Capella Singapore’s Peranakan Experience

Traditional Peranakan beading work.

Last week I had the opportunity to accompany one of the Capella Singapore Personal Assistants on a trip to the Peranakan museum as part of the new Peranakan Experience that we have created for guests who would like to explore the local Singapore culture.

Part of the tour took us to the Peranakan Museum, which showcased decades of age-old Peranakan culture and history.  For those unfamiliar, the Peranakan culture evolved from the early Chinese and Malay settlers in colonial Singapore and Malaysia who intermarried resulting in an exotic blend of cultures.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the strong matriarchal tendencies among the Peranakan.  While the men were the sole breadwinners for the family, the women, known as Nonyas, stayed home and ran the household.  As a result, one of the unique traits of Nonya women is that they are skilled in the culinary arts and crafts that distinguish the culture.  Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to experience both these luxuries.

Following our tour of the Peranakan Museum, we headed to a near by Peranakan restaurant.  The cuisine, while employing many traditional Chinese preparations, is extremely unique in its flavor profile.  We tried everything from a Fish Head Curry (not nearly as mad as the name suggests!) to Kueh Pie Tee, which featured shredded bamboo shoots and shrimp inside mini pie shells.  The flavors were exotic and bold and the dishes beautifully presented.

Traditional Peranakan beading work.

Traditional Peranakan beading work.

From there we headed to a shop run by a Peranakan woman, who still creates the traditional beaded shoes as well as selling beautiful kebayas.  Like the food the clothing was also brightly colored and rich in ornate detail.  We were told that some of the shoes could take several months to make as each bead was sewn on individually.  The same held true for the blouses and sarongs, as even the most “casual” kebaya was intricately decked out in skilled embroidery. Truly an art form!

The Peranakan culture is truly a significant part of the Singapore culture and something you really must experience for your self.  The next time you are at Capella Singapore be sure to ask your Personal Assistant for the Peranakan Experience.  I am sure you will love to learn about the history, culture and food just as much as I did!

Emily Of Emerald Hill At The Peranakan Museum

peranakan museum

Earlier this month, the Peranakan Museum was having a very special exhibition on Emily of Emerald Hill, an iconic Singaporean play written in 1982 by local playwright Stella Kon.  Emily of Emerald Hill has been performed numerous times in Singapore as well as other parts of the world such as Malaysia, Hawaii and even Edinburgh!  It is considered one of the regions greatest literary works.

peranakan museum

Paying tribute to the symbolic play, the Emily of Emerald Hill Exhibition at the Peranakan Museum showcased the different interpretations of the play through the costumes, props, scripts, photographs and videos.

Emily of Emerald Hill follows the life of a young Peranakan bride, Emily Gan who marries into a rich matriarchal family on Emerald Hill.  What is interesting about the play is that it is a one-woman play narrated by Emily as she recounts the challenges and experiences from her past.

Emily of Emerald Hill is touted as a symbol of Singaporean Identity and one of Singapore’s most iconic plays because of how closely it follows and preserves the Peranakan culture.  The Peranakans were born from the early Chinese immigrants to the British Malaya, now known as Singapore and Malaysia.  Many of them were traders, the middle people between the British and the Chinese and they grew to be among the wealthiest group in the early 20th century.

The Peranakan culture is interesting because of the integration of both Western and local culture.  As such, while they mostly spoke English, hints of Malay and dialect would be present as part of their speech.  The Peranakan also continued to practice many of the Chinese beliefs, which are depicted throughout the play.  True to the story of Emily, Peranakan Families are very matriarchal, because the women would run the household while the men were off to work to earn money to support the family.  Peranakan women were known to be extremely capable, not just in cooking but also in intricate handicrafts.

The next time you visit Singapore, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Peranakan Museum where you will be able to experience first hand the exotic Peranakan culture.  Please talk to your Capella Singapore Personal Assistant, who will be happy to help with planning your visit!

Here is a video excerpt of the play Emily of Emerald Hill:

 

Photo via The Peranakan Museum.

Singapore’s Sarong Kebaya

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As I was showing a guest around the hotel today I happened upon a special site. Two elegant ladies dressed in the traditional Peranakan outfit, the Sarong Kebaya.  The Sarong Kebaya is an image that resonates strongly with the Singapore culture.

The Peranakan, with whom the Sarong Kebaya originated, are descendants of an early Chinese community that settled in the Malay Archipelago.  Many members of the early community were seafarers who traded between the ports of southern China and those of Southeast Asia. They also worked as compradores (Chinese middlemen) for British and Dutch companies during the Colonial era. What makes the Peranakan traditions so unique are that they posses elements from Chinese, Malay and even Colonial British cultures!

Photo by Jamieson Teo.

The word Sarong is from Malay and translates to “sheath.”  These large pieces of fabric are tied and worn like a skirt.  The fabric can be very ornate and has a very specific method of tying.  It was customary for both women and men to wear sarongs.  However, these days it is more common for women to wear them in public.

The Kebaya is the blouse, which is worn over the Sarong.  The word Kebaya actually has Arab roots, but is part of our region’s traditional attire.  The blouse is typically made of sheer material and buttons in the front.  It is often figure flattering.

Singapore Airlines' Flight Attendants. Photo by: Vivek Prakash

While the Sarong Kebaya is not worn as frequently as it once was, it is still very central to our society. In fact, Singapore Airlines flight attendants wear specially designed Sarong Kebayas as their uniforms!

If you have a chance to visit Capella Singapore there is currently an exhibit at the Peranakan Museum that traces the history of this beautiful and time-honored attire.