• Jonathan Chan

Geylang, Singapore PHOTO: Jonathan Chan, 2019.


geylang garden


Jesus has a green thumb.

i have felt it knead this loamy soil,

seeds plunged deep, dirt between

nail and cuticle. the brown, withered

leaves are snipped, a waft of lemon

and grass trampled underfoot. the

sun embeds itself under the skin.

i have known the shovels that scrape

potted sides, roots clinging to

shaped dirt, dangling in place. the

angled streams rise to the brim. white

petals unfold amidst interlocking leaves,

elusive as spiritual fruit. the gardener

tends, faithful, gentle, restoring the

landscapes of unseen time.


On ‘geylang garden’


One summer, I interned at a Christian charity in Singapore, its vision to bring hope and healing to red light districts. It was based in Geylang, known for being where most of Singapore’s sex trade is contained. The rehabilitative work that they carry out varies, but it is always predicated on building relationships with those who have themselves chosen to leave the trade, both prostitutes and pimps. This forms the bedrock on which they can acquire new rhythms, new habits, and new skills, whether in arts and crafts, cooking, or gardening, among others. During my time there I built a relationship with an older man who used to work as a pimp and a gangster. We spent most of our time together in the charity’s garden. The process of spending time with him watering plants, cutting dead lemongrass leaves, seeing flowers bloom, and hearing of the many experiences that had richly populated his life. What I saw was the genuineness of an interior transformation, underpinned by his conversion to Christianity, as I witnessed his demeanour soften and his resentment recede day by day.


geylang garden

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