Sungei Road flea market closure

Road to a new future for Sungei Road flea market

It survived World War II, but Singapore's oldest hawking zone is set to close on Tuesday after operating since the 1930s. Heritage and Community Correspondent Melody Zaccheus looks at the paths taken by Sungei Road flea market's vendors as the site winds down. Meanwhile, the market's association, as well as the Save Sungei Road Market group, are exploring alternatives such as renting a private carpark for vendors to sell their wares.

Mr Tan Meow Teck says he does not have the money to run a lock-up stall, with rental fees and various costs involved.
Mr Tan Meow Teck says he does not have the money to run a lock-up stall, with rental fees and various costs involved.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

No clear idea

Sungei Road market vendor Tan Meow Teck, 61, said he will take a wait-and-see approach to his path ahead once the market closes for good from Tuesday.

He is one of more than 80 vendors who have told the Government that they do not need any assistance after its closure.

So far, 29 vendors have taken up the National Environment Agency's offer of more than 40 lock-up stalls at hawker centres.

Speaking to The Sunday Times last Wednesday, Mr Tan said the lock-up stall option is not suitable for him as he does not have the capital. "Beyond just the rental fees, running a stall also includes miscellaneous costs such as electricity bills.

"We've been earning maybe $8 to $10 a day. Some days we earn more, but that's not very often.

"We don't have the savings to cope with such a move, so I've no plans yet," he added.

Fellow vendor Kee Nai Han, 67, said: "I guess I will go and look for a job. Maybe I will sell drinks. I'm already old, what if I fall sick and die? I'm not planning too far ahead."

A 46-year-old vendor, who wants to be known only as Mr Abu Bakar, has been having sleepless nights, fretting about his future. He has been selling at Sungei Road for two decades and has not accepted the Government's aid options.

"I cannot afford to run a stall. Sungei Road market allows me the chance to make a living with flexible hours. It has worked for me because my mother is paralysed and I am her caregiver," said Mr Abu Bakar, who worked in the cleaning, hotel and security industries.

"I will miss the people here. The seniors have been so kind to me. They buy food for me and taught me the importance of helping one another," he said in a breaking voice. "I grew up here and I feel sad that we are losing the market."

But all hope is not lost. "My wife just got a new job as a clinic assistant, and I will work at finding an avenue to sell my wares," he said.

Going online

Madam Oh Luan Keow, 68, sews blouse and trouser sets at her flat in Jalan Besar. Each set is cut from different patterned cloth and the prints vary from dainty floral motifs to more outlandish dragon ones.

Madam Oh Luan Keow with her cart in Sungei Road. She sews the blouse and trouser sets at home in Jalan Besar.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

She then pushes her cart of outfits, along with other knick-knacks such as enamel cups and pots, to Sungei Road market.

She has been a vendor at Singapore's last hawking zone for about 30 years. Her unique pieces have gained her some fans, including teenagers and young adults.

She said she would consider taking up a lock-up stall with the authorities, provided she can get a unit in a good location where she can continue to hawk her wares.


"I have to sell the rest of my wares. If not, I will lose the time and money I've invested in buying the raw materials and collecting the products," said Madam Oh.

If she fails to get a space, she will sell her remaining wares to friends, she said, adding that she also plans to visit temples and sell her goods to temple-goers on the fly.

"I also plan to get some help from the young students who have visited me. They said they can help me create an online shop for all the outfits I make," she said.

"They say these blouse and trouser sets look better than what some departmental stalls are selling and will be popular with both the young and old. I'm hoping that the online venture will work out."

Madam Oh was widowed almost 30 years ago. She lives with her 51-year-old daughter, who earns about $800 every month as a quality control inspector.

"Only when I've sold everything, then can I think of retiring. I've saved up some money to visit Taiwan," said the petite vendor.

About 70 or so Sungei Road vendors, who had indicated an interest in receiving assistance from the Government, have yet to apply for aid as they said they would decide on their future plans only after the market's closure.

