I recalled Prof Leo Tan said that this museum was once an impossible dream. However, as I look to the majestic rock museum today, it just stood to remind me to keep dreaming the impossible, because it is possible.
I had the privilege to be standing beside the teacher Professor Leo Tan and his student Professor Peter Ng when they recounted the idea of the museum; during one occasion when we all stood by the car park waiting for a distinguished speaker to arrive, who would be speaking at an Environmental Studies seminar. I stood like a meek student listening to two professors talking about the museum in between their puns and other official discussion. I also witness myself the pressure and stress that built up around the entire museum team as the D-Day date drawing near; all hands on deck preparing to launch that unbelievable dream. No wait, it was not at all unbelievable. Without those visions and beliefs, that stunning museum would not be there today.
It is still amazing to witness the transformation of a small education museum hidden in the depths of the university yesterday to a huge majestic museum dedicated to natural history today. The journey was not at all a yellow-brick road, but full of thorns and overgrown shrubs, waiting for one to carve a path out of. I am sure both profs have super sharp machetes to build what it is today.
Two years back when the raffles biodiversity museum finally closed to the public, I was privileged to be given a tour of the small museum a very last time before they packed up all the specimens and artefacts in preparation for the new museum. The plot of land that used to be an old office to the campus estate management office turned into a noisy and dusty construction site, hammering and piling away to build the foundation of this enormous dream.
While standing at the side line, my colleague and I were excited every time we pass by the site in her car and we will just catch a glimpse of how far the construction has been. Safety hard hats has become a constant of their tables as well as their teammates, and many dedicated staff worked through to midnight; all pitching in to build this dream.
I felt I was watching Walt Disney and his team right in front of my eyes on how they were building a vision of many biologists and scientists.
My experience with Nature and Biodiversity
I am not a scientist, nor someone who is well versed in biodiversity in any way.
I love animals like many regular folks out there, and still get easily amazed by seeing animals and living creatures that I rarely or do not really encounter in my daily life, and of course, the occasional excitement when I spot a kingfisher by the longkangs (canals) or that majestic white migratory bird (my colleague told me it’s a heron) that grazes the field across where I live.
I also love to visit aquariums. I would never forget the encounter in Mystic, Connecticut when I first came across the giant octopus and how it would come to the glass window to “see me” when it would stay hidden to the other kids and visitors who had been standing in front of its tank.
I also love dinosaurs because of the sheer size of it and puzzling how they once lived on the planet, yet hate those dinosaur movies because they give me nightmares; although it is a fact that not all dinosaurs are peace-loving and vegetarian.
I was also blessed to be sent on a field trip to experience the wildlife and the research work the undergraduates were working on. I had seen and learnt a lot, despite having to endure horrible mosquito bites which I feared the most. That was one of the most intense, stamina-draining and exhilarating experience of my life so far on the topic of biodiversity.
Thus it is so often a treat for me whenever I get to drop by these professors’ offices, because of the sheer amount of glass containers filled with creatures that were long dead and gone, but yet, something I have not seen in my life. These things just intrigues me easily.
Insights to the old Raffles Biodiversity Museum
The old Raffles Biodiversity Museum played the role of fulfilling the objective of education and I have seen how much they have benefitted the staff community and the public alike. The activities are pretty fun and insightful (especially those they had done for the children) but I do see the limitation they were facing, especially in terms of space.
There were so many other interesting artefacts and specimens hidden deep in the depths of the compactors, and the offices of these biologists and scientists; reminding me very much of the Vatican library portrayed in the movies.
Of course, there were those that were displayed in that tiny museum, taxidermic animals that were not encased in glass that were of course been touch and stroked by children and adults who had passed through the doors of the museum.
In a private tour after the Old Raffles Biodiversity Museum has closed its doors to the public, I got to see for the first time, real dinosaur fossils, displayed in the glass casing in the public gallery as well as some of those still tightly encased in protective foam, still lying in the wooden crates they arrived in at the back office of the gallery, usually closed to the public. I also managed to see a framed-out piece of an old newspaper that the resident taxidermist had pulled out from stuffed turtle during a routine maintenance; the newspaper was a treasure itself as it helped dated the animal too.
