With Or Without You blasted on Jad’s Spotify as we prepped for the day. Not like we needed the reminder, but it did set the appropriate mood for the hours that followed. It was the day of U2‘s concert – the reason behind our impromptu reunion, and the reason we all flew in.
After quick brunch at Chinatown Food Street, we still had seven hours to spare. So, we heeded Joseph’s suggestion to spend early afternoon in Kampong Glam. Now, by “glam”, they don’t mean short for “glamorous”. But given the visual spectacle the place has to offer, they might as well own that chic adjective.
Nestled in Central Singapore, the enclave was the city’s seat of Malay aristocracy during the mid-1800s. That explains the Malay name: Kampung directly translates to “village”. While Glam, is the shortened form of gelam, the local name for the cajeput tree. It has since evolved into a congregation point for the country’s 14% Muslim populace.
We got off at Bugis MRT Station, the ideal embarkation point when visiting by train. After enduring the sweltering heat along North Bridge Road, we made it to Muscat Street, where we spotted Singapore’s largest mosque.
Sultan Mosque, or Masjid Sultan, was designed by architect Denis Sentry and was built from 1924-1928. It replaced an even older mosque, which once stood in the same area, one that was built in honor of Sultan Hussain Shah. It was two centuries ago, when Shah made a deal with Sir Stamford Raffles to establish a trading post in the city. That deal would eventually pave way to Singapore, as we know it today. The mosque was declared a national monument in 1975. And it is now, more than ever, cherished as a stately symbol to the city-state’s Muslim community.
The most photogenic view of the mosque is from Bussorah Street, with its colorful cafes and strategically placed palm trees framing its resplendent structure. We stopped for a few snaps and some refreshments. Since we just had brunch, our collective appetites could only accommodate dessert.
We chanced upon Istanbul Grill’s and Café, which as the name clearly suggests, specializes in Turkish cuisine. The sun was intense, so al fresco was ruled out as an option. Inside, Joseph told us more about the seventh member of our group, whom we haven’t met at that point. Work commitments prevented her from flying in earlier and was set to arrive only that afternoon. Before we could even process the tightness of her itinerary, dessert was served.
We had two staple pastries. The Turkish take on baklava turns out to be sweeter than its Greek counterpart. It also has a more noticeable kick, because it contains more spices. It was the first time most of us tried the kunefe, a concoction of cheese and Kadayif “noodles” soaked in milk and syrup, which we regretted not having tried before. It was heavenly. After unanimously deciding that we had enough rest and sugar, we continued our tour.
Crossing Arab Street was like a trip within a trip. It’s more than a road; it’s a microcosm of the Singapore’s Muslim heritage. The sidewalks are packed with adjoining stores selling traditional tapestry, textiles, ornaments, and jewelry. It’s a haven for astute bargainers and a sensory overload for casual passersby.
Only a mural-laden alley separates it from our next stop, but it might as well feel like crossing a dimension.
Haji Lane is Singapore’s original hipster hub. With its quirky pubs, eclectic boutiques, and artsy specialty stores, it’s the hip antithesis to the more traditional next-door neighbor – the Instagram to Arab Street’s Flickr, if I may analogize. We got there by mid-afternoon, when the district typically starts springing to life, and spent the rest of the hour surveying the shops.
And since we had quite a haul; going straight to the concert venue was no longer an option. With three hours to spare, we detoured back to The Inn.