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The Old Vic’s ticking once again

2014 July 22

The Old Vic’s finally back. Having seen it look increasingly tired over the years, it’s nice to see that it’s not just been freshened up during a four year hibernation, but has also been done up very nicely for its role as a mid-sized performing arts venue for the future.

Ticking once again is the clock at the Old Vic. Ticking once again is the clock at the Old Vic.

The Old Vic's definitely back! The Old Vic made new.

A passageway regained by the side of the concert hall. A passageway regained by the side of the concert hall.

I had the opportunity to have a quick glance at the newly refurbished Vic at an exclusive tour organised for a group of bloggers over the weekend of the Open House, with a visit to the top of what to me has always been the mysterious clock tower thrown in; and I must say, there isn’t anything there is to dislike about its latest makeover – except that is that everyone now seems to want to refer to the well-loved monument by its acronym VTCH (for Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall). We in Singapore do have a penchant for using acronym, but extending the practice to our well loved icons, doesn’t seem quite right.

The queue at the opening of the Open House. The queue at the opening of the Open House.

We got a peek at the inside of the clock tower. We got a peek at the inside of the clock tower.

It will always the old Vic to me, a landmark that we have long identified with our Lion City. It is where the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, has maintained his proud position – almost uninterrupted (the statue was removed from its position during the Japanese Occupation in 1942 and restored in 1946) since 1919, the centenary of him setting foot on the island at a point not far away on the river bank and setting the ball rolling on a chain of events that has brought us to where we are today. The chimes from its clock tower were ones that flavoured my childhood and it was something I looked forward to hearing on the many occasions I found myself in the area in the days of my childhood.

Inside the refurbished Old Vic - seen on the third level below the glass roof of the Central Atrium. Inside the refurbished Old Vic – seen on the third level below the glass roof of the Central Atrium.

The refurbished theatre. The refurbished theatre.

The section of the building that has served as the concert hall since the late 197os was of course the Victoria Memorial Hall back in the days of my youth, a name I still have the tendency, as with many of my generation, to use in referring to the National Monument. There were several occasions when I did have a chance to pop into it – it had been the site of many exhibitions in the days before the former World Trade Centre and the former Harbourfront took over as Singapore’s main exhibition venues.

The entrance to the former Victoria Memorial Hall - the area below the concert hall where the box office is located. The entrance to the former Victoria Memorial Hall – the area below the concert hall where the box office is located.

The concert hall, which served as the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) from 1979 until the SSO shifted to the Esplanade in 2002, was actually a 1905 addition to the building, built in the memory of Queen Victoria. The original section, built as a town hall in 1862, was then remodelled to complement the memorial hall in a symmetrical fashion and reopened as a theatre in 1909. The clock tower, with chimes and clock by the Straits Trading Company, was completed in 1906.

A view from the clock tower. A view from the clock tower.

Over the years, several modifications were made to the buildings. This included a significant makeover in the 1950s, which saw the two buildings air-conditioned, and the seating capacity of the theatre doubled. That makeover also saw the incorporation of the previously open courtyard between the two buildings into the structure with it being covered up – a modification that has to an extent, now been reversed.

The Central Atrium - where the courtyard between the two buildings had been. The Central Atrium – where the courtyard between the two buildings had been.

A look through the old arches to the new relief etched panels of the theatre. A look through the old arches to the new relief etched panels of the theatre.

A glass roof now allows light into a rather pleasant looking and air-conditioned courtyard, the Central Atrium, restored partially on the side of the concert hall. Not only does this allow a wonderful view of the clock tower, it allows it to serve as a through passageway from the front of the buildings to the back. At the back a magnificent view of Old Parliament House, now The Arts House, Singapore’s oldest government building, in its full glory awaits.

The Arts House - at the end of the passageway. The Arts House – at the end of the passageway.

The Central Atrium is where we see a tasteful blend of old and new. The rolling back of the modifications made to maximise the capacities of both the theatre and the concert hall, sees the boundaries of both pushed back to the original locations, allowing the columns and arches to be brought out. On the side of the concert hall, we see how it may have been with its ornate archways and rusticated columns restored. It is however the side of the theatre that seems most interesting, it is there that we now see a reinterpretation of courtyard side of the old theatre, with the use of relief etched precast panels providing a modern and forward looking impression, partly to compensate for the absence of information relating to the original architectural details, in contrast to that on the side of the concert hall.

The precast etched relief panels. The precast relief etched panels on the theatre side of the atrium.

It was also nice to see how Victoria Theatre has been redone – its seating arranged in the horseshoe shape as it might originally have been with a provision of an orchestral pit. This has reduced its capacity from 900  to 614, providing it with a more intimate setting. More importantly, the modifications must now give it much improved acoustics – one of the few impressions of the theatre that I have from watching Lea Salonga in a Singapore Repertory Theatre production of the musical “Into the Woods” sometime in the 1990s, was of its rather poor acoustics.

The refurbished theatre. The refurbished theatre.

It is interesting to see that several items from the old theatre have been incorporated into the new – with the backs of the old seats decorating the entrance foyer, seen in a floating “Rubik’s Cube”. Frames and material from the old seating are now also seen in the remodelled theatre, such as the cast-iron components incorporated into the newly installed acoustic timber walls.

