Fourth Year History student, Magdeline Lee, has had a rare chance to experience firsthand Straits Chinese history, culture and architecture, thanks to a gift which allowed the National University of Singapore (NUS) to restore Baba House at 157 Neil Road. Baba House is one of the few late 19th century townhouses in Singapore to retain its original architecture and embellishments.
The acquisition and restoration of Baba House was made possible thanks to a S$4million gift by Miss Agnes Tan, daughter of Malayan Chinese Association founder Tun Tan Cheng Lock, who is intent on ensuring the appreciation and understanding of Peranakan culture among future generations. In addition, Mr Wee Lin, Baba House’s previous owner, gave NUS over S$60,000 worth of antiques from the house.
Today, Baba House offers visitors the chance to see the culture of the Peranakan community in a domestic context. Moreover, Miss Tan’s gift also funds a paid internship programme which allows students, such as Magdeline Lee who is majoring in History at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, the chance to step out of the classroom and into a past world.
Magdeline says, “I was fortunate to work in such a charming place. By spending so much time at Baba House, I was given a rare insight into the lives and customs of Peranakan culture. I also learnt about the restoration and conservation work required to bring the house back to life.
“I was given the chance to lead tours. To do this, I had to quickly familiarise myself with the house and learn everything I could about it and Peranakan culture. My internship taught me that tour guiding is a real skill: you need to tailor tours to visitors’ interests and respond to their questions and feedback. It was an amazing learning experience. The skills I picked up during this internship will be especially useful when I start working after graduation.”
Through tour guiding and interacting with overseas visitors, Magdeline also learnt about the history and architecture of other countries. One visitor in particular shared that the air wells, often associated with Southeast Asian shophouses and believed to have been inspired by courtyards in Chinese homes, can also be found in ancient Roman architecture.
To date, two NUS students have completed the internship programme at Baba House. The house has attracted many visitors including American lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, who toured the house in May this year. To find out more about Baba House or to make a gift towards preserving history, visit http://www.nus.edu.sg/cfa/support_us/support.php.