The Arts Science Museum


One thing about Singapore is that you have many many many malls… and fewer opportunities to access world-renowned art exhibitions. I’m not saying that there are no art exhibitions, just that when something worthwhile is out, it’s good to go have a look!

This week-end we decided to go see the expo “The Art of the Brick” at the Arts Science Museum.

The Art of The Brick

It was my first time inside the Arts Science Museum – you know, the flower-shaped building right next to Marina Bay Sands hotel. My first thought was that it’s a bit strange to have to walk through MBS to access the museum (either this or you have to swim across the river!), but maybe that’s just me being an non-Singaporean again 🙂 given that back where I used to live, museums are very rarely associated to hotels or shopping malls…

The Singapore Artscience Museum

I had heard of the “lego expo” through some friends who recommended it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I must admit I was a little put off by the price (15S$), but then again maybe I’m a little spoilt, since I’m used to free entrance to museums back in France…

But once I was inside, it was really quite interesting!! It’s amazing to see how much work the artist, Nathan Sawaya, has put into these pieces… Each art piece is at least a few thousands pieces of lego bricks and a few months of work! And the result is breathtaking!

The thinker - lego version

A blue man lost in his thoughts…

Breaking free

Breaking free… love this piece!!

There were also places in the exhibitions where you could try to build your own lego art masterpiece, which was fun! And it definitely encourages creativity and makes you realize what the artist is doing really takes some sense of perspective and a whole lot of patience… Not to mention knowledge of the human anatomy and body proportions, which it seems Nathan masters perfectly!

What I really liked is that the artist explored a variety of themes, and was really poetic about the way he presented it. I’m not a good art critic but I spent a great afternoon 🙂 Thank you Nathan!

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This visit also got me thinking… Why is it that in Singapore visitors like to leave with a picture of themselves? When we entered the expo we were asked to pose in front of a giant blank page holding a giant pencil, so that they could take a picture of us, and sell it to us of course.

I would think these are takeaways aimed at tourists, but it’s actually meant for locals! In the same way, there was an empty seat next to the blue-thinker-man, so that you can take a picture next to him…

Surprising – to me – but also quite fun if you get into the game!! … I guess maybe it’s a cultural thing 🙂 And I must admit sometimes I like to be part of this photo-photo game myself !!

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See Singapore Pass


Did you ever wish to visit the whole of Singapore in just a few days, but didn’t really feel like spending too much on it? Here’s a perfect deal for you! The See Singapore Attractions Pass.

It’s a card which gives you free and unlimited access to attractions and discounts in famous AND off the beaten track places of Singapore. There are different packages available so you can pick the one which best suits your needs. Go check out their cool website to choose the best option for you.

And together with the card, you will be given a paper brochure with details of the offers you are entitled to. You can enter for free to museums, visit famous parks, take part to fun and interesting activities and even get discounts at participating restaurants and outlets!!

Among the various activities available on the pass, here are two personal favourites:

The Original Singapore Walks are a great way to discover more about Singapore’s history and less known anecdotes. You might think that walking in Singapore is very tiresome because of the heat, but it’s actually quite pleasant. But most of all, the tour guides are very knowledgeable and willing to share their passion on Singapore’s history.

– The National Orchid Garden is really worth it. It is located inside the Botanical Gardens and allows you to discover a large number of different orchids. I had no idea there were so many different types of orchid before I went there!! Did you know that most of them are actually hybrid varieties crossed by men? Click here for more information on Singapore’s gardens.

The best thing about the See Singapore Pass is that no matter which activity you decide to go for, you can be sure it will be a success. The pass provides you with free access to quality tours and museums, as well as interesting activities (a trail up in the tree, a flight in the air, or even a slide down a snowy path!!)…

It’s ideal if you want to cover most interesting places in Singapore in just a few days, and really perfect if you have relatives visiting you in Singapore too. Definitely my favourite sightseeing pass in Singapore!

Singapore’s colonial heritage


You might be thinking, like many, that Singapore destroyed most of its old buildings to make way for skyscrapers and office towers… and that Singapore is something like this:

But can you spot the low old-looking building right in front of the towers? That’s the Fullerton Hotel. One of Singapore’s many colonial buildings that still exist today… Did you know that the Fullerton Hotel walls were built in 1928? That’s how old some pieces of history are in Singapore. It was once the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, before it opened as a hotel in 2001.

Another masterpiece of Singapore’s colonial heritage is the Raffles Hotel. It was in 1887 that it first opened its doors… and at that time it had only 10 rooms! And did you know that people say this is where the last tiger of Singapore was shot dead? In 1902 in the Bar & Billiard room…

Still today, the Raffles Hotel remains an iconic landmark of Singapore. You can go have a walk inside the hotel and have a look at the luxury shopping boutiques. The inside courtyard is also splendidly taken care of, and you can really feel the luxury and long history of the site when you wander around for a while. Of course, you shouldn’t miss out on the Long Bar, THE most famous place to have a Singapore Sling in Singapore… And you shouldn’t miss out on the Raffles Museum either !!

Last but not least, I would like to share with you one of my favourite things about Singapore… shophouses. They are a heritage of Singapore’s colonial era. Their structure is very simple : a shop or restaurant on the ground floor and a comfortable living space above. To give you a better idea of what they look like, here are some pictures:

Aren’t they beautiful? My favourite shophouses are located on East Coast Road. Their colours and detailed sculpted facades are simply gorgeous. You can find them basically anywhere in Singapore, like in Chinatown, Little India, or downtown around the Raffles Hotel, like on Purvis Street for instance.