A re-used part of the frame of the old seating. A re-used part of the frame of the old seating.

The 'Rubik's Cube' in the theatre's foyer and a reflection of it on a counter top. The ‘Rubik’s Cube’ in the theatre’s foyer and a reflection of it on a counter top.

While some of us did not get to see the 673 seat concert hall, we did hear the glorious strains from Dr Margaret Chan’s masterful pipe-organ performance from the foyer where we got to see the suspended balcony - replacing the previously added balcony that had to be supported by intrusive structures, to free up volume and improve acoustics.

The refurbished concert hall (photo courtesy of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall). The refurbished concert hall (photo courtesy of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall).

The suspended balcony. The suspended balcony.

What we got to see that most visitors during the Open House didn’t was the clock tower (which incidentally has had its crown restored), which I had been curious about throughout  my childhood. The inside of the clock tower turned out to be quite different from the one I had envisaged - the clock’s mechanism and the five bells seemed a lot smaller than what I had imagined as a child.

The chime bells and a clock face on the platform below. The chime bells and a clock face on the platform below.

The writing on the largest bell: 'This clock and chime of bells were presented to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hall by the Straits Trading Company, 1905'. The writing on the largest bell: ‘This clock and chime of bells were presented to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hall by the Straits Trading Company, 1905′.

The clock has seen an improvement during the refurbishment – an automatic winding mechanism was added. Prior to this, the clock had to be rewound manually, requiring a winder and maintenance man to ascent up 176 steps once a week to spend up to an hour winding the clock.

The long road to the top - 176 steps for the winder who would have to ascend once a week. The long road to the top – 176 steps for the winder who would have to make the acsent once a week.

An automatic winder has been added to the clock's mechanism. An automatic winder has been added to the clock’s mechanism.

While the chimes I am told, can be heard as far away as the Esplanade, it didn’t quite sound as loud as one might have expected standing right by the bells, seemed minute compared to the bells that Quasimodo lent his hand in ringing. Beside the thrill of hearing the bells chime at 11 o’clock, there was also the bonus of taking in the magnificent views of the surroundings and the contrast of the old Padang surrounded by the architectural symbols of colonial power next to what architectural historian Lai Chee Kien, calls a new “liquid padang” - surrounded by the architectural symbols representing the new power.

The clock level. The clock level.

The refurbishment of the old Vic coincides with an effort that will also see a renovation of the Asian Civilisations Museum and the transformation of the Old Supreme Court and City Hall into the National Gallery Singapore – all scheduled to be completed next year. That will complete the transformation of an area that had been at the heart of the colonial administration into an arts and cultural hub – what the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), in their 2014 Master Plan, terms as a “Civic and Cultural District by the Bay“.

More information on what is envisaged for the Civic District as part of URA Master Plan 2014, do visit the following links:

More information on Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and its recent refurbishment can be found on their website.


Some key dates relating to the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall:

17 March 1855

The foundation stone for the new Town Hall was laid by the Governor of Singapore, Colonel W. J. Butterworth.

1902 – 1905

Victoria Memorial Hall was built in memory of Queen Victoria’s reign. Victoria Memorial Hall and Tower were joined to the existing theatre by R. A. J. Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren, with passageway between the two buildings.

18 October 1905

Victoria Memorial Hall was officially opened by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, John Anderson.

1906

The construction of the signature clock tower was completed. This was later than expected due to the delay in donation of the clock and chimes by the Straits Trading Company.

1909

The first performance that took place in the newly completed Victoria Theatre was Sirs William S. Gilbert and Arthur S. Sullivan’s well-known and amusing opera, The Pirates of Penzance, staged by the Singapore Amateur Dramatic Committee.

6 February 1919

On Centenary Day, T. Woolner’s statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was moved from the Padang to Victoria Memorial Hall, taking the place of the bronze elephant presented to Singapore by King Chulalongkorn.

Early 1942

The Victoria Memorial Hall was used as a hospital for victims of bombing raids by the Japanese forces during World War II.

1946 – 1947

Victoria Memorial Hall was used as a location for war crimes courts.

21 November 1954

The inaugural meeting of the People’s Action Party was held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

1954 – 1958

Major renovations were carried out including a complete restructuring of the interior of the theatre. Air-conditioning and sound-proofing was added and the courtyard covered up.

4 November 1957

The public had its first glimpse at television when William Jacks and Co presented a full length variety show on television at the annual Philips Radio Convention held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

15 February 1963

Television Singapura (Singapore’s first TV station) was launched with a pilot monochrome service at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

1979

Victoria Memorial Hall was renamed the Victoria Concert Hall and named as the official home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

1980s

A gallery was added to the Concert Hall, adding seating capacity and enclosing the second storey balconies on the front and back facades with glass.

1990s

Renovations were carried out to Victoria Theatre to make it a more efficient performing venue.

February 1992

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was gazetted as a national monument of Singapore.

2010

The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall was closed for a $158 million renovation.

2014

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall reopened its doors after a four-year renovation.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.


