Monday, February 21, 2011

Reflection

Our Thoughts...


Balestier. I have never thought it held such a historical significance in Singapore.
In fact i've never known a balestier for anything other than its food.
for me, balestier was just yet another sleepy(read boring) town, like clementi or choa chu kang or the various parts of singapore I've been to in my life which can be counted by the fingers of one hand.
it did not struck me as particularly interesting.
I had thought we drew the short straw when we got balestier.
boring! my mind immediately wandered to the bak kut teh and chicken rice stalls.
To say that our trip there was an eye-opener is an understatement.
my impression of the sleepy(again read boring) town of balestier has been changed.
We had done some research before heading over there but as we trudged from place to place with the help of an iphone GPS, we discovered(or I did anyway) the many hidden wonders of balestier.
Certainly this heritage trail was interesting enough. Well, its been really long since I went on a heritage trail or an excursion or something like that for that matter.
perhaps it was the preconceived notion that balestier was boring, or that i made this trip with a group of great people. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and my impression of balestier has certainly changed for the better.

-wenglun


I have always thought that Singapore is a boring place with concrete skyscrapers without much historical significance. Perhaps the only places I thought had the "history" feel about them was the museums. Furthermore, my trip to the UK last year further cemented that thinking into my head; the UK had magnificent structures built hundreds/thousands of years ago, steeped richly in history. Compared to our own, ours paled significantly (Or so I thought). However, that may have whetted my appetite for the heritage trail as I was inexplicably excited to discover more about my very own heritage. Alas, when I found out that we were going to Balestier, my excitement level went down a notch. I was hoping to get the CBD or even chinatown/kampong glam/little india. To be fair, I didn't know much about balestier so this would be good exposure to me as a history teacher-to-be.

Walking down the streets, I was quietly pleased to be proving myself wrong. Balestier had so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered by the ignorant like yours truly. What was once "inconspicuous" started screaming out to me as if wanting to make themselves known that they won't be belittled. I began to look at landmarks like single-storey shophouses in a new light (pun intended). It was almost like a trip down memory lane, except that these weren't mine but that of the older generation who had lived through the (limited) transformation of Balestier. Singapore is rich in culture and heritage in her own ways and I am game on to go discover more hidden gems which may have passed me by.

The commercial reuse of the single-storey shophouses for example, is a stroke of genius as it allows the facet of our past to be preserved but at the same time, put to good use. This conservation is done through the URA keeping the front of the shophouses untouched and unchanged and allows younger generations like us to witness for ourselves and to live and breathe a slice of history.

-Jocelyn


I was really excited when I heard about the Heritage Trail Assignment. It really didn't matter where we were assigned, I guess I just enjoy learning about the history of places. Maybe it's because my mum is a tour guide and I caught on some of that passion from her. I guess what's more interesting for me is when I found out that the place we were trailing is somewhere so familiar to me - Balestier.

Before the trail, I rarely paid any attention to the shophouses I past by so often when riding to church. I often took it for granted that this is just another building, failing to recognise the rich history behind the facets.

I must have been really ignorant to the places my feet trot upon. Before the trail, I didn't even know the significance behind the road names like Balestier, Kim Keat, Irawaddy etc. Hidden places like the traditional bakeries, Sun Yat Sen memorial hall, the water kiosk at Boon teck Road, the old Shaw studios etc. would continue to be hidden had I not have the opportunity to go on this heritage trail.

Now, passing by these same buildings give me a totally different 'feel'. When travelling with my friends, I now like to point out to these shophouses and give them a mini tour of the sites I discovered! (Makes me feel like my mum actually)

I also no longer take the places I see for granted. At the bus stop where I always wait for my bus, I 'suddenly' saw one of those heritage stones with a brief history on Lavender and how it got its name. Well, I actually took interest to read it, after not noticing it for the longest time. The same applied when I was at Outram Park station where they had one of these stones on the Outram Prison in the past.

I've learnt that history is really all around us. The difference between one who knows and one who is ignorant is his level of curiosity and initiative to find out!

- Carmen

Singapore history and her cultural heritage were often destroyed and demolished to make way for urbanization and development. Before the heritage trail, I was not aware that there were actually so many places which still preserve the cultural heritage of Singapore History. After all, many people commonly thought that Singapore is a modern city with few preserved cultural heritage.

More so, I had no idea that Balestier Road is a cultural heritage site. In fact, when I knew we were going to do a heritage trail at Balestier, I wondered what exactly is there for me to explore. However, after the trail, I realized that there are many hidden histories behind Balestier. It is definitely not just old, undemolished buildings. This heritage experience made me realize that Singapore’s cultural heritage is actually quite rich and diverse.

