Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Sat 18 Feb 2006

Lest we forget...

Category : museum

Memories at Old Ford Factory opened last night (15 Feb 2005). I watched from the shade of a corridor, preferring to stand and perspiring profusely while it poured - the rains had descended hours earlier and not let up. I watched the proceedings with some incredulity for it seemed just recently that I would point out the dilapidated building to friends, drivers and visitors whenever we drove past it on the way to Mandai mangroves.

A play was performed with actors playing some roles from behind puppets. Through the reminisces of a Japanese civilian soldier, and the experiences of a young child who befriends him, a story unfolds about life in Syonanto, and it touched on the Sook Ching, fate of allied POWs, food, money and 'luxuries' under Japanese rule, the deadly punishments for crime, collaboration with the Japanese, relocation of families to Endau, the return of the British etc.

It was very well done and many of us were transfixed. It was an excellent way to open this new museum setup by National Archives of Singapore, National Heritage Board. The audience was moved, the issues were covered, and it was all done very tastefully. And somehow the storm and the heat added to the atmosphere. Simply brilliant!

When it was over, I took just a sniff of the enticing food, but headed through the entrance and grabbed Lee Geok Boi's "The Syonan Years: Singapore Under Japanese Rule 1942-1945." This book had emerged from notes for the exhibition, so don't fret about recalling details you missed; its all there and more!

Despite a painfully growling stomach, the museum exhibits kept me inside for a couple of hours. I liked what they did with the place - the focus on life under the Japanese was a brilliant idea! I decided I had to come back soon with the Pasir Panjang guides and set out to see what I could see.

I had excellent company - the enthusiastic Kitty Koo - one of my Museum Roundtable kakis from Police Heritage Centre who keenly examined every item for their authenticity (occupational hazard), until I meekly suggested that the stories cudgeled together were more important. She also evaluated the effectiveness of each exhibit, its positioning and highlighted useful points but that was only in the first ten minutes or so.

We must have watched the footage of the conversation between Percival and Yamashita at least six times, the detail revealed as we replayed the surrender scene against the background of the recreated room. The transcript of the short conversation is provided on one of the panels facing the room. You can't help feeling sorry for Percival and apparently the ill-fated Yamashita felt likewise. Earlier, you can clearly see a British officer accompanying Percival tossing the white flag (?in disgust), on the way to the Ford Factory.

Some war vets were excitedly showing their grandkids photographs and depictions. I figured anyone who with parents or grandparents who go "during the Japanese occupation..." ought to steer them here and let them get excited over the the artefacts and recreations. It will surely trigger them into sharing even more!

Even for me, the images and actual artefacts on display rekindled memories of stories I had heard from old timers more than 30 years ago. One special evening, a family friend who was older than my parents, related stories that had me wide awake well after my bedtime. I can still recall his face in my mind's eye as he recounted those stories; he's long gone now, RIP.

The most heart-wrenching photos I saw were on an old newspaper article, "Mothers mourn anew at memorial" - of the women of the Sook Ching massacres crying for their dead. No, no, not forgotten, I wanted to say to them.

I realise now I was lucky to have experienced listening to some stories about the war first hand. But now, many adults from that time are passing on. Memories at Old Ford Factory is one way to fill that gap a little, and the audio recordings help somewhat.

A 1945 map had me enthralled next - I was wishing it was on the ground instead of above us after half an hour! Some sturdy benches below allowed us (with one new NAS officer) a comfortable spot from which to trace significant points in the Battle of Singapore like the mangrove-lined tributaries of the Kranji River (now a reservoir) where the attack on Singapore might have ended, had fate been kinder.

Around Pasir Panjang Ridge you can see that Pasir Panjang Village was at the junction with Clementi (then Reformatory) Road and it was Buona Vista Village at the junction with South Buona Vista Road. Prince Edward Point (.270) in NUS was Buona Vista Hill.

I scrutinised the now-buried shores: Pulau Serangoon (Coney Island) once two islands, the coral reefs and sand flats at Jurong, Sentosa's coral reefs etc. Wish they would sell replicas of that map.

Meanwhile Kitty wandered about wide-eyed, absorbing much even as she said she'd be back for more. Later she brought me back to see Lim Bo Seng's notebook. When we emerged after 10pm, the food and visitors were gone. NAS staff were stretching their legs and exchanging notes and one of my NAS kakis brought us our goodie bags, grabbed me a packed dinner and sent us on our way armed with taxi coupons! Yup, the NAS staff treated all of us royally that night, and right from the start too - when I emerged from the taxi in the pouring rain, they were waiting with umbrellas!

I felt asleep later that night reading "The Syonan Years."

"We meet not to rekindle old fires of hatred, nor to seek settlement for blood debts. We meet to remember the men and women who were the hapless victims of the one of the fires of history."

- PM Lee Kuan Yew at the unveiling of the Civillian War Memorial, 15th February 1967 .

Posted at 12:45AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .