We began the day early (for me at least) at 8:30 am. Our first activity of the day was to visit the the Alexandra Road stacked wetlands. We were unsure of what we would be doing once we arrived at Alexandra, but Dr. Dan seemed excited to and he had promised to tell us what we were doing when we arrived. The wetlands themselves were recreated around a river that had been walled on either side and that ran through a series of residential skyscrapers. The city of Singapore had built these walls to prevent flooding of the residential district, but after the increased speed of the river created flooding issues downstream, they decided to create artificial wetlands around the river to slow its speed. These wetlands provided the added benefit of much needed green space for the surrounding community. Indeed, as soon as we arrived we had to scuttle to one side of the sidewalk to make way for school kids who were running laps around the river and the many pedestrian bridges that criss-crossed it. Only when we reached the far end of the wetland did Dr. Dan tell us why we had come here.
Our job would be to walk the length of the wetland and to take pictures of any animals that we saw along the way. Once we knew what to do, we got to work and started photographing. There were more animals than I would expect to see in a highly urbanized space, and they varied in form from turtles and fish in the river to butterflies and birds along the banks. Unfortunately, when we reached the end of the walk there was supposed to be an even more vibrant animal community at the beginning of the wetland, but it was closed off to us and under construction just as much of Singapore seems to be.
After the wetland experience we made our way to the National History Museum of Singapore. The old colonial building, located at the end of the mega shopping plaza that is Orchard Road, made for a beautiful home for the museum. Immediately upon entering the exhibit I knew that I would enjoy it. A video reenactment of what life was like in Singapore before the arrival of the Europeans and some artifacts from that time made up the first portion of the museum. This slowly morphed into the stories of the first colonialists from England and the Netherlands who saw the importance of Singapore as a trading center for Southeast Asia and who built the first major settlements on the island. The English, with their free port, attracted the attention of the major traders in the area and soon enough the Chinese were the most populous on the island.
The museum then showed the move from colonialism to World War II when the Japanese showed that the Europeans were not an immovable force when they invaded. The war years were tough for Singapore. The Chinese especially faced discrimination and as many as 30,000 were killed during the occupation.
It was after the war when Singapore began to be governed by Singaporeans. This was also when Singapore made its greatest advancements in both its economy and quality of life. Much of this can be attributed to the unique style of government championed by Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. A former schoolteacher, I was impressed by him after watching the museum’s exhibit on the breakaway of Singapore from Malaysia. Lee had been a strong supporter of the merge of the nations after independence and the video they showed of him talking about the separation for the first time to the public is powerful. He clearly shows that he is upset about what had transpired and he can be seen crying when he describes it. His leadership really showed through to me after he was able to compose himself and make the promise to Singapore that they would be strong in the face of this adversity, all while remaining a strongly multicultural nation. Lee proved this to be true during the next three decades of his leadership, a time when Singapore saw one of the greatest economic booms in the world and made the transition from third to first world country. Some of the cultural qualities that Singapore had to embrace were shown in the rest of the museum. Everything from strict drug laws to nation building community centers to making home ownership possible for more than three-quarters of the population.
With the class activities done for the day, a group of us decided to go to the Chinese New Year Parade downtown. When we arrived there were probably 20,000 people there and the crowd only got bigger as we waited for the parade to start. The parade itself was a mix of community groups dancing in choreographed performances to dragon puppets to large floats. The float at the end had the Prime Minister of Singapore on top of it and it was his job to start off the firework show at the end. This was capped off with a downpour that hit us at the very end and left me wet for the rest of the night.