Located in the Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), the Maritime Experiential Museum & Aquarium (MEMA) was opened in October 2011. Besides being a tourist attraction, MEMA is also positioning itself as an educational institution where students could learn about Asian maritime history as well as the trade routes of the past. According to MEMA, its primary focus is on Southeast Asia’s maritime trade history from the 9th to 19th century. MEMA also adopts an innovative approach towards the museum experience, whereby visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the world of visually-engaging displays and interactive activities.
MEMA's historical theme mainly focuses on Chinese Admiral Zheng He's voyages on the "Western Ocean" along the Maritime Silk Route, which spanned from the South China Sea, through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean to the eastern shore of Africa. In 1405, Admiral Zheng He was appointed by the Ming Emperor to command a fleet of more than 200 ships and 28,000 men. Over the next three decades, he conducted seven voyages between China and Africa to open up maritime trade routes.
Many of the artifacts in the museum are from the Bakau Wreck, which was discovered off Bakau island (near Western Borneo in Indonesia) and was believed by archaeologist to be an early 15th century Chinese ship.
Recommended museum route
1. Typhoon Theatre
Visitors are encouraged to start off their tour at the Typhoon Theatre, where they are told a voyage tale of a Chinese sailing expedition from China to Oman. From there, they will then enter a simulation theatre where they can sit on the deck of a Chinese ship to experience what the Chinese crew underwent during their arduous journey. Surrounded b a 360-degree screen, visitors will be able to take in the whole voyage and even shipwreck experience which is enhanced by special effects.
From this experience, visitors will be able to better understand how life was like for past maritime travellers and the perils the latter constantly faced during their journeys. Moreover, they can also better relate to the historical artifacts on display, which were retrieved from past shipwrecks.
After the visitors have exited the typhoon theatre, they will come to an underground aquarium, where they can see the "recreated" remains of a ship in the midst of a bustling sea floor. (According to MEMA, the aquarium will be ready in October 2012.)
2. Maritime Archaeology Gallery
The gallery also consists of a variety of artifacts, such as ceramics, pottery, earthenware, currencies and units of measurement, which the museum has acquired from the Bakau shipwreck. From these items, visitors can get a glimpse of how life was like on board a trading ship many centuries ago. Besides tracing Singapore's involvement in the Maritime Silk Route trade since the 14th century, visitors can also learn about the intra-regional trade at that time, as well as the goods produced and traded in Temasek (the old name of Singapore). One example is the complex relationship among the ports in Southeast Asia then, as they both fiercely competed yet heavily depended on one another.
3. Bao Chuan Show (or Treasure Ship Show)
This is a full-sized replica of the bow of Chinese Admiral Zheng He's massive 15th century flag ship. Its huge size dominates the centre of the museum, making it the first thing that visitors will see when they first step into the museum. The replica consists of many exhibits which chronicle the admiral's life and his journeys between China and Southeast Asia, and even Africa. For example, visitors can learn that the Chinese crew, during their long voyage, would eat dried and preserved food such as salted eggs, salted fish and waxed meat when their fresh food supplies ran out, and that their water supply was carried by water tankers. To enliven the learning experience, synchronised lights, music and sound effects are also used when the admiral himself "comes alive" to recount his past voyages to the museum audience.
4. Omani Dhow (Jewel of Muscat)
This is a reconstruction of a 9th century Arab dhow, which was built by the government of Oman using traditional materials and construction methods. It was presented as a gift to the people of Singapore in 2010, after the Jewel of Muscat had sailed through ancient maritime routes over five months from Oman to Singapore, without the use of any modern navigational tools.
5. The Souk Gallery (Ports of Call)
This is a recreation of old ports along the Maritime Silk Route, with life-like displays interspersed with interactive information panels. To enhance the learning experience, visitors are encouraged to participate in a game to source for valuable products in each port as they travel along the maritime route to procure the best products for the Chinese Emperor. For example, this can be ivory (from Qui Nhon in Vietnam), camphor (from Palembang in Indonesia), spices (from Malacca in Malaysia), precious gems (from Galle in Sri Lanka), musk (from Calicut in India), Persian rugs (from Muscat in Oman) and ambergris (from Malindi in Kenya).
6. Historic Ship Harbour
This is the outdoors component of the museum route, where visitors can step onto full-sized replicas of ancient vessesls docked at the harbour. As a testimony of the variety of ships which had plied the Maritime Silk Route, these replicas were painstakingly custom-made in Indonesia. The five ships are the Chinese junk, Indian Dhow, Indonesian Borobudur Ship, the South China Sea Trading Vessel and the Javanese Jong. For safety reasons, about 10 visitors are allowed to board each ship at a time. At this part of the tour, children are also encouraged to use papercraft to make small-sized replicas of Chinese junks.
In addition to its museum attractions, MEMA, given its educational objectives, also has several educational and outreach programmes, such as public lectures, cultural performances, history workshops and even children's activities.
Through this spectrum of learning opportunities, visitors can better appreciate how archaeological evidence can contribute to our understanding of the past, as well as develop historical empathy about the life back then.
The museum is open from 10 am - 7 pm (Mondays to Thursdays) and 10 am - 9 pm (Fridays, weekends and public holidays).