Park Royal Hotel along Pickering Street in Singapore is nothing short of spectacular. Lush greenery lines the undulating planes of its facade, mimicking the vibrant green of paddy fields that are common sights in the country’s Southeast Asian neighbours. The building has won numerous architectural and design accolades, and been featured as a location in the Hollywood film Hitman: Agent 47.

But walk a few paces past this impressive glass facade, deeper into the heart of Chinatown, and the surroundings start looking a little different.

Pieces of paper are strewn carelessly on the ground; there’s a seemingly impenetrable layer of grime. Here, the buildings are older, tinted yellow from long exposure to the elements. Come nightfall, men and women, carrying their possessions in backpacks or plastic bags, will discreetly unfurl blankets and newspapers on street corners or stone benches to get some rest for the night.

Members only

Log in or

Join New Naratif as a member to continue reading


We are independent, ad-free and pro-democracy. Our operations are member-funded. Membership starts from just US$5/month! Alternatively, write to sponsorship@newnaratif.com to request a free sponsored membership. As a member, you are supporting fair payment of freelancers, and a movement for democracy and transnational community building in Southeast Asia.

Zubaidah Jalil

Zubaidah Jalil is a freelance journalist based in Singapore. Alongside reporting on breaking news from Singapore for an international newswire, she also writes longer-form articles on technology, business, culture and society.