Saturday, 2 February 2013

Step Into Chinatown's Past

Before piped water was made available, water was transported to Chinatown from Ang Siang Hill
by bullock carts. Hence that's how the name came about. 

It is again that time of the year we go to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year shopping. In the heart of Chinatown at Pagoda Street are three adjoining units of shophouses. In it chronicles the history of Chinatown. Stories about coolies, samsui women and rickshaw pullers who escape poverty from their homeland made perilous journey to Singapore for better prospects. The 15 exhibition galleries across three floors invite visitors to walk through dim narrow corridors along with crammed cubicles depicting what each households was like in the past.
Variety of Trades in Chinatown

Chinese coolies were labourers engaged mainly in menial hard labour working in godowns, wharves, plantations and mines. They did back breaking tasks such as loading and unloading sacks of goods. Women working at the construction sites were known as Samsui woman. They endured hardships balancing loaded pails or baskets filled with bricks, cement on a pole across their shoulders. From their meagre pay they earned, life was frugal, working tirelessly to support their families back home.
Clans Association
Secret societies and clan associations were formed by immigrants who shared similar ancestry or Chinese hometowns. Back then secret societies would help peasants pay for their passage to come here and help them get a job. Clan Association connected the new migrants with their fellow country man to settle in. Lawlessness prevailed in those days. Gang members would extort protection money from shopkeepers and residents on the pretext of protecting them from harassment by other gangs. With the proliferation of these societies, conflicts and clashes among them were inevitable. They became a menace to society in latter days in the 1840's.

 Selling poultry
Roadside Vegetable Stall
Hawker selling food

Residents putting up in these stuffy shophouse would turn to the streets and five foot ways as an extension of their living area. It also became a playground to many families. Chinatown was a busy thoroughfare of activities. In the day, it was a market place. Before dusk set in, it would turn into a food street and bazaar. Coolies returning to their quarters after a day of hard work, resort to inhaling opium to relieve their tired bodies of aches and soreness. Others escaped their drudgery by drinking, gambling or going to the brothels. These were the vices that led many astray, causing them to lose everything to these addictions. Many came intending to return to China after earning some money. In the end, most stayed and made this foreign land their home.

Narrow Corridor

Domestic Workers - Majie

Seamstress Cubicle

Samsui Women Cubicle

Cross Section of the 3 storey shophouse

A typical soot stained kitchen

Quick meal just beside the kitchen

Ground Floor Tailor Shop
The Chinatown Heritage Centre recreated these original interiors of its shophouse tenants in the 1950's, offering visitors a glimpse into the livelihood of Chinatown's early impoverished residents. Poverty, diseases and dirty living conditions were common in over populated areas. It is good to have this place to pay homage to those who had contributed to Singapore's development through their hard work. Sad to say the condition of the place has slide since it opened in July 2002. I hope they will spruce up this place. You'll know what I mean if you were here stepping into the lobby. 

I'd better be going as I have some spring cleaning to do on my part back home. Till then . . . take care.

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