The Historians

Thursday, February 5, 2015


For the first few locations in our heritage trail, we planned to travel around the Bugis area where many of us dug out more information about the area in general, how all these places get its names and discover some of the early settlers of Singapore. Each of us have prepared a comprehension guide on the background information of the places that we are going to visit in this trail, with me, Jia Hui, who will be the first to get the ball rolling for our journey.

We arrived in Bugis Junction at the hour where most of the shops had just opened for business. Sweaty but excited for the trail, we were ready to begin our journey.

The starting point of our journey: Bugis Junction. Smiling wherever we go even before we started our trial. 

Bugis Junction: our first stop. The information panels along Hylam Street were useful in telling us more about the Bugis people, their culture, their artefacts, their language, old maps and other related stuff. I managed to find six of them and talk in depth of the Bugis people that settled down in Singapore. We thought these panels would be useful to students or anyone who are curious to know more about Bugis and the settlers.

There was not much information about Hylam Street we could find in the panels and scholarly databases, but it was considered a Chinese enclave in the 19th and early 20th century Singapore. It was believed to be the living quarters of the Hylams, people who came from Hainan Island, China.  

Me showing us some of the information panels around Bugis Junction that describes some of the history about the Bugis settlers, their artefacts and writing. We managed to find 6 our of 8 information panels, with the other two panels removed at the time of the trail for reasons unknown. 

Us posing around the information panel. Probably acting as models wannabe. Maybe we should be models in future. 

It was a fruitful experience and and eye opener to the rest that did not know that a mere shopping centre could have such a rich and interesting history even before the turn of the 20th century. Heading further up was Malay Street, where most of the architecture of the past has been retained till today. We observed the "shophouse" look carefully and snap some photos for later research. Known for its notorious reputation as Singapore's red-light district, it was known for its Japanese, Chinese and European girls working around the area. The street was well-known to seamen and travelers from around the world until the 1930s, where red-light areas were banned by law in Singapore. 

We visited Malabar Street and we almost missed it at first, due to the position of the street name tag being harder to find than the other two. Fortunately, we managed to find Malabar Street within Bugis Junction, and it happened to be a more secluded and smaller area compared to Hylam and Malay Street. We couldn't loiter around Malabar Street for too long, as most of the street was being obscured by TCC - The Connoisseur Concerto, with one of the waiters questioning us not long after.

Seen in the photos above and below, I explained to the rest of the group in Malay Street a brief history of the street and the architecture that has been retained since the 1930s. We're quite surprised at the fact that a shopping history such as Bugis Junction has such a long history than what we have anticipated.

Many have overlooked these signs when visiting Bugis Junction, but good to know if anyone happens to be lost and understand the names behind the street names. 

Malabar Street got its name after the Malabar settlers, connecting Malay Street and Middle Street. 

After exploring the three streets within Bugis Junction, our time there is done and quickly proceed to our next destination, Bugis Street. Our journey continues as we reached Bugis Street by crossing two traffic lights from Bugis Junction. Just as always, Bugis Street is bustling with people and tourists. It was previously known for its transvestites and night entertainment before the 1980s, where a cleanup and relocation took place. The reputation of the old 'Bugis Street' was so well-known that a film of the same title was produced and released in 1995 that delves on life in the original Bugis Street. 

Once we're done travelling to the different streets in Bugis Junction, our next stop: Bugis Street. Managing to be photogenic no matter how crowded Bugis Street is. 

Note that the current Bugis Street is not the original Bugis Street it was famous as back in the 1950s and 1960s. Based on the research Jia Hui has done, the original Bugis Street was located between North Bridge Road and Victoria Street. To put it simply, the original place was more likely to be located at the vicinity of the current Bugis Junction. The change of location was due to the unhygienic conditions around the area during the 1980s, even though there were much protests from visitors that are against the cleanup.  Despite the major changes, the current Bugis Street still has locals and tourists alike bustling daily to buy street snacks, cheap souvenirs and other fashionable goods. 

The current Bugis Street attempts to retain the feel of the old Bugis Street with its delicious food stores. But some visitors of the street feels that it doesn't feel quite the same without its former reputation for its transvestites and night entertainment. 

As usual, Bugis Street's always crowded with people even during off-peak hours. Ni Swen, Cheak and Nisa are busily checking out the vibrant stores as they snap photos and video record footage of the usual atmosphere in Bugis Street.

As we brisk walk along the first floor of Bugis Street, it posed a challenge to take as many good photos and videos. It was next to impossible to recall how life was like in the old Bugis Street in its heyday, and we doubt that the shopkeepers knew a thing about their life and experience back in the old Bugis Street. Not long after, we made it out of Bugis Street as we made our way to the Trishaw Centre, with Cheak now leading the trail for that particular attraction. ~Jia Hui

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