Many make one last visit to Sungei market

Visitors at the Sungei Road market yesterday. Ever since news broke of its impending closure, visitor footfall at the market has significantly increased. ST PHOTO: LEE SI XUAN

The first time he visited the Sungei Road flea market was in 1973, but graphic designer Jeffrey Goh remembers it like it was yesterday.

He was a Primary 3 pupil when his mother took him along to Singapore's oldest-surviving street market to get army uniforms for his older brother.

Fond memories of the shopping trip and subsequent ones over the decades made Mr Goh, 52, determined to visit Sungei Road market yesterday before the site makes its final bow after tomorrow.

"I'm sad to see it go," Mr Goh told The Sunday Times, as he snapped photos of the market with a camera.


The Sungei Road market, which began in the 1930s, is said to make way for future residential and commercial development.

Ever since news of its impending closure broke, visitor footfall at the market has significantly increased, according to some of the vendors interviewed.

Mr Kris Gantana, 54, and his young daughter, were among the many curious people visiting the market for the first - and last time - before it closes.

"This is my first time visiting the market. I had to come as next time it won't be here any more. I brought my daughter here too as I thought it would be a good eye-opener for her," said the casino dealer.

Stall owners who have called the 80-year-old market home for decades were also sad to see it go even as they peddled their wares yesterday.

Said Mr Sarapi Shor, 58, who has set up shop at the market since 1999 selling second-hand trinkets like pearl necklaces, and mobile phones: "Over the years, I've seen a lot, both the good and the ugly. But I'll miss the lively atmosphere here."

Foot traffic low at new place

Vendor Chin Kim Bon, 70, says he has hardly made any money at his new stall in Golden Mile Food Centre (above), which sells trinkets, water-colour paintings, antique sculptures and vintage gadgets. This is in stark contrast to the $1,000 or so he used to rake in at Sungei Road market monthly.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Among the rows of stalls selling army equipment at Golden Mile Food Centre, a small unit selling second-hand items stands out for its colourful, curated assortment of trinkets, water-colour paintings, antique sculptures and vintage gadgets.

The collection of wares - including old photos of Singapore, orchid gold-plated jewellery and even a decorative head of an elephant - belongs to Mr Chin Kim Bon, 70, who has been hawking at Sungei Road market for the past two decades.

He relocated to Golden Mile Food Centre last month, which is where the army market, known for the stalls selling military supplies, is also located.

The authorities had set aside more than 40 lock-up stalls at hawker centres for Sungei Road market's vendors who wish to continue their trade.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor noted in Parliament last Monday that the vendors who have taken up the lock-up stall option have formed a "natural clustering" at the Golden Mile Food Centre and the Chinatown Market.


It's quiet. People mostly come here to buy army equipment or to eat.

MR CHIN KIM BON, on his new stall at Golden Mile Food Centre where he says there is more space but fewer shoppers.

She added that the Government is also putting up information to tell customers where some of the vendors have relocated to, and that more than 60 vendors are now receiving some form of government assistance.

While Mr Chin has more space to showcase some of his best wares at his new location, he said that foot traffic is low and few shoppers venture into his stall.

"It's quiet. People mostly come here to buy army equipment or to eat. At Sungei Road, people make a trip down specifically to shop for second-hand wares from us vendors and buy (and take) home something for their personal collections."

Mr Chin usually purchases his wares from fellow Sungei Road vendors and rag-and-bone-men, picking out interesting goods based on his customers' tastes and requests.

"A lot of the more unique goods, including rare water-colour paintings, change hands multiple times. People who buy from me also resell the items. The Singapore market for such trade is small. Now that we're being dispersed, it is harder to coordinate."

Mr Chin said that apart from visiting reporters who have bought a few knick-knacks, he has hardly made any money at Golden Mile Food Centre. This is in stark contrast to the $1,000 or so he used to rake in at Sungei Road market monthly.

Last month, he spent his mornings running his stall at Golden Mile Food Centre. By 1pm, he would return to Sungei Road market to hawk to maximise his earnings.

Mr Chin plans to continue to hawk his second-hand goods. He has two children in their 30s and his wife is a cleaner. "I don't want to depend on my children, I prefer being independent."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Road to a new future'. Print Edition | Subscribe