Q&A WITH HERITAGE VOLUNTEER GUIDE SAM YUN-SHAN

Published on 27 February 2018

Credit: Melanie Lee

This history lover is more than happy spending her weekends showing people fascinating facets of Singapore’s past.

Text and images by Melanie Lee

Sam Yun-Shan has been a volunteer guide for the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM), a division under the National Heritage Board, for three years. For this 35-year-old civil servant, an inspiring teacher made history an enjoyable subject for her, and she continues to pursue this passion by giving regular walking guided tours that feature National Monuments. She tells us more about her love for local history and what it takes to be a PSM volunteer guide.

Credit: Melanie Lee
Credit: Melanie Lee

How did you become a PSM volunteer guide?

I actually started being a museum docent first but later, I decided to do walking tours because I found them more interesting. In a museum, I find many of the displayed artefacts already speak for themselves, you don’t really need a guide to tell you much more. A walking tour brings people to places that people may pass by every day, but are unaware of the history and stories behind these places. These tours give people the chance to walk around and re-engage with the landscape of Singapore.

How do you usually prepare for a heritage tour?  

We are given basic information by PSM, and from there, I supplement this with online research. The National Archives of Singapore website is a great resource if you’re looking for archival pictures and old documents. The National Library also has a newspaper archive dating back to the 1800s – everything is very well-documented. The old news stories don’t have photographs so the writing is very descriptive and I find that very useful. I would do this research over a few weekday nights and weekends. I’d also “recee” the sites I’m supposed to cover for the tour.

How do you engage participants during the tours you lead?

There is always a need to incorporate something relevant or current during the tour, something that people can identify with now. I also share stories and visuals. Visuals are incredibly important because they really help to give a sense of what life was like back then.

What do you enjoy most about being a PSM volunteer guide?

When participants come up to me and tell me they enjoyed themselves and learned something new. Many Singaporeans come for these tours thinking they know Singapore well, but then realise there is so much more to learn about this country’s history. This gives me the motivation to constantly find interesting anecdotes to share with the groups I lead.

What is most challenging about being a guide?

Enduring the heat. In general, a lot of things are not within our control, such as the noise level. I’m always scared when it rains but in general, participants are quite nice about such things.

Also, Singapore changes so much so sometimes, we’re talking about something that doesn’t exist anymore so as guides, we have to try our best to bring that history to life.

What have you learned from doing these tours?

Through the research, I know more about Singapore and I’ve become very passionate about giving a voice to people who lived in Singapore during those times and telling their stories.

Why do you love heritage so much?

Heritage is everywhere around us – the historical buildings, religious rituals, communities, personalities and the people associated with places. Learning about heritage can take place anywhere, you just have to pay attention to your surroundings and know where to look.

Volunteers like Yun-Shan form an important part of our community that the National Heritage Board works with to safeguard and promote Singapore’s heritage. “Our Community” is one of the four focus areas of Our SG Heritage Plan, which is the first masterplan for the future of Singapore’s heritage and museum sector.


If you’re interested in going for a free Battle of Singapore walking tour this weekend (3 & 4 Mar 2018), click here for more information.

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