The Sunday Times says

Pasar malam need not call it a night

 A view of the Pasar Malam stalls at Serangoon Central.
A view of the Pasar Malam stalls at Serangoon Central. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The pasar malam or night market has been a long-time feature of the heartland. It is a fleeting emporium for bargain knick-knacks ranging from kitschy street food and drinks, to fashion knock-offs, cheap toys, school supplies, umbrellas, phone accessories and the like.

Now, the night bazaar is under threat, dwindling over the past five years to a third of its usual appearances. The reasons are several. Shrinking venues and steep rentals are often the culprits. The usual response is to let it die a natural business death, the argument being that nostalgia shouldn't stand in the way of dollars and sense.

However, one shouldn't be so quick to put out its lights because there is some cultural value and a plausible business case to keep the pasar malam glowing, just as there is worth in keeping hawker centres going. The pasar malam appeals to those who want to soak in unpretentious, local street buzz. It allows families, young couples and friends to spend time together, browsing, snacking and de-stressing in a wallet-friendly way that shopping malls cannot replicate.

One suggestion made is to have a permanent venue for it. Some cities and provinces have a regular site for periodic fairs or weekend markets where one can savour local produce and crafts. One advantage of having a travelling fair here is that it could offer a platform for cottage industries and creative individuals in different areas, and help to enliven the heartland. The element of surprise might be lost at a fixed venue.

The pasar malam ought to cater to what people want, offer an affordable night out, capture local colour and make the browsing experience pleasant. But high rents, tight spaces and difficult access will put off vendors and customers. Could a social enterprise step in to organise it better and revitalise the night market's charm? That would make everyone's day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'Pasar malam need not call it a night'. Print Edition | Subscribe