Comparing English Slate and Murai Slate from Singapore


These are pieces of slate recovered from Pulau Saigon. Slate is a metamorphic rock that is composed of clay minerals that have been put under great pressure, causing fine grains of clay flakes to regrow in planes perpendicular to the compression (due to the mica in the rock). As a result it will be hard enough to “clink” when hit with a hammer, and also have a distinctive layered appearance or “foliation”.



These slates are known to be slate of UK origin, brought over on a ship from the UK to Singapore to be used as a building material for (colonial) houses here. The slate may also have been used as ballast. I was unable to find a chart or guide to identifying slates, as they are technically named after the region they came from. To the untrained eye, I guess they look like the traditional grey tones of slate from Wales.

I looked for more general information about slate produced in the UK for construction, and found various information and pdf guides on the English Heritage (Officially known as the “Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England”):

“Stone slates were mined at Purbeck in Dorset, at Collyweston and Duston in Northamptonshire, at Stonesfield and elsewhere in the Cotswolds, in Yorkshire and occasionally in Derbyshire… At Collyweston and Stonesfield, the splitting was carried out by frost action. The raw block was either stored underground or taken to the surface where it was wetted and covered in earth until the frosts came. The frost then swelled the natural moisture within the stone and split it into slates. Frostsplit slates may be thinner and therefore lighter than those split by hand.”

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 8.19.47 AM.png
Sidenote: When I look at this, I think all this sort of stone collecting and stone arranging must be how the romans invented crazy paving. You know, CRAZY PAVING? All broken up into all sorts of interesting shapes? (Unfortunately this joke won’t be quite as funny to the majority of Singaporeans who don’t get to do any of their own paving ever, owing to the fact that most people don’t have landed properties to pave…)

In comparison, this is what Murai slate/schist from Singapore looks like.

murai Schist
I noticed these specimens at the Raffles Biodiversity Museum were casually labelled “Murai slate”. But a geology enthuisiast in Singapore would have more commonly read about the “Murai Schist” (part of Jurong Formation) in reports about Singapore’s geology. But this does look like slate because the characteristic of schist is that its mineral grains should be visible to the naked eye. And I don’t see any conspicuous large grains of mica flakes here, so I am inclined to think this would be defined as slate.

In any case, the two types of rocks – slate and schist – can be observed to have other similar properties – apparently the Schist is metamorphosed more than the Slate, so they are very similar, except that the Schist is even harder, and the equivalent of cleavage or what we would call “slaty cleavage” is known as “schistosity”.

Also, from the report “Geology of Singapore” (Published by DSTA):

“It is not proposed that the Murai Schist be recognised as a formal geological unit, but rather as a zone of well-developed cleavage in rocks otherwise recognised as sediments of the Queenstown, Jong ,and Tengah Facies. The Schist zone forms a belt up to 0.5 km wide in Ama keng, trending northeast from Tanjong Skopek to include the area originally described by Alexander (1950). A small schist zone was found on the north arm of the Pasir Laba Ridge (GR 295494) and another zone, not recorded on the map, was found in the Jong Facies in Jurong (GR332452).”

So I guess the brown rock above might actually be Slate from the Murai Schist. Who comes up with all these terms anyway?

Videos of the Pulau Saigon Slate:

Slate (Top view)

Slate (Side view)

See also:
The Collectors of Pulau Saigon: Murex Trapa shells, and Pyrites (Fool’s Gold)
The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

The Collectors of Pulau Saigon: Murex Trapa shells, and Pyrites (Fool’s Gold)

Why do people collect things? Do we collect them to remember? Or do we collect things so we can examine them and understand them better. Or do people just collect things that look like each other in order to pass the time? Whatever the reason, I find it fascinating that in the attempt to relocate the present-day location of objects from Pulau Saigon, two small “collections” have come to my attention. They seem to be man-made collections of items that must have fallen into the Singapore River, resulting in us “collecting” them again, many years after they were first collected by someone else who might have been living on or near Pulau Saigon, the archaeological site from which these items were rescued. One is what appears to have been a collection of a very striking type of seashell, and the other is of some pyrites…

Murex Trapa, or Rare-spined Murex



According to a fact sheet on wildsingapore, the Murex Trapa is collected as food by coastal dwellers, and its strikingly beautiful shell is also coveted in the shell trade. It is also listed as Vulnerable and “seldom seen” today, because it is an intertidal creature that is easily affected by reclamation and over-collecting. These snails do not live in the Singapore River, so someone must have been collecting the shells from the intertidal zone and bringing them in, for there are so many of them!

