Saturday, August 2, 2014

Standing The Test of Time - My Queenstown Heritage Trail

 I've always just driven by the town....until now.

As a history buff, I have a penchant for old buildings and structures. From Borobudur to Stonehenge, I’ve been there, hugged that. Whenever I 'disappear' when we were on holiday, my wife would know where to find me – just look for an old church, an art gallery or a museum.

Strange then that I should end up in Singapore – a young progressive nation that seems to be tearing down old structures faster than we can reproduce. Even a grand dame like the former National Library didn’t stand a chance against a short tunnel with ERP gantry.

Which is why, even though torrential rains have just swept across the island last Sunday morning (with possibility of an extremely humid day ahead), I still gamely went for the ‘My Queenstown Heritage Trail’, a free conducted tour across the pioneer satellite towns of Queenstown and Tanglin Halt, cutting across historical buildings and places which will be soon be torn down in the name of redevelopment.

Growing their own fruits (Left).  Singapore's first HDB flats (Right).

The unique landscape of Stirling Road.
House-proud residents in the hood...

My Queenstown Heritage Trail' is a complimentary walk-about tour organized by the Queenstown Community Centre on every last Sunday of each month. Led by volunteers,  the 2 to 3 hour-long leisurely walk brings you to various iconic places in Queenstown and Tanglin Halt where we were introduced to the buildings and places that formed part of our young country’s short but colourful history. At certain pit stops, we had the chance to speak to longtime residents, shop owners who are ever-ready to share exciting first hand recounts never recorded in any history texts.

Nothing like listening to authentic stories by the residents...
Old-styled barber and saloon...time stands still inside.
Buildings aren't the only things that withstood the test of time here.

Within an hour of our trek, I’ve heard stories of an Indian circus in Singapore, an unsolved murder of a young girl (yes…unsolved till this day!) and walked past a coffin-shaped market! Then I set foot into Singapore’s oldest library, visited Singapore’s very first HDB block and saw one of the last 10 (yes only 10) surviving sundry shops in Singapore where money is still kept in a plastic pail with the help of the old good-fashioned pulley system.

Singapore's first library branch...graced by the then PM himself.
This was the library which most libraries in Singapore are modelled after.
While books bear knowledge, this library holds a treasure trove of memories....
The last few traditional sundry provisions shop....
Old-fashioned cashier...I mean cash pail (Left). The unmistakable sound (and scent) of fresh-ground coconut (Right).
Take your pick.
Air Conditioned = High Class?
Cutting hair...the old fashioned style
No fancy gimmicks....just getting the job done well.
Not many things are automated in those days.... a lot had to do with skill and intuition.
A furry resident...
Door-to-door delivery of sundries...

I was intrigued by the conversations we had with the residents. One of them, Mr. Mahmood, a resident at one of the rare HDB terrace houses since 1963, told us of how his 12 siblings and him used to look forward to visits by the Indian Circus nearby and how they loved feeding the elephants. There were also stories of heroism, friendship and trust - Mr. Mahmood recounted how the residents there protected residents of different races from the nearby estates during the racial riots of the 60s. Alice, who were among the first residents staying in the very first ‘high-rise’ 7-storey HDB flat recounted how she was so fearful her new home would collapse, and of how neighbours would keep a set of keys for one another in case one of them accidentally lock themselves out (a practice they still do today). What great sense of neighbourliness and camaraderie!

"No...I'll never move from here" said Mr. Mahmood.
You'll be surprised how colourful and contempory these flats look after SERS upgrading.
Neighbours.
How many of us spent our childhood in these first generation flats?

The walk also brought us to temples, churches and worship sites, all co-existing peacefully within close proximity of each other - a testament of the strong racial and religious ties we have in Singapore. Finally, no heritage walk would be complete without a taste, literally, of our past. Yes, the trail ended at Tanglin Halt market where we joined the snaking queues to savour some of Singapore’s finest hawker foods.

Blessed Sacrament Church.  It's unique roof has some significance in the bible.
Colours of an iconic neighbourhood.
I can't remember when was the last time I stepped into an Indian Temple...
Something we should treasure and protect - Religious Harmony and Peace.
Statue of St. Damien of Molokai inside the Blessed Sacrament Church.

There's something deeply attractive about heritage trails. Not only do we get to admire the buildings and architecture but we get to interact and appreciate the people and situation of an era long gone; we get to catch a glimmer of the special memories these places have left behind. Empires, cities and buildings come and go eventually but what remain are the legacies passed on to the next generation. This trail reminded me once again that it is important for us (parents and teachers) to keep telling our children the stories of our heritage; tales of friendship, bravery, trust, respect, heroism, resilience and more. All essential values that would build our young, prepare them for life ahead, and hopefully never to be taken for granted.

How apt to end the heritage trail with a nostalgic cuppa....

Shapes and lines of yester-years.
Green corners for residents to sit and chat.

