Follow urban explorer and tour guide Cai Yinzhou on a learning journey through Singapore’s diverse cityscape.
To experience history through the lens of architecture, start your day with an exploration of the traditional shophouse at the junction of Lorong 19 and Lorong Bachok. “The [exterior designs of the] shophouses here are quite timeless,” Yinzhou says. “There are beautiful decorative elements made from Madras chunam (a mixture of water, egg shells and egg white, sugar and lime).”
For a study in contrasts, take a stroll to the eight conservation shophouses along Lorong 24A. Designed by seven local architects in a collective project, each shophouse has a similar, conserved façade, but a uniquely-designed interior. “The truth is, we can’t keep old things the way they are all the time,” he observes. “We have to inject meaning [into old spaces].”
Continue your day of exploration at an establishment that has personal significance to Yinzhou; The Panic Room is a modern barbershop, where he learnt the nuances of giving a good haircut. “The owner of The Panic Room was super nice about letting us check them out [and learn the basics of barbering].” The lessons in grooming that Yinzhou learnt here proved useful in helping him kickstart his first social project, Back Alley Barbers, which offers free haircuts for Singapore’s migrant labourers.
“I made friends with Jeff [the owner of Eng Tiang Huat], while he was out walking his dog,” Yinzhou says. “They’re a cultural shop that sells traditional Chinese Opera instruments and costumes.” Apart from housing treasures like a Chinese Opera dao (sabre), the store also provides a great deal of insight into the past, with its range of Chinese cultural artefacts.
“JB Ah Meng is damn good,” Yinzhou enthuses, in reference to the popular zi char (dishes influenced by home-cooked Chinese food, meant for sharing) restaurant along Geylang Lorong 30. A regular pitstop on Geylang Adventure tours, the restaurant serves up a range of local delicacies from white pepper crab to salted egg prawn rolls, making it a great place to explore Singapore’s authentic culinary offerings.