[Thank you so much to Tan Swee Hee from the Raffles Biodiversity Museum for showing me the collections of the shells from Pulau Saigon and the other rock cores, meteorites, and other geological oddities from around Singapore!]




Pyrite can be used for a variety of uses such as for the production of sulfuric acid, or for uses in the paper industry. What could these have been used for in Singapore? It is not clear to me, perhaps it will take a closer study of the specific industries that used to be on Pulau Saigon to determine this. Pyrites are also used in fengshui, where they are considered to be a good fengshui stone to attract abundance. When I was young, I had a collection of semi-precious rocks and my collection included pyrites, or Fool’s Gold. So I also instinctively think of pyrites as being a kind of “collector’s item”, having collected it before as well. So no matter what it might have been used for, it could also very well have been part of someone’s collection of rocks…

For more on Pulau Saigon, see:
The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River

I must confess that I had not thought much about the chert of Southeast Asia until now. Is there a lot of chert in Southeast Asia? I don’t really know firsthand. Most of the accessible beaches of Singapore are artificial and made of recent sand depositions from other places, and there are no points at which I can simply casually wade in and around the gravel of the Singapore River – much unlike the Thames in London, which has many wide banks upon which one can wander about without disturbance. I have, on past occasions, observed the proliferation of chert in the River Thames, and also, the endless amounts of chert/flint on Lyme Bay. So, what sort of rock is to be found in the rivers of Southeast Asia then?

Chert/Flint with cute echinoid in Natural History Museum, London


Chert/Flint on River Thames (London, 2012)


Chert/Flint on Lyme Bay (Jurassic Coast, 2012)
To be honest, to this day I still feel that my definition of “chert” is a bit fuzzy, despite having several encounters with chert and having read up on chert before. I do know at very least that Chert is formed by the recrystallization of siliceous skeletons of marine animals into microcrystalline sedimentary rock. From what I have read so far on it, I’m going to just take it to be a more inclusive term for most of the microcrystalline quartz or silica. And as from what I saw and read at the Natural History Museum in London, flint refers to the chert commonly found in chalk or limestone…

From Wikipedia: “There is much confusion concerning the exact meanings and differences among the terms “chert”, “chalcedony” and “flint” (as well as their numerous varieties). In petrology the term “chert” is used to refer generally to all rocks composed primarily of microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline and microfibrous quartz. The term does not include quartzite. Chalcedony is a microfibrous (microcrystaline with a fibrous structure) variety of quartz.

Strictly speaking, the term “flint” is reserved for varieties of chert which occur in chalk and marly limestone formations. Among non-geologists (in particular among archaeologists), the distinction between “flint” and “chert” is often one of quality – chert being lower quality than flint. This usage of the terminology is prevalent in America and is likely caused by early immigrants who imported the terms from England where most true flint (that found in chalk formations) was indeed of better quality than “common chert” (from limestone formations).

Among petrologists, chalcedony is sometimes considered separately from chert due to its fibrous structure. Since many cherts contain both microcrystaline and microfibrous quartz, it is sometimes difficult to classify a rock as completely chalcedony, thus its general inclusion as a variety of chert.”

I am fed up with local people having the name “Chert”, thus foiling my attempts to investigate whether Chert rock naturally occurs in this region. Anyway, the reason why I am wondering whether there is a lot of chert in the Singapore River is because of this chert specimen in the Singapore River. Knowing that some of the slate comes from the UK, I realised I had never seen THE CHERT OF SINGAPORE in person before, although I have many Chert specimens from the UK, so I wondered if this chert rock had actually come from elsewhere….


Chert rescued from Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
How do we tell this is “chert”? Largely because of its “waxy luster” and conchoidal fractures, which produce a sharp edge. Brittle materials such as chert have this quality, allowing it to be shaped into knives and tools.


Conchoidal fractures



Waxy Luster
Today I was very fortunate to be able to spend a few hours at the Archaeology Lab at NUS, where I attempted to do a preliminary photoshoot of certain artefacts from Pulau Saigon, and began running some shots through Autodesk’s 123d Catch in order to produce 3d models of some of the objects. Thank you to John Miksic and Goh Geok Yian for letting me occupy their pantry for the entire day and sharing with me about their work. It will take me some time to process all the information captured today, but you can expect more posts on the topic in coming weeks… (They always need more committed and responsible volunteers at their lab to help them sift through, sort through, and wash material, so if you’re interested in archaeology in Singapore and are available to volunteer your time on Fridays between 10-5pm, leave me a note and I will pass your contact on to them.)

