Lynn Wong, one of the project researchers behind the Bicentennial Walking Workshop Series shares with workshop participants about the history of the Tanjong Pagar and Tanjong Malang area at the Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple (Wang Hai Da Bo Gong Temple).
Doesn’t matter if you’re a local, expat or visitor – you can easily put on your walking shoes and learn about Singapore’s culture and heritage through the various trails here.
Some 120 Singaporeans and foreigners did just that from September to December 2019 as part of the Bicentennial Walking Workshop Series.
Organised by Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) with support from the National Heritage Board and National Integration Council, the trails covered 21 places of worship built during Singapore’s colonial era.
The Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Pillaigal temple was built by Nattukkottai Chettiars, a noted money lending community from Tamil Nadu. The temple name derives from its original location along the old Sepoy Lines, where Indian soldiers in the British military were housed.
Over four Sundays, groups of participants visited different places of worship in downtown areas such as Tanjong Pagar, Telok Ayer, and Chinatown. Each walking workshop was anchored by a specific theme and included visits to places such as temples, mosques, and clan associations. Nine of them are National Monuments, while another seven are in conservation areas.
These walks provided not only historical information about the sites, but also drew attention to the contemporary challenges faced by the current communities that take care of them.
Fostering deeper understanding
With trained facilitators leading the discussion, the small group format of the walking workshops encouraged meaningful exchange between participants and stakeholders.
Dr Chua Ai Lin, Executive Director of SHS, shared, “This is the first time we have tried to take the programme one step further to deepen the learning by having a one-hour discussion workshop at the end of each walk. We wanted our participants to think about important questions and enrich their experience through discussions with fellow participants, who have diverse perspectives.”
Master Tan Zhixia, the Priest-in-Residence of Yu Huang Gong and Vice President of the Taoist Mission speaking to workshop participants. The temple was built by the Straits Chinese association, Keng Teck Whay in the 1850s, who also contributed to the construction of Thian Hock Keng next door.
Learning beyond four walls
Led by three researchers, the walking workshop series was backed by a two-year study of pre-World War II places of worship commissioned by SHS.
The research team studied Chinese temples, clan associations, Hindu temples, mosques and churches in what was the first holistic study of places of worship in the early settlement areas of Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Tanjong Malang. These areas were established after Stamford Raffles' arrival.
Although the series was not deliberately timed to coincide with Singapore’s Bicentennial celebrations, everything fell into place nicely.
Dr Chua said, “We felt that the material we had from the research project actually fit the Bicentennial theme of multiculturalism very well, as we were looking at places that represented different communities and traditions in Singapore.
“Through the tours, we hope our participants can understand these places of worship from an insider’s perspective, and from the ‘people dimension’ beyond knowing them as just historical buildings.”
One of the workshop participants, Dr Florence Mok, said, “As an expat who is new to Singapore, I found the walking tour organised by SHS very informative and interesting. It also leads me to rethink the history behind different local heritage sites and what defines a ‘community’.”
SHS’s hope is that the conversation on heritage and community extends beyond the walks themselves. Participants were given access to SHS’s online publications and web resources, so that they could share their learning with their friends and family. SHS plans to develop more related educational content – both print and online – for the public in future.
Find out more about being a part of the heritage community at the Singapore Heritage Society website.
At Kong Chow Wui Koon, SHS walking workshop tour leader, Lynn Wong, talks to participants about the history of this clan association, where she serves as the English-language Board Secretary, Youth Department Chairperson and the Vice-Chairperson of Kungfu, Dragon and Lion Dance Department.