More Information about the 'My Queenstown Heritage Trail':

Free, guided tours take place at the last Sunday of every month. The tours are conducted by volunteers from civic group, My Community, and they cover iconic landmarks from 'My Queenstown Heritage Trail'. Each guided tour is about 2 hours long and starts punctually at 9am sharp from Queenstown MRT Station.

You can register for the tours by emailing your Name, NRIC or Passport Number and Contact Details to myqueenstown@gmail.com. A confirmation phone call or email will be sent to successful registrants.  You can also register online through www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg

To find out more, follow this link: http://www.queenstown.org.sg/heritage.html

Is that Optimus Prime I see?
Skyline of Queenstown...
If these trees could talk, what tales would they tell?

8 Tips To Survive 'My Queenstown Heritage Trail':

1) Attire: Come dressed in comfortable, casual attire and good walking shoes. The entire trail takes 2 to 3 hours with a few pit stops.

2) Terrain: While most are roads, some places are not well-paved. It may not be suitable for those who need help walking.

3) Mindset: Come with a mind to listen to stories and to admire the sights at a slow, relaxed pace. If you’re rushing for time or prefer a faster paced activity, this may not be it.

4) Driving: Although the trail starts from Queenstown MRT, mine ended at Commonwealth MRT. You may want to park your car at the end point so you can just hop into your car and head on home after the long trek. Alternatively, bring along your EZ-link card to hop onto the MRT to pick up your car.

5) Kids: The trail involves quite a bit of walking and would be more suitable for school-going children (aged 7 and and above). In any case, do prepare some activities to engage the kids (E.g. a camera for them to shoot or some quiz questions to ask the guide / residents). Be prepared also to paraphrase the guide's commentary so that younger children will understand.

6) Toilets: You’ll bypass Queenstown CC, other than that, toilets can be found at hawker centers and markets. 

7) Money: Generally you won’t need it as the guided tour is free. But if you would like to buy some of the food and drinks along the way, do bring some cash along.

8) What else? Bring along drinking water, a face towel (you’ll sweat… tons), a camera and a short umbrella (or poncho) for the wet weather we've been experiencing.  Most importantly, bring along a reminiscent spirit to indulge in the rich heritage which Queenstown offers.


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We hope you've enjoyed reading our post which is part of the #FunforFreeSG blog train started by The Gingerbread Mum. Tomorrow, we have Mommy Blogger Mei sharing her favourite #FunforFree destination - Jurong Regional Library!  Mei is a Malaysian born Peranakan Chinese who blogs at Finally Mama. Having lived abroad for over half of her life, she is proud to call Singapore home with her hubby and 2.5 year old boy. She loves the abundance of free, fun and safe places for family here, and is delighted to share them with you at #funforfreeSG.


 Mei from Finally Mama

Can't get enough of FUN FOR FREE SG venues? Here's the whole list - 31 days of free fun in Singapore! This list will be updated regularly; you will be able to click on the location to be brought directly to the blog post when it goes "live":

1 Aug: Tiong Bahru Park by Gingerbreadmum
2 Aug: Queenstown Heritage Trail by PrincessDanaDiaries
3 Aug: Jurong Regional Library by Finally Mama
4 Aug: Maritime Gallery by Peipei Haohao
5 Aug: Singapore Philatelic Museum by Kids R Simple
6 Aug: MacRitchie Reservoir by A Juggling Mom
7 Aug: Fire Station by The Js Arena
8 Aug: Esplanade + Merlion by Prayerfull Mum
9 Aug: Bukit Batok Nature Park by Meeningfully
10 Aug: Lower Pierce Reservoir Park by The Kam Family
11 Aug: I12 Katong - water playground by Universal Scribbles
12 Aug: IMM by Mad Psych Mum
13 Aug: Tampines 1 Water Playground by Amazingly Still
14 Aug: Sengkang Riverside Park by Itchy Finger Snap
15 Aug: Jacob Ballas Children's Garden by Toddly Mummy
16 Aug: Sembawang Shopping Centre Playground by Joey Craftworkz
17 Aug: Animal resort by Raising Faith
18 Aug: Botanic Gardens by Mum's The Word
19 Aug: A surprise! by Mummy Ed
20 Aug: A city trail by Scrap Mum Loft
21 Aug: Road Safety Park by Miracule
22 Aug: Marina Barrage by J Babies 
23 Aug: Gardens By The Bay, Children's Garden by Finally Mama
24 Aug: Changi Airport T3 by Mother Kao
25 Aug: Pockets of Nature by Mum in the Making
26 Aug: City Square Mall by Growing with the Tans
27 Aug: Pasir Ris Park Ingspirations
28 Aug: Gdns by the Bay Supertree Grove by My Lil Bookworm
29 Aug: Vivocity Play Area by Amazingly Still
30 Aug: Punggol Promenade + Punggol Waterway by Chubby Anecdotes
31 Aug: Westgate Wonderland by Xavvylicious

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

NYC For Kids: Summer Lovin' in Dumbo, Brooklyn

The Grand Old Dame

Dumbo (short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is a waterfront, charming little town, adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge. With its cool artsy vibes and cobble-stoned street, this former industrial neighborhood is filled with lots of family attractions, including the sprawling Brooklyn Bridge Park, adorable children's boutiques, family-friendly cafes.

