Chinese Heritage Centre, a Blast Experience about Singapore’s Chinese Migrants

Spend some time to have a walk around China Town while you are travelling in Singapore, and do not forget to insert Chinatown Heritage Centre into one of your to do list. Located within three beautifully restored shop houses along Pagoda Street, the Chinatown Heritage Centre houses a wealth of memories and untold stories from the past. Here, you can discover the secrets and chronicles of the migrants who made the perilous journey from their homeland to Singapore.

If you are travelling by car you can only have a drop-off at adjoining streets like Temple Street and Mosque Street or New Bridge Road because The building cannot be access by car, since it is located in a pedestrianized shopping area and does not allow vehicular access. Or you can take MRT and drop in Chinatown Station (NE4) that located only 10 meters from the building.

It is a nice conceptual gallery that was comfortably nestled in the midst of Singapore’s bustling Chinatown district. With $10 admission charges for an adult, you can have a sense of nostalgia about landmarks and buildings in Chinatown during the old days and breathes the stories of the original tenants at 50 Pagoda Street, from the tailor and his apprentices, to the Samsui women and the coolies.

Entering every rooms of these shop houses and their room gives us atmosphere about time where Chinese migrants braved the unknown destiny they have to face everyday. Every nook and cranny in the Chinatown Heritage Centre pulsates with the memories of yester year, offering an experience like no other, as one is transported to Chinatown in the budding years of Singapore’s establishment as a seaport. From the desperate hopefulness of the many sinkheh (migrants) risking life and limb to embark on an arduous journey from various Chinese provinces to the promised land of Singapore, to the raw seedy and underground practices of gambling dens and secret societies.

Walk through the corridors of tough times, level 1 give us starting with Chinese migrants arrival to the shores of Singapore and end their struggles to make ends meet. Within the dark, dim settings of the gallery. Every pictures and installation giving us the sense of hardships many of those migrants faced and though lives they had to lead. The first room display Chinese traditional dragon boat installation that was used by Chinese migrants in the late 1800s, an era where they arrive in Singapore in large numbers. Chinese migrants were drawn to ‘Nanyang’ (Southeast Asia) because of the promise of jobs and a brighter future. Their hopes were to earn money for their families, and save up enough to return home. Here we can discover the circumstances that forced early migrants to look for greener pastures overseas. Understand the torrid conditions that early settlers underwent to arrive safely in Nanyang, a place perceived to be filled with gold.

In level 2 we were entering the second room of the galleries painted a bright and colourful picture of the ‘golden years’ of Chinatown in the early 50’s, much in contrast to the decade before. Here, we can find out about the bustling activities and trades that were prevalent in Chinatown and experience the life through the eyes of its early residents. Inside the roots area appear an outstanding wall of words; symbolize different dialect groups from many different Chinese migrants that specialized in different trades. The 4th room illustrate. The clan association as the centre of life migrants, where they were formed based on dialect groups, surenames, occupations or places of origin. Meanwhile the 5th room give us a portray of immoral or wicked behaviour in early hard life that turn into drinking, gambling, brothels and opium smoking to escaping immigrants life problems. Opium becomes their addiction that gives downfall of their dream return to China. In 6th room there is a replica of Da Dong Tea House like it used to be in the 1950s to 60s, whereas room 7 appear to present Chinatown buzz life and colour during the festive seasons.

There are interesting diverse installation appear in 11th room of the 2nd level, which presents a cubical living for each different immigrant in different professions and jobs. This floor is authentic recreation of the living quarters of unit 50, Pagoda Street. The cubical were made so authentic that they were able to see tattered toilets and the dirty used old kitchen set inside the room. They are eight other cubicles aligned in this level. The first cubical represent a room that occupied by a group of coolies, which also functions as opium den, with the next cubicle was occupied by carpenters, hawkers, shoe seller, painter, seamstress and Samsui Women. Samsui women were Cantonese and Hakka immigrants from three districts in Sanshui. During that time Samsui women had a reputation of rejecting jobs involving drug peddling, prostitution, or other vices, even if that meant they sometimes had to live in poverty. They wore a red headdress, which became their trademark feature. The red headdress was a square piece of blood-red cloth folded in a way that it sat like a fairly large rectangular roof on their heads. They dressed in a stiffly starched black samfoo, a tunic-and-trouser suit, protected by an apron. The sandals they wore were pieces of rubber cut out from used tyres and fashioned on their own with a strap.

Going down to level one for an exit, here you will be entering a Tailor’s Quarters room, that become most affluent occupants in the building during that time. The tailor has his own rooms – one held his family and the other held his apprentice. He had his own kitchen and air well. One can see from the living space that the line between work and family living is often blurred. Behind the shop front, lies the main workshop, where assistant carry out sewing, ironing, and other miscellaneous work. This shop on the ground floor of the shop house is a replica of the many tailor shops that used to line Pagoda Street, this room also marking the end of the journey.

This unique heritage centre is really competent to offering history, culture and education in a rich conceptual design through its presentation and displays. Its authentic Chinese tiled roof, floor and wall, houses a fascinating selection of interactive, audio-visual and static displays compact in a complete personal touched story about one restored shop building in Pagoda Street. A series of exhibition spaces that gives different experience state of the art presentations in each of its room and floor with the displays of Chinese artefacts and period pieces that provide a record of the replica in thematic story about Chinese migrant’s live during each different time and different social status. It gives us a deep experience about how migrant’s culture evolves as well as left us a story about survival through times and hardships of migrant’s live. A past experience that worth to learn and understand in order to honour the ancestors and knowledge for better future.

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