Friday, June 29, 2012

The special after-hours Curator Tour with Stella Kon, at the Peranakan Museum

Before sunset, on the evening of 28 Jun 2012, instead of heading home, I found myself walking leisurely to the Peranakan Museum to treat myself to a special after-hours Curator Tour led by one of the curators, Jackie Yoong, and the playwright, Stella Kon.

What had enticed me was definitely not the promise of a treat to delightful light refreshments generously sponsored by Bengawan Solo and Gryphon Tea Company, it was the unique opportunity to learn first-hand from the curator (Jackie Yoong) and the playwright, Stella Kon, about how the exhibition, "Emily of Emerald Hill": Singapore Identity on Stage, was conceived and to gain deeper insights into Stella Kon's inspirations for writing the one-woman play "Emily of Emerald Hill".

"Emily of Emerald Hill" was written by local playwright, Stella Kon, in 1982. This one-woman play tells the story of a Peranakan woman, Emily Gan, as she evolves from a young bride to a typically strong matriarch in the Peranakan enclave of Emerald Hill in Singapore.

During the tour, I realized that most of the tour participants had either watched or read "Emily of Emerald Hill". Yours truly was one of the few participants who have yet to watch or read the play "Emily of Emerald Hill". What had got me interested to attend the Curator Tour was a recent visit to the exhibition, "Emily of Emerald Hill": Singapore Identity on Stage a few weeks ago. It was during that visit that my curiosity in this landmark Singapore play and its relevance to contemporary Singapore culture was aroused. I was drawn to sarong kebaya of Mrs Seow Poh Leng as well as the early 20th century wood and glass cupboard which used to adorn the sitting room of Oberon, a grand old house on Emerald Hill that Stella Kon grew up in. 

Foreground: Sarong kebaya of Mrs Seow Poh Leng.

Even more intriguing for me was when I learnt from the exhibition that the play, "Emily of Emerald Hill", was inspired by Stella Kon's experiences growing up in a household on Emerald Hill in the 1950s. After appreciating the influences and inspirations behind the play, it somehow struck me that the play would offer my contemporaries and myself a glimpse of a lifestyle of the Peranakan family of the 1950s.

On the left, the cupboard that adorned the sitting room of Oberon.

At the start of the tour, the curator, Jackie Yoong, shared with us the challenges of presenting an intangible culture like the performing art in the context of a museum exhibition. Midway during the tour, she pointed out the significance of the huge finely-crafted silver trophy that was on display at the exhibition. I was grateful that she did. Otherwise, I would have completely missed learning about its significance. I learnt that the trophy was won by Tan Boo Liat's famous horse, Vanitas, at the Viceroy's Cup in Calcutta in 1898. The cup was made by one of the top silversmiths in India of the time.

The silver Viceroy's Cup.

The Curator Tour also provided the participants with the opportunities to learn more about Stella Kon's inspirations for writing "Emily of Emerald Hill" and some of the important influences in her life. We learnt that Stella Kon's parents were actively involved in Centre 65, a group that was interested in producing local plays. Stella Kon's mother, Rosie Seow (1922 - 1994), was a noted amateur actress.

Stella Kon also gave us an appreciation of the significance of a silver spoon which was on display at the exhibition. We also learnt more about the type of clothes that her grandmother would wear. She recalled that the sarong kebaya was more often worn as an informal home-wear. She recalled that her grandmother also wore the cheongsam, which was fashionable in those days. 

Foreground: The green kebaya custom-made for Margaret Chan.

To help the tour participants appreciate how each actor who has acted as Emily contributed to the interpretation of Emily, our enthusiastic curator brought the tour group to a section of the exhibition that displayed the original costumes, props and scripts used by different actors of the character, Emily. We noticed that the costume chosen by Margaret Chan when she acted as Emily was a kebaya with Japanese-inspired designs. The curator shared with us how the choice of the costumes reflected each actor's interpretation of Emily.

