IT’S ALMOST NOT RAMADAN WITHOUT SOME SORT OF DEBATE WHERE A PURIST WAVES AN AYAM PERCIK FOR EMPHASIS AND SOMEBODY CRIES. THIS YEAR, THE GEYLANG BAZAAR TAKES THE HIT.
Last week, Rilek1Corner served up some controversial fodder for the iftar table — the author opined that Geylang Serai Bazaar is too westernized, becoming more like pasar malam.
- He said it’s hard to find traditional kuih at the bazaar for buka
- He tried to make the case that since the bazaar is in Geylang Serai, a hub for Malays, vendors should be selling traditional kuih, and not foreign snacks like churros and kebab.
- He expressed his concern of the cultural erosion amongst Malay youths, forewarning the day when the spirit of Hari Raya will be forgotten.
- Netizens immediately weighed in their two cents, both in support and opposition to the article.
- The author agreed that everyone has their opinion. Here’s mine:
SMALL LOCAL BUSINESSES, NOT JUST SHOPS SELLING KUIH, ARE ALL STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE
It is not a secret–running a business in Singapore is no easy task. There are many pressing factors that determine whether a business thrive or fail, but none is more of a headache than the cost of rental. Having a physical space can easily eat into at least half of a shop’s earnings, which probably explains why some of the vendors we see in bazaars or pasar malams don’t have one. Instead, they sustain themselves by setting up shop in more transient spaces like bazaars, pasar malams, corporate events, trade shows, and weddings. The more successful pasar malam veterans eventually go on to have permanent homes, but even then, they do not fold their kiosks and continue to set up shop where the crowds gather.
To lessen the burden of costly overheads, businesses are increasingly sharing spaces instead of renting one all to themselves. This trend of a sharing economy, while unique and enterprising, also puts light on the severity of the underlying rent-seeking behaviour of the organizations behind these bazaars. Understandably, traditional kuih shops may not want to bear these very high costs which is why they are nowhere to be seen in the bazaar.
KUIH VENDORS ARE NOT MARGINALIZED
The Rilek1Corner article, in my opinion, would have held more weight than an Overdose drink if it showed that the bazaar organisers had refused food vendors traditionally found there (Ramly burger, vadai, deng deng) to make way for these so called westernised food vendors. That’s definitely something to cry foul about. I would even go so far as to call it a violation of tradition.
Yet, this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, take up rate for the stalls in bazaar has been dismal for years now. I’m sure the organisers would gladly offer an entire tentage to house a mountain of kuih lapis…if someone had laid down the cash for it. Yes, while it may seem that Geylang Bazaar is just a huge food market for hipsters this year (damn you social media), the reality on the ground is that the old school vendors that I grow up with are still there! They just don’t make for viral content.
PASAR MALAM IS NOT A WESTERN THING
Sure, you can argue that it is based after the model of street food markets or night markets of (insert western country here) but our local pasar malam definitely has its own unique flavours and charms. I grew up begging my parents to bring me to the pasar malam downstairs every night, even to just see the sights. Before social media and my travels exposed me to the food/night markets of New York, Bangkok, Seoul and Melbourne, I regard our pasar malam as the original. In fact, I still do and I see no point in debating on its origins. So if someone were to say that the Geylang Bazaar is the mother of allpasar malams, they couldn’t be more further than the truth. It’s a marketplace of sorts. It opens primarily at night. It’s earned that pasar malam badge. If anything, I think the normal pasar malams in our neighbourhoods have a lot to learn from this year’s Geylang Pasar Malam, I mean, Bazaar.
GEYLANG BAZAAR IS NOT JUST FOR THE MALAYS
One of the points raised in the article was the crazy idea that the bazaar was situated in a Malay hub, hence the food items for sale should reflect that. Historically, Geylang may be a community centre for Malays, just like how Little India is for the Indians and Chinatown is for the Chinese. But the lines are blurred now. There are no boundaries as to where people of all races in Singapore dine and shop at. One of my favourite chapati stalls is along Norris Road, right in the middle of Little India. I think Chinatown in the lead up to Chinese New Year looks the best from the rooftop of People’s Park Complex. If the bazaar draws crowds of all races, isn’t that a good thing?
For every Malay that complains about Geylang Bazaar being too crowded, there’ll be someone else who enjoys going there to bask in the vibrant, if stifling, atmosphere. Singaporeans are known to be ultimate foodies, so I say give them what they want. I’ve went to the bazaar with non-Malay friends. I also know of people who bring foreign visitors. There are also non-Malay vendors who are always present year after year. Where do you think I get a bottle of H20 or can of Coke from? All I’m saying is, let’s be more inclusive to all and sundry. The Geylang Bazaar is as much a contribution to the colourful urban fabric of Singapore as it is an iconic Ramadan event for us Malay-Muslims.
If anything, the rainbow bagels and the churros and the sotong kings of Geylang Bazaar all reflect one underrated quality of the modern Malay–that we are an enterprising people!
EVERYBODY WINS WHEN WE SUPPORT
MALAY LOCAL BUSINESSES
A big motivation of starting this blog was to support the wave of halal food options that has emerged recently, and by extension the businesses that provide them. The businesses that offer these halal food have, by and large, been owned by Malay-Muslims. Then there are also businesses that are not necessarily Muslim-owned but go to great lengths to ensure they get the halal certification by MUIS. All these great efforts benefit us, the consumers. However, to say that I only support Malay businesses is only selling the thriving local halal food industry short.
In a virtual sea of “same old”, I appreciate something truly unique and delightful. I need not look further than our local small businesses. Whether they’re designing clothes or are on a mission to disrupt an entire industry, small businesses bring new ideas and innovation to our communities. Then, as they grow, they attract like-minded talent who invest even more to the business and the community, bringing the cycle full circle. The next time you want to bring down our local businesses trying to make a change, spare a thought for the community, focus on the good, and discard the bad.