Well Hello Singapore … Chinatown

Published: May 7th 2018


Woolly says – I woke to bright blue skies without a cloud in sight, having lost an hour on yesterday’s journey, I had checked everywhere in the room and suggested that we spent the day looking for it, Jo just laughed and told me that it was gone, and we had to manage without it, I felt lost without that extra hour in bed! The streets of Singapore where quiet, exceptionally clean and the whole place felt very bright, immense skyscrapers rose above my head as we disappeared into the depths of the metro system. Singapore or as it’s officially known, the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign city state and island country in Southeast Asia. Stamford Raffles founded colonial Singapore in 1819 as a trading post for the British East India Company and the island was ceded to the British Raj as a crown colony until it gained independence in 1963. During the Second World War the country was occupied by Japan and didn’t have a great time with the situation, today it has a thriving economy and a growing population and was ripe to be explored by a mammoth.

Because of it’s size we had tried to split the city into small chunks in an attempt to cover as much as possible and our starting point was the Chinese quarter.

Woolly says – The metro was a doddle and within minutes we were climbing the steps back into the sunshine and heading towards our first destination. Baba House is a museum showcasing Peranakan history, Jo had tried to book online through there very badly designed website and although we had an order number we had no idea of quite what to expect. Having to be there by 10am I galloped along the pavements enjoying the shade the tree lined roads offered which a quick check of the map every now and then, it actually proved far easier than I thought and as I waited at the gate for the women to arrive I read through a notice that was pinned to a board, I sighed, no photographs or filming were allowed which wasn’t a great start to the day, things didn’t improve as Jo spoke to the tour leader who told us that the tour was in Malaysian! I looked up at my sweaty companion and wondered if this was going to alter things….it did, one refund later and we went and sat in a small café to check our map and move swiftly to plan B.

For the cost of the tickets it didn’t seem worth it when we wouldn’t understand a word and get nothing from it, so with a lot of dollars saved we enjoyed our drinks and set off to find a tooth!

Woolly says – As we neared China Town, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum was impossible to miss in amongst the huge buildings that surrounded it, I just hoped it wouldn’t be as crowded as the one we had visited in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The temple was started in March 2005 and cost S$62 million, taking two years to construct and making it the youngest temple we have been to. The tooth for which it was built is claimed to be a relic of Buddha which was found in 1980 in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar. The design was in keeping with modern Chinese architecture and even hosted an underground carpark which is another first for us. The entrance hall alone was a wow factor with hundreds of lanterns hanging from the ceiling and Buddha’s surrounding the walls each fronted by a character from the Chinese calendar, Jo and Zoe excitedly searched for the rooster and dragon that are there years while I choose to enter the main hall. It was breath taking and even better we had arrived while a service was in progress, rather than being told to leave a nice monk waved me over to a corner so I could observe the offerings and listen to the incantations that the assembly were making, it was incredible. The large Buddha that was seated at the front of the hall was one of the finest and as I gazed around me more and more details meet my eyes. The ceiling was wonderful and the wall surroundings incredible, words nearly failed me, as the women joined me we stood and watched the proceedings for a while.

The temple was a first in so many ways and once we had soaked up the atmosphere to our satisfaction we quietly left the hall and headed up the stairs to have a look at the museum.

Woolly says – The museum told us how the building had been designed and which methods and materials had been used for its construction, also on show were artefacts that had been collected since the arrival of the Chinese to the city. It was a treasure trove of delights and having taken our fill we made our way back outside and into the streets of China Town itself. Orange lanterns lined the roads with the frontages above the shops showing us wonderful and colourful shuttered windows. The shops had so much tourist tat it was a feast of red with small miniatures of the Chinese dragons and t shirts by the lorry load, having found the area known as Food Street, we noted it’s location and carried on through. Although the area is known as China town it isn’t exclusive and as we stood in front of the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, it was wonderful to see all the painted characters that we had grown to love in India as well as countless numbers of Nandi’s. It was founded in 1827 by Naraina Pillai, eight years after the East India Company established a trading settlement in Singapore. Pillai was a government clerk from Penang who arrived in Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles on his second visit to the island in May 1819, he went on to set up the island’s first construction company and also entered the textile trade and became a leader of the Indian community.

With nothing to cover our shoulders we instead stood admiring the ceilings and art work before moving on.

Woolly says – Having passed another batch of tourist shop we finally found our next place of interest. The Chinatown Heritage Centre traces the footsteps of Singapore’s early pioneers who had started to arrive in the early eighteen hundreds and has recreated living conditions of the original interiors of its shophouse tenants in the 1950s. With our tickets in our pockets and headphones suitably adjusted we stepped back in time, our first stop was to the shop front which had belonged to a tailor, the shop front and work room reminded me of the Black country museum, that however was were the similarity ended and as we mounted the stairs we found ourselves in a world of one room living where the kitchen and small toilet was shared by over forty people. The audio guide told us about each family or group of people that had inhabited the small areas which I would have struggled to get all my clothes in let alone a family of eight! From rickshaw drivers to coolies that had not only shared rooms but shared beds to keep their cost of living down, to a clog maker and seamstress who had a family of six children to control in a space smaller than your average bathroom, how is any’s guess but given that there was little choice they just had to get on with it. The floor above us gave us information on how people had migrated to the city and told of the horrors of the opium dens and brothels which had once lined the streets outside, it was fascinating. With education non-existent people who could write were in great demand as letter writers and the tapes told us how gradually the children had started to receive some formal teaching.

The guides were really informative but after a while I had tired of listening and took to reading the information boards instead.

Woolly says – I thought my luck was in when I found a whole box of beautiful looking egg tarts which had become famous in the area, sadly having poked and prodded them I realised that they weren’t edible. We wandered through an area which gave us changing pictures of how things would have looked in the 50’s compared to the view that we would see now with the development of the high rise block. The tour then let us down to the ground floor and informed us about death in that time and that many of the shop fronts outside had in fact been set up with beds for people to die in, this was stopped in the 60’s when public feeling dictated that people needed to be in hospital not as part of a tourist attraction which had started to happen. Having handed back our head sets we set off through the colourful streets once again looking up to admire the lovely buildings and looking forward to tucking into a plate of something Chinese.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *