After eight years of living in the Orchard area, and two years in Novena before that, I’ve moved to a more down-to-earth part of Singapore: Bugis. That once infamous district, which to this day retains its gruff character. I guess I was drawn to it to compensate for all these years in Atasland.
Living in Orchard, this epitome of spick and span but also of detachment, has been nice. All the prestige brands at my doorstep (like that ever mattered, but don’t they look good), but the budget-priced eateries (which always matter) are far and between. Train station within walking distance, four train stations to work. Convenience.
But there came a time when I was no longer feeling it. At first, it started to wear thin. Then, not even that any more. It was time to look round for somewhere else to stay the night.
So now, Bugis. No luxury brands (at least no real ones), but eateries in every nook and cranny. Train station right in front of the door, two stations to work. What’s different: a bus station too, three stations to work. Still convenient? Oh yes, sir.
This hasn’t been the move to the heartlands which I had contemplated at times. Bugis is still very much inner city. Just a distance from its jewelled bosom, slightly more towards its underbelly. I’m not calling this a bad thing.
Bugis does have its lively shopping centres (of course), but they don’t succeed in hiding the relative grittiness of the neighbourhood.
The place is named after the people from South Sulawesi who came to live to Singapore in the seventeenth century, pursuing their profession as seafaring merchants and, sometimes, as pirates, if my historical source is correct.
Decades ago, I’m told, the quarter was known for its vibrant scene of transvestites and transsexuals. Then the G
cleaned up ‘redeveloped’ the area in true Singapore fashion, eighties style. I like to think there’s a bit of the old buzz left (or back again), but I can’t tell for sure. There’s something in the air, but is it buzz or the smell of charcoal from the steamboat restaurants?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been here, often. But it makes a difference whether you go out somewhere or you call it home turf.
I had come here for yoga, because #YogaEveryDamnDay. This is more convenient now, because my studio is just across the street.
Apart from that, I had known Bugis Junction and Bugis Village. Heck, I’d even been to Bugis+. I had known Ah Chew Desserts at Liang Seah Street. I’ve had steamboat dinner there before, too. But I had not been aware of this place opposite Bugis Junction, on Tan Quee Lan and North Bridge, that serves bingsu 24/7. I have yet to try it; I’m pretty clueless about Korean dessert.
Nor had I been aware of the two to four vans of the Singapore Police Special Operations Command which seem to be parking over the way at least once a week. I have yet to find out why; I’m pretty clueless about the Special Operations Command.
I had been to Batman Building (aka Gotham City House aka Parkview Square). Now it’s just a stone’s throw from my place. Everyone knows its goblin statues come alive at night. But what about the statue of this fellow?
Haji Lane, Arab Street and the rest of Kampong Glam are a (brisk) five-minute walk away. More than ever this area feels like an episode of Younger, what with all the tattoo studios and cafés, the craft beer and the live music (not complaining). And with how every detail is arranged for maximum instagrammability.
Haji Lane. This is where Nura and I had our first kiss, so it holds a special place in my heart (to say nothing of a particular hip hop night at BluJaz Café).
Going to Kampong Glam more often means Zam Zam is back on my radar screen. That famous eating place opposite Sultan Mosque. I used to think it’s great, then I found its standards had fallen somewhat in recent years. Now it’s back to former murtabak glory for me.
Did I Say Rough, Smelly and Sleazy?
It’s been less than a month since I’ve moved here, and I can’t say I’ve fully arrived yet. This may be because of a few unresolved issues at my new place (the pictures aren’t up and a dining table wasn’t delivered yet). Neh min’, I’ve found myself a kopi uncle already (that was important). Now that breakfast is sorted out, I might just continue scenarising this district. See what it feels like to live in this rough, sometimes smelly, sometimes even sleazy hood that is Bugis.
And yet I’m quite fond of the atmosphere so far. Which, of course, is largely due to where I bed my head. To live in a house built in the nineteenth century is probably not commonplace in any city. In Singapore it’s very rare. This is rather old-world, but actually, it’s cool. Whatever is going on outside, inside it’s pretty modern, fittings and appliances and all.
Is the place haunted? One more thing to find out.
There were two long-lasting fire alarms in three weeks. One of them brought the fire brigade to the scene.