Jubilee Walk Exclusive Tour

The National Museum of Singapore, where the Jubilee Walk begins from.

The Jubilee Walk was launched in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. It features key milestones of our nation-building and is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Heritage Board, National Parks Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The full Jubilee Walk is an 8km self-guided walking tour starting from the National Museum of Singapore and ending at Marina Barrage. The National Heritage Board invited several bloggers, myself included for an Jubilee Walk Exclusive Tour last Saturday (30 Jan 2016), covering 5km and ending at the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay.

The tour started at the National Museum of Singapore, where our guide, Marcus Ng, told us about the history of the museum, which was originally known as the Raffles Library and Museum in 1887. The library portion eventually moved to everyone’s favourite red brick building next door, which was sadly demolished in favour of a useless tunnel to save motorists a mere 5 minutes or less, while the museum’s focus has moved from exhibiting zoological collections to showcasing our nation building. Different topical museums were also recently setup, e.g. Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place, Peranakan Museum at Armenian Street, the Philatelic Museum nearby etc.

The back of the National Museum of Singapore, facing the Fort Canning Hill.

We then move on to Fort Canning Hill just behind the museum. I have not really explored the place beyond the two white gothic gates, cupolas and the gravestones, so I found this section of the tour to be most interesting. The tour takes us to what remains of the fort and gate, the 9-pound cannon, the location of Singapore’s first botanical gardens, as well as a view of the Fort Canning Service Reservoir. You can also see Malaysian comic artist, Lat’s comic depicting the 5 Kings in Singapore and life in the 14th century Singapore.

One of the two white gothic gates at Fort Canning Park.

Headstones previously from the tombstones at Fort Canning Hill, mounted on a wall at the park.

The narrow staircase of the sally port at Fort Canning Hill.

This gate is all that remains of the fort which existed between 1859 and 1861.

The only remaining 9-pound cannon at Fort Canning. There used to be two of these.

A comic by Malaysian cartoonist, Lat, depicting the story of the 5 kings in Singapore.

Walking down the hill, we end up at the back of the Armenian Church, Singapore’s oldest Christian Church in Singapore. The location is also near the Hill Street Fire Station, Singapore Philatelic Museum and the National Archives.

Singapore Philatelic Museum

Marcus mentioned that St. Gregory’s Place, along with the shop houses were now merged into the Grand Park City Hall Hotel. I happened to have taken a photo of those shophouses in 1989 and showed it to the participants.

St. Gregory’s Place, c. 1989.

Moving along, we walk past the Hill Street Fire Station, a nice red-brick building built in 1908 and gazetted as a National Monument in 1998. A tour participant shared with us that the area next to the fire station used to be shophouses, before it became a hawker centre and sadly, is now just an empty field.

Hill Street Fire Station

As we pass the old Hill Street Police Station, which currently houses the Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Arts Council, National Heritage Board and the Media Development Authority.

Old Hill Street Police Station

Crossing the road, we stop by Clarke Quay along Singapore River. As we crossed a couple of underpasses to get to Empress Place, Marcus shared with us the history and significance of the river in our nation building, and how the place has transformed since its early days.

Sunset at Boat Quay.

Along the way, we pass by the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, Marcus shared that the other Raffles statue, which was now at the Victoria Concert Hall was originally sited at the Padang. That move also evicted the elephant statue gifted to us by the Thai King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to commemorate his 1871 visit to its current location at the Old Parliament House.

The walk was supposed to continue to the Esplanade, but due to time constraints, we had to end at Empress Place, outside the Asian Civilisations Musuem. For more information, check out NHB’s website for the Jubilee Walk and the Jubilee Walk Exclusive Tour.

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Waterfalls of Iceland

Goðafoss at Sunset

Iceland is the home to many spectacular waterfalls, due to the North atlantic which produces rain and snow; and a near-Artic location which gave rise to the many glaciers which melt and feed many rivers during summer. During my last trip to Iceland, I managed to visit and photograph a few of them.

Godafoss (Goðafoss)

Goðafoss (literally waterfall of the gods) is the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland. It spans a width of 30 meters and falls from a height of 12m, fed by the water from the  river Skjálfandafljót.

