this exhibition and from these two exemplary personalities. I am so inspired that I shall write another blog post on this exhibition soon. Meantime, I would say that it is better late than never to check out The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee & Lee Kong Chian.

Courtesy of National Library Singapore.

The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian, “承前启后 继往开来:陈嘉庚与李光前” is held from 18 Jul to 31 Dec 2008, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Closed on public holidays).

Exhibition website:

Venue: Level 10, National Library,
100 Victoria Street
Singapore 188064

Free admission.

Organisers : National Library Singapore, Tan Kah Kee Foundation

My heartfelt appreciation to the National Library Singapore, for granting me the permission to use the photographs published in this post.

Many thanks to the Friends of who have given me the support to facilitate my writing of this post.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

FOYers Gathering on 31 Oct 2008

31 Oct 2008 happened to be Halloween but Halloween has no significance for me. I do not celebrate it anyway. Yet, 31 Oct 2008 was a meaningful day because that evening, Friends of met at 8Q sam.

I was looking at the archives of and found that the earliest post in the archives date back as early as 3 Aug 2005. It was Love Me Love Me Not at the Singapore History Museum posted by Shaun Wong. It's rather commendable that has come so far.

Compared to the Singapore Art Museum building along Bras Basah Road, 8Q sam is a comparatively unfamiliar place to me. I've only managed to find out that the four-storey building that 8Q sam occupies was formerly the primary wing of the Catholic High School.

I took the first photo found on this post (see above) at least an hour before the gathering started. If I am not wrong, the white building in the foreground was formerly the secondary wing of the Catholic High School? Look further into the background, and you would see a building in shades of orange and red. That's the 8Q sam building.

To be very honest, I have no particular memory of the 8Q sam building. Even though I used to frequent the Bras Basah and Waterloo Street area very often, the building had only struck me as an unfamiliar building. After it was recently converted to Singapore Art Museum's new wing for contemporary art did I realised that it was formerly the primary wing of the Catholic High School. As such, I shall point readers to a few online articles which may help you better appreciate the building's past:

- 8Q sam - formerly Catholic High Primary School by ordinary guy
- Queen Street, By Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala written on 2003-03-29, National Library Board Singapore.

Back to the gathering, it was held from 7.30 p.m. at Octo Room of the 8Q sam building. As I usually have dinner much earlier in the evening, by the time I was at the gathering, I was already full from a light dinner. No matter how appetizing the food was, I have only room to sample some of the food. The food was good. Anyway, I simply have to have my dinner early else I fear I may get gastric problems eventually.

Sweet tiramisu. Photo credit: acroamatic

Pizza. Photo credit: acroamatic

I have the pleasure to meet a few of the Friends of for the very first time. Budak seemed to be fairly interested in contemporary arts, and he was recommending that I could check out Donna Ong's The Caretaker. While striking a conversation with Budak, I realised that I had caught a glimpse of The Caretaker a few weeks ago. While it may seemed rather eerie at first, I had found myself gradually intrigued by its use of dim lighting and its subtle hint of a sinister mood.

There was quite some time to catch up with various Friends of Admittedly, I was pretty excited about sharing concepts of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with Ivan. It often excites me when I get to talk about topics that interest me, and MBTI is one of it. I spoke briefly with Preetam about Ang Mo Kio. I also had a chance to coax Modcentric and Homesafe to consider checking out the Singapore Biennale exhibition site at City Hall. I attempted to do so by sharing about my recent visit to City Hall. I hope that would get them excited to visit City Hall before it undergoes major conversion into the National Art Gallery.

The most formal part of the event was probably the presentation by Walter which he and his team had put together. There were quite a lot of interesting and constructive discussions going on.

And eventually, all good things will come to a closure, at least temporary. Nevertheless, it had been a fruitful gathering afterall.


Related posts by other Friends of
SAM 8Q: Latest NHB museum on the block by Ivan.
Friends of
by otterman.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Glimpses of City Hall building at Singapore Biennale 2008

The City Hall, Singapore. I do not know about you, but this was one of the places that I was out with my ex-classmates to take outdoor graduation photographs, wearing our graduation robes. I believe quite a number of people had also taken their outdoor graduation photographs at the main entrance of the City Hall building?

