Jun 03, 2013

    Son's night of fun with Sun

    AS A kid in the 1980s, my parents often drove me past Wan Qing Yuan, the villa that served as Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen's headquarters between 1906 and 1910.

    We lived in the Balestier area then, and the stately Nanyang-style mansion was just across the road from us.

    I was only three or four years old, but I still remember my dad pointing it out to me as we made a slight detour home, and telling me (not too accurately) that Dr Sun, the founder of modern China, used to live there.

    Fast forward three decades, and my son has had the chance to spend a night in that historical villa.

    White-washed and refurbished, it is now the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, managed by the National Heritage Board and holding artefacts related to Dr Sun and his Nanyang supporters, such as Chinese merchants Tan Chor Lam and Lim Nee Soon.

    Reopened in October 2011, after a year-long renovation, it held its first Night in the Memorial Hall last weekend.

    When I read about the kids' sleepover on the website of the ongoing Children's Season, I asked my seven-year-old son, Julian, if he would like to go for it. I expected him to say no.

    To my surprise, he was all for it, and even said it was an opportunity to boost his confidence and make friends.

    Last Saturday, with an overnight case containing his sleeping bag and favourite squishy pillows, he arrived at the hall with his best friend, D.

    The sleepover had about 20 kids aged six to 13 exploring the exhibition galleries after hours, along with games stations, a treasure hunt and even a parents-and-kids pilates session.

    Things got off to a promising, cultural start: The youth volunteers running the sleepover dramatised Dr Sun's life story, and then quizzed campers and their parents on it, and on Chinese customs.

    Even though Julian's younger 31/2-year-old brother, Lucien, was not registered for the sleepover, he joined in a dressing-up contest - winning second prize for a crepe-paper costume as Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

    At home later that night, with the Manic Firstborn temporarily out of the nest, the Supportive Spouse was uncharacteristically fidgety.

    "Where's your phone? Make sure you can hear it, in case Julian calls," he said.

    We had told the boy that he could call us any time he felt homesick, and we would go get him.

    "I think he's having too much fun to call," I said, after the fifth time I had to produce my phone to show that I had no missed calls.

    Sure enough, when I picked up Julian the next morning, he was all smiles. He took me around the museum on a private tour. I asked him if he had fun and learnt more about Dr Sun. He nodded.

    There is no better way to learn history than to inhabit it.

    These nights at the museum - the Singapore Philatelic Museum has also run a popular one for years - are a brilliant idea. All museums here should have them.

    In fact, why restrict them to kids? Perhaps museums could run sleepovers for whole families. And when they do, I know where I'll be spending my staycations.