Sunday, May 23, 2010

Market day

In search of a story, Kim and I hit the thieves market last week.  First of all, it's apparently not even known as the thieves market anymore, but now has some sterile name like Sungei Road Free Hawking Zone.  Right.

Secondly, in its heyday, back in the 1930s, the flea market used to be a thriving flea market with the most awesome antiques and wares - Alph told us when he was little, it used to sell things like mine detectors.  The tourism board is certainly touting it as such, but actually going there reveals a rather different reality.

Over time, the vendors there seem to have stagnated and fallen behind, as have their goods, almost as if they were trapped in the 1980s. 

And the stalls, for lack of a better word, are selling mostly junk.

There were stalls full of old remote controls scavenged from old houses and abandoned television sets, booths selling grimy fast food meal toys from back when Colonel Sanders was still in vogue.  One stallholder tried to sell us a pack of condoms that had expired over ten years ago and at another stand, packets of old spa products had been piled in a plastic bin.

Some of the items had the pictures and names of others on them, like a plate printed with a couple's holiday snaps.

There were all kinds of cracked household items from faded plastic trays to clocks and old watch faces and the clothes on sale were jumbled into dirty, sweat-stained piles so that we didn't even venture to look at them.

There were a couple of people hawking new tools and useful used laptops, but the majority of the things were a half-hearted attempt to make some change.

It was a little bit sad how many of them thrust goods at us as we passed, knowing full well that we wouldn't stop to buy them and that they would be back again tomorrow to try someone else.  Some of the stuff looked as if it had been carted to and fro from the vendors houses every day for the past ten years.

Yet, the vendors and stallholders weren't exactly desperate to make sales.  Twice, we had to interrupt one man from his game of checkers to ask prices of things, and he sighed and got up, a look of huffy exasperation on his face.

Other sat, legs hanging over into the drains that line the roads, chattering, smoking or talking on their handphones.  Bargaining was not particularly aggressive, or difficult.

All that said, it's still worth a visit. 

For one, it's something you don't really see anymore in Singapore.  The vendors don't have to pay any rent, so most of them have been strolling over for years and years, content to sit, and chat and let the world go buy whether or not anybody buys their goods. 

This sprightly woman, with amazing skin and the whitest teeth, is in her 80s, and hasn't been making much money, but still laughed and joked easily with us.  And I totally dug her hat which looked like two layers of straw brims worn and beaten down over the years so that they submissively framed her face just as she wished.

No one seems to be below fifty and it's a slice of old Singapore that just isn't that visible anymore.

Amusingly enough, everyone also seems a little crazy.  Apart from the constant bickering and yelling that you're bound to get when you house 200 old people on one street, many of the vendors we spoke to seemed to be murmuring dreamily to themselves.

One uncle, who dropped a glass bottle he was selling and broke it, stood there and stared at it for awhile before turning to us and saying in the most zen fashion: "Welllll.  This is a good time for this thing to happen.  Because if this thing happens, now other things can happen."

Um.  Okay, uncle.

Also, if you look, I mean, really look, and you're willing to poke your fingers into some rusty, dusty piles of jewellery, you can come away with some amazing bargains.  (And also if you're willing to look past the fact that the ring may have once belonged to someone in the cult of Kaili and will send the whole cast of Help! tumbling down upon you...)

Kim and I spent two days there and we both bought handfuls of vintage-looking rings that you probably wouldn't find elsewhere, and each at nothing more than $3.  I bought Dhany an antique copper coloured cigarette case for $3 as well, and while everything could really use a thorough cleaning, you can't argue with prices that good.

Kim also found this amazing woven-basket barrel bag with the prettiest lining and bargained it down to $15 from $20 in less than a minute.  (Her style is so funky I could make a whole blog out of her outfits alone.)

If you can brave the searing heat, the thieves - ahem - I mean, the Sungei Road Free Hawking Zone is open from 1pm to 7pm daily at Sungei Road.

I'd recommend that you check it out, even if it's just to enjoy the atmosphere of the place.  There's definitely a story here, even if it's one the mainstream press isn't really interested in.

Given at all the proprietors are getting on in years and no younger people seem to want to set up shop there, who knows how long more it'll be around?

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails