By Caitlin Lim
- November 5, 2020

Another Side to Singapore: A Past Not (Yet) Forgotten

Art and Culture . Singapore

The Singapore that we know of is majestic, full of futuristic buildings that seem to have come straight out of a science-fiction novel. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover another side to Singapore; places that seem almost out-of-place in this modern metropolis. Yet, they exist, somehow, against all odds. For how long more? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, come on a journey with us and uncover these remnants of the old Singapore

Canteen 398

Canteen 398 At Seletar Is Possibly The Longest Surviving Canteen In S'pore
Canteen 398 | © Discover SG

Located in the depths of Seletar, I would have never known the existence of Canteen 398 had my dad not brought me here for breakfast one fine morning. My dad used to drive me to school, you see, and I’d sleep all the way till we reached. You can imagine my disbelief once I stepped out of the car! This kampong-style canteen is probably the last of its kind in the increasingly developed Singapore, and it's almost a wonder to think of how it has survived up till now. The floor tiles are mosaic, a dirty green, the same kind you would find in old coffee shops of Malaysia. The wooden tables looked like they would collapse if too much weight was placed upon them, and the chairs were the cheap plastic kind that you’ll find people sitting on at Pasar Malams. It’s definitely not the place you would come to for ambience, but despite all that, Canteen 398 has a certain charm to it. Though it’s been a few years since I’ve been there, all I can do is wonder about it, even now. Apparently, the kopi has been 70 cents here for the longest time. Although it’s a little out of the way for most, I’d definitely recommend a visit here — there’s nothing quite like it in Singapore. The location is a little hard to pinpoint exactly, but Google Maps is your best friend here!

Kampong Lorong Buangkok

File:The Winding Lanes of KB.JPG
Kampong Lorong Buangkok | © Grps/Wikimedia Commons

Bet you didn’t know that there was actually a kampong in Singapore! Well, neither would I, had my dad not brought me here on another one of his grand adventures. Kampong Lorong Buangkok is located in, well, Buangkok, and is the only area in Singapore with a four digit postal code. This place is the embodiment of “kampong spirit” — it remains a tight-knit community where everyone is friendly with each other, something that has very much seemed to have disappeared in today’s world. One step into the kampong will transport you to another world; one that is much slower and much simpler. Although it lies on private land, with Singapore’s growing land scarcity, no one knows how much longer it’ll be around for. While there have been efforts to conserve it, nothing has been set in place yet. Make a trip there while you can, but bear in mind that it ultimately is a residential area, so be respectful to the residents while visiting.

Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle

Meet Stella, Singapore's last 'dragon' descendant , Singapore News - AsiaOne
Dragon Kiln at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle | © AsiaOne

Home to the oldest and last surviving dragon kiln in Singapore, Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle is a family-run business selling pottery and ceramics. In the olden days, the dragon kiln was used to mass-produce cups and wares for home and industrial use —  it’s massive size made this easily possible! Unfortunately, as demand dropped through the years, the firing of a dragon kiln doesn’t happen as often due to it being both labour-intensive and expensive. However, they conduct pottery classes for those wanting to learn more about ceramics and the art of wood-firing! A breath of fresh air compared to the newer and more modern ceramic studios, drop by Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle for a ceramics session surrounded by lush greenery. The premise used to be much bigger — it once had a pond where the staff would gather for lunch at. However, parts of the land have since been reclaimed by URA, and only time will tell how much of Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle will remain.

Old Kallang Airport

Old Kallang Airport | © Mark Heng/Flickr

Sure, you’ve heard of Jewel, but do you know about Singapore’s first civilian airport? Opened in 1937, Old Kallang Airport was Singapore’s first civilian airport. The land it was built on was actually reclaimed — originally, it was a mangrove swamp filled with predators of all kinds! Adorned with Art Deco fittings, the airport was the height of architecture in its time. It was decommissioned in 1955 as operations were shifted to Paya Lebar International Airport. Its legacy lives on, however. Old Airport Road, Old Airport Food Centre and Old Kallang Estate are all named after it! It was gazetted for conservation in 2008, so looks like the site will still be around in the meantime. The airport is only open to public on special occasions, but with a virtual experience, you'll be able to spend the afternoon on a tour of the airport and its surroundings. Hosted by Jerome Lim, author of the award-winning blog, The Long and Winding Road, Hidden in Plain Sight is a virtual tour on Airbnb that takes you on a journey through Singapore of old. Who knows, you may just learn something new!

Book your tour here.

Wessex Estate

Doors are open: Explore Potong Pasir and Wessex Estate with artists -  TODAYonline
Wessex Estate | © TODAYonline

Ever wondered where the British used to live? While Singapore was still under colonial rule, you would find them living in Wessex Estate, a colonial-style residential estate made up of black-and-white houses. The estate and its surrounding roads are all named after towns and villages in England (most of them, coincidentally, start with a ‘w’). A far cry from the clustered, tall HDB buildings scattered through Singapore, with an excess of space, this place is like a breath of fresh air. Most of the buildings here still serve a residential purpose, and with verandas and big green gardens, who wouldn’t want to live here? While I dream about living in a black-and-white bungalow of my own, I’ll be coming here from time to time, just to appreciate the beauty of the houses alone. If you’re feeling peckish amidst the exploring, you’ll even find Colbar (short for ‘Colonial Bar’), an old canteen that has since been converted to a café, serving up a plethora of Western dishes. While the food isn’t much to shout about, it’s worth a visit for nostalgia alone. 

There's no reason why we can't be tourists in our own country; Singapore may be small, but there's so much we have yet to explore. We hope you've been presented with another side to Singapore — one that is not all glitz and glam, but one that is unassuming, free and not bogged down by the fast pace of city life. Have you been to these places before? Let us know what you think in the comments!


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