Food · Singapore

Remembering Old Chinatown

I know, another post about Chinatown. I’m not sure why I keep coming back here, though I actually do new things each time. This time, I visited the Chinatown Heritage Centre.

After lab, Shar and I decided to visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre to learn more about the history of the Chinese in Singapore. It’s also one of the museums on my Singapore Bucket List, and I have less than three weeks here, so why not go today?

Anyways, the Chinatown Heritage Centre was an interesting and unique museum. It had just opened up back in January 2016, and it’s pretty high tech. Visitors are given a set of headphones and a tablet for them to use while they go through the exhibits.

The first part of the museum was a replica of an old shophouse in Chinatown. Shophouses are common in Singapore, and like other shophouses, this one had a “five foot way.” These were covered walkways just outside the shophouses with a depth of about five feet to shelter pedestrians from rain and sun. In these shophouses, families would use the first floor to sell their wares and services (in this case a tailor), and then the family would live in the back of the shop or upstairs.

The dialogue in the multimedia presentation was serious yet funny, and it seemed to reflect the way the people talked and what they talked about in Chinatown 100 years ago.

The first room was the front of the shophouse, where the tailor would take measurements for customers and dictate them to apprentices. In the back of the shop, there was a room for apprentices to work in and help take care of the family children. Behind the workroom, the apprentices would share a small cubicle room, while the tailor’s family would share the cubicle next to it. These rooms were very small, about 75% of the size of my dorm room at NUS. It was cozy, but I think it was a bit too cramped for my taste. The museum had objects that the family would use and even photographs- it was like actually walking in someone’s house!

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Workspace for the apprentices

The family kitchen looked just like my grandma’s kitchen in Bangkok! There were pots and pans hanging on hooks on the walls, and there was a huge wok and spatula on display, as if waiting for someone to come up and cook. There were fake food and plates in the cabinet, and the tablet app explained that the family was getting ready for Chinese New Year.

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Basically my grandma’s kitchen

Upstairs, there were about 8 cubicles, and all of the occupants shared one bathroom, one toilet, and one kitchen. A sign on the wall said that about 40 people lived on this floor. FORTY PEOPLE. The shower and toilet were very very small, and they were right next to the kitchen, with only a 7-foot wall separating these rooms from the kitchen itself. The smell in the kitchen-bathroom must have been awful, especially in the mornings and evenings, when the occupants needed to use the bathroom or the kitchen.

The rooms were actual cubicles, and each room housed four, five, up to eight people. Each room, like the rooms downstairs, was smaller than my dorm room at NUS. The tablet app had a presentation on each room and about the occupants in each of them. I learned about a clog-makers, physicians, coolies, hawkers, seamstresses, Samsui women, and more. It was really cool to listen to the dialogue for each type of person living in these rooms, as well as to have been able to enter the rooms and look at what they had on the walls, beds, and tables.

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Four or five people shared this room!

The rest of the museum was about different Chinese ethnic groups immigrating to Singapore in search of work and a better life. My family, like these Chinese immigrants, immigrated to Thailand two generations ago for a better life. My mom’s family is Cantonese from Guangzhou, while my dad’s family is Teochew. I looked up my Chinese last name in one of the interactive screens to see if my last name really is Teochew (it is!).

There was an interactive part where Shar and I explored the different ethnic groups that came to Singapore, like the different Chinese groups, Indian people, Malay, and Indonesians. My favorite part of that was looking at the different foods that each group specialized in. In the food section, there were videos, like how chicken rice is made at hawker centres. Each dish also had a list of hawker stalls nearby that served them. Shar and I were super hungry after looking at that, so we quickly took a picture at the end of the museum and went to dinner.

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Aren’t we cute? Heh I chose the lion dance filter

Shar and I went to dinner at Maxwell Food Centre, where I introduced her to the AMAZING oyster cake (which I’ve talked about in a past post). We got our main course at Ah Tai Chicken Rice (because Tian Tian was closed again- omg why is it always closed when I go??).

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I am so ready for this chicken rice

The owner of Ah Tai was actually the cook at Tian Tian for twenty years, until he was fired after an argument. He then opened up his own chicken rice stall, only three stalls down from Tian Tian Chicken Rice. Yup, that’s rice. Same hawker centre, same row in the hawker center, only THREE STALLS DOWN.

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He’s so happy about his new hawker stall

There’s even newspaper articles on his stall about it. If that action’s not salty, then I don’t know what is. I’m not complaining though, because his stall was open and the chicken rice was delicious, probably just as good as what I would have gotten at Tian Tian.

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Yummmm

This isn’t the first time I’ve been to Chinatown, and it’s not going to be the last. Food here is too good and the souvenirs here are cheap. I’ll be back!

 

 

 

 

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