Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Singapore River Outdoor Statues and Sculptures Walking Trail

This short walking trail shows you some of the outdoor sculptures around the Singapore River in the Civic District.

Map of Singapore River Outdoor Statues and Sculptures Walking Trail
Numbers showing sites of sculptures and statue in this walking trail
(click to enlarge)

We'll start our walk at Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall where our first statue is located.

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, Singapore
Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Black Raffles Statue (1919)

More tourists and locals alike are paying more attention (or maybe homage) to this statue of Stamford Raffles because this year is Singapore's 50th birthday.

This black statue of Raffles was originally stood at Padang, watching over cricketers played in sweat-drenched bleached-white uniforms. It was moved here during the Singapore's centenary in 1919. The present location let the statue to be closer to the sound of music instead of the sound of cricket (either those played in or on the grass).

White Raffles Statue (1972)

This white statue is said to have located at the Landing Site of Stamford Raffles.

Stamford Raffles statue stands at the Landing Site, Singapore
Stamford Raffles statue stands at the Landing Site

He's credited to be the founder of Singapore by having appointed one of the Malay royalty Hussein as Sultan of Singapore. Who gave him the power to do so? He did. Remember that 19th century Singapore was the Wild Wild East (both literally and figuratively). Rules were made up as they went.

Chow Yun-Fat in Pirates of the Caribbean
"Welcome to Singapore!"
a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: A World's End
Chow Yun-Fat isn't Singaporean, but Jet Li and Gong Li are.

If I may, I would like to compare him (Raffles, not Chow) with Christopher Columbus, not because they were both "discoverers" of new lands. No, Raffles didn't discover Singapore in any sense of the word. What they share in common is serendipity.

Java was the place where Raffle tried to make something of himself when he left England. Singapore was only a side show while he was busy in Bencoolen as William Farquhar run the whole show.

Farquhar should also be credited for co-founding Singapore, and shares this pedestal with Raffles. I have yet seen a pedestal with 2 statues. They're probably as common as conjoined twins.

Stamford Raffles statue, Singapore
Raffles' statue with Asian Civilisations Museum in the background

I hazard a solution to this dilemma of twin statues. If only we can build and place the statue of Farquhar on the ground where the tourist on the right is in this photo, Farquhar's statue can stand there in the long shadow cast by Raffles just like in the photo. Isn't it nice without being in the equatorial sun all the time? Isn't it?
Stamford Raffles' statue bathed in the brilliant sun

William Farquhar's portrait hung in a quiet museum
Photo: wikimedia (under CC license)

The Great Emporium (2002)

As you continue to walk past the statue towards Asian Civilisations Museum along the riverbank, you will soon come upon a group of sculptures that titled "The Great Emporium". This is a phrase coined by Raffles that Singapore was going to be all about trades, and his vision has came to pass. The sculptures depict a typical trading scene along the busy riverbank in the early days of Singapore.

The Great Emporium sculpture, Singapore
The Great Emporium

The pigtailed Chinese and turban-wearing southern Indian coolies are weighing a sac of rice (that's what it looks like to me), the Englishman is haggling, and the Chinese towkay is reckoning with his abacus.

The abacus-wielding, queue-wearing Chinese were called in English as towkays  (頭家) in those days. This is Min Nan dialect (where Teochew, and my mother's mother tongue belongs) for "boss". While "towkay" denotes "Boss" or "business owner", it literally means "head of a family". Towkays were a wealthy Chinese merchants class . The Malay word that derives from towkay is "tauke", meaning "boss", or a form of address like "sir".

Before late 20th century, the Chinese who left China were from the south, and especially those lived near the coast. They were either fishermen or had some connection to it. Min Nan (閩南) speaking people are those live in southern Fujian, Teochew (Chaozhou), and those live in east Guangdong province, and Hainanese.

Being fishermen and seafarers, they naturally the part of Chinese who would sail to South China Sea (aka Nanyang) and landed in the shores of S.E. Asia to places like Singapore.

