Kampong Glam, Singapore

When I was growing up in Singapore I loved going to Kampong Glam, the Arab quarter.

The British colonials divided the country’s ethnic population into different sections, keeping the best and most central downtown location for themselves and for their buildings. Everybody else had to cram into their own ethnic ‘ghettos’ with varying degrees of sanitation, cleanliness and facilities.

The Arab population in Singapore largely came from the Yemeni city of Hadramaut as traders. Soon, they married the local population, and formed their own plural Southeast Asian Arab identities, but you can still see their hallmarks in the food, architecture, languages.

As a teenager and young adult I loved spending time in this neighborhood. It was a lot less sterile than the nice, clean parts of town that we loved to show off to the world. It had a soul. It still does, but these days its success (Haji Lane was recently named one of the most interesting districts in the world to visit) means it’s changed a fair bit. I still enjoy meeting friends at the unnamed sarabat tea stall, I still have a bunch of fave spots that remain, thankfully, relatively unchanged.

a color photograph showing a large mosque with an ornate dome. in the background, some tall concrete buildings.

Faith and fortune: a view of Sultan Mosque in Singapore’s old Arab quarter. In the background, the eccentric Park View Square building that is also home to Atlas bar, one of the best gin bars in the world (and also where Thandie Newton and Vincent Cassel had a scene in Westworld Season 3). SE Asia has a significant Arab population, descendants of traders from Hadramaut in Yemen, esp. in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia.

a color photo showing a narrow alleyway between two historic short buildings leading towards a tall and modern hotel in the background

I’m interested in the contrast of eras, architecture, vibes. Also in how quickly all of this came up: just a decade ago I would be in this alley and I could have sworn that tall building, a hotel, did not exist at all, even as an idea.

a black and white photo showing a contrast of architecture between old and new

More contrasts. In the foreground, some old shophouse buildings in the Arab quarter. In the background some modern buildings including I.M. Pei’s Gateway building in the back left.

(All photos taken on Ricoh GR III with RNI presets applied.)

Reply by email

Adrianna Tan @skinnylatte
Follow me on Mastodon