Experts concerned Chinatown is straying too far from roots

This article is more than 12 months old

Amid an influx of eateries selling mala hotpot alongside shops touting kitschy souvenirs, some tourism and heritage experts here are questioning if Chinatown is losing its local flavour.

At a forum at the URA Centre yesterday, where preliminary findings of a survey on Chinatown were presented, attendees discussed among other things, the challenge of balancing commercial interests with cultural ones in the precinct, as well as its evolving role.

At the heart of the debate was whether Chinatown has strayed too far from its roots.

The concerns were bolstered by a study that found that only 10 out of 113 Singaporeans interviewed would recommend the eateries there and only five its architecture.

A Singaporean participant interviewed said the area has been "pillaged by economic interest" with too many restaurants, which - while Chinese - compromised the "original ethnic taste".

The study, conducted by a team from Gettysburg College in the US, is facilitated by the Singapore Heritage Society and sponsored by the ASIANetwork Student-Faculty Fellows Program.


It aims to interview some 300 Singaporeans and tourists.

The Straits Times understands that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has separately engaged a consultant to study the enclave in a major project that started last year.

For experts here, the question of Chinatown's authenticity is well known and has been on the STB's radar.

Most, however, acknowledge that the problem is a complicated one.

Responding to queries, the STB said it has rolled out initiatives to improve the visitor experience in the precinct, including renovations and revamps to its Chinatown Food Street and Chinatown Street Market.

STB's director of arts and cultural precincts Serene Tan said that Chinatown has also undergone an organic transformation with the opening of hip restaurants and bars at areas such as Ann Siang Hill, Club Street and lifestyle events on Keong Saik Road.

She said: "We will continue to make sure the mix is carefully balanced such that the iconic Chinese heritage will remain a key essence of the precinct."