Thursday, November 13, 2008

Night Life. My Way.


Pasar Malam exudes a charm that is hard to describe and yet, it is so ordinary.

Literally, pasar malam means night bazaar in Malay/Indonesian and to me, it carries a certain bewitchery appeal. It has been part of our landscape for as long as I can remember and nothing much has changed. Over the years, modernization has cannibalized much of our old ways of life but pasar malam stood the test of time.


The idea of pasar malam is a simple one. It brings together people who sells an array of hodgepodge. Traditionally, food stuff, cooked and uncooked were predominant but today, fruits and vegetables have given way to clothes, toys, snacks, CDs and ornaments, at affordable prices.

Pasar malam is usually held near the heartland and the target group is, well, the heartlanders, of course. There is hardly any impressive stuff at pasar malam but I often find myself awed by the variety of merchandise. While you do not expect to see your favorite branded handbags but many similar products there somehow seem to have been inspired by Prada, Gucci and the like.


Each time I am near a pasar malam, I get drawn into the hullabaloo, especially during the weekends. I do not usually buy things on impulse but I find myself walking out of the crowd with at least a pack of steamed chick peas.


If you prefer big ticket items, some pasar malams are beginning to sell cars. I am not referring to remote-control toy cars. Rather, these are lower price range cars which may appeal to the practical heartlanders.

Pasar malam is probably not for the snobs who need to be identified with expensive branded accessories. Some even avoid being seen in the midst of a pasar malam crowd for fear of derogation.

It depends on how you look at it. It may not be always right to read the colorfulness of the atmosphere as gaudiness. Putting all aspects of pasar malam in perspective, I could see the potential of it being promoted as one of the unique experiences tourist can draw from Singapore.

Pasar malam is certainly not an experience that I would label as 'Uniquely Singapore'. Similar night markets are also common in Malaysia and Indonesia.


Even as far away as the Netherlands, we have 'Pasar Malam Besar', which means 'Great Night Market' in Malay/Indonesian. It is an annual event which attracts thousands of visitors from the Netherlands and abroad.

The event started about half a century ago by a group of Indos, who had Dutch and Indonesian ancestry. It proved to be so popular and it has been a runaway success. Due to its ties with the Indonesian Archipelago, we can find food items which are familiar to us such as, goreng pisang, mangosteen and martabak.


Besides food and merchandise, Pasar Malam Besar is an event filled with great entertainment. Visitors can expect to enjoy traditional cultural performances, modern rock music or hiphop dances, a definite appeal to all generations.

The next Pasar Malam Besar will be held from 21 May - 1 Jun 09. If you happen to drop by the Netherlands, look out for it.


The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) can consider promoting our pasar malam to tourists. Busking activities can also be brought in to zest up the bazaar. Our foreign visitors can take a break from Orchard Road and immerse themselves in the heartland and experience the true Singapore.

I agree that things sold at pasar malam are cheap but I will not shallowly generalize that they are for the cheapskates. Sometimes in life, the simplest things are the best.

All of the animals except for man know that the principle business of life is to enjoy it.-- Samuel Butler (Author 1835-1902)

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