SINGAPORE: Gotong-royong – a Malay term popular in the 60s and 70s – refers to the spirit of working together in a community. As the month of Ramadan begins, that spirit is alive and well at the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar.
For instance, 37-year-old Idris Ma had his uncle, Mr Mohamad Soleh, fly all the way from Qinghai, China, to assist him in running his Islamic calligraphy stall at the bazaar.
Their stall, called Khaira Chinese Islamic Calligraphy, incorporates traditional Chinese calligraphy with Arabic words on paintings.
“This is our fourth year at the bazaar in Geylang Serai and every year during Ramadan, when the festive lights are on, it’s like a festival for everyone, no matter what race. Even tourists come to the bazaar and are able to see our works,” Mr Ma said.
“Since my uncle is also very busy in China, I mostly invite him here to stay for two weeks to help out at our stall,” he said with a laugh.
With Hari Raya light installations stretching across Geylang Road, Sims Avenue and Changi Road, many have spent their weekends at the bazaar with family and friends.
For Mr Hossain Saddam, originally from Bangladesh, the bazaar during the fasting month reminds him of home.
“Today is my off day and I’m here with my friends to buy food and clothes. The Geylang bazaar is a very nice place and the lights are beautiful, and there’s delicious food,” the 29-year-old said.
“Now that it’s Ramadan, it’s also very beautiful in Bangladesh, all decorated. The three of us have been in Singapore for nine years. I wish my family all the best during the fasting month,” he added.
With most of the food stalls being required to sell traditional delicacies this year, stalls selling the likes of dendeng and otah otah saw snaking queues throughout the evening.
READ: Geylang Serai Bazaar: Most stalls to sell traditional Malay goods, food required to meet halal criteria
The Geylang Serai Bazaar saw 1.86 million visitors last year, of which 76 per cent were local visitors. Over the years, the bazaar has become a festive event not only for the local Malay-Muslim population in Singapore, but for other Singaporeans and tourists alike.
While many running the food stalls are no strangers to the bazaar, some, such as those from The Mala Stop, are first-timers.
“It’s exciting but also quite intimidating because everyone looks like they are veterans, like they’ve been here for a long time. You have all those ayam perciks and Ramly burger stalls who’ve been here for so many years,” said The Mala Stop stall manager Reyna, 26.
“But we want to take this chance to give our Muslim friends the chance to taste mala, let them understand the taste and not confine it to being just a dish for the Chinese,” she added.
This year, the bazaar has about 500 stalls that will run until Jun 5, and for the first time, is fully coordinated by Wisma Geylang Serai, a Malay-Muslim social and cultural heritage hub.