From “Chinatown” to “China Town”

3 12 2021

The development of Singapore’s Chinatown, its reason for being, and how it does not quite fit into the same mould as the Chinatowns found across the non-Chinese world, was the topic of my previous post. Chinatown’s evolution in more recent years, first into a conservation and a tourist site as one of three of Singapore’s “ethnic quarters”, does have a significant influence on what has become of Chinatown today as a go-to place for the newest additions to the Chinese community in Singapore.

Chinatown today is part tourist attraction, a place for Singaporeans to find traditional goods for the occasion and for the new Chinese to get a taste of home.

The “new Chinese”, if I may call those more recently arrived from China that, started arriving in the wake of the setting up of diplomatic ties between the People’s Republic of China and Singapore in 1990. That opened the doors for an inflow of much needed migrant workers, along with academics, professionals, students and “study-mamas” (or peidu mama) in large numbers. Recent estimates has it that there could be as many as 400,000 new Chinese who have come Singapore, some of whom have been naturalised. Similar ethnically with their long-time Singaporean Chinese cousins who have mainly descended from southern Chinese immigrants, the new Chinese have a wider diversity in their origins, have quite different values and cultural perspectives, speak differently and have differing tastes. A natural consequence of this is the appearance of the many businesses, eateries and stores that now cater to the tastes, wants and needs of this numerically significant group.

Well patronised Northern Chinese and Sichuan food eateries along New Bridge Road.

Chinatown, and in particular, People’s Park Complex, is now where a concentration of such business can be found. People’s Park Complex, perhaps for it long-time role as a place to purchase Chinese made products since its opening in 1970, and where several remittance agents were set up in the 1990s, would attract travel agents specialising in the Chinese market, food and snack stalls, stores dealing in Chinese foodstuffs, and most recently, supermarkets. These have more or less become permanent fixtures in the shopping centre. Beyond this, food outlets are also made an appearance in and around the area of the complex. People’s Park Food Centre has now a range of food stalls offering food representative of northeastern China and also from the numb and spicy (mala) food from the Sichuan area.

Eateries and food stalls lining People’s Park Complex and People’s Park Food Centre offer a taste of home for many new Chinese.

Nearby, a long-time Chinatown landmark in the form of the former Great Southern Hotel, has been the home of Yue Hwa Chinese Products, a Hong Kong store which brings in Chinese goods and foodstuffs since 1996. The store has been a go-to place for ingredients for the more exotic types of Chinese food. It has however seen the arrival of a new competition, Scarlett Supermarket, whose name in Chinese ShiJiaKe (思家客) translates into “homesick”. The supermarket, which brings in Chinese snacks and foodstuffs and offers them at very reasonable prices, has in the short time since it opened its Trengganu Street outlet in October 2020, become popular both with new Chinese and with many Singaporeans. It has since opened stores across Singapore, including a flagship store in People’s Park Complex and by January 2022, will have 10 stores in total.

Yue Hwa Chinese Products, a Hong Kong store that was established at the former Great Southern Hotel in 1996. It has long been a go-to place to obtain ingredients for more exotic Chinese cooking.
The new kid on the block – Scarlett Supermarket, which opened its first store in Oct 2020, and has since opened several other stores across Singapore, including a flagship store in People’s Park Complex in Feb 2021.

What has become especially lively is the Chinatown food scene. This isn’t just confined to the area in and around People’s Park Complex, but has also added flavour to the scene across Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road. That is where the heart of old Chinatown was. Now an area that is at the heart of the tourist side of Chinatown, new Chinese eateries can be found along with several others along Upper Cross Street, Mosque Street, Pagoda Street, and Smith Street.

Eateries lining Mosque Street.

While the eateries may have been set up with the aim of bringing a taste of home to the multitude of new Chinese here in Singapore, many have also found regular patrons elsewhere. Three northeastern (dongbei) Chinese restaurants along Upper Cross Street for example, have become popular with the Koreans and Japanese and are featured on websites and other social media channels not just here but also in their home countries. In this way perhaps, Chinatown could be seen as playing a role of bringing people together, much like it did in the past.

A dongbei restaurant along Upper Cross Street.

While the focus of this post is on Chinatown becoming “China Town”, Chinatown today a lot more than that. As we heard in the video attached to my previous post, it is also a place for Singaporeans, especially those with past connections to the place. The renewal of Chinatown has also brought with it a host of new attractions such as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Although the authenticity of the relic that it houses has been questioned, and perhaps whether the temple’s place in Chinatown is appropriate, it is here to stay. The temple and much of today’s Chinatown could be thought of as a continuation of the Chinatown of the past. Although not quite the same, it is still very much a place that brings people and cultures together.

Not Chinatown and not Singapore? A structure that perhaps defines the new Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Consecrated in 2008, it was built to hold what is claimed to be a tooth of Buddha that was housed in an earthquake damaged stupa in Myanmar. Questions have been asked about the authenticity of the relic.

From Chinatown to “China Town” (video)

From Chinatown to “China Town”





What makes Chinatown Chinatown in Chinese majority Singapore?

30 11 2021

That there is a place known as “Chinatown” in Singapore seems quite odd, with Chinese settlers and their descendants having been in the majority from the mid-1800s. The origins of the name lie possibly in Singapore’s very first Town Plan. Drawn up in 1822, the plan defined areas for settlement along ethnic lines. The area where Chinatown is today, corresponds to the plan’s “Chinese Campong” and an adjacent “Chuliah Campong” (“Chuliah” or “Chulia” is a reference to those from the south of India). The term “China town” to describe the district, as reports in the English language press going back to the 1830s show, found use very early on.

