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Now Boarding: Experiencing Singapore through Travel

Now Boarding: Experiencing Singapore through Travel, 1800s – at the exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore offers visitors a journey through four thematic sections focused on transport, accommodation, food and beverage, and sights and shopping.

Welcome to the Now Boarding Exhibition grounds at the National Museum
Welcome to the Exhibition grounds at the National Museum.

Located in the exhibition Gallery in the basement of the museum, this exhibition showcases a curated selection of materials and artifacts that evoke memories of travel to and from Singapore. Also, you might remember the grounds as the home to the World press photos exhibitions from last year. Additionally, throughout the year, there will be themed pop-up experiences associated with Now Boarding at the museum.

Analogue flip board from Changi Airport

As visitors enter the exhibition, they are greeted by the iconic analogue flip board, previously located at Changi Airport. The mechanical flippers of the flip board display flight details, timing, and boarding information, accompanied by the distinctive flip-tapping noise.

Departure flip board feature piece sitting center stage at the National Museum main rotunda entrance
Departure flip board feature piece sitting center stage at the National Museum main rotunda entrance.

While this display is only a small portion of the original board, which is twice its size. Notably, the board has been customized to show museum messages and mock flight timings at regular intervals. This nostalgic element sets the tone for the immersive experience to follow.

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Boarding tickets to enter
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Rear view in the rotunda
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Intro gallery

Furthermore, the gallery sits in it’s own big hall in the museum basement. It has a open concept with a lead in intro gallery leading you into a vast gallery space within. Also, the exhibition’s four sections are named after chapters a reader would often see when flipping through a travel guidebook. They are: Getting Around, Places to Stay, Eating Out, and Sights and Shopping. The displays aim to initiate discussions and memories and experiences in Singapore.

"Places to stay" in the vast open gallery in the museum basement
“Places to stay” in the vast open gallery in the museum basement.

Now Boarding: Getting around via air, rail and buses

Moving further into the exhibition, you will encounter a preserved Singapore Airlines’ first-class cabin seat from the decommissioned Airbus A380. The A380 Suites Cabin seat is renowned for its luxury and opulence.

SIA First class suites and SIA sarong kebaya uniform still in use today
SIA First class suites and SIA sarong kebaya uniform still in use today.
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Close-up
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Transport section
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Donation postcard

Also, interestingly, the Singapore Girl, the iconic symbol of Singapore Airlines, has her own perfume called “Balsara.” Created by Dadi Balsara and Christina Lee, this perfume has been associated with the airline since the 1970s. Among the displays is a bottle of this iconic fragrance from that era.

Now Boarding Singapore MRT line opening posters and magnetic translink card in the 1980s
Singapore MRT line opening posters and magnetic translink card in the 1980s.
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Early transport
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Translink cards
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Card design archive

Moreover, inside the exhibition hall, the guides are dressed in sarong-inspired uniforms. This is reminiscent of the sarong kebaya worn by Singapore’s national air carrier crew. This thematic dress code adds to the overall boarding experience for visitors.

Hotel hospitality through the years

Post cards depicting Early scenes and facades of Singapore hotel, existing and those lost to urban development
Post cards depicting Early scenes and facades of Singapore hotel, existing and those lost to urban development.
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Pamphlets
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Early developments
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Historical photos

Continuing the exploration, visitors can observe a scene depicting the old Singapore of the 1930s, within Raffles City as a “traffic angel” policeman directing traffic. The traffic policemen of that time wore gloves and wings to enhance their visibility. Also, this was before the introduction of traffic lights in the 1940s, when human direction of traffic was the norm.

Now Boarding Raffles hotel ad, patronised by royalty and nobility with electric fans
Raffles hotel ad, patronised by royalty and nobility with electric fans.

Furthermore, the exhibition leads onto early Singapore hospitality, and hotels. Here, you can find letters by Somerset Maugham related to Raffles Hotel, early posters of the hotel, and a collection of postcards from various hotels.

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Raffles hotel uniform
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New Majestic hotel chair
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Hotels of past

Also, notably, Raffles Hotel was the first hotel in Singapore to be equipped with electric lights and fans. Goodwood Park was the first hotel with a swimming pool, while the Westin Stamford was once the tallest hotel in the world upon its completion in 1986.

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Wealthy clubs
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Service interviews
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Merli memorabilia

Eating out dining experiences

A selection of Restaurant and fast food menus from eateries back in the day dining out
A selection of Restaurant and fast food menus from eateries back in the day dining out.

Moreover, the exhibition also features a section dedicated to dining experiences in Singapore. Here, you can find a curation and showcase of dining menus from different local Steak house restaurants such as Jacks Place, Shashlik Russian Western Restaurant and The Ship.

old serving trays, including anchor beer and glass bottles and cups of the era.
old serving trays, including anchor beer and glass bottles and cups of the era.

Additionally, you can view era-postcards depicting old scenes of the eateries and hawker spots then. There is also a vibrant F&N (Fraser and Neave) advertising mural with glass bottles and cups arranged in a circle.

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Hawker registrations
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Hawker scenes
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Old menus

Also, F&N, known for brewing the iconic Tiger Beer since 1931, also had a tiger mascot resembling Tony the Tiger from cereal commercials. The section also delves into the history of Bugis Street, famous for its lively night scenes and drag queen performances.

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A&W menu
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Hawker wares
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Menu archive

Shopping and leisure

Shopping and Nightlife with Orchard road and scenes of dance clubbing spots
Shopping and Nightlife with Orchard road and scenes of dance clubbing spots.

Further exploration leads your to scenes from Dragon World Har Par Villa and Sentosa, with the latter named through a naming competition and meaning “Isle of tranquility” in Malay. This is in contrast with Sentosa’s original name meaning “Island of death”. Notably, the Post cards of Har Par Villa depicts the rides of the now-defunct theme park popular in the 90s.

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Early scenes
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Sentosa uniforms
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Har par villa dragon world

The sights and shopping section highlights a box of Tiger Oil (Tiger Balm) and introduces visitors to the “worlds” of Singapore, including New World, Happy World and Great World. Though notably, Gay World in Geylang is absent from the displays.

Singapore nightlife from the 70s to the 2000s with signboards.
Singapore nightlife from the 70s to the 2000s with signboards.

Also, did you know Raffles Place, High Street, and North Bridge Road were popular pre-war night spots before Orchard Road took over. These areas were known for their department stores and bustling fashion and textile shops along Change Alley.

Illustration of Nightlife with a flashy DJ display
Illustration of Nightlife with a flashy DJ display.
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Early orchard road
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Attractions
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Old museums

Outside the exhibition hall, in the museum basement, you can discover the museum’s very own disco room. It is complete with an anthropomorphic fox-like lady DJ spinning tunes, creating a lively atmosphere.

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Shopping spots
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Night Spots
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Nightlife

Wrapping up the Now Boarding exhibition

All in all, Now Boarding: Experiencing Singapore through Travel, 1800s – 2000s offers a unique opportunity to explore Singapore’s history of travel and its cultural significance. This exhibition invites visitors to reflect on Singapore’s identity in an increasingly globalized world. Visitors should allocate approximately an hour to fully appreciate this exhibition, which runs from May 27, 2023, to Nov 19, 2023, with opening hours from 10 am to 7 pm daily, and the last admission at 6:30 pm.

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