Monday 15 February 2010

Street Hawkers

Back in the 1960s, the streets of Singapore were full with markets and street hawkers. They sold everything that you could want. As well as fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, they also sold furniture, rattan work, household utensils, toys, clothes, jewellery and many other goods. I loved going to them all but was probably more fascinated by the cheap toys and piles of rambutans more than anything. The stalls had their own smell especially at the end of the day when the fruit and vegetables weren't at their best after cooking in the heat of the sun all day. The stalls produced a lot of rubbish including cardboard boxes, rotting fruit and vegetables as well as other waste, much of which must have ended up in the Singapore River. As the government slowly cleaned up the streets, many of the hawkers were cleared away. A report in a local newspaper in 1970 covered the story:
4th August 1970.
'Street hawkers to be moved under cover.'
A massive five-year plan was announced to clear all hawkers - 25,000 of them - off the streets. This was consistent with the Government's effort of providing a better and healthier environment for the people to live in. Under the plan, popular roadside stalls, such as those in Orchard Road, Satay Club in Beach Road and the noodle stalls at Hokkien Street, would be gradually moved indoors.
Today, Singapore is a totally different place to the one that I remember in my childhood in the 1960s. There are no more street hawkers, market stalls or snake charmers. All the rubbish is now gone and the streets are spotless. The Singapore River is clean and all the hundreds of sampans and bumboats that once inhabited the area have been cleared away. A lot has changed over the years and I miss the old Singapore. The new Singapore is very modern, clean and tidy but there's something that's been lost under all the tall skyscrapers, super fast railway systems and modern housing. I wonder how many people living in Singapore today miss it all?


  1. I do miss the Singapore of the 1960s. My first visit was for 2 years 1960/62 with the RAF at Seletar followed by 4 months at Changi in 1970, then in 1973 I stopped off at Tengah for 3 weeks on a flag waving trip whilst serving on the Vulcan bomber - each time I saw a different Singapore - not always for the better.
    In 1984 I returned as a tourist and have visited many times since. New Singapore is a lovely place, but we should not forget the old city and its vibrancy.

  2. I came 'home' after 15 years in the USA--and I miss the old singapore, however, I think the government is realizing this and has taken some steps to preserve some historical buildings--sigh--oh well

  3. My Father was then the Chief of MARKETS and Hawkers department and I used to go with him as part of the 'clean up' that he had to carry out. Yes I remember those days when I was just a young kid who used to see the hawkers scramble whenever they saw the vehicles of the MHD coming by. It was an intersting period that I do miss sometimes.