All these knowledge were hidden from the public eye, unless you are someone who is deeply interested in biodiversity and researched for it, these knowledge may never be known to people in their entire life. And these educators wanted to show them off all!! For the sake of education and understanding our world, yet the museum had some limit on its own.
Upsizing to the new museum
While I am not in the team for the museum, news and words do get spread around and I do manage to catch some of it. Not many of those are rosy, in fact, from those words, I understood the challenges and perils of chasing dreams and making them come true.
In today’s Singapore, it is no longer the society I came to understand at a young age. I am part of the millennials that experience no computer technology to the fast 4G speeds of internet, I do not take all these advancements for granted; including how our country mushroomed itself to a developed country in the short span of 40 years.
Thus, I tried to keep track of this monumental build, a history in the making of its kind whenever I get to hear news of it. Understanding such huge undertaking can help myself in my own path in chasing dreams. Being aware of the amount of trials and tribulations these pioneers faced, and keep in mind these guys are at PhD standards and are well-known in their fields, could actually help myself in predicting my own sets of difficulties, albeit not in the same proportions.
So, while sitting by the benches, I literally watched the museum grow. Maybe not as much or as intense as those involved in the project, but still, it was as close as I could get to it myself.
Whale? I think the dinosaurs are way cooler!
Of course, the museum had the dinosaurs. The trio, Apollonia, Prince and Twinky are the stars of the gallery. They were not even in the initial plans of museum building, but these superstars came just at the right timing.
In a private tour of the museum prior to opening, some of these biology professors became our tour guides. He explained to us that the museum wanted the whale skeleton that the Raffles Museum had gifted to Malaysia in 1972 as a centrepiece, but was unsuccessful in negotiation.
His intense emotions and glassy eyes whilst describing the limitations in storage they were encountering in the early days had given them no choice but to give it away; really brought me warmth. Passion exists everywhere, and it was clearly shown in his eyes when we delved into the subject.
However, the dinosaurs came to the rescue of course. I recalled an earlier memory when the museum team decided to bring in the dinosaurs and there was a huge question mark looming in the air on how to even get the money for the dinosaurs, and I remembered Professor Tan always came in as cool as a cucumber when everyone were having a panic attack.
Somehow, I felt he already had the solution; the right opportunity had just to come in at the right time and the rest, I can say, is history. It is still amazing to me today, as I recall that portion of my memory. Today, while I still think that the whale was a lost opportunity, but with the correct mind and objectives, the universe will conspire you to get whatever you need.
About Prince, Apollonia and Twinky
Before I even met them “in person”, I had fell in love with the name ‘Prince’. Hey, every girl loves to be a princess and every princess needs a prince right?? The joke I share with my colleague is often surrounding “Prince” and he was my Prince. (LOLs~ I know). However, when I saw the fossils, I changed my mind. Twinky is now my favourite. He’s (I assume it’s a he) too cute and cheeky!!
These fossils are extremely rare because they have closed to 80% of the fossils still intact. I would not even notice, even in other exhibitions of dinosaur fossils, that these skeletons that I was seeing where how many percentage complete, since I was already blow away but the sheer size or how menacing or peace-loving the skeleton was looking back at me. However, it was there and then the professor explain to me about the skeleton and I began to appreciate and closely observing how each vertebrate of dinosaur came together. To my own amazement, I found where the missing pieces were, based on the anatomy of the skeleton. I felt enlightened and of course, still felt small and insignificant whenever I see these giant creatures.
The head is the most important
One interesting thing I found out during my museum tour, was that the head of Prince mounted on the fossil display was a cast. The real head was too precious and fragile to be completely excavated from the sediments thus they had it retained in the rock and was displayed separately in another glass casing at the other side of the dinosaur display. I understood from him that in research and conservation work, the head of the fossil is often the most significant part of the entire story, thus it is vital to preserve it in utmost care.
