Singapore. Bras Basah Road


Bras Basah Road, a familiar route.

For anyone travelling to and from Australia to Europe, Singapore is a popular stopover. (I highly recommend breaking up the journey, 24 hours travelling is awful, so break it up!) I love Singapore and have since my first stopover returning from Europe when I was young. My young mind loved the bright colours, just the trip from the airport to the city hotel we were staying in, with the street plantings on the highway, especially the bourgainvillea made a major impression. I loved the order, the cleanliness, and still do all these years later!

With the British setting up a trading post on Singapore Island in the early 1800s, they also set up separate areas for the different ethnic groups. Those areas as still quite defined in modern day Singapore, so you can stay in the Chinatown area, Little India, or the Muslim or Arab area. My favourite is the old Colonial area and it's one that I enjoy experiencing during my stay.

Bras Basah Road is a small part of what remains of the colonial area. I try and stay in a hotel at the start of this road, and not far from the hotel is the Singapore Art Museum.

It's housed in a beautifully restored colonial era building.

This building was originally built as a catholic school, the St. Joseph's Institution, a boys' school. The school still exists, it sold the buildings and built modern premises in a more spacious area.

It still has the statue of St. Joseph welcoming people to the building.

My fascination with colonial areas of Asia, stems from the whole 'fish out of water' concept. How people adapted in areas that were totally foreign to them, how they tried to bring the familiar, in this case the architecture and school, and adapt to the local heat and humidity. So the buildings have large verandahs and breezeways. The art museum has enclosed the open areas by placing glass in the archways, as in this modern era, the museum is air-conditioned! It's worth visiting not just to view the art but it still has the remnants of an old school building.

Walk a little bit further down the road and you come to a complex called "Chijmes". 

The Chijmes buildings were a former enclosed catholic convent and school. It was established in 1854 when French nuns from the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) were asked to come to Singapore Island by the French priest based there. They were to set up a school for the children of catholic foreigns and eurasians as well as an orphanage for girls.

This is the oldest building in the complex, Caldwell House. It was bought for the nuns prior to their arrival and had been built several years previously for a British colonist. (The hazy effect of the picture is due to my camera lens fogging up because of the humidity! Eventually the lens adjusted and the other pictures are clearer.)

Inside the Chijmes complex, the buildings have been restored. The school still exists as it too moved to new premises with more room and the complex was sold to a business group who restored and adapted it to a restaurant and entertainment area.

The chapel which had been deconsecrated and is used as a function centre, it also has a display on the history of the convent, hence my knowledge of it!

This is the "Gate of Hope", the sign explains its history. Within a short span of time after the arrival of the French CHIJ sisters, an abandoned baby girl was left at the convent gate. The sisters set about to care for those girls who were abandoned by their families because of poverty and even due to the superstition of the bad luck brought by girls born in the Year of the Tiger. The sisters continued to care for orphans right up until their relocation in 1983. (Surprising late to me!) Fewer babies were abandoned and differing social conditions the sisters established the Infant Jesus Homes and Children's centres and work with lay people with children at risk.

The Chijmes complex is interesting to walk around in, have a read of the history of a colonial era, try out one of the restaurants, mainly Japanese!
When the old convent was sold and then redeveloped it was decided to call it Chijmes to acknowledge its past as a Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (so Chij) and the sound church bells make, so a nice touch I thought.