October 28, 2008

inSingapore: The Peranakan Museum, October 27th 2008

Posted in Travel and Culture tagged , , , , , at 1:12 pm by myrlinn

It was Deepavali yesterday, and as is often the case on a major public holidays, people can  visit many of the museums in Singapore, absolutely free. And if you’ve read my blogs, you know how I love free stuff 🙂

So off my family went to the Peranakan Museum, newly opened in April this year. And it was as interesting as I expected.  I would definitely have to go again some other time, on my own, so that I can read and examine various items at my leisure.

The more memorable:

(1) Gallery 1 featured “faces” of many Peranakan people from all walks of life. I loved that — makes the whole museum relevant and gives an immediate impression of continuity to the Peranakan culture. Something I didn’t know before — that there are Indian Peranakan (Chitty) and Indian Muslim Peranakan (Jawi Peranakan).

(2) Letters written in Baba Malay. How interesting that it was a language used for correspondence, both informal and more formal among the Peranakan.

(3) Handwritten cookbooks by a nonya. Reminds me of how we used to write recipes when I was young — in ruled notebooks.

(4) I was also charmed by the capturing of the voices of many Peranakan people who tell of childhood memories, who talk about what the objects belonging to their forefathers mean to them, who tell of the various ways big and small they strive to continue traditional crafts like beadwork.

I won’t go into detail about the galleries — check out the museum website here for that.

What I do want to write about is my general impression of the museum. I thought it a well-conceptualised museum, with items tastefully displayed. The displays have a contemporary feel, with audiovisual and interactive elements, yet it doesn’t feel Disney-fied. A situation which I really appreciate. It’s not an easy balance to achieve these days with so many museums trying to attract crowds by making their exhibits more entertainment-focused. Also, the use of various anecdotes, recollections and comments/thoughts by members of the Peranakan community brought a warm human element. You really get the feeling that much passion went into the making of this museum. In short, a gem of a museum.

The only thing I was disappointed by: that there weren’t many people there, even though it was a free admission day. We went before lunch, so maybe it was too early in the day? I do hope that traffic increased later … I find it so sad that so many Singaporeans trek to museums overseas, but never to ones on their doorstep.

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