Sunday, April 28, 2013

Heritage on the Hill, 27 Apr 2013

One afternoon, I visited the Fort Canning Park to join the programme, Heritage on the Hill. This tour brings visitors to appreciate how Fort Canning Hill has changed through the centuries.

The meeting point for the tour was the courtyard of the Fort Canning Centre. Do you know that the Fort Canning Centre was originally constructed to serve as a British army barracks?

Fort Gate. Fort Canning Centre.

The next stop was Fort Gate. If you had participated in tour, you would see excitement on everyone's eyes. Our tour guide had a special key that could unlock a gate which would allow us to walk up to the second level of the fort gate.

Our enthusiastic tour guide shared with us the history of the Fort Canning Hill. This hill was known as Bukit Larangan (which means "Forbidden Hill" in Malay language) prior to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. We learnt that the current name of the hill, i.e. Fort Canning Hill, was named after Viscount Charles John Canning who was then Governor-General and the first Viceroy of India. As I do not know much about him so I read a wikipedia entry to learn more about him after the tour. Viscount Charles John Canning seemed to be a diligent gentleman.

What has left the deepest impression throughout this tour was the beauty of the trees! Our tour guide lovingly shared with us insights to tree appreciation. I learnt about epiphyte. Unlike a parasite which derives its sustenance from another plant, ephiphyte is a plant that grows upon another plant non-parasitically. I like the tour guide's analogy of seeing the ephiphytic plants that grow on each of the trees as plants that adorn and further beautifies each tree. 

I do remember the tour guide's sharing about the lighthouse (a replica of the original), the story of William Farquhar and more. However, what continued to stay in my mind was the beauty of the trees. Through the guide's highlighting of several heritage trees and many other trees, I could feel strongly the importance of trees. During the tour, I admired the beauty of the Flame of the Forest which is one of the heritage trees in the park. I also saw a magnificent Malayan Banyan tree and many other trees.

Flame of the Forest.

When the tour group was standing next to an Indian gooseberry tree (also known as the "Melaka tree"), other than learning that the fruit of the Indian gooseberry tree was high in Vitamin C, we also learnt about a popular legend of how Malacca has gotten its name. Malacca was named after a tree.

Through the tour guide's generous sharing about the features of the fig and the pollinations of fig trees by the wasps, I was further reminded of how intricate and complex Nature is. Seemingly small creature like a wasp could have such a vital role to play in the life-cycle of another living being, i.e. the fig.

I left the tour with more insights about the heritage of Fort Canning Hill. More importantly, it reminded me of the importance of trees. When the tour guide reminded us how interconnected we are to the trees, I could not help but recall an article that I have read via Facebook quite a while ago. The title of the article was "When Trees Die, People Die". So I shall end this post with words of gratitude to the trees in our planet Earth.

Thank you dear trees
For your beauty
For your timely shade that you have lent us
For the numerous gifts you have so generously offered us
Each breathing moment, shall we remind ourselves with gratitude
It was you trees,
Who have received the waste gas of carbon dioxide
And gave us the life-generating oxygen in return.

Ceiba pentandra. A "Kapok" tree.
Heritage on the Hill
27 Apr 2013, 4.00 p.m. - 5.30 p.m.
Meeting point: Courtyard in front of Fort Canning Centre
Please wear comfortable walking attire.

More about Fort Canning

Nature Tours and Walks organised by National Parks
For more information on tours and walks, please click here.
If you find this tour interesting, please find more information on the free guided walks of Fort Canning Park by clicking here (see "Guided Walks").

Friday, April 19, 2013

Adventures on The Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail

Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

14 Apr 2013 marked the launch of the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. I felt thankful that I could get myself registered for one of the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail guided tours that day. Before the start of the tour, I read through the first few pages of the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail brochure. It gave me a better appreciation of the history of Tiong Bahru.

The Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail brochure.

The gathering point of the tour was at the Tiong Bahru Community Centre. I learnt that the original Tiong Bahru Community Centre at Eu Chin Street in 1951 was a converted stand-alone air-raid shelter. It thought it was a ingenious way of making good use of the air-raid shelters.

The Tiong Bahru Community Centre.
67A Eu Chin Street.

