The last of its kind, the Sungei Road Thieves Market’s execution date has been set. The 80 year-old market is now living through its final days; a humble closure for her prideful residents.
The Goods and the Do-Gooders
From vinyl records and sepia-toned photos of old film stars, to dusted jewellery and Neolithic typewriters. These are just surface of the range of goods sold by the equally diverse proud family of peddlers. Other than second-hand goods, repaired goods make up the bulk of the selling stock. The modesty of the uncles and aunties hides long lost trade skills and the ‘archaic’ ability to mend broken goods. Self-taught and full of pride, they do what they do best. The market is also known as ‘Robinson Petang’, a clever play on a parallel to the upmarket department store, and for good reason as well. Goods sold here are not only cheap, but can be bargained down too, reliving the naturalistic iconic Singaporean desire to bargain. The ‘kampong’ spirit, celebrated in theory but tabooed in execution in modern Singapore, runs deep within the tributaries and deltas of the market’s lanes. ‘Kopi-O’ bags hang humbly on the edges of corrugated metal, used coffee shop umbrellas stand limply over shared tarps, shading the sellers whilst they exchange shared laughs.
Toothy-grins on the wrinkled faces of these forgotten people greeted buyers browsing their no-frills attached displays. Behind that, lies their deflated spirit, from decades of unheard pleas to save their livelihood. Their protests and petitions hold hope in a crass illusion of a voice heard by the agencies tearing them down. In the market’s centre, a small board stands proudly, beaming with the signatures of peddlers, visitors, and even foreigners, petitioning to save their ‘pariah’ street. Now, vendors reminisce the golden age of the market, which spanned the huge lawns of both sides of the now idle lanes. Even through its infamous period, where stolen and illegal goods would be sold; hence the moniker of ‘thieves’ market, the unassuming living soul of the market was strong and stubborn. Its current state, nothing more than a disparate construction of forlorn memory. Vendors make the most of the darling’s last days, praying for an institutional miracle.
For Memory’s Sake
A stroll at the market leaves one poignant, with insight into the joie de vivre of the unpretentious. The moments captured in stills, resonant of a time simpler and overlooked. Heritage and nostalgia are concepts intertwined, but never as evocatively expressed than of those who lived in her streets.
Delon, Nathalia, and Willy shot all the images above with the OOWA 15 mm and 75 mm lenses.