Want to find out more about cultural and history tours in Singapore, and delve deeper into the background of black-and-white homes? We put tour leader Jane Iyer in the hot seat to share her passion for the heritage and ‘hidden’ sides of living in Singapore.
Are your black-and-white tours still popular?
They’re extremely well supported, and it’s not only the tours that prove popular – we ran five sold-out events in black-and-white houses last year, and we’re already on to our second this year.
Aren’t you tempted to live in a black-and-white yourself?
Yes, I’d love to, and my husband and I have talked about it; but I just don’t have the time or the energy to think about moving right now! If our current landlords decided to take the house back we would definitely look into moving to a black-and-white.
Which black-and-white enclaves do you like in particular?
I think Alexandra Park is wonderful; I love the community spirit the residents have there. The area used to be an old pepper plantation, and it has this enclosed feel that makes it particularly special. Goodwood Hill is so convenient – you’re right in the thick of everything; and I like Adam Park as well – it’s just a shame it’s been split up by the roads.
Medway Park is charming; the houses are smaller but the community spirit is strong there.
At the end of our black-and-white tours I often ask people which of the houses they liked best and, interestingly, people often opt for the smaller houses. People can identify with living in them more, although they are clearly also impressed with the larger ones.
Tell us a fascinating fact about black-and-whites.
Atbara House is the oldest black-and-white in Singapore, and is named after a river in the Sudan. It was designed by architect John Bidwell and built in 1898. Located on Gallop Road, Atbara House was the French embassy for many years until it relocated to Cluny Road, and it’s now set to house the Interpretive Centre for the Learning Forest in the Botanic Gardens next year.
When is a black-and-white house a black-and-white house?
It’s not just a house that’s painted black and white, that’s for sure! Black-and-white colonial heritage homes are predominantly those built by the British colonial administration. Although the colours are not the important factors in these houses, the majority are black and white, and this harks back to their design influences. The “father” of black-and-whites, John Bidwell, had many influences, among them the Neo-Tudor and Jacobean styles, and Malay and Indian designs. He took the idea for a black-and-white and adapted it for tropical usage, for example adding verandahs or Moorish features.
Tell us about some of the other tours you’re running to help promote Singapore.
We have a wide variety, from art to World War II, but all with a focus on history, heritage and culture. Those on minority groups, such as the Jewish and Armenian communities, off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods like our recent Commonwealth and forthcoming Serangoon North Village walks, and new topics such as modern architecture and literary walks, are proving very popular. Exploring “hidden Singapore” is also a big hit, and then there are our Foodie Adventures, which showcase a variety of different cuisines: Indian, Thai, Singaporean, Malay, Peranakan and Chinese. We’re working on a veggie one next.
We also work closely with associations such as ANZA, AWA and the French Association, running private and corporate tours. Importantly, we have guides who can speak many different languages, from Korean and French to Russian and Czech.
Looking back, is this what you envisaged when you started doing tours?
I had always thought there was a gap in the market for these more interesting tours, and I do feel that I’m achieving what I set out to do. One of my main objectives has been to show people both here and abroad that Singapore is an interesting place, and I like to think that, along with my wonderful team of 16 guides, I’m accomplishing that mission.
To find out more about Jane’s Singapore Tours, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit janestours.sg.
For more helpful tips head to our Living in Singapore section.
Inside an Alexandra Park black-and-white
International schools in Singapore: HUGE guide
This article first appeared in the May 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!