Singapore – sanitised and boring?
Nah – @Singaporeheritage Instagrammer Ming would beg to differ.
With closed borders and a slim possibility of travelling without quarantine, what better time is it to rediscover hidden spots in Singapore? Ming of @Singaporeheritage Instagram account, self-professed “secret spot” hunter shares with us how we can all learn more about Singapore heritage through adventures of our own.
Interview with Ming from @Singaporeheritage
Tell us about yourself and how you started developing a passion for heritage buildings.
My interest in Singapore heritage, in particular pre-war colonial buildings and facilities, started with researching the local heritage of my neighbourhood around Pandan Valley back in 2016. To my great fascination, I learned of the existence of monster 15-inch naval guns (which had ranges of up to 32km for shells weighing 950kg) and their network of tunnels emplaced within Pine Grove condominium and Mowbray Camp in 1936. As I began to hone my skills in map reading and topography, it was simply the joy of discovering old communities and structures (homes, roads, railroads, farms, shophouses etc.) reclaimed by nature around my area that captivated and inspired me into looking at physical heritage elsewhere around the country.
Through this 5-year journey, I have had the pleasure of rediscovering and bringing back to light several lost and forgotten sites through collaboration with leading historians, archeologists, and the authorities. Nowadays, I work mostly to ensure that these rediscovered, or poorly understood heritage sites are better understood by historians and the authorities in terms of historical context, heritage value and location. My hope is that by doing so, these rare and precious sites can be preserved, rather than demolished for future generations to enjoy.
How did you find all the “secret places” shown on your IG page?
I find my ‘secret spots’ through a combination of good old, painstaking research at the National Archives, National Library and by using online resources. I typically start by picking an area of interest, finding archival maps of the location, and comparing the old topography and landscape to the modern-day satellite imagery and my own spatial understanding of the grounds. Quite often, these maps reveal lost communities and old structures such as Kampongs and lost colonial-era military sites (which are my favourite to rediscover and document). The next step is to visit these areas of interest, which in most cases is just a matter of visiting the site, or arranging official visits and studies with the support of the landowner.
Which is your favourite heritage spot and why?
My favourite heritage location is in fact the entire island of Pulau Tekong for its raw, rustic beauty and history. Closed off from members of the public since 1986, the island is still home to natural beaches, pristine mangrove swamps, kampong ruins, five 1930s era coastal artillery site ruins, hot springs, and plenty of mango and durian trees. It’s simply a captivating and an extremely rare environment in Singapore to experience, and so I really count my lucky stars for being able to have experienced the island through my National Service.
What are resources you recommend using when exploring Singapore?
In terms of researching sites, the National Archives of Singapore (nas.gov.sg) online database is a great resource providing audio, visual and physical archives from up to 200 years ago. For discovering and exploring relatively unknown or lost heritage sites in Singapore, I tend to rely purely on the archival maps and building plans provided by NAS.
In terms of visiting sites, I recommend to always ensure that you have the researched maps and satellite imagery printed or downloaded onto your mobile device to easily make comparisons between what’s on the ground, what’s around you (satellite imagery) and what used to be in situ (archival maps).
What would your advice be to other explorers and heritage enthusiasts?
I would advise fresh heritage enthusiasts to first start their journey by researching and studying the local history of their own neighbourhood, as it is likely an area they are most familiar with. Gradually, build up your skills in research, map reading and spatial awareness before venturing to other areas of Singapore as you become more proficient with the process. Another important note for new enthusiasts is to research the land ownership of the site you want to visit.
Never trespass, but instead seek proper approval from the relevant landowner, never go out alone and keep safety as your top priority. As for more experienced enthusiasts, I would advise you to really take advantage of the incredible free resources at the National Archives of Singapore, in particular the map archives, and to explore even the well-known sites in Singapore as you are bound to always discover something new.
Where will you be going on your next Little Day Out?
My next Little Day Out will likely be to Pulau Ubin, as it is similar in nature to Pulau Tekong. I am hoping to reconnect with the rustic landscape that I became so familiar with and fell in love with on Tekong when I do visit Ubin, visit the Kampong sites, quarries and potentially a secret pre-war 1930s Anti Torpedo Motor Boat (AMTB) gun battery!
Explore safely and Rediscover Singapore’s Hidden Treasures
Thank you, Ming! Your adventures sound amazing! For eager explorers who are inspired by @singaporeheritage, do be mindful of going off trail and always be accompanied so there’s safety in numbers. And remember the advice of doing your research with the tons of resources available freely!
For more on @Singaporeheritage’s adventures, head on to @Singaporeheritage.