Tag Archives: architecture

‘Forbidden Porcelain’ at the Prinsenhof Museum, Delft

My first experience of Delft was a gloriously sunny Saturday in May, spent walking around the town square; with some serious efforts invested in climbing the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

On my second trip to Delft, I spent the day at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition.

This exhibition centers around the exquisite porcelain that was made specially for Chinese emperors by the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, but which was later discarded and destroyed, as it did not meet the high standards expected of royal wares. I was very fortunate to have the company of the museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Ms. Suzanne Kluver, who shared her in-depth knowledge of the subject.


The opening panel of the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition

It is the first time that these reassembled porcelain wares, originally made for Chinese emperors, are being seen outside Asia. Several of the artefacts in this exhibition are on loan from the Archaeological Institute, Jingdezhen, China.

In an article for the Jul-Aug’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, I share about my visit to the Prinsenhof Museum, and briefly explore the centuries-old connection between Chinese porcelain and Delftware.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.


(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

So if you happen to be in Delft (or in the vicinity), do consider visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain’ exhibition at the Prinsenhof Museum. The exhibition runs until 9th July 3rd September 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Prinsenhof Museum that could not be included in the print article….


Entrance of the Prinsenhof Museum


Bullet holes from the 1584 assassination of William I, preserved in a wall of the Prinsenhof


Sunlight streaming through a window in the basement of the museum


Loved the look of this window!


A lamp post adorned with the trademark blue & white delftware designs, on the premises of the museum


A seat in the Prinsenhof garden embellished with beautiful pieces of delftware













Filed under Europe, Netherlands

Delighted in Delft!

To say I’m enamoured by Delft, would be an understatement! Since our move to Amsterdam 3 months ago, I’ve made 2 day trips to Delft, and my fascination for the town has grown exponentially with each visit.

The town’s name is said to have its roots in the word delf (meaning canal), which in turn came from the word delven (meaning digging). The name Delft is probably in reference to the digging of the Oude Delft, the canal around which the town developed in the 12th century.

On my first visit to Delft, I had the pleasure of darling hubby’s company, who of course, wanted to do something adventurous. So we resolutely climbed 376 steps in an ancient, spiral staircase, to reach the top of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) tower, for some spectacular views of the town. Of course, there was lots of huffing and puffing involved, along with several short breaks.


At a height of almost 109m, the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk is the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands

What made it even more interesting was that the staircase was just about wide enough to accommodate one normal sized person. So the experience of squeezing past people of all sizes going in the opposite direction from you, without losing your footing, was an adventure in itself. Definitely not for the claustrophobic or clumsy, I tell you!


On the way to the top…


On the way down…

But the view from the top was well worth the effort!


View of the Delft Town Hall (the erstwhile Stadhuis) & the Markt (market square) from the tower of the Niewe Kerk

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View of Delft town from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk

The ‘Father of the Fatherland’, William of Orange is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk. He was a key leader in the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule, enabling the formation of the Dutch Republic. In 1584, he was assassinated in his home, now the location of the Prinsenhof Museum. The bullet holes from the assassination are well preserved in the museum.


The mausoleum of William of Orange, in the Nieuwe Kerk









The preserved bullet holes in the wall of the Princenhof Museum, where William of Orange was assassinated in 1584

Nieuwe Kerk may seem a bit of a misnomer today given that its original construction began in 1381! But back in the day, there was already a church in town, St. Bartholomew’s Church, now referred to as the Oude Kerk (Old Church). The Oude Kerk’s 75m tower tilts slightly, earning it the nickname ‘Leaning Tower of Delft’. Famous Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer is buried in the Oude Kerk, though we did not manage to spot his gravestone amidst the several Dutch luminaries buried there.


View of the Oude Kerk from the Nieuwe Kerk tower. The lean of the Oude Kerk tower is not very apparent from this angle.


A street image of the Oude Kerk, with the visible lean in the tower

Delft’s historical position as one of the main ports of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) has had an undeniable influence on this quaint town. The Chinese blue & white porcelain imported into Delft by the VOC in the 17th century led to the creation of a local adaptation, now famous worldwide in its own right as ‘Delftware’ or ‘Delft blue’. Many stores around the market square, sell Delftware souveniers, in every conceivable shape and form.


An artisan paints a souvenier plate in one of the Delftwares stores. When the plate is fired in a kiln, the black paint will change to a bright blue.

On my second visit to Delft, I spent a considerable amount of time at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through their permanent collection as well as visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain‘ exhibition, which is on till 9th July. More about that and Delftware in a subsequent blog post.

For now, I leave with you with a few more pictures of this absolutely delightful Dutch town….






Filed under Europe, Netherlands

My Farewell Tribute to Singapore

After six wonderful years in Singapore, the hubs and I recently moved to Amsterdam. I couldn’t have offered a better farewell tribute to Singapore than this 12-page feature in the Mar’17 issue of Holland Herald, the inflight magazine of KLM airlines.

First published on 21st January 1966, Holland Herald has been around for over half a century and holds the remarkable distinction of being the oldest inflight magazine in the world. There had to be a history angle! 😉

So without further ado, here it is – my article about the city I once called home. Kindly note, that the pictures in the article are not mine.

(Please click on the image below to read the PDF of the article)


(Reproduced with permission)


Filed under Asia, Singapore

Vasai Fort: Remnants of a Forgotten Empire

A white peacock dances in all its ethereal glory. Sadhus (holy men) in their flowing, orange robes float across the screen. Beyoncé is dressed in resplendent Indian (more like Bollywood) attire. This is the opening sequence of Coldplay’s ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ video, filmed at the imposing Vasai Fort, on the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay), India.


Entry to the Gonsalo Garcia Dominican Church, established in 1583. This one of the 7 churches in the Vasai Fort complex.

My fascination with Vasai Fort goes back a long way. I spent my childhood and early adult years, not too far from this magnificent edifice but it is only more recently that I began digging into its history. Here’s my attempt at crunching 500 years of its history into a quick read.

After 11 perilous months at sea, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama landed on the shores of Calicut in southwest India on 20th May 1498, thus pioneering the highly sought after sea route to India. But even before this momentous discovery, the city of Vasai (on the west coast of India, to the north of Calicut and Bombay) was a thriving port, frequented by traders from the Middle East and Europe, including the famous Venetian merchant, Marco Polo.

Early navigational maps, like the India Orientalis (1579) by Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, mention Baçaim (the Portuguese name for Vasai). Such was its prominence in those days.

On 23rd December 1534, the city of Vasai was ceded by its then ruler Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to the Portuguese. The Portuguese went on to build a massive fort, Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim (Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai), with an entire town enveloped within the fort walls. Vasai Fort served as the capital of the powerful northern Portuguese province (Corte da Norte) and until it was lost to the Marathas in 1739. After multiple battles between the Marathas and the British for control of the fort and surrounding areas, they came to a mutually convenient arrangement in 1802. The British however, preferred the neighbouring island of Mombaim (Bombay), which became a key centre for the East India Company; and in due course, Vasai lost its significance. Presently, the fort is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.


The inside view of one section of Vasai Fort

On our recent visit to Vasai Fort, we only had a couple to hours to spare. This was barely enough time to walk through even one small section of this 110-acre fort complex. But even in this very short span of time, it was not hard to imagine the grandeur of the fort in its hey days.


An art student sketches a part of the Vasai Fort

So if you happen to be in Mumbai and are looking to do a fun day trip, consider the Vasai Fort. Best visited via a tour company. If you are local, you know how to get here.

I leave you with some of my pictures taken in and around the fort.


The Church of Our Lady of Life (Nossa Senhora da Vida), established in 1536


A grazing cow accompanied by a Cattle Egret, walks around the fort


An uncommon sighting of a Bengal monitor lizard at the fort


A Rose-ringed Parakeet enjoys the morning sun


A golawala (‘gola’ means ball, ‘wala’ means seller) readies his cart for business, outside the fort. He sells shaved ice balls, served in a variety of flavours.


