SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM: CODE IS THE NEW DIGITAL CITY SKIN Singapore Art Museum, opened in 1995, is home to one of the largest public collections of contemporary art from Southeast Asia. Like many art spaces in Singapore, it occupies a registered national monument, the former St. Joseph’s Institution. Built in 1852, the former school sits on the site of Singapore’s first catholic chapel, on land gifted to the Church in Sir Stamford Raffles’ first plan of modern Singapore of 1822. The museum is currently closed for renovation. However, the hoarding around it has been turned into a space for the commission series “Walking in the City.” The museum’s website reports that it “will engage with themes such as history (of both the building and the island), society, urban development, and the environment.” Two commissions by Heman Chong, Writing While Walking and Other Stories and Safe Entry (both 2020) are the first projects in the series.
SENTOSA BOARDWALK AND MEANDER SHOAL: THE SEA IS A STAGE Sentosa Boardwalk is a causeway that crosses Meander Shoal, the strait that connects Sentosa Island, once called Pulau Blakang Mati, to mainland Singapore.
Pulau Blakang Mati (which literally means “island of death behind”) was renamed Sentosa (meaning “peace and tranquility”) in 1972. The island’s new name was the result of public competition in 1969. The island’s development as a tourist destination from the late 1960s to the 1970s was part of the Singapore government’s plans to develop the economy and make it into a global destination. The founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, at one point suggested that a nudist colony be set up on Sentosa.
The island’s history stretches back far beyond the founding of Singapore by Raffles in 1819. The dark name it first had supposedly relates to a bloody history of piracy. It is also associated with a lethal outbreak of malaria in the nineteenth century that wiped out the Bugis settlers that lived there. The Bugis are an ethnic group from Indonesia believed to have Austronesian ancestors from South China.
Throughout the Japanese occupation of Singapore during the Second World War, besides hosting a prisoner-of-war camp, the island was the site of Operation Sook Ching, a systemic purge of the Chinese believed to have supported China’s resistance of Japan. It is believed that around 70,000 people were killed.
Due to the development of the island in the 1970s, the communities that lived there were moved to the mainland. These included a Gurkha community—Nepalese soldiers that are part of the Singapore Police force. They had found their way to Singapore as part of the former British Army and played an important role in Singapore’s independence.
In more recent times, Sentosa was the site of former American President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018.
VIVOCITY: GREEN DESIGNED INTO SIMULACRA On the other side of the boardwalk is VivoCity. Designed by Toyo Ito and opened in 2006, VivoCity is Singapore’s largest mall. Many of its shops and dining venues create tropes of national identity: a British restaurant incorporates iconography of the British royalty, for example.
The local collaborating architectural firm, DP Architects describe the mall’s designs as “drawing from qualities of the bay waters adjacent to the site... VivoCity’s undulating forms give continuous curvature to the structure’s halls, façade and roof, reformulating the typical hard-edged, ‘big box’ mall type.”
Via the mall’s basement, VivoCity is also connected to the HarbourFront MRT station, which doubles as one of the largest bomb shelters in Singapore.
HARBOURFRONT CENTRE: THE PEASANTS REMAIN POLICED HarbourFront Center, formerly known as World Trade Centre, is a ferry terminal that opened in 1977. The terminal includes a cruise centre for boats that serve the regional islands and a ferry service that connects Singapore to Batam and Bintan Island in Indonesia.
LABRADOR PARK AND DRAGON’S TEETH GATE: WE MOMENTARILY INTRUDE INTO THE HORIZON Labrador Park was originally known as Pasir Panjang Beach, or Long Beach. The park is now home to several guardians: victims of the Japanese Occupation during the Second World War, Pontianak, Penanggalan, mudskippers, lizards, and squirrels, to name a few. The jetty is now closed permanently for marine conservation, yet there was a period where this stretch of coast was a landing site for illegitimate trading.
The park is also home to the infamous Dragon’s Teeth Gate. In around 1349, Wang Dayuan, a traveller from Quanzhou, China, described his visit to what he called Long Ya Men, or Dragon’s Teeth Gate, rocks that once stood at the entrance to Keppel Harbour, and reported how a crown had been found there in ancient times. The shape of the Gate was said to be a relic of the duel between a Naga and a Garuda.
This area is also important to the myth of Singapore. The Malay Annals record how Sang Nila Utama, founder of the Kingdom of Singapura, was caught in a storm along the coast of what is today Labrador Park and had thrown his crown overboard as a gift to the sea. The area was also a gateway for the local Orang Laut seafaring peoples; some settled on land while others remained on boats out in the straits and around the surrounding small islands.
BUKIT CHERMIN BOARDWALK: THE NEW DRAGON’S TEETH ARE CAPITALISM Bukit Chermin translates as “mirror hill” in Malay, and it was said that the water was so clear here that it was like a mirror. Currently Bukit Chermin is home to a luxury residential development, Reflections at Keppel Bay, designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind.
MARINA AT KEPPEL BAY: WHILE THE RICH LUXURIATE The Marina at the foot of Reflections was developed as a dock for international luxury yachts. It is the floating parking lot for many of Singapore’s wealthiest people, as well as the base for several pleasure boat companies. This deep water harbor is what first attracted Raffles to Singapore.
—FYEROOL DARMA & NURUL HUDA RASHID