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Learn more about the iconic Tong Ah building located at the junction of Keong Saik Road and Teck Lim Road. PHOTO: UNSPLASH/@DAVIDKUBOVSKY

Adventures At Home: Rediscover Kreta Ayer With Heritage Tours In Dialects

Dive into the rich heritage and history of Kreta Ayer with the National Heritage Board's (NHB) new series of tours, "Discover Through Dialects: Kreta Ayer Heritage Tours".

Launching tomorrow, the tours will be conducted in Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien by volunteer guides from NHB, with additional guided tours in Mandarin to be launched in the second half of 2022. Hooray for Ma, Pa, Ah Ma, Ah Gong and any other primarily dialect-speaking friends and loved ones!

Here are 5 highlights you can look forward to:


1. Kreta Ayer Heritage Gallery

The Kreta Ayer Heritage Gallery spotlights 5 intangible cultural heritage elements significant to the precinct: Chinese opera, nanyin music, Chinese puppetry, Chinese painting and calligraphy, and tea drinking and appreciation.

Arranged thematically, the gallery boasts a diverse collection of items on display, such as photos dating back to 1975 that showcase the popularity and dynamism of Chinese opera in Kreta Ayer, along with a score book containing about 300 original compositions by the late nanyin visionary Teng Mah Seng.


2. Keong Saik Road

Named after prominent Peranakan businessman and community leader Tan Keong Saik (1850-1909), this street was a red-light district with several brothels and entertainment houses back in the 1960s. The girls who played in these entertainment houses were known as pipa tsai or pipa girls, many of whom came from Guangzhou, China.


3. Tong Ah Building

Built in 1939, this unique triangular-shaped building is located at the junction of Keong Saik Road and Teck Lim Road. From 30 Sep 1948, it was registered as Tai Tong Ah Eating House, a coffeeshop that became popular with taxi drivers and businessmen. The coffeshop was renowned for its Nanyang coffee and Nanyang breakfast, the latter of which includes butter and kaya toast.

In 2013, Tong Ah Eating House moved out of its iconic building to another premise nearby and continues to operate in Keong Saik Road today. The building is currently home to a restaurant and bar.


4. Cundhi Gong Temple

Constructed in 1928 and nestled between large shophouses, this quaint temple was dedicated to the 18-armed Bodhisattva Cundhi, a popular figure within the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and is affiliated with the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street.

This temple played a major role in the lives of Singapore’s Cantonese majie (妈姐), women who had sworn vows of celibacy and worked as domestic workers between the 1930s and 1970s, serving as the place where these women made their vows.


5. Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple

Originally located near the mortuary of Singapore General Hospital and frequented by hospital and prison staff working near Outram Road, this Hindu Temple provides a glimpse of the rich history of Chettiars and Hinduism in Singapore.

Under the atthapu roof made of metal sheets, worshippers paid their respects to the statues of Lord Vinayagar (also known as the elephant-headed god, Ganesha) and Naagar (the snake god).

In 1920, the government acquired the land from the temple and used it to expand the hospital. With the compensation provided, the Nattukottai Chettiars – noted money lenders from Tamil Nadu and managers of the temple – built a new and much grander temple at the junction of Keong Saik Road and Kreta Ayer Road in 1925, naming it after its former location at the Sepoy Lines (army quarters).


How to sign up for tours?

"Discover Through Dialects: Kreta Ayer Heritage Tours" will take place monthly from 26 March to 27 August. Each tour can accommodate up to 15 participants and is approximately 1 hour 30 minutes long, with tickets available at $5 each on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information and ticket booking, click here

Since you're in Chinatown...

Go on a mural hunt!

Check out: "Walls Of Fame: Chinatown Murals By Yip Yew Chong"

Follow our trail to explore and be awed by the works of probably the most prolific muralist in Singapore, Yip Yew Chong, whose life-sized heritage murals depict his memories of scenes from olden-day Singapore.


Fill your tummy!

Check out: "What I Eat In My Hood: Picks From A Chinatown Policeman"

Long-time policeman Gregory Tan shares his favourite eats in the environs of his place of work. On his list: mouth-watering char siew and roast duck, delicious yong tau foo, and the prettiest tea cakes that are every-IG-ready.

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