The Original Bugis Street
There are two Bugis Streets in Singapore. One is a semi-air conditioned shopping paradise with three storeys of bazaar stalls selling clothes, beauty services and food. The other is buried under the concrete blocks of Bugis Junction, erased from our street directory in the late 1980s and almost forgotten today.
This is about the latter – the original Bugis Street. A street that gained international focus from the 1950s to the early 1980s, Bugis Street was well known for its al fresco dining goodness, bazaar atmosphere and most importantly, nightly adult-themed shows performed by transvestites.
The roadside-dining scene came alive after the Second World War and hawkers started to bring their trade of food and goods to Bugis Street. The lively bazaar culture attracted more visitors – both local and foreign. The foreign group was mostly made up of the colonial soldiers, tourists and sailors on shore leave.
What was notorious about Bugis Street was the sometimes-controversial cabaret shows where transvestite performers were known to disrobe, tease and sit on visitors’ laps and pose for photographs for a fee. Groups of prostitutes would also openly solicit.
A certain popular act that involved alcohol-infused bravado, bare bottoms and paper flames was also performed on top of the ceiling of a public toilet. Another highlight of the evening was the Queen of Queens, a pageant where these transvestites would compete to be the top beauty queen. Bugis Street would grow to become a notorious tourist attraction in the region with its nightly cabaret shows and parades.
In the mid 1980s, the Bugis area underwent major redevelopment. The original Bugis Street was razed to make way for the construction of Bugis MRT Station. With it came Bugis Junction, a retail-shopping complex built on the top of the underground Bugis Station.
The boogie nights disappeared alongside the original Bugis Street. Bugis Street was expunged from the maps and the neighbouring Johore Road soon followed it.