Boarding the junk at sunrise

2014 July 20

An island that always seemed to me to have an air of mystery about it is the oddly shaped Pulau Jong. Set in an area of Singapore, the southern islands, that has much legend attached to it, legend does have it that Pulau Jong or “Junk Island” in Malay, had been a junk that had been transformed by the spirit of the sea into the island. The legend is described by H. T. Haughton in his 1889 paper, Notes on Names of Places in the Island of Singapore and its Vicinity:

Pulau Jong, “junk island”, a small island of a conical shape to the North of Pulau Seking and Pulau Sebarok. The story is that Malay pirates one night attacked a Chinese Junk, which was anchored where the island now is, and just as the Malays got alongside, the Nakhodah of the junk awoke. On seeing the pirates, through terror, he uttered such a frightful yell that the sea-spirit turned the junk into an island much to the consternation of the Malays.

Pulau Jong at sunrise. Pulau Jong at sunrise.

Lying east of Pulau Semakau (which has absorbed Pulau Seking or Sakeng) and northwest of Pulau Sebarok, the tiny mound of an island measuring some 0.6 ha., is fringed to its north by some of the deepest waters in the Singapore Strait. From afar, the island looks rather inhospitable – particularly at high tide when only it tiny cliff faces and the clump of trees rising some 23 metres on its mound are exposed. It is at low tide that the fringing reefs that surround the island expose themselves – the reefs extend as far out as 0.4 nautical miles (about 700 metres) south-east in the direction of Pulau Sebarok.

Junk Island at low-tide. Junk Island at low-tide.

The fringing reef on the island's south-east reaching out towards the oil terminal at Sebarok. The fringing reef on the island’s south-east reaching out towards the oil terminal at Sebarok.

A navigation chart showing water depths around Pulau Jong. A navigation chart showing water depths around Pulau Jong.

The reefs do make it difficult to land on the relatively untouched island – one of the last to resist human intervention in the waters of Singapore, but landing on it at sunrise was certainly a worthwhile experience, not just for the rich coral life found in the reefs, but also for the majestic perspectives one gets of the island being on it, the view of all that surround it, and an interesting look at the island’s geology and the glimpses it offers into its bird life.

Heading on a dinghy towards the island. Heading on a dinghy towards the island.

Landing at sunrise - the reefs do make it a challenge to land safely on the island. Landing at sunrise – the reefs do make it a challenge to land safely on the island.

The island's rock formations are part of the  are Jurong Formation that marks the geology of much of Singapore's west. The island’s rock formations are part of the are Jurong Formation that marks the geology of much of Singapore’s west.

More rocks ... More rock formations …

A pair of collared kingfishers. A pair of collared kingfishers.

And another perched on a rock. And another perched on a rock.

The junk, a very recognisable feature of southern Singapore’s seascape, has long been identified as an island for possible recreational use. More recently however, it does seem from the 2013 Land Use Plan that it would be be lost to future land reclamation. From the plan we see that it would be part of a large land mass that would also include Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sebarok and like the junks that once featured in the seas around us, the familiar sight of the junk that became an island will soon one that is forgotten.

A northward view. A northward view.

The coral fringed beach looking west towards Pulau Semakau. The coral fringed beach looking west towards Pulau Semakau.

Cliff faces on Pulau Jong. Cliff faces on Pulau Jong.


The reef

I didn’t spend much time in the reef, which has some rather nice looking hard and soft corals and sea cucumber. There were also sightings of nudibranchs and flatworms on the reef’s edge. For more posts on what the reef revealed and also a wonderful drone’s eye view of the island, do also check these postings out:

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The visit to Pulau Jong is part of a series of visits to some of the lesser known shores of Singapore, in search of words and sounds for an IRememberSG funded project, Points of Departure.

A pano of the southern foreshore of Pulau Jong. A pano of the southern foreshore of Pulau Jong.


Finding romance on Terumbu Semakau

2014 July 17

At 4.30 am, less than 24 hours after the adventure or what perhaps was more of a near misadventure on Cyrene, on Sunday, I found myself once again on a boat headed south. The destination this time was another patch reef, Terumbu Semakau, which lies just east of the original Pulau Semakau - now part of an enlarged island of the same name that serves as an offshore landfill.

The underbelly of a cushion star.One of the finds on Terumbu Semakau …

A view of Terumbu Semakau, looking across to the enlarged Pulau Semakau. A view of Terumbu Semakau under the light of the moon, looking across to an enlarged Pulau Semakau.

Location of Terumbu Semakau relative to Pulau Semakau. Location of Terumbu Semakau relative to Pulau Semakau as seen on a navigational chart.

Terumbu Semakau in the moonlight. Terumbu Semakau in the moonlight.

The super moon seen setting over Pulau Semakau. The super moon seen setting over Pulau Semakau.

Thankfully, the weather provided much greater joy than it did a day before, allowing the group I was with to take-in an almost magical view of the reef bathed in the light of the super moon and then in the early light of day. The setting was one that seemed perfect for romance – the chorus we could hear of romancing amphibians across on Pulau Semakau seemed to testify to that.

