Mee Toh's rich Buddhist legacy

To help visitors fully enjoy the new gallery (above), the school has appointed 10 "heritage centre ambassadors" - including (from left) pupils Shiow Yu Xuan, Kiefer Ong, Chen Bailin and Brina Goh, all aged 11 - to take them on guided tours through its col
To help visitors fully enjoy the new gallery (above), the school has appointed 10 "heritage centre ambassadors" - including (from left) pupils Shiow Yu Xuan, Kiefer Ong, Chen Bailin and Brina Goh, all aged 11 - to take them on guided tours through its collection of artefacts and artworks.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
Pupils learning more about the school's contributions to Singapore's Buddhist culture and traditions at the new heritage centre, where a bronze sculpture of Mee Toh's founder, Venerable Kong Hiap, stands guard.
Pupils learning more about the school's contributions to Singapore's Buddhist culture and traditions at the new heritage centre, where a bronze sculpture of Mee Toh's founder, Venerable Kong Hiap, stands guard. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
Lovingly preserved artefacts on display include the old school bell, which once hung at the Race Course Road premises.
Lovingly preserved artefacts on display include the old school bell, which once hung at the Race Course Road premises.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
The name card of the first principal, Mr Lim Swee Ding.
The name card of the first principal, Mr Lim Swee Ding.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
A grandfather clock that rang in the hours at the old campus.
A grandfather clock that rang in the hours at the old campus.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

The facade of the heritage gallery at Mee Toh School - inspired by its shophouse front when it was located in Race Course Road - is like a doorway to the past.

Above the gallery entrance, a large black plaque hints of the school's origins - it reads Mee Toh Temple in Chinese. Mee Toh was originally meant to be a temple, next door to Leong San Temple in Race Course Road, which still exists today.

But its founder, Venerable Kong Hiap from China's Fujian province, changed his mind after seeing the need for education in the post-war years. He offered the land to set up a school instead; a groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1954.

Mee Toh moved to its current Punggol premises in 2004.

Today, it is a popular school in the estate, which has many young families. It has produced pupils with good results in the Primary School Leaving Examination, and is well-liked among parents who want their children to attend a Buddhist school.

BRINGING HISTORY TO LIFE

The school has 60 years of history, and we wanted to capture that by bringing artefacts to life with stories and using technology to give the gallery a contemporary feel.

MR GAU POH TECK, Mee Toh School principal

Principal Gau Poh Teck said: "The school has 60 years of history, and we wanted to capture that by bringing artefacts to life with stories and using technology to give the gallery a contemporary feel."

The gallery, about the size of three classrooms, was completed in July last year. It cost more than $100,000 to build and furnish.

The artefacts include a grandfather clock, a bronze sculpture of the school's founder, old employment contracts and even a name card for the first principal, Mr Lim Swee Ding.

The gallery also has numerous works presented to the school by famous artists such as Chinese painter Feng Zikai, who was a good friend of the school's founder.

Children often do not enjoy studying history at first, so "we used stories - such as ones about our founder's life - to draw them in", said Mr Gau.

The school has trained 10 pupils to act as guides for visitors during tours of the centre. They include Primary 5 pupil Kiefer Ong, 11, who said: "Before, I knew only a little about our founder but, now, I know a lot more about his life and contributions to education and society."

Classmate Brina Goh, also 11, said learning how to speak to guests was nerve-racking at first. "But it has helped me build up confidence when talking to VIPs. It's also quite fun to lead people around," she said.

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Mee Toh's rich Buddhist legacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe