|After the first colonials settled north-east of the Singapore River, the city and trade developed rapidly on the opposite river banks, hugging the ocean shoreline. Chinatown was born. An explosion of new immigrant labor brought in from China spilled westward street after street, in crammed and harsh living conditions, unimaginable today. In the 19th century two roads from east to west reached across the river, first South and North Bridge Road, followed by New Bridge Road. Then to cut through the middle of the sprawl, came Cross Street. Left and right of Cross Street is todays Chinatown.
I spend this Sunday morning, criss-crossing this section of town. This ten minute ride shows you what came of all this in the last 20 years : renovation, preservation and re-birthing of a modern commercial life in old surrounding. The first street I turn into is Telok Ayer Street which was the ocean shoreline then. It is hard to imagine that when I came here in 1970s, death houses were still alive here. People took their dying family members upstairs, while gambling and merrymaking continued on the ground floor until the day of the funeral ceremonies. Story tellers huddled, encircled by a mesmerized audience of listeners at street corners. Families occupied and sharing crammed quarters with others, sleeping in shifts. Providing homes for its citizens in new satellite cities was the great achievement for Singapore in the 70s and 80s. Now I pass offices, restaurants, boutique-hotels, nostalgia-chic residences, architecture that spans 150 years, meticulously restored temples and shrines of various faiths, an endless variety of shops offering every thing Chinese, among the latest construction sites, digging subways below and stretching overpasses above. (And Schubert's Wanderer sounds in the background again, Rondo, Allegro Vivace, like in those related earlier clips of mine on China town, Jalan Jalan 10 and 11, as you may discover ...)