WATCH: The one thing South Africans can learn from Singapore's Peranakan culture

2019-06-29 23:38 - Selene Brophy
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Walking into Alvin Yapp's home can either feel like a sensory delight or cultural overload.

Every conceivable space has some authentic, carefully placed antique or novelty item stowed, just so. For me, each room is given a whimsical air by the antiques he has been collecting for the past 30 years.

We made our way in and took a seat in preparation for his Intan Tea Appreciation ceremony. 

Located in the heart of Joo Chiat, a traditional Peranakan enclave and Singapore's first heritage town - The Intan means 'rose-cut diamond' in Malay. 

Alvin's home, because he really does live there, has become such a draw-card that it is now officially listed as a  Peranakan heritage home-museum. No doubt, it is also a pain to keep clean with the number of different items and pieces paying homage to this mix of cultures running into the thousands.

Listening to him talk about his Peranakan heritage, I can't help but admire what he is doing for his mixed-bag background by sharing its multi-faceted aspects through historical artefacts and his interesting personal stories.

What is Peranakan exactly, you might be wondering? 

Essentially, it is a mix of cultures that "happened about 200-years ago, when Chinese men married local Malay women during the time of British rule", he explains. 

While Alvin shares perceived percentages as to the make-up of a Peranakan, he quickly blows it all out the water, saying "Either you are Peranakan or your are not".

He mentions that when he was growing up, Peranakan culture was discriminated against and being South African, and a coloured or mixed one at that, his approach is fascinating. Today, being Paranakan has evolved into what he describes as a pop culture. 

"Everybody wants to be Peranakan," Alvin explains. 

He attributes the change in perspective in somehow not overthinking the need to belong to one particular culture more than the other. And Singapore as a whole is such a accommodating nation, with people from the Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage for example all living harmoniously together.

"As Peranakans we simply assimilate the best of each culture and we do it quite seamlessly. We don't overthink it, we just do it."    

Certainly food for thought and perhaps a simplistic approach to appreciating the many, many cultures that make up South Africa, I think.

And this is true from the historical jewellery, hand-made ornate bead-work, wedding ceremony traditions, through to the actual tea treats of Peranakan culture he took us through - watch the video above to see first hand how Alvin shares what it means to be Peranakan. 

The one thing South Africans can learn from Singap
The one thing South Africans can learn from Singap
The one thing South Africans can learn from Singap
The one thing South Africans can learn from Singap
The one thing South Africans can learn from Singap
The one thing South Africans can learn from Singap

The Intan also makes an appearance in Singapore Airline's safety video. Take a look.

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*Disclaimer: Traveller24 Editor Selene Brophy was hosted by Singapore Tourism Board for this experience.