Singapore STories: Then, Now, Tomorrow – Experience 170 years of Singapore History

Come witness Singapore’s defining moments as told through articles, headlines and photographs that made Straits Times headlines since 1845.

2015 is a special year in that it not only marks Singapore’s Golden Jubilee, but also The Straits Times’ 170th anniversary since its first publication in July 15, 1845. STories: Then, Now, Tomorrow is an exhibition put up by the State’s main English daily that looks back at the headline-grabbing victories and struggles that rocked the country while contemplating her present and future. The exhibition runs till October 4, 2015 (see other event listings here).

Ask anyone how they feel about The Straits Times and you will probably get a varied response like “Propaganda lor“, “Garment’s mouthpiece la” or “My daily essential” (it’s mine at least – I read the news faithfully everyday). But beyond what we think or feel, I would say that The Straits Times and its 170-year-old archive of photos and stories is every bit an irreplaceable piece of Singapore’s history, culture and art, in a sense. Quote The Monuments Men.IMG_0961

“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.”
– Frank Stokes (George Clooney), The Monuments Men (2014)

The exhibition is categorised into six themes; Business, World, Home, Sport, Life and Forum which mirrors The Straits Times’ current core segments. As a writer and journalist of sorts, needless to say I was really looking forward to the exhibition. And I was not disappointed.

In the beginning… IMG_0964 Did you know that The Straits Times was first launched as a weekly and its founder-owner was Catchick Moses, an Armenian? The Armenians also built the Armenian Church, the first Church in Singapore.

Dedication to Growth and Progress

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Are you ready to know your country’s history? All throughout the exhibition, I was amazed by the stories and photos of Singapore that I never knew of. For instance, Singapore was always ahead of her competition in trade and commerce since the 1800s. Did you know that our Government was so aggressive in pushing for foreign investment and development that back in 1969, $6 million Texas Instruments Plant was set up in the Kallang Basin Industrial Estate in just 50 days? How amazing is that. Such is Singapore’s efficiency and fervent endeavour to bring in foreign investments into this tiny island country.

Opportunities to Succeed

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This dorky-spectacled guy is Sim Wong Hoo, founder of Creative Technologies and one of Singapore’s richest man at present. The country’s push for technological development in the 80s created opportunities for Singaporean entrepreneurs such as Sim to make his multi-millions.

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I mentioned in my previous article that one of the best ways to truly enjoy and appreciate an exhibition is to join the curator tours (if any). The two curators leading the curator tours are Straits Times correspondent Huang Lijie and ArtScience Museum project manager Julia Vasko. How fortunate was I to have made it for Vasko’s tour.

I found it rather amusing that an ‘ang-moh’ is giving the mostly Singaporean crowd a tour of the exhibition. Not to take away any credit from her, her ample knowledge that was the result of countless hours of research shined through, helping us Singaporeans know our Singapore better (Laughs). I also like it that she use the possessive adjective ‘Our’ instead of ‘Their’ or ‘Your’. That showed how Singapore has done a pretty good job in attracting talented individuals to make a home in Singapore.

Personally, I thought that she looked a lot like Natalie Dormer’s Cressida in The Hunger Games (Margery Tyrell in Game of Thrones). She even looked in my direction for this photo! I think I’m in love, she has left me spellbound. Just kidding. Or am I?

Moving on, Straits Times also saw the citizens through their transition from attap houses and villages to modern HDB flats. IMG_0980IMG_0983 It may be hard to imagine now but there was a time Singaporeans were extremely opposed to living in HDB flats, preferring to stay in their attap houses because of inconvenience in moving house, rent, etc.

Children and Education

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Back in the old days, children are conceived for the purpose of helping the family with work and household chores. Education was never a primary priority. But when that was deprived of them during World War II, the end of the war saw many children, and even women clamouring for a spot in schools in a bid to catch up with their education. Back then, it goes against social norms for women to be educated.

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It is unheard of now but back in the 1960s, brushing was not common among Singaporeans. In fact, many did not even own a toothbrush. The Ministry of Health stepped in, enforcing daily mandatory toothbrushing drills in schools. I overheard quite a few adults like the lady in this picture reminiscing and recounting those moments to their children (Laughs).

Transport, a contentious topic since 1960s

IMG_0991 Complaints has spurred the public transport industry to do better in the past, and possibly till this day (Laughs). Back then, buses were so crowded, ‘people-packers’ were hired to push people into buses.

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Two Taiwanese at the exhibition. The exhibition’s opening weekend was a big hit with both the locals and foreigners.

Rethinking about Singapore’s ‘Allies’

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Who could have thought that neighbouring country Indonesia would be so upset about the Malaysia-Singapore merger that they would be the mastermind behind some 80 bomb attacks in the country?

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Despite the tensions, Singapore’s boot out of Malaysia was sudden and swift. Late prime minister Tengku Abdul Rahman initiated the separation and spoke out on sponsoring Singapore’s admission into the United Nations, perhaps as a form of pity and restitution. I wonder will he jump out of the grave if he saw the state of his country and Singapore’s today?

