Saturday, September 03, 2005
Nearby to Fort Canning Hill is the former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. I remember passing by it as a schoolboy when it still functioned as a school, not really knowing what it was, but extremely curious because of the imposing high walls and closed gates (insert joke about schoolboys and convent girls here).
It's now a complex of restaurants, bars, and art galleries, a commerical enterprise called CHIJMES. For years I used to wonder what the "mes" stood for (the "chij" being obvious), and I've only just found out that it stands for nothing: the developers added it just so you could pronounce it as "chimes". (insert joke about chimes ringing hollow)
It remains a very beautiful location - the chapel was excellently restored, and they've preserved the stained glass windows very well. If you have Quicktime, then you can try this VR panorama here to get a feel for what the site looks like now, and visit the chijmes website (flash required) to see the photos of the restoration process. The low res photos (from the picture archive section) suggest that behind the original grey walls of CHIJ lurked Singapore's first and only Gothic ruin, before it was cleaned up. It's beautiful, and a bit sad - I'm not sure the "CHIJ" part of this building sits easy with its newer "+MES" identity: it seems sad to yoke together something spiritual with something so mercantile. It's good that an architectural significant building could be preserved - it's sad that we had to turn a convent into a commerical enterprise to do so.