Filipino Entertainers in old Singapore

June 23, 2013

On my way to Mustafa  (a mall popular for its low prices and 24/7 business hours) I passed by the white old gates of the ‘New World‘ located just outside Farrer MRT. I’ve seen it before but it’s only now that I decided to take a closer look. The gate appears prettier during night time when spotlights highlight its distinctive colonial art design.

I find the restoration effort impressive because not only did they retained the gate but made sure that it’s in a place where it would be seen. But more impressive is that the restoration of the gate was an entirely private venture. The gate once stood at Jalan Besar, it is now in front of the modern City Square mall as a reminder of the old entertainment business in the island.

In the 60’s, the decade when entertainment shifted to television and radio the business operations inside these amusement parks (there were three of them) was shut down. The land where ‘New World‘ once stood has long been developed. The arch and gate  moved to its present location along the Kirchener Road–an acknowledgement of the amusement park’s historical significance.

Filipino entertainers pass through this gate in the 1900’s

The history of this ‘New World Amusement’ park is interesting for us Filipinos. It is the only Singaporean heritage site I know that has a marker that mentions us. Turns out that some of our countrymen in the early 1900’s managed to take part in the local show business:

“First opened in 1923 by the two Straits Chinese merchants brothers, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock, who were sons of prominent businessman, Ong Sam Leong, the New World attracted visitors from all walks of life – from Europeans, affluent local merchants to labourers, families and local residents. New World was a destination of fund and entertainment until the 1950’s. It featured many exciting programmes and attractions from boxing and wrestling matches to variety shows, operas from various ethnic groups and a small cabaret with Filipino arstistes.”

While ‘cabaret’ is a workplace of dubious reputation in our vocabulary, working in such places in other countries meant making a living out of “performing music, dance, recitation and comedy.” A master of ceremonies introduces performers, boxers, wrestlers and just about everything people would pay to see. The Filipinos were mostly artists, as the marker states in the ‘New World’ gate.

This Filipino presence  is an important reminder that we’ve always had good artists–a reputation that to this day continues–and that we’ve been coming to work in this wonderful country for centuries. Filipino migration to this island is not new. Let’s not forget about  the  Filipinos in Singapore in the late 19th century that attempted to save Rizal while he was detained in a ship (anchored in Singapore’s harbor) bound for Manila. The British denied the request to give the Filipino a refuge in the English colony but just imagine if they granted Rizal a safe pass!

There’s around half a million Filipino tourist that visits Singapore yearly. Last year, Filipinos ranked six among international visitors. This is attributed to increased number of flights going to the island, as well as the improving economy back home. It is a fact that a significant percentage of Filipinos who visits Singapore gives job hunt a stab but due to recent restrictions this is slowly becoming a fruitless pursuit for most Pinoys.

With this I hope Filipinos who come to see the islands explore it for its historical ties with us. But with all the other major attractions the island state offers, encouraging Filipinos to spend some time visiting historical landmarks (i.e., River Valley Rd., Good Shepherd Church) connected us is a tall order, if not impossible.

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