Last night, thanks to a visiting uncle from Melbourne, I went to Geylang for durians. Ya, the infamous red light district in Singapore that resembles a true-blue Chinese town. We parked our car at a carpark built on the land where a wet market used to stand, opposite my very first home which longer exists. The kindergarten I used to attend still stands, but my primary school which was beside the kindergarten is no more.
On our way to the durian stall, we walked past a bus stop where I used to take the bus to school every morning. The coffee shop that sells dim sum is still there though the workers are different now. Where we sat, I could see the row of shophouses where I used to play catching with my friends in the neighborhood. The stretch of drains which our feet ran over umpteen times has made way for wider roads.
I spent 18 years of my life living in Geylang, moving from lorong 25 to 27 to 23 to 18 to 15. I stayed in walk-up apartments, many of them dodgy. However at that age, I had no appreciation of the character of the environment I lived in. I used to cycle around the back alleys with my brother playing police and thief. I knew the alleys like the back of hand then and I was fearless and oblivious.
I moved into a student hostel when I went to the university and never moved back. My parents continued to stay in Geylang for a few years after I went to the university. I visited a few times and remember feeling extremely uncomfortable.
Having grown up in this environment, it wasn’t until I left it that I realized it was an unnatural environment for a girl to grow up in. Once I moved out of this domain, I could never bring myself to return to this habitat as a resident. I hardly visited my parents as a result.
Visiting it again last night gave me mixed feelings. I remember the place fondly of all the innocence I remember from my childhood, of the times we created games out of nothing, with the most hightech equipment being my bicycle. These memories are clouded by a skin-crawling sense of disgust and intolerance for what the place has become, a bigger, more in-your-face place of vice that saddens me.
I have no urge to return any time soon. I entertain the idea that Geylang serves a social purpose for the many foreign workers in Singapore, the same guys who build our homes and do the dirty jobs many of us would never consider taking on.
Like a necessary evil. Is there really such a thing, a necessary evil?