SINGAPORE: Every morning, 70-year-old Chin Kin Bon lays out his wares - porcelain bowls, vases, bead bracelets - at Sungei Road flea market. He's been doing so for more than 20 years, sometimes with his wife by his side.
But for him and others who have made the flea market - also known as Thieves' Market - home, it will soon be the end of the road. By mid-July, the buzz of the city-state's largest and oldest flea market will be no longer as the space makes way for residential developments.
"Having been here for so long, of course there's a sense of loss,” Mr Chin said in Mandarin. “And of course it's a good place, since you can do business without paying rent."
"I can’t bear to leave,” added fellow vendor Lim Teck Nam in Mandarin. “Ultimately we have a connection to Sungei Road, a relationship - we talk to our customers, make friends with them. They'll miss us, and we'll also miss them."
STEPPING UP ASSISTANCE
In April, Government officers met with the street vendors to help them find ways to carry on their trade. Since then, 44 have accepted assistance, according to a multi-agency news release on Friday (May 12), including 20 who will be taking up lock-up stalls at places like Chinatown Market, North Bridge Road Market and Food Centre, and Upper Cross Street Market.
"We stand ready to help any Sungei Road Hawking Zone user in getting a hawker stall or a flea market stall to continue their trade," said NEA director (Food and Environmental Hygiene Department) Adeline Leong, referring to the official name of the flea market.
Mr Chin's next stop will be a 80 sqm-by-40sqm space at Golden Mile Complex. He will now have to pay S$400 in rent each month, something he is slowly coming to terms with.
"Compared to the current market rate, the S$400 is considered alright, I can accept it,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “But even if I can accept it, others might not be able to. Everyone has their own circumstances. Who knows, after a while I might not be able to continue.”
The 11 original market permit holders will get a full subsidy on rent for the first year - and half for the second. Others are exploring selling their goods at alternative flea markets, while there are those who are in the midst of getting financial aid with 15 being given ComCare assistance.
As of May 11, Workforce Singapore said it is helping three street vendors find other forms of employment. About 70 of them said they do not require any assistance as they felt they could support themselves or find other jobs on their own.
Still, Mr Chin said many are undecided about receiving assistance and are worried about their future.
"It's great that we have a place to do business after we move out, but the problem is whether it's sustainable - that's one of the most important things and what everyone’s thinking about,” he said. “If you go somewhere new but can't afford it, then you just can't carry on. And the other thing is that with the entire market scattered, the crowds and customers will be less."
Ultimately, for the Sungei Road veterans, there's no time to think about bargaining for a better deal.
"To put it bluntly, at my age, I might be gone tomorrow,” Mr Lim said. “So I don't want to think so far ahead, I just want to live one day at a time."
"In the end it comes down to one thing,” Mr Chin added. “If I'm hungry, I need to eat. If I want to eat, I need to work."