When it was time to conclude, a number of the tour participants took the special opportunity to engage in informal conversations with Stella Kon as well as the curator. Aspiring playwrights and writers will probably deeply appreciate it when the kind and generous Stella Kon shared during the conversations a few helpful advice for budding writers. I recall that the two tips were to start writing, and to start with writing the most interesting part of the story.

Wedding Garment that was painstakingly conserved.

By the end of the tour, I had a better appreciation of how the exhibition was conceived and I had learnt more about Stella Kon's inspiration for writing "Emily of Emerald Hill". I intend to find some time to read or to watch "Emily of Emerald Hill". I have a feeling that I would visit the exhibition again in the near future, at least to watch the footage from video-recordings of "Emily of Emerald Hill" and to learn more about Tan Boo Liat's Viceroy's Cup.

Here is a good piece of news for you if you wish to attend this special Curator Tour led by a curator and the playwright, Stella Kon. There will be another Curator Tour on 24 Jan 2013 (Thu), from 7.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. There will be a fee of $25 per participant. For more details, you may wish to contact the Peranakan Museum.

Last but not the least, my heartfelt appreciation to the team at the Peranakan Museum for organizing the Curator Tour with Stella Kon, to Jackie for her enthusiastic sharing and especially to Stella Kon for her generous and kind sharing of insights and anecdotes during the tour.

"Emily of Emerald Hill": Singapore Identity on Stage
1 Jun 2012 - 17 Feb 2013 7 Apr 2013
Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street
Opening Hours:
Monday: 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday to Sunday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (to 9 p.m. on Fridays)

Some online pages that are related to this topic:
Rediscovering the lost world in Bukit Brown - Oberon, Emerald Hill and the Family Roots of the Sage of Singapore by Lim Su Min.
Su Min's Luminous Tour by Lim Su Min
Danish Seamen's Church (Golden Bell Mansion) by yg
Tan Boo Liat from Wikipedia
Seow Poh Leng from Wikipedia
Emerald Hill, Singapore from Wikipedia
A visit to Emily of Emerald Hill's home by Lynette Phua
Stella Kon's Home Page

Monday, June 18, 2012

A perfect choice: Battlefield Tour at Cemetery Hill

Life often presents us with many choices to make. One day when I was browsing a.t. Bukit Brown, I came across a special Battlefield Tour at "Cemetery Hill" led by battlefield archaeologist, Jon Cooper. Bukit Brown Cemetery was known as "Cemetery Hill" 70 years ago. The tour was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on 17 Jun 2012 (Sun). Being intrigued to learn more about the fall of Singapore, the tour immediately caught my interest.

Then, I had a dilemma. I had agreed to meet one of my friends for a cycling trip at Pulau Ubin that very same day. Yet there was no way I can split myself up to be physically at two places at any one time. So I was feeling very grateful when the friend of mine agreed to my counter-proposal to go for the Battlefield Tour at Cemetery Hill instead. This proved to be a perfect choice for the day.

Battlefield archaeologist, Jon Cooper kept the participants intrigued with his passionate rendition and sharing of a rather unheard part of Singapore's history. Jon Cooper started the tour with a self-introduction of himself which gave all of us an idea how he ended up in Singapore when his hometown is in Scotland. I learnt that a few years ago, Jon Cooper came across a heritage marker along Adam Road, and that spun off the Adam Park Project. The project explores the defence of the Adam Park Estate by the 1st Battalion of the Cambridgeshires Regiment from the 12th to 15th Feb 1942 and a lot more.

The Battlefield Tour at Cemetery Hill began on an overhead bridge which looks out to a junction where Sime Road and Lornie Road meet. I vaguely recalled that the intersection of Adam Road, Sime Road and Lornie Road was referred to by British troops as "Hellfire Corner" due to the amount of Japanese artillery fire these intersections attracted.

Our guide, Jon Cooper, shared fascinating stories of the battle that was fought on the few days before the fall of Singapore in 1942. The tour led us to Sime Road, to a spot which used to be part of the Royal Singapore Golf Club, to a forested area near MacRitchie Reservoir and finally to what was known as Cemetery Hill. During the tour, Jon Cooper also retraced the advance of the Japanese tank unit and the retreat of the British soldiers. The exciting part was having to find our way through the bushes to locate what were likely to be defensive positions used during the battle.

