If you did not already know, Singapore marks its bicentennial this year. It has been almost 200 years ago since Sir Stamford Raffles came to our shores. The Singapore’s bicentennial experience revolves around the theme of Singapore’s pre-colonial and colonial history.
It is indeed a special year for Singaporeans but I didn’t sense the hype it deserves. The public interest generated among Singaporeans is pale in comparison to Singapore’s grand SG50 celebration in 2015.
But to me, it is rather exciting and intriguing to dig up our past and to re-examine our history textbooks on the mythical story of Sang Nila Utama. Our history plays a huge part in shaping our cultural identity and uniqueness as a Singaporean. Thus, I am glad that the Singapore Bicentennial Office has put together a series of events to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the British in Singapore.
And I believe you will be more excited to find out more about our history after going through the Bicentennial Experience.
The Bicentennial Experience
One of the key event highlights is ‘From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience’. It is by far one of the best bicentennial-themed showcases which I’ve been to and you, my reader, should not miss this. It is a multimedia sensory experience which takes you back in time to witness the key events of Singapore’s history. This is ticketed-event but tickets are complimentary and can be booked online through Singapore Bicentennial website. You can also join the walk-in queue for the tickets.
There are two main sections to this experience: The Time Traveller and The Pathfinder. The time traveller takes place indoors at Fort Canning Centre which takes you on an experiential journey to explore Singapore’s past since 1299. The Pathfinder, on the other hand, provides an outdoor experience for visitors to discover Singapore’s connections with the rest of the world since the very beginning.
The Time Traveller
I’ve been there twice and each time I discover something new about Singapore’s humbling history and background. We must know that our historical roots traced back all the way to 1299 when Srivijaya Prince, Sang Nila Utama set food on our sunny island. That’s 700 years of history!
For the young and old
I forget to mention that this place is wheelchair and elderly-friendly as there are lifts within the building for the disabled too. There are also audio guides available in Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. It is a great opportunity for you to bring your parents and grandparents along to witness Singapore’s historical moments which would also probably struck a chord with them. There are also free wheelchair-friendly shuttle buses for old and young at various convenient pick-up points at Plaza Singapura. Do refer to their website for more details.
Singapore’s 700 Years of history told in 30 minutes
There is a total of 5 different acts which takes you on a sensorial trip through seven centuries of Singapore’s history. Each act depicts a specific time period starting from the early 13th century. In short, Singapore’s 700 years of history is condensed into this approximately 60-minutes multimedia show. And to me, it is done superbly. It is so much more interesting than reading our history or Social studies textbook. This is the place you want to bring your kids to.
Reverse back in time with the magical rain, which appears to move in reverse, and a huge time wheel where all the projections are cast on it.
Act 1: The Early Singapura
What you see is exactly what you get! I enjoyed this theatrical show which combines a live performance by the actors clad in elaborate costumes. They ran on moving travelators as the movie is projected on the screen. It is a creative way of depicting Singapore’s past with the clever use of technology.
Do you know that Singapore is a highly sought-after place in the Malay Peninsula? We were once under the political influence of the Srivijaya Empire and Majapahit Empire. Even the prosperous Siamese kingdom, Ayutthaya Empire, showed great interest in the Malay Peninsula.
Here are some fun facts:
- The travelator was made and designed in the United Kingdom by British Company Stage One. It was then shipped to Singapore!
- All the actors’ moves were choreographed by homegrown actor Lim Yu-Beng. We spotted him once during the show!
Act 2: The Arrival of Raffles
We all know about the story of Raffles and how he landed in Singapore in the year of 1819. This important historical event is the turning point in Singapore’s history as Raffles turned the island into a key British trading post.
But things did not seem smooth as he had a fall out with William Farquhar, Singapore’s first resident. Some even argued that William Farquhar should get all the credit for being one of our founding fathers based off on his contributions to Singapore.
Act 3: Connectivity
Act 3 is another all-immersive show experience where you get to sit in front of the circular surround screens. Expect the screens to move and the seats to rotate as you make connections of how external events impacted our nation’s growth. The new shipping routes, communication lines and urbanisation had helped this small island to make a big leap forward.
