Bukit Chandu – Reflecting on Singapore and Japan 80 years on

It will always be poignant to reflect on our past because that is where we can find the most visceral lessons. Of these, some of the more important ones tell stories of immense sacrifice and a hope that we will not only thrive better united, but thrive when we are undivided.

A shared heritage restored

Since their respective miraculous economic booms beginning in the early 90s, both Singapore and Japan have shared strong economic and political relationships with each other. Some of the more hopeful developments include the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties between both powerhouses in 2016. But behind the veil of modern courtesies, pop culture and innovation, lies a history that previous generations from both peoples may remember differently, where the threat of conflict and the chaos of war once played center stage.

Nestled at a high point overlooking Pasir Panjang Road lies the subject of both historical and spiritual reflection for both Singapore and Japan. This revamped black-white colonial era bungalow now plays host to one of the heritage centers that recounts the experiences of key personnel in the Malay Regiment and their personal anecdotes in wartime Singapore in both analog and digital format.

Tough Origins

This heritage center, aptly titled “Reflections at Bukit Chandu”, is one of the more prominent interpretive centers developed by the National Archives of Singapore.

It recounts the history of the indigenous Malay regiment from its inception to its last stand near Point 226 on Bukit Chandu. The unique aspect of this heritage center is that while its prime focus is on the ultimate sacrifice experienced on both sides in February 1942, the content of the exhibits go back further. The displays examine the origins of the regiment and its prominent members, leading up to the time of the regiment’s last stand.

Back then, the quality and value of men was based more on their racial origins than the spirit of their will. Yet, it was in Singapore’s most desperate hour that our former colonial masters would see the strength of the primordial Singapore Spirit in its most valiant form.

The Order of Battle

Some of the more abstract or interactive displays come with visual-audio cues that will play once you enter the rooms. These voiceovers go into detail about the shared experiences of men from the local militia and defense forces.

While war remains a generalized state-of-mind for most of us, only when we listen or read personal reflections do we understand the immense complexities and emotions that could have run through the minds of these men and women as their resources dwindled and the island slowly succumbed to the Japanese forces.

Towards the end of the exhibit, the focus shifts dramatically towards the tale of ultimate sacrifice by a brave indigenous Platoon Commander, Adnan Bin Saidi. As a folk icon not just in social discourse but also a rallying figure in local Malay history, he stands proud in the face of local history as a sign of individual strength in defiance against overwhelming odds.

In memorium

This heritage center pays no shortage of tribute in memoriam to the local forces, but it also implores us to explore the gravitas of conflict and the measures that good men and women must take to prevent such atrocities from happening ever again. This expands beyond borders, and applies to all peoples of different races, religions and faculties.

Perhaps then, the main gist beyond the visuals, is to remind us that no good can be borne from conflict or loss, and only together, with renewed strength can Singapore, Japan and the rest of the world find peace and prosperity.

I strongly encourage attending and paying a visit to this heritage center for all peoples and give special focus to our expatriate friends and colleagues to experience a part of local culture, lest it should fade away with time.

Reflections at Bukit Chandu
Address: 31-K Pepys Road, Singapore 118458 (map)

About the author

Regular Singaporean salaryman by day and avid social commentator by night. A big fan of standup comedy and anime when I’m not walking around finding interesting nooks and crannies hidden in the Lion City. Also eating food, a lot of food.