Chinatown, through the eyes of its former residents (a video).

While the use of the term does suggest a similarity with other Chinatowns or Chinese dominated streets or neighbourhoods found in urban centres across the non-Chinese world, that is where the similarity ends. Singapore’s Chinatown has never quite been a “Tong Yan Kai”, the “Street of Tang People” in Cantonese, as many of the other Chinatowns are often referred to. To most in the Chinese speaking community, Chinatown was “Greater Town”, “Tai Por” in Cantonese or “Tua Po” in Teochew and Hokkien.

A statement relating to the revenue obtained from the so-called Revenue Farms in Singapore published in 1838.
“A Street in Chinatown”, 1932, Leiden University (CC BY 4.0)

Another name that the district was, and still is, associated with is “Ngau Che Shui” (in Cantonese) or “Gu Chia Chwee” (in Hokkien) and “Kreta Ayer” (in Malay). Translating into “Water Bullock Cart”, the name is a reference to the section of Chinatown around Kreta Ayer Road and Spring Street, where there were fresh water springs from which bullock carts used for the sale and distribution of fresh water were once filled. The name is now also used to refer to the larger Chinatown area.

Smith and Trengganu Street corner, 1914 with the former Lai Chun Yuen on the left.

One unique feature of Singapore’s Chinatown, is its multi-ethnic flavour. Non-Chinese houses of worship are quite a conspicuous part of it. Two of Chinatown’s streets, Pagoda and Temple Streets do in fact take their names from a Hindu temple. Another, Mosque Street is name after the Jamae (Chulia) Mosque.

The shophouse dominated streets of Chinatown with a Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman, after which two streets are named.

The multi-dimensional quality extended to the Chinese community in Chinatown, who divided themselves along lines of dialects. The Kreta Ayer section of Chinatown for example, was home to the Cantonese, and the area around Telok Ayer and Amoy Street was predominantly Hokkien. The Teochews lived and ran businesses in the areas closer to the Singapore river. The non-Chinese communities that were added to this mix were those from southern India and smaller pockets of other communities that included the Baweanese (or Boyan). Hailing from Pulau Bawean, the Baweanese were skilled horse handlers. Many found work as gharry-drivers and made the area of the stables at Erskine Road, home. 

A Silver Chariot procession along the Streets of Chinatown during the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.
Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club – set up by the Baweanese community in Club Street near Erskine Road

The South Indian community would come to include many who came during the expansion of the port that followed the opening of the Suez Canal. Areas such as Tanjong Pagar Road on the fringes of Chinatown, became home for some, so much so that the area came to be referred to as “Little India” — a term that is now attached to the Serangoon Road area.

Decorative arch along Cook Street by Kadayanallur Muslim League on occasion of Singapore being conferred the administrative status of a city, 1951. Courtesy of Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League.

Singapore’s Chinatown was by no means the only “China town” found on the island. As the population of Chinese settlers grew, secondary settlements developed north of the Singapore River. One, known as “Sio Po” — the “Lesser Town”. The area of Sio Po, was allocated to the Europeans in the 1822 plan. As Singapore’s interior opened up, many in the Europeans found the inland areas more conducive as places to live in, and this paved the way for Chinese settlers, who could be thought of as latecomers to the Chinese diaspora began to move into the area. The Hainanese, were among the first to move in, establishing a Tin Hou or Mazu temple at Malabar Street (where Bugis Junction is today) in 1857.

Mooncakes from trishaws and tricycles – street vendors were a common sight even up to the 1980s in Chinatown.

Geylang, could be thought of as another secondary settlement, with many being drawn to the area when its plantations started to make way for industry from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Temples were set up to cater to spiritual and community needs, along with a number of clan associations. One addition to Geylang’s clan scene in the 1920s, the Huang Clan, at which the “Father of Modern Chinese Art”, Xu Beihong, painted his highest valued works (see also: Tigers, elephants, rambutans and Xu Beihong in a garden of foolish indulgences).

A temple in Geylang.

Chinatown proper, would develop into a collection of overcrowded streets and tenements. Nestled into this were some notable cultural institutions such as Lai Chun Yuen and the Majestic Theatre, the physical reminders of which in the form of the buildings that housed them, are still around. A feature of the place were the hawkers who filled many of the streets, with their offerings of fresh produce, cooked food items and sundry goods.

An already somewhat sanitised Chinatown in 1984, with some semblance of street life. The corner of Smith and Trengganu Streets is seen here.

The lively scene on the streets, concealed what may be thought to be a shadier side of Chinatown. Behind the laundry cluttered façades of Chinatown’s numerous shophouses were congested quarters, many shared by coolies, opium and gambling dens, and numerous houses of ill repute. Hints of what did go on in the streets and behind the scenes in the dimly lit shophouses were quite unambiguously described in the colloquial names attached to Chinatown’s many colourful streets.

Colloquial street names offer a peek into the past.

Unsurprisingly, the conditions in Chinatown, made it a prime area for the secret societies. Hideouts, and gang hangouts could be found aplenty in Chinatown, together with many inconspicuous places in which weapons were hidden. Some businesses became fronts for illegal activity, while others, including streets hawkers, became targets of secret society run protection rackets. Fights over territorial control, violent reprisals and settlements of disputes were a common occurrence and with Ineffective policing, murder and mayhem ruled the streets of mid-20th century Chinatown.  

A Chinatown shophouse with cubicles arranged on its upper floor.

