Joelyn's Museum Escapades

Museum Escapades: Ancient Treasure Ships

Museum Escapades

Oh le goodness I haven’t done a post under this column for a long time. Imagine the light bulbs turning on when I saw this happening at Vivocity.

Brought to you by National Geographic and Vivocity

I’ve heard about this initiative through one of my meetings with a client that my project group was aiding but I never really thought it would be this fast. That or I haven’t been back to Vivocity enough. But anyway, it was $2 per entry with children going in free and all proceeds would go to Very Special Arts (VSA) Singapore, a charity that focuses on aiding people with disabilities to integrate into society and be independent through the medium of art.

I support the Arts. And I love Museum exhibits. So in I went.

The entrance to the magic kingdom… sorta.

There was one thing about this exhibit and it was that photography was prohibited within the exhibits itself. So my pictures were taken on the exterior of the setup.

To give a brief background, the exhibit was centered around the ancient sea trade routes between the Middle East and China dating all the way back to the 9th century. Apparently a sunken Arab ship holding trade wares from China had been found by archaeologists along the coast of Indonesia.

That sparked off a new discovery regarding the myths and legends about Arab adventurers and Chinese merchants. Characters like Sindbad (sound familiar?), Fa Xian and Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) came into the picture as well.

The exhibit had 7 galleries, each depicting a certain aspect of the research and findings. And all visitors had to wait a few minutes before entering, due to the fact that the galleries can only contain about 4-5 people maximum.

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Gallery 1: Theatre

Chamber 1 held Gallery 1, which is the introductory theatre where they showcased a short documentary on what the exhibit was about, just to give visitors a heads-up as to what was coming on and the background behind the exhibit itself.

Personally speaking, I always felt that such a setup was both useful and educational. You learn something and you know what you’ll be walking through later on. Dead Sea Scrolls had a similar technique, showcasing the background of the exhibition before you plunged into the depths of the exhibits. A very useful aspect of a good exhibit indeed, especially for travelling exhibits.

There were no seats in this chamber though, just standing space which may fit more visitors or just keep the visitors moving through the exhibition.

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Gallery 2: Stories – Myths & Legends

This was a relatively small space, mostly focussing on telling the stories of Arabian adventurer Sindbad and Chinese monk Fa Xian and their voyages. Their stories were told through the usual boards that were set up, peppered with paintings and pictures printed onto the boards.

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Gallery 3-4: Treasures and Artifacts

This gallery had the physical artifacts on display, ranging from old Chinese Jade to the Arabian gifts given to the Chinese merchants during the early days of  sea trade. One would notice that despite being buried or hidden for so long, many of these pieces managed to keep their pristine state, even with the archaeologists preserving the pieces after finding them.

Most of the pieces featured here were either treasures transported to be given as gifts to the traders and aristocrats of other nations, ranging from bronze to jade to china to silver and gold, some dating back to the Tang dynasty. But to really bask in the beauty of these artifacts, it’s actually best to go check them out in person.

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Gallery 5: Ship fleets and the great Admiral

Avariel will freak at this area because from this gallery onwards, it talked about the Chinese Admiral Zheng He and his order to explore the rest of the world by the Emperor of his day. This gallery briefly talked about Zheng He’s background and the type of ships he used, with different ships holding different items for different purposes.

Trivia: Bit of trivia here. I may sound incredibly ignorant but I didn’t know that Admiral Zheng He was born into a Muslim family. Hmmm… you learn something new every day =).

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Gallery 6-7: The voyages and the Jewel of Muscat

According to the gallery here and the information brochure, Admiral Zheng He went on seven epic voyages, all of which covering Southeast Asia and the coasts of Africa. At this time, the Portuguese and Dutch also went on their own voyages. Hence, artifacts and historical pieces depicting influences from various cultures came into display in this gallery.

A video depicting the history of Admiral Zheng He was also playing on continuous loop in this gallery as well.

The Jewel of Muscat, however, had its own documentary playing on the outer area of the gallery. Basically it was a group of engineers, researchers and sailors building a 9th century styled ship, similar to that of ancient times, to sail the same route that their ancestral counterparts did in the past, docking in Singapore just in time for this particular exhibit.

The Jewel of Muscat is the name of the ship, so named after Muscat, the capital city of Oman. For more information of the ship itself, click here.

Video on the exterior of the exhibition showcasing the Jewel of Muscat
Interactive booths for kids (or adults) to build their own Muscat.

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Generally speaking, I felt that this exhibit, being one of its kind, is pretty interesting. Apart from just watching documentaries off the National Geographic (the organiser of this exhibit), it adds another dimension for you to “live” the documentary, walking through history itself.

Though I did wish that I could take photographs within the exhibit so as to let the pictures give you a clearer look at the exhibit itself, I guess it’s also an advantage. It gives me the opportunity to tell everyone who reads this: If you want a clearer picture, go see it!

Ancient Ship Treasures and the Great Oman Voyage is held in front of the National Geographic shop in Vivocity from 25th June to 18th July 2010. Entry’s only $2 per adult and tickets can be bought at the information counter. All proceeds go to Very Special Arts Singapore.

So you don’t just get an educational experience, you help charity as well!

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