The first stop of our tour was Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre. The current two-story building was reopened in 2006. I had the pleasure to visit the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre before the start of the tour. As I listened to the volunteer guide about how hawkers used to sell their food or produce at the Seng Poh Road Market which used to occupy the site of the current Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre, I was reminded of how much Singapore has changed over the past five decades.

Tiong Bahru Food Centre.

One of the stalls at Tiong Bahru Market.

During the tour, the volunteer guide shared that the name "Tiong Bahru" combined the words: "Tiong" meaning "to die" in the Hokkien dialect, and "Bahru" meaning "new" in Malay. I suppose this is an apt example that reflect Singapore as a multicultural society?

Participants who prefer to go on a self-guided heritage tour of Tiong Bahru will find the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail brochure a wonderful resource that will lend insights to the etymological roots of the name "Tiong Bahru".

No birdcage was seen.

At the next stop, we learnt that on a small plot of land where the Nostalgia Hotel now stands, there used to be a very popular pet bird shop. Across the road, where the Link Hotel now stands, there used to be a coffee-shop named Wah Heng, where customers are allowed to hang their birdcages which they enjoy their drinks at the coffee-shop. What a unique recreation activity that people of my generation has yet to experience. During the tour, we saw a metal structure that would allow bird owners to hang their birdcages on. However, except during special events such as bird-singing competitions, the metal structure was generally empty as the pet bird shop and the coffee-shop no longer exist.

Blk 55, the first block of Singapore Improvement Trust flats in Tiong Bahru.

The Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail included a visit to the graves of Tan Tock Seng, Mrs Tan Kim Ching and Wuing Neo. I had passed by the hillock facing Outram Road and Tan Boon Liat building several times, and I did not realize that it was the resting place of one of Singapore's early pioneers! What a discovery I have made that day!

At a distance, across the road, is the grave of Tan Tock Seng.

Grave of Mrs Tan Kim Ching.

The tour also brought us to the site of the former Institute of Health and the former site of the Coroner's Court. We also learnt about the Outram Prison and the Outram Park Complex. Till now, I could not figure out why the Outram Park Complex was demolished.

Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong Temple.

One of the stops of the tour was the Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong temple. This temple is dedicated to the Monkey King. I am intrigued at how a character from a 16th century classic fable, Journey to the West, could earn the worship of the devotees.

Notice the architectural style.

My favourite part of the tour was when the focus shifted to the architecture of the buildings in Tiong Bahru. I learnt that the pre-war flats were built based on a modified form of a style known as Streamline Modern, which was a late development of the Art Deco movement. Buildings of the Streamline Moderne style can be recognized by their simple and functional lines, flat roofs, curved shapes and rounded corners.

Blk 49 Kim Pong Road. The road was named after Low Kim Pong.

While the tour group admire the beauty of the architecture of the buildings in Tiong Bahru, our volunteer guide generously shared with us the stories of some of the notable personalities whose names were remembered through the street names of the Tiong Bahru estate.

Blk 78 Moh Guan Terrace.

One of our last stops of the tour was Blk 78 Moh Guan Terrace which was affectionately known as the "horse-shoe" block. This block is the only five-storey Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) blocks in Tiong Bahru and was the highest in Singapore when it was completed in 1940. At this very block, there is a pre-war air-raid shelter that can be accessed from the carpark compound. I learnt that the air-raid shelter can hold more than 1000 persons.

Please take note that the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail Guided Tour does not include entry to the air-raid shelter. To visit the air-raid shelter, please visit and register for the bimonthly air-raid tour on the first Saturday of alternate months starting Jun 2013.

Blk 78 Moh Guan Terrace and the carpark compound.

Overall, I have enjoyed my adventures on the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. Joining the trail gave me the perfect excuse to walk for about two hours and I thought that this was an interesting way to exercise and to learn something new.

Seng Poh Garden and the Dancing Girl Sculpture.

Monthly Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail Guided Tour
There will be monthly Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail every first Saturday of the month starting May 2013, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The gathering point will be at the Tiong Bahru Community Centre. The tours will be conducted in English.

There will a nominal fee of $2 for this guided tour and the proceeds will go to the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru Citizens' Consultative Committee Community Development and Welfare Fund (CCC-CDWF) to assist the needy residents.

