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14 September 2010

Lost in Chinatown

Yesterday saw me return to Chinatown again to visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre, based right in the hustle and bustle of it all.

Stupidly (and I probably shouldn't admit this seeing as I was there on the Saturday) I got lost getting there!  Yes I don't know how I managed it either particularly as the centre is just a stone's throw from the MRT station!  In my defence when I arrived I must have missed the exit I needed which would have meant I'd have found it with no problems and instead I left by a different exit.  A bit like when you go to Piccadilly or Leicester Square tube stations, I'm not sure I ever managed to leave by the exit I really needed to ever!  So rather than look at the map I always carry with me for situations like this, or indeed backtracking back down into the MRT to find the right exit.  I decided I wasn't far away from where I needed to be so I'd be able to find somewhere I would recognise or indeed if I kept walking would surely walk round the MRT station and find the exit I had actually needed.  There in was the second problem in that my terrible sense of direction took me in the opposite direction from where I should have been going!  So I kept walking past a food court and various shops desperately hoping I'd see a road name I recognised or indeed another entrance to the MRT.  In the end when I came to a more residential area I realised I was totally in the wrong place and perhaps I did need to look at that map after all.  When I eventually found where I was I couldn't believe how far I'd managed to walk and it meant backtracking to where I'd started and walking in the opposite direction.  Sure enough when I did that I soon found the parts of Chinatown I know and within no time the exit I had meant to come out of and then the centre!!  Perhaps next time I won't be so proud to get the map out after all!

The centre itself is based within three shophouses and charts the arrival of Chinese immigrants to Singapore who were looking for a better life and the journey they endured to get here.  The conditions they were forced to work and live in around Chinatown once they had arrived, including details of the clans that many of the Chinese immigrants joined and the vices that were prevalent at the time, eg. drinking, gambling, the brothels and opium smoking.  A further section then covers what is described as the 'golden years' of Chinatown in the early 1950s when the residents and Chinatown itself prospered and the whole lifestyle that was and still is embraced by the Chinese immigrants.  The final part of the exhibition then takes you through a recreation of what the shophouses would have looked like in the time when tiny cubicles would have been rented out in the upper levels of the shophouses to different tradespeople and families and what the lower part of the shophouse would have looked like which at that time housed a tailor's workshop, shop and living quarters.  The exhibition had many first hand accounts from former residents of the area including those who had lived in that shophouse at the time period of their reconstruction.  It was a fascinating exhibition and well worth a visit.

Mock up of a shophouse kitchen in the Chinatown Heritage Centre

Asides from this another thing currently going on in Singapore is the Mid-Autumn festival.  I've seen adverts for it around Singapore and at the weekend we stumbled across part of it whilst on our way to meet some friends for a few drinks in the late afternoon.  There were huge blow up animals representing all the different animals that make up the different Chinese new years, i.e. the tiger, horse, pig etc. and I understand the festival is for lunar worship and moon watching and from what we could see there seemed to be a whole host of stalls selling lots of different types of food and specifically something called moon cakes.  I wasn't sure what they were but having investigated a bit more I understand that people exchange these cakes to honour the fall of the Mongol Empire who, according to legend, plotted by means of messages secreted in cakes.  The cakes are on sale in supermarkets and various places at the moment and I think I need to buy some to try for myself!

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