Needless to say, Singapore has many hidden treasures. And unlike what people may think, she is still taking care of leftover pieces of her very valuable history!! The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) is the organisation in charge of preserving this beautiful heritage.

Chinatown


How can you go to Singapore and not go to Chinatown?

When Sir Raffles organised the city of Singapore, he determined zones for each ethnic minority. The Indians have what is today Little India, the Malays have the Kampong Glam area with Arab Street… and the Chinese have Chinatown.

Today, Chinatown is still mostly populated by Chinese people. You can go there very easily by MRT and experience a China-like atmosphere. If you really want to see the way some locals live, have a stroll around People’s Park Complex. It is a huge shopping complex – not very beautiful, but at least it will give you a taste of locals’ daily lives.

What is there to do in Chinatown?

Visit the area to begin with. When you step out of the MRT, simply walk around. Do not stay only on Pagoda Street (which is the most “touristy” street), but instead do feel free to take a turn and go into Mosque street, Temple street… Among Chinatown’s must-do, do not miss out on the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple (an Indian temple in Chinatown! That’s Singapore’s melting pot!), and of course the Chinatown Heritage Center – a wonderful Museum that will tell you everything about how Chinese migrants settled in Singapore. Also don’t forget to look up once in a while to admire ancient shophouses and Chinese lanterns!

Eat of course!! Hawker food in chinatown is not bad, I particularly enjoy their noodles. Try “food street” (which is actually Smith street) at night, or you can also go further to Maxwell Center too, where they serve excellent Chicken Rice !! However if you prefer to sit in a restaurant and enjoy the aircon, there are many restaurants in the area that you can choose from. A personal favourite would be Kok Sen Coffee Shop, on Keong Saik Road – their Chicken Claypot is simply to die for !!

Food street at night

And shop!! In Chinatown you will find lots of decorative objects and fun things for tourists to bring back to their home country… chopsticks, key chains, small buddha statues, scarves and so on. But you can also find Chinese medicine and herbs (check out Eu Yan Sang for instance), or refined jewellery and antiques on South Bridge Road. Other shopping options include chinese dresses (“cheong sams”) or tea. There are also a few designer boutiques if you go further to Ann Siang Road and Club Street, not too far away.

So don’t just walk through Pagoda Street and say there is nothing to see in Chinatown… you will soon find out this area is more interesting than you thought!

Singapore’s history


Singapore is an intriguing island… If you stop and think about it, it truly is one of a kind!

Of British colonial descent, it is now mainly populated by Chinese people living together with Malay and Indian people. From a simple fishermen’s port, Singapore has become a key financial hub and the world’s busiest harbour in terms of total shipping tonnage. And did you know that Singapore’s gain of independence from Malaysia was felt by all as a failure rather than a victory?

Here are a few key dates to help you better understand Singapore’s history:

13th century: A prince of the Malay empire founds the port of Temasek where Singapore now stands.

29th January 1819: Sir Stamford Raffles arrives in Temasek and establishes a trading post for the British East India Company. Raffles separates the city in different areas for each population and Singapore gradually becomes the centre of government of the Straits Settlements, a division of the British Empire. Singapore is a prosperous colony.

1939: World War II breaks out. On 15th February 1942, Britain’s “Jewel of the East” falls into the hands of Japanese invaders. Singapore is renamed “Syonan-to” (“light of the South”) and thus begins the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

1945: At the end of the war, the British return to Singapore but change the island’s status to a separate crown colony, allowing Singapore to hold its first elections.

1962-1965: In a referendum, Singaporeans vote for a merger with Malaysia. However, racial riots in Singapore makes the Malaysian Government very angry and on 7th August 1965, Singapore is declared independent. Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore’s Prime Minister, cries on television and seems to think Singapore’s fate is doomed… Racial and political tensions are very strong.

1980s: The PAP (People’s Action Party) wins all 75 seats in the 1980 General Election. Lee Kwan Yew’s role as the “nation’s architect” begins…

I really find Singapore’s history exciting and fascinating. If you have time to deepen your knowledge of Singapore’s origins, I would recommend you to visit the National Singapore Museum, or watch this Discovery Channel DVD recommended by a friend. Absolutely worth your time!!

An Asian melting pot?


I have often been asked whether Singapore is only inhabited by Chinese people… which shows how unfortunately little is known about the origins of Singaporeans.

There are three major communities living together on the island : Chinese (approximately 75%), Malays (14%) and Indians (9%). As you know, each community more or less has its own district, as a legacy from the British colonial governement in the 1820s – Chinatown, Arab Street and Little India. And added to these 3 major races, Singapore is also home to Eurasians (people of both European and Asian descent), as well as other mixed-cultured individuals (like Peranakans for instance, descendants of both Chinese and Malay cultures).

Peranakan Kebayas. They best represent the blending of Chinese and Malay cultures

To me, the cohabitation of different races is one of the key assets that Singapore has, both politically and culturally speaking. As you might have seen, it is a key theme adressed in political messages from the government (to strengthen the feeling of unity in one nation) and which allows Singapore to stand strongly as one. As for culture, what better proof of a sucessful melting pot than Singapore’s culinary delicacies ?

If you are interested in this subject, I would recommend to visit the Peranakan Museum as well as the National Museum of Singapore to get a better insight in Singapore’s multiculturalism.