We accidentally came across a section of it during a rest stop on our way from Akureyri Airport to our guest house, but properly visited it again the following day.

Godafoss Downstream

Godafoss Downstream

I took the opening shot close to sunset, with a 10-stop ND filter to achieve the silky-water effect. We didn’t really get a spectacular sunset, but the warm/pink hue that the ND filter gave to the resulting picture is a nice touch and adds to the mood.

One challenge of shooting large waterfalls like this is the spray from the water, especially when doing long exposures. I had to clean the ND filter after each shot to ensure that the water droplets don’t ruin the shot.

We stayed till the sky turned dark, in hopes that we would catch the Aurora Borealis, and were glad that the wait wasn’t in vain. We were rewarded by the spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis dancing over the falls.

Aurora Borealis Over Godafoss.


On the way to the Svartifoss (Black Waterfall) in Skaftafell National Park, we came across the Hundafoss (Dog’s Fall.)

Hundafoss (Dog’s Fall)


Trekking further up eventually brings us to Svartifoss (Black Falls), so called because of the blackish, hexagonal basalt columns surrounding it. I had the most beautiful, warm afternoon light when I saw it from the top.


Unfortunately, by the time I got nearer, the light has pretty much faded. The below is a three-shot HDR image.


Foss á Siðu

We came across this unknown waterfall while on the way to Skogafoss, attracted by the rainbow produced from the water droplets and the morning sun. It was only later when I tried to look up the location via my iPhone photos of the place that I found out what it’s called. While not as spectacular as the rest of the falls, it’s the only one in our trip that had a rainbow in it.

Foss á Siðu


Finally, we got to another huge waterfall, Skogafoss. We had spent too much time stopping for photos along the way, so by the time we got here, the light has faded. I managed to get a couple of shots before more people came. Again, this was shot with a 10-stop ND filter.


We were supposed to visit Seljalandsfoss after this, but it had turned dark and there isn’t any time left. I hope to be able to visit that soon, along with the DC-3 plane wreck nearby.

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Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs

Steve McCurry’s photos on display at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Steve McCurry is most known for his 1984 photograph of an Afghan girl with haunting green eyes and red headscarf that appeared on the June 1985 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. The acclaimed National Geographic photographer has been to many places, covering international conflict and documenting ancient traditions and vanishing cultures and heritage.

Jodhpur, India

As part of the Singapore Art Week, the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks held an exhibition of 53 of his best known works. I was fortunate to be present at the press preview where the man himself is also present to take us on a tour of his photos and tell us the backstory behind them. He also did a short Q&A session with us.

Sundaram Tagore, owner of the gallery, introducing Steve McCurry to the visitors.

I have seen many of his works, both online and in photo books, but this is the first time I ever saw them as large prints—many as big as 60  by 40 inches. They were simply stunning. Many of the works are from India, Steve McCurry’s favourite destination which he has been to 80 times!

Steve McCurry talks about his favourite photo of a sandstorm in India.

McCurry began by sharing with us the backstory of one of his favourite works. It depicts a group of women dressed in traditional indian costumed huddled up during a snowstorm in  Rajasthan, India. He saw the developing scene and jumped out of his taxi to capture it on camera. He expressed sadness that such scenes, of people in traditional gear for example, are fast disappearing as people and places become more modernised. In his words, “I have a little bit of nostalgia for the way we once had this individuality, this individual character. and that is disappearing, and in many cases, have already disappeared. So I kind of look back with a kind of melancholy, the way we once were, and this is just sort of a memory thing.”

Dust Storm in the Desert, Rajasthan, India. One of Steve McCurry’s favourite works.

When asked what was it that attracted him to take the shot, was it the colours, the composition, or the content, his reply was the content. Colour doesn’t interest him, he said. This is despite the fact that most of the photos shown in the exhibition are very colourful. He added that the true test of a photograph is that it should still work after you took out all the colours.

