I had a *lot* of fun yesterday, doing a practice section of cultural mapping in Waterloo Street. It was colourful, and fascinating, and basically compiled a bunch of the things that I like about working in museums into one handy location. It’s the hunt for data and information, that puts together a picture. I’m gushing, but it’s wonderful.
Waterloo Street stretches from Rocher road to Bras Basah Road in downtown Singapore. Our cultural mapping session included the space between Albert Street and Bencoolen Link. The space includes two amazing temples, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and Sri Krishna Temple. The street in front of the temples is crowded with incense and flower sellers, fortune readers and massage tents. The next section up takes a hard right and is almost all retail or clothes and Knick-knacks.
I decided to follow the sounds of the street. A fair amount of cultural mapping is focused on intangible heritage, and as a personal note I tend to identify places with the way the sound first when remembering. Plus, if you took the sounds away from this street, it would lose a significant amount of it’s cultural feel.
As you enter the street from the Sri Krishna Temple, there is the sound of the bells being rung on the front door. This bell is an important part of the process of entering the temple space, as they believe that it will make them more receptive to the experience inside. The bell is also associated being polite, and asking permission of the gods to enter the temple.
Just outside this temple, and I admit that this is going to sound odd, but you will likely hear a bit of flesh slapping. This is the sound of the massage practitioners working on clients. The massage places are all professing to have special healing properties and have signs up explaining ‘energy’ flows in peoples bodies. You will also start to have people approach you, looking to sell either flowers of incense that can be used in the temples. They don’t ask incessantly, just politely once. I came across a man without a nose, and wearing a placard that said “Diesel causes cancer”, speaking loudly to anyone who would listen in Mandarin.
Outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, you will hear what is best described as the sound of shaking. The temple is devoted to Avalokitesvara, the Goddess of Mercy. Devotees believe that using fortune sticks (or divination) sticks will help to guide them. The process includes shaking a cylinder of these items, which when combined by the many others in the space performing the same ritual, creates a sound that can be easily heard on the street.
Moving down the street towards Bencoolen Link, shops have turned their music up to encourage visitation. Unlike China town, the music here is not sugary American pop, it’s chanting or religious in nature. All of it is in a language I can’t understand, but it is still quite effecting. The retail is mostly offerings, herbs, food and religious paraphernalia.
As you cross the Bencoolen Link, heading towards Albert Street, you reach more retail. Over here you will find people on megaphones selling clothes, knife sharpeners, and all manner of Knick-knacks. You will also be able to hear people bantering and bartering with stall keepers.
The street is incredible. It’s so full of sounds that you normally wouldn’t hear together in Australia. I have to go back before the end of my trip to actually try the divination stick ritual. I had a lot of fun here, and i can’t wait for the next session with Ngee Ann Polytechinic students.
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.