Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre SINGAPO人 exhibition
When you think of Chinese culture in Singapore, things like dumplings, CNY reunion dinners and the Zhongyuan Festival (also known as Hungry Ghost Festival) come to mind. But there’s more to Chinese culture in Singapore than the food we eat or the angbaos we receive.
And you can now discover more of Chinese culture and history at Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC)’s permanent exhibition that’s completely free! Titled SINGAPO人: Discovering Chinese Singaporean Culture, there are five immersive zones filled with hands-on fun and IG-worthy spots. Here’s what to expect:
Zone 1 – introducing Chinese Singaporean culture
You can pick from blue, green and yellow RFID bands.
Before going in, pick up your RFID band from the entrance that will serve as your ticket to the various experiences within. Hold on to it as you’ll be using it to play games, vote on polls – and get a special surprise at the end.
You can register your details on any machine available right outside Zone 1
Light wall entrance
Going into Zone 1 is a real visual treat with beautiful lights, visuals and sounds. I was enthralled with the videos played on screens, which made me recall so many memories from primary school.
Through a blend of archive footage and original videos, it’s nostalgia galore – you’ll recall learning the Chinese Zodiac, saying Chinese New Year greetings and even your family cooking dinner together as a kid.
The lights at the ‘3 Ingredient Wall’ represent 3 attributes that make up the Chinese Singaporean identity and make for an iridescent photo spot
The exhibition then takes you all the way back to the beginnings of Chinese culture in Singapore. There’s even a hornbill skull on display, which as you’ll learn, is a reflection of the lucrative trade of such exotic goods in the past.
Zone 2 – discover fun facts behind pastel windows & doors
I felt like Alice in Wonderland when entering Zone 2, with its many doors and windows of different sizes that are actually authentic pieces collected from demolished HDB estates! Behind every coloured drawer and door contains a story about Chinese Singaporean values passed down for generations such as love, filial piety and kindness.
A highlight was the drawer filled with childhood chou chous – little bolsters, soft toys and blankets that many of us would have kept from young.
These xinyao a.k.a. Mandarin pop cassettes were once a common sight in Singapore
Zone 3 – have a kopi order showdown
Move on to a kopi order showdown in Zone 3, and find out how much you know – or don’t – about what goes into your favourite hawker centre drinks. The interactive game is played on a huge touchscreen table with full sound and graphics – definitely an upgrade from the usual iPad.
Pit your skills against your friends to find out who will make the ultimate drinks stall aunty/uncle
It’s a little bit like a localised version of Overcooked, where you’ll have to serve local drinks instead of pizza or sushi. But you can expect the same level of intensity with your opponent, complete with squeals and screams.
Multimedia hawker feast
The biggest highlight of the walkthrough has to be this. Sit around a “hawker” table where you’ll be treated to a hyper-realistic meal. The multimedia projection will take you on a detailed history lesson of dishes like chicken rice, chilli crab and laksa.
Come with full bellies because this part of the exhibition will make you crave for the actual dishes
Unfortunately, there’s no real food, but the takeaway from this dining experience is finding out that many of the dishes we know and love have origins from different ethnicities besides Chinese. Much like Singapore’s population, they’re a mish-mash of different cultures, heritage and inspirations.
Explore SG’s timeline through an interactive screen
You’ll also get to explore origin stories, histories of pop culture and other Chinese Singaporean milestones at your own pace at this interactive table. See snippets of Southeast Asia’s first Chinese newspapers and pictures of pop stars like Stefanie Sun.
P.S. Continue walking through the exhibition and see if you can spot Stefanie Sun’s Golden Melody Award on the timeline wall!
Interacting with the high-tech table makes you feel like Iron Man from the Avengers
Don’t say we never jio – Zone 3 also explores the origins of Singlish words that we use every day. Visitors can flip through a panel to discover how words like “Paiseh” and “Kiasu” came about and how they’re used in daily speech.
Some phrases like “Mee Rebus” even come from more than 1 language
Zone 4 – test your Singapore knowledge
Zone 4 gives us a glimpse of how Singaporeans have created an impact on Chinese culture as a whole. From a clip of a multi-language play (Kuo Pao Kun’s Mama Looking For Her Cat) to a personal journal of new fusion food recipes (Chef Willin Low), it’s an eye-opening insight through rare personal memorabilia on display.
Remember your RFID band? Use it to answer simple quizzes here and test your knowledge based on what you learnt from your walkthrough so far. The answers can be found in the exhibition, so keep your eyes peeled throughout!
Zone 5 – get a customised “report card”
Step up to any of the machines to tap your RFID band – which collected data from how you’ve tried your luck at questions, answered polls and played games throughout the exhibition. To end off the experience, a ‘report card’ will be printed on the spot for a personalised summary of your time here.
I got “The Thinker”, which meant that I enjoy taking a step back and thinking about the complexities of Chinese culture in Singapore. On the other hand, my colleague got “The Observer”, meaning he appreciated culture more when experiencing it in the moment.
It’s amazing to know how we can grow up experiencing the same culture and learning the same values, but they can also shape us to have contrasting opinions.
They predicted my personality, recorded my scores and gave me advice – almost like a horoscope.
Discover more about Chinese culture at SCCC’s new exhibition
Singapore’s Chinese culture holds so many interesting details that many of us are not instantly aware of.
I never expected that there was this much to learn about the Chinese Singaporean identity, and this free SCCC exhibition lets you do it in a fun way. From just an afternoon spent here, I discovered new things about myself, like the history of my dialect group and how some of my favourite Singlish quips came about.
This permanent exhibition is open daily, and it makes for a perfect family day out or couple date. From the multimedia hawker feast to the unique items on display, you’ll not only learn a thing or two about yourself, but about each other too!
SINGAPO人: Discovering Chinese Singaporean Culture
Address: 1 Straits Boulevard, Singapore 018906
Opening hours: Mon 2PM-8PM | Tues-Sun 10AM-8PM
This post was brought to you by Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC).
Photography by Kenneth Chan.
All photos were taken in March 2020.