Wednesday, January 09, 2013

News: Celebrating Bukit Brown Rediscovering the Past


Dear friends and readers of this blog,

Celebrating Bukit Brown
By The Singapore Heritage Society and All Things Bukit Brown
Sunday 20 January 2013, 2pm – 8pm
The Substation Theatre
Admission: Free of charge

You may wish to take note of this above-mentioned upcoming event. The event is organized by the Singapore Heritage Society and All Things Bukit Brown, with the support from The Substation. If you would like to extend your contributions, you can also contact the Singapore Heritage Society to volunteer your service at this event.

Highlights of the event include:
1. Talks by battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper on WWII
2. Presentation on the material culture of Bukit Brown and the Chinese diaspora by Dr Lai Chee Kien
3. First public-screening of the documentary Bukit Brown Voices by Khoo Su-Mae and Brian McDairmant. This 45-minute documentary follows Singaporean families asthey carry out Qingming rituals and exhume their ancestors.
4. Update on the documentation project by Dr Hui Yew-Foong, with input from Dr Terence Heng and Jasmine Ng.
5. A public forum.

For more information, please visit:

Sunday, January 06, 2013

OH! Open House 2013: What's our Happiness Index?

OH! Open House 2013. Brochures and tickets.

OH! Open House is back again. This year, OH! Open House takes us to the private spaces in the district of Marina Bay to view works of art. The theme of this year's OH! Open House is The Happiness Index. I am still trying to appreciate how one could possibly explore the theme of Happiness Index in a seemingly corporate and highly structured district of Marina Bay which is Singapore's newest financial district.

This year marks the third year that I have attended OH! Open House. The curiosity to take a peep into private spaces which would otherwise be out-of-bounds to us had prompted me to take an interest in attending OH! Open House. What had sustained my interest in OH! Open House was the privilege to view and experience works of art that were usually created for the private spaces that were provided.

If you are curious, join me for a quick overview of this year's OH! Open House from my personal perspective.

It was my first time visiting the Marina Bay Financial Centre. The financial district of Marina Bay is very new to yours truly who does not work in the financial section. Finding my way there required a bit of simple searching. Perhaps the journey to happiness requires some searching too?

How I have found my way to Marina Bay Financial Centre, Tower 3
I took a SMRT train to Raffles Place MRT station. Then I followed the directional signs and travelled underground to head towards the Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3. On my way, I would pass through the Marina Bay Link Mall.

After the Din Tai Fung restaurant at Marina Bay Link Mall, there is a concierge to ask for directions for folks like myself who prefer to receive guidance from human beings. Otherwise, the directional signs are clear enough to lead visitors to the Marina Bay Financial Centre. At Tower 3 of the Marina Bay Financial Centre, there are clear signs to confirm that we are at the right place. By the way, visitors who are hungry would be pleased to find a food-court that serves food at Marina Bay Financial Centre, Tower 3, Level 2.

For visitors travelling above the ground, look out for the towering blue skyscrapers with the Standard Chartered Bank sign! You will know that you have reached the Marina Bay Financial Centre when you catch the sights a sculpture of two water buffaloes by British sculptor, Dame Elisabeth Frink.

Water Buffaloes. By Dame Elisabeth Frink.

While I was waiting to purchase tickets, it came to my attention that this event is largely volunteer-driven. I felt appreciative of their efforts to make OH! Open House possible. Thanks to the team of people who have made OH! Open House possible!

Before the start of the tour, participants were asked to wait at an auditorium. I did not quite like the experience of waiting in the auditorium as it just felt like a space that is corporate and impersonal. Can we really find happiness in such spaces?

Without spoiling the surprise elements and the excitement for potential visitors, I shall reveal what had caught my interest and/or attention at this year's OH! Open House.

Joy Oh's work at the OH! Open House reminded me of one of Gosia Wlodarczak's works at the Singapore Biennale 2011. Joy Oh's drawings on the window panels seem to be interacting with the spaces in the DBS' Super Social Hub as well as the bigger world outside the Marina Bay Financial Centre's building. Maybe there is joy found in interacting constantly with our internal and external world.

The surprise performance created by Spell#7 brought a sense of nostalgia and heart-warming spirit to the otherwise cold and impersonal spaces of the DBS' Super Social Hub. What is a social hub without people who are feeling alive and in love with the present moment? When the performance caught you by surprise, be present and experience the moment! Happiness can be found in the present moment!

Nguan's works. OH! Open House 2013.

