July 30, 2008

inSingapore: NLB’s Sungei Road Heritage Trail

Posted in Travel and Culture tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:32 pm by myrlinn

Last Saturday (July 26th), the National Library Board organised a programme they call AsPI Heritage Down Memory Lane. I’ve been in Singapore many years, but I really haven’t explored the city that much, so it was a good opportunity for me. Plus, I’ve always loved heritage trails and walking tours, so when I read about the visit to Sungei Road,  I had to sign up!

As usual, I’m way too lazy to go into a long story. So I’ll just mention some of the highlights, and what connected with me on a personal level:

Second-hand dealer

Our first stop: “shop” off Upper Weld Road to visit a second-hand dealer, Mr Tan (pictured below with a truncheon).

He was waiting for us at the “entrance” to his shop (actually the back door of a shop house). There were a few containers of old things at his feet. Typical junk shop things — old jewellery, coin-boxes, tins, photographs, household items, etc. He showed a few trays he said belonged to the family of the late Mr Lim Boon Keng.  Inside, it was chock-a-block with old and not-so-old stuff. My brother was fascinated with the old copies of the New Statesman we found piled on a table. The table fan shown below brought back nostalgic memories of when I was young. We used fans like this one – with its cream body and green blades – many years ago.


Next stop: Mr Lam, the cobbler. Mr Lam is probably one of Singapore’s oldest roadside cobblers. He can be found plying his trade beside Rochor Canal Road. A lovely man, ever ready to answer questions. While we were there, a caucasian came by with a pair of shoes. Turned out Mr Lam had previously done some work for him and he had come back with another pair of shoes.


Sungei Road Flea Market

Just before we were given some time to wander the Sungei Road flea market on our own, Joe Mureno (I hope I got the spelling right) who used to live in the Sungei Road area regaled us with his memories of the area. The part that really touched me: Picturing little boys going there every day to check out the happenings at the ice house which used to be there.  I can just see them staring in fascination by ice being broken into blocks and then sold to customers. So evocative of innocence, though from what Joe said, those same boys were also the same rascals who “collected” things like Jaguar figures off cars to sell!

Sungei Road flea market or thieves’ market itself is a rather haphazard collection of stalls manned mainly by men, quite a few of them rather rough-looking. What’s appealing about the market, to my eye, is that it hasn’t been made appealing. No fancy displays, just stuff laid out on sheets. You’ll have to have a very good eye indeed to spot good stuff among all the junk, but that’s part of the fun of going there. That, and the bargaining.

Need to say this:

Thumbs up to the National Library staff for all the hard work they put into the event — arranging talks, lunch, coffee and activities. And what I most appreciate: that they really made an effort to go round saying hi to the participants, chatting a little with them.

More info on Sungei Road:

And, because I haven’t really provided much info here, here are a few links for those who want to know more about the Sungei Road market:

Singapore Infopedia – Sungei Road

Wikipedia – Sungei Road

Singaporesights.com- Sungei Road

Interesting Flea Market in Singapore – Sungei Road ‘Thieves Market’

AsiaOne.com – Thieves’ market now pirates’ market? – News story on the selling of pirated CDs and DVDs at the market. Obviously a popular item there, as I saw quite a few vendors selling them when I went last Saturday.


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