Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Light Up My Life

I am fascinated by lighthouses and I would love to tell you more....

A lighthouse, as the name suggests, is a house or building that emits lights to aid sea navigation. Such structures were important in the old days as they were used to mark dangerous coastlines and reefs. 

Today, with the advancement of modern navigational aids, the usefulness of lighthouses has diminished. While the significance of a lighthouse has not been reduced to a mere giant maritime lamp post, its role is largely complementary.

Interestingly, there are still 5 operational lighthouses in Singapore. My curiosity towards these mysterious towers grew during the Pedra Branca territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia. Media reports inevitably covered stories on the Horsburgh Lighthouse which is sited on the Pedra Branca islet.

Last week, the Straits Time ran a few articles on Singapore lighthouses during the Singapore Maritime Week 2008 organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). The stories were simple but insightful.

Here are some little things I have come to know:

The Horsburgh Lighthouse (above) on the Pedra Branca islet, built in 1851, is the oldest of the 5 operational lighthouses here. It marks the eastern entrance to the Singapore Straits. On May 23, the International Court of Justice awarded the islet to Singapore and drew a closure to the long drawn dispute with Malaysia.

The Raffles Lighthouse (above) stands on the southernmost island of Singapore, Pulau Satumu. It marks the point where ships coming out of Singapore Strait should start turning right into Malacca Strait.

The Pulau Pisang Lighthouse (above) is on, but of course, Pulau Pisang. It marks the western end of the Singapore Straits. What is interesting is that, the island (pulau) belongs to Malaysia. As a result of an agreement in 1900, Singapore has retained the right to operate this lighthouse on foreign land.

The Sultan Shoal Lighthouse (above) is on, well, the island of Sultan Shoal. It has an interesting flavor of Oriental and Victorian design. Lovely architecture.

The Bedok Lighthouse (above, red arrow) is my favourite. It is unconventionally located atop Lagoon View, which is a 26-storey residential building. It is near a coastal recreational area at the East Coast Park, popular with weekend park goers. I believe many have noted the white light that flashes every 5 seconds but were clueless as to what it really is. It is the only unmanned lighthouse.

There are 2 other lighthouses which have ceased operations...

The Fort Canning Lighthouse (above) was built on the southern side of Fort Canning Hill. It was later dismantled in 1958. Today, a replica of the lighthouse stands near its original site.

The Fullerton Light was installed in 1958 to replace the Fort Canning Lighthouse. Today, it has been converted into a food and beverage outlet in the Fullerton Hotel (above).

There are altogether 8 lighthouse keepers taking turn to man 4 of the 5 operational lighthouses.
I have always wondered how it is like to be a lighthouse keeper ...

Life in a lighthouse must be very quiet. I hate to use the word 'boring' but it is. A day in the lighthouse must have felt like 100 hours and I would be 'busy' looking for things to do just to stay sane.

With technology, I assume it is possible to live in a lighthouse and stay connected to the world. The question is, will radio, TV, mobile phone and internet fill the void? Hmm... I doubt it. Not for me, at least. I reckon that I will quit this job before lunch hour on my first day. I concede.. the job of a lighthouse keeper is not easy. My salute to the 8 keepers hired by the MPA.

Thank you for keeping our shoreline bright and safe.

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