A local friend shares the front seat with the rickshaw driver, on the ride from Vasai Railway Station to the fort


Salt pans spotted en route to Vasai by train


Filed under Asia, India

In the land of Barbecue & Rum – Puerto Rico

The drinking world is divided into those that absolutely love piña colada and those that absolutely dislike it! It’s a bit too sweet for my taste but its popularity is undeniable. This delectable mix of white rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice; is after all, the national cocktail of Puerto Rico.

Did you know that nearly 70% of the rum sold in America comes from Puerto Rico? The island prides itself as the ‘rum capital of the world’, with Bacardi being one of the largest rum producers on the island. No surprises then, that Bacardi’s distillery in the town of Cataño is known as the ‘Cathedral of Rum’. Nearby is Casa Bacardi, a museum unlike any other museum you know! It offers exciting tours of the distillery, a heady rum tasting session as well as a mixology class, among other fun activities. http://www.visitcasabacardi.com

At the entrance of the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

At the entrance of the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

Nothing like starting the day with a spicy rum punch! At the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

Nothing like starting the day with a spicy rum punch! At the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

During Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the New World in 1493, he reached the shores of the island we know today as Puerto Rico and named it San Juan Bautista, after St John the Baptist. The capital of the island, founded in 1521, was called Ciudad de Puerto Rico, which translated into English means the ‘rich port city’, alluding to all the gold that was found in its rivers. In a strange twist of history, the capital city came to be later known as San Juan while the entire island was referred to as Puerto Rico.

Statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon in Spanish) in Plaza de Colon in Old San Juan

Statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish) at the Plaza de Colón in Old San Juan

The indigenous people of Puerto Rico (and the larger Caribbean region) are the Taino Indians. They were the first people that Christopher Columbus encountered when he arrived in the New World in 1492.

You’d be interested to know that the word ‘barbeque’ comes to us from the Taino people. While this cooking technique has been around since prehistoric times, the Taino used the word barbicu to refer to a wooden rack built above the ground for smoking food. Spanish conquistadors took the word back to Spain and by the 18th century, English speakers were using the word ‘barbecue’ to refer to a late afternoon social gathering where the highlight was the grilling of meat.

In fact, several commonly used English words come to us from the Taino people. Hammock, potato, hurricane, canoe, potato, cassava and maize are just a few examples.

Spain surrendered Puerto Rico to the US in 1898. While it is officially known today as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it is an unincorporated US territory.

There is so much to experience in Puerto Rico – it’s luscious coffee, the El Yunque National Forest, the Arecibo Observatory (the world’s largest single aperture telescope, featured in the James Bond movie Golden Eye), its stunning beaches (it’s an island after all!), its many underwater treasures. For now, I leave you with these snapshots of Puerto Rico….

Mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed green plantains) with shrimp

Mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed green plantains) with shrimp at Raices, a local restaurant

Red snapper ceviche with tostones (fried plantain) at Marmalade, Puerto Rico

Red snapper ceviche with tostones (fried plantain) at Marmalade, a fine dining restaurant in San Juan

Ending the meal with a divine chocolate mousse topped with raspberry ice cream at Marmalade, San Juan

Ending the meal with a divine chocolate mousse topped with raspberry ice cream at Marmalade, San Juan

The Paseo del Morro trail along the 16th century citadel that guarded Old San Juan

The Paseo del Morro trail along the 16th century citadel that guarded Old San Juan

Another view of the Paseo del Morro trail

Another view of the Paseo del Morro trail

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan - the oldest church in the US (original building dates back to 1540)

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan – the oldest church in the US (original building dates back to 1540)

The narrow streets of Old San Juan

The narrow streets of Old San Juan

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Singapore’s first ever book on Peranakan Tiles is here!

Some of you know that following my PASSAGE article on the Peranakan tiles of Singapore,  I’ve collaborated with one of Singapore’s leading tile collectors, to bring out the first ever book on this topic.

As a tile enthusiast, it was an absolute delight to work on this project! After months of hard work (and a long wait at the printers), the book is finally here!

