by Eric Lim
The first quarter of 2019 was very eventful for me. I made two overseas trips, the first to Guangzhou, China, in January followed by an 18-day sojourn to the North Island of New Zealand, between February and March. Taking these excellent opportunities, I visited the local museums and I would like to share my experiences with you.
1. Archaeological Site Museum of Nanyue Palace in Guangzhou
The history of Guangzhou started more than 2,000 years ago. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Empire succeeded in unifying the Lingnan Region, which comprised 3 prefectures namely Nanhai, Guilin and Xiang.
The Qin dynasty ended when military captains staged revolts causing great upheavals in the Central Plains of China. Zhao Tuo took over and established the Nanyue Kingdom with Panyu (original name of Guangzhou) as its capital. The Nanyue Kingdom was ruled successively by 5 kings and endured 93 years until it was obliterated by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty in 111 BC. Since then, Guangzhou was further developed by another 10 cultural strata, right up to the Republic of China.
The museum sits between shops fronting the Beijing Road and dwellings on the other side, with the main entrance located at Zhongshan 4th Road. As the name suggests, the focus is on the historic site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom. The royal garden consists of a large stone pond and a crooked stone brook. The latter was discovered in 1997 and it meanders from the north to south, a distance of 160 metres. It is the earliest and the best-preserved royal garden discovered so far in China.
During the excavation of the pond, a large quantity of the remains of turtles was found at the bottom, implying the animals might have been kept as pets in the royal garden. Chinese authorities also found that stone structures used in the construction of the royal garden were built with materials similar to those of Western stone structures, thus testifying to the meeting of East and West in Guangzhou in ancient times.
Besides the site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom, there is also the palace site of the Nanhan Kingdom, which includes the Nanhan courtyard paved with fabulous butterfly peony square bricks. At the exhibition building for Guangzhou’s ancient wells, visitors can see over 500 wells built during the different dynasties. During excavations at this site, many valuable artefacts were found. Over 100 pottery jars were unearthed from the wells constructed by the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-20 BCE).
Towards the end of 2004, hundreds of inscribed wooden slips were excavated from the wells built during the Nanyue Kingdom. These are the very first of such artefacts ever discovered in the region that provide great value for academic research.
There is no admission fee to visit the museum but visitors must get tickets at the main entrance by showing personal ID cards or, in the case of foreigners, by showing passports.
2. Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland
The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and it is located just outside Auckland’s CBD. This spacious 75 hectares park is also one of the largest parks in the city and it has been developed around the cone of the extinct Pukekawa volcano. Sitting proudly atop it is the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
The museum is housed in a large neo-classical styled building and is considered as one of the finest heritage buildings. It was opened in 1929 to commemorate the loss of 18,166 New Zealanders who died in the First World War. Today, AWMM is one of the top tourist attractions. The museum is divided into 3 levels:
Ground Level – This level examines the diversity of Maori and Pacific Island cultures. It also talks about the movement of people from South East Asia to the islands in “Near Oceania” 5,000 years ago, then progressing further to the distant island groups in “Remote Oceania” such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa between 3,500 – 3,000 years ago. By then, these people were known as the Lapita people, the immediate ancestors of the Polynesians. Then after “The Long Pause”, a period of over 1,000 years, they started sailing again after the development of larger ocean-going canoes reaching as far North as the Hawaiian islands and as far South as Aotearoa New Zealand 800 years ago. It was believed that the Polynesians have sailed as far as South America and brought back kumara and gourd.
Level One – Talks about the Natural History of New Zealand, from geological origins to its ancient flora and fauna. The Moa was the tallest bird known and the female grew as tall as 3 metres, measured in an upright standing position. This level also highlights the uniqueness of many New Zealand birds, which are flightless, large, dull or dark in colour and slow breeders. Of course, there is mention of the Kiwi, national pride of New Zealand.
Level Two – This gallery is named Scars on the Heart. It is a war memorial centered mainly on the First and Second World Wars. There is also a section that talks about Kiwis being called into action in Asia, namely in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.
The first New Zealanders that fought in Asia were based at the Changi Air Base in Singapore from 1949 to 1951, during the time of the Malayan Emergency, and they remained in the country until 1989. Their engagement grew larger during the time of the Confrontation over Borneo in 1964. In the 1960’s, pressured by the American government, New Zealand committed resources to the Vietnam War.
We were again given the spotlight, this time on the stained glass ceiling above the main foyer, which depicts the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during the First World War. The Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements are proudly displayed on this glass ceiling.
A portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born in Auckland, is also on display. On 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest.
The general admission fee to this museum is NZ $25.00 and the highlights guided tour is an additional NZ $15.00.
3. Navy Museum in Devonport
Still in Auckland, I also visited the Navy Museum in the village of Devonport. Here, visitors can learn about New Zealand’s contribution at sea in the major conflicts of the 20th century and as well as during peace-time. Again, the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation are highlighted. The museum is open seven days a week, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and admission is free.