Singapore is a nation made up of not one but many islands - more than 40, in fact, and they are scattered around the Straits of Singapore and Johor.
Recognising and remembering the role these islands played in the country's history is the theme of this year's Singapore HeritageFest, now in its 11th edition.
The 10-day festival, titled Our Islands, Our Home, begins next Friday and will run until July 27.
It is the biggest HeritageFest yet, with about 40 partners helping organiser National Heritage Board to create a diverse line-up of more than 60 programmes, including talks, workshops and exhibitions. There are also 42 tours, more than double the 20-odd offered last year.
There are 11 festival hubs at the National Museum of Singapore and malls across Singapore, each showcasing a different theme, such as Peranakan culture (Changi City Point), the history of the Botanic Gardens (City Square Mall) and celebrating the kampung spirit (Tiong Bahru Plaza).
Performances, demonstrations and workshops will also be held at each of the hubs and, as with all HeritageFest activities and exhibitions, participation is free.
About 1.3 million people attended the Singapore HeritageFest events last year and festival organisers anticipate a similar response this year.
The event has proved hugely popular, with all four of the island-hopping tours fully booked within one hour after registration opened at midnight on June 30. Overwhelming demand for the tours - which include trips to lighthouses and the Southern Islands - also led to some glitches on the HeritageFest's website and online registration had to be closed an hour after it opened.
Only five of the 42 tours are still open for registration. Those who wish to sign up for these, which include a tour of Kong Chow Cultural Centre and a Healing Garden Tour, should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms Angelita Teo, festival director and director of the National Museum of Singapore, is pleased with the response.
"The strong interest from the youth and young adults is particularly heartening as I see it as their way of contributing to Singapore's heritage," she says. "This unprecedented public response affirms the fact that Singaporeans want to be engaged in a more experiential manner, and we will continue to work with our partners to provide quality programmes for all to enjoy."
For further information and details, go to www.heritagefest.org.sg.
Singapore Shophouses exhibition and talk
You can learn much about Singapore's heritage through the humble shophouse. Just ask Dr Julian Davison, 58.
The British anthropologist has spent more than a decade studying the architectural plans and decorative details of shophouses here. His father was an architect here and four generations of his family have called Singapore home.
Dr Davison has put together an exhibition, Singapore Shophouses And Motifs, to be held at the URA Centre. It showcases the evolution of shophouse architecture here. Brought here from China by immigrants in the early 1800s, shophouse design continued to develop until construction of these buildings stopped before World War II.
Through the exhibition, visitors will learn how the shophouse evolved in response to cultural styles, the tropical urban context and legislative influences. For example, regulations instituted by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1822 are credited with creating the five-foot-way, a covered arcade in front of shophouses that protects people from both the sun and the rain.
The shophouse also played a role in the development of Singapore's other architectural icon, the HDB flat: British reforms aimed at eradicating the squalor in Chinatown's shophouses led to the creation of the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1927. It was the predecessor of the Housing Board and was responsible for building Singapore's first public housing.
The free exhibition at the URA Centre's Atrium from July 18 to Sept 30 is open daily from 9am to 5pm, except Sunday and public holiday.
Though Dr Davison's walking tour of heritage shophouses is fully booked, those who want to find out more about shophouse architecture may attend his hour-long talk on the same subject on Aug 2. This will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
"For three-quarters of Singapore's history, the city was made up of shophouses and a few colonial buildings," Dr Davison says. "The shophouse, with its public, communal market space below and private residential space on top, ordained the way Singaporeans lived their lives."
He adds: "It is important to pay attention to these details because a shophouse is not just a shophouse. It's history and it's important for us to know where we come from, how our predecessors lived. Where we are today is a continuation of the culture developed by the shophouse."
Where: Function Room, Level 5, Urban Redevelopment Authority Centre, 45 Maxwell Road
When: Aug 2, 10am to 12pm
Admission: Free. Prior e-mail registration required, limited to 200 people
Info: Go to www.heritagefest.org.sg
Balik Pulau: Stories From Singapore's Islands Exhibition
Besides being the theme of this year's HeritageFest, Singapore's islands are also the subject of an exhibition. Titled Balik Pulau: Stories From Singapore's Islands, it is being held at the National Museum of Singapore till Aug 10.
Curated by Mr Marcus Ng, 39, who is also the guide of the festival's fully booked tours to Kusu, Lazarus and St John's islands, the exhibition is a good way to learn more about the islands' history before taking a tour of the islands on your own. (Ferries from Marina South Pier make multiple trips to the islands each day.)
Unlike the tours, the exhibition does not focus on one island. Instead, it highlights the histories and stories of Singapore's more than 40 islands, which were once landmarks for sailors, shelters for anchored ships and home to hundreds of villagers before the Government resettled them on the mainland in the 1970s and 1980s.
Before independence, Singapore was made up of more than 70 islands and islets. Reclamation has reduced that number to about 45 now and the exhibition traces the changes and developments of the islands over the years.
For example, from the late 1800s until the 1950s, St John's Island was the site of a quarantine centre for non-European immigrants.