Peranakan Tiles Singapore Book

This beautiful 200 page book explores the different types of tiles that came to Singapore in the late-19th / early-20th century, and showcases some of the exquisite tiles that can be seen in the heritage precincts of Katong, Chinatown, Emerald Hill and Little India. Many century old buildings and shophouses in these conserved areas are decorated with English, Belgian or Japanese tiles. Interestingly, several tombs in the Bukit Brown Cemetery are also decorated with these tiles. The book also aims to create awareness about this fragile legacy that needs to be conserved for the generations to come.

In the early part of the 20th century, decorative tiles known as maiolica or majolica tiles across the world, found favour with the affluent Peranakan community of Singapore. The Peranakans decorated their houses, furniture and other surfaces with these colourful tiles. Soon enough, these tiles became a distinctive feature of this community and they began to be referred to locally as ‘Peranakan tiles’.

Based on availability, preferences shifted from English and Belgian tiles at the turn of the century to Japanese relief moulded tiles post-World War I. Japanese tiles were specifically made for Chinese-origin customers and had designs of fruits, flowers, birds and animals, considered auspicious as per Chinese symbolism.

The book is available at the Peranakan Museum, Chillax Market (Bukit Timah) as well as Katong Antique House and Kim Choo in the East. So if you live in Singapore or are visiting any time soon, don’t forget to pick up a copy 🙂

You could also order the book online.

For delivery within Singapore, go to http://list.qoo10.sg/item/BOOK-ON-PERANAKAN-TILES-IN-SINGAPORE/435757670

For international shipping, go to http://list.qoo10.com/item/BOOK-ON-PERANAKAN-TILES-IN-SINGAPORE/436126048

Thanks for your support! Hope you enjoy the book!

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Return of the Capitol, Singapore

Ever since we moved to Singapore mid-2011, I have wondered about the magnificent Capitol building. Why did it seem to be in a perpetual state of renovation? What was to become of it? What was its history?

After nearly 3 years of extensive refurbishment, the Capitol Theatre reopened to the public on May 19, 2015. Here’s my article exploring the past, present and future of the theatre. This article appears in the Sep-Oct’15 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore).

Capitol, Singapore

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

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Mario and his muse, Goa

My fascination with Mario de Miranda’s caricatures began when I was about 6 years old. I still fondly (and vividly!) remember the adventures of Nitin, Hassan and Leena, the colourful characters Mario brought to life in my Grade 1 English textbook. Those cheery illustrations made learning so much fun!

In the years that followed, I savoured his witty cartoons in newspapers and magazines. His inimitable black ink sketches with buxom women and potbellied men, would make me chuckle every single time.

Mario was (and in my opinion, still is) one of India’s most loved cartoonists. Self-taught, insanely detail-oriented and delightfully cheeky, his cartoons regaled the country for decades. His larger-than-life wall art at Café Mondegar in Bombay (now Mumbai), still stares down on visitors to this day.

His art imitated his life. Goa was his muse. He was born there, grew up in his ancestral home in Loutolim (South Goa) and spent a majority of his retired life there. His cartoons showcased the idyllic Goan life to the rest of India and the world. Today, they are a nostalgic reminder of a Goan lifestyle that has either disappeared or is fast disappearing.

Mario’s passing in 2011 left me wanting to find out more about Mario, the person. Our recent trip to Goa was to pay tribute to this iconic artist.

The drive from Panjim to Loutolim, Mario’s hometown, was picturesque – paddy fields and coconut groves till as afar as the eye can see.

The picturesque drive from Panjim to Loutolim

The scenic drive from Panjim to Loutolim. Guess who made a special appearance! 

When we reached Loutolim, we drove down an unpaved road to reach the 400-year old Casa de Miranda – a stunning mansion constructed in the Indo-Portuguese style. As there is no gallery or space accessible to the public at Casa de Miranda, we were happy to admire it from a  distance.

A peek at the 400-year old Casa de Miranda - Mario's ancestral home in Loutolim, Goa

A peek at Casa de Miranda – Mario’s ancestral home in Loutolim, Goa

We left wondering what his life might have been in Loutolim, far away from the media spotlight and the trappings of city life.

