Ang Siang Hill
old house at ang siang hill
an unusual house this is
dreams are here before you sleep
into the three-storeyed gloom
on the straits-born furniture
imported from china
to the contemporary occupants
they are not afraid of you
waiting for you to go
before they dislocate your intentions
so what if this is
your grandfather’s house
his ghost doesn’t live here anymore
your family past is
which increases with time
otherwise nothing adds or subtracts
the bricks and tiles
which will greatly change
dozens like it along the street
the next and the next as well
nothing much will be appreciated
eyes not tradition tell you this.
Arthur Yap, 1971
Ang Siang Hill can be said to illustrate the tradeoff between traditions and heritage, and advancement and modernisation, and such is its relevance to the Singaporean literature scene by being a symbol of this compromise which is argued to be inevitable with the evolution of the country into an economic power. A number of literary figures in Singapore have explored this concern in their works, including Kuo Pao Kun and Lee Tzu Pheng.
Ang Siang Hill or Ann Siang Hill was located at South Bridge Road and was the estate of Chia Ann Siang, a wealthy businessman. It was a Chinese graveyard till the mid-1800s, and then it became known for being a traditional site for Chinese migrants who set up clan associations and social clubs, before being bought over by Chia at the turn of the 20th century.
Most of the buildings today at Ann Siang Road / Ann Siang Hill were built before World War II, and located within the Central Business District (CBD) of Singapore, it is home to many offices and shops. It consists of many eating houses, commercial units and bars which has made the area a trendy and popular place.
Club Street at Ann Siang Hill in 1998
(Image taken from http://victorkoo.blogspot.sg/2009/06/third-shot-of-club-street.html)
Present day Ann Siang Hill
(Image taken from http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/slideshow-photo/ann-siang-hill-in-chinatown-n1-singapore-singapore.html?sid=15002892&fid=upload_12977374727-tpfil02aw-8993)
As seen the government has been active in trying to promote it as a site for tourism and hence the numerous developments. This is explored in the poem where Yap portrays tradition and heritage to be dispensable in the face of growth and development, this is done by juxtapositioning tradition (elements of religious worship in “tread softly”, “sit gently”, and “speak quietly”) and re-developing, to illustrate that to move on and progress, the past can be sacrificed. This is in reality is done forcefully and unfeelingly which is illustrated by the strict and business-like tone in the lines from the second stanza “so what if this is / your grandfather’s house / his ghost doesn’t live here anymore / your family past is / superannuated grime” which reflect a lack of empathy and sympathy for heritage. There is a sense of holding on to tradition and the past being incongruent with the modern ideals that the nation is pursuing which has dictated the changing of the Singapore landscapes, which are attacked in the poem for being mechanical and standardised, as seen from how the old house in the poem would turn out to be just another house along the streets like many others, with nothing to differentiate it from similar to being another brick in the wall, and another tile on the floor. To prove this point, we may even draw parallels to many other instances in the Singaporean context today, most strikingly the demolishing of the iconic Bukit Brown cemetery as a symbol of old Singaporean history and heritage (as it houses the remnants of many Singaporean pioneers such as Chia Ann Siang, Eu Tong Sen and Gan Eng Seng) for economic purposes (it will make way for roads to ease congestion along Lornie Road and the PIE during peak hours).
Ann Siang Hill, entrance to walking trail
(Image taken from http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/173407/)
Today a walk down the Ann Siang Road / Ann Siang Hill will expose one to the old and restored shophouses of the old Chinese clans and associations.
Present day Ann Siang Hill
(Image taken from http://katewashere.com/2011/10/06/penniless-tour-ann-siang-hill/)
Leo, S. (Ed.). (1993). Chinese Adaptation & Diversity: Essays On Society And Literature In Indonesia,Malaysia & Singapore. Singapore, Singapore: Singapore University Press.