That Chinatown is today, a thing of the past. Much has changed since the 1960s and 1970s, when life could still be seen on the streets. Property acquisition with a view to demolition and redevelopment, would see street hawkers, other business and residents being moved, some into Chinatown Complex and Hong Lim Complex in the 1980s. A rethink the urban renewal policy would result in the protection of much of what was left, building-wise, through the conservation of the Chinatown as a precinct in 1989, thus keeping the area’s built character. This paved the way for the development of Chinatown’s identity as an “ethnic quarter” for the promotion tourism and perhaps its evolution into what it is today, a place that some would say, is a reprise of its role as a “China Town” for the new diaspora from China..

Pagoda Street, 1971, Wilford Peloquin (CC BY 2.0)
Murals, through which mural artist Yip Yew Chong brings the past into the present, have become part of the modern day Chinatown scene.





My Chinatown Home

17 11 2021

The idea of a “Chinatown” in Singapore, in which there is a large ethnic Chinese majority, seems quite a paradox. There due to its historical connection with the first area of settlement established by way of Singapore’s first town plan in 1822 for the incoming Chinese to the newly established trading post, the area could be thought of as the heart of the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants whose connections in Chinatown include its temples, clan associations and other cultural and religious institutions.

While Chinatown today may have its architectural character preserved through the conservation of many of its streets and shophouses, it does have quite a different flavour. Some say that it has morphed from Chinatown into becoming a “China Town” due to the proliferation of businesses and food outlets catering to the new Chinese community (migrants and new citizens who have arrived post-1990). While that may be so, Chinatown is in the heart of many of the old residents of Chinatown, who continually maintain that connection with it in one way or another.

One former resident, Yip Yew Chong has gone a little further, decorating the walls of Chinatown with murals depicting various bits of its past. For Yew Chong, a prolific mural artist who spent his first 14 years living in a shophouse in Sago Lane and who now maintains a studio in the area, the murals provide an opportunity for old residents of Chinatown, including himself and his family to re-live the past. He also hopes the murals, which incidentally have become popular as instagram-mable spots, will allow other visitors to Chinatown and tourists to find out what life in Chinatown was like back in the days when it served as home to him.

Among the murals Yew Chong has painted, is one “My Chinatown Home”, which as the title suggests, depicts he old home in Sago Lane. Here is a video in which he provides a short description of what he has shown in the mural:





Gathering Spaces: touches of China in Singapore

12 11 2021
A touch of China in Singapore?

The constant flow of people into Singapore through much of its modern history, has been of great benefit to Singapore, not just in economic terms but also in cultural terms. The coming together of peoples from far and wide has resulted in the multi-cultural society we in Singapore live in and in what Singaporeans eat, say and do.

Among the wonderful mix of communities we have are the Chinese. Many are descendants of Chinese immigrants, who came over in large numbers from parts of the region and from southern China through much of the 19th and the early 20th century. The community or I should say collection of communities, formed a majority in a little more than two decades after the British East India Company set up their trading post, and have since 1930, accounted for some three-quarters of Singapore’s population, give or take a few percentage points.

A section of Chinatown that a long-time resident regards as “North China”.

In 1990, twelve years after Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s November 1978 visit to Singapore shortly before China launched the Open Door policy, ties were established between the two countries. Much has happened since then, including an influx of migrant workers, students and emigrees from the People’s Republic in large enough numbers that makes it hard not to notice.

Today, there may be as many as four to five hundred thousand Chinese migrant workers, students, members of the academia, researchers, businesspersons, and others, together with new citizens of the post-1990 era in Singapore; a number that is certainly significant enough to have an impact. This influx, of whom I shall call “New Chinese” (as opposed to their much longer-settled Singaporean Chinese cousins), is seen in many ways. The New Chinese bring with them very different perspectives, a culture that has been tempered by the political and social developments in 20th century China, very different accents and a taste in food that draws influences from a greater part of China as compared to that of the early Chinese settlers in Singapore, and a preference for certain goods and foodstuffs from home. This is clearly evident in spaces that have become focal points for the New Chinese, where a concentration of businesses and trades aimed at this new group of Chinese can clearly be seen.

A row of Chinese Restaurants along North Bridge Road

I shall be having a look at these New Chinese focal points, what I shall call “gathering places”, this November as part of Temasek Polytechnic’s Global Community Day 2021 (GCD 2021), through a virtual session titled “聚会场所 Gathering Places – Exploring Chinese Community in Singapore“. Through a “virtual tour”, I will attempt to identify gathering places for the New Chinese, try to establish how they became so and what makes them so, and also look at how they may or may not have become spaces for a new chapter in the coming together of peoples and cultures that has so enriched Singapore. I have completed two sessions for students and will be hosting a third that is open to the public on Saturday 20 November 2021 at 2 to 3 pm. To register for the session, and also other public programmes for GCD 2021, please visit this link: https://www.gevme.com/temasek-polytechnic-global-community-day-2021-24422801.

A “new-age” gathering space riding on a current craze in China – will it be a gathering space fro the future?







Pagoda Street’s pagoda was more than a gopuram

23 07 2021

One of the fascinating things about the streets of Singapore is the stories that are attached to how they were named, either colloquially or officially. One example is Pagoda Street, along which a pagoda — at least in the modern sense of the word — seems quite conspicuously absent.

While is certainly puzzling to Singapore’s visitors, we in Singapore have been schooled to hold the belief that the pagoda in question is the gopuram of the Sri Mariamman temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. Depending on how creatively this story is told, the temple’s prominent located gopuram at the corner of South Bridge Road and Pagoda Street, might have been mistaken by the common folk as a pagoda or for the want of a better description, identified as one. Whatever the story may have been, they all seem to have ignored the fact that the word “pagoda” in the context of the early 19th century when the street got its name, was one that was in use in the English language in making reference to both Hindu and Buddhist temples in India and in Southeast Asia.

