The side of SG you’ll never see in tourist guides
There’s a side of Singapore we’re all too familiar with - the iconic ‘durian-spiked’ Esplanade, the infinity pool at MBS, or even the chicken rice from Tian Tian at Maxwell. Google "Singapore" and that's the Singapore we'd all see.
But there’s a side to Singapore we’ve never seen, some intentionally left out from tourist guides due to their gritty nature. We’ve all heard about these facets of our little red dot from the occasional word of mouth - are there homeless people in Singapore? - but never dared venture into it.
So here are 8 places featuring the raw underbelly of our nation that, as Singaporeans, we should know about.
1. Visit the exotic wildlife version of SPCA
We see it in the papers every now and then, in huge font spread across the front page: ‘ILLEGAL ANIMAL SMUGGLERS CAUGHT’. But here’s a question for you: where do these animals go after being "rescued"? 15 years ago, they would have been euthanized due to the Singapore Zoo’s zero space capacity. But that’s where ACRES’ Wildlife Sanctuary comes into the picture.
You could call it the wildlife and exotic animal version of the SPCA. Except, instead of dealing with domesticated animals such as furry dogs or cats, ACRES takes it a notch higher. They deal directly with incredible wildlife such as monitor lizards, foreign tortoises and even cobras.
Their wildlife sanctuary is chock full of natural vegetation which they grow specifically to feed their adorable and very international tortoises. The place is a haven for wild creatures which ACRES rehabilitates before sending back into the wild.
Wanna take a closer peek? Call them up for a tour of the sanctuary or sign up to be a volunteer where you can get up close and personal with these creatures. Find out more here!
Address: 91 Jalan Lekar, Singapore 698917
2. Or photography studio that matchmakes our migrant workers
At this colourful photo studio, expect a flurry of eccentric portraits displayed on every inch of Sajeev Digital Studio’s walls. Many of his "models" are migrant workers looking for lovers back in their hometown. Mr Sajeev even claims to have a 100% success rate - y’all interested?
The scenic backdrops he uses for his shoots are entirely handpainted and imported from China and India. The result? Quirky and 1970s-esque portraits that’d rival even Mario Testino’s. Set up in 2004, Sajeev Digital Studio has gone entirely digital, although Mr Sajeev still develops the pictures himself.
This service catering to migrant workers certainly shows the fuselage of local residents extending a hand to foreigners trying to find some love in this world.
Sajeev Digital Studio
Address: 23 Kerbau Rd, Singapore 219161
Contact: 6296 6537
3. Fill your tummies at the first food court run by the disabled
We’ve all had that warm mug of Teh-C at our favourite neighbourhood hawker centres. But not many of us would have had that beverage prepared by a disabled hawker. Enter Dignity Kitchen. This social enterprise is the first hawker training school cum food court run by the disabled in Singapore.
In today’s fast paced world, it comes as a harsh fact that the disabled and disadvantaged often face greater obstacles when it comes to employment. This humble establishment seeks to get rid of that imposed stigma by equipping their trainees with F&B skills before sending them on work attachments to catch their own fish.
Lend a hand and show your support by ordering some of DK’s bestselling muffins and cookies baked lovingly by resident baker Madam Tay. Although she may be hearing impaired, that doesn’t stop her from putting together amazing treats.
Check out their array of scrumptious baked goods here! So eat to your belly’s content AND do some good.
4. Support a hawker stall that gives out meal coupons to the needy
As Singaporeans, we love our hawker centres. It's not just how awesome the food is - the sense of community and heartwarming comfort food are the main reasons of our repeated visits. But this isn't so for all of us. For some, a $5 lunch means leftover rice for dinner.
Thankfully, a kind soul by the name of Madam Wong Li Er has spearheaded a kindness movement in SG through the simple act of providing free food to those in need. Her stall Cambridge Rd. Hong Kong Roast Pork, has been feeding the needy for more than 40 years by distributing food coupons to disadvantaged households.
According to Mdm Wong, this gesture is “a small thought on my part to give back to the community.” Indeed, giving back to the community we grew up in is merely a way of giving thanks.
So show your support and head down to her stall for some succulent roast duck and pork. For just $4, expect a generous portion of 2 types of meats, veggies, rice and soup. Leave with a happy heart and belly.
Cambridge Rd. Hong Kong Roast Pork
Address: #01-18, Pek Kio Market and Food Centre, Blk 41A Cambridge Road, Singapore 211041
Opening hours: 7am to 4pm daily
5. Behold one of the last temples standing on HDB property
Singapore prides herself in being multi-cultural and made up of our 4 main races - Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian. But within these groups exist sub-groups of various nationalities and dialects. Take the Chinese, we have the Hokkiens, the Hakkas, the Hainanese… you get the picture.
