My Neighbourhood: Singapore


Singapore member and professional ‘community builder’, Kai Elmer Sotto, lets us in on his favourite gathering places around the historic Jalan Besar road

By Gavin Yeung .  Wednesday 12 February, 2020

Navigating communities has always been a huge part of Kai Sotto’s life. Growing up as a third-generation Chinese-Filipino, he moved to Canada as a teenager before settling in Singapore eight years ago. There, as one of Facebook’s first employees, he helped to expand the platform to more than a billion people, later joining Instagram to develop its community strategy. ‘While technology has allowed us to scale the ways in which we connect with each other, the definition of community hasn’t really changed,’ he says.

Four years ago, Sotto launched People & Company, with partners Bailey Richardson and Kevin Huynh, in an effort to break down the fundamentals of creating communities. This culminated in the publication of Get Together: How To Build A Community With Your People, in what he calls ‘a cookbook of ingredients and steps’ to creating a community for yourself.

Much like Sotto himself, Singapore is a mishmash of different cultures. He calls Jalan Besar home – a place that’s bypassed the gaze of developers to retain its family businesses and charming, low-rise character. Read on for Sotto’s guide to his neighbourhood.
tables and chairs outside in a courtyard
Coffee fix: Chye Seng Huat Hardware
150 Tyrwhitt Road, 207563;
‘Housed in an old hardware store, this cafe is a pioneer of third-wave coffee in Singapore. It’s also a beautiful spot for a sunset drink in its magical courtyard and my go-to venue when I’m getting a group of people together for an event.’

Meat market: 88 Hong Kong Roast Meat Specialist
153 Tyrwhitt Road, 207566; +65 8225 2495
‘This is the best char siu roast pork on the island. I order the distinctly Singaporean wonton noodles from the neighbouring stall to pair with it. It’s usually served dry with a sweet sauce topped with chilli, and is different from anywhere else.’ 
a man lifting weights in a gym
Sweat it out: Fire City
111C King George’s Avenue, 208559;
‘Away from the expat-centric gyms, Fire City is run by one of the best fitness coaches in Singapore, Samuel Lim (aka Uncle Sam). It’s a no-frills gym where locals go to do gruelling workouts, before hitting the nearby hawker centre for a bite.’a

Taste of Thailand: Soi 47 Thai Food
111 King George’s Avenue, 208559; +65 6255 4747
‘I come here for authentic, no-fuss and affordable Thai street food for lunch. Don’t leave without ordering the pad thai and green curry.’
shrine at temple
Higher powers: Thekchen Choling (Singapore)
2 Beatty Lane, 209945;
‘The only 24-hour Tibetan temple in Singapore, swing by to worship, learn about Buddhism or take in the calming atmosphere within. It also contains one of the largest collections of mantra wheels in Singapore.’
Breathing space: Kallang Riverside Park
Corner of Kallang Road and Crawford Street, 397732;
‘Across the main road in Jalan Besar is the Kallang River. If you follow the riverbank fora walk or a run, you’ll end up down by Marina Bay sooner than you’d expect.’