It is unknown if the three dinosaurs were a family, but I definitely could feel they are one. Prince’s face was stoic and fierce, just like a father, while Apollonia was the gentle female. Twinky, the adolescent dinosaur, was the cheeky playful one. Can you feel that too??
A piece of Singapore history
I wonder if anyone remembered the Changi Tree. When it was accidentally cut down by contractors, many of us, like me thought it marked the end of the particular plant species.
However, it was not. Researchers had harvested seeds from the tree and could re-plant them everywhere else in Singapore. I was also told that this particular plant species can also be found in South East Asia vicinity.
Things I did in the museum: Play photobombing with the dinosaurs
Well, I did get photobombed by Twinky~ Or so it seems… and maybe with Prince too!
Photo with Prince… #lkcnhm #dinosaur A photo posted by Priscilla (@pingerrain) on
Things I did in the museum: Touch a dinosaur bone
Besides trying to find the coveted angle to get a dino-photobomb, you can try touching a dinosaur bone, ya’ know?
Things I did in the museum: Play matchy-matchy
An interesting thing was that, many of my friends took out our phones and started searching for that animal they had captured in Singapore previously… Along the road, in the park, along the canal, everywhere! — And was trying to match with specimens in the museum.
Firstly, I thought this was a brilliant idea! I do come across animals I have no idea of and usually what I will do would be to send those photos to my bird friends or animal expert friends and on this occasion, I get to solve those mysteries myself.
I managed to score twice on this for myself! I found the identity of this hairy guy I captured in my uncle’s home aquarium (yes, my uncle claimed he crawled out one fine day from the coral that he bought for his aquarium) to a real specimen in the museum.
That was one amazing and intimate experience for me; which you can try it for yourself.
I was so excited to find the specimen in the museum. One look and I knew this was the same type of crab I saw in my uncle’s home aquarium.
Another instance (and I excitedly shouted SCORE!) when I was at this display case where they featured the sea stars, a.k.a. starfishes.
You see the blue star in the cabinet???
I was fortunate to experience a learning trip a few years back with young researchers to their field trip in Tioman, Malaysia and I was able to hold a real live one on the palm of my hand!!
See how it wraps around my hand!!
I was so fascinated to match the specimens to my experiences prior. It’s damn cool lah~~
Things I did in the museum: Find hidden symbols in Singapore Dollar Notes
Archaeologists also discovered that cowry shells were used as money in ancient times. Can you imagine that? If that was the current currency, I would spend every day at the beach picking money!!!!! Unfortunately I do not think that would happen for me because cowries typically are sea snails. I probably had to kill the snails before I could harvest the shells for money. Not gonna’ happen!
But hey, these cowry shells are still a symbol in every Singapore dollar (portrait series) we have. Quick, quick, go dig out a Singapore dollar note and figure out where the picture of the cowry shells are hiding.
I wonder how they define the currency. Biggest $1.00? Then 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, in order of descending sizes?? I did not manage to ask the guide, but probably it is a good question to ask them when you are there. Then tell me, ok? I can update my blog. (LOL~) Also, if you still cannot find where the cowry shells are in the Singapore dollar note, ask the guide!
Besides the money shells, there are also other beautiful shells on display in the museum.
Things I did in the museum: Find the weird and wonderful
What the heck is a hagfish?
I found out that they are an eel-shaped, slime-producing marine fish. They are the only known living animals that have a skull but no vertebral column. Ewwsss….. But it did bring some funny moments to me at the museum though.
Wandering around from displays to displays, it was not hard to spot a few really unique and interesting animals that it’s simply too weird and surprising to find them in existence or found in the environment that I live in every day. Okay, maybe not just in Singapore, but rather also in the nearby countries.
This guy is seriously good at camouflaging. Or it just simply thinks it’s a shell and not a crab. Either way, nature’s cool about it.
OH YEAH~ The rebels in the plant world. These guys are like my favourite because they eat INSECTS. Be gone, all you pests. Be gone~ This reminds me not to ever underestimate the calm and collected around you, you never know they are just like these plants — they have powerful substances in them that could consume you….
