Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Thieves market

Thieves market is located just off Sungei Rd between Pitt St, Larut Rd and Pasar Lane (meaning "market" in Malay)   Last week when visiting the Thai Buddhist temple, Wat Kancanarama, I then hopped on a bus to visit the market, however as I got off at the bus stop the heavens opened in good old Singapore monsoon stiley and after sheltering under the stop for 15 mins hopped on the next bus home!  So with the weekend and Sunday free, hubby and I took a wander around Kampong Gelam and the Malay Heritage centre before a fab shawarma at The Kebab House  (highly recommend this for a quick lunch stop) then took a walk over towards Little India, finally visiting the market, this time in sweltering heat and experienced it in its full Sunday busy swing.

The Thieves Market or Sungei Road market or even "Frozen Bridge" in Hokkien, named after the ice factory that once was nearby, is a flea market that has been in existence since the 1930s. It has derived its nickname from its once dubious notoriety of being the place that stolen goods was passed on. Once in Singapore such markets would of been common place right back to Raffles time, when sailors and merchants would visit these to purchase new (Secondhand) clothes, necessities and food. I recently read a book about Singapore and the traders in the late 1800s and such a market was described in it, I felt I had stepped back to such time. Even today on a busy Sunday there were many foreign workers trying on and purchasing "new" clothes, history repeating itself.

Here you can buy practically anything, even that which you didn't know you needed! From videos, cassettes! shoes, electrical, jewellry, tools, old records, books, even ancient bottles of VSOP brandy! bric a brac etc etc. Right up to the 1960s it was a place that you could buy any Army kit or rations etc, somehow making its way from their Stores hmmmm... From its once seedy past of stolen goods, now everything that is sold here is sold legitimately, but the government sets the proviso that all the goods must be secondhand, they also charge no rent to the hawkers, many who are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s and who have traded here for decades.

Many of the previous hawkers here have gone on to make their fortunes, the most famous being the MD of the food court chain Koufo, Pang Lim. He once sold fruit at the market in the 1970s, saved his money and bought a coffee shop and later rented stalls out to other hawkers. These days however this is not likely to happen, where once there was 400 sellers it was downsized in 2011 and has shrunk even more recently to around just 80. Most of these hawkers are of advanced years, with a lifetime of stories etched on their faces. They are incredibly poor, making just enough to pay their rents and live.

Sadly this now unique piece of Singapore's every day life, will soon disappear forever under.... yes you've guessed it redevelopment. They have been shrunk and squeezed into the pitch they have now to make way for the new Downtown MRT line and it will disappear completely as they land they are situated on is due for HDB construction. In July 2014 the NEA (National Environment Agency) announced the market will close in 2017. Apparently the hawkers have been offered scattered stalls elsewhere but turned the offer down and they themselves have suggested 4 other possible sites for the market but the NEA turned these down.

I am so glad that I have been able to witness this piece of history, albeit not in its heyday. Just to stand back and watch those rummaging through the goods, whilst the sellers watch on, crouching or sitting sheltering under ancient umbrellas. Look through squinted eyes and you are transported back over a 100 years, to times past and the beginning of the start of Singapore we know now.

Photos are courtesy of hubby.

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