To any of you out there who are particularly good at maths I know you will, at this moment, be thinking ‘hang on one second, this is post number 8, not 7’. And you are right. But eight doesn’t start with an ‘s’, and before this post there were only seven on the blog. So there. Besides, seven is a particularly special and spectacular number, especially when used in relation to Strictly. (And if you have no idea what I’m babbling on about then you are no longer welcome here, go home and come back only when you’ve figured it out.)
Anyway, now that’s out of my system, let’s get on with the real reason for this post, which has absolutely nothing to do with the number 7 (except maybe that the events occurred on the 27th, but that’s stretching it a little). This week, full of horror at the fact that my weekend was fast drawing to a close, I visited the Asian Civilisations Museum in Clarke Quay. I saw the impressive building from the previous weeks’ boat trip and decided that it was definitely worth a visit.
From its position on the river, and its imposing facade, you would think that this was the national museum, but it actually isn’t, rather it chronicles the history of the Asian subcontinent and its people from the distant past up until the modern day. Being European I know shamefully little about the history of Asia, and with the exception of the British Museum there aren’t a lot of chances to learn about it through historical artefacts in England. Therefore, I was excited to expand my knowledge a little bit more, and indulge my passion for history in general.
Normally the museum charges an admission fee, but the combination of Singapore’s 50th year of independence and the fact that two of the galleries are being renovated means that it is currently free. Although I relish every chance to not spend money it was a shame as the closed West Asia galleries included the Chinese and Indian exhibitions which I would have liked to see. Just another place I’ll have to go back to I guess! Despite the limited exhibits we were not perturbed, and turned up in time to go on one of the twice-daily, volunteer led tours. I’m not one to usually take a guided tour of a museum, but in this case I’m glad that I did, as the diversity of the exhibits and the rich history that surrounded each one would have been impossible to take in without someone weaving a narrative around them.
As is so often the way with civilisations the majority of the museum exhibits were religiously oriented, but it was fascinating to see ancient statues of Hindu deities and dozens of likenesses of the Buddha. I won’t re-hash the tour here, but I learned a lot of fascinating things, including the fact that a lot of statues of the Buddha are decidedly Greek looking because the religion was adopted by the followers of Alexander the Great after they settled in Asia. Actually, there are a lot of interesting tidbits about the foundation and spread of Buddhism in Asia, it’s not a religion I’ve been exposed to in the past and it turns out its one of the oldest, and most fascinating. Of course, back in ye olden days only the wealthy and powerful followed organised religions, the tribes and peasants who had never had any contact with the belief systems of their rulers continued to practice centuries old customs. Bringing us to one of the most disturbing exhibits in the museum, a case filled with artefacts from local tribes of ‘head hunters’. Unlike the modern day adopters of the term these ‘head hunters’ used to go into neighbouring villages and decapitate the men of rival tribes before bringing their heads back, removing the flesh and carving the skull so it could be displayed outside the village. One such skull is on display in the museum, alongside a shield used in battle by a man of one of the ‘head hunter’ tribes, decorated with human hair from the skull. Pretty dark stuff. Other exhibits include statues and depictions of various Hindu gods and the vessels they use for transport, and more modern examples of religious life. One such exhibit details the festival of Thaipusam which continues to this day, and was actually celebrated in Singapore today (February 3rd). Thaipusam is an annual Hindu festival dating back centuries which honours the deity Lord Murugan (the Hindu god of war). The festival is marked by a procession where devotees carry kavadis (a physical burden, generally made of wicker and used to carry offerings to the temple) by practicing body mortification. In other words they pierce themselves with dozens of hooks in order to carry a huge weight and demonstrate devotion. It’s a fairly horrible looking ritual that its difficult to believe is still practiced.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at the museum, and the guided tour in particular brought it all to life. Post-museum we wandered along the river to Boat Quay, passing more unnecessarily weird statues including one that appeared to be a modern day female lawyer arguing with a Buddhist monk and an ancient Chinese man with an abacus. The Singaporeans really know how to confuse you with their choice in public art. I was even more baffled when we crossed the river on a bridge that’s basically a mini replica of Tower Bridge, and hunted down some early dinner in a district that has a bar called ‘The Londoner’, which prides itself on its roast beef, West country cider and selection of English beers. This country is mind-boggling.
Leah Out X