zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
Memories at the Ford Motor Factory is a museum in Singapore that is owned and maintained by the National Library Board. It is best known as the location where the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese on February 15, 1942.

While the building was considered central during the war, in current day Singapore it's a bit of a pain to get to. Currently, Upper Bukit Timah is purely a residential area. There's a park, a condo, highway and suddenly, you see the tourist sign for the Motor Factory hidden behind an overgrown tree.

Anyway I lucked out today, because I think visitors to this particular museum are few and far between. I mean they're tucked away and not as famous if you're not into War history. I'm guessing that unless a school trip comes through, the guys in there mostly twiddle their thumbs and get to know each other. Because of this, I walked into an empty museum and the oldish man behind the desk just asked 'would you like a briefing?'

I say 'yes please' and it turns out that a 'briefing' is a personal tour. Yay for me!

A very brief introduction was given about the cars that were once assembled in the factory. Basically, Henry Ford built and opened he factory in 1941. It was the first Ford factory in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately for Mr. Ford's timing, the Japanese invaded in 1942. Actually I don't know if this factory ever spent time making commercial cars, seeing as how it was taken over by the Royal Air Force to make fighter planes before the Japanese even cycled through Malaya. Anyway, the Japanese took the factory because it was central to the conflict, and enabled the Imperial military to store weapons, assemble vehicles and have a pretty good base. So there I was, with Mr, Leung, as he gestured to the left which meant 'fighting to the left' and gesturing to the right for of course 'fighting to the right'. (FIGHTING EVERYWHERE!), after he pointed out that the building's front is pretty much the original building, down to the wooden teak bordering the doors. Ah, pre-war architecture. Good stuff.

Once inside, there are the typical weapons and equipment left behind by allied and Japanese troops that are showcased, but the main attraction of course is the meeting room in which Generals Percival and Yamashita met to discuss and agree on the terms of Britain's surrender.

Unfortunately, you cannot walk into the room. I think they've worked very hard to restore it and they don't want to chance some silly member of the public messing up their hard work. Everything in the room is from that day, with the exception of the table. The real surrender table is in the Australian War Museum in Canberra, so a replica sits in the room. The clock is adjusted to 6:21, the time that General Percival signed the surrender document and Singapore became Sy┼Źnan-to. There are displays in front of the room with the script of the negotiations, and a video of it as well. As a visitor you're asked to pay attention to General Yamashita's presence and forcefulness in negotiations, and General Percival's general air of being lost and confused. When you read the script, you read that General Yamashita had a few things going on in his head - The British had twice the amount of equipment and men than the Japanese. The main difference was that the Allied forces were made up of new recruits while Yamashita had veterans from the China campaign. So one...General Yamashita was bluffing. He was hoping that the British would surrender because he actually couldn't afford a drawn out conflict. The second thing was that he was extremely frustrated - the interpreters he had were all pretty bad. At the end he just demanded this 'yes or no!' answer, to which of course, he received a surrender.

The other items of interest to me were 2 original bicycles used by the Imperial Army to cycle down Malaya to invade Singapore. They are old clunky things, to which Mr Leung of course challenged us (because a tour came in about 30 minutes after me) to load a bunch of supplies, weapons and ammunition on them and ride them for 30 hours straight through the Malay peninsula. Obviously no one felt up to the challenge but his point was - you do have to respect the Japanese Army that invaded Singapore. They were...determined.

The rest of the museum is photographs, first hand accounts and information about the occupation, with a brief introduction on why Japanese embarked on an expansion strategy, as well as how they managed to get so far. The answer to number 1 was resources and Imperial ambitions (why does any country invade or seek hegemony over others? Man, we're greedy buggers). The answer to number 2 was that Japan moved to invade Korea and China when the rest of the world was occupied with World War One and otherwise couldn't do anything about it. Mind you, these countries wouldn't have stepped in out of human rights or any such ideals, but because they had interests in the Pacific and would have defended their own interests against Japan.

Sounds like a crappy place to be.

Anyway, after we finished the main exhibit (the tour group was a small one), Mr Leung let us watch a video about the occupation with a brief warning about grisly pictures (since the Imperial Army at the time was all about beheading and smiling while holding heads). It was informative, and I dunno, media etc these days is so gruesome. The difference is that these events are real and not special effects, but still, one gets numbed to seeing grotesque things.

Well before I left, Mr. Leung asked me to wait, while the tour group went off. He gave me this handout of all the major WW2 sites to visit in Singapore, which was rather nice of him, to note that I had an interest. There are quite a few, and he was rather adamant that I go pay my respects to the Allied war dead in Kranji (there's a war cemetery there). There are quite a few sites in Singapore, old bunkers, forts and memorials. I'm superstitious enough that I generally don't willingly make trips to cemeteries, though I do have respect for those who gave their lives essentially for the life I live today, and whatever future I will have. I will definitely go see more of the other sites, spread out of course.

