To most working adults, weekends are meant for rest.
But to Darren Goh, weekends are meant for bringing visitors on a five-hour trip around central Singapore.
At just 26 years old, he runs SneakPeek Singapore, a company specialising in walking tours, which take place on Mondays and Saturdays.
The tour starts from Asian Civilisations Museum, goes through places like Singapore River, Chinatown, Telok Ayer, and ends at Outram Park.
While the thought of having two jobs might seem daunting to some, managing SneakPeek is a stress reliever to Darren.
Since my day job is mostly desk-bound, I find guiding is a completely different experience that actually serves as a good contrast for me to relax my mind on the weekends. I usually lead the tours on Saturdays, while my business partner, Jan, does the ones on Mondays.
From speaking with Darren and being a participant on his tour, I could tell that it was more about presenting Singapore’s story than anything else.
Part of the fun of exploring Singapore is that behind the apparent order and uniformity, we always find displays of weirdness, urban informality and spontaneity.
Just wander around, and it would not take long for you to stumble upon a hundred-year old tree (complete with an NParks plaque, of course), or a salvaged bicycle turned into an micro urban farm, or even your great great grandfather's name carved into the plaque honouring those who donated to the construction of a temple.
Taking a tourism course while he was an undergraduate
Inspired by free walking tours he went on in the United States and Canada, Darren came to the realisation that walking is the best way to get to know a place, especially for pedestrian-friendly Singapore.
I think Singapore holds so many stories in its nooks and crannies that are of interest to not just visitors but locals as well, and the best way to get to these places is through walking. Moreover, attractions are also often closely located together, and a lot of interesting stuff can be found in small area, making walking a viable option to get in touch with what the city has to offer.
So when he came back to Singapore, the then-student decided to start something similar.
To become a licensed tour guide, Darren underwent a course at the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore, and subsequently took a test by the Singapore Tourism Board.
In early 2016, he started giving tours to his family and friends to gather feedback on his routes, as well as to boost his confidence.
Once he felt more ready, Darren advertised his services on Facebook, and placed posters at hostels. Soon, he started receiving reviews on TripAdvisor, which helped his business gain traction.
While all this was happening, Darren was also pursuing his degree in Geography at the National University of Singapore.
Time seems to be an expandable thing to Darren -- His drive to make his dream happen outweigh what others see as limitations.
How Darren overcomes his challenges
SneakPeek Singapore started out as a one man show for Darren.
During its early stages, Darren had to manage a large part of it himself, such as operations, content curation, marketing, website and social media page management, admin and sign ups, customer relations, and of course, guiding.
At one point, he even had to learn website design from scratch.
Even though he received good reviews on TripAdvisor when he first started, trying to get the word out about SneakPeek Singapore was, and still is, tough.
Darren spent the first six months experimenting, and getting his business off the ground. He finally hit a substantial number of people for each tour after a year.
At that time, I had to invest time, effort and money into something which I wasn't sure would become anything. But the satisfaction of looking back and knowing that you created something out of nothing, is really quite motivating.
Passionate about presenting Singapore’s culture
His walking tour follows a chronological narrative -- Starting with our country’s history, and ending with its development. To him, this helps to form an overarching theme that ties the stories together.
An interesting thing about Darren’s tour is that he also delves into topics like the social and political construct of Singapore, as he wants to give his guests a sense of what it is like to live here.
I find that many travellers are particularly intrigued by the recent rapid development of Singapore, and the existing structures that shape our society. I do talk about things like public housing -- and the associated costs, conditions, and criteria to get one -- CPF, social engineering, and the socio-political aspects of Singapore society, during the last hour of the tour.
Every guest he interacts with is different — The questions they ask, personal stories they share, and the associations they make with their own country.
This perhaps, is one of the most fascinating parts about conducting tours to Darren.
I once had a Scottish guest who said his ancestor was a port official in Singapore in the 1930s. He was such a prominent figure that they named a restaurant in the Singapore Swimming Club after him.
Touring Singapore as locals
Sometimes, Darren also gets Singaporeans or long-term residents on his tours. In fact, he mentioned that their sense of discovery is often amplified.
As locals, we can spend years walking through a street without knowing that it carries an interesting backstory, so learning about something that’s so close to home feels extra rewarding.
I really like bringing locals through lesser-known places and paths, and seeing them go from ‘I know this place’ to ‘where are we?’.
We get to see interesting things like Singapore's first and only underground mosque (Masjid Moulana Mohamed Ali), or an exquisite temple in the middle of the CBD with an entire Chinese opera scene playing out through its intricate roof sculptures (Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple).
As a local on his tour myself, it also felt refreshing to interact with foreign visitors who were intrigued at things I see every day.
Discovering things as a tour guide
Even after three years, Darren admits he still feels butterflies in his stomach before every tour.
There’s always this sense of uncertainty about how the tour can turn out, but I find that that’s also part of the fun. I learn new things through questions from guests that I cannot answer immediately. So as much as it’s a tour to visitors, it’s also about unearthing new things about Singapore to me.
Top image by Olivia Lin.
As Darren is in the process of renewing his tourist guide licence, his tours will resume late April. Jan is still conducting tours at the moment.
This sponsored article is a collaboration between Mothership.sg and the Singapore Tourism Board, who make it possible to bring out these stories about inspiring individuals who are pursuing their passions.