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(5) MINI Countryman outside the Ee Hoe Hean Club.

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(1) Thian Hock Kong.

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(2) Gan Clan Association.

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(3) Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.

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(4) Fuk Tak Chi temple.
Memories - a MINI look at Singapore's heritage

Clans of Chinatown

From temples to clan associations, the first Chinese immigrants have left their mark.
Oct 21, 2017 5:50 AM

Chinatowns can be found in most major cities around the world, and they are always buzzing with life and the promise of good, cheap food. Singapore is no different, even though the Chinese are the dominant race. But here, it's the place where the first immigrants settled when they set foot on dry land in the 1800s.

Today, it is Singapore's largest historic district, with four sub-districts - Bukit Pasoh, Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer and Tanjong Pagar. There are plenty of reminders of the many different parts of China that the immigrants represented: religious buildings and clan associations proudly cling to their distinctive origins. It's also near impossible to find a parking space there, so the Parking Assistant that comes as standard on the MINI Cooper S Countryman is handy when you're trying to beat someone else into a tight parallel parking spot.

The oldest temple in Singapore is a must-visit. Fuk Tak Chi on Telok Ayer Street grew from a small shrine set up at the same location by Hakka and Cantonese immigrants in 1824, and the patron deity is Dai Bak Gong (Earth God).

Just down the road is one of Singapore's oldest Hokkien temples, Thian Hock Keng, as well as the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church which was the first to be built in Singapore. Thian Hock Keng was completed in 1842, and the adjoining Chongwen Ge school a decade later. Where they stand now used to be the shoreline of the Telok Ayer Basin, where Chinese immigrants first arrived on our shores and visited a makeshift shrine that was eventually built into today's temple by artisans from Fujian.

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While you may be familiar with Ann Siang Road and Club Street for their lively F&B scene, have you ever noticed the Chinese characters that don some of the buildings in the area? Some of these shophouses belonged to clan and trade associations which made it easier for people to connect with one another way before the digital age, and helped new Chinese immigrants to settle down in Singapore. Some of these associations include Ching Yoon Wooi Kwoon at 17 Ann Siang Road and Nam Sun Wui Kun at 84 Club Street.

Adding on to the colourful heritage in Chinatown are other historical buildings, like the former police barracks which is now the Red Dot Design Museum, as well as the iconic building at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road that used to be the headquarters for the rickshaw industry.

The latter was built in 1903 to serve as an administration centre that answered a growing demand for rickshaws - a number that stood at over 22,000 just a year earlier. After rickshaws were banned in 1947, however, the building changed hands a number of times, and at one point was sold to Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan for S$11 million.

Around the corner at Bukit Pasoh Road you'll find a few notable buildings as well, like the Gan Clan Association which has roots going back to 1928, and the Ee Hoe Hean Club which was founded in 1895 and is one of the oldest millionaire clubs in Singapore. The club's members were also involved in the political development of China in the early 20th century, by supporting the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Stop and take a look around - the Pioneers' Gallery on the ground floor is open to the public and admission is free.

Memories is brought to you by the new MINI Countryman - designed to start conversations, make new friends, #AddStories.