After getting an exclusive behind-the-scenes at the newly opened Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (try saying that fast five times), I was completely bowled over by the vast array of biodiversity that it showcased. It’s spacious and ‘bio-noob’ friendly—for example, its brochure has a QR code that when scanned, takes you through the place exhibit by exhibit. There are also audio-visual aids which cater not just to kids, but make ‘cheem’ (Singlish for ‘complicated’) scientific theories a lot easier to understand.
While I loved everything about this cool new museum (except maybe the bug section), here are a few takeaways that were the highlights of my trip:
#1 Sunlight is evil
… Which explains why there are almost no windows in the museum. And if there are, any sunlight that enters is blocked by the gorgeous cascading greenery planted outside, as light—or more specifically UV rays—are harmful to the condition of the specimens. The museum felt a lot like being in some top secret, underground facility cocooned away from the outside world.
If you start having sunlight withdrawal symptoms, there are three gardens on the mezzanine floor where you can soak up some sun while admiring the mangrove gardens or sitting by the pond.
Flash photography isn’t allowed, but don’t worry, the lighting is sufficient for photo-taking and you can still Instagram/blog about your experience there, so feel free to bring your cameras! You should also brush up your selfie-taking skills because selfie sticks aren’t permitted, so it’s all about the long arms and good angles… Or you could just focus on taking good shots of the dinosaurs.
#2 Crabs are the true hipsters
Remember the moustache craze? Well, it seems that crabs got there long before we humans did: that’s right, crabs are the most legit hipsters in the animal world. The crustacean section displayed some of their awesome abilities, providing ‘human world’ equivalents of their functions. The crab with powerful claws was likened to a can opener, while one that could store water was labelled a water tank! And the moustache crab depicted has furry claws which have absolutely no other function than to, well, be a fashion accessory. Isn’t that adorable?
#3 Golfing is the latest form of self defence
If you look at the King Cobra specimen that’s on display, you’ll notice that its head looks kind of dented. That’s because it received a fatal blow from a golf club. When it appeared to a golfer at the Singapore Island Country Club, he/she fended it off not with a sword or spear a la Tarzan, but a golf club. Forget karate, golfing is the next hardcore self-defence you might want to consider! (Mind you, this four-metre long reptile can rise up to a third of its height when attacking.)
Coincidentally, according to Museum Officer Dr Tan Heok Hui, the skulls of mammals are key to their study. So you can say it’s somewhat fortunate that the snake was a reptile! (Also, did you know that you can tell a mammal’s animal family just from by the number of teeth it has, or its sex by simply looking at the size of its head?)
#4 Dinosaurs have skeletons in the closet
… Or at least a part of their skeleton that’s usually not up for display. Dinosaur skulls are too heavy (and certainly too valuable scientifically) to be affixed to the constructed fossil structures, so what you’re actually looking at are accurate casts. Apart from that, the skeletons on display are a hundred percent genuine dinosaur fossils from Wyoming, US. Even better, they were all found together, possibly forming a dino family, with one of them being a juvenile!
As I was looking up at them and wondering who in their right minds would consider a 12-metre long dinosaur a “baby”, the light and sound show, which plays every half hour, came on. In that moment, I thought that every nightmare I had after watching Jurassic Park when I was five was coming true and I’m ashamed to say that I immediately took a step back. I have to admit, the light and sound show makes the already awesome dinosaur exhibit even more awesome (is that even possible?).
#5 You can have your own mini museum!
At least that’s what our British founding fathers, Sir Stamford Raffles and Major-General William Farquhar did while in Asia. The second level of the museum showcases a heritage gallery exhibiting their personal collections, and those of the ex-directors of the original Raffles Museum.
If you’re not one for history like me, you can still get a kick out of the gorgeous furniture used to house the personal collections and amuse yourself with finding out which drawers can be opened and all the little bits of information or smaller specimens that they hold. Think of it as an adult version of the Kinder Surprise egg, only much cooler.
This section also describes the journey that the museum has taken from its beginnings as Raffles Museum, to the elegant and modern museum it is now. As tribute to its origins, a picture of the skeleton of an Indian Fin whale that was the main attraction in the original museum hangs on the wall of the heritage gallery. Sadly, this skeleton was given away to Malaysia in 1972.
Many of the specimens currently on display are from the original museum so you can imagine how old they are! Look out for the symbol of the number 100 in a little pavilion next to the description of specimens to identify which ones are over a hundred years old.
#6 How to hide a dead body in Singapore
My behind-the-scenes tour took me to see the wet and dry collections of the museum. You won’t believe the number of specimens that aren’t on display; there are rows and rows of shelves and tanks that hold countless specimens. If ever there is a need to hide a dead body, there are cadaver tanks in the wet collection that are big enough to fit humans, but which actually hold dead exotic creatures like mobula rays and civet cats. If you’re thinking of kidnapping one of the live exhibits in the museum (like the fish, stick insects and scorpions), they have understudies awaiting behind the scenes so you won’t get ransom money. (Please don’t actually kidnap them just because they have replacements ready though.)
It’s more than just dinosaurs at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and though the specimens there are mostly dead, one can’t help but notice the richness of life that surrounds us.
The colours and variations of nature are simply amazing, and information is delivered in such an engaging manner that you inevitably pick up things you didn’t know before (who knew mushroom clubs existed in Singapore?). Although bugs still give me the heebie-jeebies, I’ve been shown that they’re beautiful in their own way.
So next time you feel like Singapore has run out of cool places to go, why not give the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum a try?
The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is located at:
National University of Singapore
2 Conservatory Drive
Tuesdays-Sundays (All public holidays)
10am-7pm (Last admission at 5.30pm)
Adult – $20
Adult – $15
Child, Student, NSF, Senior Citizen & Person with disability – $8
NUS Staff and Students can get free admission with prior booking. Details on their website.