The gopuram of the Sri Mariamman Temple

Historically, the use of the term “pagoda” is quite interesting. Its origins as many would have it is said to lie in the Persian word “butkada”, which is said to translate into “temple of idols”. There are also strong suggestions that it may instead have been derived from Chinese, or at least the Chinese dialects — some would argue, languages — that were in use in the past. The combination of Chinese words describing a “tower of bones of the dead” (白骨塔) or literally “white-bone tower”, is often cited as a possible source of the word, or even “octagonal tower” (八角塔) or literally “eight-cornered tower”. Both combinations, when said in one or several commonly spoken southern Chinese dialects, are similar sounding to the pronunciation of “pagoda” in the English language.

A Chinese-styled pagoda at Haw Par Villa (a personal photograph from November 1976). One suggestion is that the origin of the word “pagoda” is Chinese. The word “pagode” was however already in use in the 16th Century in Portuguese India to describe Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Interestingly, the Portuguese version of the word, “pagode”, was already in use as early as the early 16th century, during a time when Portugal established its presence in India after Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a hitherto elusive sea route from Europe to the subcontinent. The word was utilised to describe the Indian temple complexes, both Hindu and Buddhist, that fascinated the Portuguese and the Europeans that were to follow. One example of this use was in the descriptions of the rock-cut Buddhist temple complex on Salsette Island near Mumbai or as it would have been called by the Portuguese, Bom Bahia. The complex came to be known as “Pagode de Canarim” (also”Pagoda de Canarin”), which the British would later name “Canari Pagoda”. The word “pagode” in the English form would also come also to be widely used, as is evidenced through official accounts, literature and correspondence through the 17th to 19th centuries, to describe either a Hindu or Buddhist temple and in some cases, even a mosque. There is in fact a description of the Sri Mariamman Temple, on a 1846 sketch made by John Turnbull Thomson of the temple and the Jamae Chulia Mosque on South Bridge Road, that does refer to the Sri Mariamman Temple as a “Hindoo Pagoda”. The mosque is referred to in the same description as a “Kling Mosque”.

“View in Singapore town; Hindoo Pagoda; Kling Mosque”; 1846
Thomson, John Turnbull, ourheritage.ac.nz

Descriptions of Hindu temples as “Hindoo pagodas”, were in fact used rather widely in English accounts of explorations and travels of the 19th and early 20th century. It therefore is quite probable that Pagoda Street was named, not because of Sri Mariamman Temple’s gopruam having erroneously been looked upon as a pagoda, but the Sri Mariamman Temple in whole, was to the English speakers of the day a “Hindoo pagoda”.

The Sri Mariamman, which is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, seen here during the Navaratri festival in 2015, would probably have been thought of as a “Hindoo pagoda”. The term was used in 19th century English to describe Hindu temples.
Sri Mariamman Temple’s gopuram, seen above the rooftops of the streets of Chinatown.

Various illustrations of “pagodas” found in India in 19th century Portuguese and English literature

An illustration of a Hindu temple in the Damāo Pequeno north of Mumbai in “A India Portugueza” published in 1886.
Another illustration of an Indian temple complex, named “Pagode de Chandrenate” in “A India Portugueza”.
A Hindu temple described as a “Hindoo Pagoda” in an illustration found in “India, historical and descriptive: revised and enlarged from “Les Voyages Celebres” with an account of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857-8, published in 1876.





Discovering the “China” in Singapore’s Chinatown

23 12 2020

Unlike many other cities around the world where “Chinatowns” exist, a “Chinatown” in Singapore — where three in four of its population are ethnic Chinese — does seem rather odd.

The roots of the Chinese quarter do of course lie in Singapore’s very first urban plan, the so-called Jackson Plan of 1822, hatched at a time when the settlement was still very much in its infancy. That plan, placed the main settlement for migrants from China in the area where Chinatown is today also had a “Chuliah campong” for settlers from the Indian sub-continent adjacent to it. To the Chinese speaker, Chinatown had long been known as Tua Poh (大坡) or “the greater town”, or Ngau Che Shui or Gu Chia Chwee (牛车水) — a reference to bullock-drawn water carts carrying supplies of fresh water to the settlement in its early days. It is perhaps in recent times that the notion of the former settlement being Chinatown has taken root, and this seems rather ironically to have coincided with the quarter losing its original Chinese-ness through resettlement and redevelopment, and its subsequent association with the modern Chinese immigrant and the tourist crowd from modern day China.

The Town Plan of 1822.

These developments do in a way, mimic the evolution of the Singaporean Chinese identity — something that the “Not China Town” tour that has been put together by The Real Singapore Tours — seeks to examine. The tour, which I had the opportunity to attend a preview of, involved a long but leisurely walk through Singapore’s Chinatown. Together with the realisation of how widely spread Singapore’s so-called Chinese quarter is, the tour provides its participants through the stories told at various touch points and through songs, is a much deeper understanding of what the “China” in Singapore’s Chinatown is really all about.

Chinatown at the Crossroads – Cross Street was in the area where the “Chuliah Campong” was.

The tour, which can be forgiven for being too long due to the depth into which its guides expertly explore the evolving Chinese identity and for the refreshment stop — is certainly a must do — if the question of what shapes the Chinese Singaporean identity does bug you. Do look out for them at The Real Singapore Tours.


