For our field research on Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre, Shoki and I went to the marketplace on 11 Feb 2017 before it closes for renovation and again on 28 May 2017 when the renovation was completed. We spent 5 hours stating 7am on a Sunday on location filming and photographing. Here is a reflection and update of what we have encountered.
The interior is mostly intact with no major changes. At level 1 there were minimal changes, the biggest being the red painting to white and bright red. There were replacement of floor tiles, fans, and ceiling lights, along with a handwashing sink and a ‘Food Waste Recycler’ sticker by National Environment Agency on every stall. The toilets seemed to have a face-lift as well as the signs for Man and Woman were replaced with a picture of a Dragon and Phoenix respective, a sign of the Chinese-majority that lives in this area.
Level 2 is where it is most obvious, aside from the floor titles, there are now LED lights, TVs, removable chairs and giant fans. The stalls themselves were untouched and the interior and exterior of each stalls remains the same. The LED lights comes in either blue or orange and they are placed at the top of intruded space where the pillar connects to the ceiling. The TV showcase short clips from National Environment Agency (NEA), mainly about recycling and food wastage, along with static Chee Chew comics on the side of the screen. There are now seats with removable chairs with the ‘priority seat’ stickers on them, this make them reserved for elderly and disabled patrons. There are also a few giant fans installed, the same kind of fans installed in most above-ground MRT stations.
At the level 3 car park, with no changes at all aside from red painting, but there are plans to install solar panels by late September that will supply electricity to the whole building.
As it was a a crowded Sunday, it was difficult to get close-up and inside look of the hawkers preparing their food. We were however, able to get an interview with one of the coffee stall owner who has been serving drinks since 40 years ago when he work at the stall with his father. We also noticed a few (we encountered 3) stalls with small shrine inside their stall, mostly of Buddhist and Taoist deity.
Some observation we noticed were that there were next to no non-Chinese food stalls at level 2. Shoki counted only 2 Muslim stalls. There were also next to no non-Chinese locals patrons at both level 1 and 2. The non-local patrons includes Japanese, Koreans, with Caucasians being the majority. We conclude this is due to the surrounding estates being the dwelling place of expatriates, which also resulted in Western cafes, bars and stalls catering to them popping up around the marketplace.
We also encountered the ZOOM OUT Photography Exhibition by SCAPE Singapore (https://www.facebook.com/events/1662360370731781/) during our visit. The volunteers from SCAPE has set up a booth and there were volunteers explaining to us what the photo exhibition was about. They are exhibiting photos of hawkers during a Photo Walkabout event last year by members of the public guided by local photographer Edwin Koo. They are organizing another Photo Walkabout next week and I have signed up.
The exhibition was held in conjunction with Mr Nai (also known as Uncle Nai), the leader of the Tiong Bahru Market association and he runs one of the fruit stalls at level 1. He was there at the event and we introduced ourselves. We learned first hand account of how the market came to be and his thoughts on the future of the marketplace and hawking trade (he was optimistic), and he even shared with us photos of the predecessor of Tiong Bahru Market in the 1950s. He is bilingual and he given us his contact and welcomed us to call him if we ever had any question about the marketplace.
Some background information we found by the informational stands and boards found around Tiong Bahru shed some light on history of this old housing estate and marketing (click on them to enlarge the image):
Tiong Bahru Post-War Flats
Tiong Bahru Market / Seng Poh Road Market
Tan Kim Ching
There is also a short documentary I found that was done in 2014 about Tiong Bahru:
Chua, Alvin. Tiong Bahru. 2010. Accessed 5 Jun 2017: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1700_2010-08-11.html
Ng, Chermaine. Not all hawkers will reopen at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre on May 20. 18 May 2017: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/not-all-hawkers-will-re-open-at-tiong-bahru-market-and-food-centre-on-may-20
Tiong Bahru market reopens after 3-month renovation. Channel NewsAsia. Updated 21 May 2017: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/tiong-bahru-market-reopens-after-3-month-renovation-8867306