Sated with futuristic buildings, we find another side of Singapore when walking down the streets of its ethnic neighborhoods. Arab Street, a small shopping street, is a labyrinth of colorful houses, bustling day and night and quite near the must-see Sultan Mosque with its massive golden domes. The mosque, the largest religious building in Singapore, was built in 1825 by Sultan Hussein Shah. A spiritual epicenter ever since it has served as an embarkation point for pilgrims to Mecca. Arab Street is a shopping street with “Moroccan” bazaar influences: baskets, fabrics, jewelry, carpet, fabric shops, and bargaining is of course the rule. In addition, traditional perfume shops offering captivating fragrances mingling with smoked golden censers adorn street corners. In these streets, women and men wear djellabas. Again, like in science fiction adventure, it seems that teleportation or teletransportation really exist!
A few blocks away, east of Singapore River and north of Kampong Glam, you can smell the perfumes and spices of India, see the assorted colors of clothing and temples, and hear the lively and captivating rhythms of Indian music – all in Little India. Settling on the terrace of a coffee shop to savor the moment – exploring Little India also means contemplating, breathing the scent, observing and listening to the surroundings – and to order a “kopi ho.” The area seems pleasant, although a bit run down. Ageless old women draped in colorful saris walk quietly and further away in the market; we find men in dhoti. In this neighborhood we can wander as our inspiration takes us, randomly walking among bazaars, markets that smell of incense, arcades and through fruit stands where dragon fruits are alongside tasty mangoes. In Little India street names are written in both English and Tamil. A few steps away, the Abdul Majid Mosque Gaffor built in 1859 is worth a detour. The most attractive element of this religious building is its refined portal with the 25 rays of the sundial decorated with Arabic calligraphy of 25 prophets (the only one of its kind in the Islamic world). To the left of the prayer hall is a family tree tracing the lines of the various prophets. The mosque was completed in 1910 and was recently restored, which explains the vivid colors. The tour continues by Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, dazzling colors! The temple was built in 1885 and honors Kali, also called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction, the bloodthirsty wife of Shiva. She is portrayed wearing a necklace of skulls and dismembered humans. Not very glamorous !
Last but not the least, the unavoidable Chinatown is located within the larger district of Outman, the perfect neighborhood to purchase souvenirs – like calligraphy – and various objects at bargain prices. There is a number unlimited of chopsticks stores (meaning kitchen utensils !). In a square, some Chinese play chess, or rather Chinese chess also called “elephant chess” or Xiangqi 象棋. I trust your pronunciation entirely. This game is played with 16 pieces, including 1 general, two mandarins and 2 elephants for each player. The pieces are placed on a dividing line. A river separates both camps, the red and the blue…
A little further into the local market, just down the stairs into the noise and smell of fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, many dried products, and fish among others. For Asians fish freshness is crucial. It is common to see eels, live fish, turtles, and frogs in crates. Yes, indeed frogs, or rather bullfrogs. The animals are picked live and then killed and cut up in front of your eyes, an absolute guarantee of freshness! Once your shopping is done, you can take the time to stroll through the streets decorated with lanterns all the way to the Buddhist temple, Tooth Relic Temple Buddha, where you can attend some ceremonies and listen to monks singing.
By a coincidence of the calendar, it is the celebration of the 15th day of the 8th lunar month called Mid-Autumn or the night of the moon and which has become the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake or Lantern Festival, the second most important festival in Singapore, just after Chinese New Year. This festival not only marks the end of the autumn harvest, but also the time of the year when the moon is brightest. This celebration was traditionally a time to give thanks to the gods. The Mid-Autumn festival has its origins in Chinese mythology and is associated with the story of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. As often in China, there is a culinary tradition linked to the festival, Mooncakes月餅 (yuè bǐng in Chinese), the greatest delicacy of the celebration. The Mooncake is round salty-sweet pastry measuring about 3.9 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches thick. It has a rich filling usually made from red beans, figs, or lotus seed paste surrounded by a fine crust. The top of the cake has an imprint representing the Chinese characters for longevity and harmony. The symbol of the moon may surround the characters. The traditional Mooncake may contain a salty duck egg yolk as the symbol of the full moon. The Mooncake represents about 1,000 calories in a 3.9-inch cake. Calories vary depending on the filling, but are always an impressive number. If you watch your weight, you might not want to eat one, but it is also not as good as it is beautiful! As for festivities, the streets, squares, bridges sparkle with thousands of colored lanterns. Gardens and parks, like the Chinese Garden, are illuminated by the soft glow of paper lantern in all sizes and forms: Fish, Lion, Dragon or Swan. These paper lanterns are small wonders of creativity !