Highlights of Not China Town

Guide Jamie Lee giving an overview of what Singapore’s Chinatown is all about.
Listening to the first song – before the continuation of the “dance” through Chinatown.
Why Pagoda Street?
Another of the guides, Mark Tan (who sings very well), explaining the politics in the simplification of the Chinese character “sheng” in taking the king (王) out and giving power to the ground (土). The simplification of Chinese characters was an effort initiated by the Peoples’ Republic of China in the mid 20th century.
Celebrating the recent addition of hawker culture in Singapore to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the new age and very touristy hawker street on Smith Street?
A modern addition to Chinatown – around where the street of the dead was. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple may have little to do with the collective memory the Chinese Singaporean may have of Chinatown, but it is an example of Tang architecture — the dynasty with which the Chinese immigrants of the past from Southern China identify with. Many descendants of the earlier Chinese immigrants to Singapore would have been identified as T’ng Lang, T’ng Nang or Tong Yan – 唐人- or Tang Ren in Mandarin or People of the Tang, rather than as Han Chinese.
Mark Loon – on the ma-jie and their vows of spinsterhood.
Of animistic practices and the natuk kong.
On the visit of Deng Xiaoping and the sinification of the Chinese in Singapore.
Clues that point to the migration from Amoy (E-m’ng or Xiamen).
A last song – at where it all began for many early immigrants from China.





Rats, on the streets of Singapore!

10 01 2020

The arrival of spring, celebrated as the Chinese New Year, brings colour to the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown. Marked these days by a street light up, the anticipation of the festival also sees a host of events and activities as well as the crowd pulling Chinatown Chinese New Year Street Bazaar offering new year delicacies and must-haves, and an invasion of rats this year for the Year of the Rat.

Trengganu Street last weekend.

Anticipating the arrival of spring in Chinatown.

Rats have invaded for the Year of the Rat.

 


Heritage & Food Trail

Always a hit, the nightly stage shows run from 8 to 10.30 pm from 4 to 24 January 2020 at Kreta Ayer Square, opened each night with a lion dance performance. Another well received activity is the Heritage & Food Trail, which takes participants on a historical and cultural tour through the streets of Chinatown, culminating with a feast of Cantonese delights at Singapore’s largest hawker centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Tickets for the trail, which run on 11, 12, 18 and 19 January, can be purchased at Kreta Ayer  Community Club at $15/- per participant or online (with a 10% discount) at:

11 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail11012020

12 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail12012020

18 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail18012020

19 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail19012020

Food, glorious Cantonese food from some of the 200 food stalls in Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

Yes 933 deejays on the heritage and food trail.

Mural hunting during the heritage and food trial.

The “disneyfication” of Chinatown is complete.


A Walk through Temple Street

Photos of the always Colourful Street Bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Parting Glances: Losing a Pearl

11 10 2019

Pearls Centre 1977A look back at Pearls Centre, which was demolished back in 2016 due to the construction of the Thomson-East Coast Line. The site for the mixed-use development was sold as part of the second wave of the Urban Renewal Department’s (later URA or Urban Redevelopment Authority) “Sale of Sites” programme. Initiated in 1967, the programme was an initiative to move urban redevelopment and renewal through the sale of sites acquired by the Government to private developers. and was initiated in 1967. Completed in 1977 – in an era of similarly designed buildings, Pearls Centre featured a 10-storey podium block with four floors of retail space and a multi-storey car park. A 12-floor block of luxury apartments was put up above the podium. The developers for the building was Outram Realty and the architect, Architectural Design Group. Its cinema would gain notoriety for screening R(A) movies.

The photographs below were taken in 2014/2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





The Kreta Ayer Heritage Gallery

14 07 2019

A peek at the wonderful little pocket of joy that Kreta Ayer Heritage Gallery is. Located at the at the Kreta Ayer Community Club, the 100 sq. m gallery opens today (14 July 2019).

An effort by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Kreta Ayer Community Club, the gallery is a showcase of Kreta Ayer’s and Chinatown’s intangible forms of cultural heritage that have provided the area with much colour. This is seen through objects, photographs and personal effects of both practitioners as well as Kreta Ayer’s former residents, organised along five themes: Chinese opera, nanyin music, Chinese puppetry, Chinese painting and calligraphy, and tea drinking and appreciation.

Cantonese opera, a big part of the Kreta Ayer cultural scene is especially well represenred through the display of costumes, scores, stage objects and other memorabilia such as autographed photos. The displays also trace the evolution of the genre of Chinese opera from street performances to theatre based ones.

The gallery will open daily from 12 to 8 pm.


A set of six photographs featuring opera performers, undated On loan from Cindy Chat. This set of photographs forms part of Cindy Chat’s collection of opera-related paraphernalia. Cindy is an avid opera fan who used to follow her father backstage where she would meet opera performers. Fascinated by their dazzling costumes and elaborate make-up, Cindy would approach the performers for photographs and autographs.

 


 





Discovering 5 Kadayanallur Street (2019)

10 06 2019

COMPLETED

The 2019 edition of Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets, a series of State Property Visits that has been organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) starts this June with a revisit to No. 5 Kadayanallur Street.

Two(2) sessions are being held on 22 June 2019 (a Saturday), each lasting 45 minutes.

Each session is limited to 25 participants.

Participants must be of ages 18 and above.

Registration is necessary. Do note that registration for both sessions closed at 6.50 pm on 10 June 2019. 

Updates (info only) on the 2019 series will also be provided at this link and on The Long and Winding Road on Facebook.


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More information:





Bearing a burden through the streets of Singapore

22 01 2019

Chetty (or Punar) Pusam / Thaipusam

With a greater proportion of folks in Chinatown preoccupied its dressing-up for the Chinese New Year on Sunday, a deeply-rooted Singaporean tradition that took place in the same neighbourhood, “Chetty Pusam”, seemed to have gone on almost unnoticed.