This area was previously a part of the Royal Singapore Golf Club.

I was left with an impression was that it was quite a fierce battle that was fought seventy years ago. It was definitely not easy to fight a battle in a cemetery since it was not a terrain that most infantry soldiers would be familiar with.

During the tour, co-guide, Claire, shared with tour participants interesting features of Oon Chim Neo's grave in Seh Ong Cemetery, which is believed to be the largest single tomb in the area. I learnt about the interesting geomancy (fengshui) elements such as the dragon claws, tiger paws and more!

Jon Cooper's sharing of how the British soldiers would have tried to build defensive positions when they were fighting the battle within the compounds of the cemetery led me to infer that the soldiers were likely to be very determined to fight till the very end. It would not be an easy battle to fight in a very unfamiliar terrain and a certain level of determination and courage would be necessary.

The tour concluded at a site where a Chinese temple used to stand. How did the Chinese temple have any relevance to that very battle that happened 70 years ago? It turned out that the Chinese temple was one of the few landmarks that can be visible in the dark hours of those days.

Imagine a Chinese temple in the middle of the photo.

From the Battlefield Tour at Cemetery Hill, I have learnt a lot about a part of Singapore's history that was new to me. It was a perfect choice to spend a Sunday morning learning about history and be away from the life in the city.

Many thanks to Jon Cooper for the invaluable work that he has done to unearth a glimpse Singapore's wartime history with the rest of The Adam Park Project team. Hopefully there would be resources for further research and survey work to be carried out.

Now, here is a piece of good news for the people who have missed the 17 Jun 2012 Battlefield Tour of Cemetery Hill: Due to overwhelming demand, there will be a repeat tour in July! Please watch this website for more details:

Please also see: 
Battlefield Tour (Father's Day special)
Missing Amongst the Dead
The Adam Park Project
Four Days in February: Adam Park the Last Battle (exhibition till 24 Jun 2012)
Ho Siak Kuan (Bukit Brown)
My Great Grandfather was a War Hero

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Island Adventures at National Museum of Singapore

Curiosity led the inner child in me to purchase a ticket to the Children's Season 2012 - Island Adventures when I was at the National Museum of Singapore about two weeks ago.

Ahoy! All onboard! Level 1, The Concourse
The fun started as I went on board a ship-like vessel that was supposedly bound for the island named Singapura. While on board this ship-like vessel, I was transported to 1820 and learnt about the challenges and dangers that one would have encountered if they were to travel across the oceans in those days.

Learn about the Morse Code.

Island Adventures - Roving Acts
I was very lucky that I was on the vessel in time to join a group of mysterious characters from the past. These characters interacted with the participants through roving acts to give a glimpse of what it would be like on board the ship to Singapura. I mingled with the children and was reminded of the blessings to be open-minded like a child.

During the Roving Acts, participants met and interacted with characters such as a pirate and a European lady! It was a delightful and entertaining experience catching the Roving Acts, so I highly recommend it for all visitors who prefer interactive activities and a dose of drama.  Island Adventures - Roving Acts are available every Saturday and Sunday at the Concourse and the Salon, at the following timings: 10.45 a.m., 12.15 p.m., and 2.15 p.m.

Learn about what was used to extinguish candles in the days of the past.

The kind pirate and the dangers of the seas.

Port City, Level 1, The Concourse
Nearby, visitors could explore and discover how life was on the island of Singapura in the 19th and 20th century. I caught a glimpse of the Government hill, tried to experience how it would be to be a street hawker in those days, and more!

Life in the kampungs.

I had missed the Garden at Level 1 during my visit. I read that at the Garden, one can enjoy a hands-on experience drawing one of the many iconic buildings that reflects Singapore's history and culture. At the Salon Foyer, there is an interactive installation for visitors to have fun creating Singapore's landscape from the past to the future. I wondered how I had ever missed it?

Designed to be child-friendly, Children's Season 2012: Island Adventures takes its visitors on a journey which will introduce them to a part of Singapore's history and heritage. I recommend that visitors time their visits to catch the entertaining Island Adventures - Roving Acts. 

