A bustling market in the heart of Geylang represents the area's unique spirit and heritage and even as plans are under way to upgrade and modernise the neighbourhood, its special Malay character will be retained.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made this pledge yesterday at the Geylang Serai Market's 50th anniversary celebrations, and gave stallholders and residents an idea of the Government's plans for Geylang.
Existing buildings in the neighbourhood, such as the Wisma Geylang Serai, will be redeveloped. When completed in 2017, it will host new facilities and activities to bring the community together.
A construction tender will be called later this year, and a workgroup helmed by Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman has been busy with the project, said PM Lee.
At the same time, little touches such as Malay motifs will be added to lamp posts and street signs in the area, which has served as a social centre for the local Malay community.
Mr Lee also related to his audience of about 300 stallholders, community leaders and residents, how he had met a Woodlands resident who travelled to the market to shop for clothes earlier. This attested to the market's popularity, he said.
"From humble beginnings, Pasar Geylang Serai now occupies an important place in our social landscape," he said.
Not only does the Malay community organise events there, but other races also head there to enjoy the Hari Raya bazaar, said Mr Lee, who spoke first in Malay and then in English.
Even tourists visit the market to buy the baju kurung, the traditional Malay dress, and to enjoy Malay cuisine, he added.
Mr Lee thanked stallholders for keeping the place bustling, noting that the old kampung spirit of gotong royong, or looking out for each other, was still alive and well. He also launched a book about the market's history entitled 50 Years Of Continuity Amidst Change, at the event. It was also attended by Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is MP of the area; and Dr Maliki.
The Geylang Serai market was opened in 1964 by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee noted. It brought together shops and ad hoc markets in the area then. A fire destroyed part of it in 1999, and after a refurbishment a decade later, it has some 430 stalls.
Long-time stallholder Mohamed Hanifa, 89, who owns a beef and mutton stall, said his customers have become like neighbours, with some patronising his business since he started out in the five-foot-way before the market was built.
"This place was a kampung last time, there's been a total facelift, lots of changes. But people are still coming here to shop and I hope they will keep coming," he said.
This article was published on April 26 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.