In 1819 Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles founded Singapore as a trading port for the British East India Company. At that time Raffles thought that Singapore’s position was potentially very strategic for a trading port. Since then, Singapore’s history as one of the busiest trading ports in Southeast Asia began. Raffles adopted a free trade policy so the traders from various countries were free to trade in Singapore. In the past, the Singapore River became a melting pot for merchant ships. The river became very crowded and a bit chaotic by rapid trade between the people. It was really full of ships!
In 1977, the famous Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew decided to clean up Singapore’s rivers, which included the Singapore River and the Kallang River. The clean-up cost the government $ 300 million and involved a relocation of about 4,000 squatters, along with hawkers and vegetable sellers, whose daily waste flowed into the river. Public housing was found for the squatters, while street hawkers were persuaded to move to hawker center. The government then dredged foul-smelling mud from the banks and the bottom of the river, clearing the debris and other rubbish
Now, the area around the Singapore River is very clean and is only passed by boats for tourists. I spent time recording soundscape around the Singapore River of today. There was not much noise, because the Singapore River stream is very calm, there was only the sound of tourist boats with its not so noisy engine compared with the boats at Chao Phraya River, and these boats didn’t cause a lot of water waves. Then, the sound of birds chirping, constructions near the Asian Civilization Museum, the sounds of travelers enjoying the area around Singapore River, the sound of bicycles, scooters, and road traffic in the distance, and also the sound of clock bell from the historical Victoria Memorial Bell Tower.
We can only imagine, the soundscape on the Singapore River in the past was very different, very crowded with traders, full of boats and people around the river. If we compare photos of the past and present, the differences are very obvious. Those sounds have gone away, and we can only imagine how it was. Now it has become part of the historical journey in modern and fast changing Singapore.