“This is where my house use to be”, father first points to an empty plot of grass at the other end of Sungei Rd where a dilapidated shophouse may have stood decades ago, and then at an ageing first-generation HDB flat along Weld Rd: “That’s where kaofu used to stay when he was still around.”
Rochor is the soul of father’s memory, as it is for the many older folks, in their flora clothing and hunched backs, that lament the passing of stone, brick and memory in the interminable progress of this island. They are the living grave stones of the forgotten past, now buried under the concrete and steel of new MRT lines and shopping malls. Where even Rochor Centre, once a hallmark of development, is now hearing its death knell of the wrecking ball of redevelopment, the Sungei Road thief market is one defiant constant.
It is at a glance a pile of junk now stretching across only three streets. A world shaded from the Singaporean heat by haphazard tarpaulins and algae-stained parasols, with arteries of old folk and migrant workers – Chinamen and Banglas, surging through below.
You can find here everything that you would have long since discarded: old wires and cables, old remote controls, broken phones, torn leather boots, broken pottery, silver cutlery, old ruby rings, tons of SAF beret crests, Reader’s Digest from 1987, electronic components, pre-owned army uniforms, colonial-era postcards, and an occasional treasure here and there. (We acquired a working Wehrle for 28 bucks)
But this too shall past. The market has been living on borrowed time and the government and her agencies are keen to tear it down. The death knell of this market lingers not too far away.