Ethnic Quarters – Singapore
Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and British cultures continue to have a major influential role in the city-state of Singapore reflected in the local history and resident population. Ultra-modern Singapore overflows with quaint, historic sectors such as Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Little India and the Colonial District. Savor the various neighborhood architecture styles, restaurants, markets and religious entities reflecting their respective cultures. Tiny, multicultural Singapore also has contemporary landmark attractions worthy of your attention.
A bustling hive of sights, sounds and intriguing aromas, Little India, has traditionally been the home of Singapore’s Indian community. Wander the streets which are scented with spices and jasmine garlands and gaze upon rows and rows of stalls selling silver and brassware, ethnic jewellery and rainbow coloured silk saris.
Serangoon Road is home to the spice mill where you can choose from a vast array of colourful spices you can use in cooking. Bring another little piece of India back to your home with an embroidered bedspread and homewares. Visit the Chellas Gallery where you can buy papier-mache boxes, jewellery and other collectibles from Kashmir.
Indulge your tastebuds with a visit to the Tekka Centre on Buffalo Road, affectionately known as KK Market to the locals. It is a busy food market full of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, spices and flowers.
You can’t visit Little India without stopping in at the 24 hour shopping mall the Mustafa Centre. Inside this modern exterior shoppers can find any almost anything at the lowest possible prices.
MRT Station: Little India NE7
Chinatown Ethnic QuarterChinatown has been the cultural hub for Singapore’s Chinese migrants since 1821. Situated next to the financial district the Chinese quarter is located within Cantonment Road, New Bridge Road, South Bridge Road and Upper Pickering Street. The quaint pre-war shop houses on the colourful streets and alleyways are home to a vast array of stores. In Chinatown you will find Chinese merchants selling silk, gold jewellery, traditional crafts and tourist t-shirts.
There is a lot more in Chinatown to arouse the senses than just shopping: try some tropical fruits, have your palm read by fortune tellers, eat from the delicious hawker barbeque stores or try a traditional delicacy like dried sea cucumber. The medical halls provide a unique cultural experience as you can watch snake skin be mixed with herbs and spices and other exotic ingredients into ancient cures.
Visit one of the traditional teashops in the Tanjong Pagar area, visit the kite makers, try on a painted mask, hide from the sun under a waxed paper umbrella, or purchase handicrafts and artefacts from all over Asia. If you are after a bargain walk over to Smith, Trengganu, Temple and Pagoda Streets.
MRT Station: (EW16) or Chinatown (NE4)
Geylang Serai is the cultural heart of the Malay community in Singapore. Wander among these charming old-world streets and immerse yourself in the traditional activities which are a throwback to the old kampong days. There is an eclectic mix of shops selling antiques, fabrics, handicrafts and rugs.
Breathe the spicy smells of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg when you visit the wet market. On the outskirts of the markets you can buy CD and DVD’s with both modern and traditional Malay music. Or perhaps you would prefer to be dazzled by the sparkling jewels, textiles and clothes in the Joo Chiat Complex.
Geylang is also the red-light district of Singapore and is the only area in the city where prostitution is legal. Hundreds of brothels are located in this quarter and are easily signified by their bright red walls.
MRT Station: Paya Lebar EW8
Kampong Glam was the historic seat of Malay royalty in Singapore. Today the former Sultan’s palace, the Istana Kampong Glam, has been converted into a heritage museum. The Malay Heritage Centre was created to provide locals and tourists with an insight into the rich history and culture of Singapore’s Malay history.
Another key building not to miss is the Sultan Mosque/Masjid Sultan at Bussorah Street, it is the largest mosque in Singapore and can accommodate 5000 people. It is here, at the Bussorah Mall, where there are beautifully restored houses selling handicrafts, artifacts, furniture, jewellery and clothing. Close by in Kandahar Street you can dine on traditional Malay cuisine.
MRT Station: EW12
Peranakans are the early descendents of the early Chinese community who settled in the Malay Archipelago from the 17th century. The culture is a rich and diverse blend of Chinese and Malay – for example the people observe traditional Chinese festivals, however the food, language and dress is mostly taken from Malay cultures. There are also recognisable influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Thai, Indian and Indonesian cultures as well.
The architecture in this area shows the mix of cultures, the east meeting the west. With windows and shutters from the Mediterranean, Corinthian columns and Chinese glazed tiles and plasterwork showing ornate Chinese symbols. The colours of the house facades are beautiful, walk around Emerald Hill, Tanjong Pagar and Koon Seng Road in Joo Chiat.
Peranakans are known for their beautiful textiles, jewellery, furniture and ornaments made out of expensive materials such as gold, silver, porcelain, silk, velvet, teak and blackwood. Unmarried women, known as Nonyas, spent much of their time perfecting the art of beading and embroidery. The quality of their work was a mark of the eligibility for marriage.
The Peranakan Culture is one of true diversity so take the time to discover it through their architecture, food and shopping.
MRT Station: Paya Lebar and Eunos