Saturday, January 08, 2011
The NUS Baba House
I visited the Neil Road, NUS Baba House last month, together with my Dad's three sisters (aka Tua Kor, Ji Kor and Sar Kor - as you can see we use the typical family naming conventions).
The NUS Baba House came about through a donation by the youngest daughter of Baba Tun Tan Cheng Lock, who wanted to preserve a little Baba/Nonya culture in modern Singapore. The house has been carefully restored to what a typical Peranakan house would be like in the 1920s. This photo featured is of the "pintu pagar", the front entrance door. This particular door is so beautiful - the carvings are so detailed and the gold and silver paint only serve to bring out their beauty.
Sadly, no photos are allowed inside, so there are not many more photos to feature. And, in addition to my earlier post on Peranakan houses, I've found this very detailed description online of the typical Peranakan house, so I'm not going to go into that either. I will just give a quick account of the visit and how we experienced the Baba House.
The four of us were part of a small group touring the House together with a guide. The group included a small family group of three people - one Baba and two Nonyas (one obviously the little old matriarch of the family) currently residing in Australia but originally from Malaysia. They were on holiday in Singapore and wanted to take a look at the Baba House. The rest of the group were "ang mohs". The guide said that one of the nice things about taking groups around, is that the Peranakans in the group often chime in with their own stories and experiences. (Of course, I can imagine the downsides too).
We started off in the reception room in the front of the house, where we heard a little on the restoration work done on the house. Our guide explained that the colour of the house (a bright blue) was similar to the original colour, detected when layers of paint were stripped off. Whilst the colour might appear a little bright, it would fade over time to a more muted colour.
Walking into the next room, we looked at the photographs of the former residents of the house. We were told that the founder of the family first came to Singapore some time in the late 1800s. The house however was purchased by one of his son's wives. So it was only the third generation of the family which stayed in the house. Upstairs, we visited the main bedroom where the old lady would have stayed. Her marriage bed was against one wall, a smaller day bed against another. There were a number of cupboards, where I assume she would have kept her sarongs and kebaya, plus a special cabinet for her handkerchiefs.
Whilst we walked through the house, my aunts reminesced about our family home, which was in the city centre (Choon Guan Street, just behind International Plaza) and as such sadly has been torn down and (I think) a tall condo block has taken its place. We looked at the carvings on the screen dividing the entrance reception room from the rest of the house and they started talking about how, as little children, they had to clean the carvings using a tissue on the end of a chopstick. We walked through the courtyard, and they talked about the well which used to be in the centre of their courtyard. They looked at the bedroom, and started talking about their grandmother's (my greatgrandmother's) bed which is of course now in the Peranakan museum.
They were not alone. We looked at photos of a Peranakan wedding, including the heavily decked out bride. The litttle old Nonya in our group chipped in to say that the 10 layers of clothing were so heavy, that most nonyas of her generation had stopped wearing most of them.
In some ways, we are indeed in a transition period when many older nonyas and babas are still around and can still relate stories of how they lived, and how their parents lived, so many years ago. But this generation will not be around forever, so we have only this short time to listen to and record their stories.
The Baba House is only open by appointment, so do check the website for further details if you are interested.