Change Agents: Cai Yinzhou of Citizen Adventures on Fostering Social Integration Through Neighbourhood Tours
Dark, dodgy and dangerous are just some of the words that have been used to describe the back alleys of Geylang. But Cai Yinzhou wants you to know that there is more to the neighbourhood where he has lived all his life, and he wants you to join him on a Geylang Adventures walking tour to explore its back alleys.
What started as a school project in 2013 for the tourism major is now an opportunity “to showcase the people around my neighbourhood” through the business with a social mission. “Geylang Adventures started from the personal narratives of neighbours I’ve interacted with from young, including migrant workers and sex workers. With Geylang constantly being negatively portrayed in the media, we wanted to highlight its ecosystem through alternative lenses, from the role of its community.”
During these tours, the 31-year-old also highlights some of the evolving challenges that these communities face, especially during the pandemic. “We are not a regular tour catering to mass tourism. From the start we have not been targeting or particularly seeking to appeal to tourists. It was a good opportunity when during the pandemic many Singaporeans became more interested in the issues faced by the community, wanting to come and discover their own neighbourhoods.”
He may be a tour guide by profession, but Cai does so much more. He is also the founder of a social initiative called Backalley Barbers, which he started in a Geylang back alley in 2014, giving free haircuts to migrant workers. While the public haircuts are currently on hold, Cai and his team of about 80 volunteers continue to offer their services in migrant workers dormitories, nursing homes and low-income communities.
The volunteers come from different backgrounds, bringing different skills to the table. “Some of them juggle important jobs, including teachers and lawyers, and may have family responsibilities such as caregiving for children or elderly parents; some are social workers, civil servants and policymakers, but all are coming together with a common purpose in helping others,” enthuses Cai. The team also takes the opportunity to talk to the migrant workers about their concerns and would refer them to the respective organisations, such as HealthServe for healthcare-related services for migrant workers.
“The migrant workers are always expressive in their thanks when they receive help and genuine in showing their appreciation.”— Cai Yinzhou
“For the migrant workers, it means a lot more when someone in Singapore is helping them. They are always expressive in their thanks when they receive help and genuine in showing their appreciation. They actually go on to find other workers who need help and recommend them to come over,” shares Cai.
In the past two years, as he started looking into other issues within other communities, a rename to Citizen Adventures was necessary to be more encompassing of the other neighbourhoods. There are four different tours today: Geylang Adventures remains the highlight; Dakota Adventures looks at the population of seniors and low-income families in rental flats in Dakota Crescent; Baywatch Adventures is a kayaking tour through the Marina Reservoir and is anchored in environmental sustainability; while Nautical Adventures is a yacht tour off the coast of Pulau Ubin looking at climate change, coastal development and food security.
“The nature of adventures is that it is unexpected: you don’t expect to discover something but when you do, you have a great time and remember it for a long time. So that’s why we hope to get people to come on an adventure—and explore the neighbourhoods with an open mind,” explains Cai, who currently runs all of the tours on his own.
This look at other neighbourhoods has also led to the question of the role of the citizen. “How can citizens be involved actively, how do we care for issues that we hear about, we see, or may not have known about before joining a tour or reading in the newspapers—that’s the learning point we are at today. We see how these social issues evolve—and the important role of the citizen to help address them.”
- PhotographyDarren Gabriel Leow
- Art DirectionMatilda Au
- GroomingBenedict Choo
- Photographer's AssistantDaryl Eng Jun
- VideographyDaryl Eng Jun
- ImagesCitizen Adventures