Friday, December 14, 2007

The Original Singapore Walk: A Chinatown Walk

Sculpture at Telok Ayer Green

If you have only one day to go for a tour and you are wondering where to go, instead of looking at options overseas, why not look within and tour a part of Singapore?

If the thought of understanding more about Singapore's comparatively short yet fairly rich history interests you, I shall be biased and recommend that you check out any one of The Original Singapore Walk offered by Journeys Pte Ltd.

I have my reasons behind my recommendations. Including the recent Red Clogs Down the Five-Foot-Way ™ that I have went onboard a few weeks ago, I have already went for a total of eight different walking tours and two coach tours with Journeys Pte Ltd.

There are many things that Journeys Pte Ltd has done right: the well-researched and in-depth information of places and heritage, the guide's effective and easy-to-understand way of delivering the knowledge, and the sincerity to share heritage with people and make it interesting. Now that you know what has kept me going back for more tours, sit back to read about why I think Red Clogs Down the Five-Foot-Way ™ is worthwhile for you to check out.

Red Clogs Down the Five-Foot-Way ™ is essentially a walk of the Chinatown area. Rain or shine, except on public holidays, Red Clogs Down the Five-Foot-Way ™ brings its guests onboard to learn about places and traditions found in the Chinatown area.

Near the starting point of the tour.

Along the way, I cannot help but admire the architecture of the buildings that I saw during the tour. Many of buildings that I saw along the way have been built way before yours truly was born.

Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.

Notice the distinct Chinese pavilion on its rooftop.

Al-Abrar Mosque. Built by South Indian Chulia Muslims.

The guide shared with the tour participants about the history of the development of Chinatown, the functions of five-foot-ways and more. If any of these interests you, then do go for this walk. It is a value-for-money tour considering the amount of appreciation for Chinatown's past that you would walk away with after the tour.

For the folks who are keen to learn about the three major schools of the Chinese philosophies and about the symbolisms found in many of the traditional Chinese temples, this tour will lend some insights to these. At the Thian Hock Kheng Temple (which means "Temple of Heavenly Happiness", the guide gave a brief overview of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. It was interesting for me to realise that I could find elements of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism all in one single temple, the Thian Hock Kheng Temple.

Interestingly, there is a habitat for bats in the temple.
See if you can spot the bats from the photo above.

Make a guess which country the cast iron railings came from?

He guards the entrance of the temple.

The next stop was Ann Siang Hill. It was quite interesting for me to see how the conserved shophouses of Amoy Street get a modern refitting with air-conditioners installed. By the way, there is a well at the foot of Ann Siang Hill, see if you can find it the next time you happen to be there.

As the group proceed to Ann Siang Road and towards the Kreta Ayer area, I continued with taking photographs of the sights that I see along the way while listening to what the guide has to share.

The following part of the tour is that of a visit to a Chinese medicine shop. Though we did not walk into Eu Yan Sang, the three Art Deco shophouses along South Bridge Road, we got to hear about Eu Yan Sang, the famous Chinese medicine hall which was established in 1911.

Eu Yan Sang, along South Bridge Road

We visited the Chinese medicine shop that is just across the road from Eu Yan Sang. While I hope that there could be more shared about the key philosophies and concepts behind Chinese medicine at the Chinese medicine shop, the treat to herbal drinks made up for it.

The Original Singapore Walks® indeed brings its guests to the road less travelled. After the visit to the Chinese medicine shop, we headed for a lane in Chinatown area that was once known as Singapore's "Street of the Dead". The guide shared with us about how the lane used to serve as a hospice for the terminally ill or dying Chines immigrants. There was more. Find out when you are onboard this tour.

We also travelled to a few of the shops in Chinatown area to learn about some traditional Chinese practices and customs.

There are so much more to learn about the history of Singapore than what is found in the history textbooks. The Original Singapore Walks® not only takes its guests to the road less travelled, it brings its guests to a journey to learn more about the rich heritage of Singapore.

Perhaps the only question that I had that was not answered by the end of the tour was: Where are the red clogs? I figured that red clogs making is a vanishing trade in Singapore.

More information about the walk, Red Clogs Down the Five-Foot-Way ™, can be found here:


- Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore. (2001). URA Gallery City Walk: Chinatown Historic District.
G. Byrne Bracken. (2004).A Walking Tour: Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions.
- National Heritage Board. (Oct 2006). Discover Singapore: Heritage Trails.

