Malay Heritage Centre: A peek behind the colonial veil

The building housing the Malay Heritage Centre and the Centre's sign in the foreground.We want to take advantage of living in Singapore so I have a spreadsheet listing all the things we want to see and do. During the week I prepare the weekend’s itinerary. On Saturday morning we don our walking shoes, grab our public transport cards and set forth.

The Malay Heritage Centre was on last weekend’s itinerary. We have had our serve of British colonial history at other museums. This museum is for those who want to get beyond ‘the founder of Singapore’, Sir Stamford Raffles and his landing in Singapore in 1819. Like any British colony, Singapore has a much longer history, and it wasn’t British.

The building which houses the Malay Heritage Centre was the former istana, or palace, of the Sultan of Johor and Singapore. As the design of the building shows, it was built during colonial times in the nineteenth century.

Visitors are first directed upstairs and enter the map room. As the writing on the wall explains to visitors, maps are not merely pictures conveying facts. They are subjective representations that reveal the attitudes and goals of the creator of the map. A map is a summary and the choices of places to represent and the names to give them reveals much.

At the National Museum of Singapore we had learned how the British and Dutch drew a line through south-east Asia and determined which colonial ruler would govern the two segments. Through this process the British acquired what would become known as Malaya and Singapore.

The map room lifted the colonial veil and gave us a peak into Singapore as experienced by the Malays through history. Through Australian history we know that the history of a place does not start with colonial rule no matter how much traditional histories of the nation may give that impression. I came to the Malay Heritage Centre because I wanted to go beyond the colonial perspective and learn about the greater history.

Through maps visitors learn how Singapore belonged in the region called the Nusantara. The Heritage Centre’s map showed the Nusantara region covered the hundreds of islands in the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos and islands such as Singapore, Timor, Borneo etc. There were significant trading routes throughout this region and hence strong cultural and political connections.

There was both a regional and a local focus in this room. The Malay Heritage centre is located in the area of Kampong Glam which the British, who were assiduous in their racial classification and  ordering of people, designated as a Malay and Muslim quarter. We spent some time viewing a map on a table that had overlays beamed down via a projector demonstrating the changes in urban development in this area over time.

The map room at this Centre is beautifully and effectively presented. The following rooms kept up the standard. I’ll highlight just some of them. Continue reading

Singapore Workflow

Desk with three computer monitors on it (and a few other things).Gradually I am developing a work routine here in Singapore. After moving from Sydney I travelled to Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart visiting relations before flying to Singapore. For five weeks I had been living out of a suitcase and in temporary accommodation. It is so good to finally have a place called home.

I work from the study in our apartment. My desk was made by my father who made furniture as a hobby. It is made out of my father’s favourite wood, Black Bean. This tree grows in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

This desk is where I will be doing most of the research and analysis for my book. It is from here that I will search and analyse the diaries of World War I using Python programs that I have written, spreadsheets and other tools. It is from this desk that I will trawl the internet for other resources and references.

My book will be the result of a union of three skills – writing, research and technical. The three monitors on my desk are wonderful work tools. They enable me to work efficiently and think through research and technical issues. Continue reading

Bombs, Clothes Lines and Jeeps

A partially opened door to our bomb shelter.

The entrance to our bomb shelter, note the ventilation hole above the door.

Our apartment in Singapore is like most apartments in Australia but one corner of it is quite different.

We have a bomb shelter.

Yes, our nine-year old apartment has a fair dinkum bomb shelter. This is because all apartments in Singapore are required to have a bomb shelter under Singapore’s Civil Defence Shelter Act 1997.

As you can see from the thick door and walls, this room is designed to withstand a blast.

The bomb shelter is the strongest place in the apartment so when an explosion hits the idea is that the building crumbles but the bomb shelter stands strong. The shelters in a building are placed on top of each other for reinforcement. You might be 23 stories in the sky with a sheer drop outside your bomb shelter door but you are safe, albeit squashed in a small, dark room on top of a lot of other small, dark rooms. Continue reading

History in the Building at the National Museum of Singapore

I find buildings interesting, not the rectangular glass and concrete blocks which plague cities world-wide, but buildings that have a story. The building may demonstrate thought in its design or it may have been a place where people made stories which changed their society at the time or which we are interested in today.

The building housing the National Museum of Singapore is one of those buildings. On the weekend we travelled through the concrete and glass buildings that dominate the roads of Singapore and there it was – a statement of Singapore’s British colonial past.

White building with dome on top.

The National Museum of Singapore.

It was opened in 1887 and has been extended and modified several times since. Most recently it was closed for over three years in the early years of this century for extensive renovation and expansion. Continue reading

Some Exciting News!

Stick in sand with footsteps sunk in sandYou may have noticed that my blog posts have been sporadic of late. This is because my life has been in turmoil.

I am writing this on the day that I am leaving Australia for Singapore. Hubble has a great new IT job and I am very happy to move to a new place and new cultures while still doing what I do online. An international move is complicated enough but then an unexpected thing happened.

The paper I delivered to the Australian Historical Association conference in Brisbane was received very well. Unexpectedly I have now landed myself the task of writing a book.

This all happened in the last month we were to be in Australia. So in the midst getting rid of a heap of stuff from our house via Gumtree, visiting four states to catch up with family and deliver stuff and more, I have been working out how to manage the research and writing of an Australian history. Continue reading