Saturday, January 05, 2008


Chinatown in Singapore is small, tiny and full of … tourists.

The area between Pagoda Street and Smith Street has been considered as a ChinaLand for tourists, with all its clichés and resizable shops and markets. Everything seems to be perfectly normalized and without smells or authenticity. But as soon as you move away one street from the delimited zone magic happens.

Strange shops propose strange items. Like for example, this food stall that not only propose dry sausages in a wall of 4 meters high, but right in the middle of it you can contemplate flat, deboned, smoked ducks.

Contrary to what you can observe outside the ChinaLand for tourists, houses are very much well polished and well structured. Everything fit together in an elegant way. Almost if the picturesque 4 streets proposed to tourists should reflect what was anticipated.

During this rainy exploration day, people in Singapore take it as it should be when rain pours down on you. They wait and watch, discuss or eat while the rain keeps cleaning the city. Chess board is a serious business and I am sure that Tuk-Tuk drivers who recycle as a Chess champion had to pass a Chinese Chess test before having their Tuk-Tuk driving license.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (288 South Bridge Rd) is a massive red building on the edge of Chinatown. This four-story temple was just finished few months ago. A few meters away from it, Sri Mariamman Temple (244 South Bridge Rd) is Singapore's oldest and most important Hindu temple. People line up their shoes outside before entering the plain temple. This is quite a contrast with the Buddha Temple that is more impressive and spectacular by its size.

The temple hosts a 27-foot statue of Maitreya Buddha, and the sacred relic itself, reputedly one of Buddha Shakyamuni's teeth, can be found on the fourth floor. On the roof is the 10,000 Buddhas Pagoda, hosting a large Tibetan-style prayer wheel. I haven’t counted each of them but it seems quite a lot. Each wall is filled with some urn coffin and a number that people visit to cherish until the closure of the temple.

Contrary to the scenery, Chinatown in Singapore offers the best food option one can imagine. In a small radius you can find the best and finest food courts in the region filled with hundreds of hawker center stalls. Maxwell Food Center (2 Murray St., opens for 24 hours) and Smith St. Food Center are only two to be mentioned for now. I promise to have a detailed and dedicated entry on each Hawker Center later on.

When lights turn red in Chinatown, Smith St. changes itself into a giant street restaurant where people gather around a S$ 5 Tiger beer, or a massive plate of Carrot Cake. This is probably the best way to enjoy ChinaLand, at night with some food and friends in a street restaurant. Otherwise it would be better to sneak to Ann Siang Hill instead for a drink, a movie or ballad in the garden.