Sunday, April 27, 2008

Opening of the Peranakan Museum

Well, yesterday was an exciting and most memorable day for the Nonyas and Babas of Singapore. The opening of the Peranakan Museum in the old Tao Nan School in Armenian Street was an important day for the community here.

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.


  1. I have to agree with you. This is truly a people's museum.
    So many little stories that goes with the exhibits of people who are familiar. One that touched me was the story of the diamond ring. The bibik remembers the grandma going to play mahjong when she was young and ceremoniously put on that lucky ring. Grandma told her that when she goes, she would gift it to her. Later in life when grandma was ill, she visited her and grandma made her take it. Her own mother was furious when she saw her wearing the ring but she explained that grandma gave it to her. They then shared that moment in grief. Bibik explained that the ring will be passed on to her children but held in trust at the museum.
    That story as with many others in the museum moved me. Truly a people's museum. Well worth a visit. BTW, its free entry on weekends for the next 2 weeks as part of the opening festivities.

  2. To correct Tony's comment, Museum entry is $2 for the next 2 weekends festivals (3 & 4 May and 10 & 11 May). It was free only for the first weekend (26 & 27 April).

  3. Dear Tony

    Thanks for sharing the story. I was impressed by the many items which had been loaned to the museum. It is so much better for such things to be shared rather than hoarded away where no one can see it.

    On the admission fees, just to say that the normal price is $6 for an adult, so $2 is still a concession!



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