Day 176: Chilling (as in relaxing) in Chinatown

Coronavirus fears have affected the walking tours to Chinatown. The team at Monster Day Tours have had calls asking if it is safe. Yes.

Numbers on this morning’s tour were a quarter of the people on the Little India and Kampong Glam tours.

Visits overall to Chinatown have dropped by 50% and the Singapore government has waived the business rent payments for this month.

Bearing in mind that Singapore has closed its borders to visitors from mainland China, nobody in Chinatown could have been to China in the last 14 days.

Public messages are asking people not to believe rumours and not to discriminate against others (e.g. the Chinese) because of fear. A couple of the people arrived for the Chinatown visit wearing face masks where they hadn’t on the other two tours.

So they haven’t been watching the messages.

Bus was as energetic and enthusiastic as he had been the previous day.

Chinatown looks like it was built only yesterday, though a heritage status has been placed on the buildings to ensure they are as smart as they were in 1900.

In these two storey buildings, business owners, their families and their workers would live above the shop – anywhere between 40 and 80 of them.

The small Danish boy who guessed 100 was delighted when Bus told him that there was one house-shop where indeed that number of people lived.

The Chinatown Heritage Centre in the centre of the district was recommended by Bus as an excellent resource to learn more and it too is taking precautionary actions around Coronavirus.

I did wonder how much of this is being done additionally because of the stigma being attached to China and Chinese people.

As Bus had told us, the Chinese make up 75% of the population of the city but when they started moving to Singapore there was a sex imbalance. Eventually bale immigration was reduced and female immigration encouraged.

Both men and women were involved in heavy labour.

Hard work required stress relief.

The morning sun was shining straight down the street we were on but Bus, as usual, ensured that the group stood in shady and breezy spots whenever we stopped for discussion.

This particular stop was next to a prime opium den.

The top floor was for wealthy patrons to be served opium by beautiful women. The first floor was where the Chinese customers were served the leftovers – often costing a full day’s salary.

Chinese workers used opium as pain relief, relaxation and to be able to continue working in hard conditions. Many became addicted.

The business owners approached the British to strengthen regulation.

At the bottom of the street, on either side is the Hindu temple, built in 1837 and across the road is the oldest Indian Muslim mosque constructed in 1830.

They were built here because the water supply was good and both religions use a great deal of water as part of their worship rituals.

In the early days of Singapore, the largest population group was the Malays, around 60%. The newcomers were segregated into the communities of Chinatown and Little India – the quota system that is in place today came after 1965.

Food Street is shielded from the sun (and the rain) by a vast canopy over the street

Pausing on Food Street (a streetname with a huge clue about what is on sale here), Bus pointed out the votive shop. I’d seen lots of these in Vietnam but Bus told us more…

Hungry Ghost Festival occurs in the seventh month of the usual year (around July and August) and the doors of the underworld open. The ghosts return to the streets and collect the offerings (which are gifted by burning) and any food left out for them.

Food Street used to be known as the Entertainment Street and was the venue for all four of the social evils – drugs, drinking, prostitution and gambling. Actual entertainment also took place here with the traditional Chinese opera initially being offered though it lost popularity and became a cinema.

During Hungry Ghost Festival, the first six rows of the theatre or cinema seats will be left empty for the wandering ghosts to watch the show.

Understanding and respecting each others’ cultures is a key part of Singapore life.

Bus told us even more on the social housing as we stopped to take a few shots of the skyline. This really was playing well to my Public healthy geekery.

When buildings reach the 30 year mark, they are renovated. The government approaches the owners of the apartments in the tower blocks to ensure agreement by more than 75% of the residents before work starts.

It would generally be crazy to refuse. While the owners do have to contribute financially to the renovation, the costs are subsidised to the tune of 85%.

Time for another food stop… I’d hate to give anyone the impression that free food influences how much I enjoy an activity… but it really does help.

With the Monster Day Walking Tours, the food stops have been an important and highly enjoyable way of learning more about the areas visited.

How else would I have learned about pandan cake? Sure, I could have seen it in the shops but chances are that I would have assumed it was flavoured with lime.

Popiah is a Malay spin on a spring roll: crunchy peanuts, fresh veg bound together with egg. It’s incredibly tasty.

The Chinatown Hawker Centre is taking a hit from Coronavirus fears. Half of the stalls were closed and there were few people around.

I had thought the Hawker Centre in Little India where I had lunch was quiet.

Bus told me that the Singapore government is subsidising tour guides, bus companies and taxi drivers with compensation to help them get through this extremely quiet period.

We’d seen social housing on both of the other tours and this was no different but the building Bus pointed out was built in 2012. It rivals private apartments.

The fact that there was a sign for the brilliantly named Sago Lane in no way influenced this photo. I love sago.

It also features gardens and Bus told me that there is a requirement on all new buildings to replace 2/3 of the greenery that they have taken – hence vertical and roof gardens.

Our final stop was the Tian Hock Keng Temple. Completed in 1842, it’s the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore and it marks the original shoreline of the city.

This temple combines the three major religions of China – Tao, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Once again, the street which would usually be busy was quiet.

Another free tour and another highly entertaining walk around one of Singapore’s historic districts.

I’ve learned a lot and it has been a superb way to see this vibrant city. The three tours have been distinct (geography and history) but harmonious in showing the way that life is lived in Singapore.

Categories: Public Health, Singapore, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Hey there Phileas Fiona,

    What a delightful read! Bus is our resident tour guide and he showed the whole team at Monster Day Tours your blog. Wow your attention to detail is amazing and your pictures are well-captured. You have written the entries in such great detail that I feel as though I am walking with you on the tour itself! It makes us so happy to know that you had such an enjoyable experience here in Singapore – wandering Gardens by the Bay, exploring our colourful street art and trying out local delicacies such as Chilli Crab. Have you tried durian yet? =)

    If you could spare some time to drop us a quick review on Tripadvisor, we would really appreciate it. Tourism is rather bleak now as you have seen and every little review helps.

    Looking forward to read more of your blog and wishing you a most wonderful vacation! ~Love from Monster Day Tours~


    • Hi, Hui Ju. Thank you for the kind words. I really enjoyed the tours. They were excellent and Bus is a great guide. I’ve already left a review on Trip Advisor. Many thanks for three excellent tours. Fiona


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