Saturday, April 25, 2015

Heritage Grant Showcase: The DragonFire Singapore App



The DragonFire Singapore app that features a traditional wood firing in one of the last surviving dragon kilns in Singapore. It has been available for free download at iTunes app store since March 2015:

Are you curious to learn more about it?

During an upcoming event, the Heritage Grant Showcase, held on 2 May 2015 (Sat), 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. organized by the National Heritage Board, there will be a sharing session on the DragonFire Singapore app. The programmer and at least one member from the app's development team will be present to give demonstrations of the app in an informal show-and-tell session.



If you are interested, please visit the National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre (Basement One) on 2 May 2015 anytime from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. to learn more about the DragonFire Singapore app. Admission to this event is free.

Heritage Grant Showcase: The DragonFire Singapore app
2 May 2015, Sat
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road
Singapore 178897
Gallery Theatre (Basement 1)


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Also read DragonFire Singapore: The free app featuring traditional wood firing in one of Singapore's dragon kilns.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum Opens!

The Lee Kong Chian Naural History Museum.


On 18 April 2015, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM), Singapore's first and only natural history museum was officially opened by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, President of Singapore and Chancellor of NUS! It is the day that many of us have been waiting for: the opening of Singapore's natural history museum.

This wall greets all visitors at the main entrance of the LKCNHM.


What has eventually led to the establishment of this very natural history museum is in my humble opinion a series of meaningful coincidences, i.e. synchronicity. The core collection of this museum also has a very intriguing story to tell.


Dr Kevin Tan's Of Whales and Dinosaurs.


Dr Kevin Tan's book, Of Whales and Dinosaurs: The Story of Singapore's Natural History Museum, reveals the heartwarming story of the creation of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and how individuals have came together and overcame the odds to protect our natural history heritage. The book also traces the story of the Zoological Collection which forms the core of the collection at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.


This is one of my favourite items on display at the LKCNHM.
A beautiful design to acknowledge the generosity and kindness of the founding benefactors of the museum.

Do you remember?
To jolt your memory, do you remember a time in 2009 when the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research took part in the International Museum Day 2009?

A more spacious Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum compared to its predecessor,
the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.


I recall reading from news feeds that the response was overwhelming when the museum opened its doors on 24 May 2009 for the above-mentioned occasion. Subsequently, I vaguely recall that a member of the public wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page highlighting the lack of space and the inaccessibility of the museum's location. The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research's predicaments were made known publicly.

A link to the museum's past. LKCNHM.


A series of events followed and these culminated in the decision to build Singapore's permanent natural history museum. In view of the substantial support of the Lee Foundation, it was eventually decided that the new museum would be named the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, after the founder of the Lee Foundation.

A trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaur fossils, Prince, Apollonia and Twinky,
on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.


The museum that is made possible because people care enough for our natural history
I did not quite follow all the related news yet I recalled there were an overwhelming number of members of the general public pledging our support to establish Singapore's own natural history museum. Subsequently, there was a call for donation to purchase of the fossils of a family of three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs. In essence, the natural history museum that we now know as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is a museum that is endorsed and supported by the people.


A photo that was taken on 16 Jan 2013.
The plot of land where the Estate Office had vacated is now the site of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.


Anticipating the opening of LKCNHM
The work on building the museum began in January 2013. Since then, every time when I visit my alma mater, the National University of Singapore (NUS), I will look at the plot of land where the Estate Office had vacated, anticipating the eventual opening of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is nearby the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the NUS Museums.

The day that I have been waiting for has come. Thanks to N. Sivasothi, I was referred to write in to Prof Peter Ng, Head of LKCNHM, to request for permission to be granted a preview of the museum. My request was granted! Dr Joelle Lai was my host for the visit. I am thankful to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for granting my request.

Apollonia. LKCNHM.

A preview of the LKCNHM
It brings me much pleasure to share a preview of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum from my visit on its opening day. The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will be opened to the public from 28 Apr 2015, Tuesday, 10.00 a.m.

Section on Plants: Specimens of plants were preserved by mounting them on individual herbarium sheets.


The Biodiversity
As a guest walked into the first level of the museum, he will embark on a journey to experience biodiversity of life forms on Earth, with a focus on native and Southeast Asian flora and fauna. Some of the highlights, according to the museum's brochure, include the slice of the Changi Tree, the Sea Mouse, the Mosaic Reef Crab, the Orange-spotted Grouper, the Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel and the Golden Babirusa. I was simply fascinated with the extensive collection! There are such much to discover at Level 1 of the museum that I think a regular visitor will be willing to make repeated visits to the museum.

