A Walk down Singapore’s Five-foot Way

Chinatown holds many stories of the first chinese migrants who lived there.

Looking past the tourist kitsch and knick knacks from the Souvenier shops, therein lies a treasure trove of stories of old. Memories of a past Chinatown and her people who resided there, a time where Chinatown has been.

What will all of that mean to a preschooler?

An experiential tour of a place from the past provides the opportunity to learn about a time where modern sanitation, water supply and electricity did not exist. The time when the first immigrants to Singapore lived in dark, sordid cubicles, ate and slept on a wooden boards, which were their beds at night.

Where the common areas in their homes consisted of dark and dirty kitchens, shared by close to 70 people living in a shop house. Their toilets were holes in concrete and night soil were collected in buckets and was carried through the front door of their five-foot way shop-houses.

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A group of women with their trademark red headgear lived in this room. They wore black samfu, a tunic and trouser suit, together with an apron. These Samsui women worked hard daily at the construction sites carrying building materials in the baskets hung on a wooden pole, carried across their shoulders.

After work. they took home a few pieces of wood to use for their cooking and they ate simple meals with rice daily, followed with a cigarette of Chinese tobacco.

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The other group of women who lived in the same shophouse, 8 of them in a room, were Majie. Domestic servants that took the vow of celibacy and lived in the employers’ home. They returned to this room twice a month to read letters from their families and to catch up with their friends. Only one of them lived here, with an adopted daughter.

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The cubicle at the end of the hallway, lived a group of men known as coolies. These did back-breaking work daily and carried gunny sacks filled with spices and sugar near the Singapore River. Some others worked as rickshaw pullers, trishaw riders and farmers. When they retired to their cramped cubicles after a day of hard work, most sought relief in opium smoking.

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How about the occupants that lived in these other cubicles? What were their stories?

  • A carpenter and his family

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  • A hawker and his family

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  • A seamstress

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Traipsing down the steep steps of the shophouse, the children ventured to the ground floor of the shophouse which belong to the tailor’s quarters.

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  • The Tailor’s Quarters

He was more affluent that the rest of the occupants in the shophouse as he and his family members had their own rooms.

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The Tailor’s family had exclusive use of the kitchen on the ground floor and an air well to dry their clothes.

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  • The Tailor’s shop

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Intrigued by what you see in these photos? I am sure you have seen that there is more to the touristy kitsch that most of us experience on Chinatown. The children were totally intrigued by what they saw and were entranced by the stories we shared of the occupants that once lived in this shophouse.

Now’s a good time to visit Chinatown to experience the gaiety of the Chinese New Year festivities, so be sure to check out the heritage centre with your kids while u are there!


Chinatown Heritage Centre

48 Pagoda Street. Singapore 059207

Admission Charges

Adult  $10

Child (3-12yr) $6



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  1. Such an interesting place! Thanks for recommending!
    Kless´s last blog post ..Gloobaloo And The Enchanted Forest (Giveaway!)

  2. Thats a place really rich in heritage. Will try to bring the kids down there one of these days.
    Dominique Goh´s last blog post ..Blueberry Pancakes and Red Pepper Soup on a Friday

  3. Rachel, love the nostalgic mood of your photos . This looks like an interesting place for the kids especially when it’s all so foreign to them.
    Susan´s last blog post ..Featured on Home without Wall

  4. We always hurry pass this place but never bothered to give it a second look. Thanks for sharing! Ps my late grandmother was a Samsui woman that played a part in some of the buildings at red hill!
    Adora´s last blog post ..Activities for Babies: Mess-free Painting

  5. You may book your tickets here: http://www.ducktours.com.sg/chc.php

  6. Interesting! It seems like the kids were allowed to touch the exhibits, is that so? I would like to bring my brood but don’t want to be kicked out because of my “busy” 2yo who most definitely can’t keep his hands to himself.
    Jayne´s last blog post ..2013. February. Day #6 – 马