Stepping into the past

Stepping into the past
Volunteer guide Lee Ai Ling offered a glimpse of the lives lived behind some of Singapore's old monuments. Among the 18 who joined her tour were Mr David Siauw (in blue) with two of his children.
PHOTO: Audrey Kwok

Children played in the courtyard of Hill Street's Central Fire Station while their firemen fathers trained just metres away, separated from them by a white line.

At the nearby Hill Street Police Station, children would scamper on top of the station's rooftop as their parents went about their daily business.

And some evenings, both sets of children would congregate at the police station's courtyard to enjoy a movie screening.

These lesser-known stories from the past were shared by volunteer guide Lee Ai Ling, 34, during a Monumental Walking Tour (MWT) last Saturday morning.

The tour - themed Double Lives - was the first of 13 MWTs to be launched by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM), a division of the National Heritage Board (NHB).This is the biggest increase in MWTs since 2012, said PSM's assistant manager Sarah Teo. The MWTs were launched in 2010. Ms Teo said the introduction of these sites was to "expand outreach, especially for SG50".

"The challenge is to make these monuments relevant and interesting," she added.

Different tours of other monuments will take place over the coming weekends. The tours are conceptualised by the volunteer guides and approved by the NHB.

Ms Lee's tour, which drew 18 people, focused on the Central Fire Station, Hill Street Police Station and the Old Parliament House. Her stories came from time spent poring over national archives, and a chance meeting with a retired warrant officer from the fire station.

Ms Lee, a lawyer, said: "Both the police station and fire station had a public and private function, which I thought was quite interesting.

"But people see only one side of these buildings, so I had the idea of sharing their double lives."

Another volunteer guide, business adviser Alvin Yeo, 65, has found inspiration from his younger days. Mr Yeo will be conducting the "Remembering Singapore's Old Waterfront" tour on Aug 2, which will take in the Telok Ayer Market, also known as Lau Pat Sat, or "old market".

He said: "We had no chance to go to restaurants in the past, and hence the market was a very interesting place for us to go for a meal."

Mr Yeo's tour will feature two other landmarks: the former Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House and the former Singapore Polytechnic campus in Prince Edward Road.

Among those who joined Ms Lee's tour last Saturday were programme manager David Siauw, 39, and two of his three children, aged seven and eight."The tour is very informative and provides children with a different perspective on nation-building," said Mr Siauw, adding that such tours are also good opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom.

Tickets for the tours are priced at $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. Most of the tours for this month and next are fully subscribed. For details, visit, the National Heritage Board's website.

This article was first published on July 6, 2015.
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