New bicentennial roadshows bring history to the heartland

Storyteller Dolly Leow speaking at the Singapore Bicentennial Roadshow @ South East, which was launched yesterday at Wisma Geylang Serai and will run until Sunday. Other highlights at the roadshow - the first in a series of five - include a timeline
Storyteller Dolly Leow speaking at the Singapore Bicentennial Roadshow @ South East, which was launched yesterday at Wisma Geylang Serai and will run until Sunday. Other highlights at the roadshow - the first in a series of five - include a timeline wall of Singapore's history and a heritage trail.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Life for Mrs Dolly Leow now is very different compared to when she was a child some 60 years ago.

There were no mobile phones and television sets, and not even plastic bags, she said, recalling that her mother would carry a basket to the market.

Mrs Leow, 64, is a storyteller at the Singapore Bicentennial Roadshow @ South East, which was launched yesterday at Wisma Geylang Serai. It runs until Sunday.

It is the first roadshow in a series of five that aims to bring history to the heartland so it can be more accessible to Singaporeans.

The storytelling sessions are where individuals like Mrs Leow, or members of different communities such as the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans League, can share stories from their past.

Said Mrs Leow, who is a childcare literacy teacher: "I want to talk about the way we used to live, without all the trappings.

"We kept ourselves entertained. We looked out for the bread man who would balance his goods on his head. We listened for the 'tock-tock-tock' sound that signified the arrival of the wanton mee man.

"The area where I used to live, Sophia Road (in Rochor), housed many communities. I grew up speaking dialects, but I also learnt Malay and a bit of Tamil, and there were even Jews... We integrated well with all other races."

Of the storytelling sessions, mayor of the South East District, Dr Maliki Osman, said: "This is something that is unique. We often look at historical exhibitions as just what's being written, but when you hear the stories, we hope to bring back memories for Singaporeans.

TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

We kept ourselves entertained. We looked out for the bread man who would balance his goods on his head. We listened for the 'tock-tock-tock' sound that signified the arrival of the wanton mee man.

MRS DOLLY LEOW, 64, recalling life in the past and what it was like growing up.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who was the guest of honour at the launch of the roadshow, said that the bicentennial year is a good opportunity for Singaporeans to reflect on the past, celebrate the present and think about the future.

"We are from many communities, cultures and religions but we also have this one shared history," said Mr Tan, adding that this shared history has "contributed to where we are today".

"It's important to understand this shared history, and also how our own communities have contributed to Singapore's growth and development over the years... and we can build a DNA for ourselves today to get ready for the future."

Other exhibits at the roadshow include a timeline wall of Singapore's history, from 1299 to 1965.

There is also a specially curated heritage trail where visitors can learn about the history of various landmarks in the Geylang Serai area, including the Khadijah Mosque and the former Geylang Fire Station.

Housewife Wendy Lew, who was at the roadshow and attended a storytelling session with her five-year-old son, said it was a meaningful initiative.

Said Mrs Lew, 43: "I want my son to learn about his history, culture and background. And for me, I learnt what life was like for my grandfather and my father."

The next stop for the roadshows, which are on every month until August, will be the HDB Hub. After that, the roadshow will go on to Our Tampines Hub, Northpoint City and Lot One Shoppers' Mall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'New bicentennial roadshows bring history to the heartland'. Print Edition | Subscribe