Chinatown Complex: The Cultural Heartbeat of Chinatown

The Chinatown Complex, Chinatown Smith Street

The Chinatown Complex at Blk 335, Smith Street is one of the few hawker centres in Singapore to have maintained its authenticity. The exterior of the building may appear unassuming, but it is a vibrant heart of activity and activity on the inside. Chinatown Complex is a mishmash of the freshest seafood and butcher shops, the familiar stir-frying noises from a Char Kway Teow vendor, and elderly people chatting in several Chinese dialects. On the ground floor, over a hundred sundry stalls sell everything from shoes to cultural relics.

1st floor No frills shops – Picture of Chinatown Complex, Singapore. Source (TripAdvisor)
The days before iTunes and music downloading. Source (The Straits Times)

Because Chinatown Complex is Singapore’s biggest hawker centre, it may appear to be too much at once. It is estimated to include 226 cooked food stands and 477 market stalls. At one of the stalls, I gave up counting after being overwhelmed by the chicken rice delicacy’s deliciousness and that unique garlic-chilli aroma.

Kreta Ayer Market

Chinatown Complex Hawker Centre. Source (Sqfeed Journal)
Chinatown Wet Market. Source (Lonely Planet)

The original structure of the Chinatown Complex was built in 1983, and recent improvements completed in 2008 have enhanced the basic facilities and boosted seating capacity, clearly catering to the business lunchtime crowd. There’s also rest and rec area outside the complex, which is mostly utilized by residents and retirees. At this junction, the favourite leisure activity is a round of Checkers (often known as Dum) or Chinese Chess. Despite the rivalry between intellects and wits, this room is frequently filled with joy and pleasant kidding.

T52/37 Chinese Checkers Chinatown Complex, Singapore. Source (Flickr)
Played and Relax in Chinatown Complex. Source (Global-Geography)

Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre

The Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre is located at 30A Kreta Ayer Road, immediately adjacent to Chinatown Complex. It is a reminder of the neighbourhood’s past and the link between Chinese opera and theatre. The notorious red-light area of Flinders Lane, which was shut down in 1885, has a lower-key charm as an alleyway between Western Market and the Chinatown Complex. It was commonly known as Xi Yuan Jie (Theatre Street in Chinese) owing to the many Cantonese opera performances by Li Chun Yuan. From the 1890s to the 1940s, when this early group of immigrants thrived in Kreta Ayer and Li Chun Yuan’s presence, the Cantonese community provided them with a pastime.

Kreta Ayer People’s Theatres. Source (AsiaOne)

Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre, which has kept the flame of traditional Chinese cultural presentations such as opera since its founding in the late 1960s as a stage for traditional Chinese cultural activities, is one of few remaining troupes. It now includes a large air-conditioned theatre with lighting and audio systems, as well as an open-air stage. The Chinatown Complex, with its surrounding neighbourhood, has maintained a high degree of authenticity in meeting the demands of the local people and seniors. This is perhaps Chinatown’s cultural heartbeat.

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