I escaped the heat of an afternoon at the National Museum of Singapore — a grand and stately structure just a short walk from Dhoby Ghaut station. The foyer is capped by a third story rotunda with stained glass windows (brought back memories of spending the summer before college as a tour guide at the Colorado State Capitol).

The colonial portion of the museum conceals a secondary modern, light-filled structure behind it called The Canyon and The Concourse, through which the exhibits are reached.

Enter the Singapore History Gallery on the second floor, and encounter panoramic video screens continually showing images of a day in the life of Singapore set to a custom score called Singapore: A Geopolitical Utopia by Vladimir Martynov (the score is much better than its title). Walk across the bridge, out the door and spiral down to the theater below.

Choose to take the Events Path or Personal Path (I chose the latter), and follow the exhibit as it works its way through Singapore’s complex history. The accompanying audio guide is extremely helpful as it’s easy to feel slightly overwhelmed by the extensive content and double paths. What was most memorable for me was an exhibit about opium dens of the last century — including an opium bed very similar to an antique bed we brought with us for our living room!

The Living Galleries are most enjoyable — showing food, fashion, textiles and historic family photography with personal accounts from Singaporeans incorporated into the exhibits. The Fashion Gallery explains the intricacies of kebaya embroidery, while the Food Gallery displays videos of the creation of local favorites like roti pratha, laksa and satay, and the history of their creation.

Do not miss the colorful spice gallery where over 40 Asian spices are back-lit in individual jars with accompanying illustrations and text about their history and use in local cuisine. Several spices also have “smellability” using a simple snifter connected to the jar.

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