The Min Nan dialect has more influence on the languages of various SE Asian countries than the standard Mandarin. While I am not surprise with Min-Nam dialect on SE Asia, I'm somewhat surprise by its influence on NE Asian countries of Korean and Japanese languages. I would image because of their proximity to northern China, Mandarin would have greater influence.

Ask a Thai or a Laotian to count from 1 to 10, and anyone who can understand Min-Nan dialect will instantly recognise the similarity of the sounds (just as European will recognise the sounds of each other's numbers as they're originated from the same root).

Towkay sculpture, Asian Civilisations museum, Singapore      Towkay sculpture, Asian Civilisations museum, Singapore

Further up the steps are the sculptures of 3 figures.

Chettiars to Financiers (2002)

Overwhelming majority of Chinese who came to Singapore centuries past were from southern part of China; similarly most of Indian who arrived Singapore in the early colonial days were Tamil speaking Indian from southern India.

Chetty or chettiar (moneylender) is a title used by mercantile caste in Southern India.

I don't believe both southern Indian and Chinese (as supposed to more northern Indian and Chinese) who migrated to Singapore are coincidental. I think it's because these 2 groups were able seafarers and marginalised groups in their respective countries.

This predominance of Tamil speakers among the Indian-Singaporean also explains why Tamil - not Hindi - is the one of 4 the official languages of Singapore, even though Hindi is the official language of India.

Why wouldn't Min Nan be one of the 4 Singaporean official languages? This is because Min Nan isn't a language, but a dialect, where its writing is based on standard Mandarin.

Migration pattern of early Chinese and India to Colonial Singapore
Destination Singapore: migration pattern of early Chinese and India to Colonial Singapore
(click to enlarge)

You could say that the meeting of these peoples in Singapore are almost predestined as Singapore is practically the mid-point between the 2 regions of Min Nan and Tamil Nadu. The gateway of the 2 oceans; the meeting point of the 2 ancient civilisations. And the strategic position why the colonial Dutch and the British wanted Singapore for themselves too. Because of Singapore's location, location, location, it's destined to be the place of confluence of cultures, trades and peoples. Then and now.

It's a freaky coincidence that the financial and political centres of these 2 countries (Mumbai and New Delhi in India, and Shanghai and Beijing in China) are in the middle and northern parts of the  2 respective countries. You can read more of these comparisons I made about these 2 pairs of cities here.

Chattiers to Financiers sculptures, Singapore

The sculptures depict the transformation of early Indian chattier (seated figure) into a modern financier, represented by a lady in modern trader attire. This shows the dramatic Singapore transformation from once-upon-a-time humble moneylenders into modern Singapore banking industry.

First Generation (2000)

If you continue to walk along the riverbank, cross Cavenagh Bridge, when you reached the other end of the bridge, look left and you'll see the sculptures of a group of naked kids leaping into the river at the bank.

Sculptures "First Generation", Singapore

This interesting sculpture piece reminds us of the Singapore past when such scenes were common at the riverbank. These sculpture romanticises an idyllic and innocent days of old. The reality was that the old river was very unsanitary for anyone to swim in. It was a logical dumping ground, choke full of garbage and a cesspool of germs. Those were the days, my friends !

Singapura Cats (1990)

Walk back in the opposite direction. Just on the other side of the bridge, keep an eye out for a group of sculptures of 3 dainty cats installed just outside the bridge railing.

The River Merchants (2003)

In less than 50 metres away from the bridge, you'll see the group of sculptures of 3 human figures in front of Maybank Tower. The seated figure is prominent Scot trader Alexandre Laurie Johnston arguing with a Chinese merchant and a Malay chief over goods and money. He founded his 1st business at this very spot.

Sculptures, "River Merchants", Singapore

Johnston's outreached hand is asking for tourists to touch/hold/shake it. In a 100 years time, that hand will disappear from wearing away by constant contact of human hands.

Sculptures, "River Merchants", Singapore
Eavesdropping on their business meeting

Next to the above sculptures is a well-crafted sculpture of a couple of Chinese coolies loading merchandise up the bullock cart.

This concludes our walk. Thank you, come again.

If you still have plenty of energy after this walk, considering continue with this Outdoor Public Art trail around Raffles Place, which starts where this trail finishes.

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