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?



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Colonial Changi – a virtual tour

8 11 2020

Join me on a virtual tour of Colonial Changi (including Old Changi Hospital) during Temasek Polytechnic’s Global Community Day, from 9 to 15 November 2020 (public virtual tours available on 15 November at this link).

The former RAF Hospital Changi – a point of interest on the virtual tour.

Changi, a promontory at the eastern tip of the main island of Singapore is marked in maps that date back to the early seventeenth century. It is however, its development during the colonial era that is perhaps most significant. That saw its transformation from a remote, forested and swampy corner of the island into one of Britain’s most important air bases after the second world war.

Pagar Beach

While a large portion of the area is today used by the air force as an air base, for leisure and recreation, there is much that exists that tells us the story of colonial Changi development. A wealth of information does in fact exist in structures still around such as former barrack blocks, former holiday homes, and purpose-built military residences as well as objects, sites and geographical features.

Married Soldiers’ Quarters – developed as part of Changi’s militarisation

The virtual tour will trace Changi’s development from a village and recreational retreat through the 1800s into the early 1900s into a military cantonment — that featured in the early part of the Japanese Occupation during the Second World War as an Prisoner-of-War camp — and beyond that into a principal air base and the aviation hub that is well-known today.

More information can be obtained at this link.