The Singapore Night Festival 2017.

I just gave myself a new project.

Tentatively it’s being called Project I-should-stop-sulking-just-because-I’m-not-in-London. Sometimes I also refer to it as Project Self-reminder-that-Singapore-is-actually-an-awesome-place. (If anyone can come up with a better name, I welcome any suggestions).

Perhaps I also secretly/not-so-secretly want to lure some people into visiting me from the other side of the world. Hence, I have decided that I will blog more about my life in Singapore and what this tiny island has to offer.

(Also, I have a spare bedroom at my flat at the moment, and the public transportation here is a quarter of the price in Denmark, the UK and the US. AND, we have some awesome food in this side of the world. Practically a dream for travellers on a budget. Just saying.)

Ahem, but I digress.

When I returned to Singapore after my two-year stint all over the place, I was swept by a weird sensation of being back at a place that is both familiar and strange. I felt disoriented – small things that I had taken for granted would simply work did not. My transportation card that had never failed me for the past seven years didn’t work because it had expired. My mobile phone data did not work properly. I forgot that thunderstorms are permanently imminent and did not have my umbrella with me on my first night – I got caught in the rain as I was stepping out of my flat for dinner. I behaved like an awkward tourist while trying to order some food. And I got some stares when I ate by myself – I forgot how much of a taboo it is here to be seen having a meal on your own in public.

But as time goes on, I’m slowly tracing my old steps and a sense of familiarity starts to take over. After all, I still live in the same flat, and I am working in the same business district as I was before I left. It is taking a while but at least I can feel some progress in fitting back in.

The first time I felt that I found some of my footing was when I went to the Singapore Night Festival with these two friends who have not changed a single bit since I first knew them a few years ago.

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The Singapore Night Festival dates back a decade to the time when I was studying for my Bachelor’s in SMU. Being a student at a university with a campus smacked right at the city centre meant that we were at the heart of the festival that lit up the whole Bras Basah area. Visiting the festival also brought back memories from my Singapore university days which had ended, ahem, seven years ago.

The festival’s flagship display has always been the light show at the facade of the National Museum. This year’s performance boasted a fascinating 3D effect that certainly felt a notch above the previous editions’.

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The Sutton Hoo Collection at the British Museum

How these Suffolk treasures and my museum company taught me how to appreciate the history of human civilisation, and museums in general.

I am rubbish at museums.

I don’t know why I always end up going to them. During my first month or so in London, I even had a museum-and-cake buddy – we made a pact to visit a new museum every weekend and have a cake afterwards. I secretly only looked forward to the cake, but I didn’t know my friend too well back then to admit that most museums bored me to no end.

(I suspected he realised that pretty soon, and our museum-and-cake meetups transformed into anything-but-museum meetups after a few weeks. Which suited me very well and we became much better friends after that.)

I think it boils down to the fact that I don’t understand much of art and history. Later on, I realised that having the right company – one who appreciated the artefacts way more than I did and were willing to explain the history patiently to me, would make all the difference to these museum visits.

I have been to the British Museum several times, but I remember enjoying my last visit the most. During the first few visits, I mostly just admired the structure of the building and the immensity of the place.

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If you look really closely, you can see the cakes at the bottom right hand corner.

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The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, London.

A beautiful, non-touristy art gallery at the heart of the scarily touristy Oxford Street.

When a Londoner friend once told me that he would avoid Oxford Street at all cost, I remember looking at him slightly perplexed.

I was a tourist then, and while I wouldn’t describe Oxford Street as my favourite place in London, I didn’t detest it. After all, the area is practically a one-stop shop/street of every brand imaginable. Whenever I travelled to London, I could delay all my shopping until the last minute (as I do with everything else in life) and just head there to buy everything that I don’t need and shop for souvenirs for friends.

