A Visit to the Singapore Art Museum

The Singapore Art Museum is housed in the former St Joseph's Institution, originally built in 1867.

Located in the heart of the arts and culture district of Bras Basah, the Singapore Art Museum is the perfect stop for art lovers. Featuring one of the world’s largest collection of contemporary Southeast Asian art, it is easy to get lost inside just admiring and appreciating the art.

Just yesterday, I spent the whole afternoon walking through the halls of the art museum. While visiting the museum, I learned that the building was a former Catholic boys’ school, St Joseph’s Institution. Originally built in 1867 by a Catholic Father and a group of La Salle Brothers, the St Joseph’s Institution in Brash Basah was the educational home to boys here in Singapore for more than 120 years. Wanting to preserve the beautiful 19th century French architecture, the building was gazetted in 1992 as a national monument and after a S$30 million restoration project, was opened in 1996 as the now Singapore Art Museum.

The Singapore Art Museum is housed in the former St Joseph's Institution, originally built in 1867.

The Singapore Art Museum is housed in the former St Joseph’s Institution, originally built in 1867. Photo credit: Lay Leng Low (via Pinterest)

It was wonderful just walking through the hallowed halls learning all about contemporary Southeast Asian art. The art took on various forms, many were interactive mixed-medium art pieces and some were very experimental. I especially enjoyed the very interactive exhibition entitled Sensorium 360 which explores the way we use our senses to interact and understand the world. The exhibition will be on until 22 October 2014 and is worth visiting. I especially enjoyed walking through a completely darkened room surrounding by laser lights, not unlike the laser lights seen in movies like Mission Impossible. That particular installation challenged my perception of space and reality.

While walking through the museum, I imagined myself travelling back in time to the 19th century. As if I was one of the St Joseph Institution students running to class through the beautiful hallways. When restoring the museum, the architects tried to be as faithful as possible to the original architecture as possible. They even tried to replicate the old school hall to its original glory by following blueprints they found. The architects even managed to commission new tiles that matched the old original tiles exactly. No detail was too little to be left out. The courtyard, which were the old school quadrangles where the boys used to have their morning assembly and play basketball, are now spacious courtyards where guests can enjoy coffee or just the peace and tranquility the museum affords.

Two very important additions they had to include are the glass windows to ensure that all 18 galleries have climate controlled temperatures to preserve the artwork and also the reinforced concrete floors necessary to support the heavy art installations.

The Singapore Art Museum is an easy 20-minute drive from Capella Singapore. Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents and S$10 for visitors. Our Personal Assistants would be delighted to organise a tour of the Singapore Art Museum for you. They can be reached at +65 6591 5034/35 and pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

A Visit To Pigeon Island National Landmark

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With the rainy season almost over, I find myself eager to explore the beaches of Saint Lucia.  The Pigeon Island National Landmark located in Gros Islet, is one of the island’s most important attractions and is as beautiful as it is historically significant.  On my recent visit I had a chance to get to know the park a bit better.

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The Pigeon Island National Landmark or National Park as it is sometimes called, portrays vivid representations of historical and cultural monuments, depicting the battle for control of the island between the English and the French.  This breathtaking, 44 acre park was originally an island in its own right, but was joined to the mainland in 1972 by a man-made causeway.

I did not know that this landmark held so much history and was even more amazed as I walked through this living museum.  I discovered some of the ruins from the war and immediately thought that this would be an excellent location for colonial-style weddings.

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There is an Interpretation Centre that tells you all about the war and how The French in 1778 declared war on the British but then lost.  The battle for The Helen of the West which is sometimes used interchangeably for Saint Lucia continued for fourteen years.  The British built a Naval Base at Gros-Islet Bay, which protected Pigeon Island from being captured.   At that lookout point, they were able to observe the French fleet in Martinique which lead to the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Saints in 1782.  Further into the park, you will find a secluded restaurant at the water’s edge serving locally caught seafood, a hidden pub amongst the ruins and a look out point called The Fort with the best views of the northern part of the island.

I love the white sands of the beaches nearby and the way the grounds are so well maintained.  Many major cultural festivals are held in the opening space including the well known Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival.  I was so happy to have discovered that this relaxing location is only a twenty minute drive from Marigot Bay as I knew I wanted to come back here very soon.

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Would you like to visit the Pigeon Island National Landmark?  Be sure to ask your Capella Marigot Bay Personal Assistant to arrange your special tour to the live museum.   And be sure to stay tuned as I continue to share insider experiences with you about the lovely island of Saint Lucia.  

The History of Sentosa Island

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I love history.  I find that knowing the history of a place adds to its unique character and personality and makes it even more endearing and charming.  With that in mind, I thought I would share a bit about the history of Sentosa Island and Capella Singapore.

