An undercurrent of fear in Geylang

An undercurrent of fear in Geylang
Streetwalkers standing along the junction of Geylang Road and Geylang Lorong 22 last Thursday. Donning skimpy outfits, they emerge at dusk like clockwork and flirt with men, both foreign and local.

At dusk, like clockwork, streetwalkers in skimpy outfits emerge from alleyways. They flirt with men, both foreign and local, while being watched by minders on the alert for the police.

Off-corner massage parlours and hotels with hourly rates do a roaring trade. Nearby, peddlers sell sex drugs with names such as Super Magic and Tiger's Prestigious Life, while others deal in contraband cigarettes.

This is Geylang, Singapore's notorious red-light district and another foreign worker hot spot now in the spotlight after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last week that the area was a bigger concern than Little India, where last December's riot took place.

"If Singaporeans are irked by the littering, the noise and the jaywalking in Little India, they'll certainly and quickly sense that there exists a hint of lawlessness in Geylang," he told the Committee of Inquiry into the riot.

It is an area where disproportionately more crime and public order offences take place. Last year, Special Operations Command forces were deployed to Geylang on 41 occasions, compared with 16 in Little India.

Last Friday afternoon, auxiliary policemen were seen taking away illegal cigarettes which had been stowed in trash cans in an alley next to a Buddhist temple.

Crowds of hooligans, Mr Ng said, are not afraid of standing in the way of police work. He recalled how an officer was once beaten up when he tried to detain an illegal gambling stall operator.

Residents say some shops in Geylang are just fronts for criminal activities. Gambling dens, for instance, are set up in small rooms behind the main shop area, or up on the second floor.

Many businesses and residents The Sunday Times spoke to declined to give their full names or to be photographed, worried they might "offend someone".

Yet Geylang is also home to many migrant workers who reside in sometimes overcrowded shophouses offering cheap rent. Electrician Chai Zhi Yuan, 41, from Jiangsu, China, admits it could get "chaotic" at night and on weekends.

"I don't go out much as it can get very messy. Instead, my friends would come to my place for drinks," he said.

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