Building on collective memories to build a community
Since then, Li Yong has channelled his passion into his profession. As a heritage consultant and researcher, he is the Executive Director of My Community, a civic society he co-founded in 2010 to document social memories, celebrate civic life, and champion community arts and heritage (see box). Of the initiatives he spearheads, My Community’s guided tours of Queenstown have had an impact on the greatest number of people. Since 2010, more than 30,000 people — over 80 per cent of whom are locals — have gone for the tours. The popularity of the tours soared particularly in 2015, due to external factors. The death of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and SG50 made people reflect about the past and its importance. Li Yong says: “It made Singaporeans realise that there are a lot of stories, sights and places in Singapore. These could be demolished overnight without the majority of us knowing, and it made people feel for the past.”
Building on the nostalgia for the past in Queenstown, he also started ‘Museum@My Queenstown’, what could well be Singapore’s first independent community museum in Queenstown in February this year. The museum is located on the site of a bakery and saloon that closed its doors after serving the community for over four decades, and it took My Community many years to plan and collect items for it. These include 30 artefacts, 1,500 photographs, 200 archival documents and 100 oral history records.
Li Yong and his team even painstakingly assembled some of these items, such as bowling pins and a neon “Queensway” sign from the once-popular Queenstown cinema and bowling centre that had been set to be demolished. Though the team started out without a ready pool of funds, it managed to raise more than S$250,000, mostly from residents, businesses and religious institutions located in Queenstown, including Tiong Ghee Temple, Sri Muneeswaran Temple and Faith Methodist Church.