 Can you spot the 2 NYC Icons?

Here is our list of 7 recommended things to do in Dumbo, Brooklyn for a great day out.

1.  Hop on the East River Ferry for a scenic boat ride across

 East River Ferry - Fast and Fun

We use the East River Ferry to bring us to DUMBO so we can walk back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a fast (30min), clean and economical ride at only USD$4 per adult (Kids travel free). We purchased the ferry tickets online that morning itself via the East River Ferry app, took the public bus to the terminal at E 34th St. to board the ferry. It's such an inexpensive and enjoyable way to see the NYC Skyline as we cruise under the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. Highly recommended!

East River Ferry Terminal at Midtown
East 35th Street at F.D.R. Drive
Phone: (800) 533-3779
Check Ferry Schedule here

2. Get a shake at Shake Shack

We love Shake Shack!
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One cannot visit NYC and not try Shake Shack (the famed burger chain with the cult following). We arrived at Dumbo before 11am so happily tumbled into this newly opened, week-old Shake Shack outlet. Their peanut-butter shake and Smoke-shack burgers are seriously to-die-for!  If only they would bring Shake Shack to Singapore...

ShakeShack Dumbo
1 Old Fulton Street
(Corner of Water Street)
Under the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Open daily, from 11am – 11pm

3. Brave the long lines and enjoy a hearty Italian pizza from Grimaldi's

 It's not everyday you find a Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria
 Yummy Italian Pizza!

Grimaldi's is a staple NYC tourist attraction. The pizzas here are not fancy or pretentious but definitely Italian - thin crust and bursting with flavours in every bite.  The menu is really simple. Either you order a small or a large pie (pizza), select whatever toppings you want and that's it. We ordered a large mozzarela and basil pizza with sausage and extra sun dried tomatos toppings for lunch and left the place feeling very satisfied.  Happy to have this great NYC bucket-list checkoff.

Grimaldi's Pizzeria Dumbo
1 Front Street Brooklyn
Under the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Phone: (718) 858-4300

Open daily from 11:30am to 10:45 pm
Tip: Cash only!

4. Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and take snaps of lower Manhattan

 The Brooklyn Bridge is 147 years old!
Start from Brooklyn and walk back to NYC...
 Happy to be about...
A mandatory shot on Brooklyn Bridge against the Lower Manhattan skyline
#Funforfree NYC - Walk the Brooklyn Bridge!

We regretted devoting only half a day for Dumbo when it had so much to offer. If we had more time, we'll definitely love to visit these other sites:

5. Bring your tot to the Pier 1 playground at the Brooklyn Bridge Park

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Pier 1 is the largest of the park piers and includes large lawns, a playground at the northern edge, a waterfront promenade and a series of tree-lined pathways. When it comes to panoramic views of lower Manhattan, Pier 1 is the place to be. Whether you’re taking a leisurely stroll, sinking into a good book or looking out at the harbor, this outstanding open space provides scenery to spare.

Pier 1 Playground
Brooklyn Bridge Park
334 Furman St (Cranberry)
Brooklyn, NY 11201

6.  Go for a spin on Jane's Carousel

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Set between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the glass pavilion encasing Jane's Carousel designed by French Architect Jean Nouvel is a magnificent and unforgettable way to enjoy the beautifully restored 1922 historic carousel as a family.

Jane's Carousel
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Dock St, New York, NY 11201
Phone: (718) 222-2502
Open 11am - 7pm, Closed Tuesdays

7. Indulge in a sweet treat at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

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The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory offers simple, pure and delicious ice cream made without eggs or preservatives. All of its ice cream, and its hot fudge, is freshly made in small batches. The ice-cream here are creamy-yet-light and very old-fashioned. There are eight flavors (including chocolate, vanilla, butter pecan, and strawberry) to choose from.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
The Corners of Old Fulton and Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201 
Phone: (718) 246-3963
Open daily 12 pm - 10pm
Tip: Cash Only!

Dana's summer lovin' oufits are lovingly sponsored by Pumpkin Patch Singapore. They are light and comfy, cheery and stylish - perfect for that summer vacation or that long awaited family holiday.  I especially like their wide range of matching accessories for both boys and girls. Check out their new launches and end of season sales on their FB page!

Pretty in Pumpkin Patch!

Special Summer Giveaway!

The generous folks at Pumpkin Patch SG is sponsoring TWO PrincessDanaDiaries readers a SGD50 shopping voucher each! To participate, simply follow the steps here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway is open to readers residing in Singapore and ends midnight of Sunday 10 August 2014. The lucky winners will be notified by email. All the best!