‘Uncle, how much is this?’
Contemplating at the item, the uncle reply, ‘twenty’. Looking at my reluctant face, he asked further, ‘how much you want?’
That is a typical conversation at the sungei road thieves’ market.
The Sungei Road Thieves’ Market is probably one of the last and oldest place that the folks from Singapore used to hang out and shop since 1930s.
It’s no longer a market, it’s a way of life, especially to the people who lives there. You can find virtually everything; from children’s wear, to SAF army uniforms; from as small as jewelries to the family size fridge and old television, from the oldest typewriter, to the latest Sony’s Playstation and Apple’s iPod. Trishaw uncles had even labeled this place as a tourist attraction for their passengers.
Here’s my photographs I’ve taken from 2005 to 2014, started when I got my first camera.
The following shots are taken in 2005
It always sadden me when I see families there; young mother comforting her baby to sleep, little girl playing with her parents’ and “colleagues’” countless toys, able-body young man following his father’s footstep selling both authentic and counterfeit watches, lonely old folks parting with their last pieces of treasure trying to make a living. There’s a story to tell from anything and anyone at this place.
I have been coming this place since school days. Even during the army days, I will come on the weekend for treasure hunting.
Some treasures I picked up:
Until now, I still pay frequent visit to this place, treasure hunting, bargaining, squeezing among the other treasure hunters, or even inviting my foreign friends for a little bit of culture shock. I would even talk to the old folks sometimes, to listen to their stories, to listen to their descriptions of the stuff they sell. I see and learn new things on every single visit. During my university days, I brought my friend from United States for visit, and she says ‘its sad’. Not everyone can tolerate the culture.
The following shots are taken between 2011 to 2012
Modernization does not spare mercy to the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market. The land has been acquired for Downtown Line. MRT station and housing estate will replace this last reminiscence. Constructions started in around 2012 if I remember correctly.
22 Aug 2015
I have been visiting this place for 10 years by now… and I had a new story to share today.
Small incident on 22nd Aug 2015 at Sungei Road thief’s market:
I was about to ride off with my motorcycle, when a Malay with fancy dress came talk to me ‘Call ambulance! My friend, pain!’ I followed him, saw a man sitting by the road, holding stomach, seems in pain.
I wasn’t sure how serious it is, since I used to visit hospital quite often.. so I questioned him if he ate something wrong, if it could be food poisoning, and assess if there’s a real need to go hospital, asked him to drink water and rest.
I couldn’t just leave him alone, so I stayed with him and comfort him, assessing if there’s a need for further action.
His friends came, including the fancy dressed Malay man, saying things like ‘You good! God bless you!’. I also chatted with him a bit, one of them told me how he bought the goods from rubbish collector for 20 bucks and tried to make a living at Sungei Road. The stomach ache man fell asleep as we talk.
Ambulance really came, we wave at them to signal, I told the paramedic the situation. The paramedic gave one look, and told me, ‘Oh this guy is a regular, he came yesterday, doctor says he got no problem and sent him home. Never mind we will still take him..’
Oh well… the story continues on the next day..
The next day…
I dropped by the place again at around 3pm. I met the fancy dressed Malay guy, in his same pink strip top. He quickly recognized me, so I asked him how’s the stomach ache uncle doing..
Malay guy: “He’s somewhere drinking!”
Me: “Drinking what? Alcoholic?”
Malay guy: “Drink coke!”
I dunno how to respond…
Hope you enjoy these pictures. I do not know how much longer will they stay until business seize due to modernization. There used to be some non-profit group of people trying find an alternative land for the market, but the facebook group died down due to inactivity.
Have you visited the market? Do you like shopping there? Do you think they should find another spot or do you think they are illegal dwellers to use the land illegally? Do you think the authorities should chase them away? Do you think we should save the living heritage?
Please leave your comments.
All photographs by the freestyle photographer.