The process of growing up differs for every person depending on the environment and the period that you grew up in. During 1955 and 1965, many events took place in Singapore from self-government to Merger with Malaya to Independence. It was “a period when Singapore was beset with uncertainties and challenges as it sought an identity it would call its own”. As I visited the exhibition ‘Growing Up’, it reinforced my understanding of Singapore’s history, but there were parts that took me by surprise as well.
Games in the past were more effective in bringing people together and forming bonds among people. Old-school games like goli and hopscotch were more physical and they require many participants. When children are involved in the same activity, they get to spend time together. Through interaction and conversations with one another, they get to know more about one another and their families. This is how relationships among people are formed, bringing the community together. This is further reinforced by the ‘kampung spirit’. Due to poorer living conditions in the past, many families lived close to one another in kampungs but because of this, children could gather easily in front of their houses and play games with one another.
Although the 1950s and 1960s were a momentous time for Singapore with floods and fires being a common occurrence, I was brought by surprise that these mishaps fostered a community spirit among the people living in the kampung. As the saying goes “bad times bring out true friends’, I think this is especially true in the 1950s – 1960s. People would come together and come up with solutions to help one another when such mishaps occurred. This fostered a sense of belonging and identity among those who lived in kampung because they know that they got each other’s back regardless what happens. To enable visitors to have an experience of the kampung life, the museum has decorated the exhibition such that the floor was wooden and pictures in black and white were pasted on the walls. Children’s laughter, dog barking sounds and old Chinese songs were also playing in the background. This gives visitors a feel of what a kampung environment is like and brings them back to the 1950s. Children in the past, regardless male or female, went to school and received equal education and this was different from what I had thought. From stories passed on from my grandparents’ generation and local drams, they gave me the idea that girls did not go to school since they are young as their sole responsibility was to learn to do the household chores and take care of the family.
However, after visiting the exhibition, I learnt that girls in the 1950s and 1960s went to school and there were even prestigious schools like Nanyang Girls’ School that were build only for girls. This made me realised that this thought of mine might have stemmed from the stereotype of women which society tends to put on them and the assigned roles that they are ‘supposed’ to have. Although girls in my grandparents’ generation might not have been able to receive education, I am happy that girls in the 1950s managed to break away from that stereotype and started going to school and this made a drastic change to the future generation of girls. Although it was mentioned in the overview of the exhibition that there were protests going on and political instability was serious back then, the exhibition did not go into details of such events. The vibrant and colourful set-up of the exhibition has made me forget about the hardships that the children in the past had probably suffered. The atmosphere was very light-hearted and this was done to portray the good side of childhood to visitors. However, not all children will be so fortunate to go through such a fun and memorable childhood.
I believe that some children were not able to receive education just because their families could not afford to send them to school. Different classes existed even in the past and children have the lower classes would have experienced more difficult times when growing up. I understand that the museum wants to portray the better side of Singapore to its visitors, especially the foreigners, but it is both the good and bad times that make up our past and we should learn to embrace them together.
In a nutshell, I manage to explore the games played in the past and check my understanding of Singapore’s history in terms of education, gender inequality and hierarchy amongst the people.