Recommended list of related external links to visit:
Al Abrar Mosque
Five-foot-way traders
Thian Hock Kheng Temple, posted on by username
Welcome to Thian Hock Kheng Temple
Clog makers

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Yesterday Once More" at Imbiah Lookout

On 25 Nov 2007, while I was at Imbiah Lookout on Sentosa island, I found myself being greeted by two fine gentlemen who welcomed me to their kampong. Kampongs are rural settlements, and they once used to be common in Singapore.

The two fine gentlemen's kampong was an interesting one. The children of their kampong didn't play Nintendo Wii but they had other interesting games to play nevertheless. What did they play at their kampong?

I found out that the rattan-looking balls that was played in their kampung were called Sepak Takraw. I have had no idea how they play it, but I have managed to find information on how they did so while I was visiting their kampong. For the internet-savy folks from my era, the Singapore Sports Council's Sport Museum has a webpage that provides succinct information about how Sepak Tahraw is being played. Please click here for the link.

Nearby the kampong was the Images of Singapore museum. I was pleasantly surprised to find scenes of kampong life in the museum's premises. The wax-figurine children of the museum's kampong played similar games like the children from the two fine gentlemen's kampong.

If you have guessed it right, the two children in the above photo are playing gasing, which means "top" in Malay. I tried playing it and personally found that it requires quite some skills in order to get the top to spin. More information about this game can be found here.

As I walked about to look at the various scenes of kampong life that were found within Images of Singapore, I chanced upon two young lads who were sitting down and engrossed in playing a game.

They were playing the game called Congkak. Earlier the day, when I was at the two fine gentlemen's kampong, I have had the pleasure to learn to play the Malay version of the Congkak game. I heard that the Indians have another version of playing this game. The aim of the game is to gather as many Congkak seeds into the storehouse on the player's side. I quite like this game because in order to achieve the objective, one would need to think strategically and to count well.

If you are wondering how to play Congkak, do check this webpage by the SSC Sports Museum.

After having fun learning about the games people play in the kampongs, I went to tour the "Yesterday Once More" carnival that was being held at the two gentlemen's kampong. Exhibition panels like the one below helped lend me insights to the differences in architectural styles between the kampong houses belonging to the Chinese and those belonging to the Malays.

When I started feeling hungry, I approached one of the hawkers nearby to get some food to stop the hunger.

For someone like myself who have never grown up in a kampong, it was an interesting experience to learn about how life in a kampong was like. I could infer that there was a strong sense of mutual help and support present in a kampong community. In those times when there were neither broadband nor electronic devices, I suppose the people must have been pretty innovative to come up with interesting games to engage the young ones.

Both the "Yesterday Once More" carnival at Imbiah Lookout and the temporary kampong of the two gentlemen have ended on 25 Nov 2007. However, folks who are interested in visiting Images of Singapore at Imbiah Lookout, Sentosa, can refer to the following visitors' information:

Images of Singapore
Opening hours: Mon - Sun, 10am-9pm (Last entry: 8.30pm)
Admission*: Adult $10, Child $7
* Island admission and transportation charges apply.
Website: explore_sentosa/attractions/images_singapore.html

External links related to this post: explore_sentosa/attractions/images_singapore.html

Friday, December 07, 2007

Fort Siloso and Pulau Blakang Mati

My interest in learning more about World War II and forts in this part of the world had prompted me to visit Fort Siloso a few weeks ago. My visit makes me realise that Fort Siloso is the place for visitors to Sentosa to visit if they wish to appreciate how the island of Sentosa was once a British military fortress before it has evolved into today's island resort. In those days, what we now know as Sentosa was known as Pulau Blakang Mati — the "Island behind the Dead".

There are many ways to find one's way to Fort Siloso. That day, I took the Sentosa's Blue line bus from the bus terminal at Beach Station and alighted nearby the Underwater World. The entrance to Fort Siloso is just within walking distance from the Underwater World.

An admission ticket into Fort Siloso grants one the privilege to take a ride on one of the Fort Siloso bus. A staff from the Fort Siloso would give visitors a brief orientation to Fort Siloso, and the first stop for the visitors of Fort Siloso is at the casemates at Fort Siloso Square.

Fort Siloso bus and the casemates.

