Go on a walking tour with passionate My Community volunteer
When Mr Victor Li moved into his new home in Tanglin Halt in 2014, he decided to be a tourist in his backyard. He joined a free guided tour of the neighbourhood and spent an afternoon learning about everything from the former Venus and Golden City Theatres, which were Queenstown’s first two cinemas, to the Masjid Mujahidin, Singapore’s first mosque designed by the Housing and Development Board.
The tour was run by My Community, a ground-up, volunteer initiative founded in 2010 by two friends and heritage enthusiasts – Kwek Li Yong and Jasper Tan. Their aim: to connect people to social networks within a community by nurturing collective memories. The group, which now has 150 volunteers, conducts bi-monthly walking tours of historic neighbourhoods such as Tanglin Halt, Holland Village and Tiong Bahru.
For Mr Li, the Tanglin Halt tour was especially memorable. It not only introduced him to the histories of Queenstown and Tanglin Halt, it also gave him an insider’s look at the life and stories of long-time residents and shopkeepers.
He says: “What really impressed me was how strong the kampung spirit was in Tanglin Halt. One of the long-time residents, Alice, shared how she has the keys to all of her neighbours’ apartments in a keypress inside her house. She also helps her neighbours close their windows when it’s raining, and checks on them if they are living alone.”
So moved was he by the experience of the walking tour that he decided to become a volunteer guide with My Community. Five years on, Mr Li, who works as a deputy director of industry development and partnership with Singapore Food Agency, is now in charge of the My Tanglin Halt Heritage Tour, which runs every fourth Saturday and Sunday of the month.
The easy walking tour, which lasts 3.5 hours, includes stops at the Queenstown Library and the former Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market. It also takes participants to the Queenstown Sports Stadium, which hosted the National Day Parade in 1975 and 1983, and the black-and-white colonial-style bungalows.
On his tour, he likes to share about a Queenstown stalwart, Dr Chan Khye Meng, who retired last year after more than 50 years of service to the community. Mr Li says: “My Community wants to share the stories of residents and celebrate the little things in our neighbourhood. This builds up the kampung spirit, which is all about taking care of one’s community.”
Keen to share even more about the area, he started the Museum @ My Queenstown Tour in 2019. The free tour introduces visitors to stories behind the artefacts on display in the community museum.
Located in Margaret Drive, this museum, fully funded and curated by Queenstown residents, is no bigger than the average shophouse. The museum features memorabilia and artefacts from the 1970s to 1980s such as a sign from the old cinema/bowling alley that was torn down back in 2013, as well as a signage from Thin Huat, a provision shop that ran for more than 50 years before closing in 2015. While these items may seem extremely ordinary, they celebrate the heritage of Queenstown and the idea of a community as they bring back many fond memories for long-time residents and shopkeepers alike.
Mr Li says: “The museum tour is usually fully booked as it is the first ground-up community museum in Singapore. This is no small feat, and we are quite proud to be able to pull this off.”
Learn more about My Community here.