When you mention the word ‘Geylang’, the same few words tend to appear in people’s minds — from prostitution, all the way to dim sum. However, is Geylang really only about the red light district?
This mindset is what Cai Yinzhou, the founder of Geylang Adventures, wishes to change. We joined a private night tour around the notorious yet misunderstood neighbourhood and discovered the different social dimensions and hidden perspectives of the area.
The first stop was along one of the back alleys of Geylang, which seemed nothing too out of the ordinary. The tour guide, Yinzhou, then pointed out the concentration of bamboo poles that could be seen on the second floor of these shophouses.
It probably meant that foreign workers were staying in said shophouses, and often in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
Yinzhou then explained that the high percentage of migrant workers in Geylang is what has led to the supply of stores in the area, such as this mama shop or convenience stall, selling household and lifestyle items for these workers.
Our attention was also brought to Healthserve, a non-profit organisation located at Highpoint Social Enterprise Ark. By organising events such as free health check-ups for foreign workers, the organisation supports these workers and helps them through difficult times while being away from their home country.
I mean, by this point, we were already starting to see Geylang in a very different light.
Next, Yinzhou brought us to an overhead bridge and showed us that on opposite sides of the road live two vastly different groups of people, a distinction made quite obvious through the building facades.
On closer look, one side features a newly-built condominium that looked extremely spacious and comfortable to live in…
…while the building opposite was pretty run-down and rented by foreign workers. Peeking into the windows, we could see the cramped and crowded conditions – not something you notice everyday in Singapore.
Our next stop was the notorious red light district. The only (quasi-)legal red light district in Singapore, these particular streets consist of “houses” that are numbered systematically. Typically, the pimps stand outside and wait for prospective clients to show interest, before leading them in.
An interesting sight was how House number sixty-nine and the Society For Eastern Culture were situated right next to each other. Despite being institutions from different ends of the spectrum, they co-exist and share each other’s parking space when needed.
Following the Little India Riots that happened a few years ago, police began to clamp down on Geylang as well, fearing the occurrence of a similar event. One action taken was the implementation of these infrared sensors (hidden within the bushes on the bridge) meant to sense large crowds of people at one location.
Even while we were walking along the streets, we saw a police patrol vehicle go by, which Yinzhou shared was not uncommon.
Next, we arrived at another provision shop run by a Chinese lady, presumably in her 60s. She has been running her shop at the same location for over 20 years. Sadly, the shop will be closing down soon.
The shop sells various merchandise that may seem like an odd collection to some, but if you persevere, you may find some good deals like this “vintage” glassware with old-school brand logos. If you sign up for the tour soon enough, get Yinzhou to take you there before this slice of nostalgia shuts!
Another implication of the Little India Riots was the implementation of the Liquor Control Zone in Geylang. According to the rule, no consumption of liquor is allowed in public places from 7am on Saturday to 7am on Monday, as well as on public holidays. One can only guess why there is such a zone in Geylang, of all places.
While walking along the drains, Yinzhou pointed out empty bottles of cough syrup, or codeine. The syrup is drunk by the bottle as a way for people to get high, in a cheap and quick fashion — albeit illegally.
I guess I should have expected to see something of the sort in Geylang, but I was still pretty surprised.
We then went into the home of a Geylang resident, which houses hundreds of antiques, almost like a museum on its own. Ask the Uncle for an explanation on his beloved treasures and he’ll be happy to oblige.
Finally, we came to the end of our night tour. To round it all off, we had supper at J.B. Ah Meng along Lorong 30, a popular zi char restaurant in the area. What can go wrong with San Lou Bee Hoon and salted egg prawn goodness?
I highly recommend this night tour as organised by Geylang Adventures — forget the negative associations of Geylang and join the tour with an open mind. I can promise that you will never look at Geylang in the same way again.
Time: 7pm – 10pm
Price: S$35 (weekdays), S$40 (weekends/public holidays) per pax. Price excludes food and drink
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