Reminiscence Walks evoke fond memories for visually impaired seniors

Called Reminiscence Walks, the programme is the second in a heritage series launched by the National Heritage Board in collaboration with SAGE Counselling Centre.
Called Reminiscence Walks, the programme is the second in a heritage series launched by the National Heritage Board in collaboration with SAGE Counselling Centre.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The memories Mr Tan Chiew Song had of Kampong Glam, his childhood haunt, were of darkened streets and rundown shophouses.

On Tuesday (April 23), about two decades later, the 58-year-old revisited the once-familiar area around the Malay Heritage Centre on a tour for white cane users from Guide Dogs Singapore.

Called Reminiscence Walks, the programme is the second in a heritage series launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in collaboration with Sage Counselling Centre.

It started in December last year with a visit to Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

The current programme is to the Malay Heritage Centre and the next is slated to take place at the Indian Heritage Centre later this year.

Mr Tan, who lost his sight at the age of 33, found today's Kampong Glam "completely different from before".

"There never used to be any of this," he said, referring to the Lebanese restaurants and colourful stalls that lined North Bridge Road. "In the past, the streets would be empty by 3pm."

 

With senior ambassadors as guides, the visually-impaired group were taken to places that met their personal interests and needs.

For instance, Mr Tan, who works as a masseuse, sampled a range of exotic scents at Jamal Kazura Aromatics in North Bridge Road. He also felt the unique texture of haj belts in textile shops and was offered drinks at the sarabat stalls in North Bridge Road.

The group of 20 was then taken on a guided tour inside the Malay Heritage Centre.

Senior ambassador Chhua Bak Siang, 71, said it was important to have the elderly lead their peers on such walks.

Mr Chhua, a volunteer tour guide for 12 years, added: "The standard of living as an elderly in Singapore is good, but one challenge we still face is mental stagnation. We have to leverage the experience of those of us who are older and can speak the same dialects, to forge stronger connections with each other."

The training he received for the Reminiscence Walks differed from what he was used to, he said. "We had to do some reconnaissance beforehand to plan a route with the least number of obstacles. In the museum, I try to use my own words to paint a more vivid picture instead of just explaining the artefact's background."

The number of participants for each tour is capped at 20. "We prioritise experience over quantity, because we want the participants to have more intimate conversations and connections with their guides," said Ms Amanda Chan, senior manager of the Silver Hubs Heritage Institutions, an NHB initiative aimed at developing age-friendly programmes for seniors.

The frequency of the walks has been increased from once to twice a month to meet the demand.

Said masseuse Grace Ng, 62, after the tour: "I didn't have any expectations when I joined this tour.

"Thankfully Guide Dog Singapore signed me up for this. I feel so lucky to be able to experience this now, when I still have a bit of eyesight. I hope I'll be able to go for more such walks in the future."