Blue City

For the above shot of the Blue City in Jodhpur, India, McCurry scouted the location with that view and obtained permission from a house owner in order to shoot from the rooftop. He made two trips—one to shoot at sunrise, and another to shoot during sunset. It was the latter which ended up being chosen. The photograph was taken on a Hasselblad, he said, which renders lots of detail in that 60 x 40 inch print. It’s amazing to look at it in person. He also shared that the couple standing on the balcony on the foreground wasn’t posed, they just happened to be there.

Steve McCurry talks about this twilight shot of Mumbai, which has since disappeared, being replaced by a flyover.

On the proliferation of smartphone photography, McCurry said that he does shoot with his iPhone and it makes very publishable photos. The image quality of modern phones, he said, are already good enough to make a print of up to 8×10 inches. In fact, he has a book coming up in September which features 2-3 photos taken on his iPhone 6. He also said that phones are a lot less threatening than a big DSLR, allowing you to get the shot more easily.

Invariably, there will be someone who asked for him opinion on the “film vs. digital” debate. To this, he said, “Digital now is far superior to film. Film is no match for what digital can do now. It’s unbelievable. So now I don’t shoot with film anymore.”

Steve McCurry standing in front of his most iconic photo—The Afghan Girl.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs will be on show from 16 Jan till 21st Feb 2016 at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at the Gillman Barracks. It opens from 11am–7pm on Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 11am–6pm on Sundays.

Many thanks to Melanie Taylor, Sales Director of the gallery and my friend Belinda for giving me this opportunity.

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Jökulsárlón—Picturesque Glacial Lagoon In Iceland

Icebergs and ice formations perfectly reflected at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

One of the most beautiful sights in Iceland is Jökulsárlón, a glacial lake in southern Iceland on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park. The lagoon has been featured in movies such as Die Another Day, A View to a Kill, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. It also made the news when a new music video by Justin Bieber featured him swimming in it.

Due to melting glaciers, the lake has been increasing in size over the years, covering an area of about 18km², and a depth of 248m. This makes it the deepest lake in Iceland.

After a long drive from Mývatn, where we had a spectacular night of aurora viewing, and through all kinds of the erratic Icelandic weather, we finally arrived at the Gerdi Guesthouse where we stayed for two nights. We woke up to moderate rain, literally a dampener on our mood. It subsided a little after breakfast and we proceeded to black sand beach at Jökulsárlón, just 10 minutes drive away.


I started shooting long exposures to smooth out the water and got a few shots of the spectacular icebergs floating on the water. These had calved from the Vatnajökull and deposited into the sea and beach.

More icebergs

The drizzle started soon again, so I had to keep wiping the raindrops from the ND filter in order to keep shooting. It’s a good thing that my Fujifilm X-T1 body is weather sealed, though the XF 18-55mm kit lens isn’t. But I figured a bit of rain wouldn’t kill it (and it didn’t.)

Fujifilm X-T1 covered in raindrops.

Fujifilm X-T1 covered in raindrops.

The icebergs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, including this one which looked like an igloo.

Igloo-shaped iceberg

By now, the rain has gotten heavier so we break for lunch. And this is where experienced yet another example of the cranky Icelandic weather. This is what it looks like when we arrived at Hali Country Hotel.

Dark skies

Dark skies

Just TWO minutes later, the skies opened up to a beautiful view. Slightly different angle, though.

Same scene, two minutes later.

Almost the same scene, two minutes later.

Of course, that itself didn’t last either. Another couple of minutes later, it’s gloomy again. The Icelandic weather is best summed up on this souvenir T-Shirt I saw, which read “If you don’t like the Icelandic weather, wait 5 minutes.”

We were supposed to go for a ice cave tour, but due to the many days of rain prior to our arrival, it has flooded as thus we were unable to visit. What a bummer. The rain continued in the afternoon, so we just rested in our rooms.

In the evening, we went to the lake, just across the beach where we were in the morning. In the fast fading evening light, I only managed a few shots of drifting icebergs.

Drifting ice

The next day, we woke up after a night of strong winds which had thankfully stopped by breakfast. Weather was much better, so we went back to the beach to hopefully catch the sunrise. One advantage of late autumn / winter is that you no longer have to wake up very early to catch the sunrise. On this day, the sun rose at 9:46am.