But now that I have lived in the city for two months, I began to understand why Londoners have such negative sentiments towards Oxford Street. The place is always overcrowded, big brands seem to be haphazardly put next to each other and in between them tacky cafes try to rip you off with their substandard food – a tourist trap in short, which is why you can hardly find a single local person shopping there.

Perhaps it is some kind of a rite of passage for living in London, but I find myself disliking Oxford Street more with every visit (plus it always rained whenever I was there).

But in the midst of this chaos, there is a gem hidden just 5-minute walk away from the main street. At Manchester Square stood the Hertford House, a beautiful mansion which houses the national museum for the Wallace Collection, an art collection by the Wallace family.

The art collectors of the Wallace family consist of four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. I don’t mean this to be rude, but after visiting the museum, I concluded that art collectors are practically hoarders with a lot of money.

(I hoard things too, but I don’t have that much money. You should have seen the thrash that I accumulated when I was moving house.)

These five guys, for example, have accumulated a whole mansion of art, paintings, sculpture, china, armoury, arms and everything else you can think of that can be classified as art work. It was only when Richard Wallace had the sense to realise that their family’s collection could be a museum that he decided to work on leaving the collections to the Nation. The administrative process was so long that after he died, his widow Lady Wallace had to finish off the job and eventually made ‘the single biggest bequest of art treasures to a Nation.’

My friend and I visited the place spontaneously on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was quiet, a stark contrast to the bustle and elbowing at Oxford Street. It was as if I was magically transported to a different era of civilisation, to the time when women’s fashion was about covering your body with as many layers as possible and there were literal knights in shining armour.

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Or your idea of a pet is a lion and you just casually trimming its claws while exposing your breast.

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Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb.

One of the most interesting and heartbreaking museums that I have been.

As much as I would like to claim that I’m a sophisticated person who loves museums, I’m not.

I fell asleep while walking along the rows of painting at the world-renowned Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I pretended to understand modern art exhibitions at ARoS and Tate Modern but could not be bothered to read the descriptions. The Natural History Museum in New York was pretty cool, but let’s be honest here, I was just there for the dinosaurs.

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Ok this walrus dude was somewhat badass too.

Anyway the point is, I’m not a museum person. As much as I would like to be engrossed in the development of human civilisation, it wouldn’t take me long before I started yawning and wondering how the hot chocolate at the museum cafe would taste like.

I am a horrible product of our ancestors. I know.

But even in the most hopeless of cases, there is always an exception. In my case, The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb was my exception. Not only did I successfully stay awake throughout, the exhibitions managed to captivate me, so much so that I spent two hours in what was supposed to be a 45-minute visit.

When I first saw the sign of the museum while walking along the hill leading to St Mark’s Church, I thought it was a joke or something that was lost in translation from Croatian to English. Perhaps, the name of the museum didn’t mean what I thought it meant – maybe it was something to do with how the relationships between Croatia and some other countries were broken during wartime.

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But no, upon entering the museum, it was precisely about what I thought it wasn’t: it was a museum about people who have broken up with their boyfriends/girlfriends.

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Or to be precise, it was a repository of artifacts donated by people who have gone through heartbreaking broken relationships (who hasn’t?) be it with their ex-partner, family members or friends.

The concept of the museum started out in Zagreb, where it is permanently located (along with another one in LA), but they tour to display heartbreaking stories from around the world. The museum will be coming to Copenhagen (Denmark), Pittsburgh (USA), Heidelberg (Germany) and Jeju Island (South Korea).

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And you wonder why some relationships are broken.

At the time when I visited Zagreb, I was freshly out of a heartbreak. The concept of the museum naturally piqued my interest, but I was worried whether it would make me feel too sentimental and start to wallow in my sadness again.

Fortunately, the curiosity got the better of me (as usual) and I decided to take the risk. Taking a deep breath, my friends and I paid the HRK 20 (USD 3) entrance fee for students and walked into the exhibition area.

I didn’t really know what to expect and what I saw was rather bizarre in the beginning.

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