I began to cultivate this strong interest in Peranakan culture after visiting the Peranakan museum in Penang. This culture is prominent in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia where younger generations of this community still live. There is a small community of Peranankans (a.k.a Straits-born Chinese) here in Singapore, so it’s fitting that there should be a museum or exhibit of this unique culture. The NUS Baba House is such a place, located along Neil Road. Thanks to TripAdvisor, I found out that they do organise guided heritage tours for visitors. I was elated to have discovered this beautiful Peranakan House before it closes for maintenance works.
The guided tour took about an hour, and it was conducted by volunteers. Sylvia was my guide for that day. A pleasant lady, probably in her mid-fifties or sixties. She is of Peranakan heritage and is very passionate about this culture which she descended from. The tour itself was generally very informative and structured. There are a couple of interesting finds in the house as well.
This shophouse was once owned by an illustrious Straits Chinese family and, since 2006, has been acquired by National University of Singapore, NUS. That explains why it is called NUS Baba house. Currently, it is managed by the NUS museum, which is an institution of NUS Centre For the Arts. It’s a pity I didn’t find out more about the NUS museum and their conservation work of our local heritage while I was studying at NUS.
During the tour, we weren’t allowed to take photographs, but thanks to NUS Centre For the Arts, I was able to publish these pictures (which I obtained from them) with special permission. I wish I could capture my images from my perspective though, but at least, I get to share these exclusive high-quality photos with you guys.
From the guided tour, you will also notice that there are many motifs and symbols on the facade of the house. Many of these hold great significance to the Peranakans. The Phoenix motif, for instance, symbolises status and wealth. In the past, they must have seen these motifs as something auspicious, and probably charms to bring good fortune and blessings to the house. But in today’s world, we have come to appreciate it as a form of art. I wonder if the people of the past also saw the beauty and art behind the motifs.
A tour of the living room revealed several wooden and mother-of-pearl chairs. I guess a good deal of restoration work must have taken place for the house to be so well-maintained, as we were allowed to sit on them.
This house itself has three storeys. A lift at the back of the house brings you to all three, which makes it convenient for those with difficulty climbing the stairs. On the first floor, where the living room is, also has a dining room, courtyard and kitchen. On the second floor, you will find well-furnished bedrooms as well. Visiting the living quarters of a Peranakan family provided me with great insights into the Peranakan culture. To me, the Peranakan culture is a beautiful blend of the Malay and Chinese culture, with some European elements mixed in. A very sophisticated style, while holding on to its traditional roots. There seems to be an erosion of the Peranakan traditions over the years in Singapore, with the dawning of globalisation and modernisation. I can’t blame the younger generation, as some of the practices may seem mundane in today’s context.
The Baba house resembles the Peranakan museum in Penang, albeit a little smaller. At least, we get to preserve a piece of the Peranakan culture here in Singapore. These cultural sites are the ones that make our history genuinely unique. As such, I am glad that NUS is playing a part to preserve this heritage.
Is there any age limit for this tour? Not that I know of. We had a nine-year-old kid on the tour who seem to enjoy himself. Is it worth a visit? Definitely. In fact, I would place this under the list of touristy things to do in Singapore.
Like our environment, our heritage is vulnerable and needs to be conserved too.
Currently, the NUS BABA house is closed for maintenance works from 28 Dec 2017 to 11 Feb 2018. The house will reopen from 12 February 2018 onwards.
Cost of guided tour: $10 per pax
Free admission for visitors who are:
– Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents
– NUS Staff, Students and Alumni
– Students holding valid passes
– ICOM and Museum Roundtable members
For more information, visit https://babahouse.nus.edu.sg/visit/plan-your-visit
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/nusbabahouse
NUS BABA HOUSE
157 NEIL ROAD
Telephone: (65) 6227 5731