Friday, 5 September 2014

The Forgoten Thieves Market 结霜桥

National Heritage Board - Sungei Road flea market

Located between Jalan Besar and Rochor Canal Road, the flea market at Sungei Road is Singapore’s largest and oldest flea market. While the exact origin of the flea market remains unclear, historical records have shown that the flea market began as a small trading spot that sprouted along the river during the mid 1930s.

In the past, the flea market operated between 3.00pm to 6.00pm and its operating hours could have resulted in its nickname "Robinson Petang" or "Robinson in the afternoon". The nickname was probably a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Robinson Department Store which catered to the more well-to-do in Singapore.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945), the flea market at Sungei Road was very popular as many locals (especially the poor) would flock to the market to purchase cheap household items and other merchandise which were often in short supply.

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Street Hawking - NEA's Clarification on Sungei Road Hawking Zone

The Sungei Road Hawking Zone (SRHZ) was set up in 2000 to minimise any inconvenience to residents in the area caused by the business activities there. Checks are carried out around SRHZ to prevent illegal hawking activities outside the zone and the sale of prohibited goods inside the zone. The site is open only to Singaporeans and Permanent Residents on a first-come-first-served basis daily between 1 pm and 7 pm. There are no charges for the use of the site.

The Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods has been informed that the Government is unable to accede to the request to relocate SRHZ. Following extensive consultation with the relevant land agency, the four relocation sites suggested by the Association were found to be unsuitable as they have been zoned for parks and residential use under its master plan.

The development plans for the Sungei Road area will only be confirmed after the completion of Jalan Besar MRT station in 2017. Advance notice will be given once the detailed implementation timeline is confirmed.

Sungei Road flea market will have to go
NEA turns down alternative sites traders suggested

AROUND eight decades of history seem set to come to an end for Sungei Road flea market.

As it has to make way for the Sungei Road MRT station, due to open in 2017, an association representing its 200 traders had suggested relocating to one of four alternative sites nearby.

However, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has rejected this - and not given it any explanation. When asked, NEA referred The Straits Times to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which said the four sites have been zoned for parks and residential use under Master Plan 2014. They are next to Rochor River, at Kampong Bugis along Kallang River, behind Sim Lim Tower and a roadside near Jalan Kubor Malay cemetery.

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Another one bites the dust? Thieves’ Market downsizes to make way for MRT station
Thieves' Market at Sungei Road is Singapore's oldest flea market. Image courtesy of Aldwin Teo

What does this have to do with Singapore? From 25 July, the Thieves’ Market, Singapore’s oldest flea market, will be reduced in size to make way for the construction of the new Sungei Road MRT station. Around since the 1930s, the market supposedly began life as a place where stolen loot from the homes of affluent European families living in the area would turn up, hence its name. Today, it continues to have a certain piratical air about it, with its haphazard displays of junk and curios and its somewhat unsavory appearance – a marked contrast to the rest of the country’s clean, airbrushed façade.

Originally encompassing Pasar Lane, Pitt Street and Larut Road, it will now be confined to half its original area with the closure of Pasar Lane and certain sections of Pitt Street. In addition, the authorities have efficiently drawn out three hundred 1m-by-1m lots for the stallholders, meaning that they will no longer have the luxury of spreading out their goods around them, one of the most enduring images of the market.

The future of the market also appears to be uncertain and it is not clear if the stalls will be allowed to continue occupying the area once construction on the MRT is completed in 2017. According to the National Environmental Agency (NEA), the area is not meant to be a permanent one for business activity. It was also revealed in a report by the Straits Times that the agency has already referred some of these vendors to the Central Community Development Council so they can get help finding jobs or upgrading their skills.

Sungei Road flea market will have to go
The Sungei Road flea market, which is open daily from 1pm to 7pm, draws tourists, foreign workers and locals. At least 70 per cent of the peddlers are between 60 and 80 years old. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Around eight decades of history seem set to come to an end for Sungei Road flea market.

As it has to make way for the Sungei Road MRT station, due to open in 2017, an association representing its 200 traders had suggested relocating to one of four alternative sites nearby.

However, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has rejected this - and not given it any explanation. When asked, NEA referred The Straits Times to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which said the four sites have been zoned for parks and residential use under Master Plan 2014. They are next to Rochor River, at Kampong Bugis along Kallang River, behind Sim Lim Tower and a roadside near Jalan Kubor Malay cemetery


This is a status update posted to Facebook by PAP MP Denise Phua in response to the recent news that the Sungei Road Flea Market would be closing down for good.

"There are mixed reactions to the news that the Sungei Road market will have to go.

This is what I shared with the ST journalist who interviewed me: "The Sungei Road second- hand market of today is not the same as what we remember of the market in days of old ; the goods traded, profiles of buyers and sellers are not quite the same

The Sungei Road flea market will be closing down for good as the site is being redeveloped to make way for the Sungei Road MRT station which will open in 2017

While the traders who operate at the flea market had requested to relocate to some other suitable location, the NEA rejected their request and failed to give them a reason.

Many of the stall operators at the iconic 'thieves' market' are elderly and illiterate and the closing of this market will mean that they are deprived of their income.

The markets have been around for almost 80 years and were even recognised by the National Heritage board as an iconic park of Singapore's history.

Sungei Road Thieves Market

Sungei Road is located between Jalan Besar and the Rochor Canal Road. The Singapore Ice Works, built in the 1930s and situated near the road, was formerly an important supplier of ice blocks, which is why that area is also fondly known as Gek Sng Kio, which literally means Frosted Bridge, by the Hokkiens and Teochews. The factory was torn down in the mid-eighties after its land was acquired by the authority for redevelopment.

But it is the famous Thieves’ Market, instead of the ice manufacturing factory, that gives Singaporeans the deepest impression about Sungei Road. Established since 1930s, the flea market sells almost everything that ranges from second hand clothing and shoes, audio/video tapes, books, old coins and notes to used cameras, handphones and other electronic items.

A peddler need not pay any rent, and all he needs to do is to lay a mat on the ground and display his products. Some peddlers set up big umbrellas or even tentages to protect from the scorching afternoon sun. The peddling can start as early as 7am but the crowds usually peak in the late evenings.

Sungei Road Thieves Market
Steal a bargain

Sungei Road Thieves Market is one of the best and most popular flea markets in Singapore among tourists and locals alike.

With more than 400 vendors selling everything from vinyl records, cuckoo clocks, tasty food and old cameras to Buddhist amulets and hiking boots, this thriving market has been here since the 1930s and it’s a real shopping institution in Singapore.

Back in the old days, it was the place to go to buy stolen goods – hence the origin of its name – but today, all the items are legitimate and aboveboard. If you’re sick of Singapore’s stylish air-conditioned malls and want a colourful street market where you can steal a bargain or two, then don’t miss this always teeming and exciting flea market.

Sungei Road

Literally River Road is a road in Singapore situated between Serangoon Road and Jalan Besar and runs along the Rochor Canal. The area around Sungei Road was formerly the homes of affluent Europeans and Asians, where many ornately designed buildings were built in its place. From the 1930s to the present, the road has been synonymous with the Thieves' Market, the largest and oldest flea market in Singapore, where the locals can hunt for old bric-a-brac or second-hand goods, as a cheap replacement for one's faulty or lost item. It's also the place where the well-known Sungei Road Laksa, a local spicy noodle soup originated. Sungei Road was also known as "Kek Sng Kio" in hokkien dialect or "结霜桥" in Chinese. The name was made in reference to the Singapore Ice Works which used to exist in the precinct.

Sungei Road got its name because it runs along the banks of the Rochor River (Sungei Rochor), hence its Malay name sungeimeaning "river". Sungei Road start opposite the former Kandang Kerbau police station, hence it was known to the Chinese in Hokkien dialect as "tek kah ma ta chu" meaning "tek kah police station".

In the 1820s, the area around Sungei Road was designated by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, for the homes of affluent Europeans and Asians, when he divided the early settlements according to different ethnic groups. The Arabs and Malays who had settled here previously were relocated to the east of Sungei Road at Kampong Glam. Ornately designed two-storey and three-storey shophouses that came with covered 5-foot (1.5 m) way were built in its place.

