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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