Sungei Road Thieves’ Market – Singapore’s Oldest Flea Market

Ask any Singaporean and they should be able to tell you where the “Thieves’ market” is in Singapore.(The name comes from an old adage from the 1970’s that purports that if you ever “lost” anything,  you could probably find it for sale there the next day). A stone’s throw from Sim Lim square, it is 2 or 3 lanes of road situated neatly around the Rochor area.

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To me, going there with a camera seemed to be a perfect mix of old world charm and interesting old people shots (nothing shouts character like a sepia tinted close up of a wrinkly old man with a cigarette in his mouth). Loading up my trusty 28-75mm lens, I called up a buddy and we set off for the area on foot. 

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One thing that doesn’t translate in photos is the smell of the place. It’s not outstandingly off-putting, but more of a pervasive musk you get from having spent time with a grandparent. It smelt like age and missed opportunities to me. Endless rows of canvas sheets filled with perfectly random knick knacks were each watched over by a sometimes scowling and mainly bored “shop owner”.

Now here’s the strange thing. You would think that this would be a photo enthusiasts dream. Interesting random objects coupled with old interesting faces ,would no doubt keep your shutter finger busy.

But no.

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The deeper we got into the place, the harder it seemed for us to raise our lenses to our face to frame a picture. Perhaps it was the fear of being chewed out by a shop owner. Or perhaps it was out of respect for these old people who obviously had had a hard life peddling wares to such a age when they should be relaxing and enjoying their golden years.

But still, we were there to take pictures. And when it wasn’t possible for us to be subtle with our picture taking,  we figured out another way to get that interesting close up of the wares/people (My ever resourceful companion realized that this would be a perfect time to use our remote smartphone functions on our cameras). Strategically slinging our cameras level over our shoulders, we would put up the perfect ruse of a over occupied handphone user walking around with his attention on his handphone as we clicked away remotely on them.

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At the end of the day we ended up with some interesting shots, some blur, some off centre. But the one that spoke to me was this one.

The old lady sitting in the center of her mess of wares for sale. She seemed lost,melancholic, perhaps due to having outlived her usefulness in life. But like anything at the Thieves’ market, nothing is really useless, as what may seem to be junk to you , may actually be of use and purpose to others.

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To see more of Paul Goh's pictures and to enquire about the photographic services he provides, visit his Facebook Page: facebook.com/relativelyrelaxedstudio

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