Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu Update: Korea

According to the Korea Herald (watch out--that site's a popup monster), there have been three cases of swine flu in South Korea so far, all with clear ties to the first case in Korea, a missionary who had just returned from Mexico.

As you can imagine, the response here has been entirely level-headed.

Honestly, we've already seen:

1. A parent pull her child out of a school trip to China because of the swine flu. (Current reported cases in Korea: 3-4. Current reported cases in China: 0.)

2. A temporary ban on all pork products from the US or Mexico. (It's not possible to catch the bug from cooked meat.)

3. No fewer than four students, with no direct or indirect connection to any of the infected, who have asked me if their typical spring allergy symptoms were a sign of swine flu.

I've sent them to (via BoingBoing) to "check their symptoms," then seized the teachable moment to explain how and why the media blow everything out of proportion.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Singapore Museums

Dateline Singapore. 23 March, 2009.

Two nerds.

Three days.

Four museums.

Bring it on.

The Battle Box,

Not quite as good as London's Cabinet War Rooms, a museum of a similar type (wow, do I sound like a jerk, or what?) but still very interesting and well-executed. Also much cheaper. The Battle Box, which is dug into the Fort Canning hillside next to the National Museum, was the command center for the British during the Japanese march down the Malayan peninsula from Dec. 1941-Feb. 1942. The rooms have been refurnished with period items and they have good audio reenactments of the discussions that might have taken place around the decision to surrender Singapore. That decision, made by General Percival, turned out to be the largest surrender in the entire history of the British Empire. It's definitely worth visiting, especially on a hot day or a bad rainy day, since the underground complex is both cool and dry.

Justin's flash was busted, so we didn't really get good pictures, but here's a blurry one to give you an idea of what you'll see there:

And here's me on the hillside after touring.

And from thence we proceeded to the....

National Museum of Singapore

This is a great museum, one which, if you're profoundly nerdy like us, will keep you sucked in to the point of serious physical discomfort from standing so long. The museum is HUGE. Some of our favorite parts:

Singapore Living Galleries - Street Food

A great little peek into the history of street food vending in Singapore (and yes, we did make note of some dishes to try). I particularly enjoyed the short film about a cute romance between a girl ordering noodles and the noodle delivery boy. They also had a room where you could smell various spices used in Southeast Asian cooking.

Singapore Living Galleries - Fashion.

Interesting to me, because that's what I'll be doing next year (Material and Visual Cultures of the Past, at University of Edinburgh - wheee!). A wonderful exhibit tracking style changes in vintage fashion among Singapore's different ethnic groups, including clothing, hairstyles, makeup, and footwear.

Interesting to Justin, because he's patient with me, and because they featured a section on vintage Singapore local bands. Two of our favorites were The Cyclones and The Straydogs. They were not just good 60s pop bands, but they had very interesting psychedelic influences. We tried to find them on CD in Singapore, but apparently there's no demand for them these days. The good news is that Youtube has some. Perhaps digital downloads, someday?

The Cyclones: Roll Over Beethoven, "The Dew"
The Straydogs: "Freedom" Makes me think of Hendrix. Justin says I should write that it's more like the Yardbirds, except he doesn't want people to think he's a tool. In a blog post boasting about the number of museums we went to on a trip to the tropics, I think it's way too late to worry about that.

While looking for these guys, I also came across The Quests: "Mustapha" (instrumental), and, AWESOMELY, a cover of Hava Nagila. Yes. Go listen to it. Now. You have not lived until you've heard a psychedelic Chinese Singaporean 60s pop band cover of Hava Nagila. I want to get married all over again and play this at my reception.

This museum also contains, underground, a wonderful history exhibit with some execution flaws. The biggest difficulty is information overload. They designed the exhibit to have a "people path," where you go and do personal/material culture history, and an "events path," where you read about major events, but the overall flow felt confused and frustrating. I felt like I'd missed something on the other path, so I kept backtracking. Overall, the people path is stronger.

The biggest difficulty, though, is that they give you these electronic audio boxes to wear around your neck, and you can use them to play recordings as you pass different exhibits. Most of them are really great (the American voice actress in the Opium Den, however, royally sucks) but all of them are TOO LONG, and you can't fast-forward. What I really wanted was for the screen on the box to give me a transcript of the material in the audio recording, because I can read much faster than I can listen, and I got tired of standing in front of the same painting for three minutes waiting for the guide to finish telling me about it. Carrying that heavy box around and then feeling frustratingly unable to have listened to all of it soured me on that part of the exhibition. If I had it to do over, I'd just refuse to take a box at all. There's plenty to look at without it.

Chinatown Heritage Centre

If you decide to see only one museum in Singapore... well, you're going to miss out on a lot. But I suppose if I had to pick, I'd send you to this one. Maybe it's because I'm a China buff (although I'm a military buff, too...) but this was a tremendously unique, detailed, and Singapore-specific museum about daily life in the old Chinatown district of Singapore. Fun fact: Chinatown Singapore is not called Chinatown in Chinese, but rather "牛车水," or "Ox Cart Water," for the fact that in ye olden times you'd buy your water off a dude schlepping it around in a cart. The subway station today is "Chinatown" in English but remains "牛车水" in Chinese characters.

The museum, housed in two old shophouses, has many exhibits on the everyday lives of Chinese people in the 150 or so years of Chinatown's distinct history, and also features a replica of shophouse residences fronted by a replica tailor shop (complete with an artificial replica cockroach in the kitchen!).

Tailor shop, circa, I think, 1930

Take your children to work day!

No, I didn't use the replica toilet, which is nothing more than an elevated platform with a hole in it and a bucket underneath. My heart goes out to the people who lived around these in Singapore's tropical climate. Sometimes, it's amazing that there weren't MORE plagues.

Asian Civilisations Museum

We took the free English tour and had a really great guide. And then, being us, we went back through the museum again (at this point, somewhat sore from all the walking and standing). Highlights include a great jewelry exhibit and textile exhibit, as well as exhibits on all the major contributers to modern Singaporean culture (India, China, Malay, and multinational Islam). Before going there, I had no idea how batik fabric was made (by putting wax on the fabric to block the dye, then boiling the wax off, and rewaxing for other layers of color - massively labor intensive and very difficult-looking). I recommend the museum highly.

So. Not only did we meet our Four Museums quota (plus a bonus museum, if you count the Botanical Gardens as a museum), but we lived to tell about it. And then I lived THROUGH telling about it. But did you live through reading about it?

DISCLAIMER: Justin and Nana are trained professionals in nerding. Do NOT attempt this type of nerding at home. Prior to nerding, stretch your brain by reading the entire guidebook, including the sections on culture and history that everybody skips. Stay hydrated. In the event of a museum visit lasting more than four hours, consult with your physician.