SINGAPORE - The Ramadan bazaar in Geylang Serai was so popular on Sunday (April 3), the first day of the fasting month, that organisers had to temporarily stop people from queueing to enter one of its zones where food was on sale.
Organisers Wisma Geylang Serai said that after the bazaar first opened on Saturday, some changes were made to ensure a smoother experience for visitors.
For a start, signage was put up to direct visitors to the zones when they arrive - Zone 1 comprises lifestyle and fashion booths, Zone 2 fashion and food stalls, and the Wisma Geylang Serai zone has fashion, food and spaces to dine. Zones 1 and 2 have a combined capacity limit of 600 people, including stallholders.
Changes were also made to ensure shorter food preparation and queueing times. Food stallholders can now have up to six people manning their stalls, up from four on Saturday.
The change brought much relief for stallholders such as Mr Suriyah Selvarajah, who runs The Original Vadai, selling savoury donuts.
The 33-year-old, whose family business had been a fixture at the Ramadan bazaar in Geylang Serai for about three decades before the Covid-19 pandemic, said the snaking queues on Saturday led to customers blocking the shop fronts of other stalls.
With organisers deploying more people to direct the queues on Sunday, he said the situation has improved.
But Mr Suriyah, who inherited the business from his mother, said that after the pandemic forced the bazaar to be cancelled for the past two years, returning this year has not been easy.
"After day one yesterday, I was so exhausted I couldn't walk. It is going to take me about five days to get used to the bustle again," said Mr Suriyah, who decided during the pandemic to turn his former pasar malam (night market) business into permanent stalls.
When The Straits Times visited the bazaar from 5.30pm on Sunday, organisers were seen stopping people from joining the queue to enter the bazaar in an effort to control the crowd.
Business was brisk for those running food stalls, and stallholders observing Ramadan had a temporary respite at 7.14pm, when they broke their fast with a drink and some food before returning to work.
Despite the bazaar's much smaller scale - just 40 stalls down from 600 before the pandemic - Ms Surianti Yusro, 48, said she appreciated the authorities' efforts to bring back the festive mood after two years of muted Ramadan months.
"It is not back to normal - there might still be Covid-19 variants we have to fight - but the Ramadan experience this year is much better compared with the past two years," said the business development manager, who broke fast on Sunday with her husband and two children in a quiet corner at Wisma Geylang Serai.
Others like Mr Saufi Masran, 28, and his wife Diyanah Noorrisham, 29, welcomed the bazaar's return as they could get their dendeng (sliced dried meat) fix.
"We tried frozen ones last year, but they couldn't make the cut," said Ms Diyanah, an administrative executive.
Mr Saufi, a paramedic, said that while the bazaar's return gives those observing Ramadan something to look forward to, the long queue to enter is a reminder that pandemic measures are still in place. The couple, together with their five-year-old daughter, queued for an hour to enter the bazaar.
Mr Nasri Nasir, who was with his wife and son, was also among those in Geylang Serai to soak in the festive atmosphere.
The 32-year-old public servant said they decided not to join the snaking queue but just seeing the bazaar return was a happy sight.
For others like Mr Rizal Johari, 43, the bazaar's return was underwhelming.
"I used to come two to three times a week during Ramadan, but with just a handful of stalls now, there is not much to be excited about," said the seaman.
"I look forward to the large-scale bazaars returning, and then I'll really be able to soak in the atmosphere again."
The bazaar at Wisma Geylang Serai wil be open daily until May 2, from 1pm to 11pm.
From now till May 8, those visiting the Geylang Serai area can also enjoy festive light-up daily from 7pm to midnight, with the hours extended on May 2 - the eve of Hari Raya Aidilfitri - to 6am. On Fridays and Saturdays, the light-up will last until 2am.