One part of the tour brought us underground to the Marina Bay Link Mall. I wonder whether it was the intentions of the curators to make us participants be aware of the stark contrast of walking underground and above-the-ground. Walking underground, I felt a sense of being stifled although I was protected from the rain and the sun. The entire experience somehow prepared me to identify deeply with Nguan's works that were exhibited at a part of the Marina Bay Link Mall. Through these works, Nguan seems to be bringing the heartland to the city. Looking at the photographs that were taken at open spaces above-the-ground, I felt a desire to move out of the underground spaces so that I could finally delight myself in the loving rays of the sun. Maybe the spaces that we live our lives in could influence our happiness index?

Frayn Yong's Fragile Structures. 

Sheer delight could be felt when participants saw Frayn Yong's Fragile Structures. This piece of art installation was made out of fine and thin graphite! Maybe a sense of awe in what could be possible could trigger a sense of happiness in us human beings? Our wonderful tour guides shared with us that the artist was exploring the potential of negative spaces through this work.

Evil Empire's performance at OH! Open House was baffling. I have had no clear clue what was going on. The experience felt rather eerie. It did not help that I have yet to read and will still need a lot of help to appreciate Kafka's The Trial which I understand had greatly influenced Evil Empire. If you could understand how this performance could help us find out more about our Happiness Index, please enlighten me.

Marina Bay's Past and Present
During the tour, our guides gave us a quick introduction of the history of Marina Bay. The land at the Marina Bay Financial Centre used to be a part the sea. I tried to imagine how life would have been sailing and fishing out at the sea in those days in the distant past.

Subsequently, after the land reclamation project of the Marina Bay area was completed, for a period of time,  before the skyscrapers were built, the area of Marina Bay was used for various leisure and recreational activities. I vaguely recall that it was a place for kite-flying and a place for barbecued cuisine as well as seafood.

I looked about the present Marina Bay and realized what a transformation this area has went through. Would  the existence of a large financial district that will be larger than Wall Street when it is completed in any way add to our Happiness Index? I do not have the answers.

A visit to Deutsche Bank
I have heard about how some financial institutions acquire their own private art collections. It was a pleasant piece of news to learn that one of the venues of OH! Open House 2013 was a visit to Deutsche Bank. Two representatives from Deutsche Bank warmly welcomed everyone in the tour group. I love their hospitality. It somehow reminded me fondly of my experiences during OH! Open House 2012 and the year before whereby some of the home-owners actually made time to welcome participants to their private spaces.

We had the opportunity to take a look at some of the private art collections of Deutsche Bank during our visit. However, photography of its private art collection is not permitted.

In the meantime, I was happily admiring the view outside the office of Deutsche Bank as well as appreciating Shubigi Rao's Blotting the Ledger. For this work, the artist soaked text books with text and drawing in ink. This is quite a thoughtful piece considering that it is placed in the boardroom of Deutsche Bank.

I was looking out of the window.

My personal favourite
In a legal firm in Far East Finance Building, Tan Peiling's And They Gathered Them Together In Heaps left a positive impression on me with sounds reminding us of a time before the Marina Bay Financial Centre existed. Somehow, I felt it was very therapeutic to be in the space of a not-so-new office experiencing the sound-scape from this work. Happiness could be felt when I listened to the sounds of the ship-horns and the sounds of the waves?

At Google's office
One of the stops was at the office of the company that is associated with one of the most well-known search-engines of our time, Google. Would it be easier if the search for happiness could be made faster with the use of a search-engine?

At Google's office in Singapore, Eeshaun's giantic and colourful abstract paining The Search for Happiness explores the search for happiness, and he concluded that "The search for happiness is inside".  My interpretation is that we have to look within ourselves to find happiness.

My conclusion
I prefer the more lively venues of OH! Open House of the previous years. Somehow, the Marina Bay Financial Centre felt like an impersonal neighbourhood for me. At a first glance, things looked so orderly that they appeared non-spontaneous. Then again, if happiness can be found from within us, maybe it does not matter how the external circumstances were?

Looking back, I will still attend OH! Open House 2013 nevertheless. It is such an interesting local art event and the best way to see it thriving is to support it.

Make your way to the Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower Three these upcoming weekends. For security clearance, please bring along a photo identification card to access the banks.