A slice of the Changi Tree.
Learn about the ill-fate of this tree during your visit to the museum.

Section on Mammals: Can you find the Golden Babirusa and the Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel?


The Heritage
For the visitors who prefer to delve into the museum's nostalgic past and discover the museum's history and Singapore's geology, they will set themselves on their preferred journey by walking up the stairways to the next level of the museum.


Take the stairways up. LKCNHM.


Historically, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum inherited its natural history collection from its predecessor, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (established in 1998) whereby one part of its two main collection of specimens was that of the Zoological Reference Collection (formally opened on 31 October 1988). The Zoological Reference Collection stems from the original Raffles Museum which was renamed the National Museum of Singapore in 1965.

Leatherback Sea Turtle. LKCNHM.


My host for the visit specifically pointed me to the specimens of the Leatherback Sea Turtle and the Wallace's Asian Brown Flycatcher. The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest extant turtle species in the world. The very specimen in the museum is the only recorded sighting of this species in Singapore. Visit the museum and find out where and when it was caught. The latter, the Wallace's Asian Brown Flycatcher was part of Alfred Russel Wallace's collection. Learn more about Wallace's visits to Singapore and how his visits to this region has contributed to his conception of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Wallace's Asian Brown Flycatcher. LKCNHM.


The Lee Kong Chian Natural Museum History is the museum for the general public, the scientists and students to appreciate and learn about the biodiversity of the Southeast Asia region over time.

Visiting the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum yet again
I have already booked the ticket to my next visit to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. While the museum will only be opened to the public from 28 April 2015, 10.00 a.m., sales of the tickets to the museum are already available online! I have made my date with the dinosaurs once again. Have you? You can book your tickets here: http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/lkc2015

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Visitors' Information
Please take note that there will be no sale of ticket at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Admission to the museum is strictly by session timing only. This is to facilitate a conducive viewing experience. It is recommended that visitors to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum could purchase and collect your ticket at your preferred SISTIC outlet before your visit to the museum. NUS students and staff can apply for complimentary tickets to the museum.

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
National University of Singapore
2 Conservatory Drive
Singapore 117377

Website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lkcnhm
News from LKCNHM: http://lkcnhm.net
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lkcnhm

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday, including public holidays
10 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. (six sessions of 1.5 hours)
Last admission at 5.30 p.m.
All visits must be pre-booked through SISTIChttp://www.sistic.com.sg/events/lkc2015

Note: The time limit of each ticket is an administrative guideline for the sale of tickets to control the crowd in the 2000 sqm exhibition space. Guests would not be turned away the minute their ticket's time limit runs out.

Organized groups that require guided tours can email nhmlearning@nus.edu.sg
Separate fees will apply for guided group tours.

Standard Admission Rate:
Adult: S$20 each
Child (3 - 12 years old): S$12 each

There is a discounted local rate for Singapore citizens and Singapore Permanent Residents:
Resident rate for adult: S$15 each
Resident rate for child, student, senior citizen, full-time national serviceman, person with disabilities: S$8 each.

Tickets can be purchased via SISTIC.

NUS students and staff can apply for complimentary tickets via https://myaces.nus.edu.sg/CoE/ subject to the availability of tickets.

Note: The price of the admission ticket excludes SISTIC booking fee.

Nearest MRT stations: Kent Ridge (Circle Line), Clementi (East-West Line)

Bus services: 96, 151
The NUS internal shuttle bus service D2 (loop service) will ply between the Kent Ridge MRT station and the LKCNHM. Please take note that frequency of this internal shuttle bus service can vary from 5 minutes to 30 minutes depending on the time of the day and whether the date of visit is during the academic semester.

The museum is relatively dry due to humidity and temperature control. Visitors could consider keeping themselves adequately hydrated before and after their visit to the museum.

Do visit The Museum Shop. Copies of Dr Kevin Tan's Of Whales and Dinosaurs: The Story of Singapore's Natural History Museum are available for sale there. Get yourself or a loved one a souvenir if this could help make your visit even more complete.

The Museum Shop. LKCNHM.


