Chinatown Heritage Centre and Street of The Dead Singapore

Monday, October 27, 2014

Just as Chinatown is a must visit during any holiday in Singapore, Chinatown Heritage Centre (CHC) is a must see during any visit to Chinatown. Located on Pagoda Street (Exit A from Chinatown MRT) among the hustle & bustle of the Street Market, CHC is open everyday from 9.00am to 8.00pm, while the last entry is allowed before 7.00pm. This building that occupies three former tailor shops does not appear exciting from the outside and gives no hint of the stunning exhibits on display inside. Sadly, its not free and rather expensive at SGD 10 per adult and SGD 6 per child (3-10 years). It is managed by he Duck & Hippo Group that operates Singapore's Hop-on, Hop-off tourist bus service. CHC does not get many visitors despite its worth. I do not know if the steep entrance fee discourages visitors or the fee is steep because there are not many visitors. Whatever, I found it worth the money but would have been happier to pay half of what they charged me. And yes, the place sounds friendlier if we consider the Free Walking Tour of Chinatown that they offer at 2.30pm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. No guarantees here so please check with them about availability on a particular day. Keep reading for more...

Chinatown Heritage Centre Singapore

Exhibit at Chinatown Heritage Centre Singapore

The exhibits on display at CHC tell the story of how Singapore got a majority of its inhabitants, starting with their arrival on boats from Hong Kong in early 1800s. On one hand, it shows the extreme poverty, disease, & death that the poor Chinese immigrants suffered and on the other hand, there are glimpses of their day-to-day life in the olden days. There are lifelike recreations of their living quarters, shops, markets, restaurants, entertainment avenues, etc. The kitchen of the tailor's house with the background sounds of cooking and two ladies chatting can be spooky but so effectively takes you back to those times. Stories behind the exhibits are written in English everywhere which you must read to understand the place.

Exhibit at Chinatown Heritage Centre Singapore

Tailor's Kitchen at Chinatown Heritage Centre Singapore

In parts, the exhibits make you sad but then quickly make you realise how the largely artificial tourist attractions of present day's Singapore prevent its visitors from seeing Singapore's past. CHC is one place where that history is preserved for all to see, thankfully. It may take up to two hours inside if you really do justice to the place, so go prepared. Don't leave children alone inside or they may get scared or bored.

Street of The Dead

Sago Lane: Street of the Dead Chinatown Singapore

Sago Lane, next to "Well Dressed Salad Bar" on the road where the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is located, is another not to be missed stop after visiting CHC. If you are taking the Free Walking Tour of Chinatown, this street will be covered. Here goes the story of the Street of the Dead as displayed at the venue:

"Death houses once lined both sides of Sago Lane. A death house was literally where the poor came to die. Most of Singapore's Poor Chinese immigrants lived in overcrowded quarters, where there was hardly enough space for the living, let alone the dying. This, coupled with the superstition that dying in one's own home brought bad luck to the remaining residents, led to the creation of death houses. Medical care and facilities at the death houses were minimal, for those who entered did not expect to recover. Rooms and dormitories offered the dying a place to rest, while the attached funeral parlours ensured a proper burial.

The dead person would be laid out in a Chinese coffin surrounded by colourful paper effigies of worldly goods, such as money, cars and houses. The effigies would then be burned with some personal items belonging to the deceased. This ritual symbolised the assurance that wealth and comfort await him in the spirit world.

As dismal as they were, death houses were a vital part of the Chinatown community. They were outlawed in 1961 and shops selling funeral paraphernalia sprung up in their place."

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Posted by Narinder Singh


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I left my day job in October 2013 and became a full time blogger. I love travel and hence a travel blog was the obvious place to start from. The result is I currently live in Bengaluru, India. - Narinder Singh.


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