This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore, when Stamford Raffles arrived on our shores. But the centrepiece event of the Singapore Bicentennial takes us further back. In fact, From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience takes us on a 700-year journey through Singapore’s history. And it all happens quite aptly at Fort Canning Park, a location which has itself witnessed many tumultuous moments.
Last Friday, we got to experience the two-part showcase for ourselves. It comprises an indoor cinematic journey called Time Traveller, and an outdoor exploratory trail called Pathfinder. We have to admit going into it rather skeptical. After all, it sounded like a historical documentary of sorts – like National Day Parade reels? And interactive installations – like those that periodically pepper the arts and heritage precincts of Bras Basah.Bugis and the Civic District?
Our verdict at the end of From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience? No Singaporean, young or old, should miss it. Read on to find out why.
The hour-long cinematic experience at Fort Canning Centre begins at the Atrium with a prologue of sorts. Within the dark space is a weather installation where rain falls in reverse! While mesmerised by the stunning water feature, we learnt the significant role that weather played in the rise and fall of cities like Singapore. It’s really quite dark (and can get slightly wet around the installation) so do watch your step as your eyes adjust.
Act 1: Beginnings
A few minutes later, we were led into the next room to witness the first act. Live actors play out key roles such as Sang Nila Utama against a backdrop of cleverly choreographed multimedia projections. It’s a dynamic re-enactment of the period from 1299 to 1613, on a moving travellator, no less!
Act 2: Arrival
Next, watch your step as you board a ‘ship’. Take your seats and prepare to set sail. It’s the familiar tale of how Raffles came to Singapore in 1819 – but told through the eyes of native wildlife! The animated short movie is really quite cute and a fantastic way to introduce our young ones to Singapore history.
Act 3: Connectivity
Just as we thought our time in this room was coming to an end, the third act started up. 360-degree wrap-around screens moved into view and suddenly, the platform we were on began to move! This segment captures how we progressed from 1867 to 1941. Remind the kids to sit tight and enjoy the 4D-style ride!
Act 4: Occupation
In the next room, we are plunged into the darkness of the Japanese Occupation, quite literally. Warning: this segment may be scary for kids and even adults who are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark. Next we were led down a tunnel where ‘cracks’ in the wall let us peek into life during the war. At the end of the tunnel, a survivor shares his harrowing escape from a massacre.
Act 5: Destiny
We emerge from World War II and step into a bracing and cleansing rainstorm. Again, quite literally, so don’t forget to grab an umbrella before entering the room – you’ll need it! The final act highlights our road to independence and our remarkable achievements from the 1950s to present day Singapore. The rain is both a metaphor for the tough times, as well as to commemorate Singaporeans standing together in the rain at significant moments in our history. It’s a powerful climax – everyone present was visibly awed and moved.
Note that Time Traveller is rated PG and is recommended for kids aged five years and above. It’s narrated in English, while audio guides are available in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, on a first-come-first-served basis.
When Mon: 8.30am-5.30pm | Tue to Sun: 8.30am-10pm
Where Fort Canning Centre, 5 Cox Terrace
Admission Tickets are free, but require booking, as each viewing has limited seating to ensure the best experience. There are about five shows every hour. Book your choice of timeslot and up to 12 tickets here. Tickets for June are only available online, and ‘selling out’ fast. From July to September, tickets will be available at the on-site ticketing counter and online, within the first week of the preceding month.
The stairs facing Fort Canning Centre will lead you up to Pathfinder, a series of eight pavilions and installations. To be honest, not everything here will be interesting for the whole family, although we can picture the kids having fun playing hide-and-seek among the pavilions. So rather than offer our impressions of each and every installation, we’ll let you be your own Pathfinder. Here are just a handful of our favourite highlights:
The Lightbeam is a sculptural feature of mirrors in the middle of Pathfinder that truly comes to life at night. Periodically, it lights up the canopy of trees and the sky above with a dramatic light show. It culminates in a beam that shines in one of three colours. If you’ve already seen Time Traveller and voted for the Bicentennial DNA trait that you felt made the biggest difference in Singapore’s history, then you’d know what it stands for!
Pavilion of Words
An open-air library, the Pavilion of Words houses quotes and books taken from histories related to Singapore’s 700-year-old history. Browse as you wish, and then pen your thoughts on cards asking specific questions on our past and future. Add your card to the pillars that hold up the pavilions and become part of The Bicentennial Experience for others.
Fort Canning’s historic Old Married Soldier’s Quarters is transformed into the Observatory. Singapore may be an island, but it wasn’t alone in the world. An adorable lighthouse puts the spotlight on how events around the world coincided with our history. The Observatory also houses really neat interactive stations that will certainly appeal to the kids too.
The other pavilions comprise:
- Emporium of the East – Shop windows featuring replicas of trading goods in Singapore between the 14th and 16th centuries, with augmented reality elements
- House of Maps – Kinetic façade of maps displaying the evolution of Singapore’s place in the world through time and various incarnations
- Seed Conservatory – Green showcase of 700 years of flora, spotlighting native plants and those brought to Singapore for assorted reasons
- Lookout – Three telescopes that let visitors peek into how the sea has been a key constant in Singapore’s history
- Reflections of Our Past – A reflective (and IG-worthy) space for visitors to pause and ponder on their Bicentennial Experience
When 8.30am-10.30pm daily
Where Fort Gate
Admission Free and easy
A series of four site-specific short films will be projected every night at Fort Canning Green. While Time Traveller offers historical facts and events, Echoes touches our hearts with fictional stories set in those times. Multimedia Director Brian Gothong Tan explores themes of love, compassion and multiculturalism inspired by scenes of life in early Singapore.
When Tue to Sun: 7pm-10.30pm (no screening when events are taking place at Fort Canning Green)
Where Fort Canning Green
Admission Free and easy
Beyond The Bicentennial Experience
And that’s not all! A series of fringe programmes designed to complement The Bicentennial Experience will also be taking place. Here are our picks of family-friendly highlights:
- Eat Your History @ Food Village – Get up close with Singapore’s master chefs as they present dishes from the Peranakan, Cantonese, Minangkabau and West Indian communities that settled here over the years. Happening on 1 June, 3pm-5.45pm at Food Village at Fort Gate – more details
- ciNE65 Festival: Celebrating SG Shorts – Catch a series of short films produced by budding local filmmakers as they reflect on life and times in Singapore. The young ones will particularly enjoy the special screening of ‘1299’, an animated short film by Robot Playground Media. Happening on 8 June, 12.30pm-3.30pm at Black Box, Level 2, Fort Canning Centre
- SkillsFuture Festival: The Making of The Bicentennial Experience – Loved The Bicentennial Experience as much as we did? Go on a special behind-the-scenes tour with the creative minds behind it. Happening at various times and dates in July at Black Box, Level 2, Fort Canning Centre
If you visit The Bicentennial Experience in the daytime, do try to come back after the sun sets, because Pathfinder is really quite magical in the dark. But even if you don’t explore anything else, we feel that every Singaporean young and old should catch Time Traveller at least once. It will connect generations and remind us of our shared past and common destiny. Majulah, Singapura!