6.28 am, the lights of Singapore's southern seas, that of the ships at anchor is seen against the lightening sky. 6.28 am, the lights of Singapore’s southern seas, that of the ships at anchor is seen against the lightening sky.

The terumbu at sunrise. The terumbu at sunrise.

Finding romance on Terumbu Semakau with the rising of the sun. Finding romance on Terumbu Semakau with the rising of the sun.

The reef, as with many of southern Singapore’s once numerous patch reefs, bears the scars of the developments of the last five decades. Its once lush meadows of seagrass have all but disappeared, leaving the moonlit scene without the stars that illuminated our visit to Cyrene. The group did however, find a couple of stars that, so disguised, were ones I wouldn’t have recognised. Shaped as their common name suggests, these cushion sea stars are quite recognisable upturned – wearing the unmistakeable mark of a true star on their well hidden undersides.

A cushion star. A cushion star.

The underbelly of a cushion star. The underbelly of a cushion star.

A smaller and less richly coloured cushion sea star. A smaller and less richly coloured cushion sea star.

The expense of the reef did, in the light of the silvery moon, reveal quite a lot more to the keener pairs of eye. Ria Tan in blog post Terumbu Semakau: still no seagrass recovery, does bring to light several interesting sightings. It was, however, as unlikely romance that might have been the highlight of the day - the romance of a pair of rare tiger cowries, taking place discreetly behind a large piece of coral.

A pair of rare tiger cowries, discreet in their romance.  A pair of rare tiger cowries, discreet in their romance.

Feeling crabby, early in the morning. Feeling crabby, early in the morning.

A less than romantic find - a fish trap erected on the reef. A less than romantic find – a fish trap erected on the reef.

The romance found on Terumbu Semakau, is one that may soon be lost, as foretold by the Land Use Plan that was released by the Ministry of National Development last year in support of the less than well received Population White Paper. In the plan, the reef is seen to be within an area that is potentially a future land reclamation site that will create an even larger Pulau Semakau – leaving very little of the patch reef systems that once shaped our southern waters left for us to find romance in.

Possible future reclamation poses a threat to the future of the reefs (and the islands). Possible future reclamation poses a threat to the future of the reef (source: Land Use Plan 2013).

The incinerated waste receiving station at Pulau Semakau as seen from the reef. The incinerated waste receiving station at Pulau Semakau as seen from the reef.

Branching Montipora corals in the middle of the terumbu. Branching Montipora corals in the middle of the terumbu.

More views of the reef in the moonlight

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The visit to Terumbu Semakau is part of a series of visits to some of the lesser known shores of Singapore, in search of words and sounds for an IRememberSG funded project, Points of Departure.


The forgotten stars of Singapore

2014 July 16

It is good to be reading about Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub’s work on Singapore’s unseen and unheard of seagrass meadows in Saturday’s edition of The Straits Times. We did, as Dr Siti points out in the article, once have lush meadows of seagrass, ones rich in life and ones which contributed to some of my happier childhood experiences off Changi Beach.

The star of our fast disappearing seagrass meadows. The star of our fast disappearing seagrass meadows.

Common Sea Stars. Common Sea Stars.

A sea hare - a type of sea slug. A sea hare – a type of sea slug.

Coincidentally, I found myself in wading through another meadow, early in the morning of the day the article was published, found at one of offshore Singapore’s patch reef systems that is known collectively the Cyrene Reefs. The meadow, one of the larger surviving meadows in a part of the world where a certain emphasis has been placed on creating land where the sea is, is one that is teeming with life – the most noticeable of which are the huge red or pink knobby sea stars, which had also been prominent in the fields off Changi that featured in my youthful days.

A view across the sandbar at the Cyrene Reefs towards the new container terminal at Pasir Panjang. A view across the sandbar at the Cyrene Reefs towards the new container terminal at Pasir Panjang.

An anemone. An anemone.

And a false anemone. And a cerianthid.

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More Knobby Sea Stars at Cyrene. More Knobby Sea Stars at Cyrene.

Surveying the landscape from the rather expansive sandbar at Cyrene at 4 in the morning, does provide that sense of the reef and its seagrass meadows having been put under siege by the industrial empire, one that has left its unsightly scars on much of Singapore’s western coast. To the north, the bright lights of a Pasir Panjang relieved of its “pasir” (sand in Malay) reveal that S$3.5 billion container terminal that is only a temporary one - port operations we hear would eventually be consolidated at Tuas. To the south lies Pulau Bukom, the first of Singapore’s islands to be committed to industrial exploitation and to its west Jurong Island, the monster of an island created by joining a cluster of lands through land reclamation has created; both dominated by stacks smoking in the cover of night.

What's smoking on Pulau Bukom at 4 in the morning. What’s smoking on Pulau Bukom at 4 in the morning.

A fire worm. A fire worm.

A shrimp. A shrimp.

A sea cucumber. A sea cucumber.