Our next stop on this tribute journey was the Mario Gallery in Porvorim. Here, renowned architect Gerard da Cunha (with the permission of the Miranda family) has converted Mario’s work into a plethora of merchandise, thus keeping his memory alive and giving Mario fans an opportunity to own a piece of his work.

As I walked towards the entrance of the Gallery, there was an overwhelming feeling of stepping into a fairy tale. The reddish-brown, laterite bricks used in the construction of the Gallery give it a gingerbread feel, apt for Mario’s make-believe world of cartoons. Replicas of some of Mario’s creations greet visitors.

Entering the fairy tale world  of Mario Miranda

The dreamy setting of the Mario Miranda gallery in Porvorim, Goa

A close-up of the padeiro (village baker) and batcar (landlord)

Replicas of Mario’s caricatures of the padeiro (village baker) and batcar (landlord)

Mario's sketch of a padiero (the village baker) in his traditional toga and balancing a large basket of freshly baked bread on his head.

Mario’s sketch of a padiero (the village baker) in his traditional toga and balancing a large basket of freshly baked bread on his head. Rarely seen in today’s times*

Mario's sketch of a batcar (a traditional landlord) in his silk striped pyjamas. Again, a disappearing species.

Mario’s sketch of a batcar (the traditional landlord) in his silk striped pyjamas.   Another disappearing species*

A close-up of the local musician

A replica of Mario’s caricature of the local musician

Mario's sketch of the local musician

Mario’s sketch of the local musician*

In the Gallery, t-shirts, mugs, tiles and shot glasses jostle for space alongside Mario’s originals, limited edition prints and books. We spent hours browsing.

The piece de resistance of this trip was the original artwork we were able procure from the Gallery. That was all the closure I needed.

Through his work, Mario will live on forever.

(*From the book ‘Goa with Love’ by Mario Miranda)


Filed under Asia, India

Viva Goa!

Golden sand beaches, pot-smoking hippies, the freshest seafood, vibrant markets…. these are some of the things that come to mind when you think of Goa today. But what most people don’t realise is that nearly 500 years ago, Goa played a crucial role in shaping Asia’s future.

In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut in south-western India. He was the first European to reach India by sea and this sea route was followed by several other Portuguese fleets. By 1510, Goa had become the headquarters of the Portuguese empire in Asia and Africa; making Portugal the first colonial power to establish itself in Asia. The Spanish, the Dutch and the British followed. And the rest, as they say, is history!

A 1579 map of India by Flemish cartographer, Abraham Cortelius, showing Goa (indicated by a red arrow). Currently on display at the National Library, Singapore

A 1579 map of India by Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, showing Goa (indicated by the red arrow). Currently on display at the National Library, Singapore

Goa remained a Portuguese colony for 450 years (until 1961) and the influence runs deep. Ruins of the once imposing forts, hundreds (if not thousands) of churches and chapels, brightly painted houses, the lively music and most importantly, the cuisine. Who among us hasn’t drooled over pictures of spicy sorpotel or tangy vindaloo?

The lighthouse at Fort Aguada (a fairly well-preserved 17th century Portuguese fort on Sinquerim beach, North Goa)

The lighthouse at Fort Aguada (a fairly well-preserved 17th century Portuguese fort on Sinquerim beach, North Goa)

The Goans, as the friendly locals are known, have a susegad (meaning relaxed or laid-back) outlook to life; akin to the ‘island pace’ you experience in the Seychelles or Maldives.

For me, growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai), Goa was the closest holiday destination and ‘the’ place to visit in summer.

The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church (built in 1609) in Panjim, the capital of Goa

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church (built in 1609) in Panjim, the capital of Goa

While Goa has so much to offer the curious tourist, it can be explored without a set itinerary. If you have any time left after sunbathing, eating and sleeping, you could just ramble around the nearby scenic towns and villages. They are all charming in their own right.

Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Goa:

1) Walk around Old Goa

Old Goa was the capital of Portuguese India from the 16th – 18th century and is today a UNSECO World Heritage Site.

The 400 year old, Basilica of Bom Jesus houses the undecayed body of St. Francis Xavier, who died in 1552. The relics are put on public display every 10 years, with the last exposition held in 2014.

