Singapore’s Chinatown is known as Niu che shui (Chinese: 牛车水, literally: “ox car water”) in Mandarin, Gu Chia Chwi in Hokkien and Ngau-che-shui in Cantonese – all of which mean “bullock water-cart” – and Kreta Ayer in Malay (Post-1972 spelling: “kereta air”), which means “water cart”. This is due to the fact that Chinatown’s water supply was principally transported by animal-driven carts in the 19th century. Large sections of it have been declared national heritage sites officially designated for conservation.
The shophouses were home to “death houses” and brothels until 1961 when death houses were banned and in 1930 when the Women and Girl’s Protection Ordinance was enacted, bringing the prostitution situation under control. To cater to those who visited brothels, or participated in extended affairs of Chinese funerals or came to frequent the opera theatre, street hawkers, food stalls and traders selling household goods occupied the streets. In order to address overcrowding and poor living conditions in the city, all street hawkers were relocated into the newly built Kreta Ayer Complex in 1983, which is today’s Chinatown Complex.
Video credits to Malaysia Travel Guide YouTube channel