Trengganu Street, in Chinatown, connects Sago Street and Pagoda Street. Named after the state of Trengganu in Malaysia, the street is unique as it connects four popular streets of Chinatown; Pagoda Street, Temple Street, Smith Street and Sago Street.
Trengganu Street is a focal point as it connects four popular streets of Chinatown; Pagoda Street, Temple Street, Smith Street and Sago Street. In the 19th century, the street was well-known for the presence of the famous Lai Chun Yuen opera house, located at the junction of Smith Street and Trengganu Street. Built in 1887, the Lai Chun Yuen occupied a three-storey shophouse and was a 834-seater theatre. It was considered the Broadway or West End of Cantonese opera. Between 1910s to 1920s, the theatre hosted performances of famous opera stars. It was so well-known that neighbourhood residents used it as a reference point. By the 1920s, the theatre was losing its popularity to cinema halls and amusement parks, resulting in fewer performances right up to the 1930s. It was rented out to Shaw Brothers after 1940 and renamed Sin Seng Theatre. The theatre was badly damaged by a bomb during WWII. Post-war renovations were made to its structure but by then the building was no longer entertaining audiences, rather operated as a merchandise shop and later a warehouse for street hawkers. It was restored to its Victorian splendour in 1998 and was bought over by a Taiwanese businessman for $50 million. He later donated it to the Taiwan-based Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation which now occupies the premises. The conversion of this shophouse into a commercial complex earned it an entry to the 2002 Unesco's Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Trengganu Street was also an infamous recreation outlet for the early Chinese immigrants. Opium and gambling dens and brothels on the street served the Chinese coolies who came to Singapore alone and found themeselves obligated to toiling for long hours. Many roadside stalls were also found along the street. The wide range of goods sold on Trengganu Street led it to be dubbed "the Piccadilly of Chinese Singapore". However, with the ban on setting up roadside stalls taking effect in the early 20th century, the street lost its glamour and became quite deserted. During the Japanese Occupation, the block of flats that lined Trengganu Street, from Smith Street to Sago Street, became home to Malay families who sought shelter and protection. Hawkers serving exotic recipes were also what used to make Trengganu Street famous. Their specialty was brewed tonic soups made from a concoction of tortoise, turtle, snake, lizard, or snake meat served in thick ceramic urns.
Today, Trengganu Street is part of the Chinatown Conservation Area. One noted building on this street is the Chinaman Scholar's Gallery which depicts the home of Chinese scholars of the 1920s and 1930s. Complete with kitchen, bedroom, dining and living areas, the gallery showcases furniture, porcelain, musical instruments and photographs from the period. The character of the street is reflected in many old and conserved beautiful baroque-style shophouses. Some of the shophouses have verandas in the upper storey that project outwards, a feature not commonly found in other shophouses in Singapore. The street has also become a heavily-frequented place by tourists. In order to revive the glory of 19th century Chinatown, Trengganu Street was converted into a street market with stalls selling a plethora of goods. Traditional trades such as watch repairing, fan-making and fortune-telling were also reintroduced on this street.
Chinese name: Gu chia chui wha koi (Hokkien), Gu-chhia-chui hue-koi (Hokkien), Ngau-chhe-shui hei yun wang kai (Cantonese), all of which mean "the cross street of Kreta Ayer". The street was so called because it was used as a 'cross over' between Smith Street and Sago Street. Hei yuen wang kai (Cantonese), meaning "theatre side street", a reference to its location as being the street located next to the Lai Chun Yuen theatre.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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(Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
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List of Images
Archives and Oral History Department. (1983). Chinatown: An album of a Singapore community (p. 92). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 779.995957 CHI)
The information in this article as valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
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