The next day, it was time for me to finally be a tourist and explore all the arts and cultural (non-food) attractions Singapore had to offer. I started at the Esplanade theatre, which is a large performing arts facility in Marina Bay that was built to resemble a durian fruit.
My friend Lishan worked here, and so I met her for lunch inside the complex. We ate some delicious chicken rice fancy style (vs the “economic rice” version from the coffee shop).
After lunch, Lishan showed me around the Esplanade’s open-air theatre seating facing the Marina. We walked on Esplanade Drive and crossed the bridge over Marina Bay towards Merlion Park. The Merlion, Singapore’s national icon, is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of the fish. The “fish” name derived from Singapore’s ancient name from when it used to be a fishing village — Temasek — meaning “sea town” in Javanese. The “lion” part represents Singapore’s original name — Singapura — meaning “lion city” or “kota singa.”
There are a total of 5 “officially recognized” Merlions in Singapore, of which I have seen the first three listed. 1) The original in Merlion Park, pictured above; 2) a Merlion cub behind the original; 3) a 37m tall Merlion on Sentosa Island; 4) a 3m tall statue at Tourism Court; and 5) a 3m tall statues at Faber’s Point.
We stopped for a quick ice cream break in Merlion Park and then strolled along the concrete jungle of Fullerton Road. We crossed the bridge over the Singapore River to the north bank and approached the Raffles’ Landing Site. This historic site is land marked by a statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore.
Quick history overview: Raffles, known as the “Founding Father of Singapore,” established Singapore as a free port in 1819, and it soon grew to be Asia’s busiest trading post. In 1824, the city-state became a British colony and it was not until 1995 that Singapore officially gained sovereignty and became a republic.
The Raffles’ Landing Site is right next to the Asian Civilisations Museum, and here I engaged in my usual jumping photo session before Lishan had to head back to work.
Housed in the Empress Place, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is an incredibly engaging museum with a great flow of information and history. It showcases broad, yet integrated perspectives of pan-Asian cultures and civilizations. The museum not only covers 200 years of Singapore’s modern development, but it also goes beyond to include the origins of the many cultures that have settled here from China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia.
I spent about 4 hours wandering through the 3 levels of galleries and special exhibits. I would have stayed longer but I wanted to see the Peranakan Museum before it closed at 7pm. The ACM’s combination of film, music, artifacts, and “interactive” corners was particularly well organized. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at this museum and highly recommend it to all visitors.
Admission SGD$8 (joint ticket with Peranakan Museum is SGD$11 total)
Located just a pleasant 15 minute walk from the ACM is the boutique Peranakan Museum. Peranakan is a term used to refer to descendants of Chinese immigrants during the colonial period (15th – 16th century) to the Indonesian archipelago Nusantara, including the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and Dutch-controlled island of Java. Many of these immigrants came as traders and over time, perhaps through intermarriage, have become assimilated with the local communities and adopted many Nusantara customs. While the term typically refers to ethnic Chinese descendants, Peranakan, meaning “locally born” in Malay, also refers to other communities that developed in Southeast Asia like the Chitty Melaka (Indian Hindu) and Jawi Peranakans (Indian Muslim). The Peranakan culture is a unique hybrid culture that is still part of Singapore’s living heritage.
According to my local Singaporean friends, the term peranakan is colloquially defined as a fusion of Malay and Chinese cultures. I define peranakan as the reason why the food in Singapore is so incredible!
Admission SGD$6 (joint ticket with ACM is SGD$11 total)