It is Chinese New Year. The hustle and bustle of trade, the haggling of prices fills the air as people jostle through the crowd to buy that kilogram of barbecued pork, or that bunch of golden rat-shaped decorations to welcome the year of the Rat. However, many people simply run through the epicentre of joyful noise and energy that can only be Chinatown without stopping to wonder at the past it possesses and the reason for its existence in a predominantly Chinese Singapore.
Modern day Chinatown
I stand silently at the start of Pagoda Street and look down from my vantage point of an overhead bridge to see a place that embodies the very story of Chinatown is the Chinatown Heritage Centre. Sitting right in the center of Chinatown, it is a quaint shop house that has been converted into a wealth of memories and untold stories. These stories are showed to the public on three different levels and exhibit the lives of early settlers. It traces the evolution and growth of both Chinatown and the Chinese people of Singapore, from coolie workers and maids to bosses and politicians. The Heritage Centre shows why Chinatown is the way it is in modern day Singapore. It tells the story of a place that never really sleeps through an exhibit called “Where the day never ends” and tells us of how Chinatown was always rampant with festive mood during celebrations like the Lunar New Year. Like present day Chinatown, the Chinatown of the past was an energetic place whenever Chinese festivals were around the corner. When asked about what the Heritage Centre taught him, a secondary school student whom I interviewed on location told me, “This place shows us that that every Chinese person had a stake in Chinatown. It also teaches me not to forget my roots,” The Heritage Centre, for many youth, also carries a cautionary tale against the four vices of life. An exhibit details the lives of people who have fallen to opium smoking, prostitution, gambling and secret societies and is still a...
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