Last year when I first came to Singapore to visit, we had to find a place to stay short-term. My first thought was hotels. So, I got online and started searching around for where we could stay. I didn’t mind spending a little money, but I figured we would be outside most of the time, so I didn’t want to spend so much on the hotel room. I’d rather spend the money at the destination. Looking through the internet for deals I came across a package for a flight and a few nights at a place called The Fragrance Hotel. I asked my then fiance about it and she cracked up!
She told me right away that it would be a bad idea to stay at one of those hotels. According to her, the Fragrance hotels aren’t very fragrant (cheesy right?). She said someone she knew stayed in one for a few nights and it wasn’t very comfortable, clean, or hospitable. On top of that, they have the reputation of being a hotel for one night stands and for hook-ups with prostitutes. I was surprised, because the image I had of Singapore in my mind was a pristine one. Singapore’s only reputation in the US is that it’s a place with hard laws and upright citizens, so the idea of a sleazy hotel where you take prostitutes didn’t occur to me. Regardless, I quickly crossed it off my list.
Monday night I got to see one of the Fragrance hotels firsthand. My wife and I went to the Geylang area to look at a place for rent. I had never been there and we arrived just as it was getting dark. Geylang is everything it’s rumored to be! Geylang is the gritty underbelly of an otherwise polished Singapore. The buildings are a montage of new and old, decrepit structures, some worse than shanties I’d seen in the Philippines. Even so, there were people living in them. There were newer structures here and there, but the further we got from the Aljunied area and the deeper we went into the Geylang area, the worse it got.
To clarify, when you travel to Geylang on public transit, the quickest way is to get off the train at the Aljunied station and then take a bus or a cab. We were running late so we took a cab and as we entered Geylang proper I could see quite a few of what the area is most famous for: the Chinese hookers! They were easy enough to pick out of the crowd and most were wearing cheap, slutty looking outfits and had hair dyed in unnaturally bright colors (for an Asian anyways).
We weren’t too sure of where we were going and we wound up getting out of the cab a block short. We didn’t mind though. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and get a feel for the neighborhood. We called up the agent, got our bearings, and started walking towards the apartment building. As we walked down Lorang 14 we soaked up the sleazy atmosphere, and, unfortunately, quite a few lungfuls of what smelled like stale sweat, rotting garbage and raw sewage. It definitely wasn’t a very attractive place. This is also where I got my first view of a Fragrance hotel, and where I took the photo above.
Once we reached the gate to the apartment complex we had to stand and wait a while, as the agent hadn’t arrived yet. As we stood there waiting, more Chinese hookers passed in and out of the complex. I don’t know what it is about hookers exactly, but they’re just so damn easy to pick out. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to seeing decent folk around Singapore that they give off a negative vibe. They have that cheap way about them. They look cheap, smell cheap, and, even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, even sounded cheap.
Regardless, it gave my wife and I one more thing to talk about while we waited to view the apartment. We chatted about how much like the Philippines Geylang is, and about how it feels a bit dangerous there, like you’d have to watch your wallet and watch your back while you were out. We talked about how the place seems more lively than Tampines, though not necessarily in a good way. Geylang definitely has an exciting atmosphere to it, and it might be quite an adventure to live in a place like that after having lived in Tampines for a year. Tampines is much quieter, and very upscale, especially for a “provincial” area. I say provincial, but nearly all of Singapore is becoming built up into more of a city-type area.
The oddest and most out of place thing I saw while standing there waiting was a young girl, maybe 12, in a school uniform come through the gate at about 7:30pm. She was alone and it seemed wrong given the surroundings. If I had a kid I don’t think I would live in Geylang in the first place, and I definitely wouldn’t let him or her walk around alone after dark. Not in that area. It just doesn’t feel safe.
I suppose you could call it a bonus experience, but one other thing of note is that as we were walking to and from the apartment we were viewing we got to see a man sleeping on the floor of the hallway. He was around 40 to 45, shirtless, shoeless, and probably passed-out drunk, sleeping first face down and then on his side on the hallway floor. That, more than anything else, was our quality of life indicator for that part of Geylang.
I suppose it’s not what’s outside your door that counts though, so even with all of that ‘excitement’ just a few steps beyond the elevator, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to live in Geylang. If you maintain your home, it can still be comfortable, and given the area, the rent is a bit lower than usual as well. Besides, there is one other thing Geylang is well known for, and that’s the food. My wife and I both love to eat, and we’re tired of the choices available to us in Tampines, so the lure of fresh feeding grounds is a big one!