The visit to Cyrene, was perhaps to be remembered not for the opportunity it did provide to reacquaint myself with the seagrass adventures of my youthful days, but for the possible misadventure it might have turned into, as the quickening pace of the winds from the west – the much feared Sumatras, promised not just to cover us in rain but also threaten us with a show of light. The attempt the winds prompted to scamper off as quickly as we could from what would have been a location that was completely exposed, was one that Murphy seemed to want to intervene in when the inflatable boat that was to get us out floundered in the wind and the waves; the increasing frequency at which the flashes lit up the sky as well as the fast rising tide adding to the drama.

Before the storm ... an anemone. Before the storm … an anemone.

The escape as captured by Juria.

We did somehow find ourselves in the relatively safety of the bigger boat. The “escape” is described as Ria Tan of the Wild Shores of Singapore saw it in her post “Near Death at Cyrene!“:

Fortunately, by some miracle, the Sumatras made a U-turn around Cyrene! The winds and waves died down. Kok Sheng redirected the dinghy to a less rocky spot, with Chay Hoon using the paddle to hold it away from the shore as every clambered on board. Eventually, everyone made it safely back to the big boat. Phew. Thanks to Alex and crew for making sure we don’t drown! (Why is it we often have a near death experience on Cyrene? During our last trip there in Aug 2013, Russel found a living cone snail!)

The NEA weather map showing the u-turn of the storm.

The incident brought to mind a close encounter with lightning that I had as a child, the setting for which was provided once again by the waters off Changi Beach. That did teach me about the respect one has to show for the untameable forces of nature as did this new encounter. The incident did also heighten the respect that I have for the folks I was in the company of and the risks they expose themselves to. It is through their tireless efforts, that attention is drawn to the many offshore habitats we have, as well as the many threats to the habitats as Singapore looks to create more land from the sea.

The view towards Jurong Island to the reefs' west. The view towards Jurong Island to the reefs’ west.

The news over the weekend of the creation of Singapore’s first marine park at Sisters’ Islands is a positive outcome of some of these and other similar efforts and hopefully, it with the efforts of researchers such as Dr Siti and enthusiasts such as the group I was with, we will see a lot more emphasis on the conservation and revitalisation of the once rich offshore habitats that have survived in the waters of Singapore.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

A sneak peek at NDP 2014

2014 July 11

I got an opportunity to have a sneak peek at what this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) had to offer at a rehearsal held on Saturday, taking a few photographs that accompany this post. The rehearsal was held a week before the series of rehearsals that Primary 5 students will attend as part of the National Education (NE) Show programme  starting on 12 July 2014, in the lead-up to the actual parade, all of which offers a glimpse of what the highly anticipated parade has to offer.

Always something to look forward to - the fireworks sign-off. Always something to look forward to – the fireworks sign-off.

The audience seen as the lights come on ... The audience seen as the lights come on …

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Beyond the always spectacular signature show of fireworks that now sign all NDPs off, the parade and ceremony, the flypast and the medley of National songs, this year’s NDP will see the introduction of a Military Tattoo, which for the first time, will open the Parade and Ceremony. The 7-minute band display, will involve some 164 personnel, including drummers from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) who will perform together with members of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Band, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) Band, the Silent Precision Drill Squad (SPDS), the National Cadet Corp (NCC) Band, and the National Police Cadet Corp (NPCC) Band.

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The Parade and Ceremony itself, entitled ”A Parade with a Heart”, has been aligned with this year’s NDP theme, “Our People, Our Home” and consists of five Heartbeats. The five moments will honour the organisations that have contributed in the defence, social and economic areas, pay tribute to our pioneers, get the audience singing in a sing-along of Singapore songs, celebrate the family and showcase the SAF and Home team’s capabilities in the Dynamic Defence Display.

The Leopard 2 MBT will feature in the Dynamic Display segment. The Leopard 2-SG Main Battle Tank will feature in the Dynamic Display segment.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Surface-to-Air PYTHON-5 and DERBY-Short Range (SPYDER-SR) ground-based air defence system - another asset the audience will see during the Dynamic Display. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Surface-to-Air
PYTHON-5 and DERBY-Short Range (SPYDER-SR) ground-based air defence
system – another asset the audience will see during the Dynamic Display.

A navy RHIB during practice for the Dynamic DIsplay Segment. A navy RHIB during practice for the Dynamic Display Segment.

Always something to look forward to at the NDP, are the so-called funpacks, which contain both giveaways as well as items for use during the parade itself. This year’s very brightly coloured funpacks were designed by a group of 15 students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central’s School of Design and Media. Included in the funpacks are button badges – the result of the NDP 2014 Funpack Print Design Contest from which nine designs were chosen to be printed into button badges. Among the winning entries is one from 13 year-old Ong Zheng Jie Joshua, which centres on a tree that symbolizes the strong and prosperous Singapore built by our ancestors.

Funpack distribution. Funpack distribution.

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The parade this year features some 35 marching contingents, with four Guard-Of-Honour (GOH) contingents, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Colours Party, the Combined Band and 29 other contingents from the SAF, Home Team, uniformed groups as well as social and economic organisations. Numbering some 2,000 participants, the parade will be the largest Parade & Ceremony segment ever held at the Floating Platform.