There are many things to see during the tour of Fort Siloso. I chose to explore the grounds of the Fort Siloso on my own. For the convenience of the visitors, the premises of Fort Siloso have been divided into three different zones.

The Red Zone brings visitors to better understand World War II history in this part of the world. At the Yellow Zone, visitors get to experience how life at the fort would be like for a soldier. The Blue Zone takes one to visit the longest Tunnel complex under Mt Siloso, and the tunnel complex leads to the Gun Direction Tower.

There is an exciting-looking replica of a 6-inch cannon at the Tunnel & Gun Complex. This webpage gives an informative account about the replica of the 6-Inch BL Gun Battery at Fort Siloso and I dare say it is worth checking out:

Underground, there are more for the visitors to explore. The question some may have in mind would be: Why is Fort Siloso built underground? This site provides an informative account:

Kerosene lamps in such tunnels would usually be kept behind glass panels for safety reasons.

A replica of a hoist. Such hoists were used to raise shells and cartridges from the magazine level to the gun emplacement found above.

Visitors to Fort Siloso should also check out the Tunnel A complex. However, according to this site, technically speaking, there is no real tunnel at Fort Siloso. This sounds fairly confusing to a lay-person like myself. It just seems that I may soon need a military historian to enlighten me?

Soon after exiting from the Tunnel A complex, one would find oneself at Siloso Point. This is a beautiful part of the island for a visitor to be at. Here one can have a nice view of the Southern islands.

Siloso Point

Just some steps away, one can also get a good view of Labrador Park and the once Fort Pasir Panjang. Together with Fort Pasir Panjang , Fort Siloso had served as a coastal artillery defence that protected the sea entrance to Keppel Harbour.

Overlooking Labrador Park. Right across is the main island of Singapore.

After some walking, I found myself back at Fort Siloso Square. At the Red Zone, there are exhibits on the Fall of Singapore, the Special Operations Force 136, and the Japanese Occupation. For a visitor who does not have much background to this part of history, the exhibits give a quick introduction.

Visitors to Fort Siloso will be treated with guns and more guns. Quite a number of these guns are guns which were not originally placed at Fort Siloso. For those of you who are keen to know more about these guns, I would recommend you to visit this site:

British 25 Pounder Gun-Howitzer

Istana Guns

Some of you may be curious to find out how the heavy gun barrels were moved to their emplacements in those days when manpower and animal-power were all that were available. The method that was used was called parbuckling. I like this site that gives a good overview of parbuckling:

There is a Battery Command Post that was built at the top of Mt Siloso. With the help of the figurines on display, it was quite interesting to have a sense of how the soldiers would be at work.

What you see in this post is just a fraction of what visitors to Fort Siloso can get to experience. There are exhibits like the one you would see in the photo below that let visitors catch glimpses of the life of the solders who had served at Fort Siloso. I also recommend that visitors check out the Tunnel C Complex to see an elaborate display of how ammunition for Fort Silos's cannons was stored and moved.

Re-enactment of the living quarters of the soldiers.

Tunnel C complex.

Last but not the least, before visitors make their way for home, it will be recommended that visitors check out the Surrender Chambers. The Japanese did not surrender at Fort Siloso, but there are two exhibition halls with life-size wax-models that re-enact the British surrender in 1942 and the Japanese surrender to the Allies in 1945. I figured that since I cannot be present to witness these two historical events, the next best thing would be have a glimpse of the re-enactment of these two events.

Surrender Chambers.
This exhibit reminds me of my post on a visit to the Memories at Old Factory, where the actual British surrender had taken place.

My last stop was the QuarterMaster Store. After some browsing, I took the Fort Siloso tram out of the fort. On my way out of Fort Siloso, it awed me to think of how the island of Pulau Blakang Mati has transformed from a military fortress of yesterday to the island resort of today. I suppose the preservation of the past can help future generations like myself appreciate the present better.

Visitors' Information:

Admission to Fort Siloso is as follow:
Adult S$8
Child S$5 (3 - 12 years old)
Sentosa Island admission and transport charges apply

Opening hours:
10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily (last entry 5.30 p.m.)

Guided tour are available every Sat & Sun, 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Limited to 20 guests per session. First-come-first-served basis. Register for the guided tour at no additional charge at the Fort Siloso Tram Station.


Also read:
The Other Siloso
Fort Siloso
Afternoon at Labrador Park