For those who are curious, there is also a Japanese Cemetery Park maintained in Singapore for those who died on the opposite side. Buried there are the cremated ashes of those who died in Malaya and Singapore either during service or after. It started off initially as a burial ground for Japanese prostitutes, but evolved on its own. This cemetery is not on the list provided to me, but it is considered a memorial park in Singapore. I suppose it isn't considered a WW2 specific one because those remembered in this park span a timeline from before and after the war.

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in Singapore with some time on your hands, a visit to 'Memories at the Old Ford Motor Factory' is worth the time.
zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
Yesterday I finally made it to the Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands to check out the special Dinosaur Exhibit.

The thing about the Art Science Museum is that it doesn't really have any special permanent exhibit, but it rotates through the more expensive/valuable ones in collaboration with other international museums. Sometimes they get the exhibits right and they are amazing to experience. Sometimes (most times) the display is a real dud. The last one that disappointed me was 'Secrets of the Mummy' that they did in collaboration with the British Museum. I suspect that they got almost nothing from the British Museum (some mummy from storage), but seeing as how the Art Science Museum is one of the expensive ones on the island (the others are free for me), it felt like wasted money. So there's always a bit of a risk to check out one of their shows.

This was not the case with their Dinosaur exhibition. I enjoyed this one.

Put together in collaboration with the Museum of Natural History in New York, The San Juan Natural Science Museum (Argentina), PrimeSCI out of Australia and a Chinese University (sorry I'm blanking on the name), 'From Dawn to Extinction' tells the story of how life began on earth - early days to the evolution of eyes and shells, to the multiple extinction events that brought us Dinosaurs and eventually their end. Also showcased were lesser known giants from pre-historic times, the large reptiles or mammal-like reptiles that competed with the Dinosaur's ancestors for dominion.

The story of the earlier non-dino giants come mostly from South America, and i got to see fossils, skeleton reconstructions and depictions of creatures I never suspected existed. I mean, mammal-like reptiles? They're a class all on their own, giants who dominated before the dinosaurs who were reptiles (or at least related) but had fur. I also enjoyed the first exhibit about the origin of life and little things like burrowing under the sea bed brought more oxygen under that soil and released minerals into the water, leading to another wave in evolution.

When we pass the extinction phases to the Cretaceous and the age of the dinosaurs, we see the earlier dinosaurs. The key lesson of survival from each extinction phase is that size really does matter, and it sucks to be big. Large creatures have more difficulty surviving because of the sheer amount of fuel they require to sustain themselves. Small rodent like creatures, like early dinosaurs, or our tiny mammal ancestor who survived the age of dinosaurs, are able to more easily hide and survive off much less. I suppose that is a lesson still relevant in the present day.

When we reach the Jurassic, New York's Museum of Natural History gives us a marvellous interactive exhibit about the body mechanics behind large dinosaurs. One of the interesting take aways was how they determined T-Rex's speed (or lack of it). They did a few tests, using the mobility of a modern day chicken to determine how best that old monster moved (birds are T-Rex's surviving descendants). They also shared a tidbit from the animators who worked on Jurassic Park. That scene where T-Rex is chasing the car? At first to create this high-speed chase, they made their T-Rex match the speed of the car. The result was hilarious because his legs were moving so fast they looked like 2 pinwheels. They had to slow him down by 25km, and recreate the action paced feel of this scene by adding more foliage that passed by quickly. From this and many other experiments, they determined that T-Rex was a slow bugger. This didn't matter ultimately as his prey was slower. There were also some cool displays that allowed us to see the difference between a baby, adolescent and adult Triceratops.

The interesting part from the Australian contribution covered dinosaurs that lived in cold weather temperatures. These are rarer for us to hear about, and they're not very well known (I suspect they were small).

China contributed the dinosaur fossil that is the missing link between the giants we know of in our imagination and modern day birds - large feathered birds who resemble the mythical phoenix. Honestly, looking at the fossils of these birds, with their long feathered tails, longish skulls and beak outline with sharp feathered crests on their head? Also with how they look burned into the rock...I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of the places where the legend of the phoenix comes from (similar to how I'm convinced that someone came across dinosaur bones and that's where the legend of dragons came from).

I bought the souvenir book that was written by the palaeontologists who helped put this exhibit together. I'm very happy with this visit, money well spent!

I should have taken pictures. I'm so out of the habit now of taking pictures in Museums (or in general) that I must take special care to start doing so, because I wish I could share some of this experience with you guys. Next time I promise!

I think Dinosaurs and really, any of the giants who walked this earth before us will always be fascinating. Trying to imagine the world they came from also leads to trying to imagine what the world will be - what will come after us? Something smaller perhaps, that seems to be a trend we're following. Also, what lessons can we learn? There's something about changing climates causing mass extinction events for one, that we're doing to ourselves, there's something about being able to survive on very little, filling niches, etc. I wonder if whatever major stage of life that comes next will be curious about us and the world that we will leave behind.


zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)

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