In the 1950s to mid-1970s, it became a detention centre for political prisoners, illegal immigrants and opium addicts.
Today, it is a recreational destination that is also home to one of the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute laboratories, where scientists conduct marine biology and science research.
Mr Ng says: "We want people to think about what the islands were, what they are and what they could be in the future. The purpose of the exhibition is to get people back to the islands, which play an important part in our history."
For further insight, free guided tours of the exhibition will be held in English (11am to noon), Mandarin (1.30 to 2.30pm), Malay (3 to 4pm) and Tamil (4 to 5pm) daily during the HeritageFest from July 18 to 27.
For those who want to go deeper into the islands' past, the National Museum will host a talk by archaeologist Lim Chen Sian on his search for archaeological remains the Riau-Lingga archipelago and Singapore. Called Island Archaeology: An Obscure But Bountiful Past, the talk will be held next Tuesday from 7.30 to 9pm at the museum's Gallery Theatre.
Or catch a screening and discussion of Moving Gods (2005), a film directed by Ho Choon Hiong which centres on the mysterious shrine on Pulau Ubin which is dedicated to a young German girl who is said to have died there during World War I. It will be screened in the museum's Gallery Theatre on July 20 from 4 to 6pm.
Prior e-mail registration for both the archaeology talk and movie screening, which are open to 245 participants on a first-come, first-served basis, is required.
Where: Stamford Gallery, Level 1, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road
When: Till Aug 10, 10am to 6pm daily
Info: Go to www.nationalmuseum.sg
River Nights at Asian Civilisations Museum
Modern Singapore is said to have been born when Sir Stamford Raffles landed by the Singapore River on Jan 29, 1819.
So it is only fitting that this year's Singapore HeritageFest will be launched at the Singapore River Promenade on July 19, as part of the Asian Civilisations Museum's (ACM) River Nights.
From 7pm till midnight on July 18 and 19, the museum and its riverfront partners, which include The Arts House, Timbre music bar and Singapore River One, a river precinct management company, will host two nights of performances and activities for the whole family along the river promenade across Boat Quay.
These include a barbecue, a flea market, a duck treasure hunt and an archaeological dig for kids.
On July 18, home-grown comedian Hossan Leong will host three showings of Seriously Rojak!, a 30-minute comedy set that features comedians Fakkah Fuzz, Jinx Yeo and Orion Perez, at 8.30, 9.30 and 10.30pm at the museum's Glass Hall.
Meanwhile, visitors are encouraged to take along their own chairs and picnic baskets to watch erhu, percussion and bhangra dance performances on the ACM Green on both nights.
Performances will also be held on Cavenagh Bridge, including an LED lion dance and roving acts such as a Chinese cabaret and a theatrical walking tour, where actors portraying historical figures from Jonathan Lim's play Sailing Past will perform.
Visitors can also spot historical markers, such as Sir Stamford Raffles' landing site, along the river.
The museum will stay open till midnight and run brief introductory tours every 15 minutes.
About 20,000 to 30,000 people are expected to attend the event each night.
Ms Lim Chye Hong, deputy director of audience learning and digital media for the museum, says the river promenade is the perfect spot to kick off the festival.
"The river represents the past and the now of Singapore. It is a strong part of Singapore's beginning as a port and why it turned into the cosmopolitan city it is today," she says.
"The river is constantly changing, it is varied and vibrant, but it remains the heart of the city and a focal point for heritage."
Where: Asian Civilisations Museum and Singapore River Promenade
When: July 18 and 19, from 7pm to midnight
Info: Go to www.heritagefest.org.sg
Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Foremothers
Much has been said and written about Singapore's founding fathers. But several women contributed much to nation-building too.
In a new HeritageFest tour organised by the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, participants will visit eight landmarks that represent eight women who played significant roles in Singapore's development.
They include Dr Charlotte Elizabeth Ferguson-Davie, a doctor who founded St Andrew's Mission Hospital, Singapore's first women's and children's health clinic in Bencoolen Street in 1923; war heroine Elizabeth Choy, who was tortured and imprisoned in the YMCA building during World War II for 193 days; and Mrs Hedwig Anwar, a former director of the National Library, who helped build the library system and was a founding member of women's rights group Aware.
Titled Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Foremothers, the walking tour lasting 11/2 hours will start and end at the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations' building in Waterloo Street.
There, participants will have a chance to check out the group's Singapore Women's Hall of Fame and learn about its 108 inductees.
Ms Joanne Aeria, 49, programme executive of Singapore Women's Hall of Fame who will lead the tours on July 19 and 26, says that it is important to recognise and remember these women, whose stories may not always make it into the history books.
"It is important to tell and celebrate their stories, showcase their contributions and recognise and salute these women who really made a difference to Singapore's history despite the barriers they faced.
"Hopefully, it will inspire a new generation of men and women," she says.
Where: Singapore Council of Women's Organisations building, 96 Waterloo Street
When: July 19 and 26, 9 to 10.30am
Admission: Free. The tour is limited to 20 slots a session. Prior e-mail registration is required
Info: Go to www.heritagefest.org.sg