***
In the meantime, please stay tuned to the blog-report of my next visit to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Please also watch this video by Channel NewsAsia Singapore, A Night At The Museum. Dawn Tan spends a night at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which opens to the public on 28 April 2015. I think it is well-produced.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour: Experience the transformations of the Queenstown Community



Queenstown has the distinction of being the first satellite estate in Singapore. However, I did not grow up in Queenstown and so I have limited memories of such a historically significant place in Singapore. I am often curious what makes Queenstown such a special place in the hearts of many others.

A new heritage trail!
When I received an invitation from My Community, The Other Sites of Singapore (TOSS) and Queenstown CCC to attend a media preview of Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail, I gladly took up the invitation despite a tight schedule.

I perceived the heritage trail to be an avenue for me to learn more about Queenstown, a place in Singapore that I was unfamiliar with. I have had a positive experience when I attended another My Queenstown Heritage Trail, the Duchess and Tanglin Hal Guided Tour, in July 2014, so I felt confident that the Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail will turn out to be positive too. My gut feelings proved to be accurate.



My Queenstown Heritage Trail
The start of the tour held on 4 April 2015 was at the Queenstown MRT station. Each of the participants were issued a copy of latest reprint of the booklet titled My Queenstown Heritage Trail (published by My Community in Feb 2015) and were handed a gadget called Vox Radioguide. The Vox Radioguide enabled participants to listen to the tour guide's commentaries via earpieces even when he was a distance away.

I learnt that the Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour will be conducted on the last Saturday of the month, from 9.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. with the meeting point being the Queenstown MRT station. The excitement to be one of the first participants on this new heritage trail proved to be motivating enough to sustain me to walk on foot for more than two hours.

Near Margaret Drive.

Once a military camp
Our tour guide for a morning of adventures about the Dawson and Alexandra location clusters was Lip Sin. Our first stop was outside the Church of the Good Shepherd. I learnt that the the development of Queenstown commenced in 1952. We were introduced to the history of Queenstown before the development had began. Interestingly, there used to be a British military camp, known as Buller Camp in the area where Queenstown sits. Buller camp was cleared in 1953 for the development of Queenstown housing estate.

Church of the Good Shepherd.

The churches in Queenstown
There are nine churches in the Queenstown housing estate. Church of the Good Shepherd is one of them. The remaining eight churches are Queenstown Baptist Church, True Way Presbyterian Church, Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Faith Methodist Church, Queenstown Chinese Methodist Church, Queenstown Lutheran Church, The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship Queenstown and Church of Our Saviour. Queenstown somehow felt like a European-like town to me simply by its high representation of churches.



The streets' names in Queenstown
What had intrigued me was that most of the streets' names in Queenstown have some connections with the British Royal Family, especially Queen Elizabeth II, who was also Head of the Commonwealth. The clue has been given so enjoy making a good guess on the origins behind each of the streets' names of Queenstown. I wonder if I would be able to unravel the origins of the streets' names of Queenstown by referring to Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (by Savage and Yeoh)?



14-storey - the former Forfar House
Our next stop was the site of the former Forfar House. It was commonly referred to as Chap Si Lau (14-storey) simply because it was once Singapore's tallest public residential building standing at 14-storey. It was officially opened on 24 Oct 1956 as a flat under the Singapore Improvement Trust.

From its colloquial name, I would infer that the height of the former Forfar House did impress many of its residents back in 1956. It would have been rare to see a 14-storey flat back in those days? The former Forfar House had modern sanitary system. It was subsequently demolished in 1996 to make way for the 30 to 40-storey Forfar Heights cluster.



During the tour, we had the privilege to listen to accounts given by residents who have been living in the area for years. I vaguely heard that it was typical of the low-rise buildings in Princess Estate to be fitted with blue glass windows. I wondered how they had looked like? A quick glance at the windows of the flats of the current Forfar Heights cluster could lend an impression. To gain deeper insights, we were referred to read Dr Tan Kok Yang's book, From the Blue Windows.



Princess House
One of our stops during the tour was the seven-storey Princess House. I was attracted to the simplicity of its architectural design. It looked beautifully functional from a distance, doesn't it? I learnt that it was previously used as the new office for the then Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). Subsequently, it became the first dedicated headquarters for the Housing and Development Board (HDB). In 1972, the Ministry of Environment took over the premise and an adjacent four-storey complex.

