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Crazy Rich Asians sparks local tour craze

It is unusual to see anyone other than students, teachers and parents in the vicinity of the Anglo-Chinese School in Barker Road.

So passers-by would have been somewhat surprised to see a minibus with 16 passengers - from countries including Britain, Norway and Australia - slowing down so the foreigners could take a look at its red brick facade earlier this month, as a guide spoke of the tough competition that parents face to get their children into the school. They were there because the school is the alma mater of Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan - a fact which has turned it into one of Singapore's more unlikely tourist destinations.

Local company Jane's Singapore Tours launched the tour, which lasts around four hours, on Sept 14 in response to the success of the Hollywood blockbuster which premiered here a month ago.

For $95 each, participants also get to visit colonial-era bungalows in Nassim Road, the Ee Hoe Hean Club in Bukit Pasoh Road - one of the Republic's oldest millionaire clubs - and the Chijmes nightspot in Victoria Street.

At least three other operators are offering tours of locations which featured in the movie and book. They are mixed with tidbits about Singapore's history and heritage, along with anecdotes about how the lifestyles of the island's moneyed class have evolved.

Jane's tour will run again tomorrow, this time for up to 20 people, and is expected to be offered on a monthly basis after that.

CULTURAL TIDBITS

It was really interesting to visit the locations shown in the movie, and find out how real the lifestyles depicted in the movie were... But the tour wasn't just about seeing how the rich live - you also learn about history and heritage.

AUSTRALIAN EXPATRIATE JUDE KELLETT, on Jane's tour.

The company's chief executive, Ms Jane Iyer, said the buzz around the movie and book presented a "great opportunity" to showcase Singapore. "It presents an accessible path into a discussion about the character of our country - albeit in a very light-hearted, sometimes satirical though definitely affectionate, way," said the Briton, who has lived here for 19 years.

Wok 'n' Stroll, a company which conducts food trails and culinary tours, has also started offering Crazy Rich Asians-themed tours that showcase various dishes and dining establishments featured in the book and film.

For $150 each, participants will visit hawker centres like Newton Food Centre and Lau Pa Sat to sample dishes such as satay, mee goreng and oyster omelette.

They will get to eat chilli crab at zi char restaurant New Ubin Seafood, which earned a mention in the Michelin Bib Gourmand list, or take in views of Marina Bay Sands, which was featured in the movie, while drinking a Singapore Sling at Marina Bay Financial Centre.

Ms Karni Tomer, the Israeli founder of Wok 'n' Stroll, said the movie, which featured numerous food scenes, has piqued the interest of visitors who want a behind-the-scenes experience here.

About 20 people joined a Crazy Rich Asians food tour earlier this month, while 60 to 80 are expected to go on such tours next month.

Tour guide Philip Choo, 32, who started running Crazy Rich Asians tours on demand in 2014, after the publication of the book in the previous year, has seen inquiries rise by more than 50 per cent since the movie's release.

He declined to say how many have taken his tour since 2014. He charges about $750, including private transportation, for a group of up to four people. The tour includes visits to mansions and enclaves that the book is likely to have taken inspiration from - including a "Star Trek" house mentioned in the novel that resembles a spaceship.

It also shares stories and gossip about real-life millionaires in Singapore that characters in the book may have been based on.

Though the movie has ignited heated discussion in Singapore over issues such as the rich-poor class divide and how it is not racially representative, Mr Choo said his tour showcases "all aspects" of Singapore.

Many visitors have also put in additional requests to visit wet markets - such as those in Chinatown Complex or Tiong Bahru Market - when they book the Crazy Rich Asians tour with him, he added.

"From fancy places to our hawker centres and wet markets, (participants) can draw a pretty good picture themselves (of what the situation is like here)," said Mr Choo.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said such tours are a fresh approach to "inventing" tourist attractions and can provide a more complete and balanced picture of Singapore life when they include visits to the Housing Board heartland.

Australian expatriate Jude Kellett, 50, who moved to Singapore in February, went on Jane's tour.

"It was really interesting to visit the locations shown in the movie, and find out how real the lifestyles depicted in the movie were.

"But the tour wasn't just about seeing how the rich live - you also learn about history and heritage, such as the different cultural influences behind the design of the shophouses in Emerald Hill."