Nov 20, 2010

A Land of Hope and Wealth from Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Singapore

I revisited Marina Bay Sands a month ago to find out what has changed since the last time I went in May. It was reassuring to know the casino – the raison d'être for the Integrated Resort – is still there but with less crowd. In addition more shops have opened and the canal is no longer dry. After the visit, I decided to try out a new return route. Instead of walking back to Promenade Station using the Helix Bridge, I would walk the other way to Raffles Place Station via Marina Boulevard. At One Marina Boulevard or One Raffles Quay would be an entrance to the MRT station via the underground shopping mall.

Sands from the Waterfront
Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Flyer from Sands waterfront. What's the ship doing on top of the hotel towers?

If the fire of development and redevelopment has engulfed Singapore, surely Sands is the best place to witness it. Frankly it is hard to think or even imagine about heritage as you walk along the Sands waterfront; everything looks so new and modern, even a bit unnatural – three hotel towers that look like a deck of cards with a ship stranded on the rooftop, a giant Ferris wheel in the distance – the feeling evoked is so different from, say, the sanitized streets of Chinatown.

Marina Bay City Gallery
Marina Bay City Gallery. I never got to find out on that day what is inside the building. From the website, I learnt that URA run the building and you can expect to be vowed by the visual feast (some kind of innovative city model) on display.

There are good opportunities for photo-shoot with the city skyscrapers in the background at the waterfront boardwalk. I felt a bit lost, my mind briefly overwhelmed by the modern development and still dreaming of slot machines out of my reach in the Casino. Just opposite and across the water was Clifford Pier built in 1933, today redeveloped into Fullerton Heritage and dwarfed by the city skyscrapers. The pier did not scream attention; in fact it was so inconspicuous that I did not realize the view before me was a very historical one. About Clifford Pier, Infopedia has this to say:

Clifford Pier has been a busy landing and departure point since its opening. During the pre-airtravel era and after, it served passengers commuting between ships anchored out at sea and the Singapore mainland. For a time, bumboats ferried people to and from the various off-shore islands from this point. In the final days prior to the Japanese invasion on 15 February 1942, the Pier was the scene of much panic and turmoil with Japanese planes strafing the evacuees, and the Japanese navy waiting to intercept ships leaving Singapore in the outer sealanes with nearly all these refugees either captured or killed.

This NHB website goes straight to the point:

Clifford Pier was the landing point of sea passengers and immigrants who came to seek a new life of hope in Singapore.

Caution Deep Water at Marina Bay
Caution deep water! Is the water really deep? You can see Customs House in the background with its distinctive tower. If you look carefully, Asia Insurance Building (now Ascott Raffles Place) can also be seen. They must be two of the oldest landmarks in the area.

Thanks to decades of land reclamation starting from the 19th century, the island’s coastline has receded from the city and today Marina Bay is a reservoir. It is hard to imagine, standing on solid ground at Sands, that is how our forefathers saw the island on their approach to Clifford Pier. The mother ship, anchored out at sea, grew smaller as their boat drew closer to the disembarkation spot at the pier. If you have a rich imagination, the next time you are at the Sands waterfront admiring the commercial skyscrapers opposite, look behind you. You see a "mother ship", don't you?

Event Plaza and City Skyline
Event Plaza outside Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Look at the couple on the right, the lady is pointing at something; could it be the "mother ship" she is indicating?

Hotel towers behind the Shoppes
As I found out, it is possible to see Sands Skypark from outside the Shoppes!

The immigration story is slightly more complicated. I have not researched about our “Immigration and Checkpoint” history but I vaguely remember there were at least three other disembarkation spots in the area – opposite Fullerton Square was Johnston’s Pier (1854 – 1933) of which Clifford Pier was built to replace; before Telok Ayer Basin was reclaimed immigrants must have disembarked at the shores of Telok Ayer, the reason why Thian Hock Keng was built on the spot; last but not least the quays along Singapore River, we are reminded that Raffles himself disembarked in front of Empress Place today.

The construction of Marina Barrage effectively sealed up the Bay and made all the disembarkation spots for international travel obsolete (you can still take the Singapore River Cruise though, for leisure). Clifford Pier ceased operations in 2006 to be replaced by Marina South Pier. Has the “view our forefathers saw” become obsolete? I hope not. The next time you are at Sands waterfront, look across the shore and shut out the skyscrapers. That would be the Singapore that our forefathers saw - a land of hope and opportunities, a place to get rich and escape the poverty at home. Ironically while our forefathers flocked here to become richer, some of their descendants were to squander away the wealth and become poorer, like this businessman.


Adelin said...

why didn't you enter the gallery?

I love the display inside! you press the building and it lights up on the humongous map display!

Icemoon said...

You have been inside! I must make it a point to visit the gallery next time.

adam72 said...

one of my pre-wedding shots was taken at fullerton one directly opposite MBS in 2005. the background of the pic was clean, no MBS, not even construction as the IRs were not even announced then. call it a reverse second shot...

Icemoon said...

Hi adam72, nice to know you took a historical photo of a clean Marina Bay background! Such clean background will not come back. :(