From birdcage maker to spice shops: The tourist experience in the heartlands

From birdcage maker to spice shops: The tourist experience in the heartlands

Tucked away in a quaint shophouse in Ang Mo Kio stands a birdcage-making shop – a sight rarely seen in Singapore today. Cage Making 159 belongs to Teng Leng Foo, who has experience in this craft stretching back five decades. Cheryl Lin has more with the story. 

SINGAPORE: Tucked away in a quaint shophouse in Ang Mo Kio stands a birdcage-making shop – a sight rarely seen in Singapore today.

Cage Making 159 belongs to Teng Leng Foo, who has experience in this craft stretching back five decades. But the proudest moment in his career only happened recently, when he was commissioned by the American delegation to create a one-of-a-kind birdcage for last June’s Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

Mr Teng said that the birdcage - which sold for S$3,500 - featured specially designed embellishments and shells.

His skill as a craftsman is seen as something that an increasing number of tourists are interested in, as they search for different and immersive local experiences.

Now the 72-year-old’s shop is a stop on a tour of Singapore's heartlands. 

The tour was developed as part of the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) Tour Design Challenge, which took place from May to Oct 2018. Such tours are featured in STB’s marketing activities locally and overseas.

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“We created this tour because we think there are a lot of tourists coming to Singapore now and there is demand from them to come to these heartlands to see the living environment of Singaporeans,” said Stanley Foo, 43, co-founder of Oriental Travel and Tours. His company is leading the tour, which the media was invited to experience on Friday (Mar 22).

“It came about from the movie Crazy Rich Asians. With that movie in mind, they (visitors) are thinking: ‘Are all Singaporeans staying in such big villas, big bungalows?’ They just request for (an) authentic Singapore experience,” he said.

Mr Foo added that his company has been providing such heartland tours for the last six months. The tours are mostly made up of foreign guests in a 9:1 ratio. Most of them come from Europe, Australia and the United States, he said.

Each tour has between two and six guests and costs S$80 for a four-hour experience or S$180 for one lasting seven hours.

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Another stop on the heartlands tour in Ang Mo Kio sees Jack Leow, 29, offer the best cooking tips for the spices he sells from his business called Little Spice Shop In Singapore.

His spice business, which is located at a wet market, has received some attention from tourists, who sought him out after doing research on the Internet.

He prides himself on sourcing spices from across the world and prepares them in small, takeaway packets that are easy for tourists to bring home. Each spice packet sells for between S$3.00 and S$9.00.

Mr Leow added that some foreign guests would occasionally drop him emails to thank him for the cooking tips. He also said that the tours do not disrupt his business, even though his core business is serving the local community. In fact, he sees additional benefits to being part of the heartlands tour.

“Business has always been good … and there has been a positive impact (from the heartland tours). It helps to build publicity when they (foreign guests) share their experience of my shop on websites like TripAdvisor.”

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SPECIALIST TOURIST GUIDES

To further develop new tourist experiences, STB has launched a scheme to encourage people with detailed knowledge of things such as nature or food to become guides for niche tours. Those who think they have what it takes to lead visitors on a different type of tour will be assessed by STB, who will evaluate their guiding skills and subject knowledge. 

STB said additional Area Tourist Guide (ATG) training will last between two to three months, and authorised ATGs will be able to hold a guide license for three years. Since the scheme was soft launched in Oct 2018, 32 individuals have already qualified as ATGs.

“We wanted to think of a way to bring in more Singaporeans who have expertise in different, specific domains. Then they are able to show uniquely Singaporean experiences to our visitors, and this ATG scheme allows us to do that,” said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, who was also present during Friday's tour.

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“I hope that with this greater awareness, we can encourage more to step forward ... because we do not just want to show them the more touristy aspects of Singapore. Those are important, but we also have many authentic, local experiences: How Singaporeans live on a day-to-day basis, our food, our heritage, our culture. I think that is also something that tourists increasingly look for.”             

Chee Hong Tat Heartland Tour 3
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat interacting with a shop owner during a heartlands tour in Ang Mo Kio. (Photo: Aaron Chong) 

Source: CNA/ac

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