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Friday, March 18, 2011

Genghis Khan in Singapore

Mongolian Warriors

Bactrian Camels of the Silk Route

Silk Route Market Stall in Turpan

Replica of Turpan's Karez Water Distribution Tunnels

The Hold of a Merchant Ship Built with No Nails

We went down to the ArtScience Museum today at Marina Bay Sands. Apart from noting that it must be the most expensive place in Singapore, and that everything (from casino to food centre engage in legal daylight robbery), we quite enjoyed ourselves.

There were videos aplenty, and exhibits to touch and feel. I, for one, didn't know that Genghis Khan's empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean (i.e., the ocean around Japan) to the Mediterranean Sea (i.e., the waters around southern Europe). The Mongolian armies were poised at the doors of Austria and Italy when Genghis Khan died and every single military commander was recalled back to Karakorum (the capital of the Mongol empire) for the kurultai (a gathering of tribes) to choose a new Great Khan. History might have been very different had he not died when he did.

We saw their bows and watched as 5 year olds dominated stallions 10 times their size from the saddle and with only a pair of reins. And I was amazed that Genghis Khan wrote a manual for moral living, and in it, he said "When speaking to the Khan or to anyone else, address him simply by name." I was amazed that he actually promulgated this because to me, Genghis Khan dealt death from sea to shining sea, in the same way that Petunia washes plates or cuts vegetables. So... he was a humble man too, was he? The greatest men in history (like everyone of us) are a bundle of contradictions and it is ourselves who simplify who they were for our own understanding.

Then, we walked through the Silk Road Exhibition, which took us from Xi'An (in Shanxi), to Turpan (in Xinjiang), to Samarkand (in Uzbekistan) and finally Baghdad (in Iraq). We saw and touched silk cocoons in Xi'An. In Turpan, we peered into undeground tunnels carrying water from the mountains to the desert, and we saw the lush vines and heavy grapes hanging from trellises in a town that should have been sand and cactus. We even went to the market and took in the smells. I kid you not. Smells are a big part of the exhibition. The market had rose oils, musk oils, patchouli oils... everywhere you walked you were assaulted by fragrances that tugged pleasantly at the corners of your memory, stimulating half forgotten memories from stories of a Sinbad the sailor, and visions of a Caliph's harem.

In Samarkand (Uzbekistan), we saw glass works and learnt the difference between a Bactrian camel (2 humps and resilient to extreme cold) and a Dromedary Camel (1 hump and better for warmer climes).

In Baghdad, we saw water clocks and astronomer's charts. We learnt that the Arabs invented numbers, geometry and algebra. We saw how the Arabs were people of refinement, of good taste... connoisseurs of music and poetry... and erudite scholars. I couldn't stop myself from feeling a little stab of pain, to know that all that was once precious and beautiful in Baghdad has been desecrated by war.

In one afternoon, we travelled the world, Little Boy and I.

We ended the afternoon looking at the treasures from a shipwreck in the waters of Southeast Asia. White ceramics and celadons. I particularly loved the celadon exhibits, but that is because I have a soft spot for celadon - the pale green pottery with cracks in the glaze. I think I will get me one stunning piece of celadon for the new house.


Malar said...

You and litle boy had good day in museum! No so many people want to go Museum nowadays!

petunialee said...

Malar - Museums are quite fun these days with lotsa things to touch and play. I am sure your boy would love them too.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of the 'Khan' exhibition artifacts are 'real'? Haven't visited, as I still think $30 is too much to pay. Maybe they'll have a 'free' day over a public holiday??