90-year-old former Sungei Road Market vendor: “I cannot even earn enough for my daily cup of coffee” at Chinatown

Photo: Ryan G

90-year-old Mr Tang Kong Yuen has reported that he has yet to make a sale at his new Chinatown Market stall despite being there for the past two weeks since he moved out of Sungei Road Market which is to be closed down for demolition tomorrow.

The first-generation hawker is one of 11 others who was offered a full rental subsidy for the first year at Chinatown market. He makes a living selling gemstones, power tools, old mobile phones and the like.

In speaking to TODAY, he said:

“Back at the Sungei Road Market, I could earn about S$50 to S$60 a day without even batting an eyelid. Now, I cannot even earn enough for my daily cup of coffee.”

Another vendor who had operated at Sungei Road Market for 20 years, Mr Hew Beong Fah said that he misses the “good old days” at the open-air Market as opposed to his new stall at Chinatown Complex:

“There is not much of a crowd here… On a good day, can earn about S$100, but it really depends. Most days I get nothing. Of course I prefer Sungei Road, there will usually be a crowd. But I will probably stay here for a year.”

Madam Tan Guo Mei, an antiques vendor who used to sell her wares at Sungei Road Market for half a decade echoed her old neighbours’ sentiments and said:

“If you scatter us, one to the east, another to the west, it’s very difficult to do business. It won’t work.”

70-year-old Mr Chin Kim Boh has been returning to Sungei Road to sell his wares during the Market’s final days despite having been allocated a stall at Golden Mile Food Centre. He has been operating at the Food Center for a month.

Like the others who have moved out of Sungei Road, Mr Chin, too, is finding it difficult to attract customers at his new stall:

“It (his new stall) is hidden right at the back, people say customers just look at the front and stop. I am not sure either.
“I did not expect it to be like that because when I first visited, it looked crowded, but I guess people just come here for a meal and go back to work. Or maybe, my wares are more suitable for the crowd at Thieves’ Market.”

He said that he returned to Sungei Road Market in its last days as all his friends are there:

“We know one another well and buy items off each other. It is easier to pass the time here, I can always walk around, look around, talk to people. Time passes very slowly (at the new shop) and I spent a lot of time looking at the mobile phone…My neighbours are mostly busy doing business in their own shop.”

Sungei Road Market has existed as Singapore’s oldest and largest flea market since it was started eight decades ago, in the 1930s.

The authorities who have earmarked Sungei Road Market’s plot for immediate demolition and redevelopment have rejected proposals to collectively relocate the market to another area so as to preserve the market’s rich history and heritage.

Activists from the Association For Recycling Of Second Hand Goods released a statement today inviting all to come and witness the closing hour of Sungei Road Market tomorrow, 10 July 2017, at Larut Road from 7.30pm.
The President of the Association will make an announcement on the group’s plans and take questions.


  1. Oh dear. Can I get him coffee vouchers at Ya Kun with a set meal thrown in? Sometimes when I read all this stuff, I wonder how I can bless them.

  2. “If you scatter us, one to the east, another to the west, it’s very difficult to do business. It won’t work.” I GUESS THAT THE WHOLE POINT..SIR

  3. Back at the Sungei Road Market, I could earn about S$50 to S$60 a day without even batting an eyelid. Now, I cannot even earn enough for my daily cup of coffee.

  4. google tag or 4 square them or smtg…. give them an online presence…at least those who are interested in these knick-knacks or items, know where to find them wherever they go.

    • It’s very obvious, because they don’t pay rent…that many stalls at market places and Food courts are empty, devoid of renters due to current economic conditions. With just one sale of this block of land, the SLA or whichever government agency responsible for it will see millions of dollars immediately going to their coffers, something they cannot see even if those Hawkers are to spent the next millennium selling their products there…it’s not about progress, it’s about ‘Money’….

    • They could have relocated everyone somewhere else or at least evalauted the feasibility of doing this – the underlying attraction was the variety of vendors – they could not even do this as a basic courtesy. They is def no concern about the human/social/tourism element in decisions – just economic ones. Killing the “soul” of SG gradually.

  5. It’s true. If u scattered them all over places, nobody will deliberately search for them all over places. Many pple window shopping n happen something they like, they purchase it. If u ask me to search for them all over places, it might b wasting time coz the things might not suit me. These pple must stick together to sell 2nd hand items

    • Old ppl also need money. Earned by ourselves feel very secure and times spended are healthy. Do you want more old beggars in the street.Old ppl are also human beings! When one’s get old then they will understand what we call “Time” for the old ppl.

    • Of course you need money, all of us do, if you have “proud to be of service to my parents” type of children and or savings you are ok and can enjoy your time doing what you want. May be voluntary work or engage in hobbies. However if you trying to eat Len a living at 90, that is the biggest black mark on our society. We need to back track, these old people are the ones who laid the foundation for us, they need to die happy and peacefully with their dignity intact, Again I say SHAME on US.

    • Sorry Ken, we all have a joint responsibility when it comes to our old, young and other helpless sectors of society, we were brought up with these values, what happened to our caring and loving societies, he can’t even earn enough to buy a cup of coffee??????. Surely those of us recently retired can start some voluntary organisation to help the Senior Citizens because tomorrow it will be our turn.

