When you ask tourists about what to see in Singapore; the most widely said answers include Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Island etc. etc. Very few would associate Singapore to culture, tradition and art. Today, I am going to share about rich heritage and the story behind Kampong Glam and Bugis Village which will show Singapore in a different light.
Kampong in Malay means village and Glam is a tree. This tree was used by sailors & fishermen in the hose as it expands in water. The fruit of the tree is used as a spice and thr dried leaf is used to make herbal oil. This try was of huge significance to the older Malays and very few of these seem to be found today in this area.
The best starting point for the tour would be Park View Square. This building is popularly known as Batman building amongst the locals owing to its appearance and has exquisite collection of European art forms outside the building. This building was the last project of Mr. C. S Hwang, a Taiwanese Chinese business who was banned from entering into China, his homeland. The center of the plaza has a golden crane pointing in the direction of his home i.e. China. This building also houses a museum for conversation of sharks which is very interesting to see.
May your way towards the Haji lane. En-route, you will spot a Meomi Cat Café. This café is heaven for cat lovers who can play with cats and enjoy their coffee at the same time.
As your turn into the Haji street, you will notice a confluence of traditional side of the town and spirited entrepreneurs making this lane very lively. The government has given heavy subsidies to these start ups to pilot their ideas for 2 years. Another interesting one on this lane is Bar Stories where in you get to tell your story and get exclusive cocktail prepared just for you with fireworks and like. There is another selfie coffee shop which prints your selfie on the whipped cream coffee. Isn’t this very very cool!
Most of these are shop houses that is the shop is on ground floor and the home is on 1st floor. As you walk further in, you will notice beautiful graffiti on the walls. Unlike, everywhere in the world, graffiti on the walls is a serious offence and needs commissioning and government approval of the ark work. Hence it is found in very few areas.
Hop onto Kandhar street and check out the shop houses here. These are way different than the ones on Haji lane. These are more Singaporean style and showcases fusion of various ethnicity and races. Eg. Greek decoration, French style windows, Indian flowers, Chinese dragons etc.
Hussein Shah was the kind of Johor who sold Singapore to Stamford Raffles. As a part of the treaty, the king asked for 4 favors: regular income, land for his people, palace for his family and a mosque for his people to pray. These wishes were granted by Raffles. However, the palace that we see today is rebuilt based on assumption as the older palace was demolished by Japanese forces during World War II.
The story behind the mosque is very intriguing. The king wanted every single person of the community to contribute to the mosque irrespective of the cast and creed. While the people were not very welcoming to support the construction of a place of workshop for another religion, the king requested its people to give crap bottles or anything that was lying waste. Some part of it was sold to buy things for the mosque while the bottles are used to do interior design of the mosque. This way, the king got the contributions from all his people. For this reason, this mosque is very close to the heart of older generations of Singaporeans.
After the mosque, walk towards Bugis street.
Bugis is also a class with Malay Muslims who were known to be very good traders. They had this belief that if they step on land, it will bring bad omen. Hence, they sailed in the sea throughout their lives and only touching land for trade. Soon, they got connected to large parts of the Asian region and brought goods to Singapore. Singapore soon became the emporium of good from all over the region. As a mark of respect to these people, this area is named after them.
The Bugis Street as we see today is a very vibrant area with lot of mom and pop stores perfect for souvenir shopping. However, in the past it was a red light area. Cut across through the street to enter the Albert center. This is the hawker center of Singapore. Hawker center offers inexpensive food which is prepared in a very hygienic manner. Some of the best food in Singapore can be found in these hawker center. This truly is the lifeline of the Singaporeans as most of them prefer to eat out instead of cooking at home. The shops here are labelled from A to D, A being the cleanest and D being the dirtiest. I haven’t encountered any shop with a rating of C or below.
Enter into the Waterloo Street which is also known as the older shopping district where most of the older generation folks came for shopping. This street has 2 different views. The first view is religious as it has a Chinese temple and a Hindu, Sri Krishnan temple. The other side of the street is the art street where Singapore artists showcase their best work in very subsidized rates by the government. Near the temples, there is a fascinating cottage industry that has cropped up. Can you guess what it is? No, it is not shops for offerings and flowers. It is fortune tellers. You will see so many of them using different techniques to predict the future!
Church of Saint Peter and Paul is a very famous church in Singapore. Though it is not the largest, it is of historic importance. Most locals could not go to this church as the preachings were in English. The priests here made an attempt to learn various local languages to preach disciples from various backgrounds. This was the first church to make such an attempt. This church while largely made in European style, embodies art forms from Chinese, Indian and Malay culture as well.
You can then visit Singapore Art Museum. National Library and St. Joseph Church. These places are quite closeby but would need a few hours of your time. I suggest you do museums at around 2 PM as you get a free guided tour at that time. 11th floor of national library towards the left wing has an unrestricted view of beautiful Singapore.