Other than being the place where I had taken outdoor graduation photographs at, the steps leading to the main entrance of City Hall were where I had sat on a few occasions, simply to watch time passing by and to sketch. It was a lovely place to be at, especially on a breezy and cloudy day. From those steps, I could have a pretty view of some of my favourite places in Singapore: The Victoria Concert Hall, the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, and the open spaces of the Padang.

A sketch that I did.

City Hall was built originally in 1929, and was then known as the Municipal Building. This neoclassical building was designed by Municipal Architech A. Gordo and Assistant Architect F.D. Meadows. In 1951, the Municipal Building was renamed as City Hall, when the town of Singapore was proclaimed a city of the British Commonwealth by the Royal Charter granted by King George VI.

In the year 2005, City Hall was decommissioned. Subsequently, its spaces were used for the first Singapore Biennale in 2006. I remember that I had an enriching time viewing the various exhibits of Singapore Biennale 2006 when I was at City Hall two years ago.

A couple of days ago, I visited City Hall so as to view the exhibits of Singapore Biennale 2008. It was with nostalgia that I shall share some of photographs of City Hall that I had taken during my most recent visit to City Hall. The thing is that after the Singapore Biennale 2008, City Hall and the adjacent Supreme Court building will be converted into the National Art Gallery. I wonder how the Supreme Court and the City Hall would look like when they open their doors as the National Art Gallery sometime around 2013? Anyway, I believe my memories of City Hall will last for a long time. Would yours too?

If you should have the chance to, do find time to check out the Singapore Biennale 2008, particularly the following two exhibition venues: City Hall and the South Beach Development. The Singapore Biennale 2008 ends on 16 Nov 2008.

This room was formerly City Hall's restaurant.

In City Hall's former restaurant: Han, Jong-Gun's "Evolutional Mythology". 2007.

City Hall's former restaurant.

Previously one of the Judges' Chambers.

Previously one of the Judges' Chambers.

The corridors.

Another former Judges' Chambers.

When I was attending one of the guided tours of the Singapore Biennale 2008, the tour-guide shared briefly about historical significance of City Hall. I understand that it was right inside the City Hall Chambers that Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the surrender of the Japanese to the Allies in the year 1945. Many other historical events have also taken place at City Hall. For example, it was at City Hall that the then 'Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proclaimed self-government for Singapore in 1959, and where he declared the merger with Malaysia in 1963 and then announced that Singapore was an independent republic in 1965'.

The City Hall Chamber.

I cannot fully explain why. When I was at the Singapore Biennale, the work by Pimkanchanapong, Wit's Singapore somehow got me into a reminiscent mood. In this work, the artist recreate a Google Earth image-map of Singapore to be installed as a wall-to-wall floor covering for the Cith Hall Chamber. Visitors are provided with stickers on which they could write information about specific places and attach these stickers onto the map. It was definitely an interactive piece of art. As I went around the City Hall Chamber searching for the location of several places in Singapore on the art-work-cum-map, I could not help but recall some of the good memories that I have had of the places and the people who have shared those good times with me.

In City Hall Chambers: Pimkanchanapong, Wit's Singapore.

Closed up of a section of Pimkanchanapong, Wit's Singapore.

I shall then end this post by sharing two photos that I had taken about a year ago at the Surrender Chambers of Fort Siloso, Sentosa. The life-size wax-models that you would see in the following two photographs reenact the Japanese surrender to the Allies in 1945 at the then Municipal Building of Singapore, now City Hall. I was not even born yet when that historical moment took place. Did you have the privilege to have witness this event in 1945?

Photo taken at Surrender Chambers of Fort Siloso, Sentosa. The actual surrender took place at City Hall.

Photo taken at Surrender Chambers of Fort Siloso, Sentosa

What memories do you have of the City Hall building?

Maybe it would be worthwhile to visit it soon, before it undergoes major conversion into the National Art Gallery.

