Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Singapore History & Art Museums, Wed 22.9.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 24, 2010

Our body clocks were still on Melbourne time so we started off our day in Singapore at five in the morning but loafed around in luxury and had a late breakfast. Even so, it was still comparatively cool (for Singapore) when we set out for our visit to the National Museum of History. It’s housed in the lovely building you can see at right, but has been recently renovated. We enjoyed ourselves, but in my opinion they have overdone the hi-tech at the expense of providing the visitor with any useful information. 

The visit begins with a long and utterly pointless tramp down a long pathway to the bowels of the building. It probably symbolises going back into the past, but for small children, the elderly or inform, it doesn’t offer anything except a long walk. There’s nothing to look at en route, and the welcome on the obligatory audio gadget was just annoying. 

Even more annoying is that when you get to the galleries there are no print explanations about the exhibits, only the audio which is slow and not particularly informative. For each gallery there is a dumbed down introduction, and then for each numbered item in a cabinet there’s more information if you program in the item number – but it’s a slow and tedious way to find out anything. Unless you’re prepared to stand there and load up each segment for each item you miss a lot, and there aren’t any serendipitous discoveries, which is one of the things I really like about museums. We came out not knowing much more about Singapore’s history than we did at the beginning (That is that it began as a trading centre, then became a British colony, followed by Japanese occupation, squabbles with Malaysia and Independence.) We much preferred the Asian Civilizations Museum which we visited last time. 

However, quite by accident, we then stumbled into one of Singapore’s best Chinese restaurants. We’d worn ourselves out by the time we’d walked to and around the museum and it was time for a late lunch – but the most prominent of the museum’s restaurants offered disappointingly European fare. Tucked away behind the obvious places is Chef Chan’s Restaurant, and it was here that we had the best Chinese food we’ve ever had. (And that includes a meal at the Flower Drum in Melbourne.) 

We couldn’t resist menu D, which offered the steamed sliced frog with red date and black fungus and ginger onion. It was a fascinating dish (though tricky to eat with chopsticks)   

Prawns with green beans

 

Frogs and fungus

 

 but it was the sauteed beef with snow peas, celery and black pepper sauce which really impressed. Perfectly cooked, and perfectly balanced in terms of texture and taste. A truly memorable meal. 

 

Our next stop was the Singapore Art Museum, housed in what used to be a massive boys’ school run by the De La Salle Brothers. It’s a young gallery so the focus is on contemporary artists and were most impressed by the exhibit of Cheong Soo Pieng’s works. He’s an extraordinarily versatile artist and his work is influenced by his travels throughout SE Asia. 

Back at Raffles to collect our bags we had a cocktail at the famed Writers’ Bar to while away the hours before our flight. The bar is a salute to writers who have stayed at or written about the hotel, my favourites being Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham George Bernard Shaw. It was in honour of these writers that on my first visit in 2005 I had bought a little souvenir key chain, and – having mislaid it, I was disappointed to find that I could not buy a replacement because they were no longer making them. 

When we were checking out and were asked if everything was satisfactory (how could it not be?!) I mentioned this disappointment as a joke. No problem, said the manager, and vanished off to the shop despite my protestations. He was back before long and produced one of these lovely key chains as a complimentary gift. It was the second-last one they had and it’s a collector’s item because they’re re-designing them. I’m going to take very good care of this one! 

It was all downhill from there. Changi airport has all manner or luxury goods for sale but the food hall for dinner between check-in and departure is very ordinary and we ended up picking at some rather dull sushi in a far corner of the airport. It was a very long day before we finally boarded our 11.05 flight to London…

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One Response to “Singapore History & Art Museums, Wed 22.9.10”

  1. That restaurant (and the key chain – how nice was that) sounds well worth the long day. I hope you got some decent rest on the plane over.

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