OH! Open House 2013
5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20 January 2013
11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
(Last tours leave at 3 p.m.)
DBS Asia Central 
Marina Bay Financial Centre
12 Marina Boulevard, Tower 3, Level 3
Tickets at the door, $20 per person

You may also like to read:Preview: OH! Open House 2013: The Happiness Index at Marina Bay, by Gwen Pew, published on TimeOut Singapore.
- OH! Open House Marina Bay: The Happiness Index, by Teoh Yi Chie
- A quick look at OH! Open House Marina Bay by Mayo Martin, video by Sion Touhig, TODAY Online.
- There's art in this concrete jungle if you know where to look by Mayo Martin, TODAY Online
- OH! Open House: The Happiness Index, City Nomads.
- Review: Open House! Marina Bay by Adeline Chia (To order a special tour package)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A tour of Soon Thian Keing

On 9 Dec 2012, I had the pleasure to attend a tour of a Chinese temple, Soon Thian Keing. It was the name of the tour that had attracted me. The name was The Rosetta Stone of Singapore History. Our guide had explained how the name of the tour was coined. My confession is that my ears were losing focus and did not recall what was being said! I could only try to make a good guess that the name of the tour probably suggests that the tablets that were discovered in Soon Thian Keing in 1981 when it was situated at 73 Malabar Street could hold the keys to our understanding of Singapore before the British founding of Singapore (in 1819)?

Soon Thian Keing temple, Singapore.

Furthermore, I learnt that the founding of this temple can be traced to 1812 slightly earlier than the British founding of Singapore. This is a part of the history of Singapore that I have yet to come across in the history text and I was eager to find out more even though I know very limited about Chinese temples in Singapore, Chinese religions and about Soon Thian Keing itself

The tour was organised by Chinatownology. One of the personnel from the temple's management gave us visitors an overview of the history of the temple. I learnt that the name of the Chinese Hokkien temple, Soon Thian Keing, can be literally translated into "Obedience to Heaven". The temple currently sits at 19 Lorong 29 Geylang, Singapore 388070.

Since my ears did not seem to be very attentive that day, I shall not attempt to recall what I have learnt about  Soon Thian Keing in this post. Instead, I shall point interested readers to this webpage,
Chinatownology: Soon Thian Keing

The inscriptions on the stone tablets of Soon Thian Keing .
In a nutshell, the inscriptions on the pair of stone tablets that was discovered in Soon Thian Keing in 1981 suggested that the temple was founded as early as 1812, even before Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore! Thankfully the temple's management has managed to preserve the tablets.

One of the stone tablets of Soon Thian Keing.

During the tour, I was intrigued by how the seemingly simple tablets could tell a whole lot of history and allow the visitors to trace the history of the temple. The tablets reminded me to appreciate and treasure the material culture around me.

The tour has also piqued my curiosity on the exact location of Malabar Street. I was then reminded of the tour, Hainan Kopi Tales, that I had went for a few years ago. During that tour, it was the first time that I was made aware of a street named Malabar Street. According to Singapore Infopedia, Malabar Street connects Middle Road and Malay Street. I think I would need to search for a map of Singapore perhaps as early as the 1880s.

The divine presence. Soon Thian Keing.

Soon Thian Keing had to relocate from its original location at 73 Malabar Street because in 1984, it was informed that it "stood in the path of Singapore's future SMRT transport system". Subsequently, it was temporarily relocated at 173 Albert Street before it moved to its present site at 19 Lorong 29 Geylang. During the tour, we heard a bit about the resettlement process of the temple from its original location to its current location.

At the temple, I felt a sense of good vibes and peace. My eyes noticed a certificate that was framed and put up on the walls. The certificate read: "Soon Thian Keing, Singapore's First Chinese Temple. The temple was established during the reign of Qing Dynasty's Emperor Jia Qing (1796 - 1821)". This certificate was presented by the Singapore Book of Records to the temple on 22 September 2012 (7th day of the 8th lunar month). It looks like the certificate could be an endorsement that Soon Thian Kieng is the first Chinese temple in Singapore.

The images of lotus found in the temple symbolise blessings.

I still do not know much about this temple. Yet visiting it marks the first step to become more aware of a part of the history of Singapore. I thank Mr Victor Yue for the invite, the temple's management for its hospitality, and Chan for guiding the tour.

Soon Thian Keing 
19 Lorong 29 Geylang
Singapore 388070
(view map)

Also see: (refer to pg 16, by Kevin F. Cox)
Malabar Street, from Bugis Street, 1982: general view (From the Lee Kip Lin Collection), PictureSG