In continuation to the previous article written on Tiong Bahru Market, this article will focus on the future of wet markets in continuation to the series under the future of our traditional wet market. It was really a pleasurable experience to be able to conduct an interview with the chairman of the Tiong Bahru Wet Market hawkers and vendors association, Mr. Loh Teck Seng shared with me many valuable thoughts and shed some light on the future direction of our traditional wet markets.

Tiong Bahru wet market is a place that held many memories for many generations, the customers come from all walks of life and everywhere in Singapore. People come for the delicious traditional local cuisines offered at the hawker centre on the 2nd floor of this market complex and the fresh unique products on sale on the ground floor in the wet market section.

“In this market, we have many Indonesians, Japanese and Koreans customers due to the location near where they stay and word of mouth in their own ethnic community circle,” Mr. Loh introduced about the demographics of the market go-ers. Other than this special group, different age group also visit this market, just that at different timing of the day. The younger generation generally visits during lunchtime due to the many offices nearby and due to close proximity to Singapore General Hospital. There are many youngsters who follow their parents to buy groceries on weekends too.

“I personally only buys from this wet market and only go to the wet market to buy my groceries,” Mr. Loh added when asked about the freshness of the products on sale. This is the main reason why people come back for more, even when they have shifted away from this estate, and even when they stayed far away, though most customers are residents who stay in nearby estates.

Operation hours is another issue many lament about when asked about the cons of wet markets, however, surprisingly in this market, everyone is happy with the hours the wet market operates till. But Tiong Bahru wet market closes at around 2-3pm, like any other wet market. “I will just adapt my timing to the operating hours of the market, this is so to get the freshest products,” a young lady aged 28 commented when asked if she feels that half a day of operating hour pose a problem to the younger generation like her. Mr. Loh added that “the current operating hours from morning till early afternoon say 2/3pm is already taxing on the vendors, you cannot imagine the amount of preparation work that I have to put in for this, I go home at 3pm and rest till 11pm at night and start preparing, so it’s a straight 15-16 hours of work per day. It has a much longer working hour than office jobs hence does not attract youngsters.” He added that to him, he feel that “operating hours does not affect those who frequent the market, they are familiar with the operation time and will come at that timing.”

Architecturally, the market is much better than the older one storey stand-alone typology. “Very nice environment especially after rebuilding. Much better layout and planning from the previous one storey stand alone structure, to lift up hawkers and cooked food to 2nd storey solved a lot of hygiene and sanitation issues, especially rats. This is so much cleaner and well ventilated environment than previous.”

Better designs can definitely attract the younger generation to visit the wet market, “with more spaces to move around, attracts a lot more people since it is more comfortable to sit and interact for a longer period of time,” Mr. Loh pointed out that wet markets have to move on with time and caters to different crowd. Mr. Loh then warmly introduced me to his fellow vendors who operate in the wet market to know more about the design aspect. One of the vendors that he introduced was a friendly fishmonger; she is around 40 years of age, a second-generation vendor like many of the vendors there in the Tiong Bahru market family.

“Perhaps what’s most important is the quality of the fresh products and environment of the wet market, like our current market has such a pleasant and kind of smell free environment due to good ventilation, hence attracts more crowds. Maybe air ventilating equipments or appliances can be installed and improved on; smell is the main issue that deters one to shop in a wet market. However I am not for air conditioning, it will make the place smell worse, and I think that’s not the character that traditional wet market should have,” this lady offered some views on how the future design and planning of the wet market could go towards.

The garden space in the middle of the market complex is the next attractive plus point of this market that this lady promotes. “See we have a garden in the middle, no other wet markets have. It is a very pleasant place, well ventilated and clean. Definitely better than older form of one storey stand alone wet markets, better than those markets that are located underground,” she said, beaming with pride for this market. Many customers also voiced out their support for such garden spaces to be implement in future wet markets, their only wish is if it could have some seating and more shaded to provide some resting places for market go-ers to rest and interact.

One interesting aspect of this wet market is that they hold frequent singing activities with the community centre to bring residents together in this wet market space. “A lot of people join in, especially the residents that stay nearby, and it brings them into the market, treating the market as a place of gathering imprint in their mind. It is really good method to use the spaces in the market complex as well as to strengthen community bonds,” Mr. Loh pointed out.

When asked about the future of the wet market, the lady fishmonger voiced that “Government should encourage more people to come to the wet market, especially younger generation, it is really a close knit family where community bonding can take place.” On their part, they will improve on their services both in terms of attitudes towards customers and in terms of variety of goods. We definitely need more vendors like this, who believe in improving and adapting to new demands and crowds. Mr. Loh also spoke confidently that he think “ wet market will still be around and would die for the next 20-30 years at least, as my generation of hawkers are still around, as long as we are around, we will continue doing and selling, it is a lifelong trade that we are passionate and proud of.” He believes that wet market will stay to be relevant as a platform for community to come together and bond, “Government has also recognize the importance of wet market in a neighbourhood besides providing fresh produces also as a place to strengthen neighborly relations. Hence I think wet market would still be relevant to people in the near future and decades more at least.”

To end off our interview session, Mr. Loh continues to look through his list of vendors and tries to offer as much help as he can, telling me more about many vendors’ background, this shows truly a big warm market family. Building of ties here, starts from the vendors.



Picture credits: Author’s own.

Many thanks to Mr Loh Teck Seng, Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks, 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-69, Tiong Bahru Market Singapore.