Children's Season 2012: Island Adventures
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
Concourse, the Salon and Garden, Level 1
26 May 2012 - 22 Jul 2012
10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily (Last admission at 5 p.m.)
$5 per child/ adult
For more information, please visit:

Monday, June 04, 2012

Art Garden 2012: Be engaged, be delighted.

Ryf's 5QU1D is a squid-like artwork that responds when more people approaches him!

It is June, and the time for our young ones to enjoy their school holidays. Experience the joy of contemporary art this school holiday season by heading to the Singapore Art Museum at 8 Queen Street (SAM@8Q) to be engaged by the many interactive artworks at Art Garden 2012

Emilie Fouilloux's Let's Dance inspires visitors to discover new ways to express ourselves.

At Art Garden 2012, nine of the twelve works were contributed by our own Singapore artists. Children are very likely to find the artworks appealing to their senses and intellectually stimulating. I was visiting the Art Garden 2012 with one of my friends and her family, and my friend's children were engaged and delighted by many of the art works.

A closed-up of Tay Bee Aye's Grow a Garden in the Dark.
It was intriguing to see how the origami flowers glow in the dark!

I read that the activities at Art Garden 2012 are also designed to enable adults to be active guides and facilitators for their young charges. This is very true as I witnessed parents guiding their children to create origami butterflies and morning-glories to help grow Tay Bee Aye's creation of a community garden titled Grow a Garden in the Dark and encouraging their children to have fun making sounds that generate images on the Reactive Wall by Mojoko and Shang Liang.

Mojoko and Shang Liang's Reactive Wall can be quite a therapeutic piece of artwork.
It seemed to urge its young visitors to let go of unnecessary inhibitions.

Loh Sau Kuen's Everyday Wonders reminds everyone that art can be created using simple everyday objects. Art is more accessible than we think.

A closed-up of a section of Loh Sau Kuen's Everyday Wonders.

The clay flower that I had redeemed and added my own designs.

Each admission ticket to Art Garden 2012 allows the visitor to redeem a clay flower from the second level of the SAM@8Q building. Each visitor can create patterns and designs on the redeemed clay flower using very ordinary objects. The clay flower will dry in 24 hours time and be transformed into a fridge magnet with interesting and unique designs.

For visitors who love to experience the joy of using crayons to create their own artworks, there is an activity room to provide the space to do so.

Age-appropriate write-ups for children printed in green colour.

Parents and guardians will be pleased that there are age-appropriate write-ups describing each of the exhibits at the Art Garden. Children could read these write-ups with relative ease, and perhaps learn a few new vocabulary. For the advanced readers, they can go for the more lengthy and sophisticated descriptions printed in black.

Justin Lee's Dress Me Up is especially fascinating for any child who is delighted by the idea of dressing up live-sized dolls.

To add to the delight, visitors can expect to be treated to film screenings of inspiring short films and animations at the Art Garden. Simply head to the Moving Image Gallery at Level Two to chill and relax to the film screenings. One of my favourite animations is Philip Hunt's Lost and Found which tells of a magical tale of friendship and loneliness.

Lee Wen's Ping Pong Go-Round.

For the athletic visitors, do not miss Lee Wen's Ping Pong Go-Round. This game of Ping Pong with a twist seeks to bring about alternative models for interaction and dialogue. The possibilities seem endless. Visitors were observed to be having great fun playing an alternative ping pong game!

If you are looking for an exhibition dedicated to showcasing art suitable for children, why not make a date to visit Art Garden 2012 at SAM@8Q? This much-loved programme is likely to engage and delight.

Art Garden 2012 at SAM@8Q
8 Queen Street, Singapore 188535
From 18 May - 12 Aug 2012

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. (Last admission to the museum is at 6.15 p.m.)
Friday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Free admission on Friday night, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Admission: $10 per adult, $5 per student
Admission is free for visitors aged 6 years and below, Singaporean and PR senior citizens, all full-time National Service men (NSFs), students and teachers from local schools.