Through conservation and commercial reuse of historical sites, many of these sites avoided the fate of being destroyed and demolished. As Singapore has limited land area for use and a growing population, our government often had to redevelop land areas even if they are of historic value. This is sadly to say, the costly price we have to pay for urbanization. However, initiative of conservation and commercial reuse of heritage site can serve the dual purpose of preserving our heritage and effectively making use of limited land area. As evidently shown in our Balestier Heritage Trail, the government successfully integrated the preservation of Balestier as a heritage site, and at the same time, commercial activities are carried out in that area and there are also people living in that area, maximizing land usage. Other historical sites such as Jalan Besar also made use of similar way to preserve their traditional heritage.

However, although historical sites are being preserved in this way, many Singaporeans are still extremely unaware of these places as traditional heritage sites. They often regard places like Balestier and Jalan Besar as ‘old’ neighbourhood instead. Few people know the history and value of these sites and more so, appreciate the existence of these sites as a representation to Singapore’s history. This is an aspect in what conservation and commercial reuse is unsuccessful.

I personally feel that Singapore has done her part in trying to preserve her historical heritage. However, there is a need to educate Singaporeans so that there is value in preserving these sites, otherwise these historical sites would be no different from other places.

--Sebastian Thng


Talk about Balestier and the first thing that comes to mind is Bak Kuh Teh. In fact, that Balestier is more synonymous with its Bak Kuh Teh, Tau Sar Piah, Chicken Rice and the dozens of lighting stores that dot the area tells one just how much of our heritage Singaporeans really know.

Indeed, the "gar-ment" has done its upmost to promote our "Singaporean heritage", especially with all this preservation of historical sites and what not, but it would seem that for the average Singaporean, our understanding of our historical heritage is limited to the Social Studies textbooks and various excursions we take while in primary school.

Unfortunately, I must profess that I fall into that boat, my knowledge of Singapore's past being vastly limited to what I've learnt in school, and that's when I was awake to listen to my teachers. Talk to me about History and I can go on and on about the Greeco-Roman world and it's lasting impact on modern society, I can talk about Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, I even know more about Communist China, but when it comes to our little island, Sukarno's little red dot, I can put my hand up and say I know peanuts about our history.

And sadly, despite having been on this heritage trail, my interest in Singapore history still has yet to be kindled. I understand that I am largely to blame for this kind of perception, as it is my personal opinion, but looking at these various sites, I can't help but have the same feeling that I reflect the opinion of Singapore society as a whole.

Despite the conservation and commercial re-use of these sites, it almost seems as if they take a back seat to ever the forward-moving change of this city. Afterall, beyond the odd mention in our textbooks, these heritage sites just sit there quietly, camouflaged in the vast modern landscape that is 21st Century Singapore. In fact, it can almost be said that if not for the need to give tourists something historical to look at, these heritage sites would probably just fall off the map, such is the level of ignorance from the general populace.

Adding to that point, as I was walking along the trail, I was reminded of an episode of Discovery Channel's Living Cities: Singapore, where they touched on the struggles we face as a living, breathing, rapidly growing city in holding on to our past; when the machinations of economic growth and modernisation seem to be propelling us forward at breakneck speed, how do we grab our past tightly enough that we can bring it along. Important questions that we as Singaporeans need to answer.

In a way it's almost like saying, so what if our buildings are conserved, look at the art deco shophouses, they just look out of place. It would seem that preservation of our historical heritage needs to go beyond just saving these locations.

- Orson



Balestier. Not a place that springs to mind when you feel like having a good time. That was the sentiment shared by my entire group. We felt as though we had the worst luck of the draw, all thanks to Carmen. We got off to a slow start, being turned away from a palm reading because the temple was already closing (at 3 in the afternoon!), while we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. We hardly even saw anyone else on streets as we went about our trail, and even the cars seemed to be travelling slower. Again, this was at 3 in the afternoon. Balestier was like a huge time warp and we were sucked right into it.

Everywhere we went, stores were either closed or closing. The first bakery we went to was already down to their last few loaves of bread. These weren't of the Gardenia variety, but real rustic and hearty loaves of bread that few of us had ever seen before. At least, not at this stage of the baking process. The hawker centre we visited next was only sparsely populated by the elderly, chit-chatting and idling away their time. Wherever we went, we were only followed by a peaceful silence.

A peaceful silence that was punctuated by the jarring staccato of Jiahui's voice. If there was anything I hated about Balestier, it was probably the stillness in the air. It wasn't loud enough to mask her surprise at everything, nor the loud peals of laughter that ensued.

Balestier was an old place. Building after building, none seemed to reach skyward like those in the city area had. Sure, there were a few likely skyscrapers going up, but these stood out against a backdrop of a clear sky. The views from the top would be magnificent. The olden architecture was a reminder of a long forgotten time in Singapore's past, one that we seldom re-visit in our constant pursuit of perfection. Balestier was a gem, albeit an aged and unpolished gem.

Contrary to what my groupmates might think, and what the pictures suggest, the highlight of Balestier for me was not the food (granted, those were delicious bonuses). It was the opportunity to be in the presence of these old buildings, to soak up the sleepy atmosphere and the still air. To walk along the giant longkang with friends, like I imagine they did back when buses and cars were not so common. For me, the heritage trail had brought me back to the past, to a simpler time, for that short three hours.

