BY: John Tiong
THE beauty of Singapore lies not only in its cleanliness, diverse and modern architectural structures and abundant greenery, but also in the way it holds on to its past as a source of inspiration in the development of its own identity.
Sometimes, it can be a little awkward, like naming a maternity hospital Kandang Kerbau (buffalo pen), a shopping mall Tekka (foot of the bamboo) and referring to Chinatown as Ngu Chia Jui (bullock cart water).
But that's Singapore, which holds unflinchingly to the elements of its past. The old and the new are juxtaposed to give the city a new fervour and flavour. Those who grew up with the city always felt a part of themselves in it even as the city morphed from a rural backwater into one of Asia's most dynamic cities.
Here are some places in the city State that are worth more than just a fleeting visit.
Singapore City Gallery
2nd & 3rd Floor, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Maxwell Road.
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday
No part of Singapore can be torn down simply on a whim and fancy. Instead, all efforts are made to preserve its heritage.
This has turned Singapore into one of the gems of Asia where conservation of buildings is concerned. The best of the old and the new are made to blend with each other and house owners cannot renovate old buildings without consulting the authorities.
At the Singapore City Gallery, you can see how the country tries to keep its old self intact while embracing the new. There are various exhibits of a scaled-down city, with markings to show its growth over the years, including land reclamation.
These include models of buildings on both sides of the Singapore river. One would be surprised at the large number of infrastructures such as military airports and reservoirs built on the island.
Models of old houses and pre-war buildings are also exhibited, with explanations about the preservation works carried out on them.
50 Tiong Bharu Road.
Tel: 02-6622 8585. Fax: 02-6622 8558.
The largest boutique-style hotel in Singapore, Link Hotel shows ingenuity in the use of old buildings in modern times and to perform even better.
It is one of Singapore Improvement Trust's (SIT) earliest efforts to convert old buildings for modern use without compromising heritage and historical value.
The Link Hotel comprises two four-storey buildings linked by a bridge. It still exudes much of its old, British public housing charm, despite the relevant renovations in its interior and a new coat of paint.
The rooms are divided into four categories along ethnic and modern lines to reflect the multi-racial fabric of the nation. There are paintings, objets d' arts and fabric designs with Malay, Indian, Chinese and modern influences. On the ground floor is the lobby, reception and food and beverage outlets, as well as a travel agency and reflexology-massage centres.
Tekka ('foot of the bamboo' in Fujien and Zhaozhou dialects) refers to the junction of Jalan Serangoon and Jalan Bukit Timah, leading to Little India.
The name Tekka comes from the bamboo plants that grew in here in abundance, especially on the banks of Rochor Canal, in the early part of the last century. The name is now immortalised in Tekka Market And Food Centre and Tekka Mall in Little India.
Tell a taxi driver to go to Tekka and he will drop you at the Tekka Market And Food Centre, where locals come to buy breakfast and fresh produce at the wet market.
Here, you will find tailors, hardware stores, textile merchants and accessories stores as well as shops selling Buddhist religious products.
The first wet market here, fondly called Pasar Kandang Kerbau was built in 1915 and demolished in 1982. It was so named because in the old days, cattle was rounded up in Serangoon and placed in pens here.
The market has been renamed Tekka but the name Kandang Kerbau lives on in the Kandang Kerbau Women And Children's Hospital in Bukit Timah. Can you imagine telling people you were born in Kandang Kerbau?
The hospital started in the Tekka area as a small maternity hospital in 1924 with 30 beds and a record 1.2 million babies were delivered here up to the early 1990s when it moved to its present site.
To add to the old-time charm, even the police station and post office in Tekka are named Kandang Kerbau. There is also a Kandang Kerbau Bridge.
To this day, Chinatown is still fondly referred to as Ngu Chia Jui (bullock cart water) because in the old days, water was scarce and had to be brought to the town in bullock carts driven by Indian labourers.
Today, the place is still bustling, with rows and rows of stalls selling all kinds of things that are predominantly Chinese in origin and design, as well as street food that has made Singapore famous with tourists.
There are no Malay villages and eucalyptus (gelam) trees here now but the place is still called Kampung Glam (instead of 'gelam', the way it was spelt back then).
Kampung Glam, north of the Singapore River, has a glorious past. It was home to ancient Johor Malay royals and aristocrats. The British had designated it for the then Johor Sultan and his household as well as the Malay and Arab communities.
The Arabic influences live on in the names of the roads such as Arab, Baghdad and Bussorah Street.
Kampung Glam is still referred to as the Muslim Quarter though it now has a multi-racial outlook with businesses in art galleries, crafts, restaurants and IT shops in the rows of heritage buildings.
Just like in the old days, it continues to be the place for Muslim activities as the famous Sultan Mosque is located here.
Kampung Glam has many National Heritage sites. Among these are Sultan Mosque, Hajjah Fatimah Mosque and Istana Kampung Glam, the residence of the then Sultans.
In the 1920s, the Malays started moving out of Kampung Glam to resettle in Geylang Serai and Kampung Eunos.
There is no denying the role of the Samsui women in the history of Singapore. Recognised by the trademark red scarves on their heads, these women came from the Shansui County in China's Guangdong Province to work in the construction industry from 1910 to 1949. Some 200,000 arrived between 1934 and 1938 alone.
The money they earned was sent back to China to help their families. They chose to stay single and remained so all their lives.
There is a life-size replica of a Samsui women with her inimitable red headgear in front of the China Town Heritage Centre in Pagoda Street.
There are also three statues of Samsui women in working postures at the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) in Maxwell Road.
To find out more about old Singapore, visit:
Asian Civilisations Museum
1 Empress Place
Tel: 02-6332 7798
Chinatown Heritage Centre
48 Pagoda Street
Tel: 02-6325 2878
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road
Tel: 02-6332 3659/6332 5642
Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road
Tel: 02-6332 3222
Singapore Philatelic Museum
23B Coleman Street
Tel: 02-6337 3888
Malay Heritage Centre
85 Sultan Gate
Tel: 02-6391 0466