Going for heritage walks and learning about the history of Singapore culture is my current favourite thing to do on a weekend. I find such heritage trails and tours very enriching and inspiring at the same time. It could be due to the nature of my job or it’s just an age thing. But for whatever reasons, I find that I’m falling in love with history and arts all over again.
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Why our past is important
As I listened to the interesting life stories from the guides, I start to question about life and my roots. Through that deep reflection process, I begin to discover more about myself and my existence in this little red dot. I wish I had discovered this at an early age where I was thought to appreciate life and developing that awareness of the people and environment around me. Knowing your past will help to propel you in the right direction. In that way, you do not have to waste time wandering aimlessly and figuring out what to do next in life.
MyCommunity Heritage Walks
Anyway, if you haven’t really got to understand your roots as a Singaporean, I highly recommend you to join one of the free heritage walks organised by My Community. It is a non-profitable heritage group in Singapore. And I discovered them via Facebook. It was through these channels that I got to discovered that they have been organised several community tours and events all over Singapore.
Preserving Singapore’s Heritage
Last month, I signed up for their MyQueenstown Heritage trail around Tanglin Halt and Margaret Drive. What’s special about Queenstown? How did it get its name? This place was named after Queen Elizabeth II after her coronation in 1953
It was such an insightful tour that I wish that more Singaporeans would know more about this.
Singapore is one of the youngest nations in Asia but our history is really colourful and rich. All thanks to modernisation and our forefathers who believe that this small nation would do great things. Over a short span of 10 years, Singapore has evolved so quickly that we hardly noticed the changes in our surroundings. The old buildings were no longer in existence and several objects, which we have taken for granted, have become artefacts. And we are moving at such a fast pace that we did not realise this. Thankfully, there are organizations and interests groups that see the importance of preserving our culture and heritage. As a true blue Singaporean, I’m so glad that to witness the efforts that went into promoting Singapore’s unique cultural heritage.
1st stop: The LKY tree
Our dear late Minister Mentor, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, believes in greening Singapore with plants. According to our guide, he hardly ever misses a tree planting session ever since he started this campaign in 1963. And this tree right over there was planted by Mr Lee.
2nd stop: Queenstown Baptist Church
Queenstown Baptist Church used to work closely with Queenstown Remand Prison to offer counselling sessions. The prison was used to be located behind the church but it is now gone.
An ever-changing landscape
During the tour, one of the church representatives shared that Queenstown used to be one of the suburban neighbourhoods which housed low-income families in rental flats. However, over the years, things have changed. This housing here in Queenstown is highly sought since it is only a short drive away from town. Some of the older flats are demolished to give way to newer condominiums. Gradually, the town has become more urbanised and more higher-earning income families are moving into this area.
The government is building more and more new HDB flats here in
3rd Stop: Queenstown Public Library
When I was a kid, I used to frequent this community library. It is the nearest library to my house in Redhill and 20 years later, the layout still looked pretty much the same. Stepping foot into this space did
This community library is Singapore’s first full-time library branch which opened in 1970 by late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. And it has its own little heritage corner where they displayed the older versions of library membership cards.
4th stop: Former Queenstown Polyclinic
Queenstown Polyclinic was also the first polyclinic in Singapore which provides subsidized healthcare for local residents. Do you know that the doctor consultation fee back then was only $2.50?
5th Stop: The ‘Fisherman of Christ’ Fellowship
Beside this church was once the site of the former Venus and Golden City theatres. Both were the first two cinemas in Queenstown which screened popular Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew films.
At this stop, our guide played a Singapore oldie on our audio sets. It was a song called ‘Singapore Pie’ and it was composed by a local singer and composer called Liang Wen Fu (梁文福). Part of the song describes the popular cinema theatres at Queenstown. In the song, he even mentioned that some of the black-and-white movies are filmed in Singapore.
6th Stop: The First HDB Flats along Stirling Road
This block of HDB flat, as shown in the photographs here, is the first public housing blocks constructed here in Singapore. The first three blocks of flats constructed by HDB are blocks 45, 48 and 49 of Stirling Road.
These blocks of flats are only 7 stories high. Interestingly, since the residents back then were mostly illiterate, they could not distinguish one flat from another. Instead of recognised the block by its block number, they recognised by the number of stories it has. These flats were completed in October 1960.
7th stop: Queenstown Sports Complex
During the tour, we headed up to the block of flats where we could have a better view of the Queenstown Sports Complex. Over there, our guide played us an audio recording of resident here who used to visit the public swimming pool for his training sessions.
8th stop: MDIS Campus
The tour also included a visit to MDIS campus where we had a peek of the Jewellery Design & Management International School (JDMIS). They had well-equipped studios which enable their students to craft and create jewellery made from precious stones and metal.
Creative Jewellery Studio
It was interesting to know that we do have a jewellery design school here in Singapore. Even though we do not have natural resources like precious stones, that doesn’t stop us from producing pieces of jewellery. In fact, we do have a group of local jewellery designers who have created astounding jewellery collections. You can even purchase some of their works at this creative jewellery studio.
They even joked that there is a secret vault in their school. Yes, it is actually just a wallpaper of a vault.
9th stop : 10-storey HDB flats
Moving on, we also walked past these 10-storey HDB flats where a long-time resident shared with us her childhood memories of this place. She happened to be
Rest Stop: Queenstown Community Centre
We made a short pitstop here at the community centre. Most foreigners probably would not know about is that in every neighbourhood, there will be a community centre built for the residents to socialise and gather.
As we moved on to the next stop, we passed by this old-fashion beauty salon which was now vacant. According to our guide, this building is going to be torn down soon to give way to new developments.
Do you know who is the owner of Tanglin Halt Clinic? It is owned by Dr Lily Neo who is currently a member of the parliament or the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng constituency within Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
Like Liang Yew Beauty Salon, this clinic is no longer in operation and they have moved their premises to a new location.
10th stop: Blessed Sacrament Church
This is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the neighbourhood. And right next to it is an Indian temple. Our guide mentioned that if you can find a church, an Indian temple and Buddhist temple along the same street or district, it is known as the streets of religious harmony.
Sri Muneeswaran Temple
11th stop: Black and White Bungalows at Wessex Estate
From the neighbourhoods, we entered a more British and upscale area of Wessex estate. These black and white bungalows you see here in the pictures were constructed by the British.
Today, these houses are mainly used as art galleries or residences.
Our guide was saying that this structure you see above is the most ‘
Colbar at Wessex Estate
I don’t think I’ve heard of Colbar. When our guide first mentioned this, I thought it was literally an upscale air-conditioned hippie bar and cafe. It turns out to be an old school cafeteria which sells snacks and simple western meals. Entering Colbar is like visiting a coffee shop in the 1970s.
12th stop: Meng’s Clinic
Meng’s Clinic hasn’t changed much of its interior and exterior since two or thirty years ago. Even though it looked rather old and rundown, it is actually quite charming and nostalgic as it reminded me of the clinics I visited during my childhood days.
13th Stop: Museum @ My Queenstown
Finally, we have come to the final stop – Museum @My Queenstown. The dedicated folks from MyCommunity actually establish a small museum along the rows of shops on the ground level of the flat. This museum showcases artefacts found in the neighbourhood as well as old items donated by the residents living in this area.
Generally speaking, each artefact has a story to tell. And I mean check out this retro-style television. It’s way too old school!
Overall, I found this tour to be very enriching and I’m looking forward to my next heritage tour with them. Currently, they are looking for volunteers who will be willing to conduct tours. Who knows? I might join their team one day.