- G. Byrne Bracken. (2004).A Walking Tour: Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Growing up in Ang Mo Kio: From bus interchange to AMK Hub


AMK Hub is a building that houses the supermarket (NTUC Xtra), many retail stores, a food court, an intergrated Entertainment Centre on the 4th floor, and an airconditioned bus interchange.

Many years ago, before the year 2002, there stood a humble, non-airconditioned bus interchange approximately where AMK Hub now stands. There was a NTUC supermarket that stood just beside the non-airconditioned bus interchange but it was demolished around year 2002, I vaguely recall.

The humble bus-interchange back then had a simple canteen which I recall was on the second floor. There was an underground linkway from the bus-interchange to the Ang Mo Kio MRT station. I vaguely recall that when I was in Secondary School, I would wake up early every school-day, walk past the then non-airconditioned bus-interchange to take a bus to school. Early in those mornings (about 6.25 a.m.), there would already be a lot of commuters and bus-captains at the bus-interchange.

However, back then, I did not have an urge to take photograph and as such have no particular photo of the then non-airconditioned bus interchange to show you.

I only have a photo that gives a glimpse of the temporary bus interchange located nearby the Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic. The temporary bus interchange served commuters when the old bus interchange building was demolished sometime around the year 2002. Some residents would recall that there used to be a temporary NTUC supermarket just beside the temporary bus interchange. The temporary NTUC supermarket closed sometime after the NTUC Xtra supermarket was in operation.

The temporary bus interchange. Now demolished too.

If anyone enjoys seeing glimpses of the construction of AMK Hub, after the non-airconditioned bus-interchange located at Ang Mo Kio Central was demolished, here is a short photo presentation for your viewing pleasure:

I can't remember the date that the airconditioned bus-interchange within AMK Hub started its operation. However, according to, it could be 28 April 2007.

Does anyone have any stories to share about their growing-up years in Ang Mo Kio? I would care to hear from you.

(This post was first published on on 1 Jul 2008.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The exhibition: Xu Beihong in Nanyang

A Pair of Horse.
This work was a gift of the Tan family to
Singapore's Asian Civilisation Museum, in memory of the late Dr Tan Tsze Chor.

I was first acquainted with the artist, Xu Beihong, during one of my Higher Chinese lessons more than a decade ago. There was a chapter in the one of the Higher Chinese textbooks on him. I vaguely recall from the lesson that Xu Beihong was very skilled in painting horses.

Yet, Xu Beihong was more than a painter of horses. In the current exhibition, Xu Beihong in Nanyang, at the Singapore Art Museum, visitors will be able to appreciate the various range of works by Xu Beihong, from calligraphy, traditional Chinese ink painting, oil paintings, ceramics and more.

Xu Beihong in Nanyang is jointly organised by the Singapore Art Museum and the Xu Beihong Art Museum (Beijing). It showcases 90 artworks created by Xu Beihong in the 1930s and early 1940s. In this exhibition, visitors will have the rare opportunity to view some of the major works by Xu Beihong. A number of the works that are shown in the exhibition are actually being loaned by private collectors who have so generously supported the exhibiton.

This is a section on Xu Beihong and Loh Cheng Chuan.

I have had the pleasure to attend the one of the Curatours that was held in conjunction with the exhibition. It gave me more insights to understanding Xu Beihong and his art. I learnt that Xu Beihong promoted the use of scientific realism and the direct study of nature. As such, it was no surprise that Xu Beihong's works portray the subjects in realistic manner.

One thing that I find interesting about this exhibition is that it weaves in how various patrons of art and friends of Xu Beihong have been important to Xu Beihong's career as an artist.

For example, in the section Xu Beihong and the Huang Brothers, visitors can learn about the encouragement and assistance that the Huang Brothers (Mr Huang Menggui and Mr Huang Manshi) had given Xu Beihong. I am certain that their encouragement and assistance were important in helping Xu Beihong through his difficult early years of establishing himself as a painter.

The painting is that of Mr Huang Manshi.
Right below are photographs of Xu Beihong, the Huang Brothers, and other art patrons.

