Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Old Ford Factory by Bukit Timah, Singapore

Apologies for the short hiatus, we've been in Singapore for the last few days for some meetings. Stefan and I went to have a look at a new historic installation on Upper Bukit Timah Road, near Bukit Timah Hill, housed in the old Ford Factory. As the prior link will tell you, the British surrendered to the Japanese on February 15th, 1942, at that very same old Ford Factory (it was not so old at the time, in fact, having only opened its doors in October 1941, closing four decades later in 1980), so it was fitting that the period curated by the exhibit was the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Japan's occupation of Singapore until September 1945.

It was superbly done; as it was organized by the National Archives, many fascinating relics, letters and other artifacts were on display. The appearance of the exhibition was simple but attractive, an immersive walkthrough with content and objects on display on both sides. There is some limited but effective use of multimedia to tell the simple, sometimes heartbreaking stories of suffering during this period. One can also see the room where General Percival surrendered to Yamashita.

I found on the whole, the exhibition steered away from being too accusatory towards the Japanese, or to any other race for that matter. It steered away from blaming Gordon Bennett's Australians, as did Colin Smith in Singapore Burning (it did, however, prominently display two searchlights right at the entrance - it was the lack of using them on the Australian forces' part, due to fear of being fired upon, that apparently was decisive in making the Japanese amphibious landing on the island successful). It mentions the Indian soldiers that subsequently joined the pro-Japanese INA under Bose, but also showed the resistance of other Indians to the Japanese. It also did not shy away from talking about how the subsequent trials of INA soldiers led to military mutiny in India that was a proximate cause for Indian independence. It also talked about how the Japanese used Malay auxiliaries as policemen and to counter Chinese Communist partisans.

Most of all, it revealed the life of everyday Chinese in the Japanese 'Syonan'; it revealed many details not known to many ordinary Singaporeans. For instance, one of my visit companions said she finally realized why her father considered the area around the Cathay Cinema was a 'black' area - it was where Japanese put heads on pikes to show what happened to fifth columnists.

It told the story in an even-handed way that is creditable to the National Archives. It is truly worth a visit, and I encourage any of you going to Singapore in the near future to pay a visit. The website for the exhibition is www.s1942.org.sg. It collects, for the first time, recordings of many Singaporeans about this seminal, traumatic experience in Singapore history. If I had a criticism of these precious recordings, it is that they are not displayed more prominently. But I was assured by one of the principal promoters of the exhibition that many small improvements will be made to the Old Ford Factory exhibit over time.

I would also recommend going a little earlier in the day than I did (4:30pm was an hour before closing time) and also catching the documentaries that will be screened at several times throughout the day. They will be shown on a rotating basis, and deal with various subjects from the Japanese Malayan campaign to the war crimes trials after the end of WW II. If you have time afterwards please do check out the exhibits at Bukit Chandu, which deal with the heroics of the 1st and 2nd Malay Regiments at the Battle for Pasir Panjang.


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog guys. That has to be one of the shortest opening periods for any factory, I can just see the notice on the door, "Closed due to invasion."

Love this blog keep it up!

Dave and Stefan said...

Yes, it would be a fairly good excuse wouldn't it be? Right up there with "Shut temporarily due to the black death."

Anonymous said...

One of the reason is due to its "historical" occupants...if you get what i means.

You can find more paranormal findings in Singapore via this website http://www.spi.com.sg/

Anonymous said...

Great Job guys. Gonna visit the site this saturday...