Streetwalkers, cops in Geylang play hide-and-seek

Streetwalkers, cops in Geylang play hide-and-seek

Lately there has been a lot of news about how Geylang is now a hotbed of vice, which was puzzling, because when was it ever not?

Did I miss something? Was it bulldozed, replaced by a duck pond, then re-invaded by homeless pimps?

Not really. The area came under the spotlight because while everyone was distracted by the riot in Little India last December, Geylang, like some forgotten evil stepsister, emerged as the real security worry.

At the official inquiry into the riot, Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said there was a "hint of lawlessness" in that red-light district that covers six to eight lanes.

Those unfamiliar with Singapore might find the description a bit like stating the obvious. In most parts of the world, it's normal to expect a city's red-light district to be, well, like a red-light district. That is the point of their existence, right?

Kings Cross in Sydney, Kabukicho in Tokyo, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg - these are places where good citizens go so they don't have to be so good.

So what did "lawlessness" mean? In the Singapore context, we have a very low threshold, starting with the guy who fails to respect the tissue-packet table reservation system, then moving upwards.

In my mind's eye, because of the news reports, I had an image of this new, nastier Geylang: A chaotic free market of flesh going to the highest bidder, a sinister sci-fi nightmare in which cruelty and bloodshed lurk in every alleyway and where two-headed mutants with chainsaws fight death-matches in steel cages (disclaimer: I might have been watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome at the time).

It was time for a visit.

I went on Thursday around 11pm, starting at Lorong 24. Yup, there were streetwalkers all around. Not just in the lanes and alleys, but on the pavements edging the main road. There were men selling pills with names like Ultra Viagra, which I suppose is for special occasions when absolute top performance is a must.

I walked around the lorongs till 1am. The brothels were there and thriving and, in the Singapore style, had no signboards and were lit up in pink lights and decor patterns they shared with a couple of my favourite seafood restaurants.

I read that there were plans to light up the lanes. The alley I saw that looked the busiest already had streetlamps and it was bright enough for me to see that a few of the women had Adam's apples larger than mine, so I am not sure that high lighting levels will be a deterrent, unless the plan is to make them bright enough that people actually burst into flames.

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