Singapore’s Open Secrets: Chinatown

When I hear that Singapore is “small,” I keep smiling to myself.

Is some 400 parks small? Or 150 km of park connectors? Or incredible variety of cultures, peoples, architectural styles, and cuisines?

Geography is not a destiny. It’s an opportunity to look deep, and not just wide.

In this regard, Singapore’s Chinatown is incredible. Pardon – Singcredible.

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What is special about UOB Plaza in Raffles Place?

There is a historical Moulana Mohamed Ali Mosque in the basement of the Plaza, right in the Central Business District.

The Mosque adjoins the Market street which hosted a fish market – Singapore’s first market – and many double storey shophouses inhabited mostly by moneylenders. Two of such shophouses were purchased by concerned residents to serve as place of worship in the middle of the fast-growing trading district.

In 1982 UOB (United Overseas Bank) reached an agreement to exchange these two shophouses for the present site underground.

I walked by several times but never noticed the Mosque until a fantastic walking tour organized by a professor of design & architecture at NUS.

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What is the relationship between Samsung, sugar cane, and Lee Kuan Yew?

Samsung C&T office at the crossing of Church and Telok Ayer streets used to be a site of the “Heap Eng Moh Steamship Co Ltd.,” a shipping company owned by a Chinese Indonesian tycoon Oei Tiong Ham known as “sugar king.” The company was part of Oei Tiong Ham’s business empire formed largely through acquiring sugar factories in Java.

The Managing Director of “Heap Eng Moh Steamship” was Lee Hoon Leong, the grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee Hoon Leong is buried at the historical Bukit Brown cemetery.

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Amoy street in Chinatown was presumably named after the early Hokkien immigrants who arrived from Amoy, a port in Fujian Province, China.

Since the seafront was close then (the parallel Telok Ayer street was used for docking boats), Amoy had business to meet the needs of the sailors.

What did the sailors crave?

Opium and women.

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Rainbow at Amoy street:

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Murals in Chinatown: blending tradition and modernity:

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Telok Ayer street in Chinatown breathes with history.

One of the hidden gems is a blue building which hosts the Musical Box Museum. Originally this place, known as “Chong-Wen Ge,” was the first education institution set up by the Chinese community in Singapore. It is located next to Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple.

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Built in the 1970s, People’s Park Complex represents two architectural styles: Asian modernism and British brutalism. It consists of two parts: a lower podium of shopping space and a residential complex above. The former is famous for the shared public area at the rooftop carpark; the latter is infamous for frequent lift breakdowns.

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In front of the Bloomberg Tradebook broker agency at the crossing of Telok Ayer and Church streets there is a fountain. The fountain is at the opposite end of the line which leads to the Boat Quay nearby. The energy which emanates from the waters of the Boat Quay is thus transferred to the fountain to ensure better trading.

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Old and new, traditional and modern, past and present co-exist, intermingle, and inter-penetrate in Singapore.

Yueh Hai Ching, Singapore’s oldest Teochew temple, is located in the heart of the Central Business District. Built in the 1850s, the temple was developed out of a shrine set up by Chinese sailors and merchants to gratify Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea.

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Gods and business live side by side:

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It feels like flying on top of the Pinnacle residential complex (50th storey) close to Chinatown:

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Let life be full of colours!

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The Turtle and the Lotus Flower

Everyone rushes and makes a fuss around

Only the turtle stays firm on the ground

Calm as Buddha, enjoying the sun

That’s the meaning of life, that’s real fun.

Only the turtle and the lotus flower

Colour as joy, beauty as power

Being – not having, this is how

Comes the magic of here and now.

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Photo courtesy: from a beautiful person in a beautiful Japanese Garden of Singapore. 

Your Portrait

I saw an angel, of that I am sure …

Sparkling eyes – deeper than the deepest sea

Flexible body – bending like a willow tree

Open mind, taste refined

And a heart of gold – the one you rarely find.

Gentle hands – warm like an ocean tide

Beautiful face reflects richness inside

Sweet smile – natural like a poem rhyme

And shining, shining all the time.

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Veteran Sparring: Taekwon-do Tenets in Action

Young martial artists and sportsmen can learn a lot from “veterans.”

I love the below sparring final video from the 2016 World Cup (Budapest) for two reasons.

First, you can clearly see how the opponents respect each either despite high stakes. After all, this was a fight for the champion title. This is what courtesy is about – the first tenet of taekwondo.

Second, the master from Argentina managed to literally squeeze out the victory six seconds before the match end. He demonstrated a true indomitable spirit – another tenet of taekwondo.

A great example of tenets in action.

Xin chao, Hanoi: Flower Garden (day 5)

The previous night a local girl advised me to visit Vườn Hoa Bách Hợp. I call it “The Flower Garden”. So this is where I went during my last day in Hanoi.

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At the entrance of the garden. a local guy tried ripping me off asking 50 000 for a ticket. I asked him to give me the ticket first. As I expected, he didn’t have any; apparently, he wanted to earn cash on a dumb tourist :). So I entered the garden for free with confidence.

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Beautiful cherry blossom.

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Let there be music!

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A heart of flowers.

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Snowhite.

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Snow and blood.

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Children having fun.

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“I am the Queen of Vietnam!”