Did you know that Sentosa Island, where Capella Singapore, is located, is the largest of Singapore’s southern islands and an island with a rich history and heritage?  In the past it was an island fortress and military base for the British army and today it is an island of pure entertainment and recreation.

On the western side of the island was Fort Siloso which has underground passages, bunkers and gun emplacements dating back to the 1800s.  It was built in the 1880s to protect Singapore, which was a thriving port under Great Britain’s rule.  Fort Siloso was part of Singapore’s coastal defence with Fort Serapong and Fort Connaught.  The guns at Fort Siloso were used during World War II and are part of Singapore’s rich history.

Capella Singapore is home to four colonial buildings – the two blocks where the main lobby, Capella Library and Chinese restaurant, Cassia, are located are actually two Colonial Manors.  In fact, they received conservation status in 2000.  These colonial buildings were formerly the Royal Artillery Officers’ Mess.

 The Officers’ Mess was where the officers and their families had their meals and recreational activities such as dining, dancing and tennis. There was a tennis court beside the block.

Royal Artillery Officers Christmas Party 1951

Royal Artillery Officers Christmas Party 1951

Christmas and New Year parties were celebrated at the Officers’ Mess.  Formal table settings extended out to the wide corridors of the block and band performances were held in the room at the entrance. From the Officers’ Mess, there was a good view of the Singapore harbour and it was a practice for the officers and their families to welcome in the new year with the loud horning from the ships in the harbour.

After Singapore gained independence in 1965, the government decided that it was important for the emerging nation to have a place of recreation.  Soon after, Sentosa Island was chosen for this purpose.  Sentosa Island was then given the name Sentosa Island in 1970, which means “Isle of Tranquility” in Malay and developed by the Singapore government into a recreational area in 1972.  It has now become an island of fun, filled with amusement parks, beaches, museums, restaurants, aquariums and many more attractions.  It is truly amazing how in just a few decades it has transformed from a military base into an exciting playground.

If you are interested in the history of Sentosa, you may wish to go for a tour at Fort Siloso or visit Images of Singapore where you can learn about the colourful history of Sentosa and of Singapore and how we became the thriving and successful country that we are today.  Do speak with one of our Personal Assistants to organise a tour at +65 6591 5035 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

Historical pictures of Capella Singapore’s past as the Royal Artillery Officers’ Mess are available for viewing in The Library.

The Forgotten Casks At The Rum Distillery in Roseau

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I have always wondered how a small island like Saint Lucia could produce coveted rums the world over but, after taking a tour of the Rum Distillery in Roseau, it all became clear.  Inspired by the brand new Capella St Lucia Rum Cave, I was curious to learn more about the production process.  After spending nearly two hours inhaling the lovely sugar scent and hearing the stories of how all the rums were produced, I fell even more in love with this delicious spirit.  One of the most intriguing moments from the tour was learning about the forgotten casks.

Copy of main-rumsOn May 2nd, 2007, the Rum Distillery in Roseau was struck by a major fire, which destroyed the entire administration and blending facilities.  As they evacuated the buildings, staffers did their best to salvage some of the rum barrels.  The Cellar Master, Mr. Cyril Mangal, was forced to find space for ageing casks in the most unusual places.  After hiding as many as he could, Mangal quickly escaped the building before the fire’s flames could consume him.

Over seven years later and still in the process of cleaning up the debris of the fire, one of the mixologists stumbled upon a few rum barrels that no one had previously noticed.  It seems, with all of the madness that followed the fire, Mr Mangal had forgotten about the stash!  Upon tasting the rum in these barrels, the Master mixologist discovered a wonderfully concocted complex rum.  He immediately decided to offer this rum as a limited release because of its powerful components.  This new rum, which stemmed from the base Chairman’s Reserve Rum was now branded as The Forgotten Casks.

rsz_chairmans-reserve-the-forgotten-casks-limited-edition-rum-40vol-07l_b2 As a result of this intriguing story, many rum connoisseurs have delighted in the tastes of the Chairman’s Reserve Rum and have placed a very high value on its Forgotten Casks.

When you visit this lovely island, be sure to ask your Capella Marigot Bay Personal Assistant for an exclusive Rum Tasting Experience at the Capella St Lucia Rum Cave where you too may have a chance to try some of The Forgotten Casks.

Art Along the Banks of the Singapore River

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Singapore River is the lifeline of the country. It was on the very banks of Singapore River that the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, stood in 1819. Since then it has played an integral role in our country’s development serving as one of the busiest trading ports in Asia.

