Tuesday, September 9, 2008

In Praise of the Ugly Duckling

Compared to the majestic architecture of the National Museum, the grandeur Singapore Art Museum and the understated opulence of the Asian Civilisations Museum, the tiny Singapore Philatelic Museum must surely be the runt of the litter.

Collecting stamps in Singapore is for all intent and purposes, a fading pursuit surviving only within the hallowed ranks of purist collectors. Housed in what was once a bookstore, I returned this old building on Coleman Street a few months ago after an absence of many years simply because I was passing by and had some time to kill.

I never professed to have any interest in stamps. To me it was nothing more than a bit of printed paper you stuck on the corner of an envelope without a second glance. I had intended my return visit to be a quick one – just poke my head in, see what has become of one of my old stomping grounds and be out the door in 10 minutes.

Then I met Jocelyn – a nice lady who works there. She offered to take me on a tour. Okay – I could be out of there in 15 minutes, I figured. The galleries were small but the tour, with all the details thrown in, seemed like it would never end. Still I was struck by two things.

One, the place didn’t look anything like your typical stuffy museum. Quite unlike the dark corridors of the National Museum where I always fear I’m going to trip over a dead body (see In Search of ...), here there was a comfy sofa, nice soft music and a warm, inviting atmosphere.

The other thing I like about the Philatelic Museum was the passion of its staff. They genuinely believe that every stamp has a story to tell if only we took the time to listen. Thanks Jocelyn, you didn’t exactly make a convert out of me but the next time I’m licking a stamp, I’ll at least pause for a second or two to appreciate the picture – promise!

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