This morning we visited the excellent Singapore National Museum and learnt many things; none of which answered the important question I have been pondering the last couple of days.
The Museum is really extraordinarily well organised and capitalises on a relatively small range of exhibits in a way which should put larger museums to shame. In particular the audio tour which allows for differing routes and views of the same objects is an absolute delight.
Last night while strolling the tropical groves on Fort Canning we discussed the Second World War fall of Singapore. Not unusually, the adults in our group knew just enough to be dangerous. So when Declan asked why the sea-facing defences were not just turned around, we found ourselves at a loss. Some quick internet research last night meant that, over breakfast, we had a far more informative discussion about flexible tactics, air superiority and colonial arrogance. But it was clearly time for a visit to somewhere with actual information.
Interestingly the Museum seemed to take a far more generous view of the Japanese invasion than the Australian and British sites I had based my research on. While deploring the individual Japanese actions, there was more than a little sub-text that there was, perhaps, a positive to be drawn with the benefit of time and a wider view of the sweep of history. The Japanese invasion broke Britain’s stranglehold on Singapore and the rest of Asia and so inadvertently lead , eventually, to greater independence for many Asian nations.
We learnt even more about Singapore’s early history. For example, Raffles, a man who no doubt had vision and drive, but also had a wife who could have got a job as a modern publicist. To the local Sultans who variously who seemed to myopically end up selling out their places for very little. And their predecessors who did a fabulous job of setting up rather nice little operations and then invading each other in a very operatic fashion.
However, nothing in the Museum’s history of Singapore or it’s information on the powerhouse the country has become explains why we are the only people in this entire city wearing hats. As we’ve wandered about in the midst of bright, bright sunlight it has become apparent that it is not Callum’s blond hair, or our fair skins which set us apart from the majority of the locals but the fact that the four of us are wearing hats and sunglasses – and the locals simply are not.
Sure you see the ocasional umbrella or parasol protecting, always, a middle-aged woman. And every now and then you hit a hat as a fashion statement. But your basic protective sun-avoiding, shade-casting object is simply not to be found. After some discussion, we have three theories.
The first is that the hat makes you hotter in the midst of ll this humidity. Now I can see this. I’ve been pulling my hat off with some relief when we hit a shady spot. But the balance remains solidly in the hat’s favour when you hit sunshine.
The second, which is Jennifer’s preferred thought, is that the locals simply don’t spend that much time outside. They move from house or office to air-conditioned mall, to air-conditioned vehicle. This theory has good-sense written all over it – which means it is probably correct and is about to be rejected out-of-hand.
Theory two has been rejected in favour of theory three. Which is that what we’re seeing is an artifact of colonial times. As the locals migrated from traditional dress to western dress their only hat-example was the tall, dorky guys wearing pith helmets and sweating lot. After taking a good look at this wholly unprepossessing sight, and I absolutely defy anyone to claim they look good in a pith helmet, the locals instituted a sort of country-wide, cultural hat-ban to ensure such dorkiness was never inflicted upon then as a population.
I guess we’ll just never know for sure, will we?