Involving the Chettiar community, “Chetty Pusam” is held as a prelude to the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. It sees an especially colourful procession of Chettiar kavidi bearers who carry the burden from the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple on Keong Saik Road through some streets of Chinatown to the Sri Mariamman Temple and then the Central Business District before ending at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.

The procession coincides with the return leg of the Silver Chariot‘s journey. The chariot, bears Lord Murugan or Sri Thendayuthapani (in whose honour the festival of Thaipusam is held) to visit his brother Sri Vinayagar (or Ganesh) in the early morning of the eve of Thaipusam and makes its return in the same evening.


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More Photographs of Thaipusam in Singapore:






Lighting the Mid-Autumn up

6 09 2018

Lighting this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival is the story of Chinatown, as is interpreted by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee – the organisers of the annual Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival. Centred around the theme of “Our Chinatown, Our Mid-Autumn” the celebrations this year aims to recapture images of Singapore’s Ngau Cheh Sui / Gu Chia Chwee in the 1950s and 1960s as well as the lives of the Chinese immigrants in the area.

Central to the celebrations is the OfficiaL Street Light-up, which will brighten the streets of the “Greater Town” – as Chinatown was also referred to in the past in the various Chinese languages – from 8 September to 8 October 2018. The light-up features more than a thousand lanterns including a 10-metre tall centrepiece, a Chinese junk, at the meeting of New Bridge Road / Eu Tong Sen Street with Upper Cross Street. There are also some 168 sculptured lanterns depicting some of the more visible trades-people of Chinatown’s past such as Samsui women, coolies, street hawkers and rickshaw-men; as well as 1288 lanterns made to resemble paper accordion lanterns over New Bridge Road, Eu Tong Sen Street and South Bridge Road. An additional 180 hand-painted lanterns with orchids, peonies and hydrangeas will also decorate South Bridge Road.

As usual, there will also be a host of activities during the month long celebrations, the highlights of which are an attempt to set a new Singapore record for the number of oriental masks worn at the same time, the regular street bazaar, nightly stage shows – with dragon dances during the weekends, and a Mass Lantern Walk. There is also a new night event this year – the Singapore Culture and Heritage Trail – Cantonese Chapter: “Reliving the Yesteryears Once More”. Over two nights, on 21 and 22 September, participants are taken back in time to the colourful night markets of the Chinatown of old. There is a particular focus on the Cantonese, whose presence was in Chinatown and there is an opportunity to taste lost-in-time Cantonese cuisine as well as a getai.

More information at : http://chinatownfestivals.sg/.


A sneak peek at this year’s Official Street Light-up:


 





Discovering 5 Kadayanallur Street

22 06 2018

Next on the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits, being organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), is to No. 5 Kadayanallur Street on 7 July 2018. The visit is limited to 40 participants of ages 18 and above. Registration (limited to 40 participants of ages 18 and above) may be made by filling the form at this link (fully subscribed as of 1707 hrs 22 Jun 2018).

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More information:





The hospital at Mount Erskine and what may now be Singapore’s oldest lift

27 05 2018

Rather nondescript in appearance, the building at 5 Kadayanallur Street conceals a wealth of little secrets. Last used as the corporate offices of a department store in Singapore, there are few who know of the building’s chequered past and of its use as a hospital before and during the Japanese Occupation. Another interesting piece of history that the building holds is an old lift. Installed in 1929, the Smith, Major and Stevens beauty – complete with wooden panels and sets of collapsible gates – may be the oldest lift now in existence in Singapore.

The rather nondescript looking building at Kadayanallur Street – last used as CK Tang’s Coporate Offices.

The building, which has been described as Singapore’s first modernist building, was completed in 1923 as the St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital (for Women and Children). Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s Harry Robinson, the odd shape of its plan can be attributed to the site that was found to accommodate what would have been a small but very important institution. The first dedicated facility that the St. Andrew’s Mission set up – it had previously run several dispensaries, including one at Upper Cross Street with a small in-patient section – it was established to provide impoverished residents with illnesses living in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Chinatown with access to care and relief from suffering.

The inside of the building – the floor where the hospital’s staff quarters were located.

The installation of a lift – retrofitted in 1929 – was considered then to be a step forward in the treatment of children afflicted with a rare, debilitating and extremely painful tuberculosis of the bones and joints. The disease was first recorded in 1923 – the year of the hospital’s opening and in 1926, six children were hospitalised for it. The only opportunity that could be afforded for these patients to gain access to sunlight and fresh air, essential to treatment, was the roof of the building. This – due to movement of the affected limbs of the children being “painful and injurious” – would not have been possible without a lift.

The 1929 vintage Smith, Major and Stevens lift, which I believe may be the oldest now in Singapore, is still – if not for the shut-off of electrical supply – in working condition.

The hospital building was evacuated in December 1941 following an air raid and was never to be used by the mission again. The Japanese ran a civilian hospital for women and children, the Shimin Byoin, in it from April 1942. After the war, the building was used as a medical store. The Mission was only able to reopen the women and children’s hospital in January 1949 after it was able to acquire and refit the former Globe Building at Tanjong Pagar Road (some may remember the SATA Clinic there). More recently, the Kadayanallur Street building (incidentally Kadayanallur Street was only named in 1952 – after the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League) was also used as the Maxwell Road Outpatient Dispensary (from 1964 to 1998).

The roof deck that featured in the treatment of children with tuberculosis of the bones and joints.