Pulau Saigon (PSG) Stone and Rocks






14th C Stoneware


European Porcelain

Oh and another strange thing that happened is that I encountered the word “Diatomaceous” twice within one hour today. Whilst reading the comments to an instructable about building a solar food dryer to find out if others were worried about insects getting into their solar food dryer, I discovered a comment suggesting that “Diatomaceous earth” be scattered because its tiny, light yet highly abrasive nature makes it suitable as a mechanical insecticide, making it unpleasant for tiny ants to walk upon – basically getting inbetween their tiny exoskeleton joints and absorbing lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate from the inside out rather quickly, leading to the death of the insects. A few minutes later I read that chert occurs in diatomaceous deposits and that kind of chert is known as diatomaceous chert. The word diatomaceous refers to diatoms, which consist of tiny microscopic marine phytoplankton, along with their fossils…

Which brings me to…. MICROPALEONTOLOGY, and the study of microfossils! Anything that you can study with the naked eye is probably considered a macrofossil. Micropaleontology is surely a field of study that is after my heart. A micropaleontologist might typically be a specialists in one or more taxonomic groups because it is something that requires so much specialisation to study the fossils of tiny tiny creatures. Speaking of tiny things, this reminds me of micrometeorites. And subsequently… astrogeology. I think this week if you asked me what is my dream job might be, it might be to study to become a micropaleontologist or an astrogeologist. Yeah, I can dream, can’t I?

See also:

The Mineral collection at the Natural History Museum, and Flint Nodules along the River Thames
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon
Made-up Road Names and Temporary Islands
Ruins in Reverse

Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

A photo of a photo of a torn map of Kampong Saigon…
Last year whilst at the library, I copied out a list from Jennifer Barry’s “Pulau Saigon : a post-eighteenth century archaeological assemblage recovered from a former island in the Singapore River”. I completely forgot about this document but just unearthed it today, so I thought I should put it online in case anyone should be interested in the “OTHER ARTEFACTS” list found in this little catelogue of artefacts, including a detailed list of ceramics finds, and flora and fauna. As the ceramics and flora/fauna lists are very very long and detailed, I will leave it up to those who are interested to locate the book at the National Library of Singapore (Lee Kong Chien Reference Library, English 959.57 BAR) and read those portions for themselves.

I wanted to purchase or request for a copy of this book but it seems impossible to track down the publisher, Rheidol Press, and they either have ceased to exist or do not have any sort of online presence at all. No copyright infringement intended here by reproducing part of the text here, but it seems impossible to even find or contact them to even ask for the permission. Short of writing to their postal address in Stamford (which conceivably could have changed by now), there are no other leads or clues or ways to contact them (although I suppose I will try to write to them to see what happens). I have never even been to Lincolnshire nor have I ever thought of going there, and I find the idea of an obscure book about Singapore’s own little-known Pulau Saigon being published there very strange indeed.

I have retained all the author’s original typos in the following copy of the list – this is exactly as it was on the page.

From Jennifer Barry’s “Pulau Saigon : a post-eighteenth century archaeological assemblage recovered from a former island in the Singapore River”


Archaeological finds began to appear at Pulau Saigon in 1988 when bulldozers first moved in to start work on the Central Expressway tunnel. Tan family members who owned the petrol kiosk on the island brought this to the attention of Mr Koh Lian What who in turn alerted authorities at the National Museum and the National University. A prompt rescue operation was organized and a team of expert, including Dr C. G. Kwa, Mr Lee Chor Lin, Dr J. Miksic and Mr Koh, was permitted to collect finds and soil samples. Collections were made between November 1988 and March 1980 but no systematic archaeological excavation could be undertaken due to constraints of time.


Broadly speaking the site covers the 170 years from the early 19th to the late 20th century, the period between the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and the initial construction in 1988 of the tunnel at Clemenceau Bridge. The bulk of ceramic finds are generally consistent with this time frame, up to about the mid 1960s, although there are a few sherds which pre-date the 19th century.

Apart from ceramic, which accounts for the greater part of the entire assemblage, finds include artifacts of glass, bone, metal, wood, stone, plastic and rubber as well as faunal and floral remains. These include a large group of marine shells identified by Mrs Emily Glover of the Natural History Museum, London. There are eleven species of gastropods and give of shallow water burrowing bivalves, two of which are often found in mangroves. All are common to the Singapore area and many are widespread in the Indo-Pacific. Glover notes that the small holes in many of the examples were drilled by predatory mullscs and not by humans, confirming Koh’s view that there was no prehistoric habitation of the site. This possibility had been proposed during the early stages of the rescue.