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The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Get a sneak peek at the refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

2014 July 10

Event Listing

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall Open House Weekend

For one weekend only, the curtain is up for a sneak peek at the refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall! On 19 and 20 July, be among the first to discover what’s new at Singapore’s oldest performing arts centre through a series of guided and self- guided tours. Enjoy special performances by the Singapore Symphony Children’s Choir, T’ang Quartet and other arts groups.

An artist impression of the refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall (courtesy of W-Architects). An artist impression of the refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall (courtesy of W-Architects).

What’s Your Victoria Story?

We are on the lookout for your favourite memories of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall! Do you have stories of your first dates, backstage jitters, or were you part of the mass weddings held there in the 1950s? Share your old photographs and memories of these well-loved spaces at our irememberVictoria collection booth!

Snap your most creative shot of the refurbished venues and hashtag your photos to #irememberVictoria!

A recent peek at the building. A recent peek at the building.

Event Details:

Date: 19 & 20 July 2014 (Saturday & Sunday)
Time: 10am – 7pm

Location:

Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place, Singapore 179555

Victoria Concert Hall, 11 Empress Place, Singapore 179558

Admission: Free

irememberVictoria is a collaboration between Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall with the Singapore Memory Project.

Visit www.vtvch.com for more information.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Behind that fast, furious, sky-high NDP salute

2014 July 4

It is in a very brief but spectacular moment that five of Singapore’s most advanced fighter jets the F-15SG, with their afterburners on, will, from some 300 to 400 metres above Marina Bay, will wow the crowds at this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) in their salute to the nation. The display, a regular feature of more recent NDPs, “A Salute to the Nation”, has to surely be a crowd favourite that involves only the best-of-the-best in air crew in a demonstration of extreme piloting skill that sees the jets separated, wing-tip to wing-tip, by a distance of just 3 feet (0.9 metres).

149 SQN's F-15SGs lining up for take-off at Paya Lebar Air Base for the NDP 2014 practice session (photo courtesy of  MINDEF, Airforce Information Center). 149 SQN’s F-15SGs lining up for take-off at Paya Lebar Air Base for the NDP 2014 practice session (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center).

I was provided with the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes that allowed me to get a glimpse of what does go on in the lead up to that fleeting wow moment with a visit to the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) 149 SQN, at Paya Lebar Air Base on Saturday. The visit, arranged for a group of bloggers, provided the chance to understand some of the challenges that the execution of the salute presents to the air crew, get a first-hand view of some of the preparations, and get up close with the pilots and aircraft, along with the thrill of seeing the jets take-off for Saturday’s NDP practice session right by the runway (as we understand it – there are a total of seven practices that the team participates in – four of which are carried out during the NDP rehearsals).

On the runway before take-off (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center). On the runway before take-off (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center).

In the informative briefing that was provided by Commanding Officer MAJ Nick Wong - who also leads the display team, we were introduced to the six pairs of air crew – each comprising a Pilot and a Weapons Systems Officer (Fighter) -  a sixth aircraft in the five aircraft display is always on standby and maintains a holding position as a replacement in event one of the five aircraft has for some reason to pull out.

The six pairs of men who will take the F-15SGs up into the air for the Salute to the Nation. The six pairs of men who will take the F-15SGs up into the air for the Salute to the Nation.

The line-up. The line-up.

Among the challenges that MAJ Wong spoke of was the importance of getting the timing right in the execution as well as in maintaining a correct line and formation, especially when the move involves the use of the afterburners. Rapid decision making is often required in response to always changing timings in order to ensure that the execution is perfect.

Shadow play - MAJ Nick Wong demonstrating how tight the aircraft are in maintaining formation. Shadow play – MAJ Nick Wong demonstrating how tight the aircraft are in maintaining formation.

The group also got to see some of the preparations before each flight including the kitting up of the air crew and the pre-flight inspection and start-up routine for the aircraft. The kit that the crew puts on includes a anti-G suit to counter the effects of the G-Forces experienced by the crew (the crew can be subjected to acceleration forces that reach as much as 9G during flight manoeuvres). Interestingly, there is also a bag into which the crew, when needed, answer the call of nature into. The bag is filled with a powder substance that turns into a gel on contact with liquid waste.

Kitted out with the Anti-G suit. Kitted out with the Anti-G suit.

The man they call "Shrek", CPT Chia, showing the bag the crew answer the call of nature into. The man they call “Shrek”, CPT Chia, showing the bag the crew answer the call of nature into.

The flight helmet. The flight helmet.

The entire flight kit weighs as much as 15 kg. The entire flight kit weighs as much as 15 kg.

At the weather shed, we got up-close to one of the aircraft being prepared. The pre-flight checks and preparation involves both the Air Crew as well as the Flight Line Crew in ensuring the aircraft is prepared adequately and is safe to launch. The 149 SQN Flight Line Crew has both Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs) as well as Regular Air Force Engineers who are also involved in both pre and post-flight inspections, as well as maintenance on the aircraft.

The F-15SG in the Weather Shed. The F-15SG in the Weather Shed.

Pre-Flight Inspections being done by both the AIr Crew and Flight Line Crew. Pre-Flight Inspections being done by both the Air Crew and Flight Line Crew.

Getting Ready to launch the F-15SG. Getting Ready to launch the F-15SG.

