Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Life of Practice - Kuo Pao Kun: Special Guided Tour with the Curator

Good luck was on my side when despite a rather busy schedule, I could steal some time out to attend a special guided tour with the curator of the exhibition, A Life of Practice - Kuo Pao Kun.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Kuo Pao Kun. He was an internationally acclaimed playwright, director and arts activist. He was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1990 for his contributions to Singapore theatre. While I am not very familiar with Singapore theatre, I felt it was critical to learn more about Kuo Pao Kun as he had contributed significantly to the local theatre scene.

A Life of Practice - Kuo Pao Kun

Weeks before I had attended the special guided tour with the curator, Lynn Lee, I had visited the exhibition on at least two occasions. During my first visit, I browsed through the entire exhibition yet I left lost as I did not know how to make sense of the exhibition, given its depth and breadth. My second visit to the exhibition was spent sitting down to watch the recording of an interview with Kuo Pao Kun's wife, Goh Lay Kuan. As I watched the interview that gave visitors glimpses of Kuo Pao Kun's artistic vision and practices, I knew I had to return to the exhibition yet again to find out more.

When I learnt that there will be a special guided tour to this exhibition with the curator, I instinctively knew it will be in my interest to register for one of the tours. I had managed to register for one of the Mandarin tours.

The special guided tour was very well-delivered. The curator pointed out the important exhibits that were worthy of our attention, which on my own, I had totally overlooked many of these exhibits.

Growing-up years of Kuo Pao Kun
The tour began with an introduction to Kuo Pao Kun. The curator led us to a section of the exhibition which displayed photos and archival materials related to the growing-up years of Kuo Pao Kun. The curator pointed out to all the participants a photograph. On the back of this photograph, Kuo Pao Kun had written a personal message to his father. It revealed to me that even as a teenager, Kuo Pao Kun had an independent mind of his own.

Growing-up years of Kuo Pao Kun.

His Theatrical Education
More intriguing for me was the next section of the exhibition which showcases Kuo Pao Kun's theatrical education at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. When I had visited this exhibition on my own, I had completely neglected this section thinking it was just showcasing some papers that I could not seem to understand. Alas! I was wrong! Through the curator, I learnt that one of the artefacts in this section contained notes that Kuo Pao Kun had written down when he directed The Bear by Anton Chekhov. I was impressed by the systematic and diligent way that Kuo Pao Kun had made notes to enhance his learning.

The motivational letters by Kuo Pao Kun
I was most captivated by the letters and greeting cards written by Kuo Pao Kun to his family. These letters and cards were written during the period when Kuo Pao Kun was detained under the Internal Security Act from 1976 - 1980. The sense of optimism and hope in these letters and cards were simply uplifting.

For example, in one of the letters, there was a parting message to his family that I have found very uplifting:
"Even though we're apart, let us work hard together in our respective positions and places; cultivate good habits and better ourselves everyday. When we next meet, we can proudly proclaim to each other, time is not wasted on us, I was better than yesterday!"
The drawings on the greeting cards also drew my attention to Kuo Pao Kun's creativity and talent in sketching.

Poem by Kuo Pao Kun on a greeting card:
"The world does not treat us unkindly or forget us.
In the midst of solitude,
even the maize teaches me generously each day:..."
(English translation by Teo Han Wue and Kwok Kian Woon from

Kuo Pao Kun and some of his major plays
The rest of the exhibition was equally engaging. The curator tour gave the participants critical insights on how we can better appreciate this exhibition that discusses the life and the practice of Kuo Pao Kun. 

When we were at the section of the exhibition that focused on the play, The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree, the curator drew to our attention to the detail that for the first performance of this play, Kuo Pao Kun had engaged Liu Ching-min as one of the directors so as to engage Liu's expertise in the radical theatre methodology of "Poor Theatre".

The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree.

Liu Ching-Min had trained with Jerzy Grotowski who developed the concept of "Poor Theatre". I was rather intrigued to learn that it was important to Grotowski that the actors "delivered through their bodies and voice without aids...". I had the pleasure to watch excerpts of the recordings of this play, and it somehow made me think of the magnificent rain-tree at the roundabout of the Bukit Brown cemetery which is to make way for the proposed development of a dual four-lane road. May there be a positive ending that is in the highest interest of all concerned somehow.

In this exhibition, there are sections of the gallery that are dedicated to some of Kuo Pao Kun's major works such as Mama Looking For Her Cat, The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole, The Spirits Play and so forth. By the end of this special guided tour by the curator, Lynn Lee, I could finally consider myself to have an appreciation of Kuo Pao Kun's life of practice. He was a dedicated artist to look up to. I could not help but be moved by his passion for and his contributions to theatre art in Singapore.

