March 6th, 2004

krazy koati

I dropped it in the mailbox and sent it special D

I went to the Singapore Philatelic Museum. It may occur to you that a museum dedicated to the stamps of Singapore hasn't got a lot to talk about, and you'd be right. The history of stamps in Singapore amounts to -- founding to 1850s, no stamps. Then, British stamps despite occasional shortages. Then, the Japanese Occupation and shortages of most everything. Then, a return to normalcy with stamps issued either by the Crown, Malaysia, or Singapore. Dare you to fill that out to two floors of a fair-sized building. That's without bring up the fact that most people don't notice stamps anyway, and most of the attempts to prove one stamp or another is interesting (a lot of governments seem to believe they have propaganda value) comes out sounding like an argument that any particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation has cultural significance. Quick, what stamp was on the last letter you received? See?

This works well, though; this shortage of source material made them grab at ancillary items -- not just how postage worked in the Straits Settlements, but the population and demographic history; the creation of the Universal Postal Union and the replacement of distance-based postage with weight-based postage; the shortening transit times to different parts of the world; related documents like telegraph forms and money transfer orders; how the Chinese community resisted a postal sub-station (it was seen as competing with the money-transfer schemes set up privately). Somehow this even included a room about Malay, Indian, and Chinese clothes and music instruments. So I can recommend the Philatelic Museum as being not just stamps, but stuff that came to mind while people were thinking about stamps. Admission: S$3.00 for adults. Deals available if you buy a soda too.

From there on to the Civil Defence Museum, which allows one to take in a brief history of fire-fighting in Singapore. Like many great cities, this turns out to have been done surprisingly haphazardly for most of its existence. Displays include important early fire trucks like The Broadrick, which handled every fire emergency in 1927, and the Dennis Fire Tender Number Three, used in putting out Singapore's worst fire, the Bukit Ho Swee fire of 1961, and only survivor of Singapore's fleet of (three) Dennis vehicles. It includes a hand crank for the ignition.

Interactive exhibits upstairs include the chance to fit your face and arms into a hazmat suit and see if you can turn the dial five times within ten seconds to stop the critical leak; or experience a few seconds of decontamination shower. Sorry, butyl rubber fans -- no gloves. They were taken out of the hazmat suit exhibits for ``hygiene reasons''.

As I looked over the exhibit for the Bukit Ho Swee fire I heard a small kid ask his father about the Bukit Ho Swee exhibit, ``Is that real or fict?'' I don't fault the kid for not realizing this was a demonstration of actual history; at the age of ten I thought the TV show Voyagers! -- much though I loved it -- was a shockingly casual use of our time travel technology. I just like the slangy use of ``fict'' for a fictional story.

It occurs to me now that perhaps he was asking ``real or faked,'' as in, were the articles included pieces from the real fire? Which is still a reasonable question, and perceptive for a child to ask.

Anyway, despite an annoying display about the Robinson Department Store fire of 1972 -- another major catastrophe -- which turned maybe two panels of data into a touch-screen display requiring 16 screen-presses to get the full yet brief story -- and that the decontamination shower will soak your hands I can recommend this as well. No charge for admission.

Trivia: William IV, 1765-1837, was the first British king in 115 years not to be named George. Source: Asimov's Chronology of the World: The Story of the World From the Big Bang to Modern Times, Isaac Asimov.

Currently Reading: London: A History, Francis Sheppard.