Sungei Road Thieves' Market: The final weeks

Sungei Road Thieves' Market: The final weeks

As time runs out for the Sungei Road Thieves' Market, Gaya Chandramohan visited the market over several weeks to document the site before it is closed for future development.

Vendor at the Sungei Road market
A Sungei Road vendor with his wares. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: For eight decades, the lanes of Sungei Road's Thieves Market were a second home for the vendors and their secondhand wares.

Come Monday (Jul 10), the small enclave of peddlers will lay down mats for their wares for the last time.

Some might say it was already a mere shadow of its former self: As a market regular myself, I saw it shrink to half of its original size over the last six years or so.

Market operating out of smaller space after area fenced off
The Sungei Road market has been operating out of a smaller space since the area was fenced off for construction work. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

But the vendors and market regulars were still the same colourful, feisty characters.

Zeng Guo Yuan and his parrot at Sungei Road market
Former businessman and former election hopeful Zeng Guoyuan spotted with his parrot at the Sungei Road market before its closure. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

And as crowds descended on the market on its final weekend, at least one hopeful haggler got a good telling-off as he tried to angle for a closing-day discount.

"You want it for S$10? No way," the vendor hollered. "You don’t want, it’s okay. I can sell this for a better price elsewhere!”

Angry Sungei Road vendor yelling at haggling customers
A Sungei Road vendor barely conceals his annoyance with a customer who haggled for a larger discount. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

An elderly lady selling wares at Sungei Road Market
An elderly vendor negotiating a deal with her customer. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Nor did the saltier vendors have time for the throngs hoping to document its last days. Many were reluctant to speak to us, and even the sight of our camera drew glares. 

Vendor at Sungei Road glaring at camera
A vendor at Sungei Road glares at the camera. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Sungei Road vendor glances at camera
A vendor glances up at the camera while attending to a customer. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

But for the most part, it was serious business as usual as the vendors made their final sales at Sungei Road. 

Fierce Sungei Road market vendor talking to a customer
(Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

One vendor broke into a broad smile as he closed a deal on a pair of jeans.

Sungei Road market vendor all smiles after sale
A Sungei Road market vendor is all smiles after closing a sale. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Even in its final weeks, every imaginable thing you could think of was on a tarp somewhere on the asphalt road. A rusty old Minolta film camera? Pretty ubiquitous. Just the business end of an old washing machine motor? You got it. A pair of gold limited-edition Adidas sneakers? They are still patiently waiting in a pile somewhere.

Gold Adidas sneakers for sale at Sungei Road market

For 25-year-old professional photographer Ng Wei Jiang, his foray into his craft began with cameras he picked up at the iconic market.

"I have bought cameras here, brought broken ones to be fixed," he told Channel NewsAsia.

"Even though a lot of the things you can find here are not in the best condition, there is a bit of character in every piece.

"That is lacking everywhere else in Singapore because it is too polished."

Longkang dealings at Sungei Road
This drain doubles as a bench for vendors hawking their wares along one of the lanes off Sungei Road. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Self-proclaimed “heritage freak” Victor Tang has frequented the Thieves' Market for more than 40 years now, he told Channel NewsAsia.

He first accompanied his father to the market at the age of six – and for him, the thought of the market closing was inconceivable.

Sungei Road vendor lost in thought
A Sungei Road vendor lost in thought. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

"When I was a flight engineer and traveled all over the world, I saw every major city and their flea markets. It does not make sense to close such a rich part of Singapore’s history. I am very sad about the place closing,” he said.

Last weekend at Sungei Road market
The last weekend of Sungei Road market's operations. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Mr Tang, who also restores antique clocks and telephones, depends on the vendors of the flea market for parts that are usually only available overseas. The vendors often saved fragments they knew he would need as well.

Sungei Road vendor smokes while awaiting customers
A vendor takes a smoke break while waiting for customers. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

"I just had to come down one last time to document the place where I have childhood memories. Closing them down is a very cruel thing to do," he said.

"But what to do? All good things must come to an end."

Sungei Road market vendor folding his tarps
(Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

A Vendor wrestles with her shelter tarp
(Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)