With different lighting and weather conditions, the beach looked quite different from the day before. Icebergs drift, so the same ones are no longer in the same location, giving us a different look of the location. I scouted around, and came across this interesting piece of ice, which makes a nice frame for Vatnajökull in the distance. In order to get enough depth of field, I made two exposures, one focussed on the ice formation, another on Vatnajökull, then stacked them in Photoshop. I call this “The Kiss”.

An ice formation frames icebergs at the Jökulsárlón Beach in Iceland, with Vatnojokull in the background.

I looked for more Icebergs to shoot.

Icebergs at dawn

More icebergs

Finally, the sunrise. Can’t really see the sun itself due to the thick clouds, but it’s still nice.

Waves crashing on a iceberg at Jökulsárlón at sunrise

Many of the icebergs washed up on the shore, forming an icy landscape.

Icebergs washed ashore at Jökulsárlón Beach, Iceland

There’s this interesting piece of black ice too.

Black ice

Icebergs and Vatnajökull at dawn

We revisit the lake next. By now, we are getting beautiful light and couldn’t be happier. The warm morning light gives Vatnajökull a nice warm glow, in contrast to the bluish, cold icebergs.

Icebergs at Jökulsárlón lagoon

A photographer shoots the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon from the top of a small hill.

The perfectly still lake makes for perfect reflections. It’s absolutely gorgeous in person.



It was a great start to our day, and I am glad that I am able to get great shots. This has become one of my favourite locations from the trip. In the afternoon, we left for the Svartifoss waterfall, but I’ll leave that for another post.

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Watching the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) For the First Time In Iceland

Silhouette of myself at Mývatn, Iceland under a giant swirl of the Aurora Borealis accompanied by a few meteorites in the sky.

Iceland—The land of fire and ice, with its stunning and largely untouched landscape, is a dream destination for many landscape photographers, myself included. It is also featured in several movies and TV shows like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Game of Thrones and even the latest Star Wars: A Force Awakens!

Of course, Iceland is one of the few countries known to be able to see the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights, which never fail to awe. I’ve been wanting to see the lights ever since I read about them as a kid, and watching videos of them lighting up the night sky.

In November 2015, I finally had the chance to visit Iceland and check it off my bucket list. It was supposed to be last year, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it was postponed to this year.

One of our agendas of the trip is, of course, to view the magnificent aurora borealis. Our journey took us on a flight from Singapore to Amsterdam, and then to Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. Thereafter it was a taxi trip to our apartment where we rested for the night after having dinner.

Closed counters of the Reykjavik Airport.

Closed counters of the Reykjavik Airport.

The next morning, we took taxis to Reykjavik domestic airport. But being the kiasu (afraid to lose out) Singaporeans that we are, we arrived way too early, before the airport even opened. So, we are left freezing out in the cold while waiting for the airport to open.

View of Reykjavik from the air

View of Reykjavik from the air

A short flight later, we are at Akureyri, Northern Iceland. It’s a long drive to our guest house at Vogafjós Guesthouse, and we actually stopped by a convenience store near Goðafoss without knowing it, till we checked with the counter staff what the nearby waterfall was.

It wasn’t dark yet when we arrived at Vogafjós Guesthouse, so we did a recce for a location to shoot the aurora borealis from, but didn’t find a suitable spot. We ended up shooting near the guesthouse’s restaurant and cow shed.

As the sky darken, someone in the group noticed a green wisp, almost invisible to the naked eye in the twilight. But it’s very visible when viewed from my camera’s live view display. We were awed, and quickly setup our tripods and cameras to capture the magnificent sight that followed.

The aurora is the result of the collisions between the sun’s charged particles and the gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere. The types of gas particles colliding determines the colour, with the most common being the greenish hue produced by oxygen molecules.

This is also the first time in my life to see the Big Dipper. You can see it in the shot below, just under the green wisp of the aurora on the top half.

The feeling of seeing the aurora the first time in one’s life is magical and exciting. A Chinese tourist asked me if there’ll be Northern Lights that evening, I pointed it out to here and she excitedly squealed and ran into the restaurant to get all her friends!

We wrapped up after a couple of hours to have dinner and went back to the guesthouse, where I took the opportunity to get a star trail shot. Unfortunately, the clouds came in after about 20 exposures.