    • Mary Saroja Reynard,Good Afternoon. You are very kind but must united. Give our older Gen. a better living today for Tomorrow is a stranger to the world. Maybe the Creactor need them back to his Kingdom, cherish their short time with their Love one.The Gov’t should impose Age limit for the vendors- above 60 yrs can have stalls each.

    • Hello Seng Kieth, this is being practical, we must give old people their dignity, freedom and ability to make choices. But as we get older our physical and mental abilities diminish so there has to be people with patience and time to give a little help to support the families and the government.
      In his case, he may do this because that is all he knows on how to spend his time or it may be his living. Whatever it is he and many like him can help himself and others. He can go to schools with an interpreter to tell them about his life, A voluntary group of multifaith younger pensioners can meet at a hall where people can hold stalls for them to offer their knowledge services or wares. This can be a place where he can have meals, meet other people etc
      Anyone has what it takes to do this??
      If not let it be, let the beauty of Singapore just be on the surface, and hide these real social issues.

  6. These vendor are offered full rental subsidy FOR THE FIRST YEAR!!! so after 1st year, they have to start to pay rental when now they can’t even earn a cup of coffee how to pay rental. It is tragedy waiting to happen if the whites are not doing anything now. Isn’t it the govt job to anticipate bad things and to deal with them before it happen?

  7. The stall holder are right.. It wont work as they are selling second hand. One stall will not attract people to their stall.. They can only have business if they are a big cluster.. People will go and walk walk and see what they could treasure hunt in different stall in the cluster.. Unfortunately, we had scholars of silver spoob that doesnt understand the spirit of how poor market man work..

  8. I remember many years ago the Singapore government gave hell lots of reasons to demolish the historical Stamford House but see what happened now? Even the lovely red bricked National Library was not preserved. It’s such a waste to remove such heritage for some idiotic reasons.

  9. Government should reconsider to provide another location for vendors nearby so as to preserve the historic , unique market flea that encompasses the traces of all walks of lives from past to present for citizens and tourists..

    He is right about it.. by disbanding the vendors and locating in different area will not work anymore.. as not everyone will appreciate the things they sold esp in the heartlands.

    only by centralising the vendors will draw the customers who want to seek unique and cheap stuff as the customers know the channel to find them..

  10. These Hawkers are the ppl lost in time markets.Some items you can’t even or never seen in any shops.Walking around this place was like time travel to the past.

  11. Well the govt only care for people who can contribute money to them. Too bad if u did when u are younger, u have outlive your usefulness to this govt. well people always get what they voted for. Remember that. And hope u never grow old.

  12. I feel sad for these poor folks and we cannot even help them because we are just ordinary citizens. The ones in power should help but instead “killed” off their livelihood.

  13. It would appear, that the only heritage here to stay in Singapore is the PAP Government. That’s priority for the ruling government. Full and Final, with 70% endorsement.

    • You won’t be saying that if those old folk sellers are your family members! Govert close down to build more houses or mrt
      lines? Are these new facilities more important than the daily meal of those old folks. Are government going to pay them if they lost their daily income?

  14. That’s exactly what our current government calibre is – rigid scholars functioning in their own box. Ignoring the galang guni flea market heritage is one, pulling the plug on these aged vendors is mindless, heartless. Earning a living is important for the aged vendors, but crucial to this is their livelihood which is taken away by perhaps just one or two rigid scholars. I am sad in our government of today, nobody has the conviction to further nation build anymore.

  15. All d rejected place was given to them ,wer ter no pples flow ,d worst part their saving $$$ all drain ,hope all stand up together at Golden mile tower,to grow best by our public powerful pples help ,no Giro be Hero in live best

  16. Dear Sir/Mdm,

    On Behalf of the Association For Recycling Of Second Hand Goods, we would like to thank you all for the 80 years of support to the Sungei Road Market.

    We would like to invite everyone to come and witness the closing hour of this historic and heritage market on the 10th July (Monday) at 7.30pm at Larut Road.

    The President of the Association will be making an announcement on their plans and taking any questions.

    Please come and support them.


    Statement by
    Association For The Recycling of Second Hand Goods

    * Please don’t just see see look look & take pictures. Come earlier. Purchase from the vendors as this is also an encouragement and support for them.

    A chance to strike a conversation with a stranger – talk about the issues involved with the closure of the market. Share & discourse!

  17. Sungei Rd Market will relaunch on 15 July at Golden Mile Tower Level Six, 12pm-730pm.

    Via People’s Voice for Save The Sungei Rd Market.

  18. Sungei road association organise Hong Lim Park – praise LHL. cry father cry mother and wail the innocence of Dear leader. Condemn and castigate the two siblings – assassinate their characters. Tomorrow the govt agency concerned will suddenly find a new place for them again – due to the kindness and magnanimity of PAP.

  19. Since I am here in Singapore I have observed how many many good old things are destroyed and nobody knows why. Preservation makes people belonging to Singapore, roots are essential to grow. Sungai Road is as much a root as OR.

  20. to the govt : I’m not interested in the stupid elected president nor am I interested in the equally stupid oxley rd nonsense, what I want to know is why have you decided to demolish part of our history, our heritage and our national identity?

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