5 reasons to fall in love again with Bugis – once home to ‘flaming arseholes’

Written by:

Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is a freelance editor and yoga instructor at @yen.yoga on Instagram/TikTok and @yenyogasg on Telegram.


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Have you heard of the Dance of the Flaming Arseholes? And can you imagine this was a dance that used to be performed in Singapore?

According to reports online, DOFA – my acronym for it – was a mainstay attraction in Bugis when British sailors used to dock in Singapore and spent their nights partying with the locals. Basically, what you do is roll up some toilet paper, stuff it in your arsehole and light it on fire.

Then you dance, dance, dance, until you can’t take the heat anymore and put out the flame. Here’s what it looked like. Hilarious.

Anyway, my point is Bugis has come a long way to its current incarnation of an air-conditioned shopping complex with endless stalls hawking teenage fashion and greasy street food. Back in the 1950s and 80s, it was actually a pretty rowdy place where some of Singapore’s earliest transexuals and transvestites who worked the streets plied their trade.

An article published in The Singapore Free Press in 1957 noted that Bugis Street was “perhaps the worst area in Singapore” affected by prostitution. Secret societies, which were rampant in those days and known as the “08 gang” and the “329 gang”, were constantly vying for protection services.

Bugis Street today may not be the centre of debauchery it once was, but there is plenty to love about the neighbourhood. Here are five reasons to fall in love with Bugis all over again.

1. The Bugis Street Market

I always feel a little like I’m not in Singapore anymore when I visit the street market, which is full of cheap goods ranging from backpacks and watches to touristy souvenirs and most recently face masks of all designs and colours. There is a bit of a Taiwanese and Thai street market vibe about the place – though, it’s arguably more organised and less crowded. Some estimates say there are well over 800 shops here, making it the largest in Singapore.

2. Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple

The other day my Mom and I went to this temple and the way we got there was by taking a bus to Bugis and walking over. Usually I’m in Bugis to head to Kampong Glam (more on this later) so I was a bit surprised to see how walkable it was to this well-known Chinese temple.

For those of you who don’t know, this temple – apart from being one of the oldest in Singapore – is also famous for giving “accurate” fortunes through its fortune sticks. You match your stick with a slip of paper which tells you what your fortune means. The fortunes are available in both Chinese and English.

3. Kampong Glam

Another reason I love Bugis is its close proximy to Kampong Glam, one of my favourite places to be in Singapore. I know everyone loves the trendy Haji Lane – yes, I do too – but I love even more the ethnic and vibrant Bussorah and Arab Streets, which to me feels like a hidden world apart from the polish and gloss that most tourists associate Singapore with.

I especially love visiting the Sultan Mosque, which at sunset – with the evening sunrays bouncing off the mosque’s shiny golden domes – is just a magnificant sight to behold.

4. National Library

Whenever I’m in the area and have some time, I love to drop in at the National Library just to geek out for a couple of hours. Free books, air-conditioning and plenty of toilets – count me in! Personally, I have much fonder memories of the old National Library at Stamford Road, but there is a lot to love about this building too, which opened in 2005.

5. InterContinental Singapore

Few people know about this, but when the InterContinental Singapore was being built, the government had one condition regarding the hotel’s construction: it had to keep the original shophouses on the block and incorporate them into the hotel’s design style.

That’s why the design of the hotel incorporates a Western sensibility with a distinct Peranakan culture. The hotel even boasts unique Heritage Rooms, which directly reflect the influence of Straits Chinese culture in Singapore and are tastefully decorated with floral fabrics and carved hardwood furnishings.

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