ABC Radio interview, a visit to Changi Prison Museum & a Philip Glass concert

Thursday 21 June 2001 – Singapore

Recorded an interview with Eleonora Court at ABC Radio in Hobart, for a segment in the Sunday program that she’s apparently now presenting entitled ‘Tasmanian Abroad’! We chatted for a good 20 minutes, but she said she’d probably cut it down a bit. It will air on Sunday, just after the 11.00am news.

Decided today was the day that I’d visit the Changi Prison Museum, the tribute to all those who were incarcerated at Changi under the Japanese occupation between 1942-45. I’d been putting it off because I thought that it would be a fairly emotional process. The museum is in a new building by the side of the Changi Women’s Prison and not far from the airport. It contains a recreation of the Changi Chapel in a very Japanese-style courtyard as well as some interpretive material in the museums.

Changi Chapel, Singapore
Changi Chapel, Singapore

However, I found it to be all fairly clinical. Understandably, I suppose, it tends to tell the stories of the local population who suffered under the occupation, along with the actual POWs who were mostly foreign servicemen. There were some moving exhibits – the most moving to me were the actual letters written by the prisoners and letters written by families and friends to prisoners when the families didn’t know whether their loved ones were alive or not.

There were also some notes from relatives of those who were imprisoned and some who died at Changi, which were also emotionally charged. There was a library with an extensive collection of published material on the occupation, including several that were familiar to me having worked on A Bright and Crimson Flower all those years ago. I found it somewhat offensive, however, that the library seamlessly melted into a gift shop, where firstly copies of the books, but soon afterwards all manner of the usual Singaporean souvenir tat was available for sale, right inside the museum.

Outside there were gardens still being established and a large quite attractive pavilion with furniture, clearly designed for functions or to house a restaurant – perhaps they are planning a hawker centre for the museum? The museum was so new, having opened in February this year, that the bus stop directly outside was still being built and one had to get off at the next bus stop and walk 500 metres or so back.

Went on to Changi Village and had a pleasant lunch (very Australian-style Chicken Pie with salad, a beer and a coffee) in a quaint little café where I was for some time the only customer. Still it was staffed by five people, including a septuagenarian waiter who could hardly walk, and whose orders had to be verified to me by other staff members, but it was all cheerful enough.

George rang to say he was meeting friends for dinner before heading off to try and ‘gatecrash’ the sold-out Phillip Glass recital tonight at Victoria Concert Hall, so headed home to get changed before meeting up with them. Had dinner at another of George’s DIY eating establishments, this one at Raffles City called Café Cartel, where one wrote the order from a numbered menu and took it to the counter oneself. It wasn’t especially cheap and the food (I had a duck salad – strips of fatty duck on a plate with a few shreds of iceberg lettuce and some thousand island dressing (although there was a reasonable chutney) – which cost over $10.00.

We wandered over to the hall in time for interval. Liew Chin Choy saw me and said there were lots of empty seats and that I should go in. Lots of empty seats was an understatement. When we nervously made our way into the hall at the end of interval, no more than one third of all the seats were occupied! This in a concert that had been supposedly sold out for weeks, and for which I’d tried to purchase a ticket on several occasions, and even resorted to asking around incase anyone I knew had a ticket they weren’t going to use!

Now I’d seen everything, but I suppose that in Singapore I should have expected no less or no more. It does seem odd. Possibly there were a lot of ‘no-shows’, perhaps among sponsors, but two thirds of the house does seem excessive. It’s also possible to imagine that some people didn’t return after interval, especially if they were expecting a nice classical quartet or something, but again the numbers seem too large for that to be the reason for so many vacant seats. One suspects that there was good old-fashioned gross mismanagement somewhere along the line instead!

The half of the concert we saw was worth the effort. It consisted of quite well-known excerpts from Glassworks, the Low Symphony and bleeding chunks from Einstein on the Beach and Akhanaten. George’s friends (Raymond and See Teik from Kuala Lumpur) raced off at the end and came back with autographed programs. We went for coffee and a good chat before heading home. They said to contact them when I get to KL.

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