It all started with a research paper about Chinese altars that his friend wrote.
They were built by immigrants from the Mainland, and were taken care of by Malay undertakers after these immigrants left Singapore to go back to their hometowns. Each of these altars — painted in yellow and dotted all over Singapore — are “a little heritage nugget”, according to Steve, and he wanted to find a way to document them.
So he decided to create an app, gathering all these little nuggets — and that’s how JalanJalan was born.
JalanJalan — or jalan-jalan, which means “to go for a walk” in Malay — is an app that was made primarily to facilitate both active and passive discovery of lesser-known places in Singapore. Think venues like Beauty World Centre, for example, rather than the usual tourist-y locations like Marina Bay Sands. Users can search for places to visit based on their interests (from categories such as Architecture and Legendary Trades), or simply open up the app, and have it offer you suggestions based on your current location.
The platform also sends you alerts and notifications when you’re near an interesting place, and allows users to share their stories relating to these places should they wish to do so.
Since it was launched on Google Play and the App Store in April this year, the JalanJalan team has organised three (over-subscribed!) heritage walks to drum up interest for the app. But the walks, Steve says, turned out to be much more than they expected.
He shares, “…people started sharing their stories about the places we were visiting. We didn’t expect Singaporeans to be so open about sharing their memories, it was a happy accident…after every walk, almost everyone ended up at a coffeeshop together sharing memories while sipping kopi.”
With this being the year of Singapore’s 50th birthday, it’s easy to put JalanJalan down as yet another app that’s here to jump on the SG50 bandwagon — one that’s all set to fizzle out as the year draws to a close. Yet, Steve is confident that the platform will continue to grow: the team is currently working on making improvements to the app, and are looking to launch a web version of JalanJalan in the future.
Taking into consideration that Steve and his team are working on JalanJalan on top of holding full-time jobs, he says, the response to the app has been “surprisingly good. There are new users downloading the app everyday even without any marketing and the users spent quite a bit of time reading the content.”
But perhaps the biggest source of encouragement comes from the fact that JalanJalan has gotten the support of the Singapore Memory Project’s irememberSG Fund, an initiative that aims to “collect, preserve and provide access to memories and stories related to Singapore.”
The concept behind JalanJalan is a pretty comprehensive one — other platforms such as the SG Heart Map, for example, allow users to share their stories, but offer little else by way of discovery. The app is also pretty user-friendly with its simple, clean but straightforward interface. The biggest plus point, of course, is that it houses a rather impressive collection of places that even the most patriotic Singaporean might not have heard about — I’ll admit to being pretty interested in that block of Spooner Road Flats.
That said, it remains to be seen whether the hype surrounding it can be maintained post-SG50, when nostalgia and national pride starts to run thin. I, for one, am not sure if us Singaporeans — who by nature are mostly a less forthcoming bunch — will continue sharing our stories on a regular basis. Better luck, perhaps, at SG100?
If you’d like to help with content research for JalanJalan, or volunteer as a guide for upcoming heritage walks, get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.