Many thanks to the curator for an excellent guided tour. It has helped me make better sense of this interesting exhibition, and it has deepened my appreciation of Kuo Pao Kun and his practice of the performing art. I strongly recommend that visitors could consider attending one of the guided tours.

The guided tour aside, I highly recommend interested visitors to make multiple visits to this exhibition so as to have the time to browse through the various recordings of the excerpts of the plays that are featured at this exhibition.

Ideas for the busy visitors
If visitors has only half-an-hour to spare, I would strongly recommend that they watch the interview of Goh Lay Kuan as well as browse through the letters by Kuo Pao Kun that were displayed under the section, Four Years and Seven Months of Solitude.

Interview of Goh Lay Kuan which last about 30 minutes.

Special Guided Tour with Curator
Tours in Mandarin: 15 Dec 2012 (Sat) and 19 Jan 2013 (Sat). 3 p.m. (60 mins) 
Tours in English: 12 Jan 2013 (Sat) and 16  Feb 2013 (Sat). 3 p.m. (60 mins) 

Venue: Exhibition Gallery 2
Free admission with exhibition admission of $5

For more details, please visit:

Friday, December 07, 2012

A visit to the Maritime Experiential Museum

Maritime Experiential Museum, Singapore.

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure to visit The Maritime Experiential Museum at Resorts World Sentosa. It was my very first visit to The Maritime Experiential Museum. I have found myself more excited to explore the Maritime Experiential Museum than the nearby Universal Studios Singapore.

Thanks to an event, I had the pleasure to obtain free admission to The Maritime Experiential Museum and the ticket even includes a one-time entry into the Typhoon Theatre.

The Historic Ship Harbour
One of the most exciting parts of the museum to me was the Historic Ship Harbour. Here, I was able to go up to two of the full-sized replicas of a Javanese Jong and a Amoy Junk.

A replica of a Javanese Jong.

The Javanese Jong, I learnt was the main trading vessel in the South East Asian region until the 17th century.

The Amoy Junk, on the other hand, are the trading vessels of southern China. The characteristic features of the Amoy Junk include a high aftercastle and sails that are made of stiff panels of woven bamboo laths. These bamboo laths fold concertina-fashion when lowered.

The woven bamboo laths of the Amoy Junk.

The Historic Ship Harbour is located outdoors, and I might have missed it totally if not for the helpful instructions given by the hospitable staff of the museum. The privilege of going up the full-sized replicas is subjected to weather conditions and availability.

One of the ships at the Historic Ship Harbour.

Zheng He Exhibits and the Bao Chuan Show
One section of The Maritime Experiential Museum lends visitors insights to Admiral Zheng He's life and the fleet that he has commanded. Nearby, there is a full-sized replica of the bow of Admiral Zheng He's 15th century treasure ship. I would say it is enormous!

The Bao Chuan Show.

The Bao Chuan Show that was screened onto the full-sized replica of the bow of Admiral Zheng He's ship gave me an introduction to Zheng He and his voyages across the seas.

The Ancient Maritime Silk Route
A large portion of the first level of the museum is dedicated to educating visitors about the Maritime Silk Route. The routes that were being traced in this exhibition were the travel from the various ports, namely from Quanzhou to Qui Nhon to Palembang to Malaccca to Galle to Calicut to Muscat to Malindi.

Navigational tools used by the Chinese.

I was most intrigued by the navigational tools found at the section on the port of Quanzhou. The drums and masks of Malinda also captured my imagination.

A glimpse of water puppets that are common to Qui Nhon.

Exhibits depicting the produces from the port of Palembang.
I was reminded of a recent trip to Bali. 

African mask.

Fun activities for the family.

Featuring the port of Calicut.

Woven shoes from Muscat.

This section of the exhibitions help me to appreciate the significance of each of the various parts. There were a number of interactive exhibits which will delight both children and fun-loving adults.

Interesting activities for the visitors.

The Omani Dhow, Jewel of Muscat
The most eye-catching exhibit at this museum, was for me the Jewel of Muscat. This reconstruction of a 9th century Omani Dhow impressed me greatly as it was built using traditional materials and construction techniques. No power tool, no screw and no nail was used in the making of this hand-sewn ship that was built by 35 men. I was intrigued by it.

Jewel of Muscat.

