Monday, April 28, 2008
Sunday, April 27, 2008
According to my aunt, my great-grandfather travelled from China to Penang. There, he found a job working for a Penang businessman. He won the trust of this businessman, and more importantly (for me), the hand of his daughter in marriage. They then went on to have 11 children. My great-grandfather had 4 more children with another wife but the matriarch of the family was undoubtedly my great-grandmother.
I personally think that my great-grandparents were quite remarkable people. They did not follow the conventions of their time. Significantly, their many daughters were not brought up as traditional nonya girls, prepared for marriage and nothing else. Many of them were well-educated. One became a teacher, two doctors. In fact, one became the Chief Paediatrician for Singapore.
My great-grandparents shuttled to and fro between Singapore and Penang frequently, with assorted children in tow. Earlier on, my great-grandmother went back to Penang just to give birth to her children on the beautifully carved bed which her father had given her. Subsequently this bed was brought to Singapore and my great-grandmother donated it to the Singapore Museum. I visited it in the museum as a child (I remember that dusty old museum). I am happy and proud to say that I visited it yesterday, restored to glory.
My great-grandfather died when I was 1 year old and my great-grandmother, when I was 6 years old (I had just started Pr 1). But I do remember visiting her in her home (and running around) whilst she talked to my father and grandfather, the nonya matriarch to the last.
p.s. Sorry about the reflections. Bed is inside a perspex enclosure, probably to protect the hangings. Hard to photograph.
My cousin and I had been awaiting this day for some time. We went down at about 2pm and met the crowd first in the "BaBazaar" which was on the carpark next door and then in the Museum itself. Many Nonyas and Babas came dressed for the occasion, chitchatting with friends, looking at the stalls and sampling the food. I have to admit that I did not try the food. It looked just the stuff I get around home - Chilli Padi (on Joo Chiat Rd), Guan Hoe Soon (Joo Chiat Rd), Rumah Kim Choo (East Coast Road) - you get the picture. There were also stalls there from the Peranakan Association and the Penang Peranakan society. There was also a lovely jewellery stall selling modern versions of the gorgeous old pieces - but the prices were such that put me off impulse buys. We also stuck around for the chendol making demonstration, of which more later.
The queue into the museum itself was pretty long, stretching outside the building and next to the BaBazaar. But we were happy to wait. The crowds just inside were also quite substantial and we went straight to the second floor, skipping the first room on "origins". The second floor features mainly the Baba and Nonya wedding rituals, whilst the third floor, the activities of daily life - the clothing, the jewellry, food and crockery, religion, and a special exhibition, "Junk to Jewels: The Things that Peranakans Value". Lots of lovely examples of beautiful beaded work (photo shows one sample). One special exhibit: Dr Goh Keng Swee's golf club, with which he had hit his third hole-in-one. There are also lots of interactive elements, mainly for children.
I don't really intend to go into the details of the collection. What really struck me was the strong feeling of connection which visitors seemed to have with the exhibits. There was an old, dainty Nonya walking around the museum hand-in-hand with her grandson. Dressed in her sarong kebaya and kasut manek, she was commenting about the exhibits to him. You hear people say comments like "Didn't my mother have something like this...." Truly, this is a people's museum indeed.
More photos of the museum found here.