Kampong Jawa

16 05 2009

The bechak or trishaw was a popular and affordable mode of transport for many once upon a time. On the back of a bechak, my grandmother made her many visits to the area she referred to as “Kampong Jawa”, with me as a willing accomplice. Kampong Jawa is what we know as Arab Street these days. My suspicion as to why my garndmother referred to the area as Kampong Jawa, is that there must have been a settlement of Javanese in the area. My grandmother herself hailed from Jakarta, and I am not certain if that was one of her reasons for frequenting Arab Street. One of her motivations for visiting Arab Street were the many shops that lined both sides of the street, selling wares from Malaysia and Indonesia. The shops offered my grandmother a wide selection of batik sarongs, which she used as part of her attire, and also where she could obtain her regular supply of “bedak sejuk”, literally translated as “cold powder”, sold in small glass bottles. The powder was manufactured in tablet like pieces and would normally be mixed with water to form a white paste which was then applied to the face and was usually left on overnight to smoothen and whiten one’s complexion.

For a while, the bechak ride was one of the highlights of the trips – the seemingly long journey to Kampong Jawa, propelled by a man with weather worn features dressed in blue (I am not sure if it was a uniform of sorts used by the trishaw riders), served as a kiddie ride of sorts for a 5 year old boy. I was also caught up in fascination with the many narrow shops along Arab Street, lined with colourful textiles or glass display cabinets filled with anything from trinkets from the Orient to cosmetics from Indonesia, and the myriad of shoppers that filled the narrow five foot ways.

Arab Street today

Arab Street today




6 responses

17 12 2010
Abdul Aziz Ramli

I re-visited here a couple of weeks ago after 20 years of my re-visit Singapore.That was in 1990.(I left Singapore in 1974). I maged to capture some photos at the same spot where i stood 20 years ago.Lots of changes here especially at Bussuroh Street (Kg Glam).Happily I met several of schoolmates I have never met for 35 years!!! Just imagine!

Suprisingly some mamak murtabaq restaurants were still around.We enjoyed the murtabaq at Victory Restaurant. The taste did not change like what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

I love Singapore!!!!!!

19 12 2010
The wondering wanderer

Where do you live now? It’s always nice to catch up with old mates – I have been doing so over the last year myself … some of these schoolmates I have not actually seen for over 30 years as well! Singapore has indeed changed so much – and sometimes it is nice to reminisce with old friends … and discover that in all that … we are the same people we were all those years ago! 🙂 I love Singapore too!

17 12 2010
Abdul Aziz Ramli

*correction: “I managed to capture……” not “I maged…….”

16 06 2012
Claire Pow

Hi Jerome

May I know which shop at Arab street does your grandma buy the Bedak Sajuk from?


16 06 2012
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Hi Claire, that was over four decades ago – was a shop close to the junction with North Bridge Road which isn’t there anymore.

17 06 2012
Claire Pow

Thanks Jerome.

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