Having said so, do you think I will pass any opportunity to revisit the place? Definitely NOT! Thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for organizing a guided tour of the rejuvenated Chinatown Heritage Centre, I get to soak in Chinatown's festive mood and learn so much about Chinatown's rich history today. The best thing is, my toddler get to activate all his senses during the tour (i.e. see the exhibit and galleries, touch and feel things, smell a medicated oil, hear fire crackers and taste Curry Times' delicious chicken curry).
The tour started with a loud sound of the firecrackers and the appearance of our tour guide who is in character as a Samsui Woman. She introduced herself as an immigrant who came to Singapore in search of a better life. She instantaneously got both the kids and adults glued to her because she plays her character so well just like an authentic Samsui Woman.
After the brief introduction is the traditional Chinese custom of rolling in the pineapples. In Hokkien, pineapple is "Ong Lai" which means "luck coming your way". Whilst the kids rolled the pineapples, we adults chanted Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat literally means prosperity and Ah is a common embellishment in Asian language.
Below, I am going to enumerate the galleries we visited with our tour guide.
1) THE TAILOR SHOP
The Samsui Woman narrated to us the story of the Tailor and his interactions with his apprentices and family. As seen in the collage above, we were completely immersed in an authentic recreation of the tailor shop of those that used to line the Pagoda Street during the 1950s to 1980s.
2) LIVING CUBICLES
We visited numerous living cubicles including that of the SamSui Woman herself, the Trishaw Rider, the Carpenter, the Hawker, the Family of Eight, the Clog Maker and the Physician's family. Each cubicle tells an interesting story of its occupant, authentically narrated by our brilliant tour guide. We even get to "invade" their kitchen, laundry area and toilet and bath. My photos are not enough to do justice on how the living cubicles could give that feeling of being teleported in the past. You have to go and see, touch, and sniff it for a one of a kind experience!
3) LEAVING CHINA
This gallery chronicles the journey of Chinese immigrants and capture some of the defining stories and moments in the long and perilous journey to Singapore. Through an immersive multimedia show featuring animations and sound and lighting effects, visitors are momentarily taken tho=rough the hellish journey these passengers endured in hopes of a brighter future.
4a) IN SEARCH OF FORTUNE
This gallery treats you to a multi-sensory and interactive experience as they peek into the hidden world of old Chinatown to discover how poor immigrants impoverished themselves further through gambling and opium addictions, and the vice industries associated with secret societies.
4b. FROM THE SAME LANDS
This gallery shines the spotlight on clan associations which were formed in the spirit of mutual support to aid migrants from the same hometown, dialect group or surname. Homage is paid to prominent names in the fields of education and healthcare such us Tan Tock Seng, as well as the lesser known. Here, a large interactive touchscreen table (as seen in photo above) allows visitors to trace their Chinese surnames back to their roots and perhaps uncover affiliations with important people in Singapore's past!
5. HEART OF THE CITY AND CHINATOWN NEVER SLEEPS
The gallery celebrates Chinatown of the 1960s, a town teeming with life. Mock-ups of the street market, heritage shops and the hive of activities along the five-foot way present stories and artefacts of the grittier Chinatown.
6. EVERY STEP A STORY AND THREADS OF CONTINUITY
In this gallery, visitors trace the physical transformation of Chinatown and the personal memories and tales behind the modern façade. In a separate section featuring 6 personalities whose lives are entwined with the evolution of Chinatown, visitors catch a glimpse of how these individuals draw upon their families' heritage in Chinatown in forging a new future.
Visitors end their journey with an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences in a new feedback section, as well as have their photos taken and shared on the Centre's social media platforms and their personal email accounts.
The first exhibition by three final-year students from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, features the Chinese New Year customs and traditions of Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese dialect groups, based on the students' research and interviews with seniors of the Chinatown community.
Visitors can explore the Centre with a new handheld multimedia device providing floor-by-floor gallery guides, visuals, and soundscapes that will bring alive the shophouses living scenes.
I highly recommend families with young or grown up kids, singles, and couples regardless of age to visit the newly revamped Chinatown Heritage Centre. You can look forward to indulge in Old Chang Kee's Curry Times local culinary fare and buy souvenirs by local designers susch as Doe & Audrey and My Paper Earrings after the tour.
General Admission: S$15 (adult) | S$11 (children aged 7-12)
General Admission with Character Guided Tour: S$20 (adult) | S$16 (children aged 7-12)
Seniors (Singapore citizens and PR aged 60 and above) : FREE till 31st July 2016
(Minimum admission charges applies from 1st August 2016 onwards)
Note: All admission tickets include a Multimedia Guide.
Opening hours: 9am to 8pm daily, closed every 1st Monday of the month.
Address: 48 Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207 (walking distance of Chinatown MRT station, exit A)
About Chinatown Heritage Centre:
Opened in 2002, the Chinatown Heritage Centre is a key gateway for visitors to understand the Chinatown story, with its rich collection of personal stories and enriching programmes that provide an intimate and accurate portrayal of Chinatown, from its early days as a Chinese migrant settlement to today's vibrant heritage precinct.
The rejuvenation of the Centre is part of Singapore Tourism Board's overall enhancement efforts for Chinatown, which include the rejuvenation of Chinatown Food Street and launch of the free Wi-Fi service in Chinatown. It is also in line with STB's drive towards Quality Tourism, in which it aims to enhance Singapore's destination attractiveness by creating compelling tourism software and experiences to attract discerning travellers.