At nearby Lavender Street was the attap house of Cho Ah Chee, the carpenter of the ship S.S Indiana in which Raffles travelled to Singapore in 1819. It is believed that Raffles gave the house to Guangdong-born Cho, in recognition of his services at the time of the founding of Singapore. The house has been demolished in the 1970s and a small public park has taken its place.

During the Japanese Occupation, a street market known as Robinson Petang meaning "evening Robinsons", started along the banks of the Rochor Canal where the poor could buy cheap household wares and other merchandise in short supply, akin to what department store Robinson & Co. had sold.

Sungei Rd flea market to be erased, NEA confirms

A week after the authorities announced that one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates would make way for redevelopment, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has confirmed that the iconic flea market at Sungei Road will also be erased forever.

It is the latest casualty in Singapore’s redevelopment plans, this time the Thieves Market will be making way for the new Sungei Road MRT station, which is expected to be completed by 2017.

Last week, the government revealed that Dakota Crescent, a small HDB precinct made of up 50-year old flats, will be demolished as part of its estate renewal plans. (See here: “Please do not tear down Dakota Crescent flats”.) Some experts and conservation activists have called for the estate to be preserved as they say it is part of Singapore public housing history.

Interesting Flea Market in Singapore
My favourite flea market in Singapore is the Sungei Road 'Thieves Market', simply because it is one authentic, unchoreographed place

If you are tired of Singapore's glitzy, air-conditioned mega-malls, head for the Sungei Road flea market to see another face of Singapore.

There are no pretensions here. Here, you'll find bare-chested, pot-bellied old men manning their stalls. Here, they cast their cigarette ash carelessly and make no attempt to put on fake smiles. Nor do they ask those rehearsed may-I-help-you-sir questions.

"$7 only! Wan or not?" is all the man would say. Then suddenly, the bargaining turns into a banter party as the other stall-holders join in, "Don't buy his jade. They are all fake!" It's a family atmosphere here. And I find it very charming.

Scouring for Treasures in Singapore’s Den of Thieves
Welcome, welcome! Come one, come all… Enter the fantastic circus about to unfold. I welcome you to the Den of Thieves. I welcome you to the Thieve’s Market!

Stark under the naked sun beating down your shoulders, you squeeze through an alleyway thick of the bustling buzz of people, trickling in numbers through alleyways, walking over and through stalls of many varied sizes, standing humble against each other, vendors’ open voices fill the air in engaged and enthusiastic haggling over goods and prices as sweat drips down their faces and over their products – some tattered, some new and branded, some irrevocably rare and priceless, some commonplace and mundane.

You fight against crowds, peeking at half-dressed ah pecks fanning themselves under their big umbrellas, their smiles warm and crooked, as one pushes to your hands an amulet, bronze and faded, but beautiful, gleaming under the hot-flashing Singapore sun. “Fifty,” he says and you look back at him and his glittering bald head, the weathered face and the weathered fingers – digits that could tell you stories if you had the time to listen. “Ten,” you say. He shakes his head and points to the amulet.

You finger it and feel its expert carving; opening it, the timeface smiles at you, as old as your grandfather. “Thirty,” the peddler pulls you out of your thoughts and he might as well be as old as your grandfather too, the whiskers on his face as white as the open sky. “Fifteen,” You haggle. He muses for a moment, and then shrugs. “Very good,” he says as he collects his rewards. You thank the man, looking back at your new find, glittering in its time-stained bronze finish, an unexpected treasure of an unexpected adventure.

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Trip Advisor

Basically, this is a sad place where some very poor people sell junk that you don't want to buy. You feel a little like a voyeur walking around and there really is not much to redeem the place from a tourist's perspective. It is a flea market for local people.

We were looking forward to getting to this Market because it is reported to be an authentic Asian Market. What we found was a batch of grubby little stalls selling broken items. Nil ambience. If you require a broken mobile 'phone, you'll find hundreds here. Spare parts for cassette decks .. same. Really was a low point of my latest...

This marked would be a nice change if you are tired of visiting big malls and shopping centers all over Singapore,it is not however a memorable place to visit,just a people watching area,probably because flea markets are the same everywhere