Now, where can I get a venus flytrap or a pitcher plant to put in my home??
This monstrous crab lives on LAND. It eats many things but its favourite is coconuts. One of the guides mentioned that this coconut crabs also eats small animals like chickens and kittens. She also mentioned that it eats the pom-pom fruits, which is poisonous to human beings. Although this particular crab can be eaten (yes, human hunts this), I would not want to eat it sia~
She also cautioned us that it was worth to aware what the animals we are eating actually ate when they were alive. Ewws much~
Love this particular shell that was displayed in the museum. It reminded me of the cartoon Little Mermaid!
Things I did in the museum: Compare sizes
Big, bigger, biggest. You get the picture.
I am sure everyone would sure be excited if this fella is in their steamboat. This is one HUGE prawn.
Things I did in the museum: Dig into the drawers of explorers
On the second floor of the museum lies the heritage gallery which houses rows of cabinets that holds the sweat and blood of early explorers up to the current NUS biologists and researchers.
I discover that early explorers are often the ones with voluminous journals of natural history in the parts of the world they visited.
Like Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar, these pioneers helped to build the foundation of natural studies in Singapore.
If you had visited the National Museum of Singapore, you would also have found a room full of William Farquhar’s drawings of plants in the early days of Singapore. Those drawings are beautifully drawn and very detailed.
Leafing through the drawers of the explorer to learn about their discoveries and work felt like peeking into their personal belongings, interesting and intimate. It was like walking into a labyrinth of their thoughts and understanding their life-long work in natural history.
Things I did in the museum: Say Hello to “acquaintances”
Of course, the privilege of witnessing the transition of the small education unit to a full fledged museum does make me interested to find out where all the previous display went to…
And I managed to find some of the “old birds”…
Try to see if you can recognise any of the taxidermic animals that was displayed in the above photos to the photos below:
Upgrade your trip to the museum
Collate pictures of wildlife before you go
Remember I went around playing matchy-matchy? Well in this day and age, we love to photograph almost everything! Collate a folder of pictures of wildlife you have captured around you and bring it to the museum to play a game of matchy-matchy too!
You definitely will find your experience more fun and fulfilling!
Museum Web Mobile Experience
Screenshots of the mobile website
To supplement your experience in the museum, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum has developed an online experience where you can explore the museum with the help of this mobile website.
The museum displayed many specimens of animals suspended in a glass jar with chemicals, and these animals have lost their technicolour coat. With the application, you can find out what they really look like when these animals are alive and you can also find more information about the animal itself.
You can access the mobile website via this link: http://nat-hist.sg/
Appollonia Dinosaur App
There are more than one way to experience the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. I found out from my guide that the museum has an application made available to the public and this would be very interesting for children to have where they can go around the museum to hunt for dinosaur bone in this interesting AR-concept application.
It is available on both Apple and Android platform.
You can find the download links here: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/dinoapp
Admission Tickets (as of 2015)
|Categories||Tourists and Foreigners||Singapore Residents^|
|Child#, Student*, Senior Citizens||SGD13.00||SGD9.00|
|National Service Men, Person with Disability||SGD9.00|
^Singapore Resident Rate applies for all Singapore Citizen and Permanent Residents
#Child Rate applies to all children aged from 3 years to 12 years old. Children under the age of 3 enters for free
*Student rate: Please bring along a proof of your student card
Book your tickets through Sistic via this link: http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/lkc2015
Admission for NUS Staff and Students:
Free admission is subject to availability and prior booking must be made online. Please refer to this link for more instructions: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/nusstaffstudents
How to get there:
- Drop at Clementi Station(East West Line) then take SBS bus no.96 and alight opposite the museum.
- Drop at Kent Ridge Station (Circle Line) then take bus D (NUS internal shuttle) and alight in front of the museum.
From AYE, take exit 9 towards Clementi Road and turn into Kent Ridge Cresent
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Faculty of Science
National University of Singapore
2 Conservatory Drive
More stories soon!