Sunday, March 26, 2017

Goodbye Sungei Road / Robinson Petang / Thieves' Market finally ?

It was a market in the 1930's known to the locals as "Robinson Petang" or Evening Robinson, a reference to the once famous and upmarket Robinson store, but in the case of this open air market, it caters to the working class or the poor or for those looking for a "steal" or bargain. Another consideration was usually the working class can only shop after they finish work in the late afternoon, hence "petang" where brisk business takes place from 3 pm till dusk. It gain another more notorious  name as the Thieves' Market, not only for the "steal" or bargain that can be made there, but this name was further cast in stone post Japanese occupation, where it saw most of the looted goods being hawked and that included army surpluses, such as radio, army stretchers, uniforms, tents, mechanical parts, electronics, etc. In the 1970's it was also a tourist attraction and a place for antique hunting or bargain buys. Today, you can still find the Singapore Armed Forces uniform for sale still.

Sungei Road / Robinson Petang 1935

The end of an area

In various newspaper reports dated 1982, saw its closure officially for the then 161 license traders (and unknown number of unlicensed traders) since it started said 50 years ago and in fact the Ministry of Environment workers tore down the stores but yet Sungei Road market refused to disappear totally from Singapore's social history, with reports of its revival again as early as 1985.

Sungei Road Market (with Rochore River and New Singapore Ice Works in picture
(source: National Archives of Singapore) 

Sungei Road Market
(source: National Archives of Singapore) 

Sungei Road Market e
(source: National Archives of Singapore) 

Sungei Road Market stalls been demolished
(source: NewspaperSG) 

A future for Sungei Road Market aka Robinson Petang aka Thieves' Market ?

My recent visits to Sungei Road shows me a small group of stall holders holding on stubbornly to their trade that they have been actively done for many years despite evidence of the development taking place around them including the impending opening of the MRT station. This break neck pace of development leaves no room for this hawkers to continue anymore within the area, as it is slated for residential development. Future generation will remember this place only in photographs, personal blogs and online documentation by National Heritage Board's

Below are some of the pictures of the place i took this year. For the younger generation who never visited Sungei Road Market and grew up spending their time in malls and online shopping, this place will not likely be missed and seems more like a nostalgic novelty. However harsh that may sound, the fact remains - another chapter of Singapore's interesting past is coming to a close, replaced by more housing to cater for people's aspiration for urban living.


Untitled. (1935. October 13). The Straits Times
Market of Surprises.(1949, September 22). The Straits Times, page 9
Robinson Petang. (1953, October 2). The Straits Times, page 4
Thieves Market goes off the map. (1982, August 11). The Straits Times, page 8
"Robinson" Petang tinggal kenangan. (1986, July 30). Berita Harian, page 10
Sungei Road hidup kembali, (1985, October 1). Berita Harian, page 8

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