Brennan Chan (Thieves/Sungei Road Flea Market)

To all nos­tal­gia lovers and those who liked our pre­vi­ous post on Thieves’ Mar­ket, we are bring­ing the spot­light onto some­one who has been fol­low­ing the devel­op­ments of the mar­ket and hope­ful­ly from his insight, we can learn more about, pos­si­bly the last junk­yard sale in Sin­ga­pore.

We have Bren­nan Chan here today who is an Archi­tect by prac­tice and he would like to share his thoughts about the place after read­ing our post on it.

Brennan’s heart­felt feel­ings on Thieves’:

A brief his­to­ry of the Sungei Road Flea Mar­ket dates us back to 1930s. The mar­ket gained its promi­nence because most of the goods sold here were acquired through ille­git­i­mate means but more impor­tant­ly, they pro­vid­ed the essen­tial needs to the com­mu­ni­ty back then. Back then, army sur­plus goods that includ­ed para­chutes, rain­coats were sold. Soon, elec­tri­cal appli­ances that were either stolen smug­gled or were fac­to­ry rejects appeared. After bring­ing life and bus­tle into the street for more than half a cen­tu­ry, the then-flea/thieves mar­ket began to fade away from the 1980s.

The ‘tight squeeze’ encoun­tered in Sungei Road actu­al­ly reveals a degree of inter­nal dis­ci­pline at work. The mar­ket com­mu­ni­ty cur­rent­ly accom­mo­dates a degree of sur­veil­lance and con­trol in exchange of for its con­tin­ued exis­tence and free­dom of harass­ment from author­i­ties. The mar­ket escapes offi­cial atten­tion from the near­by police sta­tions and is indif­fer­ent to this dis­re­gard for offi­cial reg­u­la­tion of state prop­er­ty. It is also a place where you can sell your items with­out a license.

The mar­ket rep­re­sents a vibrant and self sus­tain­ing entre­pre­neur­ial frame­work con­trary to being the’ slum in the city’. The flea mar­ket here is an exam­ple of com­mu­ni­ty empow­er­ment where users par­tic­i­pate uncon­scious­ly with their imme­di­ate sur­round­ings. We have to under­stand that the ‘tight squeeze’ that has become of today is a con­sol­i­da­tion of his­tor­i­cal rich­ness of events that many of us do not under­stand.

It is here that infor­mal, trust and flex­i­bil­i­ty exist and man­i­fests into a cohe­sion com­mu­nal expe­ri­ence allow­ing peo­ple to make an impact on the site to give sense of belong­ing and iden­ti­ty. It is the over-lay­er­ing of dif­fer­ent individual’s inter­ven­tion that gives the mar­ket a dynam­ic impact.

Where land is scarce in Sin­ga­pore, I firm­ly believe such spaces are almost non-exis­tent in the cur­rent con­tem­po­rary soci­ety we are in.

Put it blunt­ly, Sungei Road’s thieves mar­ket is the ONLY place left in Sin­ga­pore where actu­al inter­ac­tion actu­al­ly occurs. The Sungei Road Thieves Mar­ket is a soci­ety that through appro­pri­a­tion of spaces is the ves­sel in which per­son­al mem­o­ries and col­lec­tive mem­o­ries are forged.

I thought it might be good if peo­ple were to give more thoughts to the place and see it as a chal­lenge to acco­mo­date the exist­ing ven­dors and inte­grate it with what­ev­er future expan­sion the gov­ern­ment is think­ing.

All infor­ma­tion and pic­tures are pro­vid­ed by Bren­nan. To those who would like to share their thoughts and feel­ings on nos­tal­gic places in Sin­ga­pore, feel free to write in to us!


  • Adam Yap

    April 25, 2012

    I have been going to Sungei Rd Mar­ket since 1990, where I was intro­duced to it by my Poly­tech­nic design lec­tur­er. Named ‘Kiat Sng Kio’ in Hokkien, mean­ing iced/frozen bridge, as there was an ice-mak­ing fac­to­ry near­by the canal which had since demol­ished, it is a place there any­thing and every­thing you think of is there. Though it looks hap­haz­ard, it is not: many of the ‘stalls’ are manned by peo­ple who are there many years. I bought from long-time ‘stall oper­a­tors’ that nev­er change their spots. Now that the upcom­ing Sungei Road MRT on the Cir­cle Line is con­struct­ing, the avail­able spaces have dwin­dled into half, and only old-timers are left ply­ing their wares. It is tru­ly a ‘free enter­prise’, and buy­ing and sell­ing involve much price hag­gling and some­times loud dis­missals from ‘stall oper­a­tors’ to poten­tial buy­ers when the price is not right. Being just right next to the MRT sta­tion, I fear once the MRT sta­tion is up and run­ning, ‘Kiat Sng Kio’ will not be there any­more…

  • Brennan Chan

    April 25, 2012

    It is real­ly dis­heart­en­ing to know it will soon be gone one day.

  • Brennan Chan

    April 27, 2012

    it is more than just a mar­ket real­ly. if peo­ple were to ful­ly under­stand and appre­ci­ate this place. are u in the design line as well? Adam?

  • chong hee

    May 5, 2012

    with the new MRT in con­struc­tion, where are the stalls now? any­one knows?

    • derek

      May 9, 2012

      hi chong hee,

      i just head­ed down yes­ter­day (8 may) and the stalls are still there along pitt street. it’s just that the space is much less­er than what they had orig­i­nal­ly. can’t be sure that they will be around for a much longer time though.

      hope this helps.



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