I recently joined an organised walking tour run by The Original Singapore Walks company. I'd actually wanted to go on one of their walks for quite a while and when, via Twitter and some mutual contacts, it was suggested that we go on one of them I jumped at the chance to join.
We joined the tour called, 'Red Clogs Down the Five Foot Way' which centred around Chinatown. I actually went on the walk just before Chinese New Year (so a little while ago now) which made it even better as we additionally got to see a little bit more of the build up to the festivities. It could not be easier to join this walk or indeed any of them, depending on which one you want to go on the meeting point for that walk will be clearly given on the website and you pay the guide when you meet. Advance reservations are recommended for some of the tours but again the tour details will clearly state this and anything else you need to be aware of before joining your chosen walk. For our particular walk we met at Tanjong Pagar MRT and the walk finished close to Chinatown MRT.
I thoroughly enjoyed the morning, which as well as walking around some of the main areas of Chinatown, also took us to a temple, a traditional Chinese medicine shop and a wet market. The guide was full of interesting snippets of information not necessarily written down in every guide book you'll find. For example, that you should always step over the large step you'll find at the door to a temple (and never step on to it). Some people believe that by doing that, as you will generally have to look down as you do so to ensure you do not trip you are bowing your head in appropriate greeting as you enter. Also that the lions you see guarding temples and other buildings (which always come in pairs) are always male and female. The female will be identifiable as she'll always have a cub with her and the female will always be on the right (as you look out of the building that the lions are guarding) and the male will be on the left. For me it is these types of fascinating little extra details that really make a tour special and worthwhile paying for.
As I mentioned we got taken to a traditional Chinese medicine shop and had the opportunity to browse and buy if we wanted to. I didn't feel though as if this were being done simply for the purpose of us shopping there. The guide made it clear that she and her colleagues in no way benefited from taking us there and simply asked that as the shop owners were kind enough to let us view their shop if we felt we wanted to buy anything that we perhaps consider doing so at their shops. Unlike tours that I've been on in other countries where it has been a case of taking you to a traditional shop with the idea of it simply being that you'll buy things, the guide/shop being on some form of commission for the visit and as a visitor not actually learning anything about what goes on there. This then made a refreshing change. Whilst we were there both the owner of the shop and the guide told us a lot of information about the traditions and importance of Chinese medicine, again with the kind of details you'll not necessarily find in a guide book.
|Traditional Chinese Medicine Shop|
We were shown good places to get food in the Chinatown area (I've just got to remember them now to go back), including one noodle shop where the owner hand makes all his noodles to order. As well as shops that sell the paper offerings for absolutely anything you can think of that we use in our everyday day to day lives. This is for the relatives of the deceased to buy and burn for their loved ones to help them in the next life. Absolutely fascinating to me as shops like this are just not seen in the UK. Even now little discoveries like that remind me that I really do live somewhere that, although in some ways so Westernised in other ways is so completely different.
Equally it was interesting to observe how much now just seems normal to me especially at the wet market, where the guide told us before we went in that the items being sold were not being sold as pets. Obvious to me now but not necessarily so if you were a tourist visiting on a holiday. I should add at this point that it was only frogs and a whole host of different types of fish and seafood being sold. However it really struck me how fascinated those on the tour, who were obviously just visiting Singapore, found it all and how accepting I have become of sights just like this.
It was a fascinating morning packed full of interesting information and details. It made me want to sample some of the other tours that have been on the 'to do' list all the more.
|Fish Heads at the Chinatown Complex Wet Market|