Soon, an important part of my life will be gone. Another sad moment in my life.
The Sungei Road flea market, once known as the “Thieves Market” has been around for more than eighty years. It will soon give way to a modern built environment.
According to the Master Plan 2014, it will be replaced by residential buildings, shops, parks, and a brand new MRT station that is scheduled to be opened in 2017.
Sungei Road will be gone but it will always have a special place in my heart.
I used to work there during school vacations, right from a tender age of 11. I did it to earn extra pocket money as I came from a poor family.
That was the good side of child labour. Without it, I might not be able to have an income to live and study properly.
Money is of no true value unless it’s being used for the good of others and the environment.
I worked for an elderly couple, distant relatives on my grandmother’s side.
My grand aunt cum lady boss was an unforgettable character. For example, during every meal, she would eat a bowl of rice for lunch.
Nothing strange about that – except that my seemingly invincible boss would pour a bottle of Guinness Stout over the rice.
She would make sure it was stirred, not shaken before eating it.
We ran the second dinghy stall at the fringe of Sungei Road, right in front of the defunct ice factory.
Yes, those were the days when many homes did not have a refrigerator, paeople actually went to buy ice from the neighbourhood provision shop.
Our merchandise comprised mainly of jeans, shirts, and other clothing. They were targeted at working adults from the lower socioeconomic segment.
The products were generic brands and the only selling point was that I could sell it cheap or cheaper than most other retailers elsewhere.
However, there were many similar stalls. We operated in one of the most competitive marketplaces.
To passersby, our shop was a shack, put together with wooden poles and a run-down canvass. To us, it was a “retail palace.”
It does not matter to us that we didn’t even have enough space to even set up a changing room.
Big dreams always start in the mind.
It may sound funny to you if I tell you that my prospective customers have to strip to their undies to try out the jeans. For female customers, one of us would hold up a dark cloth to set up a temporary changing room.
When you walked into my shop, I would ask you, “What’s your size?”
In our stall, there were only three sizes of jeans: small, medium or large.
If your reply was “Small,” which was the most common size for many people from the lower socio-economic class, I would have given you a pair of medium-sized jeans.
The reason was simple. After washing the pre-shrunk jeans, it would be reduced to a small size.
If you continue to wash it, the long pants would become a pair of shorts.
The last line was a joke that I used to tell my customers. (Please laugh. Thank you).
One of my killer “sales” lines and it worked most times was, “Wow! You make our jeans look good.”
I could say that with all sincerity because I’ve learned to see the good in every person. There was not a single human I’ve met that didn’t look wonderful to me.
In the old days, the Sungei Road flea market was a huge one. You could buy almost everything you need in your home and at a bargain price too.
It was also a trading hub for petty thieves, pickpockets, and purse-snatchers. Those were exciting times.
If you lose a hubcap, you could buy one at the Thieves Market for a fraction of the price. It would be delivered to you within a relatively short period of time.
After you have fitted the hubcap, when you go to the other side of your vehicle, guess what?
The other hubcap is missing. Lol!
At the Thieves Market, I got to know many ethical and entrepreneurial hawkers. They struggled to eke out a living by offering different wares and services.
Some of them eventually broke the poverty cycle and became very successful. They made a good living for themselves and for their loved ones.
These entrepreneurs persisted in honing their craft to an art. They disciplined themselves and worked hard and smart to secure their future.
Life will always give us adequate opportunities to break out from any hell holes.
It was while studying some of the successful hawkers that I discovered one of the most important factors for success – grit.
You need to keep pressing on to press on to achieve success.
I remember a 17 year old orphan running a stall opposite to ours. He was a student from Beatty Secondary School and as an orphan, he had to support his younger siblings by selling second hand shoes.
His mind was continually on first gear to innovate ideas to hawk his wares.
He persisted literally through fears, sweat, and tears to achieve success.
He had to do it because he was the sole bread winner and he knew that if he didn’t do it, his siblings might have to stop schooling and go hungry.
Success is not just about EQ or IQ but also DQ. DQ stands for desperation quotient.
How desperate are you to succeed?
Looking back, those days at the Thieves Market were some of the happiest days in my life.
The experience was an important part of my life.
That’s why you could take me out of Sungei Road but you could never take Sungei Road out of me.
Deep within me, I was and will always be an original kampung “Ah boy”.
It was there in that tough and highly-practical Sungei Road “business school” that I first fell in love with entrepreneurship and financial investment.
It was a love story that survived the ebb and flow of life. The romance remains strong in my heart and throughout my life.
Sungei Road introduced me to the world of dreams and opportunities.
I learned that every day can be the start of a new beginning, a new life.
It’s never too late to dream and turn the dream into a reality.
You are only limited by your mind and the stretch of your imagination.
You are born with wings. Learn to fly to the stars of your dream.
I hope this message will find a place in your heart.
By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.
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Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.
Life is FUNtastic!