(…) Before 1889 one would expect that, generally, the deeper finds would be the oldest; yet some of the more recent finds are below 2 and 3 meters of mud, such as the coins dated 1926 and 1883 respectively. A late 19th or early 20th century Doulton square-mouthed stoneware bottle was found at 2m depth. This clearly indicates massive disturbances which, no doubt, had been caused by the dredging of the river, and the subsequent use of this archaeologically rich material as landfill.



Asbestos: 2
 6 small (3 red, 2 blue, 1 yellow, in film roll container)
 40 approx. (in plastic bag)
 1 bone or ivory with black bristles
 1 bone or ivory toothbrush with white bristles
 2 bone or ivory toothbrush handles
 1 carved tortoishell? handle
 1 wood bristle base
 1 wood handle
Corks: 3
Electrical fittings:
 3 white ceramic
 1 bulb filament
 1 small glass bulb
 1 small battery
 1 belt hook (s or snakes-head shape)
 1 bolt
 1 brass lid
 1 buckle
 1 button
 1 cigarette holder
 8 copper coins (Straits Settlement 1884, 1887, 1894)
 2 coins (1 round, 1 square)
 1 door furniture?
 1 fish hook
 1 lamp base? (corroded)
 4 lead pieces plus ore workings
 7 nails plus fragments
 1 pin
 1 scale hands?
 1 wall hook
 1 spoon (European type)
 1 bakelite threaded neck
 2 pink fragments
 1 political party badge
 1 spoon (Chinese type)
 1 table tennis ball
 2 (degraded)
 1 cylindrical pounder
 8 white marble spheres plus one hemisphere
 2 dice (marble, limestone?)
 3 small (modern compound type)
 1 iron spike or pick, wood shaft
 1 iron bill-hook, wood shaft
 1 carved comb (fragile)
 1 broom or brush handle
 1 oar or paddle
 1 clog or shoe sole


Coal: 1
3 flints
1 flint knife? (previously labelled as such)
8 flint tools?
1 pyrite (also known as Fool’s Gold)
1 green stone
1 piece of lava or pumice
24 slate plus 3 knives (previously labelled as such)
35 small smooth pebbles
1 worked stone?
1 quartz (rock crystal)

Sites of Construction




63 floors up in the sky and on the rooftop of One Raffles Place is 1-Altitude. Naturally, with my love for cities, I am attracted to the view from the top of skyscrapers. Before 1-Altitude existed, the highest urban spot you could plausibly go to in Singapore (with a spectacular view) was New Asia Bar / City Space, at the top of the Swissotel at Raffles City.

It is funny because I just recalled that I first became well-acquainted with the New Asia Bar quite some years ago while, at the time, I had been going out with someone who had been attempting to work as a “Private Investigator” at the time. I say “attempting” because now when I look back on it, his choice of working as a Private Investigator seemed more to fulfill his pipe dream of being a detective rather than a sensible career move. Without any prior police background or surveillance training (he had originally been an English teacher and studied Middle English), he approached his work assignments in a desultory, do-it-yourself fashion with self-invented decoys and covers, with methods found on the internet such as newspapers with slits in them, and holes cut in bags for cameras to peek out of.

I suppose one would say that becoming a Private Investigator was a job that one would have done for passion – but yet for all the ingenuity required, I’m sad to say that it was not an extremely lucrative or financially sustainable profession for the person on the ground who was doing all the tedious legwork. The hours were long and the work was very hard. He eventually quit and went back to teaching English (in any case we are no longer in contact anymore today).

Back then, for some reason, one of his assignments at that time also necessitated him periodically taking aerial shots of a certain construction site that could be observed from New Asia’s expansive aerial view. I’d tag along in the mid-afternoon and we’d go to New Asia, have a lemonade or fruit schnapp, and look out at the open patches of construction and deep excavation sites close to the foot of the building.

While honestly I don’t feel as if this directly influenced me or my current work in any way, I do find it to be a pretty uncanny coincidence, considering that I somehow ended up developing my personal work and writings along the lines of cities being repositories of clues – of a bigger mystery to be solved. Like the “ruins in reverse” as described by Robert Smithson, I find that I look to construction sites for ghosts and phantoms of the future, of the realities not yet realised.

