I’ve headed over to Chinatown three times now, with the last visit to really try and narrow down what is was that felt different between it and Kampong Glam. In Kampong Glam, I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and felt immersed at times in a different culture. In Chinatown I was feeling... I think hustled might be the right word for it. There is a disconnect from what I feel is authentic.
Kampong Glam may have a lane which has gone to the trendy side, but it has streets that feel like locals may actually go to. Fabric stores that people might buy from. Streets that people might walk. It sounded right, which is an odd thing to say, but the noise of the space felt consistent with where my feet were planted.
Chinatown presents something vastly different. The heritage buildings might still be there, and I think that sometimes they might be in the right colours, but everything else feels somehow off. The stalls from the shops reach right into the street, with temporary structures covering the wares. Everyone is selling the exact same things: electronics, souvenirs or clothing. The clothing comes in three flavours - tourist, exotic or (weirdly) Himalayan chic hippy? The stalls all include music which is generally terrible (kind of my taste) 80’s and 90’s pop. It just feels dreadfully tourist-y and inauthentic in comparison to the enjoyment that I found in Kampong Glam. I should note, that once I moved out of the middle of the space, things did get better (mostly).
The Chinatown complex was incredible, with a wet section of the likes I have never seen before. So many prawns! But also turtle and frogs, which briefly made me consider going back to vegetarian. Their faces were so cute. Outside the centre is a gathering space where people were playing Chinese Chess. Across from the MRT station, I also found the People’s Park Center where I ate some fabulous duck rice, browsed through craft stores and gazed from the outside at a bookstore of used books all in Mandarin (I think). It felt authentic.
Which brings me to the complexity of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple. Firstly, the temple is flanked by more souvenir stores, which is probably a little unideal. The inside of the temple is unbelievable. The panels explaining the information are great. The museum is very new and very slick. It’s really worth the trip every upwards, and I honestly suggest just using the steps once you pass the first level. Right up the top of the temple is a beautiful garden, with a prayer wheel in the middle. It is truly beautiful. However, I wondered how the people within the temple, there to connect with their religion, felt about the million tourists who were coming through. Did they feel resentful of our presence? Did they feel like they were having an authentic moment? I don’t think I would enjoy being in that fish bowl, with everyone starting at me like I was a curiosity.
Chinatown is really interesting. Great for some cheap souvenirs (sooooo many pashminas). The Chinese Heritage Centre is awesome, and the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple is pretty amazing. I feel like there is a bunch of work that could go into making it feel more authentic, but that might not actually be what the local businesses want (and maybe money is the big factor here). Authentic or not, it is certain a place with plenty of adventuring that can be had
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.