Along Geylang Road

Sometimes Singapore feels like the rest of Southeast Asia. I live in Geylang, a neighborhood heavily steeped in Malay culture and historically also Singapore’s red light district. When I tell Singaporeans where I live, they’re often initially skeptical and it usually takes a second before people remind themselves that “it’s a lot better now.” And when that takes too long, people are usually satisfied once I qualify “I live in Geylang” with the specific intersection and local landmark across the street. It’s kind of like talking to people who have only experienced the New York City of the 1980s or who once visited a cousin on Staten Island (sorry, Staten Island).

Due to its Malay history and heritage, Geylang Road is also home to the Hari Raya night market that lasts through the month of Ramadan, similar to the Deepavali market that I always like visiting in Little India. I watched lights appearing for a week before the market started and wandered down the street last Sunday night to see what there was to see.


(Spoiler alert: There was a lot to see!)

The night market sells everything, as night markets do. Most of it was inside tents and pavilions under absolutely garish floodlights. There were stalls selling clothing and shoes . . .

. . . home goods . . .

. . . henna and other accessories . . .

. . . and fun decorations. . . .

And then there was the carnival for kids with a range of prototypical carnival rides like a carousel, little roller coaster, flying animal rides, and bumper cars. The whole thing reminded me of the summer fairs at home, though without the prizewinning animals on display.


And, of course, there were lights everywhere, including the interior of Geylang Serai Market to match the exterior festivities:

My favorite part, though, which is true of every market, carnival, fair, or general mass gathering of humanity, was the food. I was too busy with my camera to buy anything but I loved the sheer variety of offerings. One learns a lot about a people and culture from food choices, and I loved the diversity of offerings at the Hari Raya night market. Globalization at its finest.

Shout out to these two guys who saw me taking a picture of their sign and couldn’t help but wave hello:


One can say a lot about Singapore – that it’s sterile, repressive, oppressive, and dictatorial are common criticisms. But Singapore is also a place where different groups are allowed to celebrate who they are and invite everyone else along with them. In my experience here, though taxi drivers and older Singaporeans often tell a different story, there’s a real love of multiculturalism here. Perhaps manufactured, perhaps gilded rather than golden, but it’s there. And I’m glad.

Ramadan Mubarak, from Geylang Road.


3 thoughts on “Along Geylang Road”

  1. Great article and I love how you describe the festive season in Geylang during the Ramadan peiod. At the same time sharing a bit of its history. People used to frown at the mention of Geylang haha but, I am glad that over time, it has developed into a place where it is remembered for its rich Malay culture instead. And as a Malay Singaporean, I look forward to the festive season… and bumping into old friends in Geylang is always a pleasant surprise!


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