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The way we were

If only these walls could talk.

In this case, they almost could.

As the smell of medicated oil lingers in the air, writer Wu Si Jing, 83, sits pensively in a re-creation of her late father's workspace at the newly revamped Chinatown Heritage Centre in Pagoda Street.

Kerosene lamps line the wall and bottles with various ointments and herbs crowd the shelf, above a mortar and pestle used for pounding herbs in the physician's family cubicle.

Her physician father originally practised traditional Chinese medicine from a shophouse at the junction of Pagoda Street and Trengganu Street, tending to lines of patients, many of whom were poor.

Rooms have been faithfully re-created, right down to small details such as the metal spittoon on the floor. Guides dressed as characters such as samsui women and trishaw riders will take visitors through the rejuvenated centre.

Madam Wu has documented her growing-up years in Chinatown in her books Lotus From The Mud: I Was A Majie's Foster Daughter and Down Memory Lane In Clogs: Growing Up In Chinatown.

And as she sits in the re-creation of her father's workspace, the years gone by come alive again.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'The way we were'. Print Edition | Subscribe