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Chinatown Heritage Centre – Learn about Chinese Immigrants in 1950s

Most foreigners and tourists only know Singapore as “garden city”, “lion city” or “food haven”. Many people only know about Marina Bay Sands, Sentosa and Orchard Road, but Singapore has much more to offer than just sightseeing.

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world that is truly multi-cultural. Singapore is mainly made up of four races – Chinese, Indians, Malays and Eurasians.

In this and subsequent posts, let me show you places where you can learn more about the colorful multi-racial culture of Singapore.

We have already learnt about Singapore’s history at National Museum of Singapore. We have also taken a closer look at how early Indian immigrants arrived and survived in Singapore at Indian Heritage Centre. Next, let’s learn more about the lives of early Chinese immigrants in Singapore at Chinatown Heritage Centre.

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Chinatown Heritage Centre is conveniently located within a 5-minute walk from Chinatown MRT station Exit A. Housed in a beautifully-restored three-story shophouse on Pagoda Street, 
Chinatown Heritage Centre was awarded TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence” for years 2011-2019.

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Admission ticket is priced at S$18 for adults (S$25 for admission ticket with guided tour) and S$14 for children of 7-12 years old (S$20 for admission ticket with guided tour). Singapore citizen and permanent resident senior citizens of 60 years and above have free admission with every paying visitor (S$3 for multimedia guide and S$8 for guided tour).

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Every ticket entitled you to one of these  self-guided audio tour. It is available in English, Chinese, Japanese and French. Each room is marked with a number sticker that corresponds with the respective number on the self-guide audio device.

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The first floor is a recreation of a shophouse in the 1950s. The tailor shop at the front is where the tailor does business while family life is conducted in the house inside. The tailor’s family and apprentice lived in separate cubicle. The kitchen outhouse was not only used for cooking, it was also where apprentices hung up cotton textiles to dry.

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The second level is a recreation of the cubicle homes of different types of Chinese immigrants during the 1950s. There are trishaw riders, carpenters, samsui women, clog makers, families, majie and physicians. The communal kitchen at the end of the corridor was where all the residents cooked their meals.

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The third level shows the lives of the “sinkheh”, the Hokkien word for “newcomers”.

Singapore was divided into four areas for easy administration. The Chinese were assigned the south bank of the Singapore River. The various dialect groups settled in different parts of Chinatown: the Hokkiens along Telok Ayer Street, the Teochews along Merchant Road and the Cantonese in the core of Chinatown.  

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Chinatown was run by secret societies in the 1800s. Coolies smoked opium to ease body pains, gambled for leisure and hopes of sudden riches and goes to prostitutes to relive themselves.

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Descending the stairs to the first floor again, Sago Lane was known as “street of the dead” in the 1800s. The Cantonese considered dying at home inauspicious. Those on their deathbeds were sent to Sago Lane where they spent their last moments.  

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You can buy souvenirs at the souvenir shop at level 1. Your ticket also entitles you to a complimentary Old Chang Kee curry puff at the shop next door.

Chinatown Heritage Centre 

Address: 48 Pagoda Street, Singapore 059207

Telephone: 62243928

Opening Hours: Daily 9.30am – 6.30pm

Tickets: 

S$18 for adults (S$25 for admission ticket with guided tour) and S$14 for children 0f 7-12 years old (S$20 for admission ticket with guided tour). Singapore citizen and permanent resident senior citizens of 60 years and above have free admission with every paying visitor (S$3 for multimedia guide and S$8 for guided tour).

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