There are place names which are etched in our collective memory – and must never be allowed to be carelessly thrown into the dustbin of development history. We have just witnessed an act of disregard for Singapore’s heritage. The name “Change Alley” is about to disappear from our vocabulary.
Malaysian bank CIMB has taken over the premises above Change Alley and renamed the building “CIMB Plaza”. “CIMB Singapore is proud to be part of this rich history and owning the naming rights of CIMB Plaza will further solidify CIMB’s footprint in Singapore,” said the bank in a news release, CNA reported. There is something very strange about this rather illogical statement. How is CIMB proud? It has done the exact opposite. It has proudly disregarded the place’s rich history. The bank has obviously bought the naming rights but by not retaining a landmark name and solidifying its footprint in Singapore, it will start off on the wrong footing of overriding heritage and showing poor community spirit.
The alley, which was a hot spot for traders and brokers dealing in spices, produce and metals, is believed to have been named in 1890 after the famous trading hub in London called Exchange Alley. Its origin stretched all the way back to Stamford Raffles’ time when it was part of his plan to shift the commercial centre to nearer the Singapore River. The concentration of money changers there made the Change Alley name even more iconic.
Tour guide Camelia Yap, 58, said she used to visit Change Alley often in the 1990s to exchange currencies for travel, according to CNA. “The whole of Singapore used to go (to Change Alley) for the money changers – even tourists would know of it. It was right beside Clifford Pier, so tourists from places like Batam would arrive in droves.”
Do not tamper with history. Respect it and use it to enhance your image.
Allgreen Properties, of the Kuok Goup, developed the site of a well-known amusement park in Kim Seng Road and took care to maintain a vital link to the past. It retained the name of Great World Amusement Park. Great World City complex, opened in 1997 and recently renamed Great World, never thought of becoming Kuok Plaza or Allgreen Complex.
It would have been foolish of Parco Holdings to have thrown away another instantly identifiable name when it developed the site where the world famous Bugis Street was. Instead, the shopping complex which was opened in 1995 was called Parco Bugis Junction (it has since been renamed Bugis Junction). “Parco Junction” would not have resonated with anyone. Even a grotesque building like Adelhi Building kept part of the original name of the site where the stately and colourful Adelhi Hotel once stood.
The most stupid move ever was the attempt to “pinyinise” Tekka Centre into Zhujiao Centre which was alien sounding to most Singaporeans. Luckily, a public uproar of disapproval brought everyone back to their senses and a great local name was restored.
DBS nearly made the marketing boo-boo of the century when it wanted to kill POSB Bank, the small man’s bank. Another public uproar saved the day for everyone and especially for the memory of a bank which grew out of a marvellous post office initiative.
I also take umbrage, like the great Ng Yat Chung, with the change of the iconic name of Kreta Ayer Complex, to Chinatown Complex. Many locals do not know it as Chinatown Complex. The ill-advised change was obviously a nod to efforts to promote the idea of an artificial, tourist-centred plan for Chinatown.
Meanwhile, let’s hope the Golden Mile Complex remains Golden Mile Complex. Any other name will be a disaster.
CIMB can and should promote its corporate image. It should truly be proud that it has acquired a part of local history. Keep it and call the Collyer Quay landmark “CIMB Alley” if Change Alley CIMB is too long or unwieldy. Win-win instead of lose-lose.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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