APRIL 10 — With Ramadan, it is great to see the various markets have returned because for two years the pasar malams and bazaars that were staples of life in Singapore were closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

Pasar malams are a world in themselves. Once they were a near essential in Singapore. 

In the time of the kampungs, they were where families bought essentials for their home. Shopping in the open air, in the relative cool of the evenings was an important ritual. 

While today we can purchase what we need and have them delivered in minutes via Shopee or Lazada or venture to an air-conditioned mall, the pasar malam has remained a part of life for many. 


People waiting in line to buy food at a Ramadan bazaar in Ampang, April 5, 2022. — Picture by Devan Manuel
People waiting in line to buy food at a Ramadan bazaar in Ampang, April 5, 2022. — Picture by Devan Manuel

Or, well, they were a part of many people’s lives until Covid-19 related restrictions were introduced. It’s great to see them making a comeback. 

But one wonders if these old ecosystems can survive for much longer. Already declining before Covid-19, the stall holders have now faced years of disruption. 

Their businesses often ran on paper thin margins at the best of times; now people’s behaviours have also changed. The pandemic has pushed even more people to embrace the convenience of online shopping — will they go back to open air markets?  


For how long can the old night markets survive? Well, I really hope forever. 

Night markets, flourishing street life, trade and industry virtually 24 hours a day are a symbol of South-east Asia. This has always been integral to our way of life.  

Unlike in Europe or North America where shops close remarkably early and rarely function 24-7, you can always land in Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and eat, shop, drink and find all manner of services 24 hours a day.

This energy gave our region its distinct character and it was also practical. It’s cooler and more energy efficient to function at night in the tropics.  

So, the last few years have been extraordinary. Seeing Malaysia’s mamak shops close way before midnight or Singapore’s buzzing nightlife districts reduced to ghost towns by 11pm — this would have been unimaginable a few years ago.   

This enforced closure has likely done more damage than we will immediately realise. I think of the stalls, the hustle and bustle of our tropical nights as the heart of our city, so really, we stopped our heart for two years.  

Getting this heart beating smoothly again won’t be easy. Every stall and centre had its own economics and was part of a broader ecosystem — bringing all of that back may be close to impossible.  

And normalcy can’t happen fast enough.  

We have suppressed the night for too long and the night economy and its energy is part of us.  But for Singapore to regain this essential aspect of its existence will take more than the lifting of restrictions — only active support and long term effort will help rebuild our nights. 

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.