From the archives

Living in red-light area is no fun

This story first appeared in The Straits Times on June 13, 1999

By Sharon Vasoo

Mr Julian Soh, 34, rarely gets visitors. And if he invites friends to a party at his four-room flat in Rowell Road, off Serangoon Road, they'll suggest he holds it at a holiday chalet instead.

The graphic designer, a bachelor, lives with his mother, who is 58, in Block 640 of Rowell Court.

Belying the fancy name, its 10 blocks have brothels and gambling dens as neighbours. And porn pedlars hawking XXX video compact discs inhabit the back alleys.

As night falls, ladies of the night flutter about the streets. In tight skirts that ride high on their thighs, they coo invitingly to passers-by.

Mr Soh would like to move out but can't find a buyer for his flat.

"Please lah, no one wants to live here, would you? It used to be okay. You never heard of raids and you didn't get people lurking around or sleeping at the void decks.

"A man and his wife came to see the flat but they didn't even come up. They took a look around and decided to forget it."

Several weeks ago, a gang of 10, aged from 10 to 29, went on a crime spree, robbing foreign workers in the area. Four suspects were arrested.

Mr Soh no longer wears his Rolex watch or flashy jewellery. He wants to avoid undue attention.

' 'I get chills thinking about the incidents which have taken place here," he said.

Not all the girls in Geylang are for hire

In the heart of red-light Geylang, the very drabness of Excellence Mansion, Guillemard Apartment and other apartment blocks makes them stand out from the bright neon lights of hotels where rooms are rented out by the hour.

Police sirens are a familiar refrain on these streets that never sleep. Here, coffeeshops bustle around the clock and women in tight black dresses prowl the streets under the scrutiny of thuggish-looking pimps with permed hair.

Madam Ang Ling, 40, a food-stall owner, has been trying to sell her walk-up flat in Geylang Lorong 20 for more than eight years.

She said: "With every window shut, I still hear the noise from below. It goes on all night. It gets quieter only at about 5 am - that's when I get up for work."

When she can, she gets home early "to avoid trouble" - like the fatal stabbing of a gangster chief at the Eng Choon Wushu Association, and the slash-and-rob attack on a 64-year-old caretaker, both in Geylang.

She said: "You never know if you'll be next. If I come back late, I walk with my head down. I avoid eye contact. I don't want to offend people or give the wrong impression."

To ensure no one thinks she's for hire, she's thrown out every clingy item in her wardrobe and banned short skirts from her daughter's.

"I don't want her mistaken for one of those women. I never let her walk here alone. If she comes back late, I pick her up in a taxi," she said.

It doesn't take much to be mistaken for a callgirl here.

Waitress Liu Hui Xian said she was waiting for a friend outside a coffeeshop when two foreigners asked her: "How much?"

She added: "I was so angry I couldn't sleep the whole night."

This story first appeared in The Straits Times on June 13, 1999.