Jewel of Muscat

I could not hide my disappointment that visitors will not be able to board this wonderful Jewel of Muscat. I do hope such a measure would help to prolong the display life-span of this dhow. Otherwise, I would have been suffering disappointment for a cause that did not exist.

Typhoon Theatre
This theatre allows visitors to experience the breathtaking simulation of a shipwreck. It gave me a good idea of the uncertain dangers that sailors would have to brave when they travel across the seas. It was worth a try though I must warn visitors that it was rather humid and moist in the Typhoon Theatre as a result of the special effects.

Prelude to the special-effects Typhoon Theatre.

Inside the Typhoon Theatre.

Each entry to the Typhoon Theatre is at an additional $6 per adult, $4 per child (4 - 12 years old), and $3 per senior citizen (65 years and above).

Pirates of the East
Throughout various parts of the museum, visitors will be introduced to infamous Asian pirates. Somehow, I have found this theme a bit confusing to understand. I have simply found it hard to keep track of the theme of Pirates of the East as the information on the various ports along the Maritime Silk Route had competed for my attention.

Maybe an enactment of the lives of these pirates in the form of video-recording may help visitors like myself appreciate these Asian pirates better than through the write-ups?

Maritime Archaeology Gallery
At the basement of the museum houses the Maritime Archaeology Gallery. This section presents artefacts from the Bakau and Temasek shipwrecks and other archaeological finds. I found it fascinating to realize that shipwrecks are like time capsules which can give us a glimpse of a particular moment in history. The artefacts can tell a lot of stories about a time from the past.

The Bakau Ship. An early Ming Chinese Junk.
Sea travel was banned back then, but there were still people who were motivated to sail.

The Bakau shipwreck was quite interesting to me as it showed that there were still trade between China and Southeast Asia despite a ban on foreign trade imposed by the Ming court. I wonder why people still take risk to trade when it was banned?

Overall, I have had a positive experience at the Maritime Experiential Museum. The staff of the museum were sufficiently knowledgeable in the subject matter, and they were very helpful. My heartfelt words of thanks to the friendly staff of the museum.

This is a museum to visit to have an appreciation of the Maritime Silk Route as well as to have an appreciation of the dangers that sailors might have to brave.

Maritime Voyage Tour
During my visit to this museum, I learnt that there is a Maritime Voyage Tour that visitors could sign up for. This tour includes the admission into the museum. In addition to it, visitors on this tour would have the privilege to have a museum guide to share with them about the different ports that were featured in the museum's exhibition as well as learn about Admiral Zheng He and his voyages.

Tickets to the Maritime Voyage Tour is at $15 per adult, $10 per child (4 - 12 years old), and $10 per senior citizen (65 years and above). If I have another chance to visit the Maritime Experiential Museum in the future, I shall make some time to go for the Maritime Voyage Tour.

I was very pleased with my visit to the Maritime Experiential Museum. To me, it was more enriching and stimulating than the nearby Universal Studios Singapore which I had also visited on the same day. This is a visit to be thankful for.

Maritime Experiential Museum
Resorts World Sentosa
8 Sentosa Gateway. Singapore 098269
Tel: (+65) 65778888

Monday, December 03, 2012

At NUS Museum. 106 Joo Chiat Place: The Ng Eng Teng House

Following my visit to the house at 106 Joo Chiat Place on 29 Nov 2012, I decided it would be helpful to visit the NUS Museum to check out the exhibition named 106 Joo Chiat Place: The Ng Eng Teng House.

The house at 106 Joo Chiat Place was used as Ng Eng Teng's workplace until his passing in 2001. I learnt that after the demise of Ng Eng Teng, the house was then turned into a residency space for artists. Much later, it was acquired by a developer.

At this exhibition, 106 Joo Chiat Place: The Ng Eng Teng House, visitors could find various objects that were found and collected from the house. Alongside these items were archival documentations (e.g. newspapers articles and images) related to Ng Eng Teng. I was most interested in the sculptures and the printed images that were on display. The seemingly dull-looking newspapers articles had given me a better appreciation of the Joo Chiat area, of Ng Eng Teng and a brief background of the house at 106 Joo Chiat Place.

One of the items that was on display at this exhibition was Sultan of Pahang. It somehow struck a chord in me. Maybe it was because Sultan of Pahang was one of the sculptures that had greeted me in the year 2008 when I had chanced upon 106 Joo Chiat Place without realizing it had used to be the workplace and home of the late Ng Eng Teng. I wonder what had inspired Ng Eng Teng to create this very sculpture?

