The past was a blast

The past was a blast
Transvestite at Bugis Street

SINGAPORE - The glass and chrome today are cold reminders of a place that once had a sizzling nightlife.

Bugis Street then was a magnet for expatriates, tourists and locals as it had great food, cheap drinks and was a hotbed for transvestites as this photo taken by Mr Tan Suan Ann, 70, illustrates.

The former Straits Times photographer took this in October 1985. This and other photographs provide a nostalgic slice of a Singapore with very different ideas of what constitutes fun.

Mr Tan told The New Paper: "There were a lot of European and British expatriates there who were being served by the transvestites at Bugis Street. The transvestites would socialise with their prospective clients and take part in photo sessions for a fee. But that was not all some of them they did."

"It was a popular place and sometimes the transvestites would get the clients drunk and rob them in the toilet."

The street was very well known back in the day, and even people who lived in Britain knew about it, said Mr Tan.


Bugis Street was also well known for its hawker fare, and many locals would go there for dinner and drinks.

Mr Tan fondly remembers some of the specialities sold there.

"The hawkers made very good food, such as Hainanese satay, made of chicken or pork.

"It was so much better than the satay nowadays, and was extremely affordable at five cents a stick", he said.

He also recalled a few other iconic Singaporean dishes, such as char kway teow, being sold there.

Mr Tan remembers the occasional brawls that took place, although usually nothing serious came of them.

The original Bugis Street was demolished to make way for an MRT station soon after Mr Tan took the photo.

Now, the area is full of modern shopping malls. But there are some things you can't experience when enclosed in a cool air-conditioned building, like the heat of excitement in an open-air hotspot.

Till August 31

Exhibition Gallery 1 of the National Museum of Singapore

10am to 6pm daily

The exhibition is divided into six sections: Merdeka (freedom in Malay), Home, Challenges, Heroes, So Singaporean and Our Stories.
Entry is free.

This article was first published on May 22, 2014.
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