Nestled in a corner of Changi Airport’s Terminal 4 (T4) in an area known as the Heritage Zone, is a row of brightly coloured shophouses, modeled after the Peranakan houses you might find in Singapore’s Katong and Joo Chiat districts.

So who are the Peranakans, and where can you find décor inspired by their culture in Changi Airport’s newest terminal? Here’s a guide for those who might soon be passing through Terminal 4. 

1. Who are the Peranakans?

Photos of traditional Peranakan families

Photos of traditional Peranakan families (Photo Credit: Singapore Tourism Board)

In a nutshell, the term ‘Peranakan’ (a Malay word that means “locally born”) refers to people who come from a mixed Chinese and Malay or Indonesian heritage.

While this term is commonly used to describe Peranakans of Chinese ancestry, there are also Chitty Melaka (Peranakan Indians), Jawi Peranakans and Kristang (Eurasian Peranakans).

2. Peranakan shophouses through the ages

Architectural designs of shophouses

Peranakan shophouse architecture evolving with the passage of time

The next time you visit T4, spend some time observing the elaborately designed shophouse façade in the Heritage Zone and see if you can spot the differences among them. The archetypal shophouses are displayed in chronological order, beginning with the Baroque Design, followed by the Rococo Style, the Peranakan Style and lastly, Modern Décor.

In the garden city we know of today, you might only be able to find remnants of such architecture in parts of Katong, Joo Chiat and Chinatown.

While you’re here, have a taste of some traditional delights offered at shops such as Curry Times and Heavenly Wang.

3. Where mythical creatures (like the phoenix) come to life

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Playing out to the melodious Bunga Sayang, the Peranakan Love Story tells the story of a blossoming romance between two passionate musicians living next to each other.

The intricately designed façade houses disguises a 10m x 6m LED screen, which plays a short cultural mini-theatre show – the Peranakan Love Story, with its story and music by Dick Lee. Playing out to the melodious Bunga Sayang, which translates into ‘Flower of Love’, the Peranakan Love Story tells the story of a blossoming romance between two passionate musicians living next to each other.

Towards the end of the six-minute film, look out for a vivid, luminous phoenix and an equally stunning dragon swooping across the screen. What exactly is it about the phoenix that makes it so prevalent in Peranakan art and culture?

Peranakan porcelain with phoenix symbols

Colourful Nyonyaware with distinctive phoenix motif (Photo Credit: Singapore Tourism Board, taken by Afur Wong)

The phoenix can often be found as a motif in Nyonyaware, or Peranakan porcelain. Motifs like this symbolize prosperity and even central ideas of marriage and fertility. These decorative wares are highly valued as symbols of wealth and status, and are often passed down as heirlooms for many generations!

Peranakan-inspired ceramic tiles

Intricately designed ceramic tiles found in T4’s Peranakan-themed toilet

4. Extravagant Peranakan Weddings

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Editor’s note: If you don’t want any spoilers for the Peranakan Love Story, you might want to skip this section!

Peranakan marriages are a significant part of Peranakan culture. While it might be difficult to visualize this with mere descriptions, you can get a glimpse of a traditional wedding in the Peranakan Love Story featuring well-loved local actors. Other fun facts about the short-film:

·         Though it is only a short six-minute theatrical film, the entire process took 2 years to complete!

·         The immersive 3D-experience was made possible by teams working in Singapore and abroad. The creative content was first developed in collaboration with Dick Lee, based in Singapore. The content was then digitalized by multimedia entertainment studio, Moment Factory, in Canada.

·         The entire film is a non-verbal piece. This is where technical finesse comes into play – the marrying of technology and tradition to narrate an expressive love story!

·         The film features an all-Singaporean cast, including main leads Adrian Pang, Koh Chieng Mun, Amy Cheng and Benjamin Kheng.

5. Intricacies of the Peranakan craft

With Peranakans having roots in a hybrid of cultures and races, it is almost impossible for this group not to stand out. Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, and Arabic influences are weaved into every aspect of daily life – including their furniture, porcelain, attire and even food. 

Peranakan Gallery at Level 2M

The Peranakan Gallery is a a first-ever collaboration between Changi Airport Group and National Heritage Board

If you still have some time to spare before your flight, head over to the Peranakan Gallery at Level 2M. Enter a world of rich Peranakan culture, with colourful nyonyaware, decorative furniture and elegant costumes on display.

For more information about T4, check out our list of things to look out for in T4; or visit the T4 website for shopping and dining deals.