Malay Village’s demise: ‘It’s time’

Malay Village‘s demise: ‘It’s time’ 

Community says place has seen its best days, but hopes redevelopments will retain area’s traditions

By Tan Dawn Wei and Nur Dianah Suhaimi 

 

After years of being branded a ‘white elephant’, the death knell has finally sounded for the Malay Village in Geylang Serai.

 

No one seems particularly upset to see it go – not even those who mooted the idea or some of its current tenants.

 

‘There’s no point keeping it if we’re not able to sustain it. It has become an eyesore. Each time I pass by the place, I feel my heart breaking,’ said Major Ibrahim Bulat, 63, who was one of five members of the Malay Village advisory committee set up in 1992.

 

Since the 2.2ha development – about the size of two football fields – was first approved by the Ministry of National Development in 1981 to showcase Malay traditional kampung living, it has been plagued with problems and never lived up to its billing.

 

Of the 80 shop units, fewer than 10 are open daily even though Malay Village Pte Ltd, its current management company, said 70 of them are leased out.

 

Many of them are used as storage facilities by businesses.

 

About 1,800 tourists visited its museum last year, said Malay Village. But when The Sunday Times dropped in on Friday, its doors were shut. A security guard appeared after we told him over an intercom that we wanted to tour it.

 

Visitors who step into the two- storey museum, are often greeted by a whiff of cat urine and bat droppings on the floorboards as they pass dusty artefacts such as old musical instruments, cooking appliances, traditional games and a replica of a Malay wedding hall.

 

The guard, who doubles as the museum’s guide, said the place is kept locked unless a visitor drops in. Visitors have to pay an entrance fee of $5 and a tour of the museum takes about an hour.

 

Mr Dai Foh Chin, 80, one of the village’s few tenants who stay open, lamented: ‘People call this the Malay Village; I call this place a holiday resort. I open my shop from 7am to 7pm daily, but there are hardly any customers,’

 

The provision shop owner, who has been there for a year and pays under $3,000 in rent, said he has been making a loss of $1,000 a month.

 

Business is so bad that he gets his children to take his goods to be sold elsewhere.

 

A more recent addition to the village is Ms Siti Suhaila Yahya, 30, who opened a foot spa there three weeks ago. She spent $250,000 to set it up, but was unperturbed by news that the place will be demolished.

 

‘It is the norm in the retail industry for the tenancy period to be three years with no guarantee of subsequent renewal. The fact that I have until 2011 is already beyond the normal duration of tenancy,’ said Ms Siti who is already shopping around for a new location within the Geylang Serai area.

 

 

Revamp in the works

 

Under a new draft Master Plan unveiled by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) last Friday, the Malay Village will make way for a new civic centre and plaza as part of the Government’s efforts to rejuvenate the area while preserving its local character.

 

The civic centre – which could take on Malay design elements – will house a community club, Community Development Council offices and possibly a library and gallery showcasing the area’s history.

 

Proposed pedestrian malls leading up to the Paya Lebar MRT station will also mean more space for bazaars and cultural performances.

 

Going too, will be Tanjong Katong Complex farther up from Malay Village.

 

The URA told The Sunday Times the development date for the complex, a state property managed by the Singapore Land Authority, has not been fixed but will take place after the current leases – all short-term – run out and when the land is needed.

 

 

Crucial to retain culture

 

But with village’s demise, will a slice of Malay history also be lost?

 

At least one person spoke up for the beleaguered landmark.

 

Associate Professor Hadijah Rahmat, head of the Malay language department at the National Institute of Education, thinks the concept behind the Malay Village is still valid and the authorities may be too hasty in wanting to demolish it.

 

There is a need to show how rural Malays used to live and the Malay Village still fulfils the criteria, she said.

 

‘But we should study how the place can be made more vibrant and dynamic. Heritage centres cannot be 100 per cent commercially run. Usually, the authorities will give a helping hand.’

 

The company behind the project, Malay Village Pte Ltd, still believes it can make a go of it and may appeal to have its lease extended beyond 2011.

 

General manager Jeffrey Chan, 35, said the company’s plans for a $50 million revamp of the village are on hold until he sees the URA blueprint for the area.

 

He said he had submitted a draft proposal to the authorities last month to rebuild it with a similar ‘kampung ambience’ and with 20 per cent more retail space.

 

At least half of the 40 Geylang Serai residents, shopkeepers and hawkers The Sunday Times spoke to said they hoped to see some elements of Malay tradition preserved in the redevelopment.

 

Just as many, however, said they want a mall in its place, with a supermarket; even better if it comes with a movie theatre.

 

‘The place was supposed to remind people of the kampung days so that our future generations will know what it was like in the old days,’ said Malay grassroots group Majlis Pusat president and former MP, Mr Zulkifli Mohammed, 60. He was also was one of the MPs who supported the idea of setting up the Malay Village.

 

‘Now, they will probably have to go to Malaysia or the Riau Islands to see what a kampung looks like.’

 

But he did agree that it is no longer viable to keep the Malay Village as it is.

 

‘It has not achieved the objective of showcasing Malay culture. I think the Malay Heritage Centre in Kampong Glam has taken over that role,’ said Mr Zulkifli.

 

He held out hope that the proposed gallery at the civic centre would offer a link to the area’s history.

 

The MP for the area, Dr Fatimah Lateef, 42, said while redevelopment is necessary, new structures that will be introduced, be they malls or civic centres, should ‘keep the Malay identity to a certain extent’.

 

Beyond incorporating Malay aesthetic elements into the designs, she hopes the new civic centre can exhibit Malay culture amid its other necessary functions, like a library and community club.

 

Referring to the Malay Heritage Centre, she said: ‘People may not specifically go to look for it. But if you reach out to them at the civic centre where they go to for community services, you’re bringing it out to the community rather than keeping it within four walls.’

 

Source: Straits Times

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