Chinatown features Singapore’s distinct Chinese culture and heritage. It is commonly known as Niu Che Shui (牛车水) in Chinese which refers to the bullock carts that used to supply fresh water to its residents in the area.
Under British Rule, different ethnic groups were allowed to live in only certain areas of the city. Even though Chinatown was for the Chinese, the Chinese immigrants spoke different dialects (Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Cantonese, Hainanese) and kept to their in-groups in Chinatown.
“The Hokkien, among the earliest to arrive in Singapore, took on trade and commerce and came to dominate as business owners.The Teochew specialised in agriculture, with many making their fortunes from gambier and pepper.Source: Stories of Chinatown: A Humble Beginning
The Cantonese became miners and artisans, taking on occupations such as bricklayers, carpenters, woodcutters, tailors, jewellers and goldsmiths.
Like the Cantonese, the Hakkas worked in craft-related occupations but also dominated the niche trade of pawn broking.
The Hainanese were among the latest to arrive and had fewer options – they entered the service industries, and specialised in occupations associated with food and beverage, such as coffee stall holders, assistants, bakers, barmen and waiters.
The main street in Chinatown would be Pagoda Street. This is where all the tourists’ traps are. The street is lined with gift shops with sales people eager to close a deal. Whenever I walk down the street with Daniel, they often assume I’m a tourist. If you find something you fancy there, sure, buy it. If not, just take your time and have a look around.
If you’re ever stopping over in Singapore (many flights from Frankfurt do!) and wonder what to do, how about visiting this little gem that is still thriving?
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