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Geylang Serai bazaar returns to Malay roots this Hari Raya, stall rental capped at S$14,000

SINGAPORE — The Hari Raya Bazaar in Geylang Serai this year will return to its traditional Malay roots and rental fees will be capped at S$14,000, following feedback that the annual event is losing its Malay identity and concerns over skyrocketing rental.

The Geylang Serai Hari Raya Bazaar this year will celebrate the Malay-Muslim culture and heritage.

The Geylang Serai Hari Raya Bazaar this year will celebrate the Malay-Muslim culture and heritage.

SINGAPORE — The Hari Raya Bazaar in Geylang Serai this year will return to its traditional Malay roots and rental fees will be capped at S$14,000, following feedback that the annual event is losing its Malay identity and concerns over skyrocketing rental.

Details of the upcoming bazaar were revealed on Thursday (March 28) by Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, Mayor of the South East District, at a media briefing.

In response to the controversy in previous years over some food items that were not halal-certified, Dr Maliki said that food prepared by non-Muslim stallholders at this year’s bazaar will be suitable for consumption by Muslims. The organiser and operators will work with external consultants to ensure that the food is prepared according to Islamic guidelines.

The Geylang Serai bazaar takes place during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and is viewed as the biggest of all bazaars, with smaller scale versions held in housing estates such as Woodlands and Tampines.

This year's bazaar will operate from May 3 to June 5, stretching along Engku Aman Road, Geylang Road between Kinex mall — formerly known as OneKM Mall — and Geylang Serai Market and around Tanjong Katong Complex.

In the last few years, hipster food stalls have sprouted at the bazaar, selling food items such as edible helium balloons and rainbow tacos in a bid to draw millennials.

Though these were well-received, they also ignited criticisms from some within the Malay-Muslim community. Taking to online platforms and in letters to newspapers, they voiced concerns that the bazaar was at risk of losing its Malay identity, pointing out that it was hard to find traditional Malay dishes and desserts.

Based on that feedback, this year’s bazaar will celebrate the Malay-Muslim culture and heritage, but still cater to Singaporeans of all age groups and races, said Dr Maliki.

There will be a “nostalgic kampung atmosphere” with features such as a special lane of food stalls offering traditional dishes.

This year's bazaar will make a return to its traditional Malay roots following feedback from the community. TODAY file photo

Sixty per cent of the food stalls will sell traditional food, with the remaining to sell modern fare. For non-food stalls, 80 per cent will be dedicated to traditional Malay-Muslim goods and the other 20 per cent to other lifestyle items. There will be a total of 500 to 700 stalls at this year’s fair.

This was specified in the tender contracts for operators, which were awarded to Orange Travel and Eniche Global Trading.

Last year’s bazaar also saw some stallholders complaining that they had to pay rentals of S$20,000, double the amount compared to 2014. Dr Maliki said that was the highest rent for 2018, with the previous year’s highest pegged at S$15,000.

Acknowledging that the cost could be “too much”, reducing rental by 30 per cent and capping it at S$14,000 would be “reasonable” said Dr Maliki, who pointed out that not all stallholders would pay this amount. Rental cost is determined based on the location and types of goods sold.

This year’s bazaar will have 500 to 700 stalls as compared with the previous high of 1,000, while walkways will be wider. This is to ensure an enjoyable visitor experience.

HIPSTERS WELCOME

While the bazaar will return to its traditional roots this year, it will also have a modern touch. For instance, there will be container-style shops with various themes and an outdoor dining area with hanging lights.

Dr Maliki said this would ensure that visitors from other racial groups and different ages can also have an enjoyable experience. There will be more emphasis on coordination and curation of stalls this year following feedback from last year’s fair.

In 2018, the bazaar had about 1.86 million visitors, of whom 76 per cent were locals.

There will also be space for the younger generation to operate businesses such as hipster food stalls, he added.

“Even last year, we do have different sectors giving us different feedback. Not everybody says that they want the nostalgic feeling. The younger ones say they kind of like the hipster type,” said Dr Maliki, who is also the Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs.

“So, it’s about striking a balance. It’s about making sure we try to meet the needs of as many different groups as possible.”

When asked whether the bazaar would continue to adopt a traditional feel, Dr Maliki said this was dependent on the feedback received this year.

For non-food stalls, 80 per cent will be dedicated to traditional Malay-Muslim goods and the other 20 per cent to other lifestyle items. TODAY file photo

As to why these issues were only addressed now when concerns were raised in the last few years, Dr Maliki pointed to a change in the operation model as it will be the first time that Wisma Geylang Serai — the civic and cultural centre — is organising the bazaar.

The bazaar was previously organised by the Geylang Serai and Kembangan-Chai Chee Citizens' Consultative Committees.

FOOD CAN BE CONSUMED BY MUSLIMS?

There was also confusion last year as to whether food served at the stalls could be consumed by Muslims.

There are two ways to determine this: Whether there is halal certification issued by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and whether the stall is Muslim-owned.

While some food stalls at this year’s bazaar may not have halal-certification, Dr Maliki said that Wisma Geylang Serai and the operators will work with external consultants to ensure that the food is prepared according to Islamic guidelines.

These consultants will also conduct regular checks during the bazaar to ensure that stallholders abide by the guidelines.

When asked whether this was a convincing explanation for Muslims who might adopt a strict stand on the issue, Dr Maliki said: “There are many different groups of people out there. If they’re not really convinced then they have to decide whether they want to consume or not.

“From our perspective, we’ve done our part to make sure that we are confident that the processes we have put in place will be sufficient enough to meet the requirements of the Muslim community.”

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