Malay Today

All the pampering and relaxation of the last couple of days must be starting to pay off, because we can’t for the life of us decide what to do today.  As it turns out we decided it wasn’t going to be much, and what could suit that requirement better than anything else?  Sitting on the sightseeing bus.

It’s actually something I’ve not done before in Singapore – apart from the special bus that drives you around to see the Christmas lights at the end of the year.  And it’s kind of nice.  It gives a different perspective on Singapore, seeing things from a different height.  There’s more scope to appreciate the amazing architecture and I even spotted things I must have walked past a million times and not noticed before.

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There are, as always roadworks going on – more additions to Singapore’s wonderful MRT system.  This time the roads around Little India are being dug up like there’s no tomorrow, and I wonder how far away it will be before the new route is completed?

When we arrive at Kampong Glam, otherwise known as the Malay Quarter, we jump off the bus to explore.  Although I have been here a couple of times before, I have not yet ventured inside the Malay Heritage Centre.  The beautiful wooden floorboards are a welcome relief to bare feet and as we pad through the rooms of what was the former Istana (royal residence) of the Sultanate of Singapore-Johor, we get to learn all about Singapore’s Malay heritage.

Built in 1819, the Istana now houses an array of historical artefacts which detail the many stories of the Malays.  From every day household items to musical history, this is another example of Singapore’s wonderful museum odes to its cultural background.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – museums are something that Singapore does incredibly well.

The museum is situated next to Sultan Mosque and to enter you pay your ticket entrance fee at the small pavilion next door to the Istana.  Visitors are then required to remove their shoes and leave them in the shelving outside.

One of the other incredible things we found today was something that had alluded me on previous visits to Singapore – the Civilian War Memorial.  The padang (the Malay word for ‘field) is a stretch of green located on the left bank of the Singapore River.  It was a popular place for people to meet and relax and had been a place of social gathers before the times of colonisation.  When the Japanese occupied Singapore during WWII, it was also the place where the Japanese hearded together the European population before marching them off to Changi Prison.

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The memorial was completed in 1967 on the site of the Padang in remembrance of those civilians killed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.  The design was selected in an open competition and was won by one of Singapore’s most renowned architects – Leong Swee Lim.  The four posts, sometimes referred to as the giant chopsticks locally, symbolise the four main cultures of Singapore:  Chinese, Eurasian, Indian and Malay.  The remains of unknown victims are buried beneath the memorial.

Don’t be Late Like the White Rabbit!

This morning we check out of the Dorsett and leave them holding our luggage, while we head to brunch at the White Rabbit in Dempsey.  Housed in an old chapel on the Dempsey grounds (an old British Army barracks and former site of Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, where her young men would commence their national service), the White Rabbit, which is themed on the story Alice down the rabbithole, has been extensively renovated and I like what they’ve done.  The old altar is now the inside bar, the confessional now the wine room.  The original flooring has obviously inspired the décor – comfortable grey looks with powder blue wooden chairs, and classy oak tables, simply adorned with single white carnations.  There is a beautiful bouquet of white lisianthus and other assorted white blooms, which is stunningly simple.  Even the toilets are stylishly simple.  Outdoors is the evening bar, the Rabbit Hole and again, this area has been stunningly decorated with a simple hand.

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The ever attentive staff make sure you glasses – wine or water – are never empty and your plates – once you have managed to eat the divine blessing which has been plated before you, is removed swiftly.  Brunch was a beautiful, laid back affair and I would love to come back here next time to sample their dinner affair.

I just can’t believe that so close to Orchard Road, is a place that seems to be in such a different world.  But I like it, and I’ll be returning to investigate it’s offerings a lot more in the future.

Delicately full from our late start to the day, we return to the Dorsett to collect our luggage and move on to our next hotel, the Crowne Plaza Changi.  Given our early morning flight tomorrow morning, we decided to make it easy (and slightly more expensive) on ourselves by staying at the Crowne Plaza Changi, right on the doorstep of Changi Airport.

It also makes the perfect base to show Dad a very important part of Singapore that he hasn’t seen before, and which I haven’t blogged about either.  It’s been several years since I visited the Changi Chapel and Prison Museum, the first visit when Mum and I intrepidly caught a bus out here to suss it out for ourselves.  This time though, we decide to do it with the help of an audio guide to obtain a different perspective rather than just reading the (very informative) information panels.

Nobody expected Singapore to fall during WWII.  It was a bastion of British safety and it was just inconceivable.  Even perhaps to the Japanese themselves, as indicated by this quote from Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s:

“My attack on Singapore was a bluff, a bluff that worked… I was very frightened that all the time the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting.” 
     1 Mar 1942

But fall it did.  General Percival was forced to surrender at the Old Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road (another sight I have yet to visit), which now houses the National Archives of Singapore.  And for three years it was under Japanese rule, even being re-named – Syonan-to – “light of the south”.  The Japanese ruled with terror and banana money until the end of the war.

Most surprisingly, and something which doesn’t come up often, was that there were around 400 women and children interned here at Changi.  Some of these women, many of them young and inexperienced were selected to be used at the whim of Japanese soldiers, a terrible sense of stigma and shame which would remain with them always.  There’s not a wealth of information about the Changi women, but you can see on display at several war museums around the world, including at the Australian War Memorial in the ACT, quilts made by the women, which included personal messages to loved ones.

Of course I came away with several books on the subject of Changi because you know all about me and books.  There were many to choose from, but I thought carefully and tried to choose several which I would hope would provide different viewpoints.  These were “Man of the Rising Sun” by James Sebastian, “Tales by Japanese Soldiers” by Kazuo Tamayama and John Nunneley and “Hiroshima” by John Hersey.  It’s always good to know all sides of the story!

We light a candle to remember those who suffered and died here and leave with the sobering experience lingering in our heads.