Geylang, the final frontier

Geylang (Yálóng) 芽笼

PROSTITUTES: Many of these women come from China & Vietnam and are said to be here on social visit passes, which means it is illegal for them to work here. While prostitution is not illegal in Singapore, soliciting in public is a crime under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. It is also an offence to have paid sex with anyone under 18 years old.

FOOD: Food in Geylang is definitely savoury. Exotic dishes like frog porridge and kung pao-styled frog from Shi Sheng Claypot Frog make it an oasis of genteel activity in Singapore's centre of sin.

SEX PILLS: Peddlers sell illegal sex pills along the streets. These adulterated pills cost between $5 & $80, but the Health Sciences Authority has warned against the use and sale of such drugs. Several people have died from taking such pills.

GAMBLING DENS: Police regularly bust illegal gambling dens that operate within shophouses in Geylang. In July, police arrested 7 people and seized cash amounting to about $490 at a shophouse on Geylang Road.

Update 11 Jul 2016: The changing face of vice in Geylang
A street walker and her customer seen entering a house that offers transit hourly rates along Lorong 18 Geylang

Online vice is on the rise & the authorities have changed the laws to combat it.

Changes to the Women's Charter kicked in on Jul 1 and they include a new section, 146A, which targets those who operate or maintain websites which offer sexual services or allow prostitutes to advertise.

Those convicted can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to 5 years, or both.

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3-day police raid targets Geylang alleys, entertainment outlets
The men were arrested in connection with illegal public gaming, and for being suspected members of unlawful societies, the police said in a statement

A series of police raids conducted over 3 days targeting coffeeshops, entertainment outlets and back alleys at Geylang have resulted in the arrest of 24 men aged between 18 & 68.

The joint raids started on Fri (Feb 26) and ended on Sun morning, involving agencies like the Criminal Investigation Department, Police Intelligence Department, and the Central Narcotics Bureau.

The men were arrested in connection with illegal public gaming, and for being suspected members of unlawful societies, the police said in a statement.

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Geylang death: Relative outraged as passers-by gawk, snap photos of body

A 52-yr-old coffee-shop helper, known as Niu-ge, was found dead after a fight in Lorong 23 Geylang yesterday (Jul 9) at 8:00am.

5 hours later, his bloodied corpse, which had visible injuries to the face, was lying on the road and his head was resting on the kerb.

According to a press statement by the police on Sunday (Jul 10), the case has been classified as murder and police have traced the whereabouts of 54-yr-old Yeo Ai Leng to assist with investigations. The police have also clarified that he is not a suspect in the case.

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Table at Geylang alley attracts gamblers daily, in broad daylight
CROWD: Armed with cash, gamblers surround a table set up in a Geylang alley from as early as 5am

Just before the break of dawn, a group of men sets up a table.

Within minutes, a small crowd gathers, clutching stacks of money, ready to place their bets.

For the past month or so, an illegal 2m-long gambling table has been set up every morning at the alley between Geylang Lorong 15 and 17.

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56 arrested for vice, other offences in Geylang in overnight blitz

An overnight joint operation in Geylang that ended this morning resulted in the arrests of 56 people, the police said in a statement today.

The suspects, of whom 21 are men and 35, women, are aged between 18 and 73 years old.

They are accused of various crimes including vice, drug-related and immigration offences,  as well as the peddling of illegal sexual enhancement products.

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87 arrested for vice, drink driving in Geylang police operation
An early morning traffic operation on New Year’s Day this year nabbed six people for serious traffic violations such as dangerous driving and drink driving

87 people were arrested in a joint operation conducted by the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

During the operation on Feb 6, officers carried out a series of targeted raids and proactive checks at various locations including shophouses, coffee shops and back-alleys of Geylang. Road blocks were also set up in the vicinity.

78 women, aged between 17 and 52, were arrested for vice-related activities, while 25 motorists were stopped and tested for alcohol consumption at the road-block points.

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No more new homes in Geylang red-light area, to minimise ‘friction’
Update 14 Jan 2015: Businesses such as budget hotels populate the Geylang area. Photo: Wee Teck Hian

The heart of Singapore’s red-light district in Geylang is set to be rezoned such that there will be no further residential developments in the area, as residents there become increasingly frustrated by the noise, fights and traffic problems resulting from living in proximity to the colourful activities in the neighbourhood.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has proposed rezoning Lorongs 4 to 22 in Geylang from a “Residential/Institution” area — with “institutions” referring to community ones such as association premises and community clubs — to a “Commercial / Institution” area.