One of the tour participants, Mr Chew, shared his memories working previously at Princess House. Another of the tour participants, Mr Seah, spoke about Princess House being used previously as the headquarters for the Housing and Development Board. I felt I was very lucky to be in a tour group with people who have so much memories of Princess House to share. It was at this stop at the Princess House that we were told of the Hock Lee Bus Riot.

Princess House.


Remnants of its military past?
As mentioned much earlier, there used to be a military camp where the Queenstown now stands. The heritage trail brought us participants to a place that was accessible via Kay Siang Road, near the previous location of the former Hua Yi Boys Chinese Middle School. After walking along narrow and steep footpaths, we saw what looked like bunkers. What had these structures been used for? Our tour guide shared with us that research has began so as to learn more about these remnants of the area's military past.

At the site of the former Hua Yi Boys Chinese Middle School.

We were advised not to visit these bunkers on our own without a guide, unless we have received proper commando training. I felt thankful that the organizers of the heritage trail have put in painstaking efforts to ensure the safety of its participants.





Tiong Ghee Temple
The visit to Tiong Ghee Temple caught my interes because I was curious to learn about Boh Beh Village which is loosely translated as "no tail river (stream)". The current Tiong Ghee Temple was built in 1973 to replace the previous old village temple at Boh Beh Kang that was demolished in 1968 for the development of Mei Ling estate.



Many thanks to the organizers, tour participants learnt from two gentlemen about the temple's past and about Boh Beh Kang. Indeed, this temple serves as a reminder of Queenstown's past.

Tiong Ghee Temple


The Butterfly Block
By the time that the trail brought us to Block 168A Queensway which is commonly referred to as the Butterfly Block, I was admittedly feeling slightly overwhelmed by the rich history of Queenstown area that the tour was filling me in with. It was a wonderful problem because that was precisely what I had signed myself up for!

We learnt from one of its first residents, Mr Paul Fernandez (b. 1940), that the Butterfly Block was designed to look like a a butterfly that is flying around. The Butterfly Block has interesting curves for its facade. Yet, if you were to ask me, I prefer the simplicity in design of the Princess House instead.

The Butterfly Block.


Mr Fernandez and his family moved into Block 168A Queensway in 1975. He revealed that in those days "finding accommodation was like finding a needle in the haystack". His words reminded me to appreciate even more deeply the fact that I was one of the beneficiaries of Singapore's public housing policies. The policies and the good implementations enabled my parents to secure affordable housing so that my family's needs for accommodation have been effectively met after my birth.





Queensway Shopping Centre and so forth
Mr Fernandez shared with us that there used to be a popular Jumbo Coffee House that was located inside the Queensway Shopping Centre. It was a popular night spot to gather at.

While walking from one point to another, I had the pleasure to learn from one of the tour participants, Mr Lam, who blogs at Good Morning Yesterday about his memories of Queensway Shopping Centre. We can read more about his memories of the Queensway Shopping Centre at this blog-post titled Memories of Queensway Shopping Centre.



Our trail also introduced us to the former Archipelago Brewery Company that used to be located along Alexandra Road, the Alexandra Fire Station, the Hong Yin Hill and the Hong Lim Hill.

Previously Hong Lim Hill, if I have remembered correctly.

Alexandra Hospital and the Normanton oil dept
The visit to Alexandra Hospital made my heart sank. Although it was not my first time learning about the massacre that had happened at Alexandra Hospital on 14 Feb 1942, listening to the accounts of the massacre still made my heart feel heavy. War atrocities cannot be tolerated.



Opened in 1940, the Alexandra Hospital was formerly the British Military Hospital. It was the hospital with the most-advanced facilities in Singapore and Malaya when it was opened.  It had served as the principal hospital for Britain's Far East Command during World War II until the Japanese occupation.



While we were at the Alexandra Hospital, we have had the privilege to take many glances of the entrances to the tunnels at the hospitals. Our tour guide shared with us that from Aug 2015, future participants of the Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour are likely to have the opportunity to walk into these tunnels.




We also learnt during the heritage trail that the empty field in the direction behind the Alexandra Fire Station was the site of the British army's Normanton oil depot. In a vain attempt to stop the advancement of the Japanese soldiers back in Feb 1942, the oil silos of the oil depot was set on fire. Unfortunately, the fire had also engulfed the nearby villages and the retreat of the defending Malay Regiment.

