The flight from Auckland to Singapore was basically uneventful, although constantly turbulent with cabin service being suspended almost hourly. As we approached Singapore we were beside and slightly above a very active thunder storm – clouds on the sunny side of a thunderstorm are white, but glowed brilliantly yellow and orange as lightning coursed through them. Fantastic sight which I enjoyed greatly (Psalm 19 still applies half-way between the earth and the heavens!). I’m not sure all the other passengers found it so delightful.
Although the flight left late we arrived on time – which meant arriving at our hotel 6 hours ahead of check-in time. However, as we are now regular guests there they gave us an instant upgrade to an available room (didn’t happen the first time we were there – we had to walk the streets till check-in time!) so got a shower, a rest and a walk on Changi beach before lunch. In the afternoon we wandered around Changi Village (waffles for afternoon tea).
Saturday we took a free hotel shuttle bus into the city, and via the underground got ourselves to the Peranakan Museum. The Peranakan’s are an ethnic/cultural group descended from traders from around Asia (mainly but not exclusively Chinese) and further afield who settled in Singapore and married local women. As a people-group they were largely affluent with richly embroidered fashions and embellished furniture; they are syncretistic (Daoism, Buddhism, ancestor worship and folk-religions in various mixes) although some have now become Christian; maintained distinctive rituals and practices around ancestor worship, marriage, meals and feats, and social interaction; and appear (at least by their own portrayal!) to have played a significant part in shaping modern Singapore.
From there we went to the National Museum of Singapore, and for the first time, got a handle on the history of Singapore. Reading their accounts of some of the more modern crises I was aware of through news reports back in New Zealand at the time (particularly Independence, the short union with Malaysia, and partition) I was impressed by the way identical facts can be presented in ways that tell quite different stories. The tensions leading to an independent Singapore were largely glossed over, with selected key events noted as positive steps towards the lauded outcome.
There is ample opportunity to criticise Malaysia and the British (as well as to recognise laudable goals and actions), but while some displays in the museum allowed for a critical implication to be drawn I found nothing that necessitated such an implication, much less any overt criticism. Similarly, I have noted nothing of overt criticism or characterisation of the Japanese relating to their World War II occupation: even in the Changi Prison Chapel Museum, the accounts of life under the Japanese are factual accounts of “how people lived and suffered” with almost nothing said about the conditions and suffering having been inflicted.
Is it that in the public spaces at least Singaporeans have learnt to eliminate bitterness and recrimination in reviewing historical social injustice, or is it an outcome of a fatalistic religious/world view? The state in Singapore is unreserved in holding individuals accountable for illegal conduct, but is there such recognition of victims as we have in New Zealand where victims blame their abusers for their loss or suffering – frequently with bitterness and even vindictiveness – and may even find in their victim status excuse for their own wrongdoing? I don’t know.
That evening we had dinner at Jacob’s Restaurant in Changi Village, the Christian owner of which has become a friend. He joined us at the end of the meal and we updated each other on family and church news, and prayed together.