To extend the thought a bit more, what this means is that through my work I would rather like to create “semiotic ghosts” (William Gibson). “Semiotic ghosts” refer to things which exist in people’s minds as actual OBJECTS and THINGS that could exist and might be built one day, but at the present moment have not actually been built. In having given it a name and imagined its possible existence in the world, they exist because we can talk about it like it really exists, and we can also write about it in essays and in fiction as if it really does exist. Sometimes that is all you need in order for the thing to exist.

So it exists conceptually and on that count one cannot deny that it “exists”. Yet at the same time it also does not really exist…

Or on the flipside, maybe one would say I’m just simply trying to make the best of this modern, boring, generic construction site that is Singapore; just trying to find me some metaphorical fossils while I’m here, since I’ve got no real rocks or fossils to dig up…

The Singapore River as a Bow-shaped Canal

Recently, I read, with some incredulity, that the Singapore River was to be diverted for the digging of new MRT tunnels (Downtown Line).

ST Breaking News (28 April 2012) – Singapore River diversion a herculean task:

“The plan to divert the Singapore River may be the most ambitious part of the MRT Downtown Line project. The herculean task, to begin by the end of the third quarter, will reroute part of the river next to Riverside Point into a bow-shaped canal. (…) The river is being moved so that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) can bore two train tunnels under it for the Downtown Line 3.”

ST Breaking News (28 April 2012) – Singapore River to be diverted for MRT tunnels:

“Part of the Singapore River, the site of Singapore’s earliest settlements, will be moved so that an MRT line can be built under it. In the first undertaking of its kind, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Korean builder GS Engineering & Construction will dig a bow-shaped canal to divert the river. It will then clear the drained portion of age-old debris and fill it with a stabilising material before boring two train tunnels under it. The original path of the waterway will be reinstated after the tunnels are completed.”

Screen shot 2012-05-07 at AM 08
Source: ST

Screen shot 2012-05-07 at AM 08

Map Source: OneMap. Annotation by Debbie.

The fate of excavated debris and soil is something I have puzzled over for some time now. What will happen to all this “age-old debris” after they dig it up? Do they use it to fill up other spaces? Do they bury it somewhere else? Do they give the soil to others to reuse in other landfills? What happens to the soil from (commercial) excavations?

It has been known that sometimes the government does allow a pause in these redevelopment/construction works to allow for archaeological digs. This has happened for a number of old sites around the central part of Singapore, such as the Old Parliament at Empress Place, the National Art Gallery (a very short spell though). But crucially, because this has not yet actually happened, there is still a possibility for a proper request for an study of the dig site at the Singapore River before it too has been built over forever.

Back in April, I made some notes about John Miksic’s lecture on “Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story” here on my other Documentations blog. When he spoke about the importance of archaeology particularly in areas which were endangered and about to be dug up, I also immediately thought of the Downtown Line excavations which are all in the town area. I’m interested in the DTL excavations around Sungei Road. But of course, now it appears, the Singapore River itself is also at stake.

What is the importance of doing an archaeological dig? Why is it important to study the Singapore River then? Well, I think one thing that is often eclipsed in accounts of “Singapore History” is the presence of a history before Raffles. These archaelogical studies, as well as the acquisition of the Beilitung Shipwreck (however much the ethics might be dispute) are reminders that Singapore is not only in existence because of its colonial history, but it has a much longer history as a place in this region.

Photo taken on 4th May – Around the River Valley Station Construction Site


Photo taken on 4th May – Around the River Valley Station Construction Site


Photo taken on 4th May – Piling works have already started as evidenced by photos taken around the site.


The part of the waterway that they are planning to divert.


This signboard has the list and phone numbers of all the agencies involved.

I suppose the first thing to do is to raise awareness of the value of an archaeological study in that area. Someone has already set up a facebook group here for starters – Singapore River diversion – Protect Our Heritage where they are asking for 6 months to allow the NUS team to study the site. Will this be acceded to? Perhaps we need more public support to persuade the authorities to allow this break in construction for an archaeological study. But after all, what is six months to study a historical site that might never be accessible again for all eternity?

It looks like I might have to update my animation of the changes in the Singapore River…. although by the way things are going, maybe I should have to wait to see if other parts of the Singapore River also gets moved about. It’s already been shown that here in Singapore there are no sacred cows: there are no monuments, no heritage sites, no geographical features, and no buildings here that cannot be wilfully moved or destroyed. But this is an attitude that needs to change – or at least for people to be more educated about what will be lost from all this, and what we could have gained from it as well…

The Singapore River as a Psychogeographical Faultline

Another view of the River (from a screenshot I took in August 2010):

cte and river
This CTE tunnel is under the Singapore River. Do you think the drivers passing through this part of the CTE are even aware that they are actually moving under the Singapore River itself? Under the waters and the waves and the boats and everything? Its funny how these things are so central and so many people pass through this area but most people still don’t really look at the things around them.

