#HHWT Explorers: Meet Mustaffa Kamal, Entrepreneur And Avid Traveller


Tengku Suzana •  May 18, 2016

On top of travelling the world, homegrown Singaporean serial entrepreneur Mustaffa Kamal is the brains behind some of our favourite cafes in Singapore, Afterwit Mexican Taqueria and Working Title Burger Bar (the Tower of Power burger is to die for!). We're super excited to feature him for this instalment of #HHWT Explorers!

Tell us a little bit about yourself ?

I am Mustaffa Kamal and when I grow up I want to be part of a community that is able to discern distractions from purpose and reality from illusions. I understand (I think) secular psychology courtesy of the National University of Singapore, worked as a lifeguard at the coast of New Jersey, USA, fulfilled my fireman calling at both Jurong Island and Central Fire Station and have been jobless for almost a year to just travel, amongst other things.

I love travelling not only to see nooks and corners on earth and meet cultures, but more particularly to remind myself of my place and purpose in this world, and hopefully establish a less obscure perspective to my existence. Therein lies the inspiration to everything I do! Today I run several small businesses in an area famous for satiating gastronomical and sartorial desires, Kampong Glam! Concurrently, I am completing a Diploma in Islamic Studies and picking up the Arabic language so I can read my favourite texts in its original language, and of course the Qur’an!

What inspired you to start Working Title, Afterwit and The Mad Sailors?

I started Shophouse The Social Hostel along Arab Street with the aim of creating and meeting a community of like-minded people, and in the past 3 years have founded Working Title Burger Bar, Afterwit Mexican Tacqueria, Of Mice and Men Mobile Coffee Experience and recently The Mad Sailors British Kitchen. These ideas were developed over the years of my youth learning and embracing different cultures. However, these establishments only materialized from having the right folks around me who provided inspiration and motivation, not just from resources and ideas. Developing relationships while doing what I enjoy transcends the motivation of earning to fund an unnecessarily ostentatious lifestyle.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you since you started your cafes?

It would definitely be the people I have met along the way, the insight they have provided and the relationships I have built.

djemaa el-fin, marrakesh
And no, I am not referring to 60 year olds who do sometimes bestow upon me nuggets of wisdom. I have learnt the most from many 20-somethings, they are the future and they are also an inspiration to me.

If you had an unlimited travel budget for 24 hours. What would your itinerary look like?

It would definitely be to charter a craft that would take me to the mesosphere. For 24 hours I will gawk at our planet and ponder on what lies in and around the canvas of the universe, while the craft orbits around the equator.

What are 3 of your favourite destinations, and why?

To limit my favourite destinations to just 3 is cruel! I’ll cheat a bit and slide in more ?

Hot air balloons in Bagan, Myanmar.
Hot air balloons in Bagan, Myanmar.

In no order of merit - Morocco for the gorgeous and surreal Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, Myanmar for its beautiful and dignified people, and Saudi Arabia for the rich history and sacrosanctity of Mecca and Madina.

What are some of the challenges you have faced while travelling and what did you learn from it?

No matter how prepared I am, the first day in a new place is always a challenge; it really throws me back from operating in a familiar environment and I quickly learn that we take many things around us for granted. I am distracted easily by unfamiliarity because I find the need to instantly comprehend everything that happens around. Spending intellectual energy like this on top of the travel fatigue gets me knackered on my first night in a new place. Thankfully the second day is always better, so I try to factor in an extra day for travel, especially when I’m off to unchartered territories. Does this count as kiasu?

What are your travel must-haves?

These days perhaps just one of the books from Imam al-Ghazali’s magnum opus Ihya Ulum Al Din, a pen, a pencil and a notebook. Besides the other obvious essentials, everything else I can make do without. Except of course the amazing HHWT application, which I will need when I head to Seoul soon!

If you could give one piece of advice to travellers, what would it be?

twelve apostles
Versatility in the things you pack. I almost always wear an unbuttoned long sleeved shirt over a t-shirt. It alleviates the pain from the blistering sunrays, keeps me warm when it’s chilly, serves as a pillow (when folded properly) when I need a nap and as an emergency mat when it’s time to pray! At the very least, I’ve been told I look good with an extra shirt on ?

What is that one dish that you tried in a foreign country that changed your life?

It would have to be the North African dish tagine, which I had heard before but never tried. One fateful day I witnessed a tagine being prepared in the desert sand by Berber nomads and to my delight, breaking bread with perfect strangers and sharing tagine took my understanding of food to whole new level. It’s not just the food but everything else that surrounds it, the entire experience – from the source of food, to the preparation and salivation, to the comparison and the nods of approval.

Tell us an insider tip or two for people travelling to the Sahara Desert.

sahara camels
Pack proper clothes to keep you warm. I had to wrap carpets around my torso while riding a camel and more carpets around my body to keep me snug while sleeping in at night! Be open and interact with the nomads; find out how they live their lives, it’s an entirely different concept from the lives of people in built-up cities like Singapore. If you’re shy, just greet them with the salaam and witness how they unravel their warmth towards you ?

What's your favourite travel photo?

This is Gulmarg in Kashmir. Now who needs the Swiss Alps?

Fill in the blanks: My hope for the world is that ...

...we will collectively realize that we are but a speck of dust in the universe, that’s all we are.

Just kidding. We live in one giant home and we’re just one giant society. It’d be nice to see the human race helping each other to thrive instead this melee we live in today. This mindset begins from each individual improving his relationship with everything around him – treating people, animals, plants and even objects with respect.

Have a hilarious/interesting/memorable travel story or any tips you would like to share with us? Drop us an email at [email protected]!