Traditional Wet Market


In recent years, there has been much hype over keeping the traditional wet markets by bringing in more activities and function to make it a less time dictated communal space.

Rapid process of urban redevelopment is transforming the way people are interacting with the spaces around them, particular in the up and coming high-density cities. This together with the McDonaldization of Society (Ritzer, George. 2004)  also reflects the changing demands that the society is gearing towards.

Singapore government’s vision for traditional wet market since the day it was implemented was for multiculturalism. Traditional wet market serve as a microcosm of Singapore’s multi-cultural society since independence. It brings residents of different social and cultural backgrounds together and initiate community bonding in an estate. Yet, this is ironic that many traditional wet markets have been vanishing over the years. There is currently a lack of studies being done on investigating this phenomenon that’s happening in Singapore.

What makes the traditional wet market such a important public communal space that many celebrate rapid modernization in the supermarket industry yet expressed anxieties with a break from these traditional wet markets?


Understanding the Relevance of Traditional Wet Market from a Social Aspect

In modern context, every individual is always occupied with many things; hence there is a need to look to rebuild loose ties between family members, between members of the community. Lui (2008) referenced from Easterbrook (2003) to back up the importance of building ties through shopping, “human beings are happiest around other people. They need close connections to other people and are happy in a friends-or-family social setting than when alone. (P.179)” shopping offers comfort at a social level.

In terms of friendship and neighbourhood, Lui (2008) brought up that many of us are marginally aware of the additional motive for shopping together. This is crucial to the maintenance of relationship between friends and neighbours. Conversation and phatic communion may seem mundane and may have had been taken for granted as a normal part of ordinary social life, but they are the very essence of community bonding. And these kinds of communications and bonding best take place in the traditional wet market environment. These thus shows that traditional wet market is an easy place to initiate conversations even with strangers, hence showing relevance to initiating community bonding between individuals of different social and cultural backgrounds.



New Kind of Relationships are Forming in the Traditional Wet Market Environment

Only those who participate in the buying will be most of the time those who maintain the social ties with vendors and neighbors in this traditional wet market setting.

Interesting trend that is happening in modern context is with the rise of employment of household domestic workers, the maids are the one doing the purchasing for food. A new kind of relationship is form in the traditional wet market community, between the maids, and the maids and the vendors. The traditional wet market now offers a space for these foreigners to interact and integrate into the larger community. This also extends out to the influx of the new immigrant population in Singapore.

At the beginning there is always a sense of uncertainties of interacting with the vendors due to a different mode of purchase. From foreigner’s point of view, this will deter them from shopping there, and now perhaps with more immigrants and foreigners in our society, that’s probably one of the reason for the decline in shopping in wet market. However it is important that we should try and integrate this group of people into the community to initiate community bonding and on a larger scale, social cohesion for a better nation. Hence showing again the relevance of keeping and promoting traditional wet market in future public housing estates as a good communal place for community bonding.



Challenges of the modernized market place, the supermarket

Wet markets are shown to have a greater potential for phatic communion to initiate, regardless of consumer response. (Malinowski 1999: 303)  In terms of seller-buyer relationships, Lui (2008) compared the ability to initiate and engage in phatic communion between wet market and supermarket atmosphere. Due to a more centralized management system in the supermarket, supermarkets employ a pragmatic strategy in presenting a friendly retailing environment to customers hence it is not appropriate for the supermarket staffs to initiate phatic communion, let alone deeper interaction. There is no room for informal kind of phatic communion that exists in wet market. This provides insights that wet market environment have a greater potential for phatic communion to take place, which then will lead to more interaction and thus community bonding and identity and rootedness.

Supermarkets are associated with modernization of our society and seen as a present and future form of traditional wet market. There is always a difference in preference between the different generations. In the modern context, the younger generations are more educated and able to make choices based on the product information. The spatial arrangement of the products on the shelves encourage a more hands-on style and independent decision makers making their preferences known in public and to exercise “increasing influence over the spending habits of their parents” (Watson ed. 1997: 100; 199). In contrast to wet markets, decisions made to purchase are based on advice seeking from the vendors. This actually proves that there is more interaction happening in the wet market than supermarket, one encourages interaction while the other encourages self-judgment.

This shows the relevance of traditional wet market and how it is a better place for interactions and bonding to take place over the immediate rival, the supermarket. The fact that supermarket has its competitive edges are recognized, they should co-exist for greater variety to suit modern demands yet enable community bonding.



Importance of Traditional Wet Market as a Good Public Communal Space in Today’s Modern Context

Traditional wet market plays an important and relevant role in bonding people together unconsciously and involuntarily. In a society now where we tend to lose the kind of neighbor connections we used to have, this space is very important to us. No matter how the society advances, interaction is still needed, only with bonded communities, will one get a better and harmonious nation. Hence as population rapidly increases and with limited land resources, it is necessary to investigate if the current public communal facilities are indeed doing the job of providing for quality living, and enhancing community bonding as the main purpose in these communal shared spaces.



Challenges of the Future of the Traditional Wet Market

How relevant is traditional wet market to the community in today’s modern society then?

Should the traditional wet market, as a communal space for active community bonding, continue to be relevant in future public housing estates?

And if so, should future wet market’s development be left to a top down initiative, leaving development to the hands of the developers, contractors and government authorities, or is there a more integrative way of combining top down and bottom up initiatives to enable the success of it, in terms of community bonding?








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