I was prepared not to like Singapore. I have been holding a petty grudge against it a few years back, since it started luring a few of my close friends to work there. (What with the promise of higher salaries for the same work you do in your own country, yeah most people would bolt.) It didn’t help that when I first went there more than six years ago for an overnight work-related trip, all I saw was Orchard Road and what seemed like a long stretch of shopping centers and high-rises. As first impressions go, it appeared like a sleek city of shopping and I wasn’t much of a shopper. But two months ago, when my brother-in-law was invited to have a photo exhibit in White Canvas Gallery in Singapore, I took it as an excuse to finally see my friends in the country they now call home and spend more than a night (four nights, to be precise), getting to know the small city-state that travel guides tout packs a lot of attractions.
Among its attractions, what I was most interested to see were the districts that possessed culture and character in every corner. Singapore had been criticized for the lack of both when it began to prosper back in the 1970s and 80s. But it does have them, albeit too gentrified for some. And the charming shophouses definitely boast both culture and character in its history and architecture.
Shophouses were the one thing I immediately loved about Singapore. Heritage buildings from the 19th and early 20th century, they stand at two or three stories, typically narrow, and often restored with its intricate curves and arches and lovely combination of colors. Originally, the structure of a shophouse featured a work space for the ground floor and residential quarters for the upper levels. Thankfully, they still line (or dot) several areas, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Emerald Hill and though not as well-restored (and it seems the least gentrified), a few in Little India.