More on the 149 SQN’s F-15SGs, which attained Full Operational Capability in September 2013, can be found at both the MINDEF website (see - Fact Sheet: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)’s F-15SG Multi-role Aircraft) and the RSAF’s Facebook Page (see – F-15SG in action during the latest Exercise Forging Sabre. More on NDP 2014 can also be found at the NDP website.

Out the F-15SG goes. Out the F-15SG goes.

Taxiing to the runway. Taxiing to the runway.

A member of the Flight Line Crew. A member of the Flight Line Crew.A f-15SG commencing a take-off run (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center). A F-15SG commencing a take-off run (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center).

Lining-up (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center). Lining-up (photo courtesy of MINDEF, Airforce Information Center).


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Another new journey along the Rail Corridor

2014 June 30

It was three years ago on 30 June 2011 that we waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway and its 79 years of trains running through to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The cessation of train services freed up a 26 kilometre long corridor that cut a north-south path through Singapore, land which the Singapore government has committed to maintaining as a continuous green corridor for the benefit of the wider community.

We wave goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore 3 years ago on 30 June 2011. We waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore 3 years ago on 30 June 2011.

The Rail Corridor, which does have the potential to serve as a connector in more ways than one, including the provision of an unbroken link running down from the top of Singapore right into the heart of the city, as well as a green link for flora and fauna between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Reserve with the green belt at the Southern Ridges; will now also see use as a connector for a new set of water pipes that will carry water from the Murnane Service Reservoir into the city area, required to be laid to meet future demands, as well as allowing for the replacement of an ageing set of pipes.

Murnane Service Reservoir, which was completed in 1956 and acts as a buffer to cater for the fluctuation in demand of water through the day. Murnane Service Reservoir, which was completed in 1956 and acts as a buffer to cater for the fluctuation in demand of water through the day.

Pipelines at the Central Pipeline Reserve. Water pipelines at the Central Pipeline Reserve.

The project, which was presented by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to the members of the Rail Corridor Partnership (RCP) on Saturday and to members of the media today will involve a 11 kilometre stretch (about half of the total length of pipes to be laid) of the southern section of the corridor from Jalan Anak Bukit to Tanjong Pagar and is scheduled to commence shortly. The project will start with the PUB first carrying out a detailed engineering design from July 2014. This will be followed by an Environmental Impact Assessment that will take place from December 2014 to August 2015 as well as Soil Investigations.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan along the rail corridor during Saturday's briefing to the Rail Corridor Partnership. Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan along the rail corridor during Saturday’s briefing to the Rail Corridor Partnership.

The project’s construction phase will follow the calling of a tender in October 2015, with work starting in April 2016 at a section running from Holland Road to Commonwealth Avenue using a cut and cover method involving the digging of an open trench a rate of one length of pipe laid per day. This section is scheduled to be fully reopened in October 2017.

Disruption to users of the rail corridor such as walkers, joggers and cyclists, will be minimised throughout the construction period. Disruption to users of the rail corridor such as walkers, joggers and cyclists, will be minimised throughout the construction period.

A Scaly-brested Munia seen along the corridor  on Saturday. Hopefully disruption to the rail corridor's amazing wildlife will also be kept to a minimum. A Scaly-breasted Munia seen along the corridor on Saturday. Hopefully disruption to the rail corridor’s amazing wildlife will also be kept to a minimum.

A Oriental Pied Hornbill seen (and heard) during Saturday's walk. A Oriental Pied Hornbill seen (and heard) during Saturday’s walk.

Construction is expected to be completed by September 2019 with work along the stretch from Jalan Anak Bukit to Holland Road scheduled for completion in March 2018, the stretch from Commonwealth Avenue to Jalan Kilang Barat completed by September 2018 and the last stretch from Jalan Kilang Barat to Tanjong Pagar completed by September 2019. Throughout the construction period, access to the rail corridor will be maintained, and alternative paths will be provided to allow users to continue with their activities where necessary.

Dr Balakrishnan with members of the RCP on Saturday. Dr Balakrishnan with members of the RCP on Saturday.

Due consideration has also been paid to the historic features along the route of the intended pipeline such as Bukit Timah Railway Station (BTRS), the truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Road as well as a brick culvert close to BTRS with pipe-jacking used in way of the bridge and culvert. In way of BTRS, the pipeline will be run in the area behind the station.

Bukit Timah Railway Station as seen when it was operational. Bukit Timah Railway Station as seen when it was operational.

A red brick culvert. A red brick culvert.

Members of the RCP, including representatives of Nature Society (Singapore), are generally supportive of the project. It is worth taking note that as in the case of the Central Pipeline Reserve, the laying of the pipeline along a stretch of the corridor would provide for it being kept free from development and hence, the preservation of the stretch of the rail corridor as a uninterrupted green corridor following the completion of works. Plans for future use of the rail corridor has been the subject of much interest since the closure of the railway. As yet, the future use of the corridor has not been determined, although there is that commitment to preserve it as a continuous green space. A much anticipated design competition, expected to have some influence on its future use, is expected to be announced in the near future.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

A return to our islands in the sun

2014 June 27

Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands, as the name of the exhibition currently on at the National Museum of Singapore does suggest, takes us back to the islands of Singapore. Many of more than 70 island had once been inhabited - with communities that numbered from the hundreds to the thousands who were moved to the main island as part of redevelopment efforts. These communities were not just a well forgotten part of Singapore’s history, but also of the culture and history of a wider society that existed well before the coming of the British that was spread across the Riau Archipelago.

