Walking along the streets of Kampong Gelam – Sultangate, one cannot deny but be awed by the hustle and bustle of the district. From the delightful chatters of the tourists to the blaring of music from the shops and restaurants. All these make this once royal ground, so fascinating and unique. Beautiful Moorish-styled mosque, surrounded by rows of shophouses, each with its own history that spans many decades. Once a major road, Bussorah Street now has been turned into walkways for strollers and bystanders, not forgetting stretches of restaurants’ alfresco dining. This street is unlike any other places. Visit it at night and you will be transported into a scene in the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights.
However, beneath all these bright lights and walls of colours, the same gratification felt by visitors hardly remained in the domain of the ‘dwellers’. Behind those smiles that the greet passers-by, lies the strain of keeping their business afloat amidst the steep cost – mainly contributed by exorbitant rental and high manpower turnover. If not for their undying passion, these enterprising spirits may likely to die off and sink into oblivion. That is the sad, hard truth.
The precinct had seen many young and ambitious lads putting their hearts and soul in their venture but eventually, only a few are able to withstand the storm. Of course, there are also others who have made it and still doing well today like I Am…Café and FIKA.
On the other hand, family businesses are facing with another set of challenges. Among others, globalisation and the digital world have translated into a seamless shopping experience for customers. Thus there is an urgent need to stay relevant and keep abreast with the new technologies that have been sweeping the retail industry for the past couple of years. So how do we keep the old guard and attract the new blood ? How do balance hipsters’ choice and those of more traditional ? What can we do to ensure that Kampong Gelam does not lose its essence in this fast pace world ?
I miss the old times, when most of us refer the area as Kampong Jawa, but I also wish to see the place flourish and be an iconic attraction to the rest of the world one day. One thing for sure, the Golden Dome will continue to endure the test of time and bear witness to the ever-changing landscape.