Walks relive fond memories for visually impaired seniors

Senior ambassador Chhua Bak Siang (far left) guiding visually impaired participants from Guide Dogs Singapore, including masseur Tan Chiew Song (in blue), around Kampong Glam heritage precinct, as part of the NHB's Reminiscence Walks programme.
Senior ambassador Chhua Bak Siang (far left) guiding visually impaired participants from Guide Dogs Singapore, including masseur Tan Chiew Song (in blue), around Kampong Glam heritage precinct, as part of the NHB's Reminiscence Walks programme.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Tan Chiew Song's memories of Kampong Glam, a childhood haunt, were of darkened streets and run-down shophouses.

On Tuesday, more than two decades after losing his sight, the 58-year-old revisited the area 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 last December with a visit to Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

The current programme is to the Malay Heritage Centre. 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".

"There weren't any of this before," he said, referring to the 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 visitors were taken to places that met their personal interests and needs.

For instance, Mr Tan, who works as a masseur, sampled a range of exotic scents at Jamal Kazura Aromatics in North Bridge Road. He also felt the 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 person in Singapore is good, but one challenge we still face is mental stagnation. We have to leverage the experience of those who are older and can speak the same dialects, to forge stronger connections with one another."

FORGING STRONGER CONNECTIONS

The standard of living as an elderly person in Singapore is good, but one challenge we still face is mental stagnation. We have to leverage the experience of those who are older and can speak the same dialects, to forge stronger connections with one another.

SENIOR AMBASSADOR CHHUA BAK SIANG, 71, who says it is important to have the elderly lead their peers on such walks.

 

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 tried 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.

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

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

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

"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 of these walks in the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2019, with the headline 'Walks relive fond memories for visually impaired seniors'. Print Edition | Subscribe