Singapore's Chinatown and the Chinatown Heritage Centre

Updated on December 22, 2017
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.

Traditional Costume Worn By Stars of Chinese Opera

Costumes on display at the Chinese Heritage Centre, Singapore
Costumes on display at the Chinese Heritage Centre, Singapore | 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.

Images of Singapore’s Chinatown

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The 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
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
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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

Coconut water can replace the electrolytes that are lost from the body through excessive perspiration
Coconut water can replace 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

Chinese Lanterns, artifacts, and souvenirs
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)

Reconstructed Shophouse in Singapore's Chinatown Heritage Centre

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A Chinese tailor occupied the ground floor of this shophouseSuit 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 skylightThe lavatory at the rear of the building Outside is a small yard
A Chinese tailor occupied the ground floor of this shophouse
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

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The Third Floor of the Chinatown Heritage Centre

On the third floor the journey of early Chinese pioneers who left their villages in China and made their way to Nanyang, the southern seas. They were 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.

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 Chinese Artist and Calligrapher in Singapore's Chinatown

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Prices for a hand-painted personalised scroll start at S$15
Source
Prices for a hand-painted personalised scroll start at S$15
Prices for a hand-painted personalised scroll start at S$15 | Source
show route and directions
A markerChinatown Heritage Centre -
48 Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207
get directions

A museum in three lovingly renovated shophouses.

B markerChinatown MRT Station -
151 New Bridge Road 91 Upper Cross Street Singapore 059443/058362 New Bridge Rd, Singapore 059443
get directions

Chinatown in the 1950s

© 2017 GlenR

Comments

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  • Glenis Rix profile image
    Author

    GlenR 5 weeks 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 5 weeks 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 5 weeks 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 image
    Author

    GlenR 6 weeks 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 6 weeks ago from Tennessee

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

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 6 weeks 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 6 weeks 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.