Singapore

Global village at Geylang Ramadan bazaar

The Geylang Ramadan bazaar has attracted international vendors. KHAIRIYAH AMIRAH MD RAMTHAN 
(khaimr@sph.com.sg) meets three of them

It's difficult to miss her colourful stall as you walk around the bazaar.

The African Handicraft And Jewellery stall run by Madam Mariam Idd Makameis an explosion of colours.

The 49-year-oldis from West Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and this is the fourth consecutive year she has a stall at the Geylang Ramadan bazaar.

She said: "This is a big festival for Muslims in Singapore and I really enjoyed my first experience here, the festive atmosphere.

"This year, the rental is $6,000 for 30 days but I am not too worried. Last year, we made a profit of around $15,000 to take back home to the organisation."

Madam Mariam is the treasurer for Shalom Orphans Organisation in West Kilimanjaro, which shelters orphans aged three to 16 and widows.

It also helps HIV-positive orphans and Aids victims in Tanzania to get food, healthcare and education.

Madam Mariam was also here in February to set up a stall in Chinatown for Chinese New Year. It was her second year running a stall in Chinatown.

She returned in June to set up her Geylang Serai stall with her daughter, Ms Queen Makame, who is in her 20s, and another worker from the organisation.

Their stall is stocked with items such as jewellery, bags, purses, clutches and wallets, their prices ranging from $3 to around $100 and all proceeds goes to Shalom Orphans Organisation.

CAMEL LEATHER

Madam Mariam said the bags and wallets are wholly made from recycled camel leather, which is excess material from the production of branded goods.

The colourful $30 clutches, which are the more popular items at her stall, are made from baobab fibre. The baobab tree is native to Africa and Australia.

Madam Mariam said: "All the handbags, wallets, purses and clutches are made by widows and some skilled orphans from our organisation."

She is thankful that many Singaporeans have bought from her stall.

"It is heartening to see people buy our goods in support of our organisation. I always tell the customers that no amount is too small to help the orphans."

From Syria, with love

UNIQUE: Mr Samer (right) displaying his wares, which include jewellery, carpets and cushions, with the help of his son, 17-year-old Karem. -- TNP PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR

This Syrianis no stranger to the bazaar life.

Mr Samer, 52,has been a regular at the Ramadan Geylang bazaar for 14 years.

He fell in love with Singapore and its people when he came here as a tourist in 2001.

And after hearing about the bazaar from his friends, he decided to rent a stall in 2002.

This year, he is running two stalls side by side, with the help of his brother, 29-year-old Nabil Joban.

They sell a variety of items from their homeland, such as jewellery, carpets, cushion covers and table cloths with Arabic writing and inscriptions of Quranic verses.

Mr Samer said that he did well in the first few years, with lots of sales.

He added: "I am not sure why but over the years, I have fewer customers. Now, I find it hard to cope because the rent goes higher and higher every year while my business is shrinking."

Each booth has a rental cost of $3,000.

But it is still more profitable to sell his goods in Singapore than in Syria, he said.

"In Syria, many people are selling the same things. In Singapore, what I sell is unique and I can make a bigger profit here."

His most popular items are cushion covers in a variety of designs, textures and inscriptions.

He said: "They are my most popular because people always buy the covers in bulk."

Mr Nabil said: "Singaporeans always have smiles on their faces and are nice to talk to."

He added that despite his difficulty in speaking English, customers are patient and friendly when interacting with him.

Mr Samer has another reason for liking Singapore: "I love the food in Singapore. My favourite dish would have to be chicken rice."

Come the start of Syawal, also known as Hari Raya, the brothers plan to rest for a few days before returning to their hometown in Damascus.

After their one-month stint at the bazaar, they will go home to reunite with their family before embarking on their next business journey to Kuala Lumpur.

Arabic calligraphy from China

ARTISTIC: Mr Imam Soleh Yu Jin Xue working on a request from a customer at his stall at the bazaar.

As a young boy, he would spend hours drawing while the other children played.

Mr Imam Soleh Yu Jin Xue, 46, was born in Gansu, China, and has always been interested in drawing.

He fell in love with the Arabic calligraphy in his teens.

His son, 24-year-old Abu Bakar, is here in Singapore with him to help out at their Geylang Ramadan Bazaar stall because Mr Imam Soleh is not confident in speaking English.

Mr Abu Bakar said his father first came here more than nine years ago.

"He came to visit my uncle. After some research, my father decided to take up a stall at the bazaar for his Arabic calligraphy."

Mr Imam Soleh's work has won fans online. His Facebook page, Islamic Chinese Calligraphy (ICC), has over 6,000 likes.

Mr Abu Bakar said business has grown for their stall, which sells scrolls. Prices for the scrolls range from $30 to $300.

He said: "It all depends on the size of the scroll. The A3-sized scroll costs around $30, while a scroll that is more than 1m long is about $200."

Customers can choose to purchase a framed scroll with Quranic verses or request for other writings that Mr Imam Soleh does on the spot.

Mr Abu Bakar said: "We have been receiving more requests from customers who want my father to write their names on the scrolls.

"We also get requests from people who want certain Quranic verses to be written."

Customers at the stall crowd around Mr Iman Soleh to watch him work.

Observing Ramadan here has been quite a challenge for Mr Abu Bakar, who said: "Fasting in Singapore can be difficult because of the heat, especially in the bazaar.

"But there is great demand for my father's services here, so we know it is too good a business opportunity to pass up."

When asked about their thoughts on Singapore, Mr Imam Soleh said: "Singaporeans are very friendly people and never fail to say 'thank you'."

So, where next for the duo?

"After this bazaar, we will be heading back to our hometown in China before embarking on our next journey to Malaysia and Brunei," said Mr Abu Bakar.


FYI

WHAT: Geylang Ramadan Bazaar

WHERE: Geylang Serai

WHEN: Noon to 1am, until July 16

RamadanbazaarGeylang