Made-up Road Names and Temporary Islands

“There was once an “island” in the middle of Kalang Basin called “Pulau Geylang”. In his speech at the opening of the Kallang Airport on 12 June 1937, Director of Public Works, Major R.L. Nunn, revealed that the “island” was found to be composed almost entirely of sawdust, possibly waste material from the many sawmills dotting the length of the river, and was consequently removed and the area reclaimed to construct the Kallang Airport.”

Michelle Tay, Assistant Archivist / From Emporium to Singapore City: Mapping the Journey


Yesterday I also found another colonial town plan map (dated 1878) that has a picture of Kampong Saigon on it. (Pulau Saigon!) I also find it tediously difficult to find old maps of Singapore. You would imagine someone would have made a definitive map book of Singapore by now. It must be intellectual property issues here, but I wish someone would print a map book with every single old map of Singapore in it. Or if only I could do it myself.

And going off on a slight tangent, last night I also read an article about a group of women in Rome wanting to push for more roads to be named after women (Toponomastica femminile) because most roads are named after men and other things and there is an incredibly low representation of women names on Rome’s roads. I have the feeling this is a situation that would be even more pronounced in Singapore. Now most of my own work with maps and research about maps can be said to have developed without much thought of issues of gender, so I realise it might be interesting to consider what the roads are trying to spell out. Discussing it with friends, we also realised that not only were the number of actual prominent “women pioneers” rather small and the roads named after them even fewer, on some occasions those roads named after females were actually wives or daughters of colonialists in Singapore rather than having a road named after them by their own right. So if one were to develop such a list in Singapore today, it would need to also separate these into different categories. It’s not the same if you’ve named the road after a woman but she was in fact closer to being a trophy wife or an ornament, rather than the actual participant in the life of the city.

I would like to tabulate a list of all the roads in Singapore, and to check off on a list to see what they are named after.

My guess would be that the following main categories will emerge:

– Fruits
– Important Men
– Actual Women
– Wives/Children of Important Men
– Social activities/Events
– The Names of Other Places
– Generic Number names (Ave 1, Ave 2, Ave 3…)
– Made-up names (edgefield, compassvale, etc)

I am certain there are more roads named after fruits than women.

Ruins in Reverse

Today! Super Sunday Solo Brunching! I had breakfast at a cafe next to Pulau Saigon Bridge along the Singapore River and read Leon van Schaik’s Spatial Intelligence: New Futures for Architecture, which led me to look up Robert Smithson’s A Tour of The Monuments of Passaic New Jersey (1967) when I got home later.

Walked around the site of what would have been Pulau Saigon and I can safely say that the thing that has replaced that once-excavated site is a condominium called River Place. While standing there I saw only expatriates walking in and out.






The latter essay by Robert Smithson is truly most fascinating, using the phrase “ruins in reverse” to describe strikingly banal features of suburban structures, which he also chooses to describe in his essay on passaic the “monuments” on his tour.

Had a think, I guess the run-down appearance of old places is not part of the “past” or “memories” that one has for the place; it technically belongs to its future, because its “ruined” or “dilapidated” appearance is formed through the passage of time.

Thus, even construction of generic urban buildings can be seen as the physical manifestation of the “future anterior” – in some respect, like the “catastrophe” of the punctum as described by Roland Barthes. The essay ends off with this:

I should now like to prove the irreversibility of eternity by using a jejeune experiment for proving entropy. Picture in your mind’s eye the sand box divided in half with black sand on one side and white sand on the other. We take a child and have him run hundreds of times clockwise in the box until the sand gets mixed and begins to turn grey; after that we have him run anti-clockwise, but the result will not be the restoration of the original division but a greater degree of greyness and an increase of entropy.

Of course, if we filmed such an experiment we could prove the reversibility of eternity by showing the film backwards, but then sooner or later the film itself would crumble or get lost and enter the state of irreversibility. Somehow this suggests that the cinema offers an illusive or temporary escape from physical dissolution. The false immortality of the film gives the viewer an illusion of control over eternity but “the superstars” are fading.


“Excavation in Progress” opposite my house. I wonder what they will find down there.