Monday, 12 June 2006

The MIA Night Tour reviewed

On the 26th of May 2006, the Raffles Museum's Pasir Panjang (PP) guides, in collaboration with the National Heritage Board's National Archives of Singapore, conducted the MIA Night Tour. What is MIA? It represents both Museums In Action and Missing In Action! This activity involves a trip to three members of the Musum Roundtable: The Public Gallery of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), Reflections at Bukit Chandu (RBC) and the recently opened Memories at Old Ford Factory. "In Action" aptly describes the turnout by staff and volunteers of NAS and RMBR that night for event. As for other dual meaning, Missing In Action is the theme of this event, that was revealed along the way.

We started the trip at 2 timings: 6pm and 7pm. Late night explorations always fascinates people and it added a veil of mystique to our MIA content. The trip began with RMBR where the PP guides introduced the public to the interesting specimens of the museum. Many of the specimens showcased were once commonly sighted in the Singapore of the past, but in recent times, they are all effectively MIA. While not extinct but with habitat loss and mindless poaching, their numbers are steadily dwindling.

The next stop was supposed to be Kent Ridge Park, but a thunderstorm left some of us wet and most of us in awe of the spectacular lightning show! It was thus decided to go directly to Reflections at Bukit Chandu. It was disappointing for participants and even more so for the guides - we knew they were missing the interesting sights and animals that was only possible at night. For instance, the night view of the Harbor from Kent Ridge Park is beautiful, and the bountiful fruit bats feeding at the Broadwalk is a sight few people have seen! Still it was important to be safe.

When the first group arrived at Reflections at Bukit Chandu, the rain had stopped but the lightning threat was still significant - the guides witnessed streaks of blue lightning arc across the sky, starting from a spot in the clouds which did not seem too far away!

Reflections at Bukit Chandu (RBC) was a good spot to hold up at. Fully air conditioned and filled with interactive and static information about the invasion of Singapore, RBC is a good spot to learn about the war history of Singapore as well as the relatively unknown Battle of Pasir Panjang. The story of this Battle is hardly known so the PP guides always bring participants to RBC. The trip there was enjoyable as the staff were friendly and the interactive shows were engaging and informative. Unfortunately the participants missed out an interesting show as the interactive show "Sounds of Battle" was under maintenance.

The final stop was Memories at the Old Ford Factory. This new heritage site showcases exhibits about the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. The participants were treated to a documentary on the Japanese Occupation, which started from the Invasion of Singapore to the surrender of the Japanese in 1945. They were then brought around the Ford Factory by the friendly staff of NAS, who also introduced them to their Wartime Garden. This is where NAS staff have meticulously planted and maintained a number of crops grown by people during the Occupation. Their effort is truly commendable as they have even managed to grow and harvest two batches of Padi Rice!

The MIA participants were very pleased with the whole trip. Some even wanted to tip the guides for their good performance when they realised that we were volunteers!

Some suggestions for improvement were raised during the debrief at the Raffles Museum:

- Some participants had difficulty locating the guides at the meeting point. This will be rectified by the confirmation email which will include advise to look for someone wearing a luminous pink cap!! This is more proactive than simply using a banner which is a waste of money and an additional item to fetch and carry.

- Guides had difficulty identifying the participants after they made contact (meeting point was a public bus stop). This will be solved by giving participants a sticker like they do in a some tours!

- Although Kent Ridge Park had to be skipped due to the lighting threat, the tour bus could have made a detour there just to get a glimpse of the beautiful night view.

- Some participants indicated that the RBC stop was too long. This was due in part to the fact this section was largely unguided as is our usual procedure after a long walk in the park. In this scenario, more guiding should have ben carried out. Also since we spent more time there waiting out the schedule, the guides could have gathered smal groups for more stories in the canteen at the rear of RBC.

- The long break could be scheduled as a rest and snack point as it is a long journey.

- PP guides should be co-opted as RBC guides and know the existing resources. It was later learned that it was possible to view other documentaries in the AV room where the Sounds of Battle is usually shown.

- The tour was about 6 hours in duration. Some participants were unprepared for this despite being provided with the itinerary beforehand. Also, it was conducted on a Friday evening, and participants who came from work were very tired. Hence the MIA tour should be conducted on a Saturday in the future, with emphasised instructions for participants to bring food which can be consumed at the RBC stop.

See also Raffles Museum News

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