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The separation meant that Singapore needed to quickly form new alliances. Envoys were quickly named and send to the various organisations to forge an understanding and alliances to secure Singapore’s future which looked bleak back then. Diplomacy was on the mind of the Government at all times, and it paid off.

As I scan through every headline and every photograph in the exhibition, I had a sudden realisation that most of the people in those stories are either in their twilight years or are no longer.

All in the photos and stories strived towards the Singaporean dream and in hindsight, who could have thought that their stories will be exhibited for the next generations to study and appreciate? Morality versus Legacy. And one day, we will no longer be and ours will be exhibited for the next generation as well. All that made the exhibition that much poignant and profound.

Fusion Fashion IMG_1047 A young and volatile nation, Singapore is constantly trying to grasp her identity on what it means to be Singaporean. One of which being the national costume. In the picture, you will find a dress of sorts; a combination from the cultures of the three main races in Singapore. Question: Would any of you ladies wear this out?

Sports that Brought People Together

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Dragonboating, sailing and kayaking may be popular with Singaporeans but did you know that its predecessor pulled in massive crowds back during its heyday? I mean, a tub race! How funny and exciting is that! (Can some water sports enthusiast bring this sport back?)

Hawkers and CoffeeshopsIMG_1040 While an integral part of Singapore’s culture, hawkers in the 1960s congested roads and caused hygiene concerns. The Government took on the mammoth task to relocate hawkers to permanent and hygienic premises. IMG_1057 You want Kopi (Coffee)? Or Kopi Siu Dai (Coffee less sweet)? Or Tak Kiu (Milo)? Watch this humourous video on coffeeshop culture and learn the different terminologies to ordering your preferred beverage at a coffeeshop.

Looking into the Future

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A future with Robocop, Chappie, iRobot, Wall-E (and hopefully no Terminator) is real.

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Contemplating our future. #BuildSG2065 is a campaign by The Straits Times and real estate company CapitaLand that showcases ideas contributed by the public on how Singapore’s future buildings, homes and green spaces will transform the way people live, work and play. The contributors both young and old are actually quite creative. One kiddo envisioned a lunar lift that takes us to the moon for a holiday while a mother envisioned baby cries powering homes and electrical appliances. Very clever.

All in all, I really enjoyed the exhibition. So much that I actually read through every headline and caption in the exhibition (which explains why I spent 4 hours there). Except for a few grammar and typo errors in the texts, the exhibition is perfect in every sense. I like that the exhibition was dissected into categories instead of the usual walk-through-the-timeline.

While curator tours were only available during the opening weekend, you can still join a guided tour by one of the qualified docents or participate in a a letterpressing and typesetting workshop (details at the end of this article).

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There are many interactive exhibits that will keep the kids entertained. I also saw many elderly Singaporeans enjoying themselves as they reminisce of the good old days. It’s guaranteed to be an fun exhibition for the entire family, young or old, local or foreigner.

Each headline, article and photograph was representative of Singapore in that particular time period. Put these pieces and you will find Singapore as she is today, both the good and the not so good. The exhibition was very informative, introspective and well-curated. All that remains is for Singaporeans to pursue our future and dreams, bringing Singapore forward as we look ahead to the next 50 years. RW

Printing from the Past: Letterpress and Typesetting

Saturday, 18 July, 2-3pm
15 August and 9 September, 3.30pm-4.30pm and 5-6pm

Limited to 12pax per session This hands-on workshop provides an introduction to letterpress printing and basic typesetting, introducing tools of the trade and the basics of typography. Participants will learn the stages of typesetting, including layout, lockup, make-ready, ink & colour and packing, and will also get the chance to operate the press, printing their own card in letterpress metal types. S$15 per person. Purchase tickets from Sistic.

Public Guided Tour

Exhibition Entrance

  • English: Sundays from 26 July 2015, 11:30am
  • Mandarin: Saturdays & Sundays from 25 July 2015, 2pm. Friday & Monday, 7 & 10 August 2015, 2pm (SG50 & National Day)

Learn the stories behind the headlines in this revealing tour of Straits Times front pages, spanning 170 years of Singapore history.

Singapore STories: Then, Now, Tomorrow

ArtScience Museum Opens 17 July to 4 October 2015

The fascinating and multi-layered stories of Singapore will be told through the lens of the nation’s oldest newspaper The Straits Times, in an upcoming free exhibition Singapore STories: Then, Now, Tomorrow. Drawing from the archives of the publication’s 170 years of covering the Republic’s growth, the exhibition will feature hundreds of images and headlines depicting pivotal milestones in Singapore since the newspaper’s launch in 1845 – some 120 years before the nation’s independence – with an eye cast on its future.

Ticket Pricing: Free

Web Link: Singapore STories: Then, Now, Tomorrow

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