I’ve just received an email from NUS recently, saying that as a student I am entitled to enter 5 NHB museums for free. Asian Civilizations Museum is one of them.
Finding a friend to go along was not very easy, since the entry fee of $5 could be too expensive for such a not-so-cool venue. Luckily, Richson has keen interest on this kind of stuff and we both decided to go there around 2PM, just when the free guided tour should start.
We arrived there few minutes after two, and the receptionist asked us to wait down the lobby for the guide to come. But after waiting for +/- 10 minutes, we didn’t find any guide. Instead, we saw the receptionist approached other tourists and said something I didn’t know but made the tourists just went upstairs to start their tour immediately without a guide. We thought that the guide was not available or we were late, so we went upstairs too, anyway.
The first exhibition was Singapore River, which tells us about the history of Singapore since centuries ago, and how the Singapore River played role in it. It was the major hub for market and Singapore. When it was widely used, the river was full of thrashes. Until one day the prime minister decided to start a $200 million project to clean the river in 10 years. The cleaning was successful, resulting as what we see today. Yet in one article, the writer complained about the unique characteristic of the river has lost due to the cleaning.
Next part of the exhibition showed us how curators analyze antiques. For example, a painting would be seen under UV light, showing the pencil sketches the painter had drawn to understand the background and intention of the painter.
The other exhibitions were divided into 4 groups: Southeast Asia, China, West Asia and South Asia. I’m not sure why they exclude other West Asian countries like Japan and Korea. There were also a special exhibition “Hunters and Collectors” where it shows works of explorers from western countries in Asia. It took about 2 hours for us to cover everything except South Asia part. We started at level 2 and continued to level 3, but were to tired to see the last exhibition South Asia at level 1.
One interesting part when we visit the Southeast Asia, there were a small room with sitting mats. There were also books about stories for children from various countries. We sat there and I took a look on one storybook from Bali. It tells a story about a big, ugly frog named Gobrag. He is nasty and likes to sing (reminds me of the character Giant from Doraemon movie). He sings so badly the other smaller frogs were disturbed. But even they told Gobrag to silence, Gobrag never listen. So one day the small frogs sent three of them to find out another place good enough to live, without disturbance of Gobrag. After walking for some distance, those three frog came to an island. Suddenly the island was moving, and it turned to be a big monster. The three frog went back to their home and told the story to everyone, including Gobrag. But Gobrag didn’t believe.
“Is it nastier than me?” ask Gobrag
“Of course!” they answer.
“Not possible, I am the nastiest! Is it uglier than me?”
“Impossible! Bigger than me?”
(At this point I thought Gobrag would come by himself to the island and got killed by the monster. But this story has a very good twist…)
What Gobrag did was, he blew himself up and ask them again, “Is it bigger than this?”
“Yes, it is still bigger than you!”
Then he tried to blow himself again. But still they thought the monster is bigger than Gobrag. Gobrag blew up again, but up to the point it was too much for him. He exploded and died. And the rest of the frogs lived happily ever after.
Sorry I told the story more than the museum itself, but I found it more interesting than the artifacts and other history lessons. You can read more stories there at the museum, anyway.
Asian Civilizations Museum is located at N° 1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555.