My Turf

Bukit Merah View market: Favourite meeting place that goes back 40 years

Madam Mung Kuai Ho, 87, having breakfast at the revamped hawker centre. Its reopening means she can return to her much-loved routine of eating there. The newly reopened market and hawker centre has widened walkways, accessibility ramps, slip-resistan
The newly reopened market and hawker centre has widened walkways, accessibility ramps, slip-resistant flooring and free Wi-Fi. The renovations were carried out under the town council's Repairs and Redecoration programme. ST PHOTOS: JAMIE KOH
Madam Mung Kuai Ho, 87, having breakfast at the revamped hawker centre. Its reopening means she can return to her much-loved routine of eating there. The newly reopened market and hawker centre has widened walkways, accessibility ramps, slip-resistan
For residents and shopkeepers, Bukit Merah View food centre and market is an institution. But stall operators say changing lifestyles, competition and smaller families have hurt business, as more people turn to supermarkets or are too busy to cook. ST PHOTOS: JAMIE KOH
Madam Mung Kuai Ho, 87, having breakfast at the revamped hawker centre. Its reopening means she can return to her much-loved routine of eating there. The newly reopened market and hawker centre has widened walkways, accessibility ramps, slip-resistan
Mr Jumaadi Ahmad took over the provision store from his parents six years ago, after he had been helping out there since it opened in 1972. The 69-year-old says the market used to be so crowded that people could barely move.ST PHOTOS: JAMIE KOH
Madam Mung Kuai Ho, 87, having breakfast at the revamped hawker centre. Its reopening means she can return to her much-loved routine of eating there. The newly reopened market and hawker centre has widened walkways, accessibility ramps, slip-resistan
Madam Mung Kuai Ho, 87, having breakfast at the revamped hawker centre. Its reopening means she can return to her much-loved routine of eating there. ST PHOTOS: JAMIE KOH

My Turf is a fortnightly series that shares untold stories of our neighbourhoods. In this instalment, we take a look at Bukit Merah View market and hawker centre, which reopened last weekend.

Retiree Mung Kuai Ho had made the Bukit Merah View market and hawker centre an indispensable part of her daily routine, so its closure for renovation two months ago came as a blow.

Last Saturday's reopening gave her much to celebrate, including a chance to return to her much-loved routine. That means starting with a visit to her favourite laksa stall at around 10am after her exercise.

There was also time for chats with neighbours and friends, some of whom she has known for 40 years since she first moved to the neighbourhood.

Madam Mung, 87, would then buy lunch and take it back to the three-room Housing Board flat that she shares with her helper, Madam Nan Swe Swe Lwin, 40.

Madam Mung said in Mandarin: "If I'm not at home, I'm at the market. It's the only place I go to after I became wheelchair-bound in April last year."

For the residents, hawkers and shopkeepers, the food centre and market is an institution.

Some have been running businesses, or shopping and eating there, for more than 40 years.

Madam Lee Mei Hong, 85, who has lived in Bukit Merah View for the past 30 years, said in Mandarin: "It's the nearest place for us to eat, do our grocery shopping and chat. We would not go anywhere else unless we have no choice."

The market and food centre underwent renovations as part of the town council's Repairs and Redecoration programme.

Walkways have been widened, and accessibility ramps and slip-resistant flooring were installed.

There is also free Wi-Fi now.

Madam Mung said: "I would take a peek each time I passed by to see if the centre had opened."

Mr Wong Hai Shu, 67, who sells vegetables at the market, said in Mandarin: "The place has become a home for me. When it reopened, it felt like I was coming home."

He has been helping out in the business since he was a boy, when his parents were running the stall.

While patrons and shopkeepers welcomed the improvements, they also said they missed the crowds of the past, especially from the 1980s.

Mr Jumaadi Ahmad, 69, who took over the provision shop Mahira from his parents six years ago, said: "The market used to be so crowded, with everyone standing shoulder to shoulder. People could barely move."

He had been helping out at the store since it opened in 1972.

Operators said changing lifestyles, competition and smaller families have hurt their business.

Mr Wong said: "People no longer want to buy fresh vegetables from markets. They prefer to go to supermarkets."

He added that the stall operators used to be at odds with those at the hawker centre, because the availability of ready-cooked food lowers the chances of people buying groceries.

"Now, with the falling footfall, we found solidarity. Everyone's just trying to make ends meet," said Mr Wong.

Mr Jumaadi added: "I used to sell oil by the litres, in a big tin.

"Now, people want to buy smaller quantities. Very few people have time to cook anymore."

Hawkers said they have tried to keep prices low to cater to the greying population who may not have much cash to spare.

One hawker, who declined to be named, said she has kept her laksa at $2.50 a serving for the past 10 years.

She added in Mandarin: "Patrons and hawkers have become friends over the years. It's very hard to tell them that we are coping with rising prices too."

Residents have noticed the increasingly empty tables during peak periods.

Madam Lee said: "While it is nice to have a quieter market, it also feels very depressing.

"We get used to our neighbours occupying the same seats and, when they die, the empty seats are reminders that they are gone."

The operators hope that a new Housing Board project across the road from the market, that is slated to be completed by June, will inject life into the ageing neighbourhood.

Mr Wong said: "Business is getting from bad to worse. I take each day as it comes. Hopefully, my business can live to see a revitalised and busy market."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2018, with the headline 'Favourite meeting place that goes back 40 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe