We were once a fishing village, but today we are a fully-developed, first-world nation. We were once a mere trading port, but today we are a cosmopolitan city. During World War 2, our only usable airstrip against the Japanese had been pitted with bombs in ruthless air battles, but today we are the country with the world’s best airport. One of the filthiest cities in the ‘60s, but today we are one of the cleanest cities in the world and are dubbed as the ‘Garden City’.
Such has been our growth and evolution as a nation. We have such a rich history accompanied by so many stories that even we, as Singaporeans, do not know about. What a shame, don’t you think?
Well, Singapore HeritageFest 2021 (SHF 2021) has seized this opportunity to allow us to relive old tales involving the history of Singapore from 3 to 30 May 2021!
Singapore HeritageFest 2021 will move beyond what the past editions of the Festival have been covering, which were focused mainly on the heritage of neighbourhoods and precincts. But Singapore has a far richer history that is just waiting to be explored and shared. SHF 2021 will honour some of Singapore’s healthcare milestones and commemorate our food heritage, while uncovering stories that have been buried way beneath our history books.
You will be taking a look at medical buildings in olden-days Singapore and delving deep into the history and benefits of Eastern healing practices, like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda! As for our food heritage, you will get a glimpse into the food of different cultures and food belonging to different communities, while also exploring some fusion recipes!
There will be over 100 on-site and online programmes for you to engage with and explore – from virtual tours, talks, and video documentaries, to on-site tours and hands-on workshops. There will be something for everyone to learn!
Now, allow me to just tease you a little on what you can expect to see!
From the Food Heritage part of the festival, you can enjoy a very special, Blast from the Past: A Nature Walk in Thomson Nature Park! This park, unknown to many, is home to many abandoned structures that will blow your mind! Some beautiful structures you will get to see are ancient wells, pottery jars and spiral staircases that have seen so much history. These structures belong to a kampong known as Hainan Village. It was vacated in the ‘80s. But in this unique tour, you will catch a glimpse into the lives of former villagers of the area as they climbed fruit trees and used those fruits to spice up their mealtimes. And who knows, if you’re lucky, you may even get to see the endangered primate, a Raffles’ Banded Langur, which dwells in the conservation park!
Available for you on 22, 23, 29 and 30 May for a refreshing weekend morning journey of exploration from 9am till 10.30am!
Now on to the digital segment to the Food Heritage section of the Festival! Don’t fret, as there are still many spectacular online segments that you can sign up for. But the one that intrigued me the most was the When Cooking Was a Crime Dialogue.
Prison inmates and drug rehabilitation centre detainees who missed the taste of home and local hawker centres would seek refuge in the stealth of night to cook up their closest version of laksa, bubur cha cha and even ban mian using chamber pots such as cooking vessels and toilet water (the only form of water they had complete and unlimited access to) to make soups and gravies. Your heart aches for them, doesn’t it? Don’t you want to know more? This is your chance. Ex-convicts’ lost recipes and stories have been re-captured and documented, to share with the nation the sheer love one has for our local delights and home-cooked food that we so easily take advantage of.
Their stories have been published in a special publication called When Cooking Was A Crime: Masak In The Singapore Prisons, 1970s-1980s. Author Sheere Ng and photographer Don Wong will bring you through their journey in making this project come to life. You will also get to hear from Benny Se Teo, a chef and former drug offender. His story has been showcased in the publication, and he will be coming to share his experiences with you.
This event will be live-streamed on Saturday, 23 May, from 2pm to 3pm, on the SHF Facebook page. I know you wouldn’t want to miss this, so mark your calendars right now.
Next, moving on to the physical programmes planned for the Medical History section of the Festival! You do not have to be part of the medical field or have prior medical or biological knowledge to be a part of this segment! This is a part of history, a part of Singapore, and honouring our national milestones is what connects us and brings us here.
The first event I would like to introduce you to is one of many that are presented in partnership with Jerome Lim and the Singapore Land Authority.
It is the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Tour of Tanglin Village! In Tanglin Village, you will get to visit a place that had a great hand to play in the past, but today, it would be a wonder if anyone recognised its name – Tanglin Military Hospital. The former hospital’s various blocks still stand today but have been repurposed to suit the needs of Dempsey Hill. The Tanglin Village we know today started off as Tanglin Barracks back in the 1860s. You will walk through this once-thriving hospital in which many lives have been saved, and many soldiers have been treated. You will also get to explore the red-bricked St George’s Church, which was gazetted as a national monument in 1978.
On Saturdays, on 22 May and 29 May, there will be two sessions available to you, one from 9am to 10.15am, and another from 11am to 12.15pm.
A digital event that will take place under the same partnership between Jerome Lim and the Singapore Land Authority is Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Digital Tour of Old Changi Hospital by Jerome. Old Changi Hospital is another hospital that is no longer in service but is still standing, rich in history waiting to be discovered and explored. It had shockingly started off as a camp for Royal Engineers in the 1930s.
It was then converted into a hospital in 1947 to serve the Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Changi. This is known to have then been one of RAF’s best medical facilities. Heritage blogger and author Jerome Lim will bring you through the journey this hospital has been on and its unique features that worked well for patients during its running as a hospital. This virtual event will take place on 8 May, at 4pm!
Did you think that these are the only programmes available? Not even close! It’s not called a Festival for nothing! You can check out more about the different events and programmes, and be sure to book your tickets or register early for slot-restricted programmes. All required information will be on the Singapore HeritageFest website!
To me, the Singapore HeritageFest 2021 feels perfectly fitting for the circumstances we are in today. As we transition into a smart city and a virtual world, which the pandemic has largely catalysed, it’s nice to have both online and offline events. We are also restricted to our side of the borders with little hope for relaxing vacations anytime soon. Hence, re-exploring and learning about our nation beyond things you thought you already knew is the opportunity to appreciate our country’s story and evolution even more!
With endless events that fall on weekends and even many family-friendly programmes, there is so much for you to do this month for Singapore HeritageFest 2021! It looks like it’s time to start planning!
Isn’t it lovely to leave the month of May to the magic of change and evolution? Isn’t it charming that despite living in entirely different times, we can experience and relive history? I think it is.
Visuals courtesy of Singapore HeritageFest, BES Drongos, Don Wong, Simone Lee and The Fussy Foodie.