Sungei Road (双溪路; literally Double River Road) is a road in Singapore situated between Serangoon Road and Jalan Besar and runs along the Rochor Canal. From the 1930s to present, it’s name is synonymous with the “Thieves’ Market” it houses. The market got it’s name as stolen items were reportedly sold there.
The Sungei Road market is the oldest flea market in Singapore, where locals used to head to to hunt for vintage items and second-hand goods. It is also Singapore’s last permanent free hawking zone where the hawkers pay no rent at all. The metre-by-metre space allotted for each hawker is offered on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Due to the increasing squeeze for land in Singapore, the 80-year-old market will be making way for future residential development and its last day of operation will be on July 10. For history buffs, this coming weekend (8 and 9 July) will be the last weekend you will ever get to step foot into the Sungei Road flea market. It’s worth taking a stroll to soak in the atmosphere before a part of Singapore’s heritage is gone forever.
I went to the flea market last weekend for one last visit and I could understand why the Sungei Road flea market is slated to go. The place is like a physical Carousell, selling mainly stuff which looks like junk to me, but perhaps treasures to others.
Most of the hawkers seem to be there to kill time or to chit chat with old friends rather than to do business. When I asked one of the hawkers if the cameras he displayed at his store are in working conditions, he eyed the Lumix digital camera I was using, then said his stuff are junk and not worth buying, before shooing me away.
I also witnessed another hawker taunting a customer who asked if he could switch on a second-hand mobile phone to check before buying. A perfectly reasonable request I feel.
“I see your face I also don’t want to sell you. This is all original brand. You want buy you buy. Cannot on. If you want to on you have to buy first,” answered the hawker impatiently.
I took some photos of the hawkers and the people seen at the market:
As you can see, most of them are quite old. It’s unlikely this market can be revived. This is not the kind of hipster market like Artbox or Geylang Serai which youngsters will flock to.
Most of the serious shoppers milling around seem to be foreign workers. Occasionally, you will spot a few hipsters who could be there to hunt for vintage items for decoration in their hipster cafes, offices or personal living spaces.
There are also hawkers who are really there to do business of course, but these guys seem to be the minority. Some of them can get too serious about their treasures. There was a Chinese national, identifiable by his thick accent, who got into a near public fight with another Chinese national, also identifiable by his equally thick accent, because of a trade gone wrong. I caught the exchange on video:
It seems that that the hawker had snatched back a bracelet from the buyer when he spotted the latter leaving the premise. From their exchange, it seems the buyer had paid $2 for the bracelet earlier and went around exploring the market before the seller approach him when he was about to leave, accusing him of shortchanging him as the item was to be priced at $12. Both refused to relent on different principles. The hawker was adamant the buyer underpaid while the buyer felt that if the good has already been transacted, the hawker has no right to ask for more now. Over a difference of $10, I saw the hawker picked up a sharp, rusty instrument, looking as if he was ready to stab the buyer. Luckily, someone stepped in to calm both parties down.
If you are looking to buy something at the market, be prepared to haggle a bit as the first quoted price often seem very pricey; sometimes even more so than brand new items. A lady was quoted $20 for a used, no-brand PVC handbag which I am pretty sure I will be able to find something similar brand new online or at discount stores. Then again, as these are all one-of-a-kind pre-loved items, there is no fixed prices. It’s willing buyer, willing seller.
Here are some of the photos I took of stuff you can buy at the market:
Did anything caught your fancy?
I left Sungei Road without buying anything, but I did feel richer inside, from the experience interacting with the people at the market, representing different strata of Singapore society.
As I was taking one last shot of the market before leaving, an old uncle cheekily jumped into my frame, waving his hands wide. He asked me if I knew what it means when he wave both his hands.
“Goodbye!” He said, before smiling and turning his back to walk off into the crowd.
Bye bye Sungei Road. For the only constant in life is change. Maybe you will be resurrected in your next life as a bustling, trendy night market for hipsters.