Little India in need of sprucing up

From ‘Little India needs sprucing up’, 10 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Roy Goh Hin Soon): Little India is not as organised as Chinatown. Most of the shops in the small lanes feature businesses that have no relevance to tourism at all, such as shops selling automobile spare parts, and food caterers.

More can be done to spice up the area to attract more visitors, such as having food and beverage outlets with reasonable standards, and outdoor performances.

Currently, apart from Mustafa Centre, only the Indian Heritage Centre is an attraction in the area, but I see few visitors dropping by.

Also, walking along Serangoon Road is truly a safety hazard. Visitors are forced to squeeze and walk along the five-foot way.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and Singapore Tourism Board need to go back to the drawing board to work out how we can fully capitalise on this precious tourist belt and put Little India and Serangoon Road back on the tourism map.

Little India has long been recognised as a tourist spot ever since the early eighties, and unlike the stark , ‘organised’ pretentiousness of today’s Chinatown, always had a haphazard, chaotic charm about it, especially if you dive into the deluge of humanity on Sundays. Not only is Little India a colourful enclave with a bit of violent social history, the area was once known for its tourist-terrorising ‘giant rats’. Today, our own politicians paint a slightly anarchic picture of the Serangoon area, calling its foreign worker patrons ‘walking time bombs‘.

What the writer is suggesting by relocating businesses with ‘no relevance to tourism at all’ is to turn the district into a manufactured theme park that is more ‘blah’ than ‘buzz’, where you’ll eventually need paid entertainers to make putu ayam in front of gushing, selfie-snapping tourists. Instead of row after row of sari souvenir shops, wouldn’t it be more interesting to chance upon, say, a UKELELE shop for a change? Even Chinatown, I’m sure, has its fair share of merchants selling stationery and photocopy services to nearby office workers, and not bak kwa at every corner you turn.  Mom-and-pop stores in Little India may not even survive for long, with STB embarking on an online marketplace project called Dei.com.sg. Even Mustafa, a 24 hour shopping mecca, will have its work cut out for them.

The complaint betrays a naive lack of understanding of what modern tourists want to experience, something off the beaten path but not too far off; a place – in other words, with ‘character’, where people actually live and work, not just performers paid by STB to put flower garlands over your neck in greeting while performing a scene from Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, tourists are already flocking to the ‘real Chinatown’, a district already tagged as a ‘powder keg’ and long renown for its street food and uncharacteristic sleaze: Geylang.

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