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.

Special Operations Command van parking in Bugis

Liv­ing in Orch­ard, this epi­tome of spick and span but also of airy-fairy, 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.

Past

The place is named after the people from South Sulawesi who came to live in Singa­pore in the sev­en­teenth cen­tury, pur­su­ing their pro­fes­sion as sea­far­ing mer­chants and, some­times, as pir­ates, if my his­tor­ic­al source is correct.

Charcoal from the steamboat restaurants in Bugis

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?

Settling In

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 nearby.

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?

Statue at Parkview Square in Bugis

The Vicinity

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 [aaand it’s off my radar again after this update].

Did I Say Quirky, 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 quirky, rough, some­times smelly, some­times even sleazy hood that is Bugis.

Wrong-way-round sign at Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis
You Had One Job

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.

A certain establishment in Bugis
Not the Korean Dessert Place