Existing housing developments and new residential projects that have already received the green light will not be affected by the proposed change.

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Geylang Goes Up Market
Look, mom, there's a brothel next to our block!

Those moving into their new flat at Sengkang West may think they have it bad because they will be sharing space with a columbarium. Spare a thought for those at the even numbered Lorongs of Geylang, especially the area URA has decided to rezone from "Residential/Institution" to "Commercial / Institution."

The emphasis on commercial over residential considerations is an obvious choice for the Urban Development Authority (URA). Confucius once said "微臣從沒見過 如斯好德如好色的人", which can be loosely translated as "never has the virtuous take precedence over vice". The infamous "Four Floors of Whores" at Orchard Road has always done a roaring trade, whatever the state of the economy. Perhaps something more posh sounding is on the drawing board for the Designated Red Area (RDA) Geylang district, something along the lines of "Skyscraper of Sluts" or "Prostitutes@Pinnacle?"

The outcome is inevitable - URA has weighed in with the overseas funeral parlour developer - but those affected will no doubt still go over the fine print in their signed contracts. Proud owners of residential developments under construction (#1Suites, Treasure@G20, Treasure@G6) and recently completed (Royce Residences, Central Imperial) may not have that much to lose. Sleeping jowl to jowl next to a member of the oldest profession of the world is definitely more desirable than proximity to an urn of ashes.

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Economics of prostitution in Geylang
ANALYSING ISSUES: Caucasians are typically asked to pay $81 while Chinese are charged $69, according to a study by three universities

The typical freelance streetwalker in Geylang is 26 years old, services four clients a day for $70 each on average, and earns about $3,200 a month after deducting rent and other expenses.

Almost all are foreigners from China, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, said a study by three universities which has, for the first time, shed some light on the veiled world of freelance prostitutes in Geylang

The findings are based on face-to-face interviews with 177 prostitutes over the last two years by three academics from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Boston University and Fudan University.

On tourist visa, but Jiangsu woman not here to sightsee
The freelancers are not based in brothels and many come to Singapore as tourists; others moonlight while holding other jobs here

Jiangsu native Gina has a dark secret. The 25-year-old arrived in Singapore from China two weeks ago as a tourist, but she has not visited attractions like Sentosa or tried local dishes like laksa.

Instead, she has been working as a freelance prostitute in a walk-up apartment in Geylang. The fair and slender 1.7m-tall dance and music teacher has spent about $2,000 getting to Singapore and starting work.

The breakdown: $700 in airfare, $700 a week to rent a bedroom with an attached toilet and $580 to a Singapore agent who picked her up at the airport, arranged the apartment, took her photos and advertised her services online.

Vice, Vice paradise
They haggle over price in front of camera

It did not bother them that the backlane was brightly-lit.

They also didn't mind that a surveillance camera was pointed in their direction from about 10m away.

With brazen disregard, the 10 streetwalkers, dressed in tank tops and hot pants, or tight dresses to accentuate their figures, went about their trade. Near them were three foreign men whose job was to promote their range of sexual services

Welcome to Geylang?
Many of its lorongs are a hotbed of vice and crime

Step into some parts of Geylang and you might think that you have just stepped into the set of a gangster movie. Many of its lorongs are a hotbed of vice and crime.

Streetwalkers openly parade in tight clothes despite the presence of surveillance cameras. Nearby, motorcyclists flash their bike lights, a signal that they are interested in buying contraband cigarettes.

Other vices that are part of the landscape of Geylang: Sale of illegal drugs such as codeine and sex pills, and gambling dens.


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Crime 'rife' in Geylang
Policing Geylang, he said, is challenging

"It is common knowledge that the gangsters and the crooks like to congregate in Geylang. So all in all, Geylang presents an ecosystem which is complex, which is tinged with a certain criminal undertone, and this is quite in contrast with Little India, although Little India also has changed," he said.

"We pay a lot of attention to Geylang and we devote a disproportionate amount of police resources to keep it orderly and relatively crime-free. Unlike Little India, all the indications of potential trouble are there in Geylang.

