With a camera in hand, an introspective Hisham Zainal visits the iconic shopping mall in Geylang to find it mostly empty on the cusp of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).

Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)

On 8th May 2021, just five days shy of Hari Raya Puasa in Singapore, the Ministry of Health announced the nationwide re-initiation of Phase 2. To curb the spread of COVID-19 and control the rising number of infection cases, social gatherings were capped at five.

Restrictions were further tightened on 16th May 2021 when the country entered Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). Under the new rules (that still apply on the date of publishing), only two distinct visitors are allowed at each household per day.

Festive spirits dampened

The current situation is a significant improvement from the Circuit Breaker in 2020 that disallowed any house-visiting. Still, for many Muslims in Singapore, any restriction meant that Hari Raya Puasa celebrations have been dampened for the second year in a row.

A month-long affair, Hari Raya Puasa marks the end of 30 days of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims worldwide celebrate the first day by congregating at the mosque in the morning to perform the Hari Raya Aidilfitri prayers.

The rest of the day (and month) sees families visiting each other’s homes to ask for forgiveness and engage in merrymaking and feasting. However, with social gatherings capped at two in 2021, the festive atmosphere can be best described as lacklustre.

Visiting Joo Chiat Complex

Feeling sentimental, resident photographer Hisham Zainal visited Joo Chiat Complex on the second day of Hari Raya Puasa. The iconic shopping mall in Geylang is a must-visit for many Malay-Muslims in the days and weeks leading up to Hari Raya.

It’s a cultural staple where one can buy all types of traditional kueh (local Malay delicacies), decorative household items, sparkling jewellery and brand new baju kurung (traditional Malay costume) to wear during house-visiting.

This year, the once bustling shopping mall is hauntingly quiet, looking like a shell of its former self. One can’t help but feel the weight of the emptiness while exploring the building, capturing the melancholy of another missed Hari Raya celebration in Singapore.

Yet, the bright fairy lights that illuminate the mall and the sight of a handful of shops still in operation do inspire a glimmer of hope. Perhaps one day, we’ll all get to experience Geylang during Ramadan and the joy of Hari Raya celebrations like we did before.

Photography: Hisham Zainal

Copy and curation: Arman Shah


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