- Daryl


When Carmen picked the envelope which contained the trail that we are supposed to take on, I was hoping that it would be somewhere that I've not been to, or at least somewhere which had good food. True enough, it turned out to be Balestier and it's probably a place that I've had passed by but never really ventured into. Yes, I'm that much of a countryside pumpkin. Excitement would be an understatement.

It was sunny in the west when we set off but unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs on our way. That would take away some fun for sure. Luckily, I had the company of freshly baked bread to munch on throughout the trail, even though it was probably the leftovers. Nonetheless, they were so delicious and reminded me of days when I was still a kid.

As it was late in the afternoon, we did not experience the hustle and bustle that one would expect during the meal times. Balestier certainly boasts a plethora of food choices for the Singaporean. As we walked down the street, I truly enjoyed appreciating the intricate carvings on the various shophouses, some painted with colors that could not withstand the test of time and of course some that were very eye-catching and that you knew that it got a fresh coat of paint, probably for the impending festivity.

I can safely say that everyone had an enjoyable time marveling at the colonial architecture, the temples and of course the food! The trail was a rejuvenating one and despite the rain at its start, we all had fun rediscovering history and it is heartening to see that attempts to preserve our heritage is being carried out. The renovation for Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Masjid Haijh Rahimabi Kebun Limau would be a case in point. (:

-Jiahui



To begin with, you can approach any average east-sider and expect to draw a blank/blur/confused look when you enquire about Balestier, unless they might know that's one of the best places to find the best tau sah piah in Singapore.

Other than that, Balestier is a hot bed of many things you might not actually see around in Singapore anymore. For instance, the free water dispenser at the corner of Balestier and Boon Teck Road. These water dispensers used to be common and were provided by Clans and Religious centers for the servants and drivers of the rich, while they waited for their employers.

Before I bore you out with the repeated emphasis on the nostalgic feel of the place, no seriously the place has a feel somewhat like in Malaysia, those kinda old shophouses in Penang, Ipoh, etc and that doesn't really fit into the modern landscaping of Singapore these days. In lieu of rising land prices and scarcity, how long will Balestier remain a "protected" area? A quick check online shows that throughout Singapore, there are currently 71 areas that have been accorded the "protected" by government status (though one wonders for how long?) So I personally feel that while these areas still possess the bulk of their original elements, we should really make it a point to check them out, document the experience first hand so that it will never be lost forever and inevitably to future government "developmental" upgrades/plans.


-Prinya

4 comments:

  1. Do you need Personal Loan?
    Business Cash Loan?
    Unsecured Loan
    Fast and Simple Loan?
    Quick Application Process?
    Approvals within 24-72 Hours?
    No Hidden Fees Loan?
    Funding in less than 1 Week?
    Get unsecured working capital?
    Contact Us At :majidvijahlending@gmail.com

    LOAN SERVICES AVAILABLE INCLUDE:
    ================================
    *Commercial Loans.
    *Personal Loans.
    *Business Loans.
    *Investments Loans.
    *Development Loans.
    *Acquisition Loans .
    *Construction loans.
    *Business Loans And many More:

    LOAN APPLICATION FORM:
    =================
    Full Name:................
    Loan Amount Needed:.
    Purpose of loan:.......
    Loan Duration:..
    Gender:.............
    Marital status:....
    Location:..........
    Home Address:..
    City:............
    Country:......
    Phone:..........
    Mobile / Cell:....
    Occupation:......
    Monthly Income:....

    Contact Us At :majidvijahlending@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you need Personal Loan? Business Cash Loan? Unsecured Loan Fast and Simple Loan? Quick Application Process? Approvals within 12-24 Hours? No Hidden Fees Loan? Funding in less than 2 days? Get unsecured working capital? Contact Us At :(urgentloan22@gmail.com)

    LOAN APPLICATION FORM:
    =================
    Full Name:................
    Loan Amount Needed:.
    Purpose of loan:.......
    Loan Duration:..
    Gender:.............
    Marital status:....
    Location:..........
    Home Address:..
    City:............
    Country:......
    Phone:..........
    Mobile / Cell:....
    Occupation:......
    Monthly Income:....
    Contact Us At :urgentloan22@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Are you in need of a loan? Do you want to pay off your bills? Do you want to be financially stable? All you have to do is to contact us for more information on how to get started and get the loan you desire. This offer is open to all that will be able to repay back in due time. Note-that repayment time frame is negotiable and at interest rate of 3% just email us creditloan.11@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. My name is.Mrs.Juliet Quin. I live in Canada and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of $ 73,000.00 to start my life all over as i am a single mother with 3 kids I met this honest and GOD fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of $ 73,000.00 Canada Dollar, he is a GOD fearing man, if you are in need of loan and you will pay back the loan please contact him tell him that is Mrs.Juliet Quin that refer you to him. Contact Dr Purva Pius via email: reply to email {urgentloan22@gmail.com}

    ReplyDelete