The gold onion dome of Sultan Mosque is visible from most corners of the Arab Quarter, or Kampong Glam. Kampongs were little neighborhoods drawn out for the various culture groups immigrating to nineteenth century Singapore under the Crown. The Arab Quarter adjoins the Malaysian Heritage Center, which sits on the sight of a mansion where Sultan Hussein Shah lived before everyone else started immigrating.It was this sultan who signed the 1819 trade agreement with Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles for the East India Trading Company. Then in 1824 the sultan signed over the entire island to the British and made Singapura (Lion City) another crown colony. I think he did this because his brother also was up for the Malaysian sultanship and the British kept him in his mansion for helping. My details on that are a bit sketchy.
Whatev, I was excited about the Arab Quarter unrelated to any of those little fact-lets. I made Chris a little photo album of pictures of me and postcards of places we’ve been to replace the stack of photos, cards and letters he’d collected off the refrigerator before a spring deployment. He’d opened it up and looked at the first photo, a picture of me by the Red Sea in Egypt. “That Mari is intriguing to me,” he said. “That was before I ever knew you.” We briefly saw the quarter one morning on a culture tour, but we wandered back over from Little India our last evening together. The mosque was filling for evening prayers and minarets were soon buzzing with sound checks, then the same rhythmic chanting I heard all summer six years ago–probably readings from the Quran. Chris and I had ice cream sodas and fried plantains at an outdoor cafe on a pedestrian street. “If you want to know what Egypt with Mari is like, add some roasting corn and a lot of dust!” I told Chris. “Other than that–this is it!” In retrospect you might also have to add some little boys throwing rocks…at you.