Partial Star Trails

The next day, we went to the Goðafoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls.

Goðafoss at sunset

It was kind of cloudy that day, and we thought that chances of seeing the aurora will be slim. We couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted it once again.

Aurora Borealis at Goðafoss, Iceland. And the Big Dipper makes another appearance!

The lights eventually made their way to above the falls.

Aurora Borealis over Goðafoss, Iceland.

I decided to do a time lapse this time round, and the shot above is one of the frames. Here’s the result, compiled from 160+ frames.≠

Just before leaving, I took another shot from the car park. Truly spectacular. Photos and videos don’t do it justice.

We must have been really lucky, as we get to see the aurora again, on our third night in Northern Iceland. On this evening, we are at Lake Mývatn, which was frozen when we arrived. There were quite a number of meteors that evening, which we caught on our photos.

Frozen Lake Mývatn

Beautiful sunset

Sadly, this was to be the last time we ever met her during our trip. But we are very happy that we managed to catch her so many times.

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2015—Year In Photos

In a few hours, we will bid farewell to 2015 and welcome 2016. I usually do a end-of-year post of some of my favourite photos and events over the year, but missed 2014 as I was overseas. I continue the tradition this year, with my favourite photos of 2015.

Here we go.

In Jan 2015, I finally had the chance to visit Yosemite National Park, the quintessential location for landscape photographers. As it was a day tour, I didn’t get to stay for as long as I’d have liked, though.

Tunnel View, Yosemite

And also, The Grand Canyon.

Colarado River winding through Grand Canyon West Rim

Back in Singapore, in April, I caught the lunar eclipse of the “Blood Moon”.

Composite image of the lunar eclipse on 3 Apr 2015 as the moon emerges from totality.

I also got to visit the Raffles Lighthouse and discovered the beautiful southern islands from the top.

Raffles Lighthouse

Turquoise Waters Surrounding Pulau Satumu

And not to forget, Singapore’s 50th year of independence, dubbed SG50. The National Day Parade finished off with spectacular fireworks.

Spectators shoot the fireworks display on their mobile phones at the Waterfront Promenade outside the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. The country celebrated her 50th year of independence on 9 Aug 2015.

August also brought us Singapore’s eighth Night Festival, with the performances by Starlight Alchemy and Theater Tol being the highlights.

Singapore-based fire performance group, Starlight Alchemy, performing “Alchemy”, a 3-part story of Apollo from the world of Ethereal Light and Nuri from the world of Eternal Flame, at the Singapore Night Festival 2015.

Angels descend in front of the National Museum of Singapore in a performance titled “Garden of Angels” by Theater Tol from Belgium

Interestingly, in October, there’s the Singapore River Festival, which is somewhat similar to the Singapore Night Festival.

The red fans of the performers forms the numbers 5 0, signifying Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.

Les Voyageurs by Cédric le Borgne

Finally, in November, I visited one of my dream photography locations, Iceland. My friends and I were treated to a wonderful display of the aurora borealis not once, but three consecutive nights. Talk about being lucky! I’ll be posting more photos from the trip soon.

Silhouette of myself at Myvatn, Iceland under a giant swirl of the Aurora Borealis accompanied by a few meteorites in the sky.


Icebergs and ice formations at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

Here’s to another great year!

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A Visit to the Singapore Musical Box Museum

In 2012, I visited the Kawaguchiko Music Forest in Japan. Situated at Lake Kawaguchiko, it’s a museum specialising in music boxes, organs and other automated musical instruments. I was impressed by the antique music boxes and automated organs showcased at the museum, especially by that huge 1920’s Mortier Dance Organ at the entrance hall.

Fast forward to 2015, I was invited by the National Heritage Board to visit the Singapore Musical Box Museum. I was surprised that we actually have such a museum in Singapore and attended the tour to check it out. The museum is situated in the Chong Wen Ge building, next to the historic Thian Hock Keng Temple at Telok Ayer Street and owned by Mr. Naoto Orui, a Japanese collector of old music boxes.