A rare opportunity may be provided by the Singapore Land Authority to visit the building and also see the lift, through the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of guided State Property Visits, possibly sometime in July. The visit will also give participants an opportunity to discover much more on the building and the area and also of the building’s history. Do look out for further information on the visit and how and when to register on this site and also at The Long and Winding Road on Facebook.

More photographs : on Flickr.

See also: Story of a lift nearing 90 (Sunday Times, 27 May 2018)


Further information about Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:


 





Kavadis on Keong Saik

8 02 2018

In photographs: the start of the colourful procession of Chettiar kavidis from the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple on Keong Saik Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. The procession, along with a Silver Chariot procession, is held every year as part of Chetty Pusam on the eve of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.


Thaipusam in Singapore:


 





What’s crowing this Chinese New Year

6 01 2017

The highly anticipated annual Chinatown Street Light-up will be launched on Saturday 7 January 2016, kicking-off a seven-week long celebration in the precinct aimed at ushering in and celebrating the Chinese Year of the Rooster. This year’s light-up features the largest number of lanterns made for a Chinatown celebration – some 5,500 in all – including a centrepiece giant rooster that crows across the road on the divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road at the streets’  meeting with Upper Cross Street.

The 13 metre tall rooster lantern with a 100 metre long tail.

The 13 metre tall rooster lantern with long tail feathers that crows every now and then.

Designed by students from the SUTD, the LED lit lanterns along the centre divider illustrate the stages in the life of the rooster and impart life’s values through the 55 roosters, 64 hens, 134 chicks and 56 golden eggs on display. In addition to this there are also 1000 peony flower lanterns along New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street and 4,100 peach blossom lanterns, 21 peach blossom trees and 90 lanterns along South Bridge Road. The crowing rooster, the centrepiece, measures 13 metres tall, 7 metres wide and with the inclusion of its tail feathers, 100 metres in length.

Lessons from the life of the rooster - on the centre divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road.

Lessons from the life of the rooster – along the centre divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road.

Peonies over New Bridge Road.

Peonies over New Bridge Road.

Peach Blossoms over South Bridge Road.

Peach Blossoms over South Bridge Road.

In addition to the light-up, the Chinatown Chinese New Year Celebrations also feature the popular annual street bazaar, which will run from 6 to 27 January 2017. The bazaar will feature some 440 stalls, which will line Pagoda, Smith, Sago Temple and Trengganu Streets, offering festive goodies and decorations among other items and brings great atmosphere to the streets of Chinatown.

The giant rooster - seen at street level.

The giant rooster – seen at street level.

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Chickens, chickens everywhere.

There is also a youthful theme being introduced to this year’s event with YouthEats @ Temple Street and YHFlea: Come Lepark edition. YouthEats will see 12 entrepreneurs with unique food offerings, while YHFlea, being held on 14 and 15 January, is a flea market that will feature 100 local brands and independent designer. Other activities to look out for are Walking Trails being held on 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22 January at 3.30 to 5.00 pm for which pre-registration is required at www.chinatownfestivals.sg, the Official Light-up and Opening Ceremony on 7 January, Nightly Stage Shows, the International Lion Dance Competition – for which more information can be found at http://chinatownfestivals.sg/chinatown-chinese-new-year-celebrations-2017/.





The Moon Goddess descends to colour Chinatown

2 09 2016

One of my favourite times of the year as a child was the Mooncake Festival, as the Mid-Autumn Festival is commonly referred to in Singapore.  It is a time for mooncake shopping, running down to the bakery or sundry shop to buy pig-shaped pastries packed in plastic baskets resembling those commonly used then to transport live pigs, and the excitement that came with picking out a cellophane lantern from one of the colourful displays that seemed to decorate the fronts of just about every sundry shop there was found in the neighbourhood.

The Moon Goddess, Chang'e, will descend on Chinatown this Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Moon Goddess, Chang’e, will descend on Chinatown this Mid-Autumn Festival (played by a dancer who will perform at the opening ceremony on 3 September).

The festival is one I still look forward to with much anticipation. The celebration is one that at a community level seems to be celebrated on a much grander scale these days and one thing in more recent times to look out for is the colourful displays of lanterns at several events being held across Singapore. One event that always seems to draw the crowds is the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Community’s (KA-KS CCC) Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival and its colourful street light-up. The event this year returns on Saturday 3 September 2016 and will certainly not disappoint with its display of 900 hand crafted lanterns as well as a host of activities that will take visitors on a journey back to the stories at the very origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown and its annual light-up is always something to look forward to.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown and its annual light-up is always something to look forward to.

Light clouds over Chinatown this Mid-Autumn.

Magical light clouds will be seen over Chinatown this Mid-Autumn.

The centrepiece of this year’s light-up is a 12 metre high sculptured lantern. Located on the divider at the junction of Upper Cross Street with Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road, it depicts the moon deity Chang’e. It is in honour of the goddess that the festival is commemorated. The moon goddess is accompanied by three other large scale lanterns, two of which are also characters central to the folktale that serves as the basis for the festival, Hou Yi and the Jade Rabbit. The other large scale lantern is of the Moon Palace in which Chang’e resides. These can also be found along the divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road.

The 12m high Chang'e lantern.

The 12m high Chang’e lantern.

The large-scale moon palace lantern.

The large-scale moon palace lantern.

And the jade rabbit with the elixir of immortality.

And the jade rabbit with the elixir of immortality.