One of my favourite ways to unwind after a busy day at work is to spend time strolling the banks of the river. While it is no longer the busy trading port it was in the 19th century, the Singapore river is now an idyllic destination to eat, work and play. The shophouses along Boat Quay and Clarke Quay that used to be filled with spices, sugar, salt and other items of trade, have now been converted into trendy bars and restaurants – the watering hole of Singapore’s stylish and sophisticated crowd.

Today, during my usual walk down the banks of the river, two particular bronze sculptures caught my eye: A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh and From Chettiars to Financiers by Sculptor Chern Lian Shan.

These sculptures depict life as it was along the banks of the Singapore River in the 19th century.

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

In A Great Emporium, there are four distinct characters represented in the sculpture, a British Trader, a Chinese Merchant, a Chinese Coolie and an Indian Coolie all engaged in trade. Coolie refers to manual labourer, the origins of the word has both Chinese and Indian derivations.

It really brought me back 200 years ago. When life was tough. Many of these coolies, liked the coolies in the sculpture, worked without a thread on their backs. They carried gunny sacks of rice, flour and spices from ship to shore for pittance.  These coolies were indeed the backbone of our society. They built up Singapore. Without them, we could not have developed as fast and as furious as we did.  The sculpture reminded me of how fast Singapore has developed and how grateful I am!

The sculpture to its left, From Chettiars to Financiers, is also a depiction of life along the banks of the river in the 19th century.  This sculpture shows the dramatic change of Singapore’s finance industry.  From simple Indian Chettiars who were most commonly moneylenders with the pig-tailed clerk to a female financier.  How times have changed.

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

The Indian Chettiars originated from Chettinad in Tamil Nadu.  Interestingly, the term “Chettiar” is actually a caste label, not another name for moneylender.  These moneylenders were private financiers who lent money to entrepreneurs and businessman.

I spent quite a while admiring these two sculptures. Indeed, life has changed for us here in Singapore. We have evolved from a small trading port to one of the most stable and secure economies in the world.  As we reap what our forefathers have sowed, we should never forget where we came from.  These bronze sculptures along the Singapore River serve as fitting reminders of our past.

Capella Singapore’s Personal Assistants will be able to share more information about Clarke Quay and Boat Quay and recommend restaurants and bars along the river. If you would like to organise a private tour or book a restaurant, please contact our Personal Assistants at +65 6591 5035 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

 

Dragon Boat Festival

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Chinese history and culture fascinates me. Behind every holiday, every celebration is more than a thousand years of history and mythology.

On 2 June 2014, we celebrated Dragon Boat Festival. Locals in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong enjoyed a few days off to cheer for their Dragon Boat teams and feast with their families. While it is not officially a holiday in Singapore, it is still widely celebrated here in Singapore by local Chinese.

Dragon Boat Racers

Dragon Boat Racers

Contrary to what you may imagine, the story behind the Dragon Boat Festival is one of great tragedy. According to legend, in the third century B.C, Qu Yuan, a scholar and councillor to the King warned his king, Lord Huai, of an ominous threat from the northern Qing kingdom. Instead of listening to his advisor, the king banished him to the countryside. The king then took counsel from corrupt and scrupulous statesmen that cared not for the king and country but for money. Qu Yuan took to writing beautiful soulful poetry about the plight of the nation which inspired many countryfolk. In 278 B.C, the Qing armies conquered his kingdom and destroyed the imperial palace. Distraught, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Mi-Luo River, killing himself.

When the villagers saw Qu Yuan jump into the river, they attempted to save him, to no avail. They then tried to appease his spirit by throwing rice stuffed in bamboo stems into the river to prevent the fish from eating his body. The villagers all went out in dragon boats trying to look for his body but they could not find it. Thus, began the practice of eating rice dumplings and racing dragon boats. Isn’t it interesting how a tragic event in the past can lead to a colourful vibrant festival today?

One of the reasons I personally love Dragon Boat Festival is because I have an excuse to eat deliciously sweet rice dumplings. In my opinion, one of the best dumplings in Singapore is made and sold by Kim Choo’s Kitchen. Kim Choo’s kitchen, nestled in the heart of Singapore’s East Coast, Joo Chiat, is a true delight for the senses. Here, you can buy a colourful assortment of local confectionary, cakes and dumplings. As the dumplings and cakes are so popular, I suggest you come early during the day to be able to even get your hands on them.

Rice dumplings with tea

Rice dumplings with tea

Kim Choo’s Kitchen is an easy 25-minute drive from Capella Singapore. You may wish to spend a whole day wandering the historical streets of Joo Chiat, stopping for lunch at Kim Choo’s Kitchen. Our Personal Assistants will be able to assist you with planning your visit to Joo Chiat and share more about the Dragon Boat Festival. You can reach them at pa.singapore@capellahotels.com / +65 6591 5035.