I went out in search of spoons yesterday. That’s an odd goal for an afternoon’s adventure in Singapore, I know, but there’s a dearth of spoons for stirring tea in my office and it’s surprisingly difficult to figure out where one might buy loose cutlery in town. So I headed for the Thieves Market, the only thing that Singapore has that resembles a flea market.
The market dates back to the 1930s and takes up two and a half city blocks at the edge of a giant HDB cluster in the Kampong Glam neighborhood:
The Thieves Market feels very un-Sinagpore: it’s not organized, there’s no rent, there are no signs, and you don’t need a license to set up shop. All you need is a place to display your wares on the ground, which may be as simple as a few sheets of newspaper:
Some vendors, like the one above, look very temporary; others clearly have semi-permanent homes with tarps and display carts.
And while some vendors organize their wares into clear categories …
… others are remarkably messy:
I was a real fan of this glasses display:
But don’t worry, Singapore is going to take care of this untidiness: the government has announced that it will be shutting down the Thieves Market in July. We’re going to get a new MRT station somewhere in the vicinity instead.
In terms of shopping, my lesson here was: don’t go to a flea market expecting to find one specific item, especially if that item is flatware. There were no teaspoons in sight (plenty of Chinese soup spoons, though). I ended up a ten-minute walk away at the black hole that is the Mustafa Center and came out with five spoons, a teapot, two pencils, an eraser, and some Superglue.
I always enjoy walking in Little India, because I love the smells and the general sense of chaos (well, chaos here is relative — but this particular neighborhood feels about as chaotic as Singapore gets). And the produce displays are both plentiful and wonderful:
I stopped along the way to get an ice kachang (made with perfectly smooth ice) at the Berseh Food Centre.
The green side of that mound is pandan flavored; the yellow side remains a mystery. If they hadn’t hid a pile of grass jelly at the bottom of the bowl, it would have been perfect.
While I was in the neighborhood, I wandered through two of the oldest cemeteries in Singapore, the Old Muslim Cemetery and the Old Malay Cemetery. There’s no signage for these cemeteries when you walk by, but Google Maps is smart enough to know what they are. At first glance, you see what look like bowling pins tumbled in the grass.
I’m not sure I fully understand how this cemetery worked, because the grave markers seem too close together for it to be a one-marker-per-body setup (I’ve read that each grave had one footstone and one headstone, but even with two markers per body, there still seem to be too many stones for the math to work out in that cluttered space). It’s also really hard to find any kinds of inscriptions; most of the stones look like this:
That said, I did find one stone with an almost-identifiable being (which looks like a bug-angel) on it:
My research suggests that most of the graves here date from 1820 to 1875. I’m guessing that time has worn away whatever inscriptions might once have existed. These cemeteries remind one of how easily nature can take over here:
The Malay Cemetery had burial space for royalty (the Sultans and his relatives), usually in tombs built into raised platforms. These royal graves are now denoted by yellow cloths on top.
Some of the gravestones also have white cloths, but I have not been able to figure out what those mean.
It’s worth noting that both of these cemeteries are in danger of removal by the Singapore government — they’re in a prime location for development, and no grave is safe in Singapore. The government has a long history of exhuming bodies and re-burying them. Indeed, if you’re buried in Singapore today, you’re only guaranteed to have that plot for fifteen years. After that, if the government sees fit, they can dig up your body and put you in a crypt with seven other people (you can choose the other people if you want to form a family crypt in advance). This is wild stuff.
My final stop of the day was Far East Flora, an enormous landscaping and flower retailer and wholesaler.
I went there to take a look at the enormous walk-in flower center, which is essentially a small, chilled, three-room warehouse filled with flowers. It was easily the coldest place I’ve been in Singapore. I was so excited — I love the smell of cut flowers, and I love how they look, and I love creating arrangements — but I was overwhelmed by the choices:
When you’re there, you have to buy a lot of flowers — for the most part, the flowers come in giant bunches rather than being sold by the stem or the bouquet. That was ok for a one-time trip, but going there on a regular basis would become an expensive habit. I ended up with a large number of bright orange orchids, a bunch of flowers in the protea family, and this: