Singapore's Chinatown and the Chinese Heritage Centre

Updated on July 4, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

In November 2017, the writer flew from London Heathrow to Singapore to visit family who had been living an ex-pat life there for two years.

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A Chinese Artist and Calligrapher in Singapore's ChinatownPrices for a hand-painted personalised scroll start at S$15
A Chinese Artist and Calligrapher in Singapore's Chinatown
A Chinese Artist and Calligrapher in Singapore's Chinatown | Source
Prices for a hand-painted personalised scroll start at S$15
Prices for a hand-painted personalised scroll start at S$15 | Source

A Top Tourist Attraction in Singapore

Enter the world of Chinatown, Singapore, where the senses are awakened by the colourful sights, the sounds, and the aromas that are central to the lives of Chinese Singaporeans. There is much to see and experience—the open-fronted shops selling exotic fruits, coconut water to drink from a freshly opened shell, Chinese lanterns, and traditional dress, the artists who will draw a personalised scroll in minutes, and much more. One of the astonishing and unmissable stopping-off points is the Chinatown Heritage Centre, a highly recommended museum of Chinese arts and culture in three renovated shophouses.

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Images of Singapore’s ChinatownThe exit from the MRT station on to Pagoda Street Step out of the MRT station and stroll a short distance to the Chinese Heritage Centre on the left-hand side of Pagoda Street.A traditional three-storey building in Chinatown
Images of Singapore’s Chinatown
Images of Singapore’s Chinatown | Source
The exit from the MRT station on to Pagoda Street
The exit from the MRT station on to Pagoda Street | Source
Step out of the MRT station and stroll a short distance to the Chinese Heritage Centre on the left-hand side of Pagoda Street.
Step out of the MRT station and stroll a short distance to the Chinese Heritage Centre on the left-hand side of Pagoda Street. | Source
A traditional three-storey building in Chinatown
A traditional three-storey building in Chinatown | Source
Source

Refreshing Coconut Water Drunk From the Shell

It's hot and humid. Pause to buy coconut water, prepared for you on the spot, and refresh yourself with the cooling drink within the shell. It's an acquired taste but don't miss the opportunity to try it. The taste of packaged coconut water can't compare. Once you have drunk the water, you may feel the urge to carry the coconut to a convenient location, break open the shell, and scoop out the healthful coconut flesh.

Coconut water has many health benefits, including replacing the electrolytes that are lost from the body through excessive perspiration.
Coconut water has many health benefits, including replacing the electrolytes that are lost from the body through excessive perspiration. | Source

Durian Fruit

But hurry past the stalls that are selling durian fruit. The flesh of this spiny fruit is prized in much of South East Asia but the smell has been compared to sewage and rotting flesh. It smells so bad that it is banned on Singapore's rail network and there may be a hefty fine for taking it on board.

Durian Fruit, considered by some a delicious treat, on sale in Singapore's Chinatown
Durian Fruit, considered by some a delicious treat, on sale in Singapore's Chinatown | Source
One of the many open-front shops in Singapore's Chinatown selling Chinese lanterns, artifacts, and souvenirs.
One of the many open-front shops in Singapore's Chinatown selling Chinese lanterns, artifacts, and souvenirs. | Source

Chinatown Heritage Centre, Singapore

The Chinatown Heritage Centre is housed in three restored shophouses, where the tailor's workshop, his downstairs living quarters, and the first-floor rental accommodation have been faithfully reconstructed from the personal memories of early pioneers who made Singapore their home.

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The Chinese heritage museum, Singapore, housed in three beautifully restored shophouse.Narrow frontage to the street and depth towards a small external yard Source: Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
The Chinese heritage museum, Singapore, housed in three beautifully restored shophouse.
The Chinese heritage museum, Singapore, housed in three beautifully restored shophouse. | Source
Narrow frontage to the street and depth towards a small external yard Source: Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
Narrow frontage to the street and depth towards a small external yard Source: Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Reconstructed Shophouse in Singapore's Chinatown Heritage Centre. A Chinese tailor occupied the ground floor of this shophouse.Suit fabrics were specially woven for a tropical climate. Chinese tailors were and are renowned for their craftmanship. The Museum guide told me that, nowadays, with modern techniques, a suit can be produced in less than twenty-four hours.The Tailor's Cutting Table The Tailor's Treadle Sewing MachineThe cubicle where the tailor, his wife and his children sleptThe only source of light at the back of the shophouse is this skylight.The lavatory at the rear of the building outside is a small yard.
Reconstructed Shophouse in Singapore's Chinatown Heritage Centre. A Chinese tailor occupied the ground floor of this shophouse.
Reconstructed Shophouse in Singapore's Chinatown Heritage Centre. A Chinese tailor occupied the ground floor of this shophouse. | Source
Suit fabrics were specially woven for a tropical climate. Chinese tailors were and are renowned for their craftmanship. The Museum guide told me that, nowadays, with modern techniques, a suit can be produced in less than twenty-four hours.
Suit fabrics were specially woven for a tropical climate. Chinese tailors were and are renowned for their craftmanship. The Museum guide told me that, nowadays, with modern techniques, a suit can be produced in less than twenty-four hours. | Source
The Tailor's Cutting Table
The Tailor's Cutting Table | Source
The Tailor's Treadle Sewing Machine
The Tailor's Treadle Sewing Machine | Source
The cubicle where the tailor, his wife and his children slept
The cubicle where the tailor, his wife and his children slept | Source
The only source of light at the back of the shophouse is this skylight.
The only source of light at the back of the shophouse is this skylight. | Source
The lavatory at the rear of the building outside is a small yard.
The lavatory at the rear of the building outside is a small yard. | Source

The tailor's downstairs living quarters were comparatively comfortable viewed in the light of the first floor tiny cubicles rented out to people who had left their homeland for Singapore with the hope of finding a better life. Sometimes a whole family ate and slept in a tiny windowless space barely large enough for one person. People lived in these crowded, unsanitary and rat-infested conditions until as late as the early 1950s.

The Reconstructed Doctor's Surgery in the Chinatown Heritage Museum

The front cubicle of the shophouse was occupied by a doctor, who had fallen on hard times. His consulting room was also the place where he, his wife and two of his children ate and slept.The cubicle is superior to the others on the floor inasmuch as it has air and natural light from a shuttered window overlooking the street. A hole in the floor, which overhung the paved area at the front of the shophouse, enabled the doctor to look down to the ground to see who was visiting him.

A third child, the eldest daughter, was boarded in the cubicle of another resident. Her father's surgery has been faithfully reconstructed from her memories.

The doctor's cramped quarters. Here he practised medicine. and  ate and slept with his wife and two of his three children
The doctor's cramped quarters. Here he practised medicine. and ate and slept with his wife and two of his three children | Source
The Doctor's Possessions
The Doctor's Possessions | Source

The Third Floor of the Chinatown Heritage Centre

On the third floor the history of the Chinese population in Singapore is depicted in photographs, video and costume.The early pioneers left their villages in China driven by famine, floods and unrest, and came to Singapore looking to build a better life.

In 2017, 74.2% of the 5,736,494 population of Singapore are Chinese Singaporeans.

Traditional Costumes Worn By Stars of Chinese Opera on Display at the Chinese Heritage Centre, Singapore
Traditional Costumes Worn By Stars of Chinese Opera on Display at the Chinese Heritage Centre, Singapore | Source

Chinatown in the 1950s

Admission Prices to the Chinatown Heritage Museum

Adults - $15 (Singapore dollars)
Child - $11 (Singapore dollars)

Guided Tours take place at 11.30, 1.30, and 4.30 on weekdays. Price $20 (adult) and $16 (child)

A
Chinatown Heritage Centre:
48 Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207

get directions

A museum in three lovingly renovated shophouses.

B
Chinatown MRT Station:
151 New Bridge Road 91 Upper Cross Street Singapore 059443/058362 New Bridge Rd, Singapore 059443

get directions

Many people from the UK visit Australia or New Zealand to visit family who have migrated. There is an ideal opportunity to break a tiring journey by spending a few days in Singapore en route. It is such a beautiful place with so much to see that it would be a pity to miss the chance to visit.

Flights from London to Singapore take approximately 14 hours.

Singapore to Sidney - 8 hours 20 minutes

Singapore to Perth - 5 hour 15 minute flight

Singpore to Auckland - 10 hours 58 minutes


Questions & Answers

    © 2017 GlenR

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      9 months ago from UK

      Thanks for visiting Peggy. There are very few Chinese familes in the small town where I live so visiting Chinatown in Singapore was an exceptional cultural experience for me.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for this look at how Chinatown in Singapore appears. We have a Chinatown here in Houston which is more spread out in area. I have briefly visited the Chinatown in San Francisco and on Vancouver Island. They are all interesting places to visit.

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      12 months ago from UK

      Cedric Yong. I agree. Would love to return sometime. My family were lucky enough to see New Year celebrations.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Kuan Leong Yong 

      12 months ago from Singapore

      This is one of the most fascinating parts of Singapore. Even we locals flock to it regularly, for the food and esp during Chinese New Year. :)

    • Claire-louise profile image

      Claire Raymond 

      12 months ago from UK

      Wow! That is not a lot of room for a doctor and his children! It all looks amazing though!

    • Glenis Rix profile imageAUTHOR

      GlenR 

      12 months ago from UK

      Ann, I was unable to fit in everything that I wanted to see in Singapore. I would love to go back but it seems unlikely to happen, as the family will be repatriated early in March. Also, it was a very tiring trip - I should have gone there when I was younger and fitter.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      12 months ago from Tennessee

      Sounds like a fascinating place to visit, Glenis. Well done.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      12 months ago from SW England

      Looks absolutely great and the history is fascinating.

      We went to Singapore quite a few years ago and didn't have time to do Chinatown but if we do go again then I'll make an effort to fit it in.

      Thanks for information, Glenis.

      Ann

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      12 months ago from Norfolk, England

      How lovely! I'd love to visit China. I'm not sure I'd want to use that lavatory though lol.

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