Photo Essay


old geylang serai market

Located between Changi Road and Sims Avenue, Geylang Serai Market was first opened in 1964. It has since become an important landmark. Considered new and modern then, the structure housed a wet market and a food center, which drew Malay families from all over Singapore.

Photo: Robert J. Steiner


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New Geylang Serai Market

In 2003, under the Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme (HUP), the market began its urban renewal with a new lease of life. Finally reopening in 2009, the new complex housed the same tenants as the old one but in a cleaner, more spacious environment.

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Traditional Malay houses inspired the 2-storey market’s design: high, sloping roofs with timber panels, weaving patterns and a broad veranda to the Malay heritage of a kampung. The ground floor is where the wet market and provision shops are, whereas the hawker center and small cottage retail shops occupy the 2nd level.

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The Stores

The second floor is split down the middle, where the small cottage businesses can be found on one side. The businesses range from traditional Malay clothes to accessories. A couple of stalls also provide tailoring services. Shop owners are a mix of the old hands and new.

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Mr. Alam

One of the old hands in Geylang Serai Market, Mr Alam started when he was a teenager. He remembers how it used to be cramped and stuffy from the poor ventilation, and welcomes the change. “The change is very good, while it still retains the ‘kampong spirit’,” said Mr Alam of the close-knit community here.

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Regular patrons continue to come back year after year because they feel that the merchandises are “authentic”. The old customers bring along the young ones, ensuring continued loyal customer base for generations to come.

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Good Ol’ Dishes

With old hawker stores still serve traditional Malay dishes, the Muslim community would not mind waiting an additional half hour after buka puasa just for a plate of excellent nasi padang (rice with ingredients such as vegetables, mutton or beef). Institutions like this help Geylang Serai Market retain its old charm.

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Hari Raya Bazaar

The bazaar is integral to the heritage of the Geylang Serai neighborhood during the month of Ramadan (a month of fasting for Muslims). Malay-Muslims, but not exclusively, come to shop for all their Raya needs (in celebration of the new year or breaking fast). Ravi, 23, one of the shop tenants selling snacks such as fried fish sticks, said: “It’s my first time (selling) here, but I’m really enjoying the experience.”

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The Old Fairground

The bazaar brings with it some old world nostalgia. Children get to ride on the kiddy rides in this mini fair. Spotted on the swings, Sarah exclaimed to her parents: “I want to go again!”

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Traditional Fair Games

The experience and joy of playing traditional fair games like bumper car with friends and family cannot be matched by video games. Adults relieve their childhood while kids get a blast from the past.

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Although there have been modern uptakes, Geylang Serai Market and its surroundings still retain a lot of the old world charms. Past, present and future converge in one area of Singapore, and Malay heritage is preserved for generations to come.


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