Last Monday, I took two hours out of the first day of my long-awaited summer break for a solo trip to this intriguing place, the Syonan Gallery. A little background on this place: it used to be known as Old Ford Factory before it underwent renovation and became the Former Ford Factory that we know now. It is the place that Sir Percival surrendered to the Japanese Army General, Yamashita, unconditionally on 15 February 1942 during World War II (WWII).
These two hours were very well spent. Even though I had wanted to go for the tour at 3pm, I figured that I would not hear and see as much of the oral recounts as well as exhibitions if I participated in the tour so… the choice was clear 🙂
As I toured this extremely quiet place, I felt the slight atmosphere changes as the gallery transits from one stage of the war to another. Here are only some of my thoughts as I wandered from exhibition to exhibition.
This haunting past that Singapore has cannot feel more distant to me, a mere millennial who did not go through the pains and sufferings of my ancestors. Detachment, that’s the word. It feels so unreal that this war ever happened because I will probably never experience any of this.
When I was in Secondary School, my Social Studies teacher posed a question to the class, something about how we felt about a (at that time) recent terrorist attack that occured overseas. She listed a couple of adjectives such as afraid, worried, detached etc and asked everyone to raise their hands as she read out the adjective that we are feeling. When it came to the word detached, I was the only one in class who raised my hand, and many people looked at me with surprise. I suppose it was because they find it difficult to believe that someone would feel detachment over fear regarding terrorism, but I had an explanation. It was not because I was not scared, I do dread the possibility that terrorism will arrive in Singapore, and I wish that it would never arrive in Singapore. However, given that something like this happened miles away, I can only feel pity and detachment, not the intense fear that everyone else seemed to be feeling.
I presume this is the reason that all these information seem to fascinate me, because the artifacts that are placed in front of my eyes are real and concrete.
As I go on to read about what happened during the war, what agonised me the most was the fact that the prisoners-of-war (POWs) are treated so much less than a human. The torture that was inflicted on them was unspeakable of, yet there were oral recounts by the courageous people who managed to survive and tell their story. I listened to a couple of them, and one of which said that he underwent water torture, which was the process where the Japanese kempeitais would insert a water pipe into the POW’s mouth, and turn on the water. The POW will be forced to swallow the water until his stomach bloats to a sizeable extent. Then, the kempei would step on their bloated stomachs such that the water will be forced our of their mouths, noses and even ears. It was horrifying to hear, which resulted in my inability to listen to the rest of the oral recounts, as I could not bear to hear any more.
News of the surrender spread like wildfire as the atomic bombs hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Above, would be a quote from a Singaporean regarding what he had heard about the surrender, and below would be the Japanese news articles announcing the surrender.
This gallery posed a gentle reminder to me that people such as Elizabeth Choy, Lim Bo Seng and other unsung Singaporean heroes who eventually died during this devastating war, did not sacrifice so much to be known as heroes today. They wanted to do the right thing and fight for their country’s honour and for that, I was moved despite the detachment I feel. It is so remarkably noble of them!
Singapore has come such a long way to restore and build upon the peace that our ancestors so painfully worked for us to savour. To appreciate it and at least have some knowledge is definitely the least I can do 🙂 It was an enlightening solo trip, and I would definitely do it again (but maybe not so soon) because I missed the chance to tour their little garden, and also did not listen to all of the oral recounts. There is truly so much to be learnt about the history of Singapore, which makes me so glad I took the time to revisit the things I’ve learnt in Social Studies back in Secondary School, and to relive the moments I’ve read about in books when I was in Primary School.