It is high time I did a post about my home country.
Singapore has the current honour of being the most expensive city in the world. Dazzled by the bright lights and awed by the almost ubiquitous skyscrapers in this city-state, it is easy to overlook some of her best neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood surrounding Arab Street is one of my favourites.
Singapore’s first Arab settlers came within a few months of the British in 1819 and mostly settled in this area, a short walk away from the historic centre of town. Almost two centuries later, you can still find shops selling fabrics in a dizzying array of colours and prints, elaborate oriental carpets and rattan baskets. Robe-clad Arab men sit at the shop fronts smoking their pipes, and the calls for prayer from the mosque reverberates through the air at prayer times. At night, the smell of the smoke wafting from sheesha pipes fills the narrow lanes.
The most imposing building in an area mainly consisting of two-storey pre-WWII shophouses is Sultan Mosque. A cream building and brown trimmings complete with minarets and topped off with a large gold dome, this is the largest mosque in Singapore. The original structure was built in 1824 and funded by the East India Company. As more Muslim settlers arrived in Singapore, a new and bigger mosque was proposed and completed in 1928, and this is the structure that stands today. The curious are allowed to enter the main hall of this mosque, a large open area with rows of doors lining two sides letting the sunlight in. Ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling while the large fans whirled in their quiet mesmerizing way, and Muslims sit on the red carpet in quiet prayer. This mosque feels like an oasis in an area crammed with small shops in a labyrinth of even smaller lanes.
A five-minute walk away from the mosque is Haji Lane. This narrow one-way lane is lined with small independent shops with quirky shop window displays selling the latest in street fashion. An afternoon is easily whiled away in this neighbourhood.