For more information and to register for the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail guided tour, please visit

Tiong Bahru Community Centre
67A Eu Chin Street
Singapore 169715
Tel: 6223 0748, 6224 2967
Nearest MRT station: Tiong Bahru MRT station
(Within walking distance from the Tiong Bahru Market.)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

My visit to Enlightened Ways: The many streams of Buddhist art in Thailand

Bodhi tree.
Dvaravati culture, 8th century. Limestone.
From National Museum, Bangkok.

Enlightened Ways: The Many Streams of Buddhist Art in Thailand 
30 Nov 2012 - 17 Apr 2013 
Special Exhibitions Gallery
Asian Civilisations Museum Empress Place
1 Empress Place
Singapore 179555
Tel: (+65) 6332 7798, (+65) 6332 3275

My first visit to the exhibition, Enlightened Ways: The many streams of Buddhist art in Thailand, was in late Dec 2012. I did not check the time for the guided tour before making that visit and had missed the guided tour for that day. While the artefacts featuring Buddhist Art in Thailand appeared well crafted, I did not know how to appreciate them except for their pure aesthetic value.

I wasn't quite sure how to start appreciating the history of Buddhist art in Thailand. All I could figure out from the brochure was that Buddhism arrived from India to Thailand before the 5th century. I could not quite make sense of the significance of the artefacts on display during that visit.

On the right, Wheel of the Law.
Dvaravati culture, 7th or 8th century.
National Museum, Bangkok.

Feeling almost clueless after my first visit to Enlightened Ways: The many streams of Buddhist art in Thailand, I decided to make my second visit to the exhibition recently. I do not consider myself to be interested in Buddhist art because I do not understand enough about it to appreciate it. Nevertheless, I thought to myself that visiting the exhibition yet again is a way to enable myself to learn at least one thing new about Buddhist art in Thailand. Before that visit, I checked the museum's website for information on the guided tours to this exhibition. Here are the schedules:

Guided tours:
Meeting point: ACM lobby
English tour:
Tuesday to Friday: 12.30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday (starts 5 Jan 2013): 3.30 p.m.
Chinese tour:
Saturday and Sunday (starts 5 Jan 2013): 3 p.m.
Japanese tour:
Tuesday to Friday 1.00 p.m.
After the visit, I learnt that the Buddhist art in Thailand reflects a combination of elements of other religions (such as Brahmanism) and local customs.

If I have understood the guide well, I learnt that early Buddhist art did not focus on depicting the human forms. Instead, early Buddhist art focused on objects that would reflect the philosophy behind Buddhism.

Through this exhibition, I learnt that in Lopburi (central Thailand) from the 11th to 13th century, the concept of worshipping kings as gods was established. This concept was subsequently assimilated by the later Thai kingdoms.

There was a statue of a Walking Buddha from the Sukhothai kingdom from the 15th or 16th century that had captured my attention. The statue radiated an aura of calming peace. The form of the walking Buddha was crafted in a most refined manner such that my eyes perceived the statue to be walking and was able to come to a stand. I learnt from the guided tour that the form of the Walking Buddha was very common during the Sukhothai period.

Group of finials with the four-headed Brahma.
Rattanakosin period, 19th century.
Central storage, Office of National Museums.

The exhibition reminded me that Brahmanism, an early form of Hinduism, has had a profound effect on Thai art. I was told that sculptures of Hindu gods could be seen guarding Buddhist temples. Our guide shared with the participants interesting stories about a few of the Hindu gods, for example, Ganesha.

Buddhist art from the Rattanakosin period (1782 - present) appeared to reflect influences from China and Europe. Our tour guide highlighted to us an elephant seat from the Rattanakosin period. The design on the elephant seat clearly reflected Chinese motifs and influences. I learnt that the start of the 19th century, there has been increasing trade with China.

Even though I do not consider myself well-versed in Buddhist art after making two visits to this exhibition, I felt that I was more exposed and slightly more informed about Buddhist art in Thailand. My heartfelt appreciation to our guide as well as the various organizations who have made this exhibition possible. An exhibition that you could consider especially if you are open to learn about Buddhist art in Thailand. Check this out soon as this exhibition will end on 17 Apr 2013.