Stay sensitive to creators' vision in spicing up Haw Par Villa

Heritage consultant Journeys mistakenly alluded to the Peranakans as "non-Chinese" when it cited how some were welcomed as part of the culturally dynamic and eclectic Chinese-Burmese Aw family, to support some of the changes it is making to Haw Par Villa (Chinese culture remains focus of Haw Par Villa; Nov 6).

The vast majority of Peranakans can trace their ancestral roots to China. What sets them apart is their unique "hybrid" cultural norms and practices, which are from a variety of sources but nevertheless still predicated on a Chinese core.

Hopefully, this philosophy will guide Journeys' attempts to spice up Haw Par Villa, as it did for the Aw brothers when they set out to create a unique home and shrine to Chinese culture.

Running the Chinatown Heritage Centre is a different kettle of fish. There is also no reason to believe that a gallery dedicated to the rise of Asian "triumphalism" will work any better than the aborted one which had focused on the Chinese diaspora's achievements.

Haw Par Villa needs a major uplift that is sensitive to the vision of its creators, first and foremost, to fulfil its potential as a hospitality, lifestyle and cultural/heritage magnet.

And by this, I do not mean mock tombs showcasing death rituals from various religions, or other irrelevant pop-up events. The former would, perhaps, be more appropriate at the Bukit Brown cemetery heritage site.

Haw Par Villa's target audience must also be expanded way beyond young Western-oriented Singaporeans if it is going to make money and be self-sustaining.

Fun and family-friendly activities cannot revolve largely around "edu-taining" if Singapore is to loosen up into a more well-rounded nation, and shed its image as boring.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2017, with the headline 'Stay sensitive to creators' vision in spicing up Haw Par Villa'. Print Edition | Subscribe