Singapore has managed to establish itself as a cosmopolitan city. Travellers and locals love the view of the beautifully lit cityscape against the backdrop of the dark night sky. There are sleek constructed buildings everywhere, and the city is impeccably polished. However, hidden within certain parts of the city are gems of the older, almost forgotten Singapore. Singapore does a lot to preserve its cultural heritage, and it is that that makes this country have the perfect blend of the past and present, co-existing together.
Chinatown is one such place in Singapore where one can walk around and marvel at the stories everything around them speaks of - from the people to the buildings to the things they sell.
A visit to the market at the Chinatown Complex will show you the other side of Singapore - vibrant, busting with chaotic energy. You will almost forget that you’re still in Singapore! Located at 335 Smith Street, the Complex doesn’t look like much on the outside. Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre (a.k.a. Kreta Ayer Market) used to be located along the roadsides of Smith Street, Terrenganu Street and Temple Street during the early days of settlement. The vendors were relocated into Chinatown Complex (in the basement) upon its completion in 1983, and the building had also completed upgrading works in 2008. The ground level stalls sell a lot of cheap souvenirs. The upper-level houses a hawker centre and the basement has the largest wet market in Singapore. This is where everyone goes to find the freshest and most exotic produce on the little island.
Most Singaporeans do their typical grocery shopping at supermarket chains - wet markets are a thing of the past everywhere, there are only a few of them left. Instead, the wet markets have been replaced by spiffy aisles of neatly labelled products. Those who still value freshness, or wish to look for some of the more exotic vegetables or meat that are often found in the wet markets.
At the heritage wet market in Chinatown Complex, the day starts early for everyone - vendors and buyers. At 7 am, the basement is bustling with activity. Instead of complaining about the place being wet or smelly, most people go there with openness and curiosity. There are different kinds of stalls, each specialising in different things - fruits, vegetables, dried food provision, steamboat ingredients, frozen food, fresh seafood, exotic meats, red meat, poultry, fresh herbs.
The market is fondly patronised by many elderly residents who live around the area. At its busiest, you will find yourself in long queues for the produce, elbowing people to make your way to the front to claim of what is left of the stock for the day. The focus here is mainly on Asian vegetables and ingredients used in Asian cuisine. Even the exotic meat sold here like eels, frogs and turtles are cherished flavours in many Asian cuisines.
Situated in a vibrant ethnic neighbourhood, the area around the Complex is filled with beautiful sights as well. On a typical day, you will see people as they go about their daily lives. There are quiet moments everywhere you look. On the weekends, the vendors who moved from the Sungei Road flea market set up shop in the tiny street next to the Complex - displaying a colourful array of wares to sell. People dig through junk, haggle prices over used and new wares that range from antiques to knick-knacks. Some of the vendors with a broader range of wares to offer even take up shop space within Chinatown Complex itself. People from all walks of life come here, each of them with their own stories to tell.
With Lunar New Year upon us, the locals celebrating come here to shop before the festivities start. 2018 is the year of the dog, and you can spot the decorations inspired by canines and the four seasons of the year along Chinatown as part of Street Light Up 2018. The Chinatown Chinese New Year 2018 Street Light Up will take place from 7 pm to midnight from Sundays to Thursdays, and extended till 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays. On 16 and 17 February, the first and second days of Chinese New Year 2018, the light-up will continue overnight till 6 am the next morning.
The Festive Street Bazaar is buzzing with vendors selling food and festive decorations for the Year of the Dog. The Chinatown Festive Street Bazaar will be open from 6 pm till 10.30 pm between 26 January to 15 February, with extended hours till 1 am on Chinese New Year Eve. There are also nightly stage shows featuring dance, music and song at Kreta Ayer Square. The stage shows will be held between 8 pm to 10.30 pm every evening from 27th January to 15 February 2018.
The 11th International Lion Dance Competition takes place on 2nd and 3rd February 2018 at the carpark at Banda Street. Watch as skilled lion dance troupes face-off against each other, feel the rhythm and pulse of the beating drums. Tickets to the lion dance competition can be purchased from the Kreta Ayer Community Club or Chinatown Visitor Centre at Kreta Ayer Square.
The whole neighbourhood transforms every Chinese New Year and becomes very festive from all the decorations and the lantern that light up the streets. Singapore, though very modern, still retains its cultural and traditional roots very well. These celebrations are fine examples of the country’s richness.
Author : Anya Likhitha
Anya is the lead photographer for our Singapore Photography Tours. Dreamer. Star gazer. All about the visuals. Coming from a fashion and fine art background, Anya's photography is an extension of her subconscious.