A PIONEERING museum specialising in pan-Asian cultures and civilisations, Singapore's Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) is home to a dazzling collection of exquisite artefacts and vital information related to regions from where Southeast Asia's diverse ethnic groups derive their ancestry.
Ranked among Asia's top 10 museums, ACM boasts truly unique permanent exhibits in its well-curated galleries as well as temporary highlights with interesting themes.
While its wide-ranging Southeast Asian collections offer interesting ethnological materials like Khmer sculptures and artistic Javanese temple interpretations, it is the Khoo Teck Puat Gallery that captures my imagination most soon after stepping into the museum's cool welcoming interior.
Home to the famed cargo recovered from a sunken 9th century Middle East bound trading ship, the gallery is named after one of Singapore's generous philanthropists.
Discovered in 1998 off the Java Sea's Belitung Island, this mesmerising exhibit comprises more than 60,000 well-preserved Tang dynasty ceramics as well as exquisite objects of gold and silver. Equally interesting are the South Asian and Islamic Art galleries.
While the former showcases intricate South Indian woodwork, rare Nepali-Tibetan bronzes, late medieval miniatures and colonial prints that provide useful insights into the various local cultures, the latter brings to life rare objects that emphasise the beauty of Islamic values and sensibilities.
Particularly interesting to me are the many captivating works of religious art produced by, and for, Southeast Asia's Islamic faithful where adaptations of global Islamic notions give rise to unique visual forms that reflect indigenous influences.
The eye-catching South Mindanao wood and paint al-Buraq sculpture on display sheds light on the Israk and Mikraj public holiday observed in my home state Kedah.
Apparently, sculptures of this chimeral beast that notably served as the mount of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during his journey are unique to the Philippines where their creations are said to be closely related to the flourishing religious image-carving industry for Catholic Filipinos.
As part of the year-long series of programmes and gallery rotations to commemorate its 25th anniversary celebration, ACM celebrates Christmas with a selection of Chinese Christian art on loan from Rome's Vatican Museum.
Available for public viewing until October 2023, these little known but equally important art pieces give me a good idea of how the Catholic Church successfully harnessed the ingenuity of artisans and craftsmen to integrate traditional Asian elements into its art.
With ACM as one of the few Asian museums with a permanent space for Christian works of art made in Asia, these artistic forms clearly demonstrate the fostering of meaningful dialogue among religions and cultures.
Complementing the existing masterpiece displays from the Singapore National Collection, these marvelous creations point towards the rich history of religious harmony and tolerance advocated by diverse faiths around the world.
Among the permanent exhibits, I am particularly captivated by the astonishingly intricate ivory chest from Sri Lanka which boasts a pair of doors with Adam and Eve at the Tree of Knowledge in a central panel surrounded by trellises of vines and flowers.
Equally interesting are items of Japanese origin, including an 1868 signboard announcing the ban of Christianity during that period as well as a tiny netsuke carving depicting St Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.
These religiously significant items clearly underscore their creators' skills and imagination.
The sumptuous pan-roasted chilli and lime salmon lunch savoured at ACM's popular dining outlet Prive sets the stage for my visit to fish farms at Pulau Ubin.
Along the way, Christmas decorations at Orchard Road serve as timely reminder for me to return later in the evening to soak in the festive atmosphere and take in the dazzling sights.
Available until early January 2023, these displays set the mood as Orchard Road plays host to an array of immersive attractions, engaging pop-up activations and endless musical experiences.
Aptly dubbed Christmas on A Great Street, this extravaganza marks the first year since the Covid-19 pandemic where locals and tourists can savour the festivities in-person.
Extremely relaxed Covid-19 restrictions are also evident during the 10-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin, a pristine island paradise with diverse habitats and a variety of wildlife.
Home to Singapore's last-remaining kampung, it was originally known as Pulau Batu Jubin where granite quarries once provided much needed construction material for the istana and the Johor-Singapore Causeway.
