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Intan, a fascinating spot in Singapore

PICTURES by Deanne Scott:

Top: Alvin Yapp shows off his mother-of- pearl inlaid chair.

Below: Eric and Dee try the chairs out for comfort.

Bottom left: Tea for three with Alvin

Bottom right: The ancestral altar

One of the most fascinating side trips while staying at the Singapore St Regis was a visit to the Intan, a private museum that sits in the middle of a row of houses in the heart of a historical and residential area of Singapore.

We arrived in the super comfortable Bentley limousine, which seemed out of place in the tiny suburban street that housed the amazing museum. The premises are also the home for the accidental founder Alvin Yapp.

It was 25 years ago when the young Alvin started his hobby of collecting artefacts that celebrates the culture and heritage of the Peranakans: a unique people of Singapore and the region.

For centuries, the riches of Southeast Asia brought foreign traders

to the region. While many returned to their homelands, some remained behind and married local women. The Peranakan culture is a unique hybrid of these cultures.

The Peranakans stem mainly from the Chinese and South Indians (Hindus and Muslims) together with the local indigenous community. In the 18th century, the culture resulted in a fusion of traditions, beliefs and tastes. Together with the wealth amassed by the Peranakans during that period, many of the rituals and ceremonies were showy but romantic.

Over the years, the Peranakan culture evolved into a distinctive blend with traces of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malay, Indonesian and Chinese influences. We learned all this from Alvin himself, who showed us over this pride and joy and then fed us afternoon tea with authentic Peranakan cuisine prepared by his mother.

Alvin a businessman by day, is a mine of information on his special subject. He sees The Intan as a constantly evolving tribute to one of Singapore's and Southeast Asia’s most unique communities, and with his perfect English there was no difficulty in understanding his passion.

“With The Intan, I hope to make heritage relevant by exploring new ways to show the public what it means to be Peranakan,” he told us.

The house is long and narrow – a system that dated back to the Dutch era when taxes were determined on the number of windows a house had.

And inside it is indeed unique. The two storeys are filled with antiques large and small and include a huge ancestral altar and mother-of-pearl studded chairs that sit in the front specifically to impress a potential mother-in-law of her daughter’s suitor’s wealth and position – the more MoP the better the bloke’s chances!

There are cases of gold jewellery and distinctly coloured nyonyaware (porcelain) to personalised silver betel leaf boxes. A wooden staircase lined with European enamel tiffin boxes (I suppose they would be lunch boxes today), leads to the upper level of the house which is another fascinating look at a different culture. There is a wedding chamber filled with wedding present; European styled teak wardrobes with gold leafed Chinese designs are shelved with rose cut diamond jewellery, embroidered blouses, hand painted batik sarongs and rows of intricately beaded slippers.

There are so many artefacts and treasures that you will need a good hour to absorb it all and take tea with the enthisatoc and well-informed Alvin.

Visits to The Intan are by appointments only. For more information, please visit or call +65 6440 1148 (Mainline).

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