Heritage Murals of Chinatown, Singapore (牛车水壁画)
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
It has been couple of years since I last combed the streets of Chinatown for murals and several new art pieces had surfaced in some corners of the popular heritage site — and some had disappeared.
When I was in Chinatown again to carry out a "Michelin Food Marathon" stunt at Chinatown Complex Food Centre to try Michelin-accoladed food, I stumbled on a mural that was painted by local artist Yip Yew Chong. Having seen several of Yip's artworks in Tiong Bahru, Everton Park and Kampong Glam, I knew there would be more in the area. So I combed the whole Chinatown once again to find all his creations.
In a nutshell, the heritage murals featured scenes of life in the early days of Chinatown — sights that had since disappeared from Singapore.
1. Letter Writer
In the old days, many illiterate Chinese would seek the services of educated letter writers to help them write to their families in China hometowns. Sit on the "chair" and have your letter written.
Location: Along Smith Street, just opposite Hawker Chan.
2. Mid-Autumn Festival
It is coincidental that the Mid-Autumn Festival for 2020 is just round the corner. This mural will look wonderful if a couple of kids can stand near it and carry real lanterns.
Location: In the alley behind Lucky Chinatown mall.
3. Paper Mask & Puppet Seller
The seller — known as Ban Kok — earned a living selling paper masks and puppets on a cart which he peddled around Chinatown in the old days. Do support him, buy the puppet from him.
Location: At the junction between South Bridge Road and Mohamed Ali Lane.
4. Lion Dance Head Maker, The Windows & Mamak Store
This painting is comprised of three murals that created a typical scene in Chinatown's post-war shophouses. Notice that Chinatown is not solely a Chinese-only district, but Chinese, Malays and Indians living together in harmony.
Location: Just beside the Paper Mask & Puppet Seller mural.
5. My Chinatown Home
This is a long piece of mural on the outer wall of a shop house along Smith Street. It depicts Yip's memory of his own first house in Chinatown. The windows and doors are real, but well-blended into the mural.
Location: Along Smith Street, at a junction in Chinatown Food Street.
6. Cantonese Opera
This is the largest piece of artwork with one complete scene featuring a stage with audience and scenes behind the stage. Such opera had became history in Singapore. This is really nostalgic.
Location: One end of Temple Street opposite Sri Mariamman Temple.
7. Detective Conan in Chinatown
This is the first time I saw a twist in Yip's handiworks — he added the comic figure Detective Conan into his mural. Conan is trying some durian from a durian seller.
Location: At one end of Smith Street, opposite Nanyang Old Coffee.
There was an even larger piece of artwork, named "Hokkien Huay Kuan", at the Thian Hock Keng Temple along Amoy Street, which comprises of a series of murals depicting the stories of the Hokkien community in the early days.
Read: "Hokkien Huay Kuan" Mural at Thian Hock Keng Temple (天福宫壁画)
Come to think of it, all of Yip's murals can actually be compiled into a book on Singapore's heritage and culture. Do check out Yip's website (yipyc.com) for updates on his artworks.