After marvelling at fiddler crabs and mudskippers at Pulau Ubin's Chek Jawa wetland ecosystem and spotting a rare red junglefowl foraging for food at a fruit orchard, the remainder of my afternoon is spent at Ah Hua Kelong.
The floating fish farm owner Wong Jing Kai started some eight years ago as a conduit to help Singaporeans buy directly from local seafood producers. The perfected system proved invaluable when deliveries from abroad became erratic during the pandemic.
During those gloomy restrictive days, Wong was joyous after observing customers, who yearned restaurant cuisine, especially during festive periods like Christmas, but were unable to leave their homes, happily feasting on his fresh seafood from the comfort of their homes. His direct from-farm-to-home delivery service was a resounding success.
Since then, Ah Hua Kelong has actively contributed towards food security in Singapore while remaining true to time-tested traditional farming methods.
At the same time, it embraces technology to ensure seamless integration with downstream operations like wholesale marketing and on time direct despatches to households as well as restaurant dining and delivery collaborations.
The farm specialises in seabass, pearl grouper, golden pomfret and red snapper using sustainable techniques that minimise wastage and maximises productivity.
On top of that, it also produces greenlip mussels that sell like hot cakes the moment they are harvested from ropes suspended from floating barrels located at its outer perimeter where the nutrient rich environment result in faster growth rates and larger specimens.
Thanks to government grants designed to spur local food production and continuous support from related agencies, traditional fish farmers have capitalised on useful scientific approaches.
Apart from adopting solar panels to reduce costs, Wong is buoyed by growing demand from local consumers and the encouraging acceptance of locally produced seafood by restaurants in Singapore.
While fish variety reared is largely constrained by surrounding marine conditions, most fish farms around Pulau Ubin ensure superior product quality by using premium feed devoid of preservatives and harmful chemicals.
At the same time, scientific methods are employed to ensure optimal growth while protecting the natural ecosystem.
This unparalleled attention to detail and care taken throughout the entire production process become evident during a sumptuous farm raised seafood dinner at a restaurant owned by Ah Hua Kelong.
Aptly named Scaled which advocates the catchy 'Local for locals' tagline, this popular Hamilton Road outlet in downtown Singapore pioneered the now widely accepted farm-to-table concept.
Apart from its logo featuring a fish jumping feistily out of the water, Scaled's trendy interior reveals few hints of its passionate sustainable farming crusade. The concept, however, comes into full view when the menu arrives.
Filled to the brim with mouthwatering listings prepared using products freshly harvested from the farm, its pages give ample opportunity to reflect upon activities witnessed earlier at Pulau Ubin.
Relishing recollections of farm hands hauling baskets of freshly harvested fish, mussels and clams before quickly processing them for delivery to the restaurant within hours to ensure the freshest flavour, texture and aroma for customers, I tuck into a specially curated spread celebrating a tropical Christmas in Singapore.
Paired well with icy cold bandung kambucha tea, the curry mussels and roasted pearl grouper are crowd favourites at Scaled.
The former boasts large succulent bivalves with delightful curry soaked deep-fried mantou buns and the latter comes in the form of tender fish slices in a light broth that bears sweet hints of clams used in its preparation.
Before returning to the hotel for a well-earned rest, the remainder of my evening is spent tracing the length of Orchard Road from the spectacular teal and white arch at the Tanglin Road junction.
There on, the entire three-km stretch of Singapore's most famous shopping strip boasts 104 trees lit up with energy-saving LED white lights to enhance the festive experience. These eye-catching installations will take on pink hues in early 2023 to usher in Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day.
Making the Great Christmas Village at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza my penultimate stop, I spend a fun-filled hour immersing in amusement rides while tucking into several tantalising food and beverage options.
On until early January 2023, the much-loved Great Christmas Village makes a much anticipated return with new additions, including a brand-new all-white carousel and art workshops for tapestry weaving and clay modelling.
While munching on snacks purchased at the Speciality Thai Grills pop-up stall, melodious tunes from famous social media performer Cold Cut Duo gradually fade as I finally make my way back to my hotel at nearby Mount Elizabeth.
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