So much of old Singapore is vanishing.
The National Heritage Board’s free exhibition, Trading Stories, helps to capture some of this vanishing past through the eyes of six pioneering tradesmen. This exhibition can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s Stamford Room and is ongoing till 23 June 2013.
Six trades are featured in this exhibition. They are the Poultry Farmer, Urut Lady, Indian Goldsmith, Samsui Woman, Movie Poster Painter and the Letter Writer. In truth, even during our own childhood, some of these trades were already on the decline. On the other hand, others such as the Urut Lady, are still a part of everyday life today.
The first pioneering tradesman you will encounter in the exhibition is Mr Ho Seng Choon.
If you think his name sounds familiar, it is probably because chicken eggs from Seng Choon Farm can be found on the supermarket shelves. However, interestingly enough, Seng Choon Farm is not related to Mr Ho. Instead, Mr Ho is the owner of Lian Wah Hang Farm. His farm specialises in quails and provides 11 million quail eggs to consumers in Singapore each year.
On display are different eggs and cutout displays of the birds they come from. This can be an eye-opener for some kids who love eating quail eggs but have no idea what a quail looks like. Here, they can find out – without having to head to the farms.
Ask Your Kids: Would you like to work on a farm? Why or why not?
No stranger to new mothers, the Urut Lady, has “wrapped” countless post-partum women back into shape during their confinement period.
This trade is usually passed down from generation to generation, through a lineage of midwives. It also involves the traditional Malay natural art of healing with jamu or a mixture of herbs and spices. On display are these different herbs and spices that are believed to help women restore strength to their bodies after childbirth.
Ask Your Kids: How can eating different types of food be good or bad for our bodies?
Even in an age of mass consumerism, handcrafting fine jewellery is something Indian Goldsmiths still practise today to cater to their clients needs.
View a display of a Ceylonese bride with a traditional sari and a Western-style veil, as well as pictures of old tradesmen plying their trade along the streets of Little India. There is also a fascinating video that shows how an Indian Goldsmith fashions a Thali, or marriage amulet, from scratch.
Ask Your Kids: Would you rather have a piece of jewellery that is handmade or from a department store? Why?
Unthinkable as a career choice for women today, Ng Moey Chye’s story tells of a sisterhood of Samsui women who worked as manual labourers at construction sites during Singapore’s nation-building years. Immediately recognisable by their distinctive red headgear, theirs is a story of independence, grit and hardwork – values that still remain relevant today.
Kids will be drawn to the Samsui woman cutout which provides a nice photo opportunity. They can also try their hand at making Samsui women headgear origami at a craft station nearby.
Ask Your Kids: Why do you think Samsui women chose to work under the hot sun?
Movie Poster Painter
Remember the days where painted movie posters hung outside Lido and Capitol Theatre? Oops, maybe we are showing our age. Ang Hao Sai certainly does. He used to paint those movie posters for a living.
At the exhibition, visitors can view a poster he specially did for the Trading Stories exhibition. Kids can also peek into a street vendor’s movie box to experience what it was like to watch a movie before comfortable cineplexes and iPads became the norm.
Ask Your Kids: Why do you think kids did not mind standing around watching movies in a street movie vendor’s box?
The last stop on the exhibition is the Letter Writer. This occupation reflects a time when Singapore’s population consisted of many illiterate migrant workers. To communicate with their families back in China and India, they would engage a letter writer to craft carefully-worded letters back home.
On display are tools of the trade including calligraphic brushes, paper and seals.
Ask Your Kids: Why are Letter Writers no longer needed today?
The Trading Stories exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore provides an interesting glimpse into the lives of pioneering tradesmen. It also shows the diversity of trades and professions that are part of Singapore’s heritage.
If you do visit the exhibition, perhaps consider if you have any of your own stories that you can share with your kids as well. These would be appreciated by them and make it an even more meaningful Little Day Out.