Long before it connected a port to Google’s local HQ and hiking spots, Pasir Panjang Road hosted a buzzing plant where opium was packed and distributed to keep the city’s dens awash in smoke and dream.
Nothing much remains of that past except for the 91-year-old bungalow that housed the plant’s British staff and later became the backdrop of a fierce World War II battle. Come Thursday, the public will get to step inside once again when its museum reopens with not just war stories, but also its less-celebrated opium heyday.
Perched atop the former Bukit Chandu, or opium hill in Malay, visitors can find new installations in the Reflections at Bukit Chandu following its first makeover in 15 years. This building was nearly demolished over a decade ago, but ended up being conserved following public outcry.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes before making the trip. For those taking public transportation, I recommend taking the train to the Pasir Panjang MRT station and hiking up the hill from the Pepys Road entrance. Found carpark C? That’s the exact spot where Lt. Adnan Saidi and his comrades were overrun by invading Japanese forces in 1942. The colonial mansion sits just above.
Cast iron busts of the national hero and other soldiers mark the entrance to the museum. Visitors entering the bungalow will be greeted by what is believed to be the only available film footage of Adnan, followed by exhibitions of the Malay Regiment’s uniforms, weapons, and tool kits – which include buttons, sewing materials, and shaving tools. There’s a room next door where visitors can take in an animated and narrated telling of the battle of Pasir Panjang. A topographic map printed on the floor indicates the movement of the invading imperial troops after they made landfall to the northwest. Japanese and British weapons are on display here along with spent ammunition dug up from the battlefield. Next door, a wall is dedicated to the more than 100 Malay soldiers, as is another bust of Adnan.
Upstairs, visitors will see a replica opium packing machine along with scales for weighing, wooden containers, and foil tubes to depict what it might have looked like inside the factory. Original photos of old rehabilitation clinics, opium dens, and drug paraphernalia were also on exhibit.
Opium use was encouraged by the British government when they ruled Singapore, earning huge profits for the colonial power and placing an untold number under the yoke of addiction. The drug was later banned, and users thrown into jail.
Just outside the opium exhibit, visitors can rest in a lounge area where the bungalow’s former British residents used to hang out and look out to the sea. The sea view has since been obstructed by new development and trees.
Reflections at Bukit Chandu
Opens Sep. 7
Tuesdays to Sundays
9:30am to 5pm
This article, Empires and opium collide once again at revamped Bukit Chandu museum (Photos), originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.