Music boxes are similar to the alarm/chime mechanism of old clocks. Both uses a wound-up spring, or in some cases, a falling weight, to drive another mechanism to play the tune/chime. But in both cases, purely using the spring to drive the playback would result in too high a playback speed. Thus, a spinning device called a “governor” is employed to regulate the speed by means of air resistance. Orui-san joked that that’s how the term “governor” (as applied to governing a country) came about.

By itself, the mechanism of the music box, known as the “movement”, produces a very soft sound. It’s the wooden case of the music box which helps to amplify the music by means of resonance.

Here’s a nice Youtube video which explains how a music box works, if you are interested.

In the olden days, other than live music, music boxes were what people used to listen to music in their homes. Only the rich could have afforded such extravagances back then, since, according to Orui-san, a simple music box with a 1-foot cylinder would have cost the equivalent of a horse back then.

The first section of the tour concentrates on cylinder music boxes. These are made of a rolling cylinder with pins on it which spins and plucks the pins of a comb to make the music. You’re probably familiar or have seen this in action in modern music boxes.

Orui-san showing a wooden music box cylinder with pins corresponding to the notes of the music piece.

Overture music box

Mandolin Tremolo Zither, made in Switzerland in the 1880s.

These music boxes can get rather elaborate, like this one, which had drawers to store interchangeable cylinders for different pieces of music. According to Orui-san, this cost up to the equivalent of a 4-horse carriage, quite a large sum of money!

Music box + storage drawers.

Orui-san also related to us an interesting anecdote. He had acquired a music box from a flea market for £10 as it wasn’t working, so he brought it back and tried to repair it. When taking it apart, a ring fell out from the mechanism, and he found out that’s the reason why it wasn’t working—the ring had jammed the mechanism. He had tried to return the ring and music box to the sellers, but they had declined, honouring that they had already sold it to him for £10.

6 Airs Music Box

The ring which jammed the music box.

Because of the way they work—a rotating cylinder plucking the teeth of a metal comb—music boxes typically produce only 1 level of loudness. However, there was one music box which circumvented this limitation by having two sets of combs—one for the louder notes, and one for the softer ones. It was aptly named the Piano Forte (literally soft loud in Italian), just like the modern piano, and gave a richer, slightly more dynamic musical playback.

Piano Forte music box

The Piano Forte music box showcased in the museum is made in Switzerland in the 1880s and has jewellery inlaid into the top and front of the box.

Inlaid jewels and flower motif on the lid of the Piano Forte music box

Another interesting piece is the Roller Gem Organ made in the USA in 1885. It’s a hand cranked organ with a range of 20 notes.

Roller Gem Organ

Next, we move on to disc music boxes. In 1886, German music box artisan Paul Lochmann  created a music box that used a punched disc instead of cylinders for storing the music. This revolutionised the music box industry as discs can be mass produced, unlike cylinders of the time, which had to be hand made. Thus, disc music boxes can be made for a much lower cost and be brought to more people to enjoy.

Punched music disc.

These disc music boxes were reminiscent of the gramophone and record players. Just like you can change a vinyl record to listen to a different piece of music, you can change the disc of a disc music box and get a different tune.

Orui-san talking about disc music boxes. Next to him is a Stella music box.

At the far end of the museum are the big guns. Huge music boxes are on display here, and these are the precursor to the music jukeboxes. The most interesting is this music box called the Atlantic. According to Orui-san, it was to go into the Titanic, but they wanted a larger box on it, and this went to the Atlantic instead.

This huge box is powered by a falling weight which is raised by winding a crank (sort of like how grandfather clocks work) and has a piano, mandolin, bass drum, snare drum and even a triangle. A coin needs to be inserted to start the music.

Atlantic Music Box

Piano hammers of the Atlantic Music Box

And this is how the whole shebang sounds like.

Another multi-instrument box is the Langdorff Orchestral Music Box made in 1890 in Switzerland. It has Drums, bells, castanet and a double-reed, 26-note organ.

Langdorff Orchestral Music Box

Here’s it in action.

Finally, we have the Polyphon 5, a multi-disc music box which is the predecessor of the jukebox. There’s a drawer below to store all the music discs, and the one which was on demo is the famous Bach-Gounod Ave Maria. Like the Atlantic, this also required a coin to be inserted to start the music playback.

