- Posted May 30, 2014 by
Treasure or Trash? -Sungei Road Thieves Market-
Finding a Treasure
Located between Bugis and Little India, this oldest and biggest outdoor flea market in Singapore is open 24/7, rain or shine. The market used to sell stolen goods in old days, hence the name. While the rent is high everywhere in Singapore, it's free here, and don't even require peddlers to register.
Many of stall owners here are retired man in their 50s and 60s, so have been around for decades. Mr. Koh Ah Koon is one of the key members of this market. He is 70 years old, and has been selling used record here for past 26 years. He says "It was lot bigger in old days, our business was better. But now days, not so much."
From used clothes to electric cables, you name it they have it. (don't question the quality) Receipts don't exist around here, so don't even think about exchange or return later. Your purchase is a final sale.
With hustle and bustle of the market under a burning sun, finding a hidden treasure in this market isn't easy.
Transition -thieves market to a vintage hot spot-
The market has started in 1930s as a small trade spot by the river. When under Japanese occupation during WW2, many people came to the market for cheap essential items. And in later years, second hand and vintage items were sold and grew to be a popular flea market.
As Singapore shifted the gear into an urban development, many stalls were relocated to government buildings and the market was slowly disappearing. However in 80s, the stalls came back and was vibrant again. Due to development in the area, the market repeated this cycle several times, but it still continue its business to this day, at exactly the same place.
Biggest change in recent years came in July 2011, the area for the market was halved due to the development of new MRT station. The size of the stall was restricted to 1m x 1m, and the number of stalls was reduced from about 400 to 280.
History vs Development
At the moment, nobody knows the future of Sungei Thieves Market after the completion of the MRT station in 2017. The peddlers fear that this historic market might be gone forever. Mr. Koh at the used record shop is optimistic that the government will find new location for them. However, he also says "Everyone loves this place so so much. We'll miss this place and everyone here if this would be gone."
Unlike the rest of Singapore, you can still smell the chaos in this Sungei Road Thieves Market. People in Singapore treasures history and culture, but also understands the need for development for this small island country. While I walked through this market looking at development right behind, I felt as I was witnessing a historic change in a first row seat.