The works of the exhibition are being displayed in exhibition galleries spanning three different levels. On the third level of the exhibition, other than paintings by Xu Beihong, one can view snippets of video recordings from a eight-episodes TV serial on Xu Beihong. These recordings are in Mandarin and are certainly worth a watch for those who are interested in know more about Xu Beihong.

On the second level of the exhibition, visitors must check out the section titled Xu Beihong in India. In November 1939, Xu Beihong travelled to the Visva-Bharati University in India to lecture and to exhibit his works. By 1939, Xu Beihong was already an accomplished artist. The works in this section of the exhibition reflect Xu Beihong's artistic maturity and I think it contains some of Xu Beihong's finest works.

Among the works exhibited in the section, Xu Beihong in India, is a sketch by Xu Beihong of a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, which includes a signature by Gandhi himself. From this section, I particularly like Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore (1940) which was painted by Xu Beihong in Chinese ink and colour work. It is a good example of how Xu Beihong fused Western and Chinese art techniques.

The section: Xu Beihong in India
The large 4.2 metres wide painting on the right of this photo is
The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains

One should take time to appreciate The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains (1940). Do visit the exhibition to find out the significance behind this work and how it was used by Xu Beihong as a metaphor to praise the Chinese in their anti-Japanese efforts.

Xu Beihong's patriotism and his anti-war sentiments can also be sensed in his other works such as Put Down Your Whip (1939). This work was created right here in Singapore. The curator, Low Sze Wee, shared during the Curatour that the lady in the centre of this work was actress Wang Ying. Put Down Your Whip is an anti-war street-play. The accompanying write-up found next to this oil painting gives succinct information about the street-play. I personally think that it is a very beautiful piece of work.

The wall posters just outside the exhibition galleries in some ways prompt visitors to two of the major works that they must view at the exhibition.

Visitors should also spend time viewing the various portraits done by Xu Beihong. Many of these portraits are either of prominent figures or the family members of prominent figures of the Chinese society of the 1930s - 1940s. One example of such portraits shown in this exhibition is Portrait of Lim Loh (1927). Lim Loh is the father of the war hero, Lim Bo Seng.

Reflecting, I think it is apt that the curators of the exhibition have placed Slave and Lion (1924) as one of the first works that visitors would see at the first level of the exhibition. This work is based on a Roman story "of how a lion refused to attack a slave in a death-match because the former remembered that the latter had previously helped to remove a thorn from its paw." It was essentially a story of gratitude.

I am certain that Xu Beihong had been grateful to his patrons for their support. Similarly, I believe that the Singapore Art Museum and visitors to the exhibition, Xu Beihong in Nanyang, are grateful to the various collectors, for without their generosity and support, the exhibition would not have been possible. It is their generosity that enables the general public to view the works and masterpieces by Xu Beihong. Perhaps the best way to show our gratitude to the people who have made the exhibition possible is to simply, attend the exhibition.

Slave and Lion (1924)

In the year 1939, Xu Beihong held an exhibition to raise funds for the war refugees in China. The exhibition attracted more than 30 000 people. Back then, I understand that the population of Singapore was about 600 000. I am sure it will be heartening for the organisers of the exhibition if Xu Beihong in Nanyang could enjoy similar overwhelming response as the 1939 exhibition.

Xu Beihong in Nanyang is definitely worth a visit for anyone who is interested in the works of this master, and how Singapore and the Nanyang area have been significant to the art-career of Xu Beihong. It will be held at the Singapore Art Museum from 5 April to 13 July 2008 17 Aug 2008 (extended due to overwhelming response). Visitor information to the Singapore Art Museum can be found here:

For visitors who would like to learn more about Xu Beihong and the works that are on display at the exhibition, I understand that there is a bilingual catalogue of the same title as the exhibition on sale (ISBN: 978-981-08-0180-9) at the museum shop.


Many thanks to the Singapore Art Museum for granting the permission to take non-flash-photography at the exhibition. Thanks to Wei Chong for his help in facilitating my request.

Also read:
-Xu Beihong: A Chinese master of styles that straddle East and West by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop.

-Singapore Art Museum (SAM) opens 'Xu Beihong in Nanyang' a Solo Exhibition


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