Singapore Part 2: Diving into Singapore’s past

So here I am back in Singapore. Thankfully my multi-media system on Singapore Airlines worked again so I watched Skyfall for the THIRD time (I needed something to quench my James Bond fatigue).

Singapore Zoo

My first trip was the Singapore Zoo and the River Safari. The River Safari was the new exhibit which I had never been to before, but I was not disappointed. There was a massive tank with many animals, including manatees and arapaimas. There were many different sections from many rivers around the world, including the Ganges, the Amazon, the Nile and the Mekong.

The zoo itself was mostly the same, except that sea lions replaced the manatees and there was a polar section with wolverines and a polar bear, who seemed to have half of Singapore watching him.

And now, I will count down my ten favourite animals from the zoo and safari in no particular order –

  • Matamata – This strange turtle disguises their body to blend into the Amazon river. The head is very strange and they suck up their prey like a hoover.
  • Alligator snapping turtle – My favourite turtle, this massive turtle has a beak and a spiky shell. The tongue looks like a worm so the prey is tricked
  • Gharial – It’s a gharial, what’s not to like? An amazing nose, huge size and the super awesome nose makes this my favourite crocodile.
  • Polar bear – I remember the bear being in the zoo ages ago but this is the first time I vividly recall. It’s great that a polar bear can be kept in Singapore.
  • Wolverine – The first wolverines I have seen (thankfully I haven’t come across one in the wild). They are vicious predators and will hunt anything.
  • Arapaima – A humongous fish the size of a small car. That is all.
  • Mekong giant catfish – The critically endangered catfish is the largest freshwater fish in the world.
  • Manatee – The manatees in the River Safari are probably the same ones from the zoo last time I was there. Still doesn’t block their awesomeness.
  • Chinese giant salamander – The fact that it is A) Giant and B) a salamander means I cannot not put the largest amphibian on the list.
  • Giant panda – The look speaks for itself. Pandas are amazing.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens was another place we visited. On the 4th of July this year, the Gardens was conferred as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site for Singapore. It is the first in Asia and is the third botanic gardens inscribed in the world following Orto Botanico di Padova in Italy and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

Singapore National Orchid Garden
Singapore National Orchid Garden

Singapore Botanic Gardens has got lots of trees and plants, but most importantly there was an entire garden – National Orchid Garden – dedicated to orchids, the Singapore national flower.

In the evening we went to the other garden location, Gardens by the Bay, a much more modern place with many artificial trees which light up. Many Singapore national songs were playing and the trees lit up with the tunes of them. The spectacular scene was very awe inspiring. There were lots of tourists admiring the views.

Changi Chapel and Museum

On Saturday, a famous local writer in Singapore, KL Lee, took us to Changi beach. He told us that the beach was where tens of thousands of Chinese people in Singapore were killed by the Japanese during the Second World War. It felt strange to be standing on the beach where lots of people died. Because we were near to Changi airport, we saw lots of planes flying past very low – so low that I could see what airplanes they were.

Historian KL Lee told us all about the mass killings on Changi beach during WWII.
Historian KL Lee told us all about the mass killings on Changi beach during WWII.

Our guide later took us to The Changi Museum. There were lots of information about Singapore’s role in the war, as Britain was forced to surrender it to the Japanese when they defeated the British, even though the British outnumbered the Japanese troops. The Changi site was used as a place to imprison thousands of Prisoners of War. The POWs were from many countries, including Malayan civilians, and Allied soldiers from Britain and Australia.

Replica of a Changi Chapel
Replica of a Changi Chapel

I found it fascinating to learn about the Singapore side of the war and just how big a loss the Fall of Singapore was to the British. British forces in Singapore surrendered to the Japanese on the 15th of February 1942. It was also interesting to learn about the significance of Singapore’s role in the war, and the aftermath of what happened. For example, the people under the Japanese rule were forced to accept the Japanese propaganda, and the local people suffered racism and violence by the Japanese, and tens of thousands of people were killed.
Changi Churches and Museum Changi Beach sand and box

In the afternoon, we visited the Japanese Cemetery Park, where Japanese civilians and soldiers who lost their lives in the battlefield or to illness were buried.

The Japanese Cemetery Park
The Japanese Cemetery Park

The Japanese Cemetery Park 7

The Lee Kuan Yew Musical

In the same evening, I saw the Lee Kuan Yew musical (The LKY Musical) with my cousin. Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s founding father and first Prime Minister. When he died on the 23rd of March this year aged 91, the whole country was in mourning. Mr Lee was a significant leader as he was Singapore’s prime minister for 31 years. His party was the PAP (People’s Action Party) which still runs the country now, and his son is currently Prime Minister. Interestingly I saw Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 2009 jogging, when we were having dinner with some friends outside a restaurant in the city centre. He was surrounded by about 6 guards. At the time I didn’t know who he was but my mum explained to me why he was so important.

The LKY Musical

It was a good idea to have visited the war museum first as the beginning of the play is about the Japanese occupation of Singapore. The rest of the musical is about how Lee Kuan Yew formed his own party to try and make a free Singapore away from Britain. While at first he wanted a combined government with Malaysia, he eventually realised that an independent Singapore was the best option. During the performance, they also used live footage of the real Lee Kuan Yew and BBC news report to explain certain historical events. This made the show more effective than just explaining a lot of information on stage. I find the history of Singapore to be incredibly rich.

I faced a dilemma in the performance though. At the end of the play suddenly everyone stood up for the national anthem. I, as a British person, debated what to do. Should I stay seated and risk offending people, or do I stand up even though it’s not my country? In the end, I decided to stand up along with everyone else.

Next time I’ll be in the poshest hotel in the world!

6 thoughts on “Singapore Part 2: Diving into Singapore’s past

  1. Ben, Thank for capturing almost every happening on 15 Aug (as you said, you remembered everything). Your attentiveness and chain of thought have enlightened me a lot.

    Incidentally this day 70 years ago, Japan made an announcement to stop the war in Asia. Singapore returned to peace again on the day of 15 August 1945.

  2. A really interesting post Ben. I knew a bit about the history of Singapore, but your post has made me want to go and find out more. I have a beautiful coffee-table book that looks at the history of the country, and includes hundreds of old photographs that show what Singapore looked like before and during the war. I think I’ll get it out and have a look at it.

    And I agree that you did the right thing by standing up during the National Anthem.

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