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Wow!

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Life is a colourful adventure.

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After a fascinating experience at the Flower Garden, I stopped by at the Tran Quoc Pagoda at the West Lake. As I expected, it was packed with tourists. Phu Tay Ho was much better.

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At the entrance of the pagoda.

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Communism and religion? 🙂

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Beautoful mini-altar.

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Riding a motorbike through the green tunnel at Phan Dinh Phung street is a special feeling.

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Ngoc Son Temple on the Hoan Kiem Lake.

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The turtle preserved in the glass box in was one of the four old turtles living in the Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s more than 2 metres long, and weighs 250 kg. For Vietnamese, the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake is holy because it is linked with the legend of King Le Loi, who returned the magic sword to the turtle deity in Hoan Kiem Lake after defeating foreign invaders. This is why the lake is called “The Lake of the Sword Returned.”

For Vietnamese, the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake is holy because it is linked with the legend of King Le Loi, who returned the magic sword to the turtle deity in Hoan Kiem Lake after defeating foreign invaders. This is why the lake is called “The Lake of the Sword Returned.”

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Game passion.

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The old and the new flags of Vietnam.

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The golden turtle is also depicted at the entrance of the Ngoc Son Temple. The temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao (who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century), La To (patron saint of physicians) and the scholar Van Xuong.

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Yes, life is about having fun!

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Another “touristc” atttraction: St. Joseph Cathedral.

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What’s so special about this grey buidling? Buddhist pagodas in Myanmar and Vietnam are much brighter.

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Vietnamese women are like angels: they don’t have wings, but they fly on motorbikes. Men must be cautious in Vietnam – it’s easy to fall in love.  

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One, two, three!

Later in the afternoon I was sitting at the lake and talking to Vietnamese students. During my whole stay in Hanoi the students approached me several times asking to practice English with them.

I would go out to the Lake later at night also to have a last feel of this wonderful city. For now, it’s time to say good-bye to incredible Vietnam.

Xin chao, Ba Vi

Ba Vi is a national park located around 60 km away from Hanoi. I went there during the 4th day of my stay in the capital.

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At the entrance of Ba Vi.

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Beautoful Ho Cua Lake.

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Old Vietnamese flags and the forest trail.

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Such a contrast with Hanoi: forest, hills, birds, and fresh air.

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Going deeper into the forest.

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A mini altar made out of stone.

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Natural tree gate.

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This is actually made of metal, but looks like from wood.

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Another breathtaking view of the lake. 

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Following the trail in the resort area.

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A restaurant seemed ike a fairy tale.

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My charming co-traveller from Hanoi.

Ba Vi is a great natural spot to get away from the noise and hustle-bustle of Hanoi. I  learned about it only thanks to a local person. Another great day!

Xin chao, Hanoi (day 3)

Today I continued exploring Hanoi with a motorbike. The highlights include the Phu Tay Ho Pagoda, Botanical Garden, Temple of Literature, and Peace Park.

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Phu Tay Ho is located at the West Lake (Ho Tay) in the centre of Hanoi.

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Locals fishing next to the pagoda.

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Very calm and peaceful in the morning.

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The pagoda and the tree.

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The fruit and the dragon welcome visitors.

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Inside the temple.

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Seafood :).

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Fruit garden in the temple area.

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What a cute architectural design!

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Spot for praying.

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This tree is gorgeous.

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People praying. It’s unbelievable, but I was the only foreigner at this serene place. I just sat next to the water and enjoyed the atmosphere. Why do tourists go to touristic places only?

In Saigon someone told me there is not much to do in Hanoi. I was also told I must try some local dish, the name of which I didn’t bother to remember.

This is the difference between tourism and travelling. You can do what TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet tell you, go on guided tours, and treat cuisine as the only experience worth of trying.

Isn’t this another face of consumerism and conformism?

Or you can raise your middle finger towards all reviews, and try out yourself: go to less known places, get lost in the city, use gestures to communicate with the locals.

When in Hanoi, do no go to Tran Quoc Pagoda. Go to Phu Tay Ho. Or go to both to feel the difference.

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After visiting the fantastic Phu Tay Ho, I took a walk in the Botanical Garden. I didn’t find it special, but it was nice to dive into a green oasis in the middle of Hanoi. And you can do sports there too :).

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Walking among the trees.

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Lake in the garden.

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Cute path.

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My next stop was the Temple of Literature. The man at the motor bike parking marked my bike with chalk :). 

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The Temple of Literature, or the Temple of Confucius, is the first and oldest university in Vietnam founded in 1076 (!). Chinese culture had a big influence on Vietnam (which doesn’t stop the Vietnamese from disliking the Chinese :)).

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The architecture has an old imperial style.

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Marvellous place despite an overwhelming number of tourists.

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Inside the Temple.

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Once I stepped away from a more crowded touristic zone, I was rewarded with a concert of traditional Vietnamese music.

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Having local cuisine for lunch.

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View to the lake on the way to the Peace Park.

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I found the Peace Park vast and empty. 

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Zero foreigners. That’s good!

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Perhaps the park was quite empty as it’s quite far. It took me about an hour by motorbike to get there. And on the way back I experienced an unforgettable Hanoi traffic jam :).