Changi museum, Singapore was our last weekend destination.
I was skeptical about the visit at first. This is because we have already explored National Museum,Singapore earlier. Spending one day there is enough for foreigners (like me) to know the history & tradition of Singapore. Singapore’s past mainly comprises of Japanese rule, their darkest phase.
I had a hunch that experience of Changi museum was going to be similar. But we didn’t want to roam in shopping malls either. So, Changi museum looked like a better idea to us.
A small chapel is the first thing one sees after entering the museum. It holds memories of soldiers who lost their lives fighting against the Japanese troops. The main museum building revolves around this chapel. It took me a few moments to realise that Changi museum was actually a prison. I at once got curious about the museum and the stories behind the war.
In Changi Museum, I came to know about :
Attack of the Japanese :
Singapore, then a British colony surrendered to Japan on 15th February,1942 during World War II . Japan had already conquered China, Malay and Thailand by that time. Still people in Singapore initially took the war as a bluff until Japan started dropping bombs on them. The capture wasn’t easy for Japanese though. They faced 2 months of British resistance and 7 days’ fight before seizing Singapore from British. England, the most powerful nation in world confronted the ‘worst disaster’ in their history.
Prisoners of war (POWs) :
British & Australian officers, civilians once living a comfortable life were sent to the Changi prison (museum). The prison cells built for 1 prisoner accommodated 4 inmates then at a time. Lack of food, poor sanitation and hygiene standards brought a series of illness amongst the prisoners.
Banana note & Death railway :
Japanese brought their currency in Singapore. People called it ‘Banana money’ because it had picture of bananas. This currency dominated the market during Japanese occupation. Black market also rose at it’s peak. Every member in a family had to find some work for earning money.
Japanese assigned the job of constructing railways to civilians looking for work and POWs. Purpose of this ‘Thailand-Burma’ railway was to help Japan in invading India.
Labourers working in those jungle areas had malaria, cholera and beri-beri. Insufficient medical help and unhygienic living conditions further deteriorated their health. Still, workers had to continue the construction work. Disobedience brought severe punishment upon them. Not a single day passed when at least one or two workers didn’t succumb to death.
Within no time, the railway became infamous as the ‘Death Railway’.
Rice diet :
Rationing system was introduced to keep a tab on food consumption. Family members received ‘Peace living Certificates’ aka ration cards. Rice became the staple diet of Singapore. People fed themselves and their children only rice porridge throughout the day. However, this situation made Singaporeans self-sufficient. They started cultivating their own food at home.
Japanese influence in lifestyle:
The only emotion people experienced during Japanese rule was fear. Beheadings, public beatings and humiliation were a common sight that time. Women were barred from going out after 6pm in the evening and often taken away by Japanese soldiers for ‘comfort’. Kids in schools had to respect Japan’s national anthem and learn Japanese. Entertainment was a restricted activity. Religion was the only place for seeking solace.
The magic Quilt :
Imprisoned husband and wives stayed in separate cells. They couldn’t see each other for long intervals. In those tough times, women used to stitch quilts from abandoned rice bags and create designs in them. These designs actually contained hidden messages. Women secretly passed them to their male counterparts. The quilts pacified the worried husbands and made them feel better.
Japanese rule in Singapore finally came to an end on 15th august,1945. Two US B-29 bombers dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. British, Australian, Indian and New Zealand soldiers also defended Singapore’s fight for freedom.
Singapore was a British colony before Japan occupied it. We all know what British rule did to India. I am sure they were no different in Singapore. Still, I couldn’t find any complaints against the British. Rather Singaporeans waited for the return of British in their difficult times. This looked quite interesting and surprising to me.
Although Changi museum occupies a small area, but I took almost 2 hours to roam around it. It was identical yet different from National museum in certain ways.
Some may find the plan of visiting a museum boring. But I feel we should make such plans sometimes. It reminds us of the tough times human beings had in this planet. We get to know the importance of patience, freedom, bravery, sacrifice & humanity in the struggle for survival.