Polyphon 5 Music Box

Orui-san left the star of the museum to the last part of the tour. Named “China”, this was a music box movement made in Singapore(!) in the late 1800s. It was from a time when Singapore was still a British colony, and watchmaking, as well as music box making skills were passed down to the locals.

“China” music box, made in Singapore in the late 1800s.

Unfortunately, the unit on display is still awaiting restoration and thus isn’t working. It’d have been interesting to hear what it sounds like.

Finally, near the end of the tour, Orui-san showed us a few more pieces on display in the museum. First, we have this beautiful Edison Opera phonograph complete with a wooden horn:

Edison Opera

A musical doll:

Musical doll which plays music and pretends to look at herself on the mirror.

And finally, a silk scarf by Hermès to commemorate the year of music in 1996. In front of it is a musical cigar holder.

Limited edition scarf by Hermès made for the year of music in 1996.

At this end of the museum, we can go out to the balcony, which offers a great view of the pagoda and Thian Hock Kheng and Singapore Yu Huang Gong temples.

View of the Chong Wen Ge Pagoda and Thian Hock Kheng / Singapore Yu Huang Gong temples in the distance.

Thanks to Orui-san, the curators and also to the National Heritage Board for inviting me to this eye-opening (and ear-opening) tour of the Singapore Musical Box Museum.

The Singapore Musical Box Museum is located at:

168 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068619.
(it’s located beside the Thian Hock Keng Temple)

Tel:  +65 6221 0102

Email:  smbmbox@gmail.com

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri 10:00 – 18:00. The last admission is at 17:00 but the museum store stays open till 18:00
Hourly tours are available from 10:00 to 17:00.

Admission Fee:
Adults $12
Students (with concession cards), Seniors above age 60 (with valid IDs)  $6

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Former Combined Operations Room

A replica of the saucer-shaped podium in the Radio Control Room where the ‘999’ calls used to be answered from.

Hidden behind a rather nondescript building at 195, Pearl’s Hill Terrace was a bunker which used to be the Combined Operations Room of the Singapore Police Force. The bunker was the nerve centre for police communications during 1956 to 1988. The bunker was where riots such as the Chinese Middle School riots of 1956 was managed from, and also where 999 calls were answered.

Non-descript building where the bunker is.

The windowless bunker was built by the British with 3-feet-wide walls, it’s able to withstand a 500 pound bomb. It was also the first facility in Singapore to have air conditioning—a necessity for ventilation given that there are no windows or other means of natural ventilation in the bunker.

An illustration showing how thick the fCOR building wall is (3 feet/900mm) vs. a typical building wall of just 100mm.

After the bunker ceased operation after 1988, it was taken over by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) who used it as a storage facility. As part of the SG50 celebrations, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Singapore Police Force has spruced up the bunker, and added recreated the various rooms within to what it would have been back in the 1950s when it was still in use. The public can now view the rooms in the bunker as part of a SG50 exhibition organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Singapore Police Force.

The narrow corridor within the bunker leading to the various rooms.

Along with a few other bloggers, we were invited to a tour of the bunker, where John Kwok, a researcher with NHB and Senior Staff Sergeant Evelyn Wong, a veteran policewoman who handled the 999 calls, took us on a tour of the facility. Mdm Wong shared with us her stories and experiences during her time, including one of people walking in with arms chopped off!

Mdm Evelyn Wong, a former Senior Staff Sergeant with the Police Force, shares her story working as a 999 girl.

It’s quite an eye-opener to see how things were done back in the pre-digital days: analog telephones with manual switchboards where the operator have to manually plug in to the currently ringing line, paper records, teleprinters where the operator can’t see what he’s typing and a manually-updated tote board in the map room where incidents and deployment were posted. Outside the bunker, a Volkswagen Beetle police car is also displayed.

A Volkswagen Police Car used from 1970-1982.

The steering wheel and dashboard of the Volkswagon police car used in the 70s.

Here are some more photos from the tour.

The tip of the radio mast that used to stand atop a 90ft tower outside the bunker.

