SINGAPORE - Once a hill reserved for royalty and avoided by locals, Fort Canning Park is now the site of the centrepiece of Singapore's bicentennial experience.
On Thursday (May 30), President Halimah Yacob launched the showcase - From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience.
It comprises an hour-long indoor cinematic journey called Time Traveller, which begins with the story of the country's evolution in the 500 years before the arrival of the British in 1819, and an outdoor exploratory trail called Pathfinder, which features eight interactive pavilions and installations.
In her speech, Madam Halimah noted that the multimedia showcase has been two years in the making. "An enormous amount of work has been put into it. The organisers ploughed through mountains of books, papers and maps, so that their retelling of the Singapore story could be as accurate as possible," she said.
Some 300,000 visitors are expected to make their way up the hill during the show's run from June 1 to Sept 15. To make it more accessible, the National Parks Board installed covered escalators connecting Fort Canning MRT station and Bras Basah MRT station to the park.
The showcase has already been previewed by more than 10,000 visitors over the past two weeks. Organisers noted that their response has been "extremely encouraging" and that 90 per cent of 1,500 people surveyed indicated an increase in their knowledge of Singapore's history.
At the event on Thursday, Madam Halimah also launched the updated version of the book Seven Hundred Years: A History Of Singapore, co-written by four historians Tan Tai Yong, Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Peter Borschberg. It represents 30 to 40 years of their collective research and will be on sale at all major bookstores and Fort Canning Centre.
The book, said Mr Kwa, emphasises the Malay perspective, including the forgotten and marginalised contributions of the orang laut (sea nomads), as well as the role of Bugis traders.
Madam Halimah said: "This new book debunks the myth that Singapore was a sleepy, insignificant fishing village - little more than the 'occasional resort of pirates', as some derisively put it - before Raffles landed here."
She also announced the launch of an interactive website called 700years.sg, which will supplement history curriculum in secondary schools.
It showcases the multiple perspectives of Singapore's history through the imagined social media feeds of historical characters from various epochs over the past 700 years.
The interactive book will be rolled out in phases, starting with characters from the pre-colonial period, including Sang Nila Utama, a Palembang prince from Srivijaya, the last king of Singapore Parameswara, and gem trader Jacques de Coutre.
Madam Halimah urged Singaporeans to take a pause in the bicentennial year "and stand on the shoulders of our history, as we reflect on what it means to be Singaporean, the common values and beliefs that bind us".
She said that as the country reflects on its longer history, 1819 itself must be remembered as an important inflexion point as it planted the seeds of Singapore's post-independence history, and set the stage for the development of modern Singapore. It also gave Singapore different values and world views from its neighbours, despite the close ties.
"In acknowledging how this history has shaped the Singapore we know today, we can appreciate the journey we made from Temasek to Singapura to colonial Singapore, and finally to independent Singapore," she said .
Madam Halimah added: "I hope The Bicentennial Experience, the book and the interactive website will enable Singaporeans to have a better appreciation of our shared journey. Our forebears have faced several ups and downs. But they always pulled through because they were determined to make something of themselves.
"We will continue to be confronted with uncertainty and challenges in the years, decades and centuries to come. But whatever happens, one thing for sure is that we must hold on to our Singaporean DNA - openness, multiculturalism, and self-determination."
Dr Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said the importance of water, which features in Act 5 of the Time Traveller experience, stood out for him.
He added: "I hope Singaporeans who visit the exhibition will bring back with them significant moments in history that will bring us forward together."
On the Time Traveller, Professor Tan Tai Yong said: "It has managed to put together all the key bits of history in a nice narrative and portray it in a very captivating way. I didn't feel a dull moment."
Additional reporting by Jermayne Ong