Mun Sun Fook Tuck Chee Temple is a clear manifestation and ode to our colourful heritage. Set up by Hakka and Cantonese coolies in the 1800s (yes, it’s that old), this Taoist temple has been a mainstay of SG heritage that often goes unnoticed. Interesting fact #1: Mun Sun is literally translated to the Malay word ‘bangsai’ for ‘shed’ or ‘workshop’.
This temple is famous for its immigrant roots and is a mirror for society back then and now. But here’s the kicker. This temple now resides on HDB land and is almost guaranteed to be demolished.
Whether you’re Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, pay a visit to this ancient relic and see how far we’ve come as a multi-ethnic society. Interesting fact #2: A mini museum pop-up currently resides within the temple, so drop by for a walk down memory lane.
6. Volunteer your help at a soup kitchen
We’ve heard of soup kitchens being established in different parts of the world, but most of us have never stepped foot in one. Some perceive them as an unexpected location to visit, especially with the intense societal stigma attached to being poor.
Away from all the glitzy malls in town, soup kitchens are where marginalised groups in Singapore can find refuge, getting warm food prepared with love. Around 11.30am every weekday, elderly residents and migrant workers in the nearby Hougang area gather together at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary for some delicious nosh.
Rosalyn, the woman in charge of the kitchen, is a mighty individual. From constructing the menu to placing orders for vegetables, she’s the brains behind this operation. She even remembers the orders of regulars; ie. less meat, more gravy, no veg. Talk about a broad job scope.
Matthew 25 also offers free haircuts on every 2nd Tuesday of the month, catering mostly to the elderly who opt out of overpriced salon services. If you’re unsure about the service, I had a trim there and my hair looked pretty damn fine.
Around the area? Pop by for a meal or even help in the preparation of dishes! It'll be appreciated.
Address: Church of the Nativity of BVM. 1259 Upper Serangoon Road, Singapore 534795
Cooks from Monday to Saturday from 7am to 1:30pm (closed on Sundays)
7. Deliver meals to one of Singapore’s poorest neighborhoods
Poverty is a real thing in Singapore and it’s a harsh truth we need to acknowledge as Singaporeans. At Jalan Kukoh, the neighbourhood comprises of a mainly elderly community living alone in 1-room rental flats.
Even though it was in the day, we saw the elderly asleep on public benches and care vans parked outside the compound. We assumed that these services were being offered to such folks in the neighbourhood. Some have claimed to see human faeces smeared all over the walls in void decks.
While we can’t do much as individuals to give help to the needy, think about joining initiatives such as Meals-on-Wheels, a food-delivery service catering to home-bound Singaporeans. It’s pretty simple: collect the food from the TOUCH’s Main HQ, deliver them to the respective homes, and bring happiness to those around you.
8. Discover the lesser-known side of our red light district at night
Geylang Adventures is a social exploration trail headed by Geylang guru, Cai Yinzhou. In this tour, expect to see a side of Singapore you’ve never seen before in our only legalised red light district. Take in the sights, smells and sounds of this diverse neighbourhood for $35 per person - Geylang grub included!
So now, you can ditch the sanitized Bus Tours for something a little more real, a little more flavourful. Geylang Adventures also pioneers pop-ups such as #BackalleyBarbers, a service providing free haircuts to migrant workers and #MigrantMail which sponsors letters and polaroids to the families of such workers.
Don’t miss their occasional Majulah Belanja sessions, an organized brunch for both Singapore locals and migrant workers to partake in. Share the culture and most importantly, share the love.
Find out more at their website here!
Explore #TheRealSG safely
There you have it, 8 gritty facets of Singapore you’re heard about but rarely set foot into. Take this opportunity to know your country for who she is, as raw a side as possible. Beneath her shiny exterior, there lurks nooks and crannies that beckon you to explore.
Be sure to drink up while venturing into the unknown - some of these places can be especially ulu. ACRES alone is 1.5km away from the main road! Coconut water is known to have amazing hydrating qualities and chock full of electrolytes to fend off the sweltering tropical heat.
Coco Life’s coconut water is as real as it gets as it is made from 100% coconut water, and you can enjoy a refreshing swig at any time and place with the handy 330ml and 1L packets. Go forth and discover the unbeknownst locations our garden city has to offer in her underbelly!
This post was brought to you by Coco Life.