Photo Essay



Bussorah Street, which is located in the enclave of Kampong Glam, used to be called Kampong Kaji (Pilgrim Village). It was famed for its culture, food and also the community spirit of gotong royong [helping one another]. Up till the 1970s, Singapore was a pilgrim hub for the Muslims in Southeast Asia and many settled at Kampong Glam as it is known for a community of sheikh haji [pious man] living there.


Presently, Kampong Glam is lined with a new wave of modern restaurants, hip cafes and innovative businesses. However, amidst them are still decades-old businesses with their band of loyal followers.


Mr. Kather, 37, took over the business of Hamzah Lucky Store that has been passed down from his father since the 1990s. Mr. Kather is the only one along the hip street of Haji Lane selling the wholesale of abaya dresses and burkas for the Muslim community.


Although Hamzah Lucky Store seems to be the odd one out of the stretch of chi-chi cafes and boutiques along Haji Lane, Mr. Kather is proud to be running it as he said it is “one of a kind”.


At the corner of Baghdad Street is Kampong Glam’s last surviving sarabat stall (Indian tea stall). It still runs its busy business from morning till late night. The proprietors who came from Northern India, Uttar Pradesh have been pulling and selling their signature ginger tea ever since the 1950s.


Since the opening of modern cafes and bars in Kampong Glam, more people tend to flock there for their caffeine fix. Mr. Kabiruddin expressed his concerns over the legacy of the sarabat stall and said, “Nobody wants to work pulling tea anymore. Everyone wants to work an easy life in air-conditioned places.”


Mr. Baharuddin Suraiman, who is also the owner of Singalang Jaya at No.9 Baghdad Street, is the last songkok maker in Kampong Glam. He has been running his business for over 44 years now. He came to Singapore in 1952 from Sumatra and started working for a Malabar Muslim man who sold and made songkok at the exact same location. He then bought over the store and renamed it Singalang Jaya.


Over the last few decades, Mr. Baharuddin has seen many changes in Kampong Glam. Back then, there were many similar businesses as his, selling necessities like the capal and kain pelekat. However, rent has gone up over the years, leading to many leaving their businesses simply because they could no longer afford them.


When asked on whether his grandchildren would take over his business, he said he is not sure as not many youngsters want to learn the art of making a traditional songkok, which can be mass produced and readily sold.


Mr. Ali, 56, an accountant for Wahab Textiles (situated right in front of Sultan Mosque) said his store has been in business for over 40 years. Over the past 4 decades, he said the rental fees has gone up from as little as $2,000 to $7,000 now. He added that in the past, people buy textile because they want to, but now they buy it sparingly only for occasional needs.


The dynamic and spirit of Kampong Glam has changed as well. Since the 1980s, businesses in Kampong Glam declined significantly and most shops closed by late afternoon. However following the gentrification of the area in recent years, where old traders make way for new bars and restaurants, Kampong Glam is gradually becoming an entertainment area where a changing of guard and character is evident.