I am writing this reflective dairy for our field trip on 28 October 2012. We were visiting the Kampong Glam, joined a guided tour in Malay Heritage Centre, have lunch at a Malay Restaurant and I walked along the area. I found this trip builds my knowledge on the Malay historical culture and how Singapore became an independent country. I also explored the taste on Malay food which is mouth-watering with its unique spices. In order to reach the Kampong Glam for our exploration, we hop on the MRT and alight at the Bugis MRT Station.
It is accessible by walking distance from the nearest Metro station at Bugis which is a shopping district for the local youth and fashion hunters. A stone’s throw away from Bugis MRT Station, you’ll find shopping hangouts such as Bugis Junction, the busy Bugis Street Market, and of course Kampong Glam Rows of conserved shop houses, painted in vibrant colors, line Bussorah, Baghdad and Kandahar Streets, and many of them are occupied by small trendy design and IT firms, restaurants, caterers, art galleries, and craft and curios shops. Our trip began from the Malay Heritage Centre.
It locates next to an Islamic Temple, and surrounding with Malay styled walkway along those small Malay shops, food outlets and bars. They are mostly run by small business enterprises. Some of the owners are in race of Malay which makes this area is more adjacent to the Malay. It sets on the grounds of refurbished Istana Kampong Glam; the site looks gorgeous from the outside but despite some half-hearted attempts at whiz-bang multimedia. I would describe the tour as a culture learning Journey, which opened up my views to the unique Singapore and Malay heritage.
We were greeting by an experienced volunteer guide, over 40 years old in duration about 45minutes. She is very professional and passionate about Malay culture. She was born as an original in Malay, live in a modernized environment with her original culture passed from her last generation. She starts the tour with a little explanation on the name of ‘Kampong Glam’ which comes from Malay language. ‘Kampong’ means village or settlement” and “Glam” is the name of a particular tree, which grew in abundance in the area in early Singapore.
Then, she bring us inside to the Malay Heritage Centre, we all followed the Malay custom as taking off our shoes before entering. It is a modernized history museum which is not only displayed the cultural relic, literature and official dispatch, but although using Morden technology such automation, touch screens, slides projector. She was also talking about the history of how Sultan establishes its loyalty and its governance to the country. Kampong Glam was a small fishing village until a treaty signed between Hussein Mohammed Shah and the East India Company in 1819.
It was influenced strongly by Malay-Arab. It was built by Tengku Ali in 1840 at Sultan Gate. It becomes an ideal place to experience variety of rich heritage passed by generation, a place of worship, old traditions and unique cultures. Some of the old builds kept in their original form while others have been reconditioned. These rich remains give a hint of the architecture and life style of the early days. Such diverse rich inheritance can only be thorough a sense of tolerance, sharing and bonding, all compressed in the Kampong Glam spirit.
Today, it is home to the Malay Heritage Centre museum, with nine galleries showcasing the socio-cultural history of the Singapore Malays. I could have much clear mental image from combining what I heard from the guide and all the visual information surrounds me. For a heritage and culture museum which tends to be boing to nowadays the youth, this helps to maintain our interesting on what the museum are trying to illustrate and teach. As more youth, especially those young Malay and Islamic people are being engaged with the museum and the diverse culture background within, the better survives and treasured of the old cultures.
The tour conducted smoothly from the beginning till the ends with a huge slide project showing what games kid used to play in the past, records our childhood memories. We took a group photo for the memorizing of this short journey stand behind an artificial mini bus with our head hop in the window. There is a kiddy dice game board on the ground at the front. I was not sure if the purpose of it is to attract kids during their visiting to the museum. After the tour in the Malay Heritage Centre, we had our lunch together at a traditional Malay restaurant.
I was astonished by its traditional style and simple decorations, as I was never entered into a Malay restaurant. So now I can tell how is a Malay restaurant so different from Chinese and western restaurants. My experiences on food taste were widened by this short trip. I took a relaxed walk along the Kampong Glam after lunch. While on the trail, you won’t miss the magnificent golden dome of the Sultan Mosque, which sits on a ringed structure made entirely of the bottoms of glass bottles.
It located at Muscat Street, the Sultan Mosque is the most prominent landmark in Kampong Glam, and was gazetted a national monument in 1975. On Muscat Street, you’ll find one of the most important mosques in Singapore. The Masjid Sultan (Malay for Sultan Mosque) was first built in 1826. The present mosque was re-built and completed in 1928 and features carpet that was donated by a prince of Saudi Arabia. Like most religious places of worship, the Sultan Mosque has a conservative dress code. If you are not dressed appropriately but would like to enter the mosque, there are cloaks available free of charge.
After a visit to the historical Sultan Mosque, you will step into the Bussorah Street which has been turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare with its strong Arabic influences. During colonial times, this was the heart of the Arab kampong and catered to the Muslim community’s religious needs. Nowadays, you’ll find an eclectic mix of old haberdasheries and new shops selling local wares, such as versions of the famed Singapore Airlines kebaya dress, decorative trinkets and accessories, and books relating to Arabic and Muslim culture and religion.
Most of the trades here used to cater to the religious needs of the Muslim community, and in the old days, the street was known for sandal-making, copper craft and brassware. Now, the street is a mix of old and new shops selling scarves, key chains and paper fans, along with miniature replicas of Malay artefacts such as the popular toy, gassing, and a spinning top. From Muscat Street (in front of the mosque), turn into Arab Street and explore perfume shops, unique eateries and traditional textile shops.
From Bussorah Street, continue my restful walk to Muscat Street before turning into Arab Street, which was well known as a textile haven in the 1950s and 1960s. You’ll find bales of silk, batik, lace, organza and other materials here, where customization and tailoring services are also available. Bring home a ready-made traditional or modern Malay costume or browse through the endless variety of traditional games such as the Congkak (a game involving marbles and a wooden board), carpets, antiques and rattan handicrafts such as wicker baskets to spruce up your home.
I reached North Bridge Road by strolling to the end of Arab Street. In the abundant shops, you’ll find sandalwood, prayer beads, book stands used specifically for the ‘rehal’, a kind of Quran, wooden toothbrushes and other wares that specifically cater to the Muslim community. During the fasting month of Ramadan leading up to Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Kampong Glam is the place to be if you want to experience the culture and festivities. Make your visit to coincide with the ‘breaking of fast’ in the evenings and witness the Sultan Mosque and Muscat Street come alive with myriad stalls selling traditional Malay goodies and handicrafts.
Join in the many activities, such as iftar (breaking of fast), and watch vibrant cultural performances and Ketupat-weaving demonstrations. Finally, round off your trail at Haji Lane, a lane of shop houses given a new lease of life by local designers and young entrepreneurs who have set up their quaint boutiques here proffering fashionable wear. Kampong Glam is a mix of Singapore’s historical heritage and culture. An amazing place to experience the hospitality of the Malay people and gain knowledge on Muslim customs, this is one of the ethnic places that you should visit.