A journey through time

THE legend of Admiral Zheng He is well and truly kept alive at Resorts World Sentosa's Maritime Experimental Museum and Aquarium (Mema) in Singapore, which opened its doors on Oct 15, 2011.

Shaped like a ship's hull turned upside down, the venue looks perfect for what it displays inside. Designed by Ralph Applebaum, whose firm Ralph Applebaum Associations is one of the largest museum and planning firms in the world, this museum pays homage to the famous Chinese explorer and diplomat.

The greatest explorer in Chinese history, Zheng launched many exploratory voyages to Asia and Africa between 1405 to 1433, sailing with fleets of up to 300 ships.

Among the countries he stopped by were Vietnam and Malacca in Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Calicut in south India, the Middle East and East Africa.

An introduction to his various voyages from China to the western ocean during the 15th century is told through a short animated video in a modern open-style theatre.

"What makes this museum unique is that the primary focus is not just showing its exhibits but also on the educational history of the silk routes," said Jason Horkin, director of attractions (West Zone), Resorts World Sentosa.

"We want the museum to be a place where everyone in the community can come together to learn and experience.

"A lot of effort has gone into the planning of the museum to create a sense of exploration and to have interactive exhibits that encourage imagination and creativity."

Interactive exhibits include a musical ensemble that features instruments that can be found at the armada's various ports of call, such as the sitar from India, santur from Iran and bongo drums from Kenya.

Visitors can "play" and "mix and match" these instruments via a touchscreen panel, create a new tune, and save the tune by sending it to their email.

Once inside Mema, they will be greeted by an animated short projected against the hull of a replica of Zheng's treasure ship Bao Chuan. The lion figurehead will signal the beginning of this show by moving, growling and flashing its red eyes.

The animated short shows Zheng introducing himself and talking about his voyages.

Visitors are then taken on a guided tour of displays found in the museum. They showcase the various places Zheng visited during his voyages and what he had obtained from the various ports such as ceramics, textiles, spices and minerals.

Some of these exhibits are open to visitors to touch and feel. The more valuable ones are, of course, protected in glass display cases. There are also games and activities for the entire family throughout the tour.

The most unique feature of this museum is the Typhoon Theatre, a 150-seat multimedia theatre where visitors get to feel what it was like to be onbroad a doomed voyage undertaken by an overzealous captain.

The visuals are projected all around you. You can literally feel the ship move, the cold sea spray upon you and even experience that sinking feeling as the ship goes under the waves.

It's the most interesting aspect of the museum by far but if you are a history buff, you will love all the trivias you can pick up from the displays and exhibits.

There are also two junk ships moored just outside the museum which you can board. Look out for the replica of the Jewel of Muscat, a replica of a 9th century dhow which was a gift to Zheng.

The museum opens Mondays to Thursdays from 10am to 7pm, and on Fridays to Sundays and on public holidays until 9pm.

Admission is S$5 (RM12) for adults and S$2 (RM4.90) for children (aged four to 12). Senior citizens (65 and above) pay only S$3 (RM7). For the Typhoon theatre, the admission fees are S$6 (RM14.60) for adults; S$2 (RM4.90) for children; and S$3 (RM7) for senior citizens.

The museum will also feature an aquarium which will open at a later date.