Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Visited: February 2018
Chinese New Year, the observance of the Lunar New Year, is celebrated in several countries each year. Among them are Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mauritius, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Australia. U.S. cities like San Francisco and Seattle, also hold celebrations in their Chinatown neighborhoods.
Ready for the party, Fido hitches a ride in his owner's bicycle basket.
Singapore joins the festivities by adorning the streets of Chinatown with colorful, elaborate decorations, lit up during the month leading up to the holiday. The Chinatown neighborhood initially developed during the 1800s when Singapore was under colonial rule. Many Chinese immigrants lived and built a community here together. Today, the majority of the 5.6+ million people who reside in the small island country are of Chinese ancestry, so this is no small party.
There are 12 animals associated with the Chinese zodiac. 2018 is the year of the dog.
Chinese influence can be found throughout the island in food, culture and everyday life. However, there is something special about Chinatown. Perhaps, it is that those who pass through here come specifically to celebrate this rich heritage and to see how Malay and European influences have left their impression alongside it.
Shoppers browse the retail level of the shophouse along Pagoda Street.
Vibrantly painted, historical shophouses on Pagoda and other streets add to the charm and will catch your attention as you make your way through from MRT exit A to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, constructed in Tang Dynasty style architecture, the temple opened in 2007. It was erected to honor the tooth relic of Buddha himself, which can now be viewed on the fourth floor.
The rooftop garden and colossal prayer wheel are also something I recommend for guests. Ceremonies and prayer do actively take place on the first floor, so it is imperative to be respectful when you enter and as you pass through the different parts of the temple. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
A game of xiangqi.
On an average day, you will see men gathered to play xiangqi (Chinese chess) across from the temple next to the Visitors Center. Take a moment to watch these players, some of whom are quite masterful at the game.
One of the most popular ice cream carts in Singapore.
Directly in front of the temple, you will see a man selling ice cream from a small cart. If you don't see the cart, look for the crowd that often forms around it. The cold sweet treat offers some relief from the Singapore heat and is an exceptional deal at around USD 1.15. The purple yam is particularly tasty. All are available on wafer cookies or bread. Why bread? When ice cream first arrived in Southeast Asia and started gaining in popularity as street food, there were no cups or cones to served it in, so it was scooped onto a slice of white bread. This remains the case to this day, though the bread now has pastel rainbow stripes.
A street performer charms the crowd playing the erhu on Temple Street.
The lanes, popular with residents and tourists, are made up of narrow walking streets lined with shops, medicine halls, tea shops and hawker stalls.
Year of the dog mementos are all the rage this year in Chinatown.
Tourist can find souvenirs at the lowest prices in town. T-shirts, coffee mugs, and faux silk robes can be found very reasonably from the vendors here. There are also several jewelers offering fair prices for jade and black pearls, though it is always wise to do your research to be sure of price and authenticity.
Culinary enthusiasts come from far and near to try the local cuisine and delicacies of Singapore, known for its obsession with food and eating. Chinese sausages found along Trengganu Street are a new flavor for some. Do note that though dried, these must still be cooked for at least 7-minutes. A popular method is to lay them on top of a pot of hot rice. This way the rice is seasoned as they cook.
The popular and slight scary durian fruit is consumed mainly in Singapore and Malaysia.
Other than chili crab, durian fruit is probably the food most often associated with Singapore. Smelling of what most describe as garbage dumpster on a hot city street and gasoline, or burning garbage. The smell of the fruit is so potent; it is banned from public transit in Singapore. Those familiar with the fruit swear by its sweet taste and custard-like taste. Typically, only more daring eaters from outside the region will give it a try, but I will say after being surrounded by it for nearly 3-years, it just smells like pineapple now - and a little bit of burning garbage.
Among the many exceptional hawkers, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle at 78 Smith Street, is the most well-known due to its Michelin star status. However, the hundreds of other dining options in this tight space should not be sold short either.
Chicken rice is a must try while in Singapore.
The beloved chicken rice is found along with numerous other meal options in Singapore hawker centers. This humble meal is delicious even without a Michelin star. A variety of dumplings, steamed or fried, can be found and bought fresh and hot. Everyone has their favorite, but for the most part, if it looks and smells appetizing, you will not be disappointed.
For dine-in service, you need only roam along the busy lanes for options or take a short stroll to bordering South Bridge Road to find restaurants packed in side-by-side serving spicy Szechuan cuisine that many queue up for Thursday-Saturday. If you are looking for something milder or enjoy Korean BBQ, you may find what you are looking for just one street over from Pagoda Street on Mosque Street. Like Pagoda, Mosque Street runs only the short distance between North Bridge and South Bridge Roads. Entering the street from South Bridge will give you an opportunity to pass by and admire the lovely Masjid Jamae or Jamae Mosque built by the Chulia Muslims from the Coromandel Coast in India in the 1800s.
Gong Xi Fa Cai.
Here are some helpful resources to learn more about the New Year celebration, or what’s on during your time in Singapore.
Chinatown Heritage Centre
48 Pagoda Street
Chinatown Visitor Centre
2 Banda Street
Singapore Footprints leads a free 2-hour guided walking tours leave from the Visitor Center every Saturday at 9:15 am.