The terrain on this island is mostly flat. Unlike our Indonesian neighbour, it is our good fortune to lie outside the ring of fire. There are no markers of violent past tectonic movements, no volcanoes, no sharp peaks.
But we do have little hills. The highest of these little hills being Bukit Timah, with an official height of just 538 ft. There's also Mt Faber for lovers, Mt Pleasant (which doesn't seem to have any elevation at all!) for its animal hospital, and Mt Sophia & Mt Emily, Singapore's own siamese twin peaks overlooking the Istana.
This evening J and I took a 3min walk up Mt Sophia Road, passing quiet condominiums and making a turn to find ourselves at the top of Mt Emily instead. There, between Mt Emily Park and a budget hotel , is an old bungalow that has been converted to be a centre for the arts and business.
Supposedly built by a wealthy Straits chinese, the house was later used as some Japanese HQ when we were occupied in WW2. At some point in its history, it was also the Japanese School, a girls' home, and more recently, 1 of 3 previous campuses of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
A group of artists and creative enterprises have now come together to develop the site into this:
Nestled amid the lush greenery of Upper Wilkie Road, Emily Hill is the first not-for-profit entity in Singapore that brings together artists and people whose businesses or lives are dependent on innovation and creativity. It is Singapore’s first prototype of a new partnership model wherein artists, arts groups and businesses support and sustain each other…and spark new ideas.Its tenants currently include the Theatre Training & Research Programme (TTRP) of Practice Theatre, a hot glass factory that will also be offering public workshops, the studio of artist Sun Yu Li, the office of these musicians, the art gallery Monsoon Asia, a cafe/bar Wild Oats...and more. Today these folks held their open house and a small gathering for friends.
It does seem odd that for a small island, we don't have a habit of collaboration - whether among artists, neighbours or businesses. Am I right to call it a desire for exclusivity? Or maybe it is precisely because the pond is small, that everyone is so keen to mark and secure their own little part? Whatever the reason may be, the Emily Hill project is laudable for the courage of this very motley crew to not only co-locate, but to collaborate.
HDB sky well- image by J
While chatting with a friend B (one of the folks behind this venture), he shared this observation about space with us. Once he was watching a group of regular kids at a dance workshop being asked to "spell" their name using their bodies. Most of the kids did some shoulder/neck wriggle, and a few others twisted whole bodies. There were only 1 or 2 who leapt across the room, waved their arms and stretched and curled their bodies in expansive, broad strokes. He found out later the difference was that they were not Singaporean.
Ah, so this must be what drew us amps away from our HDB cubbyyhole to this old bungalow atop a hill - not the wine or the yummy fried chicken from this kitchen, but the possibility of a space that can be infinite if collaborative and inclusive. And of course, to wish the folks at Emily Hill all the best for their new venture!
other well wishers - image by J
p/s If you are interested to sign up for some glass making workshops, dance/movement classes, photography & other lessons, check out the Emily Hill programmes.