Sunday, April 23, 2006

Chinatown Night Walk

As promised on one of my recent posts, I shall post about the tour (Secrets of the Red Lantern) that I have went on recently.

When Kunstemaecker was visiting Singapore last December, he had the pleasure to visit Chinatown. As such, I suppose some of the scenes that I would share later may not be unfamiliar to him.

Prior to the tour, I went to one of these shops to try a bowl of dessert. My friend, Mystic, told me it sells pretty good dessert.

Meantime, maybe Simple American could read on to decide if the tour was indeed as "romantic" as its name would sound. *winks*


The Secrets of the Red Lantern very much unravels why Chinatown was also known as Bu Ye Tian (in Mandarin) – The Place of Nightless Days.

To quote from the publicity material for the tour:
In 1887, the brothels in Chinatown were as many and as close together as the teeth of a comb. Combine that with the proliferation of opium and gambling dens, it was sin city.

If you would have guessed it right, the tour is a heritage tour that lends us insights to how life in Chinatown was like in the past, with a focus on what was quoted earlier.

To respect the copyrights of Journeys Pte Ltd and Singapore History Consultants who have done painstaking amount of research to put together the tour, I shall not share the juicy stories and interesting facts that I have heard during the tour. Afterall, these are meant to be "secrets". If you can't resist the temptations of knowing these secrets, one simple way is to join the tour. The schedule can be found here:

The meeting point for the tour was outside Exit A of Chinatown MRT, on the side of the escalator facing Pagoda Street. Some of you might be aware that Pagoda Street got its name from the Sri Mariamman Temple located at the corner of the street. (View Reference.)

Sri Mariamman Temple. In the day. Taken in December 2005.

The tour-guide for the night happens to be the same tour-guide for one of the Original Singapore Walks that I had attended previously.

The tour is part of the Original Singapore Walks. However, most of the participants on the tour that evening were from overseas. The participants from Singapore were greatly outnumbered by the participants from overseas. I think Singaporeans will enjoy this tour just as much as the friends from overseas, but I suspect that it would take some shifts in mindset for the folks from Singapore to believe that heritage tours can be interesting and fun?

There is a lot of walking needed for the tour, and wearing a pair of good walking shoes would help.

Chinatown, Pagoda Street.

I remembered that the very first stop of the tour was outside the Chinatown Heritage Centre. The guide said that she recommends visitors to visit this centre to gain a better understanding of life in Chinatown in the past. I concur. (You could read June's post titled Cubicle Life to find out about her visit to the Chinatown Heritage Centre.)

On the right, the Chinatown Heritage Centre.

We were also brought to one of the backlanes behind the shophouses. The backlane did not look like a very glamourous place to bring our dear overseas friends to. Yet, the backlane has many interesting stories of its own to tell. Could anyone guess what functions these backlanes used to serve?

One of the backlanes.

Shophouses at Chinatown.

The tour guide also went on to share with the group how living conditions in Chinatown were like in the past.

This shophouse used to be a coolie house. You may make a guess of how many coolies were housed in here during those days when the coolies trade was thriving.


On the tour, one also gets to hear trivia that nevertheless make up part of the social fabric. I was not aware of the existence and significance of the flag (see above) until the guide pointed it out to the group.

The guide also spoke about the believed effects of certain traditional Chinese medicine that could be found in the area. Interestingly, these medicine can be classified into two categories: to be consumed by males; and to be consumed by females.

Night falls.

Smith Street in Chinatown offers a good variety of hawker food.

At the corner of Smith Street and Trengganu Street is a building built in the style of a tea house. Notice its interesting architecture. It was formerly a Cantonese Opera House, and was known as Lai Chun Yuen. (Source: Uniquely Singapore, Chinatown Walking Guide.)

Formerly Lai Chun Yuen.

The tour also took the group to the present-day Red-light district within the Chinatown area. How did the term Red-light district come about? The tour guide gave us an account of the origin of the term during the tour. We also learnt how to distinguish those units that were in the trade from those that were not.

Please excuse me that there will be strictly no photograph of the operators and service-providers in Red-light district posted for viewing. Shouldn't we respect the privacy and confidentiality of those in the trade? Anyway, no photography on this aspect was allowed throughout the tour.

If you have yet to figure out one of the previous functions of the backlanes of Chinatown, this photograph that you would see below may lend you a little clue. No prize for those who have made the right guess though.

One of the last stops of the tour was at a Barbequed Pork Shop at Keong Saik Road. It was quite fascinating to be given the chance to catch a glimpse of the workshop in which the barbequed pork slices were made. We did not get to see the manufacturing process since most of the production has occured earlier the day. However, I heard that nearing the Chinese New Year festive season, the production could go on for 24-hours round-the-clock.

The tour guide concluded the tour in a very nice fashion. This tour is likely a heritage tour that contains information that we would hardly get from our regular history textbooks. Overall, it was an educational night walk for myself.

Once again, the tour details can be found here:


mistipurple said...

very informative. thank you. though i am a little embarrassed i have not seen the 'latest' of chinatown.

oceanskies79 said...

Hi Misti, I am glad that you find the post useful.

goldilocks said...

Hi PY, sounds like you had a lovely time. Great.

pinkie said...

u should be a freelance tour guide!

oceanskies79 said...

JY: It was a nice way to spend a Friday evening.

Pinkie: Thanks for the compliments. I wonder if anyone would enjoy being on my tour...hmmmm.

Simple American said...

Great post. I will have to take that tour when I visit.

Did not realize the red light district was still working. I know during Viet Nam US soldiers would go Singapore on leave. There was a movie about it, but I cannot remember the name.

dreaming-neko said...

looks like a cool place!
thanks for the tour :)

Daphne said...

Loved the pics you took. I agree this is an alternative but interesting way to spend an evening!

Jammie J. said...

I am always astounded by your talent of photography. You have a great eye to capture things. :)

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your country and I am very pleased that you post pictures regularly. That way I can relive my brief stay there.

john said...

Hi there
A wonderful blog and some brilliant photographs. I love Chinatown in Singapore. Your photographic composition is excellent. I was lucky enough to take some photographs of Singapore and Chinatown as well. Please feel free to explore them here.
Best wishes

oceanskies79 said...

Hi John, thank you for visiting this blog. You too have beautiful photos of Singapore. Thank you for sharing.