Istana opens virtual doors to the public for National Day

The Istana, as seen on Oct 18, 2019.
The Istana, as seen on Oct 18, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Guests of the first virtual National Day Istana Open House were treated to little nuggets of history on one of Singapore's oldest heritage sites on Sunday (Aug 2), with a "speaking" cheese plate as their host.

This is no ordinary plate - the Government House property was believed to have been used in the 1930s and the 1950s, playing host, albeit a silent one then, to foreign dignitaries and guests. It is still serving the nation today, as one of the artefacts on display at the National Museum of Singapore.

President Halimah Yacob said in her opening comments during the virtual open house, which was hosted on Facebook and Instagram, that despite the coronavirus pandemic, it was important to allow Singaporeans the opportunity to visit the Istana even if they could not physically be on site, with activities for the public to learn more about the Istana grounds and its history.

The virtual open house also included a tour of the Istana's grounds, courtesy of The Straits Times, which introduced guests to lesser-known spots such as an air-raid shelter known as the "bunker".

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and the National Museum also hosted segments during the event, which attracted close to 25,000 views in total.

The ACM, which has been undergoing major transformations over the last decade, unveiled some of its new features like a gallery focused on ceramics.

Mr Kennie Ting, director of the ACM, presented a virtual tour of the museum's jewellery gallery where he introduced some of its curated pieces, such as a Peranakan belt made of solid gold.

Meanwhile, the National Museum's Government House Cheese Plate interacted with President Halimah and more than 160 beneficiaries of the President's Challenge and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, answering questions like who were some of the foreign guests who visited the heritage site when it was the residence of Sir Shenton Thomas, the last governor of the Straits Settlements.

The National Museum's Government House Cheese Plate was believed to have been used in the 1930s and the 1950s, playing host, albeit a silent one then, to foreign dignitaries and guests. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM HALIMAH YACOB/FACEBOOK

The National Museum will be hosting virtual conferences titled Zoom Into History this week, leading up to National Day, where visitors can interact with museum artefacts from its permanent collection like the cheese plate, voiced by local actors and comedians.


The National Day Parade 2020 organising committee also shared details of this year's National Day celebrations during the open house, which will include a morning parade at the Padang and an evening show held at The Star Performing Arts Centre, and other events held in the heartland during the day.

It also introduced the Our Heart For Singapore project, which invites Singaporeans to share their reflections and aspirations for the nation.

Rounding off the virtual open house, President Halimah encouraged Singaporeans to tune in to the different forms of National Day celebrations on Aug 9.

"Happy National Day, everyone! Let's stay united, let's do our best to make Singapore a better place for all of us," she said.

Members of the public can take a virtual tour of the Istana here.