When you get into Geylang it’s like you’re entering another country. The buildings are all old and slightly run down. The ground is covered with trash. It smells funny. It’s just a really seedy type of place, especially when you contrast it with the rest of Singapore.
Geylang is a place that has developed a certain reputation, both good and bad. The good part of it is that Geylang is reputed to have some of the best food in Singapore. I have yet to find this out for myself, because during both of the times I’ve found reason to be there I already had a full stomach. I did see some frog congee I’d like to try sometime soon. Maybe I’ll do that next weekend! Geylang is also well known for prostitution. While we were down there last night I only saw a few hookers running around, but it must be a big problem, considering this sign:
The last time I was there I saw quite a few more. Maybe there’s been some sort of crackdown recently. I did see two uniformed police officers standing in a back alley where there are typically a few hanging around. My wife thinks that they’ve all moved to the clubs where it’s a bit safer for them to ply their trade, if you know what I mean.
Update: Prostitution in Singapore is legal.
And per HumanTrafficking.org:
Singapore is a destination country for women and girls who are trafficked from Thailand, the Philippines, the People’s Republic of China, and Indonesia for commercial sexual and labor exploitation. Some women voluntarily migrate to Singapore to work as prostitutes but are later coerced into sexual servitude.
One thing that I find surprising about the hookers in Geylang is that they’re actually very attractive. In the US, the stereotypical hooker is pretty rough looking, especially when you start heading towards the southern parts of the country. In Singapore, they’re usually poor immigrants from surrounding third world and developing countries. They’re brought over on promises of legitimate work and are then forced into prostitution. That’s a story for another post though…
Something else you can find an abundance of in Geylang are cheap cigarettes. You’ll see guys, or women, standing along the sides of buildings, or by pillars under overhangs with little baskets of cigarettes. They won’t call out to you to buy but it’s obvious what they’re up to. The reason these people are selling cigarettes on the street is that Singapore puts a heavy duty (or tax) on cigarette sales in Singapore, putting them in the 10.40 – 11.60 SGD price range, on average. In Geylang they go for about 5.00 – 6.00 SGD if you buy them from one of these people. That’s about half, and a really good deal. The way they do it is they bring in cigarettes from the surrounding countries where they’re a lot cheaper. This is actually a huge business for smugglers, but it comes with a very high penalty too. I remember reading stories in the paper of people being fined upwards of 10,000 SGD for trying to smuggle in shipments of foreign smokes. This is based on rumor, but I hear that some of the cops in Singapore wear plain clothes, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the people selling smokes are actually cops. So, if you’re going to go that route, be mindful of that fact and scout your potential supplier before you just walk up like an idiot and try to make a purchase. Smuggling them into the country carries a fine, but so does buying them. Only cigarettes stamped with the SDCP logo on the stick itself, and with the Singapore seal on the pack are allowed to be sold, purchased, or consumed in the country, with the exception of the open pack you might have on you when you enter the country as a tourist.
It was kind of hot tonight as we walked around Geylang, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. Like I said, it feels like you’re in another country. It reminded my wife of some places in the Philippines, and it seemed a bit like Phuket in Thailand to me. There were people everywhere. People were packed in tight at the food stalls watching football (soccer) on the TVs or playing cards while drinking and smoking. Besides those gathering around the TVs, there were a lot of folks simply roaming around. I guess Geylang is a spot where people naturally congregate during the late hours to hang out. The oddest part was that there were a lot of people just standing around or sitting on the pavement. Some of them were talking on phones, but many of them were just sitting there smoking. We also passed a lot of fruit stores. I would’ve been cooler with that except they all had huge supplies of durian for sale and the odor was very very strong and very very unpleasant. We did stop at one to buy a big round looking pear and an apple, but we haven’t eaten it yet. I hope they’re good. They were kind of expensive.
I took the above photo while sitting down and drinking kopi. We’d walked past them before and it looked like they were doing some sort of gambling. There were quite a few of these tables set up. Shortly after I took the photo I glanced back over and they were gone. It was weird. I thought I’d been discreet but I guess not. Later we walked past the same guys in an alley and as I came alongside the table they tore it down right away and everyone scattered. I wonder if it was because of me or because someone they had set up as a spotter had seen police coming? Or maybe there’s another reason. I thought gambling was legal in Singapore.
We had a pretty good time walking around Geylang, taking in the sights, having some kopi and stretching our legs. We wound up walking around until about 12:30 am, when we realized we should try to hop on a bus to get home. The last trains run at 11:30 pm. We missed the last of the regular buses that were heading to Pasir Ris, so we had to wait for about an hour to get on the NR7 to Pasir Ris. That’s a Night Rider bus, which is meant for late night travelers who had to stay late at the office, or for drunks. I think they go all night. It was a fairly quick ride, given that it stopped so many times.
I’m looking forward to going back to check out the food.