Singapore’s largest ethnic group—about three-quarters of the population is Chinese—is spread across the island-state, but Chinatown is considered its spiritual home. The neighborhood’s Mandarin name (niu che shui, meaning “ox-cart water”) refers to the days when bull carts were used to transport water drawn from wells on Ann Siang Hill. Today Chinatown is an intriguing mix of old and new, and incongruously is even home to one of the city’s most impressive South Indian places of worship, the Sri Mariamman Temple on South Bridge Road, and the Jamae Mosque next door. The Chinatown Heritage Center, a sobering window on life in the 1950s, with recreations of house interiors where immigrants crammed together, anchors the neighborhood, while the Hokkien shrine Thian Hock Keng was built without the use of nails. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, opened in 2007, has a quiet rooftop garden with thousands of small Buddha statues mounted on its outer wall. On the eastern fringes of Chinatown, along Club Street, Ann Siang Road, and Amoy Street, chic bars and restaurants cater to the island’s glamorous crowd.
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