Heritage Society's youngest president

Heritage Society's youngest president

Call it an epiphany. Dr Chua Ai Lin, a young research officer with the National Archives fresh out of university, was outside her office in Hill Street one day.

She had been feeling inadequate in her job in the Oral History Centre, given that her schooling at Oxford University was on medieval European history. But suddenly, as she took in her surroundings, "I thought, wow, I can feel the history emanating from the landscape, because I knew what was there before.

There was this moment of deep connection", recalled Dr Chua, 39.

Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) tours and activities that she had taken part in had opened her eyes to her own culture. Last week, seemingly completing the circle, she became the youngest president in the society's 27-year history.

Without such heritage tours, she would never have known of the existence of Sian Teck Tng Vegetarian Convent in Orchard, where she chose to do her photography shoot for this interview.

The convent in Cuppage Road was established in 1883 for widows and orphans.

She agrees that heritage has become a hot topic these days, what with the community increasingly driving campaigns to save sites, and enthusiasts rushing to document fast-disappearing landscapes and traditions through photos, films and blogs.

"I think the pace of change has gotten to a tipping point where people can feel it more easily," said the academic, who quit her National Archives job to pursue a master's degree in Singapore history at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her PhD dissertation at Cambridge University was on popular culture and modernity in 1920s and 1930s Singapore. She now teaches at NUS.

"Even my 20-year-old students say they feel disoriented by the changing landscape. 

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