As we are currently making our way to China (via SE Asia) for a 6 month teaching internship it seemed like a good idea to visit this area of Singapore to find out more about the culture we were about to immerse ourselves in. The Chinese also make up a large proportion of Singapore and are therefore an important part of this country’s history and its future.
Chinese New Year
No mention of Chinatown would be complete without recognising the approaching Lunar New Year (commencing 19th February) – this year being the Year of the Goat (some refer to it as the Sheep or the Ram). There are 12 Chinese Zodiac signs and they cycle through each one in turn. You can use the year of your birth to work out which animal you are: Anthony is a Rat, whereas I am an Ox. Bugis had a great display outlining the advice for each animal for the upcoming year whereas the Budda Tooth Relic Temple and Museum had more information as well as your Guardian Deity.
Chinese Food Street
In the heart of Chinatown is a street dubbed “Chinese Food Street” which is lined with a number of restaurants. However, the main attraction is the hawker-style food court in the centre with a number of street food vendors serving up a range of Chinese cuisine. At each end of the row of outlets there are places to buy drinks too with seating areas at regular intervals. We sampled food here on more than one occasion whilst visiting Singapore at both lunch and dinner time – the range can suit all palettes (assuming you like Chinese-style) and appetites for reasonable prices, despite the optimal location.
Top Tip: If you are looking for WIFI then this is a great location as it is FREE and of a good enough strength for working, Skyping & general internet browsing even when busy.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Centrally located next to the Tourist Information Centre, this temple is an important religious feature and meeting place for the local Chinese population of Singapore. The outside of the temple has an impressive red coloured wooden facade. Once inside you can enter the main temple but make sure hats are removed, shoulders and knees are covered (if you do not have suitable clothing then pick up a scarf or robe from the box provided). Inside the temple it is intricately decorated and behind the main room there are housed the guardian deities for each sign of the Chinese zodiac. The third floor houses a museum on the various representations of Buddha, as well as containing a relic room where parts of Buddha himself have been preserved in small but ornate stupas. The fourth floor houses the main attraction: the tooth relic itself.
Given the timing of our visit (a week before Chinese New Year), Chinatown was very much alive and busy. That said, you can see by the make up of the crowd that this is still a popular and busy location year round.
The night market itself is an extension/evolution of the day market. Stalls sell everything you can think of to meet local and/or tourist needs. A range of stalls sell traditional food and drink (some cooked and ‘ready to eat’ whilst others sell to take home as ingredients) whilst others sell clothing, decorations and gifts for family and friends. There was a real buzz amongst the market when we visited, with crowds moving in many directions with the chorus of conversations and excitement from both the visiting crowds and stall owners selling their wares.