"Crime numbers are high and disproportionately so, and crimes of particular concern like robbery, rioting and affray remain persistent and always threaten to run away."

From China to Geylang: Underage prostitute drugged, raped and beaten
Cleaner Low Kia How is among 14 men who have been charged on 4 September 2013 with paying for sex with a 17-year-old between 18 and 28 May 2013

Before she became the prey of lustful men who prowl the lorongs of Geylang, the young girl from China underwent a hellish initiation of drugs, rape and beatings to turn her into a prostitute.

In sentencing three Singaporean men to 11 weeks' jail each for having commercial sex with the underage prostitute, District Judge Low Wee Ping on Wednesday repeatedly called the facts of the case "heartbreaking" and "horrific".

The three were among 24 men accused of having paid sex with her. More men are expected to face similar charges.

How do you solve a problem as big as Geylang?
For years, Geylang has stayed out of the nation's eye, with the sex trade and criminal elements mainly confined to those who look after the area

People either went there for the food or to find pleasures of another kind.

But over time, more vices - such as gambling dens, drugs and contraband cigarettes - became rampant.

The area, which is flanked by lanes better known as lorongs on either side of Geylang Road, has been thrust back under the national spotlight

Girls wanted to work here

"The girls, who were also prostitutes in Thailand, came here on tourist visas and stayed for two weeks," said James.

"They wanted to come here because they think the people here have a lot of money, so what I did was offer a service." He noticed that police clampdowns on vice activities in Geylang have been fast and furious in recent months. But he feels that constant police action will not drive the streetwalkers from Geylang.

"These women want to work here. Most pimps don't have to force them to come so there will always be a supply."

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Geylang was never this 'lawless'
VICE TOWN: Lorong 25 Geylang in the early hours of March 28

He was clearly unprepared for the stark change.

The retired senior police officer initially thought he was being shown a video clip taken in a neighbouring country.

It showed scores of prostitutes loitering in the streets while men haggled with pimps.

Rampant vice in Geylang
HIGH CRIME: During the Committee of Inquiry hearings into the Little India riot last week, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee said Geylang is tinged with a criminal undertone

Geylang is a hotbed of illegal gambling, contraband cigarette peddling and drug dealing, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee told the Committee of Inquiry hearings into the Little India riot last week.

The police chief also noted the "overt hostility and antagonism towards the police" in Geylang, all of which make the district "a potential powder keg".

He added: "It is common knowledge that the gangsters and the crooks like to congregate in Geylang. So all in all, Geylang presents an ecosystem which is complex, which is tinged with a certain criminal undertone, and this is quite in contrast with Little India, although Little India also has changed," he said.

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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.

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Brighter backlanes and more CCTVs to help police keep crime at bay in Geylang

Geylang's backlanes will be brightened up and more CCTVs will be installed to keep crime at bay, said the commanding police officer of the area on Thursday, after Geylang was flagged as a hotspot for crime in a recent high-profile inquiry

Here is a recent post by Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC: Since becoming the MP for Geylang Serai, which is a very large constituency and covers Geylang Lorongs 22 to 42 (the lower lorongs are in Kallang Moulmein GRC), I have done so much on disamenities related to vice, but I have not shared on a public platform before.

Now, the Commissioner of Police has made some comments, so let me share openly for the first time.

Growing pains of Geylang residents
Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade GRC

She read out a litany of problems that afflict her residents who live in Geylang.

"Crowding, congregation of people, open soliciting, noise pollution, littering, crime, moonlighting by foreign workers, gambling and a lot more - just to name a few, actually, all the activities that go on hour to hour, day to day, month in month out, year in year out," said Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (above) in Parliament yesterday. But the MP for Marine Parade GRC said the residents' worries grew when Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said he was more worried about the Geylang area than Little India.

Mr Ng had said this during the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry.

Happy to call my end of Geylang home

Over the past two weeks, Geylang has been portrayed as a lawless and dangerous place by the media ("Streetwalkers, cops in Geylang play hide-and-seek", last Sunday; and "Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders" and "An undercurrent of fear in Geylang", both published on March 30).

My family has been living in a condominium in Lorong 42 Geylang, which is right at the end of Geylang Road, for more than 10years.

I have never felt fear walking home or to the nearby coffee shops alone, even late at night.

Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders
Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats. Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC, who has overseen a series of measures such as lighting up dark alleys, believes a comprehensive review is needed.

Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December.

'If you have a daughter, you worry, worry, worry'
Police Tactical Unit officers on patrol at Geylang Road at 2am on Saturday morning. Five fast response squad cars are routinely deployed to Geylang every weekend, and police chief Ng Joo Hee hopes to deploy 150 more officers there

Engineer John Yeo moved to Geylang as a newly-wed 15 years ago. Now a father of two, the 42-year-old cannot wait to move out.

He and his wife never used to mind walking down streets filled with sex workers, pirated CD sellers and gamblers.

As a young couple, they found it all novel and appealing.

Unfair to say foreign workers cause trouble 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

It is unfair to jump to the conclusion that foreign workers cause trouble in Geylang, said migrant rights groups.

They also believe an event like last December's Little India riot is less likely to happen in Geylang, as the workers who frequent the area gather in small pockets around the neighbourhood.

In contrast, hundreds congregate in popular spots in Little India such as the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road where the riot took place.

'Safest place we've lived in so far'
Mr Michael Johnson and his wife Lisa say that they were drawn to Geylang's "culture, colour and chaos"

Some may see Geylang as an unruly spot in Singapore, but this well-travelled pair is unruffled by its reputation.

American expatriates Lisa and Michael Johnson moved into a row of refurbished shophouses in Lorong 24A back in 2011 - just a street from Lorong 24, where sex workers and their minders line the path.

But the couple, who have lived in America, Japan, India and China, say Singapore is where they have felt safest so far. "Even if this is the most dangerous place in Singapore, it's still a safe place to us," said Mrs Johnson.

Barriers to make outdoor dining safe in Geylang?

SAFE? Patrons at Geylang Road having dinner beside a busy street

There have been three near misses in Geylang in a month in which vehicles ploughed into eateries. But what can be done to make it safer for outdoor dining? Build barriers, say some.

Take more police action, argue others. Most agree that it should not be at the expense of outdoor dining, which is a slice of our culture here.

related: tnp @ Geylang

409 arrested in raids
Women caught after a raid on an apartment in Chinatown. The police operation, which ended yesterday, busted four illegal gambling dens and two online vice syndicates

A police operation started one week ago has nabbed more than 400 suspects for a range of offences, including illegal employment, unlicensed money-lending, soliciting in public places and illegal betting.

Seventy-eight men and 331 women, between the ages of 15 and 82, have been arrested.

The sting, which ended early yesterday, busted four illegal gambling dens and two online vice syndicates in the Chinatown and Little India areas.

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Geylang in the morning

Through the infamous lorongs, past the brothels and into a gastronomic haven all at once, Geylang by night undoubtedly lives up to its reputation as the ‘Sin City’ of Singapore.

Yet for all the clamour of the red-light district, a walk along Geylang in the morning reveals an unexpected charm of an enclave rich in culture and architectural heritage.

Much of Geylang looks worse for wear, perhaps from its overuse throughout the years, first from the many light industries that came as a result of the nearby Kallang Basin, to the many hawker stalls and back alley activities where conservation and cleanliness were never put much into consideration.

The karang guni or rag-and-bone man make their rounds along the many heritage shophouses in the area. Most of which either adopt the Late Shophouse or Art Deco style

A colourful assortment of plastic chairs kept high and dry till nighttime

A workshop that repairs are builds weighing scales is very much awake in the day

A daytime look at the lorongs that are often a hive of vice-related activities at night

A 1920s Chionoiserie shophouse with distinct Sikh guards armed with rifles adorning its columns. Sikhs were often seen as men of honour and integrity during the colonial days, hence images like these were a used as a sign of protection to the residing family

Residents get up for early morning grocery shopping at a neighbouring mini-mart

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Teen put on probation for helping to run 2 brothels
Photo of the red light district in Geylang

A teenager who helped to run two brothels but was never paid for doing so was placed on probation yesterday.

Jaryl Tan Wencong, 19, committed 11 offences of living off prostitution earnings and helping to manage two operations in Geylang and a flat in District 9.

He admitted two charges: helping to run the brothel in Chateau Eliza in Mount Elizabeth; and meeting a Thai woman at Changi Airport, knowing she was procured for prostitution here.

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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. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

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.