Log sheet used to record all the incoming calls received and actions taken.

The keyboard of a teleprinter, which was modified from a mechanical typewriter. As there was no screen, the operator wasn’t able to see what he typed.

View of the Map Room from the Chief Police Staff Officer’s room. The former is where police car and other resource deployments are manually updated in real time on the tote board and the map.

Chief Police Staff Officer’s Room

Another view of the Map Room.

A closer view of the tote board where incidents and resource deployments were updated in chalk in real time.

A pair of red phones linked directly to ministers and the Prime Minister. If it rang, it meant an emergency and everybody had to work overtime.

Police Officer’s rest room, which was unfortunately never used as they had no time to rest.

The exhibition and tour runs from now till 31 Jan 2016. It’s open from Tuesdays to Sundays and admission is free, but pre-booking is required, so don’t just turn up. You can book a slot by calling 9893-5140 or emailing fcor@mha.gov.sg.



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A Drive Back In Time

One of the Audi cars in front of Fullerton Hotel

One of the Audi cars in front of Fullerton Hotel

To commemorate Singapore’s 50th birthday, Audi Singapore launched a mobile app named “SG50 Time Machine” and also organised a week-long event named A Drive Back in Time, where the public can experience what Singapore looked like 50 years ago while driven in an Audi A6.

The Audi A7 which we rode in.

The Audi A6 which we rode in.

The ride starts and ends at the Fullerton Hotel, formally the General Post Office of Singapore. There wasn’t many people queuing, probably due to the rather heavy haze that has hit us in the past month. Upon boarding the car with a friend, we were handed a LG G4 mounted on a customised VR headset based on the Google Cardboard VR headset.

VR Headset

Our guide showing the headset. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask him (and the driver) for their names.

The driver took us around the civic district, and with the help of GPS technology, the 3D imagery of old Singapore is presented through the headset as we move along. The guide told us that the GPS functionality is a new enhancement the app developer has added; previously it was just a static video which sometimes did not sync well with the ride. The ride is narrated by Dick Lee’s voice played over the car’s sound system.

Approaching Anderson Bridge

Approaching Anderson Bridge

Passing through the Anderson Bridge then alongside the Padang, we saw the bumboats that used to be present on Singapore River, the Victoria Theatre, Supreme Court / City Hall didn’t change that much, but over the other side, we can see that the shoreline is a lot closer. And of course, Marina Bay Sands didn’t exist back then.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The app developers have also taken some artistic license, creating 3D shophouses along the way. I understand those shophouses didn’t exist back then, but it sure adds some elements of interest in an otherwise empty area.

The ride continues through along Connaught Drive, passing by St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the civilian war memorial (aka “chopsticks”) and Raffles Hotel. As we make our way back to the Fullerton Hotel, the VR imagery showed that we are floating above the water. Fifty years ago, our shoreline was much closer and the road we were travelling on didn’t exist back then.

“Floating” on the sea

“Floating” on the sea

Soon (maybe too soon), we were back at Fullerton Hotel, ending the ride in time. We are now “back to the future”, so to speak.

Although it was short and the 3D images are kind of low-resolution, I enjoyed the experience. This is a very interesting and educational use of VR technology, and it has a lot of potential. It can possibly be extended to cover more areas of Singapore. We are always progressing so quickly, tearing down old places in the name of city development, and this is a good way to present how things look like before.

Tomorrow (25 Oct) is the last day of the event. Online booking of seats are full, but from my experience today, you can simply walk in and register on the spot. The app is also available for download from Apple App Store and Google Play Store, so if you happen to have a Google Cardboard headset, you can probably also re-create the experience with the help of a friend or family member to do the driving. The app also works without a headset, although the experience won’t be as immersive, of course.

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Ending the Singapore Night Festival 2015 On a High Note

Angels descend in front of the National Museum of Singapore in a performance titled “Garden of Angels” by Theater Tol from Belgium

After a fiery first weekend, the 12th Singapore Night Festival ended on a high note with Theater Tol’s performance of “Garden of Angels”. The Belgian theatre group literally ended the festival on a high note, with angels suspended off a rig on a high crane, high above the National Museum of Singapore.

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