Act 4: The Japanese Occupation
Singapore went through a dark period of time during World War Two. In this act, we pay tribute to the brave heroes and volunteers who help protect our nation.
Act 5: Rain Enclosure
This had to be my favourite act where all visitors need to carry an umbrella with them as they enter the room. Don’t worry! They provide umbrellas for visitors.
Singapore’s DNA Trait
Which DNA trait do you think is most important in transforming Singapore to what it is today? Visitors have a chance to vote for the essential DNA trait which is most important to Singapore. What do you think the results are like?
Self-determination is key
Most of the votes go to the ‘self-determination’ trait. Perhaps we are truly resilient after all. But how resilient our future generations are?
Impacted by Singapore’s historical tales and want to bring back some souvenir? You can check out this merchandise booth by Naiise right as you exit the building.
Emporium of the East
After visiting the Time Traveller, you should make time to visit the outdoor pavilions at Pathfinder. These pavilions are more than just art installations. Discover the world’s perspective of Singapore and visit the seed conservatory to find out how trade has brought in a diversity of spices and herbs to our island.
This sculptural feature is located right smack in the middle of the 8 pavilions. If you are tired, you can also take a rest there after exploring the pavilions.
At night, a beacon of light will rise from its centre, illuminating the area. The colour of each night’s beam is determined by the collective votes on they key DNA traits of the Bicentennial Experience. I was told that the highly-voted DNA trait is Self-determination.
Pavilion of Words
Before you leave this place, take a moment to reflect on the Bicentennial experience. Fill up these coloured reflection cards and hang it at the pavilion of words. It is an open-air library in the park where you can find a collection of books about Singapore.
Eat Your History @ Food Village
In addition to the bicentennial experience, there are also fringe activities and events like Eat Your History @ Food Village which happened last Saturday, 1 June 2019.
I had the opportunity to attend the food demonstrations and tasting sessions hosted by Chef Eric Neo, Vice President of the Singapore Chef Association and the five master chefs in Singapore. I was also fortunate enough to taste their delicious creations!
That day, they prepared 500 food samples of each dish for the public to try.
Chef Sin Leong and Chef Hooi Kok Wai
It was a brief star struck moment for me to see Chef Sin Leong and Chef Hooi Kok Wai who are two of the four ‘Heavenly Kings of Cantonese cuisine’ in Singapore. They are the ones who invented Singapore’s version of Yu Sheng (or Lo Hei), a raw fish salad which is eaten during Chinese New Year. That day, we presented a Cantonese dish – Crab Roll with Chicken Liver and Salted Egg. It is a typical wedding ceremonial dish which symbolises completeness and conjugal bliss.
Minangkabau Dish : Gulai Kambing Nanas
This is a beautiful dish curated by Chef Haikal Johari who is the executive chef of Alma by Juan Amador. He marinated the lamb or Kambing meat with
I haven’t tasted lamb which tasted that delicious before! Kudos to Chef Johari for that.
Learn Peranakan cuisine with Chef Violet Oon
The first thing that comes up to my mind whenever someone mentioned about Peranakan restaurants in Singapore has got to be National Kitchen by Violet Oon at National Gallery. She is probably one of the most revered local chef in Singapore who specialised in Peranakan cuisine. As the co-founder and co-owner of Violet Oon Singapore, she has been really successful in perfecting each Peranakan dish to suit all palates.
Itek Sio: Braised Duck served with buns
Chef Oon’s take on Itek Sio is astoundingly delicious. The braised duck, sandwiched between the bun, was so tender and flavourful. All the rich flavours of the spices and herbs are locked in the juicy tender meat and
If you would like to find out how these dishes are prepared, you can visit their websites to download the free recipes online.
From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience
The Bicentennial Experience opens from 1st June to 15th September 2019.
Mondays: 8.30 am to 5.30 pm
Tuesdays to Sundays: 8.30 am to 10.00 pm
Mondays to Sundays: 8.30 am to 10.30 pm.
Free Shuttle Bus: Every 10 – 20 minutes daily from Plaza Singapura (near HSBC) and Raffles City Mall (Taxi Stand near Levi’s)
Nearest MRT: Fort Canning MRT, Bras Basah MRT, Dhoby Ghaut MRT, Clarke Quay MRT