A glimpse of 106 Joo Chiat Place, in year 2008.
Sultan of Pahang.

Ng Eng Teng's Sultan of Pahang.
At the NUS Museum.

It took me close to two hours to take time to browse through this exhibition as well as some of the exhibits from a nearby exhibition titled Sculpturing Life: The Ng Eng Teng Collection featuring artworks by Ng Eng Teng.

The host, Edmond, sharing with visitors a meaningful story of a pond that used to be in the house and the sculpture that was hidden behind the bamboo plants.

The bamboo plants and the site where the pond used to sit.

When I had visited 106 Joo Chiat Place on 29 Nov 2012, a gentleman named Edmond had generously gave his time to share with visitors about various interesting stories that were related to the house. One of the stories was that of a sculpture that was hidden behind the bamboo plants. Edmond told the visitors that the sculpture was on loan to NUS Museum.

While I was at the exhibition at NUS Museum, I was trying to figure out which was the piece of sculpture that had used to be hidden behind the bamboo plants at the land where the Ng Eng Teng house had sat. Imagine the delight on my face when I solved what had been a mystery to me. Nearby the sculpture was a newspaper article on the pond that used to sit at the house of Ng Eng Teng. As for the story of the pond and the sculpture with a tear-like shape, please visit the exhibition to try to figure it out for yourself.

The exhibition 106 Joo Chiat Place: The Ng Eng Teng House will be worth a visit for anyone who had missed the open-house of Ng Eng Teng's house at Joo Chiat Place on 29 Nov 2012. Please visit it soon.

For myself, visiting this exhibition was part of the process of bidding farewell to a house that I was unfamiliar with and yet was the creation grounds of an artist who has in some ways been an inspiration to me.

106 Joo Chiat Place: The Ng Eng Teng House 
 9 October 2012 to 30 June 2013 
NUS Museum 
Free Admission

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Farewell to the house at 106 Joo Chiat Place

Studio 106, in year 2008.

In the year 2008, while I was exploring the Joo Chiat area, I chanced upon a house that had sculptures that were clearly by the late artist, Ng Eng Teng. Imagine the delight and surprise that was on my face back then.

Many months after that chanced encounter, during a visit to an exhibition at NUS Museum in that same year, I learnt that the house that I had chanced upon at 106 Joo Chiat Place was the house where the late Ng Eng Teng, one of my favourite local sculptors, had used as his art studio! I felt grateful to have caught a glimpse of this very building that had provided the needed shelter and space for the Ng Eng Teng to create many of his masterpieces.

On 29 Nov 2012, this very house at 106 Joo Chiat Place which I had wished to enter was opened to members of the public. Yet, it was with sadness and a heavy heart that I visited this very house. I bid farewell to it. It has served its mission. Yet, somehow, its fate was that it has to go. A treasure it has been, and a treasure it will remain to be in the hearts of many.

106 Joo Chiat Place, on 29 Nov 2012.

I wonder if the demolition of this house would mean that the contributions by the late Ng Eng Teng would be forgotten? Most likely not. Ng Eng Teng had donated a great number of his works to the NUS Museum. I hope that he will be remembered through his artworks and more.

At the open house of this very house, many members of the public were taking photographs and experiencing what it might have been to be creating sculptures and artworks in this house. Representatives of the Awaken the Dragon were seen salvaging the wood from this house to use these wood to fire one of the last two surviving dragon kilns in Singapore in Jan 2013. Even when Ng Eng Teng's house is torn down, Ng Eng Teng's contributions to the art scene in Singapore shall live on.

Please find in this post some of the photos taken of this beautiful house. Perhaps the demolition of this house would urge us to rethink what we as a community could ascribe more value to? Some losses are simply irreversible. Once lost, they will be gone forever.

Once lost, only in our memories and the records, would they be remembered.

The kiln that Ng Eng Teng had used.
The very site where the kiln used to be.
The kiln was placed outdoors.

The fan and the wall that would greet everyone who enters the house from the front.

The basement.
Piece by piece, the house was taken apart literally.

The bamboo plant and the touching story behind it.

The host, Edmond, sharing with visitors about the unique features of the house and a meaningful story that is associated with it.

Also read:
The Grandfather of Singapore Sculpture and his Joo Chiat Studio by Remember Singapore
One last time: Ng Eng Teng's studio at 106 Joo Chiat Place
Remembering Ng Eng Teng
Mulitmedia: My Brother, Our House by The Straits Times, Through the Lens.

One of the bricks that was found at 106 Joo Chiat Place.