Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Battle Of The (One) Smithsonian

Also known as 'A Night At The Museum (if we still think of ourselves running on Singapore time)'. Okay, enough of these movie references. Especially if they're coming from two people who haven't stepped into a cinema in the past 3 months (I miss my favourite past-time of booking tickets on the GV website.)

I've mentioned in a previous post somewhere that I'm not a history buff. I made my maiden voyage into the National Museum of Singapore just earlier this year - at the grand old age of 29 years (I guess better late than never.) And that was because of work.

Well, in Washington DC, it's museums, museums and... tada! More museums! And a handful of galleries. But the good thing is, most of them - the ones under the good name of the Smithsonian folks, are free. We love free things back home. We love them even more on this trip. And that was enough to entice us into scheduling a visit to one of the museums during our only day in downtown DC.

Picking the Museum of Natural History was pretty much a no-brainer. What's more important than refreshing what you know about the origin of the World and being reminded of your place in it. Plus, I know that's where all the big cool stuff that comes alive at night is kept (See, you do learn useful things from watching movies. Money and time well spent in cinemas indeed.)

He only wanted to go in cos he misread it as 'National Museum of Dan' through his sunnies.

Seeing the resemblance to the stony guys on Easter Island.

Our first stop: the Sant Ocean Hall. This was the next best thing to scuba diving! The exhibits, many of them life-sized replicas, were amazing.

Giant Great White Shark. And you got scared when watching Jaws. Pffft.

The exhibits were incredibly informative. Through them, we learnt more about the marine creatures we often see on our underwater explorations.

Okay, I've yet to see a Sunfish aka Mola Mola. But I was still pretty amazed at how little Sunfish larvae are given spikes to make them look more bad-ass to ward off predators.

Some of the exhibits freaked us out a little...

The consequences of not heeding sound advice not to dive beyond 40m. A styrofoam cup at 3,000m is the size of a walnut. Don't even bother asking about the diver who was drinking the coffee in that cup.

The real stuff floating around in jars was the best. Especially if they were hauled in from the ocean deep. As in, really DEEP. Where it's completely dark. All the time.

The scary angler fish that lured Nemo and Dory deep into its lair. That's what happens when you follow its pretty lighted lure and "just keep going, just keep going, going, going, going...." allll the way down.

I revelled in the delightfully freakish fish facts. These make good tales for diving trips with friends. I knew that flounders have both their eyes on one side of their face, giving them a scrunched up squinty face that only a mother could love. But did you know that they look like normal fish when they're born, with an eye on each side of their head? Then one of the eyes slowly migrates to join the eye on the other side. How freaky is that?! I can almost hear those teenage flounders approaching puberty crying in frustration as their face slowly screws itself up.

Fish with both eyes on one side of their head. Oh wait, that makes them... human.

Of course, the celebrity factor of the upcoming movie based on this Smithsonian museum added to the excitement. We may not be able catch the movie when it comes out but we can at least bask in the cheap thrill of seeing scenes from the movie first. Nyeah nyeah.

The one that couldn't fit into the Ken-Ken Cuttlefish packet.

It was a living gallery of the living ocean. The only other thing the museum could have done to make it larger than life would have been to let us walk around in fins and breathe compressed air through a regulator. Aaaahhhh... the sweetness of air breathed from a tank.

The beautiful Sant Ocean Hall with its neverending trail of exhibits.

Trying to squeeze myself behind the glass panels - so that it feels like being underwater.

When we finally surfaced from the ocean exhibits, we stepped back in time into the land of the great mammals.

Where size does matter

If size did matter, this exhibit would be a winner for the sheer size of its models and replicas.

Poor T-Rex being force-fed an unhealthy meal of KFC(ho)

It was interesting to be reminded that in the past, the ancient mammals were much larger in size than current species. So while that sloth you see in the Ice Age animation comes across as a small bumbling furry pet, in reality, the Giant Sloth was a pretty damn big character, nothing like the branch-clinging strips of fur that you see in the zoo.

Dan tries to measure up in the sloth department but fails miserably.

Due to the information overload, it's probably good to split up visits to the major exhibits over two days. I started getting confused over similar species, such as the mammoth (larger, woolly, roamed Northern Europe and America) and the mastodon (smaller, no hair, restricted to North America), both ancient extinct elephants, much larger than the ones we have today.

Mammoth or Mastadon? I've forgotten which one it is (Note: those skeletons flanking it - those belonged to bears. Not puppies.)

It was also a humbling reminder that no matter how big or little you are, whether human or animal, living in the ocean or on land, you pretty much end up with the same fate. Dead and fossilized.

Our future

We walked through a whole lot of other exhibits (all about human beings only - not very interesting, really) and decided to end off with the amazing "Farmers, Warriors, Builders - The Hidden Life of Ants". I don't like ants very much, especially when they're trying to get to my food and carrying away bits of it under my very eyes, but I found it fascinating. So did Dan, who at one time, wanted to set up an ant farm at home, which I reluctantly agreed to and was promptly dragged along on a hunting mission into the depths of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to collect ants for the new project. We had set up a trap using chocolate as a lure and sat for hours watching them slowly (sure guys, take your time) make their way into the empty mineral water bottle. The ants suffered a sweet end, literally death by chocolate, when the heat of the day melted the square of Cadbury Milk and it plopped soundly onto our tiny prisoners, crushing them to death. We now keep fish. Only fish.

Dannie's dream home

Exhibit showing how deep ants burrow for their nests. Some scientist poured molten metal into the burrow and let it harden. The tag states that lives were lost but an important discovery was found. You can still see dark little ant-shapes flattened against the underneath of the metal.

Two interesting facts that found their way into the permenant recess of my brain:

The first: Ants communicate through their feelers as they have seriously poor eyesight. They're so myopic that they would let a spider passing off as an ant into their nest and introduce it to their babies. Hello ant guys, time to wake up and take a good look at that spider!!!

The second: Ants are farmers. They farm fungus. Like how humans have mushroom farms, but the ants started theirs first, 50 million years ago. The leaf-cutter ants harvest green leaves and prepare a garden using the leaves. They then add bits of fungus. Within weeks, they have fresh fungus crops for breakfast, lunch and dinner! A rather boring diet if you asked me, since each nest only cultivates one strain of fungus.

An ant farmer working in his fungus garden (just like my dad!)

All in all, a pretty enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours enriching our lives and educating our minds. I still want to watch the movie though.

Ants seeking revenge for their chocolate-covered relatives


Lint said...

Damn interesting! Yuj would've love it in there, soaking in all the knowledge. I'd just look at picture and get confused between the dino exhibits and the ant exhibits, mistaking the ant farms for dino burrows.

Dannie said...

Yeah... I'm sure there are people who mistake the ants for dinosaurs ALL the time. You're not alone! :p

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