The Chinese are quite known for their migration around the world and in most places that they relocate to, there will almost always be an area which will be labeled Chinatown, regardless of the size of that area. In Singapore, Chinatown was established back during the time of the British rule. During that period, Singapore saw an influx of Chinese migrants entering the country. The British rulers decided then that different races would be segregated through the allocation of different areas. As such, Chinatown was made up of several different districts, which includes areas like Eu Tong Sen Street and Telok Ayer, amongst others.
Like several other areas highlighted in the Cultural Gems series, Chinatown also had its architecture preserved by the Singapore government. Rows of shop houses line the streets, with some of these structures undergoing interior remodeling to be used as boutique hotels, such as the New Majestic Hotel. In the heart of Chinatown, you will not find skyscrapers and men and women in power suits. Rather, you will find a more relaxed Chinese community, having their morning tea and half boiled eggs or porridge with friends and families. You do find the lunch hour crowd from the nearby courthouse or those working in the area but even then, you will realize that the crowd appears to slow down and relax slightly when they are enjoying their favourite Chinese hawker fares.
And of course, what is Chinatown if it is not a haven for authentic Chinese food! Many Chinese and non-Chinese flock to this area to satisfy their cravings for Fish Head Noodles, Pork Porridge, Yong Tau Foo (noodles with an assortment of vegetables and condiments), and the all-famous Bak Kwa (thin squares of preserved pork, similar to jerky). The aroma of different food fares will be sure to cause your tummy to rumble!
Many who head to Chinatown will also make it a point to check out one of the oldest Hokkien temples on this island. The Thian Hock Keng temple is located in Telok Ayer Street and was opened in 1842. This temple is known for its traditional Southern Chinese architecture, often drawing admiration for its intricate details on the walls and façade. You will often find this temple filled up with worshippers and tourists, who come to pay their respects to the different deities. It often surprises tourists to find one of the oldest Muslim mosques, just a few steps away from the temple. The Al-Abrar mosque appeared along this street in the 1850s. The two places of worship have been co-existing harmoniously.
Chinatown is also one of those places that often can surprise you, with rare finds. There are shops selling vintage clothing, unique accessories, rare coins and stamps and many other different things. You will often find collectors roaming around the quaint little shops, bargaining with shopkeepers to get hold of their finds – which sometimes include very old typewriters, cameras and so on.
Like the other cultural gems in Singapore, Chinatown is one which you should explore, as it is not only reflective of Singapore’s history and culture, it also allows you to step back in time and move at a slower pace from the fast-paced city life. So it is ideal to spend an entire day at Chinatown, starting with a morning breakfast and exploring your way around the nooks and crannies of this Chinese settlement area!