Boogie at Bugis

Talk about Bugis Street and some will recall the colourful nightlife that this stretch of street evoked. In the early days of Singapore’s history, Bugis Street was an enclave of the seafaring people who arrived from South Sulawesi, a province in Indonesia. Known as “The Bugis”, they came to Singapore bringing with them cargoes of cotton cloth, spices, sandalwood, coffee, rice, and even exotic feathers of birds-of-paradise, to trade with Singaporean merchants. The Bugis community grew along with its trade and this was how the thoroughfare where they settled got its name known as Bugis Street.

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^ Today, you have New Bugis Street, Bugis Square, Bugis Village, Bugis Junction, Parco Bugis Junction, Bugis Junction Towers, Bugis Cineplex, Bugis MRT station, Bugis Pasar Malam, New Bugis Food Village, Where exactly is the location of Bugis Street where it was well known to many tourists and locals alike? The original Bugis Street still exist today with nicely paved cobblestoned and wide pathways that lies between the buildings of Bugis Junction. Surrounded by air-conditioned shopping malls, restaurants, entertainment outlets, it is a far cry from the Bugis Street many remembered.

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^ Gleeful children playing by the water-fountain located at the original Bugis Street.

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^ An old photo of Bugis Street where tourists and locals were attracted to its food, booze, pasar malam – night market. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa late 1980s). Though the area was surrounded by old shop-houses, dirty back-lanes and smelly drains which was a concern for sanitation, it all adds up to the lively flavour of Bugis Street.

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^ Besides tourists and locals, Bugis Street also saw its fair share of attracting foreign soldiers and navy men on shore-leave during their R&R. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa 1962)

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^ Another main attraction in the nightlife of Bugis Street was the ‘parade of transvestites’. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa late 1980s). Flamboyantly dressed in their regalia, the transvestites would sashayed up and down the street much to the hordes of gawkers around.

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^ This photo was added to this post on 2nd Mar 2009 (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa late 1980s). This photo was inserted in relation to what fellow blogger YG has described in his comment where he remembered sailors prancing on the rooftops at Bugis Street. In a Wikipedia search, this was what happened:

One of the “hallowed traditions” bestowed upon the area by sojourning sailors, such as from Australia, was the ritualistic “Dance Of The Flamers” or “Dance Of The Flaming Arseholes” on top of the infamous toilet’s roof. Compatriots on the ground would chant the signature “Haul ‘em down you Zulu Warrior” song whilst the matelots performed their act.

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^ During the mid-1980s, Bugis Street underwent a major urban redevelopment. Dilapidated shop-houses were demolished. Poor sanitation along the decaying back lanes and smelly drains were cleaned up. It also saw to the construction of the underground Bugis MRT station.

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^ To replicate the bustling colourful atmosphere of the original Bugis Street where pasar malam and road-side hawker stalls once existed, STPB (Singapore Tourist Promotion Board) created the “New Bugis Street” that is presently located just opposite the original Bugis Street. The photo above shows the entrance to the new Bugis Street along Victoria Street.

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^ Inside the maze of passageways of the new Bugis Street, a wide variety of goods were sold ranging from bags, clothes, music and video CDs, shoes, electronic gadgets and all sorts of knick-knacks.

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^ One of the many food stalls to fill your hungry tummy after all that shopping.

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^ A variety of fruit juices to quench that thirst.

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^ A stall selling roast duck and roast pork which perhaps is worth trying given all the culinary endorsements displayed.

Tourists and locals may recall the days of “Boom Boom Room” at Bugis Street where Singapore’s drag-queen, Kumar, and his troupe performed cabaret-styled shows much to the laughter and amusement of his audience. For some, Bugis Street was also a place once known as “Boogie Street” during the disco craze in the 1970s. The sights, sounds and smell of old Bugis Street with its bazaar of nightlife have all but faded into our memories. Indeed it was a captivating experience for many during the good old days boogie-ing at Bugis.

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11 Responses to “Boogie at Bugis”

  1. Victor Koo Says:

    OG, thanks for the post. I lived in Cheng Yan Place (near the old Bugis Street) from birth till the mid-70s and have very fond memories of the place. Used to “ta-pao” (takeaway) supper from the street hawkers there – hokkien mee and char kway teow – wrapped in “opei” (betel palm) leaves. We could bring our own eggs to be added to the food we ta-pao.

    Once, I accidentally brought an uncooked salted egg to the char kway teow stall and the hawker had a very good laugh when he broke the egg into the wok.

  2. Foodieah Says:

    Interesting overview! It’s also worth mentioning Leonard Cohen’s nostalgic “Boogie Street”.

  3. py Says:

    I am so tempted now to ask you out to be my tour guide around the Bugis area. I don’t think I know the area as well as you do!

  4. ordinary guy Says:

    Victor – I use to bring our own eggs to the prata stall and the char kway teow stall at Toa Payoh where I used to live as a kid. No complaints and the stall-holders gladly make use of what you have brought. Now try this and you probably get a stare from the stall-holder.

    Foodieah – I learnt that Leonard Cohen wrote a song titled “Boogie Street”. But because I could not ascertain it’s authencity, I have left it out. For readers who may like to read more about it, here’s the link from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugis_Street

    PY – I’m no tour guide. These information can ge found from NLB, National Archives of Singapore and other articles from people who have experienced it. Hope you had a pleasant visual tour from the photos from this post.
    P/S: Victor would be better qualified to be a guide around the Bugis area given his life experience having stayed at Cheng Yan place near Bugis.

    Thanks to all for your comments.

  5. yg Says:

    bugis street was so colourful in the past. those days our main reason for visiting bugis street was to ‘oogle’ at the transvestites but minus that kind of interest. one incident i remember is the impromptu performance by some drunken sailors on the flat rooftop of the toilets. even the transvestites gathered to watch.
    food was cheap and good and there was free entertainment. what more would you want?

  6. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi YG,

    I have found something about what you described about soldiers dancing on the rooftop of toilets. The photo from NAS and a short description has been added into the post as photo #5.

  7. David Lloyd Says:

    This really jogs the memory – I was a very young 18 year old airman when I first set eyes on Bugis Street and a few of the other delights.
    Notoriety was lost in 1962 when a female journalist – Marjorie Proops – from the Daily Mirror – wrote an article covering “The Year of the Tiger” – Bugis Street was never the same again!

  8. Dennis Filicetti Says:

    Definitely one of the better posts that I have seen on this topic. Are there other things that I should know about this?

  9. Susan Says:

    I was there around ’74 – ’76. Was in Singapore as a merchant seaman (officer). Came in on oil tankers. I was there on a couple of different ships, each one for a dry-dock.

    I used to love going down to “boogie” Bugis St. Have a cheap meal, cheap booze, buy copies of ripped off albums (on tape) and of course to oggle at the gorgeous gurls. Which was extra fun for me cause I’m a closet crosssdresser.

  10. onawhimseyPat Says:

    Well remember visiting during the evening as crew to enjoy a beer, some great, cheap food and wonderful entertainment. Happy days!!!

  11. Simon Lewis Says:

    Fabulous stories above. I went to Boogie Street in 1980 on a Singapore Airlines educational tour. Only there for about 5 days but what a great place for atmosphere, food, Tiger beer and the gorgeous transvestites, most lovlier than the normal ladies !! Brilliant memories

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