An old postcard showing Kusu Island before reclamation.

An old postcard showing Kusu Island before reclamation.

Lazarus and St. John's Islands (Pulau Sekijang Pelepah and Pulau Sekijang Bendara), two islands, now joined by a causeway that were once inhabited.

Lazarus and St. John’s Islands (Pulau Sekijang Pelepah and Pulau Sekijang Bendara), two islands, now joined by a causeway that were once inhabited.

The exhibition, curated by Marcus Ng and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, revisits life as it was and now hard to imagine on several of the inhabited islands through a mix of artefacts of island life, archival images, and most interestingly, the experience of island life told through video interviews with some of the islands’ former inhabitants. One interview that I did find particularly interesting was that of a former resident of Pulau Seking (or Sakeng) – the last of the southern islands to be inhabited with its residents having been resettled as recently as 1994, the very emotional Mr Teo Yan Teck. The interview see Mr Teo, who have lived on the island for close to four decades, talk about how he came to settle on the island, the emotions he felt when told he had to leave and also of the burning of boats by the islanders before they were to leave the island and a way of life they were used to, for good.

A highlight of Balik Pulau is the video interviews with some of the islands' former residents.
A highlight of Balik Pulau is the video interviews with some of the islands’ former residents.
A kolek sauh from Pulau Seraya at the exhibition - boats were an integral part of island life and featured in races the islands played host to.
A kolek sauh from Pulau Seraya at the exhibition – boats were an integral part of island life and featured in races the islands played host to.

Mr Teo, when asked about how he felt about leaving the island.

Mr Teo, when asked about how he felt about leaving the island.

The fascinating exhibition, which runs until 10 August 2014, will also play an important part as a hub one of the focal points for the upcoming Singapore Heritage Festival (SHS). Now in its 11th edition, the SHS, the theme of which this year will be Our Islands, Our Home, will run from 18 to 27 July 2014 and sees over 60 programmes available for the participation of the public, put up with the help of 40 community groups, individuals and partners with the aim of drawing Singaporeans to connect with their shared history and heritage.

The festival offers an opportunity to explore some of the southern islands through excursions.

The festival this year offers an opportunity to explore some of the southern islands through excursions.

A sandy beach at Pulau Seringat - an enlarged island which incorporates the former reef island of Pulau Renggit.The festival this year offers an opportunity to explore some of the southern islands through excursions. A sandy beach at Pulau Seringat – an enlarged island which incorporates the former reef island of Pulau Renggit.

The sisters. The sisters.

St. John's Island. St. John’s Island.

Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island - hear stories of its past when it was known as Pulau Penyabong and its association with the origins of the former name of Sentosa, Pulau Blakang Mati.  Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island – hear stories of its past when it was known as Pulau Penyabong and its association with the origins of the former name of Sentosa, Pulau Blakang Mati.

Kusu Island today. An enlarged Kusu Island today.

The highlight of this year’s SHS has to be without a doubt the opportunity it provides to reconnect with the islands, not just through the exhibition and through a series of talks that are being lined up, but also through an immersive experience that guided excursions to the islands will certainly provide. The excursions will include visits to St. John’s, Lazarus and Seringat Islands; a rare opportunity to visit one of Singapore’s lighthouses (Raffles Lighthouse) and have a look from the boat at another (Sultan Shoal); and a night of Nanyin at Kusu Island.  Space for the excursions will be limited and sign-ups will be possible from 1 July 2014 at www.heritagefest.sg. More information on the SHS is also available at www.heritagefest.sg and information on the exhibition at http://www.nationalmuseum.sg/.

The Tua Pek Kong temple on Kusu Island, the site of an annual pilgrimage. The Tua Pek Kong temple on Kusu Island, the site of an annual pilgrimage.

The temple also sees Nanyin performances by the Siong Leng Musical Association during the ninth lunar month and will by special arrangement host a night of nanyin that sees young musicians performing an traditional music form. The temple also sees Nanyin performances by the Siong Leng Musical Association during the ninth lunar month and will by special arrangement host a night of nanyin that sees young musicians performing an traditional music form.

Another look at the Tua Pek Kong Temple. Another look at the Tua Pek Kong Temple.

Besides the temple, the Keramats, graves of Malay saints that are venerated, are also visited by devotees. Besides the temple, the Keramats, graves of Malay saints that are venerated, are also visited by devotees.

Another look at two of the keramats. Another look at two of the keramats.


The author also blogs on The Long and Winding Road.

Worshiping the sun in a place on which the sun has set

2014 June 23

The view across the Tebrau Strait at 7 am on 21 June 2014, as seen from the seawall at Kampong Wak Hassan, an area that hosted a village by the sea , on which the sun has long set.

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