Exploring Youth Interactions and Gender Expression in Holland Village and Joo Chiat





            On Friday afternoon we explored the Singaporean neighborhoods of Holland Village and Joo Chiat, two uniquely important neighborhoods nestled on opposite sides of the city’s Central Business District (CBD). The former area is a mecca for younger Singaporeans as we as expatriates and includes within its borders, a multitude of shopping and dining destinations, which serve as primary impetuses for its numerous visitors. The latter is a registered “Heritage Town”, and is famous within the urban fabric for its retainment of traditional, Peranakan culture, which is discernable through its shophouse atmosphere, and eclectic offerings of Chinese delicacies and retail options. Within these specific environments our task was to not only examine the terrain and analyze how each was impacted by its broader context, but to also use each field site as venues that aid us in further enhancing our pilot studies.



Our focus on youth, gender, and social interactions in both neighborhoods allowed us to explore each setting through visual observations, as well as by conducting personal interviews with passerby that fit our target age group (18-24 yrs.). Our approach to the field sites differed intrinsically from our experience in Kuala Lumpur in the manner through which we employed technology and how from our videography and photography, consequently drew analytical conclusions. For our specific methodology within the Singaporean neighborhood visits, we developed a brief, yet introspective questionnaire that we utilized while interviewing individuals that we personally thought would provide us with valuable insights. This survey highlighted elements such as age, ethnicity, social interactions and frequency of meeting, as well as gender identification and expression within the Singaporean environment.

Holland Village Inventory


Our field-work in Holland Village commenced immediately as we exited our MRT train: the station was filled with individuals who not only fit our target age group, but who also had insightful responses to our queries. As we walked through the station and traveled up to the central artery of the neighborhood, Holland Road. We continued to find interviewees within the immediate vicinity of the MRT station and even more as we walked along the street and into the medium-sized mall that was adjacent to the station. Within this shopping environment we found even more subject material, not only through interviews but also observationally, as we saw many girls and guys interacting with one another within the retail setting and were able to compare some of what we noticed with our interview material. After taking a complete loop around Holland Village and conducting more interviews along the way, we returned to the neighborhood’s MRT to find our way to our next neighborhood visit. Our sum total for personal interviews numbered at 12, and represented an amalgam of information about gender, equality between the sexes, and youth interaction (See Discussion of Results section).

Joo Chiat Inventory

After completing our tour of Holland Village, we were able to take MRT once again and visit Joo Chiat, which was walking distance from the Paya Lebar station. This specific neighborhood was, as mentioned before stereotypically Peranakan in its presentation of the local culture and society. Within this framework, we were able to make some critical observations as well as conduct supplementary interviews that enhanced our analytical results from our experiences in Holland Village. When we reached the heart of Joo Chiat we again took the neighborhood’s principal artery, Joo Chiat Road across the landscape and ended on East Coast Road, a major section of semi-highway that runs the length of predictably, Singapore’s southeastern coast. Along Joo Chiat Road we were able connect with a variety of individuals who we found beneath and outside the numerous retail venues that dotted the area. Though the infrastructure differed profoundly from what we had seen within Holland Village, our ability to position ourselves as analytical observers and methodical interviewers was not impeded upon. Until we reached the intersection of East Coast Road we were able zoom in on the opinions and introspects of 9 individuals who when compared and contrasted with our interviews in Holland Village, are coherently contribute to the holistic extrapolations that we made throughout the course of Singapore neighborhood visits  (See Discussion of Results section).


Discussion of Results 


            Generically, the individuals that we were able to speak ran the demographic gamut from Chinese, Indian, Korean, Malay, and even Singaporean-Ghanaian while spanning the ages of 17 to 25. The men we spoke to mostly spent time with other males, while the women, with other females. Nevertheless, there was some overlap and a few subjects mentioned that they socialize with both men and women. The 3 Malays who we met at the end of Joo Chiat Road (two women and 1 man) also pointed out that they spend time with gay people in addition to members of their own sex, which was an isolated response when compared with the other interviewees. About half of the individuals mentioned that they spent time at home during their free time, while others used a variety of settings for their interactions with friends, including pubs, shopping centers, and even the ubiquitous Starbucks. As far as purpose for visit to either Holland Village or Joo Chiat, almost all were either there for work or socializing with friends and family. All interviewees identified as either strictly male or female, and the first Chinese girl we met exhibited  androgyny that was physically discernable. Overall the interviewees’ insights were generally the based on similar notions of gender equality within the Singaporean sociological context and the only outlier seemed to be the element of National Service (NS), which mandates that all Singaporean men serve in the military from age 18 to 22. The men and women who alluded to this point commented that despite the relatively ephemeral nature of NS, the effects of being specifically male or female were intrinsically important to the overall quality of each individual’s life. An ancillary insight that we listened to came from an Indian couple waiting at a bus stop in Holland Village. The male who was a Hindu mentioned that guys can be dominant with their girlfriends, and that sometimes he is “ashamed to be a male”. His partner, a Christian girl, then added that “girls cannot go out late at night due to Indian culture”. Such insights shed light on some of the undertones that are associated with the perception of gender equality and expression as well as the cleavages linked to the permeating ethno-social identities that some Singaporeans may possess.


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