5 treasures under $5 from Sungei Road thieves' market
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Singapore houses the oldest flea market in town. Sungei Road, so named for its location along the banks of the Rochor River ("sungei" means "river" in Malay), is home to the infamous Thieves' Market. No, you're not likely to find shady contraband or your missing stereo being hawked here. The name's a throwback to the 1930s when it first started as a meeting point for criminals to hock their stolen wares. In fact, the rumor is that items and supplies looted from the British army would mysteriously find their way to Sungei Road before the colonial army withdrew in the 1960s.
Today, the Sungei Road Thieves' Market is the regular gathering ground for vendors selling what can only be described collectively as bric-a-brac: old electrical goods, clothing and accessories, shoes, vinyl records and cassettes, CD/VCDs, books, old souvenirs, watches, amulets, toys, household items, decorative objects, kitchenware, old books and magazines, yellowed photos and so on. You name anything remotely vintage or retro and you'll probably find it here.
The retro hunting ground
Why do we love it? It's hot, crowded, messy as hell, and utterly noisy with music blaring from dusty old stereos, but there's a carnival atmosphere in the air, where prospective buyers are all eying the assorted wares spread out on mats and tarpaulin sheets. There's no organization, and since there's no license needed, the sellers are as diverse as the items on display -- some will shrug and sell anything on their mat for mere cents, while others will quote ridiculous prices for that vintage clock which they swear by their children would fetch tens of thousands in Europe.
But more importantly, there are vintage and bargain hunters out in droves, looking for rare items in the chaos. Armed with a fistful of dollars, we try out luck as treasure-hunters with the aim of finding five finds under S$5 dollars.
Caveat: We're not vintage experts or antique dealers -- the haphazard method we decided on was to rummage among the wares and try to identify possibly valuable items with a limit of S$5 each. And before you turn loose your inner Indiana Jones, bear in mind there are no receipts, no refunds and vendors don't appear regularly from week to week. But it's still great fun.
George Lucas in Love DVD: We found this buried in a pile of old DVDs, and the Star Wars nerd in us recognized it as the homage spoof flick of Lucas by independent director Joe Nussbaum. A look at Amazon shows the title retailing new for US$23.98 and used from US$12.21. Our price -- S$4, haggled down hard from S$10 from a smiley "Uncle Ho."
Plastic Holga camera in so-so condition: This was openly displayed, which we'd have missed without a second glance given the bits of ratty velcro hanging out and the dust-coated lens. Lomography enthusiasts would recognize it immediately as the Holga 120 SF (with flash), made famous for producing blurry pictures and light leaks. It's probably about ten years old and not sold anymore but the new version, the Holga CFN 120, retails for US$70. Our price -- S$5, another hard struggle to bring it down from the original S$50 asking price.
Fraser & Neave orange soda bottle: Ah, the memories this brings back. Memorabilia collectors would love this F&N icon on their display cabinets, and we found it from a seller of collectible bottles (mainly Coca-Cola and the like). A few local classifieds wants S$38 for a good condition specimen. Our price -- S$3.
The Conan Doyle Stories, circa 1952: We dug this dusty tome up from a mountain of old books (mostly school textbooks and non-fiction stuff) and took a chance on it, seeing as we're fans of the old Sherlock Holmes whodunnits. We couldn't find the exact match anywhere online, but eBay UK has various listings for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books from the fifties going anywhere from £1.99 to £14.99. Our price -- a single Singapore dollar.
Teresa Teng "Yoru No Jyoukyakau" vinyl album from Japan: This was a shot in the dark as we're neither vinyl collectors nor familiar with Japanese albums. But it's by the Chinese queen of romance ballads -- she of karaoke classics like "When Will You Return?" (何日君再來) and "The Moon Represents My Heart" (月亮代表我的心) -- so we pulled it out from the big box of old vinyl records and started haggling. By chance, we found the same album on eBay for US$89.99 from a Japanese seller. Our price -- S$2. Score!
If you know the real value of our finds, drop us a line. Or share with us your own hunting spoils from Sungei Road.
Sungei Road thieves' market
Along Jalan Besar near Sungei Road, between Kelantan Road and Weld Road
Open daily from 11am to 7pm (most stalls start packing up from 5pm onwards)