Well worth a visit for the Baroque architecture, gold-gilded alters and the striking marble flooring.

The entrance to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa

The entrance to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa

The gold-gilded altar of the Basilica of Bom Jesus,

The elaborate, gold-gilded altar of the Basilica of Bom Jesus

The silver casket that holds the relics of St. Francis Xavier

The silver casket that holds the relics of St. Francis Xavier

2) Visit some of the exquisite, Indo-Portuguese mansions

Goa has several carefully preserved homes dating back to the 1700s, many of which have been passed down the generations. These colonial era homes display the finest European décor (including chandeliers, tapestries and mirrors) and house delicate Chinese porcelain collections; all indicative of the wealth and status of their owners. My personal favourite is the Figueiredo Museum, where the spirited owner, Maria Lourdes regales you with stories from her family’s glorious past.

Figueiredo Museum - Loutulim, Goa, India

The rustic environs of Loutulim

The beautiful exteriors of the Figueiredo mansion

The Indo-Portuguese architecture of the Figueiredo mansion

3) Eat at the many beachside restaurants

Goa’s 105km coastline is dotted with seaside restaurants. Most are humble beach shacks but some like Britto’s in Baga or Martin’s Corner in Betalbatim have established quite a reputation for themselves. But let me warn you, if you suffer from agoraphobia (fear of crowded places), these eateries are not for you.

Try the more inland restaurants like Fisherman’s Wharf or Mum’s Kitchen (both in Panaji) for a quiet and authentic Goan food experience.

Rawa (semolina) coated fried fish - a local delicacy

Rawa (semolina) coated fried fish – a local delicacy

I can’t do any justice to Goan food in one blogpost but for the moment, suffice to say that it is a tantalizing fusion of Portuguese and South Indian influences. The vinegar (as in the vindaloo dishes) comes from the Portuguese while the coconut and spices (as in xacutis and curries) comes from India.

Only the freshest seafood in Goa!

Only the freshest seafood in Goa!

Wash the food down with beer or for the adventurous – feni, a locally brewed liquor. In the 16th century, the Portuguese brought with them, the cashew plant from Brazil. Before long, the cashew apples were being crushed, fermented and distilled to produce feni. A must-try!

When in Goa, eat and drink like the Goans. Rest assured, you will leave a few kilos heavier 🙂

4) Browse the many markets

Can’t talk about Goa without mentioning the hippies. Several years ago, they started the flea market near Anjuna beach. Today, the Wednesday market at Anjuna is a tourist staple.

The Friday markets at Mapusa and Banastarim are where the locals go to shop. While visiting these markets, remember to pick-up Goa sausages – similar to the chouricos of Portugal, only spicier!

Also add bebinca to the list. This is a divine layer cake made of flour, jaggery (traditional cane sugar), eggs and coconut milk.

5) Most importantly, just do nothing! Sunbathe – eat – sleep – repeat 🙂

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Peranakan Tiles of Singapore

There is a lot a folklore about the origins of the Peranakans. According to the Sejarah Melayu (or the Malay Annals), Chinese Ming princess Hang Li Poh was married off to Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca in the 15th century. It is believed that Princess Hang Li Poh arrived in Malacca with a large entourage who settled there and married locally. The offspring from these mixed marriages were called ‘Peranakan’.

‘Peranakan’ is a Malay word meaning ‘locally born’.

Legend aside, it is a well-known fact that a majority of the Peranakans are descendants from marriages between Chinese traders who migrated to the British-controlled Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) and local Malay women.

Today, if you walk around Singapore’s heritage areas, you will notice the colourful tiles that decorate some of the shophouse facades. These houses belong to the Peranakans and the tiles are known as ‘Peranakan tiles’ – a nod to the community that could afford to buy them and thus, popularised them in colonial times.

These tiles also add a decorative touch  to the tombs of Peranakans buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery. More about that in my post, Tales from Tombstones.

In the Mar-Apr’15 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore), I trace the history of the exquisite Peranakan tile.

Peranakan Tile - Singapore(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor)

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