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Sago Street, a one way road, connects South Bridge Road to Trengganu Street. The street, named so because many Sago factories were located on it in the 1840s, is part of Chinatown.
Making sago flour from sago, an ingredient used in making delicacies, was a profitable business in 19th century Singapore. So profitable was the business that in the 1850s, nearly 30 sago factories were operating in Singapore producing 8,000 tons of sago flour a year. Sago was also exported to India and Europe from Singapore then. Most of these sago factories were located in the Sago Street area which included Sago Lane, situated next to Sago Street, However, the street gained infamy with many brothels that sprung up in the early 20th century. Sago Street ran next to Smith Street which was a notorious red-light area from 1901 to the 1930s, and eventually this trait spread to Sago Street. In 1901, there were about 14 prostitute dens on Sago Street.
The street was called Little Temple Street by the Cantonese due to the presence of the Chinese Tua Pek Kong temple. The temple was constructed here in 1895 and was dedicated to the deity, Tua Pek Kong, which is also known as Da Bo Gong or Earth God, the Chinese God of wealth. Many letter writers lived on this street in the late 19th century. A colonial building, located at the end of the street, used to be a jinrickshaw station. Jinrickshaws or rickshaws were popular modes of transport in the late 19th century.
Today, the street is lined with shophouses. As part of the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) efforts to revitalise Chinatown and bring back some of its old magic, stalls engaged in traditional trades were set up here in 2003. The stallholders include fortune teller, clog maker, furniture restorer and rattan mat weaver. Other goods sold are dried food stuff, toys, jewellery and electronic gadgets.
Chinese names: In Hokkien, Gu-chhia-chui hi-hng-koi cheng koi and in Cantonese, Ngau-chhe-shui hei yun chhin kai, both of which mean "the street in front of the theatre (street) in Kreta Ayer". Smith Street was known as Theatre Street due to the presence of a famous theatre, the Lai Chun Yuen theatre.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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(Call no.: RSING 779. 995957 CHI)
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (pp. 485, 487). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)
Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2003). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names (p. 337). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV)
Firmstone, H. W. (1905, January). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42, 126-127.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 FIR-[IC])
Kong, L. (1992, July 23). Comfort in history. The Straits Times, Life, p. 3.
Wong, D. (2003, January 3). Plans for a Chinatown street market area, minus cars; network of roads will be turned over to merchants, hawkers and pedestrians in a bid to revive the street life of yesteryear. The Straits Times.
Singapore Tourism Board. (1998-2004). Chinatown self-guided walking tour - route 2: Sago Street & Sago Lane. Retrieved May 27, 2003, from www.newasia-singapore.com/ltours/template/5a/1,1391,131,00.html.
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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