Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Kampong Gelam before Hari Raya 2005

Itchy B and I decided that the best way to spend the holiday would be to take an afternoon stroll round Kampong Gelam then head on down to Little India for dinner.

Kampong Gelam
Kampong Gelam gets its name from the Gelam tree that used to grow abundantly in the area.

The Hari Raya celebrations were centred around the Sultan Mosque. There was a call to prayer and a colourful array of songkoks and tundungs hurried through the streets:

Hundreds of brown drink bottles are supposed to lie beneath the golden dome of the Masjid Sultan. They were donated by the poor who wanted to contribute whatever they could to the building of the mosque.

Adjoining streets were garlanded for Hari Raya:

and portions of Kandahar and Muscat Streets were closed to traffic for a food fair:

Wot? Beanies in Singapore? And kebabs? Eessit coz we ees Asian?

Sultan Gate used to be the palace (istana) of the Sultan. Before it was converted into the Malay Heritage Centre, some descendants of the Sultan had to be evicted from the grounds and there was a bit of unhappiness then although presently they seem to have accepted their fate.

The Alsagoff Arab School was the first muslim school in Singapore and is also Singapore's oldest girls' school:

Retro-ly, the rest of Kampong Gelam was full of prettily painted shophouses. Some were disused, but prettily so:

Traditional trades remained in a few shophouses:

beaded slippers, jade and collectibles

a sari specialist

a rattan store

and a "trading company".
while others contained less traditional ones:

a costume store

and a tattoo parlour.
Some five-foot ways were converted for...err...residential purposes:

And the beginnings of an invasion by poseurish bohemians was evident:

a "lifestyle cafe"
Haji Lane also hosted a guerilla garment and a "lifestyle concept" store - the resurrected Commes des Garcons and White Room respectively, and music stores like Straits Records:

Posers of a different kind!

This particular shophouse was just plain weird:

Barbies with face masks in a "jacuzzi"...
The Islamic bookshops were most attractive for having the coldest air-conditioning this burning sunny day:

Near some good Chinese coffeeshops selling red wine chicken, this Concerned Citizen's note tied to a banyan tree warns:

"HeLLO Dear;
Please Don't trow Any Gravy, Carry And Anything in the Drain.
I report the Nea Gavern"
There were signs of Arabian/Middle Eastern influence in the names and menus of some eating outlets. A reclamation of ancestral Malay culture? Or just new-fangled foreign influence?

Arab-style cafés

the popular Samar Cafe in daylight!

Sheeshas are claimed to be first offered by Dr Ameen Ali Talib's Cafe Le Caire @ Al Majlis:

now other cafés

and the sleepy Ambrosia, have joined the party.

Ordering teh tarik at the famous sarabat hole-in-the-wall, I realised that my Malay had completely evaporated. This assumes that it was even in existence to begin with. Possibly. And it is evidenced by this meaningful conversation I managed to have the first time I was in Malaysia after starting Malay class:
[At a drinks stall]
shadow: Uncle, teh ais bagus.
encik: Eh? Yah, yah bagus. [pats his metal tea containers fondly]
shadow [wondering why uncle isn't doing anything, says in a slightly louder voice]: Teh ais bagus?
encik [slightly confused]: Yah, bagus bagus! [waves hands around]

We stared at each other for a few seconds, a bit disconcerted.

Then it hit me:
shadow: Aiyah! No no! I mean: teh ais bangus la! [note: bangus = pig's snout]
encik: !!!

shadow: [attempts to fulfil charade potential with many hand actions]
encik [disappointed]: Oh, you want to take away? In a cup or in a plastic bag?

*for the record, the word for "take-away" in Malay is bungkus
My Malay teacher used to try to proselytise in class. During Ramadan, he'd asked us to consider how good fasting was for the body and therefore how Islam must be right. One week, I requested historical information about Islam. He eyed me over his glasses, shrugged and insisted that if I wanted to find out more, I had to go to the Muslim Converts' Association.

I aim to, to know what the real teachings of Islam are. But it's not that urgent: I don't need to know everything to be able to give a reason for the certain hope that I have, which I gather Muslims don't.


At December 24, 2005 4:54 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite places are El Sheik, that new Egyptian placed called El Tazzaj, Alaturkia. I wouldn't recommend anyone to go to Al Majlis (cafe le caire). It's very sleazy in my opinion. Down right low class place.


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