Markets in Chinatown

Markets in Chinatown

We had a very quiet day today, that being the basic idea behind a year of travelling. After a leisurely breakfast we tackled some schoolwork. We’re all having difficulty not calling it homework, so to try to drive the difference home the boys actually got some homework today.

Today’s schoolwork covered handwriting practice, writing in their journal, spelling and reading aloud. I’ve started by trying to give the boys basically the same stuff to do, and thus far it seems to be going OK. I was worried about the spelling but Declan took the fact that he got more words wrong than Callum did in good spirits; especially when he got a couple right that Callum got wrong. Their homework is to work as a team to be able to get all the ones they got wrong correct by the end of the week.

To make the schoolwork seem real we’ve insisted on some degree of formality: they have to sit at the table and have to put their schoolwork stuff away after each session. It is still much to early to tell how this is going to work out. The novelty of schoolwork in a foreign clime is still too fresh to pass any judgement on the process.

After schoolwork we played a game of Killer Bunnies. This is a family favourite and is a card game of such complexity that it almost defies description. It is also complex enough that it ought to be part of the schoolwork regime. The typical game can run over a couple of days which makes it perfect holiday fodder as long as there is room to leave the cards out.

Then it was off to China Town for a stroll about. We spent a great deal of time examining ad trying to identify the dried things in shops that were either food or medicinal – or, for all we knew, both. We identified squid, seahorses, yak antlers and many other things. We failed utterly to identify a great many more. I do also have to admit that in the midst of all this very basic and Asian material we came across a TinTin shop which generated  less wonder but probably more absolute enjoyment from our family. Finally, we had a good look round a large Buddhist temple and learnt a lot about the various levels of hell a departing spirit is to go through before coming back. (We might count that as our religious education for the day.)

Back at our apartment we whiled away some time on various tasks: washing, arguing with banks, checking emails and the like. The boys did some research on how to find a water park – I have mixed feelings about the fact they have been remarkably successful. There will, I am sure, be more on this topic the day after tomorrow.

Finally, we strolled up into Fort Canning to visit the Battle Box.  The Battle Box is the underground command bunker used during WW2 and is the very place that the decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese was made. We went round on a rather sad little tour which features some waxwork animatrons which are looking very tired. They did have the original maps and furniture (the bunker having been sealed from 1942 to 1988) which leant the whole thing a sense of immediacy. I hated the fact that the chalked goodbye from the last, departing, British infantryman was barely legible. Last year, the guide said, it was clearer; by next year it will be gone.

There were a few more interesting facts about the battle for Singapore garnered. For example, when the Japanese were advancing through Malaysia the train lines were cleared by the British to facilitate troop movements. Numerous goods wagons were shunted on to sidings and left. One of these, when captured by the Japanese, turned out to have detailed maps of the Singapore defences which had been printed in Malaysia and were being sent down to Singapore. So when the Japanese hit Singapore they had better maps than the British. We also found out that the Australians involved were still using weapons from the First World War, which certainly puts some perspective on the resistance they put up against the well-armed and experienced Japanese.

We saw some fantastic footage of the actual surrender ceremony. It was quite moving to see General Percival fighting back tears as he was completely humiliated by General Yamashita and bullied into signing without even being allowed to review the terms. It was a very real, raw moment to witness. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Percival and the Australian General Gordon Bennett – it’s a fascinating story and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in the era (Don I’m talking to you here).

In another example that things are never simple, we heard a bit about the Japanese massacre of patients at Alexandra hospital. This was portrayed as typical of the Japanese invasion. But something else I read said that General Yamashita visited the hospital and personally apologised to each survivor. If you see the surrender footage it is clear that Yamashita was not the type to lightly apologise and lose that much face.

Anyway back in the modern day we walked back to the apartment through a tropical downpour with the boys debating the rights and wrongs of the surrender using Killer Bunnies as an analogy. And that simply has to be a first.