My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

OTGV #54 - Heritage Tours

Broadcast Date: 19/04/04

Uniquely Singapore, the new advertising sting adopted by the Singapore Tourism Board. But can Singapore live up to the title?

Chong Ching Liang ponders this question.


STB's new brand campaign "Uniquely Singapore" is chosen as it's designed to highlight the country's blend of traditions, culture and modernity.

But some sardonic Singaporeans have questioned -- Just what is so Unique about Singapore?

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

Some tour agencies see the branding as a good start.

Journeys is a heritage tour agency and its founder, Jeyathurai gives his take on the re-branding of Singapore.

"Because they are trying to focus on what is unique about Singapore so it is important that the investments that goes in actually amplifies and enhances what is unique about Singapore so that it cannot be replicated somewhere else."

Others such as Ow Yong Kit Fun, of JTB tour agency feel it's about time that Singapore starts working at developing some kind of character.

"We often received feedback from our tour planners in Japan saying that Singapore has no identity of its own. Only Merlion is not a big impact for them. I hope there will be more and more aggressive promotions on Singapore in Japan targeting repeaters. You know they travel to Hong Kong many times, they travel to Bangkok many times but Singapore, only once is enough."

But a glitzy campaign won't help if there isn't any substance to what you are advertising.

One of Singapore's pioneer architects and now urban thinker and writer William Lim recalls an interview he had with me some four years ago.

"Years ago, last time we interviewed we say let's preserve Changi Prison. I say let's use it as prison hotel. A few of us also mention that in serious discussion, in interviews everywhere. Now we are perhaps in a process of tearing them down. Are they listening? I mean why are they not preserving Changi Prison?"

Back then, Mr Lim had said Changi Prison won't be a white elephant if it's converted into the world's most unique youth hostel.

Some analysts think it's a radical idea but it may well work with heritage and tourism going hand-in-hand in a brazen combination.

But we may never find out if it'll ever work as all that may be left of Changi Prison is just one segment of its outer walls.

The historic clock tower where Lord Mountbatten announced the Japanese surrender to the prisoners-of-war may be gone.

Old prisons have a certain character that help the Uniquely Singapore slogan says Mr Jeyathurai.

"Saving Changi Prison or other heritage sites can easily turn into tourists dollars and therefore has economic utility. You cannot even get a ticket into Alcatraz nowadays; it is so difficult and thinks of the thousand of people that visit it. The economic argument is an argument that cannot be used for saving Singaporean heritage because by creating an identity that is uniquely Singaporean everybody would come. If you are the same as every other place in the world, what is the point of coming to Singapore?"

Alcatraz has its Al Capones, Changi Prison -- its Adrian Lims and other notorious criminals that are the subjects of many a local drama serial.

But more importantly, it is the closest Singapore has to a truly international heritage site, explains Mr Jeyathurai.

"Changi Prison Singapore not only has the story of what prison life is about and to see what colonial prison were like, but it goes all the way back to the WWII, and it connects with so many other countries who is interested in the history of what their soldiers and civilians have gone through in Singapore."

The problem is STB doesn't own any of the land titles for these heritage sites.

The various stakeholders do.

So for Changi Prison, the Home Affairs Ministry must be consulted and overall, there's still the Urban Redevelopment Authority to convince.

The URA makes all the master plan to ensure Singapore's physical development is smooth, through what it thinks are timely buildings and demolishing.

Take for instance, the older one or two-room HDB flats in town, themselves an interesting social heritage sites, will be gone at some time.

Mr William Lim wonders why there isn't an alternative to "tear" and "rebuild".

"Why tear them down? They are right in the centre of the city. Why don't just let go and say, okay you guys, you can do whatever you like, you can have a boarding place there, you can have a shop there, artists can stay there, artist studios can operate there, it becomes an energy area. One of the biggest problems with Singapore is that we are too damn efficient. So these areas are immediately being "corrected" -- re-built, tear down for who-ever it is so that you don't have these rather run-down places."

Think that's upsetting for the heritage activist?

Just listen to what Mr Lim has to say about rumblings that the Newton Hawker Centre may soon make way for more condominiums.

"You find there's some vibrancy in certain areas which the combination is highly complex and location as well as circumstantial specific. If you find there is an exciting place, plan round it. Don't disturb it. Newton Hawker Centre is an example. Nobody understands why. The food is good but not that good, there is better food. It's terribly expensive, why everybody wants to go. It cannot be explained. And you say 'oh, the thing is old-fashioned and some of the pavement is breaking up' but nobody complains. Best thing for the planners, you see good things don't touch it!"

Newton used to be the congregation place for Singapore's musicians and artistes.

One expatriate travel writer even called it Singapore's Greenwich Village.

Changi Prison was the place British and Australian tourists would flock to relive how they or someone they knew, once suffered in the second great war of modern human history.

Strip away all these physical icons of national character and heritage away in the name of development -- what else is there to make Singapore truly unique?

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

Newsradio 938 (now 938Live) Image hosted by

Singapore Tourism Board Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Journeys Pte Ltd Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Changi Chapel and Museum Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


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