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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