The characters and the Moon Palace, are also represented in a smaller scale over South Bridge Road, nestled in magical looking coloured clouds. Hou Yi, the archer, is depicted taking aim at the nine suns that folklore tells us he brought down. The act, which left us with one sun, saved the Earth from a fate that we now seem again to be threatened with.  The Jade Rabbit, is seen pounding away in the clouds. A resident of the moon, it is the rabbit who prepares the elixir of immortality, a dose of which Hou Yi was rewarded. A popular version of the tale has it that in a bid to prevent it from falling into the hands of a would be thief, Chang’e swallowed her husband’s elixir. As an immortal, she could no longer live on earth and was sent to the moon, the celestial body closest to her husband. Clouds are also seen above Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road and altogether there are about 900 lanterns, the result of a collaboration between the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and expert craftsmen from China, on display.  LED lighting is being employed for the first time, saving some 70% in energy usage. The illuminations will colour Chinatown for about a month from 3 to 30 September 2016.

Hou Yi, Chang'e's husband and the archer who shot nine or ten suns scorching the earth, also features.

Hou Yi, Chang’e’s husband and the archer who shot nine or ten suns scorching the earth, also features.

As does the moon palace and the jade rabbit.

As does the moon palace and the jade rabbit preparing the elixir of immortality.

Clouds over New Bridge Road.

Clouds over New Bridge Road.

One thing that also draws the crowds to Chinatown are the festive bazaars. For the event, the ever popular Mid-Autumn bazaar is being held. Lining Pagoda Street, Trengganu Street, Sago Street, Smith Street and the open space in front of People’s Park Complex, the bazaar is always one to soak in the festive atmosphere and crowds are expected to throng streets that will be filled with stalls that offer a range of festive goodies such as traditional mooncakes and delicacies, as well  as decorations, lanterns and much, much more. The bazaar start a day earlier on Friday 2 September, and will be held until the night of the festival proper, which falls on Thursday 15 September 2016,

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There are also many other activities to look out for, such as the popular Chinatown Mid-Autumn Walking Trail. The trail, now into its third year, is free. Registration is however required as each trail session is limited to 10 persons. Sessions will be conducted at 3.30 pm on 4, 10 and 11 September 2016 and lasts about an hour and a half. Registration, on a first-come-first-served basis, can be made at this link.

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Another popular activity is the Mass  Lantern Walk at which 3000 participants are expected. This will be held on Sunday 11 September 2016 and will follow a route around Chinatown. The walk commences at Kreta Ayer Square at 7 pm and will end at the Main Stage in front of Lucky Chinatown at New Bridge Road.

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For the first time, the event will feature a Learning Journey. This closed activity is being conducted for a group of 200 students on 10 September in an effort to have the younger ones better appreciate Chinatown and the story behind the festival. Other activities during the festive period include nightly stage shows that feature performers from Singapore and also from China and Celebrating the Moon at Chinatown Heritage Centre (normal admission charges apply). More information can be found at http://chinatownfestivals.sg/.

 

 





Spring is in the air

9 02 2016

Every eve of the Lunar New Year, we are reminded of the old Chinatown when the now sanitised streets and the annual festive bazaar that comes up in the lead up to the New Year, comes alive. Chinatown is at its most atmospheric then as crowds throng its streets in search of festive goods being disposed off at a bargain – much like it was in the days of old. The eve also sees Taoist temples getting ready for the crowds – it is customary for Chinese of the Taoist faith to visit the temple in the early hours of the New Year to offer respects to the deities. One temple that gets busy is the oldest Hokkien temple, the Thian Hock Keng, where festivities this year were accompanied by Hokkien marionette puppet shows and stilt walkers – part of a series of events for the Lunar New Year that will also see a getai held on 15 February. The temple is also holding a series of guided tours during the period, more information on which can be found at http://www.thianhockkeng.com.sg/events_2016_cny.html.

Crowds on the streets of Chinatown late on the eve of Chinese New Year in search of a bargain.

Crowds on the streets of Chinatown late on the eve of Chinese New Year in search of a bargain.

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Monkeys were everywhere.

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The Sri Mariamman hindu temple.

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Stilt walkers outside the Thian Hock Keng.

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The Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

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The puppet show stage at the Thian Hock Keng.

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Calligraphy.

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A puppeteer in action.





Pole dancing at Hong Lim Park

27 01 2016

Dressed in bright eye-catching costumes, thirteen pairs of pole dancers sent hearts racing at Hong Lim Park over the weekend. The dancers, all of whom demonstrated great skill, strength and coordination, were participating in the 9th International Lion Dance Competition being held over two evenings as part of Chinatown Celebrates Chinese New Year 2016.

The winning lion - from China's Foshan Huang Feihong Memorial Hall, in action.

The winning lion – from China’s Foshan Huang Feihong Memorial Hall, in action.

The competition, which attracted thirteen teams from China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, required each pair of lion dancers to perform rather dangerous looking stunts atop “plum blossom poles” or meihuazhuang (梅花桩).

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The second placed lion form Taiwan’s Changxing Master Lu’s Lion and Dragon Dance troupe.

China’s Foshan Huang Feihong Memorial Hall (佛山黄飞鸿纪念馆) took first place with a score of 9.4 points, edging out Taiwan’s Changxing Master Lu’s Lion and Dragon Dance troupe (台湾长兴吕师父龍獅团) who scored 9.31 points.


More photographs

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Colours of Singapore: Chinatown Celebrates Chinese New Year

17 01 2016

Photographs from yesterday’s launch of Chinatown Celebrates Chinese New Year 2016 and Light-up at New Bridge Road. The especially colourful event, which was graced by President Tony Tan Keng Yam, officially opened the Chinatown Celebrates Chinese New Year more information on which can be found in a previous post: Monkeys, monkeys everywhere.

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