After WWII, the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) acquired the land which the Normanton oil depot had sat on from the War Department to build the Queenstown's Neighbourhood V. The neighbourhood was demolished in 1988 and is now an empty field.




The transformations of Queenstown
I marvelled at the significant transformations that Queenstown area has went through. It used to be an agricultural area with people living in attap huts before the war in 1942. Today, it is one of the most popular housing estates to live in. The public housing in Queenstown are equipped with modern sanitary facilities. The flats provided accommodation and comfort to the residents of Queenstown.



In my humble opinion, the Duchess and Tanglin Halt guided tour highlights the charms and the important milestones that are found in Queenstown whereas this Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour focuses on Queenstown's military history, the accounts by the residents and more importantly, the transformations of Queenstown over the span of about five decades.

This is a tour that I felt thankful to attend. It lent me to more insights of the Queenstown estate. Many thanks to the organizers and the volunteer tour guides for making this heritage trail possible.



Tips for participants of the guided tour
  • Participants are requested to arrive 10 minutes before the start of the trail.
  • To enjoy the tour better, it will help to bring along a bottle of water, an umbrella (or raincoat) and insect repellent. 
  • This tour asks of its participants to travel over long distances outdoor on foot. Please wear comfortable footwear and clothing.
  • I think it will be very helpful to bring a torch for use during the visit to the military bunkers.
  • In the event of a heavy rain, the heritage walk may be cancelled. If there will be a cancellation of the tour, participants will be notified an hour before the trail via email or SMS.
  • This trail may not be suitable for young children.
  • The guided tours are limited to 50 participants per session on a first come, first served basis.

Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour
Last Saturday of the month
9.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m.
Meeting Point: Queenstown MRT station

Please register for the guided tour at:
http://www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg
myqueenstown@gmail.com 
or call Queenstown Community Centre at Tel: 64741681.

Please also visit:
https://www.facebook.com/myqueenstown
http://www.mycommunity.org.sg
https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Others-Site-Of-SingaporeTOSS/184868458195857

As of 4 Apr 2015, I was told that all 900 tickets for the upcoming monthly My Queenstown Heritage Trails in 2015 were sold out! The next available tour is in year 2016. May patience be well-rewarded.

Participants who are unable to sign up for the trails are asked to email myqueenstown@gmail.com with your name, contact number, three preferred dates and the number of tickets. This is to request to be put on waiting list.

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References:
http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_404_2005-01-18.html
Lam Chun See's Memories of Queensway Shopping Centre (Good Morning Yesterday)

You may also like to refer to:
Good Morning Yesterday, Lam Chun See's Queenstown related blog-posts 
Boh Beh Kang - River without an end, by Thmbuktu, Blog to Express
My Queenstown Heritage Trail: The charms of the Queenstown Community, by yours truly.
The History and Biology of Kent Ridge Park, by H.T.W. Tan, T. Morgany and Tan Kai-Xin.

Other online articles on the Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour:
New heritage trail showcases Queenstown's past, Channel News Asia.
My Queenstown Heritage Trail - Dawson and Alexandra Tour, by Lam Chun See, Good Morning Yesterday.
Mystery of the "Gold Rush" at Queenstown, by Thimbuktu, Blog to Express.
Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour (My Queenstown Heritage Trail) - Part I, by Rojak Librarian.
Dawson and Alexandra Tour, by PChew.
The Dawson and Alexandra Footprints in Queenstown, by Johnny Chen, Ghetto Singapore.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

4 Apr 2015: The launch of the Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour

Princess House


4 Apr 2015 (Sat) marks the launch of the second trail to be launched in Queenstown, after the previous Duchess and Tanglin Halt guided tour. The name of the newly launched trail is the Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour. This new heritage trail is being organised by civic group My Community, Queenstown Citizens' Consultative Committee and urban explorer group, The Other Sites of Singapore.



The trail focuses on Queenstown estate's military history and the stories of residents. We learnt about Boh Beh Kang, Buller Camp and more.



One of the sites related to Queenstown's military history.

The Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour will be held on the last Saturday of each month, 9.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. starting in May 2015. The meeting point is at Queenstown MRT station. To register for the guided tour, please visit http://www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg or call the Queenstown Community Centre at Tel: 64741681. For group or corporate tours, please email myqueenstown@gmail.com.

Please watch this blog for my blog report on my experiences on this new tour. It will be released soon.