Singapore's Hakka community is celebrating its culture and heritage in a big way this year and has a new landmark for its activities.
A month-long Hakka Cultural Festival kicks off today with the opening of an $18 million complex at the Chinese dialect group's former burial ground in Holland Link.
Called San Yi Lou, the circular, two-storey structure is a replica of the tulou, the Hakka earthen buildings found in China's Fujian, Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces since the 17th century or earlier.
The tulou in China provide communal living quarters for clans of up to 800 people. Hundreds of them are still found in the provinces and are tourist attractions.
The replica in Singapore was built by the Fong Yun Thai Association, an umbrella body for three Hakka clans - Char Yong (Dabu) Association, Eng Teng Association and Foong Shoon Fui Kuan.
It will be opened by Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo this morning.
There are more than 200,000 Hakkas here and they are the fourth-largest dialect group after the Hokkiens, Teochews and Cantonese. The Hakkas are known for running pawnshops, traditional Chinese medicine shops and optical shops.
Fong Yun Thai Association president Ho Kiau Seng, 70, told The Sunday Times that the tulou replica here marks a milestone in its efforts to preserve and promote Hakka culture, especially among the young.
"We are planning to set up a history and culture museum in the building which we hope can become a cultural activity centre where events such as art exhibitions, seminars and cultural performances are held," said Mr Ho, who is also president of Foong Shoon Fui Kuan.
Char Yong's heritage committee head Ho Phang Phow, 75, said the tulou symbolises Hakka resilience and unity, as their forefathers who moved from northern China to the south faced unfriendly hosts, intruders and bandits.
They built the tulou to protect and defend their communities. Each building has compartments for food storage and living quarters, and would even have an armoury.
Eng Teng vice-president Chan Cheok Kai, 74, said the association wants schoolchildren to visit the new Hakka landmark.
"Many people have not seen what a tulou is like and this is an opportunity for them to see one," he added.
The cultural festival is organised by Char Yong with the support of the Eng Teng and Foong Shoon clan associations.
A Hakka food fair will be held at the new building today from 11am to 2.30pm. From tomorrow, a pictorial exhibition on the history of tulou, the Fong Yun Thai Association and the Hakka community in Singapore will be held in San Yi Lou and will be open to the public daily between 1pm and 5pm till Aug 25.
A seminar on Hakka culture will take place at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre on Aug 21. Char Yong will celebrate its 157th anniversary with a gala dinner there on Aug 22.
Other highlights include Hakka cultural performances at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre on Aug 23 and 24 featuring troupes from Singapore, China and Taiwan.
This article was first published on August 2, 2015.
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