A personal story of how the thieves market helped me in my photographic journey and tips on how to be a happy buyer every time you visit it.
When I was somewhere around 15 yrs old, I was traveling with my dad in a bus. When the bus passed by Thieves Market, he pointed it out to me and briefly told me that it’s a place where people would set up a stall and sell all sorts of stuff but most of the stuff are not stolen goods as it used to be in the past. He also told me not to visit it, because according to him, the people there are not friendly and it could be dangerous.
I never forgot about the place, and I always had been eager to visit it, but every time I felt like going, I remembered my father’s words and I would scrap the idea. But about 3 years ago when my dad went overseas, I decided to give the place a visit. On my first visit, I was very scared as I heard from a friend about how in Bangkok, if you touched an item you would have to pay for the item and I was worried if there was such a similar rule here too. I walked around the market tightly hugging my bag in front of me. It was a weird feeling as I felt sacred and happy at the same time, the place was like a treasure land. You can easily find old film cameras, vintage items, old clothes, typewriters etc. I once bought a Supersampler for SGD6.
Thieves market has a special link with me and photography. I bought my first DSLR (a Pentax K-X about 2.5 years ago). I got it with the money I earned through a holiday job. Always short on cash, I could not afford more lenses. On one of my regular visits to the thieves market, I found a gem. A Pentax Takumar 50mm F1.4 lens, I did not know anything about the lens. All I knew was that it has a screw mount so it will fit my Pentax with an adapter and it is a 50mm lens. I checked the lens for dust and fungus and it looked clean. After bargaining, I managed to get it for $20. Since that day, it has been my main lens. It forced me to shoot in full manual mode; this allowed me to learn the technical bits of photography thoroughly. I have shot numerous events and photoshoots with this lens and it still amazes me. I wonder where I would be in my photography if I had not visited Thieves Market that day.
As mentioned earlier I would spend most of my money at thieves market buying film cameras and lenses. Most of the time, the items would be spoilt. I would get disappointed but not deterred and I would visit it again. But overtime, I started to be more careful and started checking the cameras before buying. If you are planning to visit the place to find some deals on cameras, here’s a checklist of things you should do before buying it:
- Carry a set of batteries (AA, AAA, CR123A) – these are the common batteries used in old point-and-shoot cameras). This will help you check if the camera is working or not.
- Ask the seller before testing the camera because sometimes they might not want you to test it.
- Check the lens for fungus, dust etc. (point it at the sky or shine light through it, if there is anything on the lens you can easily see it)
- Check if all the buttons can be pressed.
- Check if the backdoor is working the way it’s suppose to work
- Check the shutter. You can do this by opening the camera and pointing the camera at the sky. Upon clicking if you see light passing through, you can be at least sure the shutter works.
- Negotiate the price.
- If you choose not to buy and the seller gets angry, try not to fight back. Just say sorry and move off.
Singapore being a small and fast developing city, it lacks places like this. Old buildings/places are torn down to make way for new development. It’s sad to see old places disappear. And the same is happening to Thieves Market. It used to be much bigger than it is now. That’s due to the building of a new train station. This has forced most of the sellers to move off or squeegee in the remaining place. I am not sure how long this place will last, if you are yet to visit, Thieves Market don’t waste any more time. It’s open daily from 2pm to 7pm, there are more sellers on weekends but there are more people on weekends too and you would need to squeeze your way through. For me, the ideal time to visit is around 4-5.30 pm as most of the sellers have already set up there stalls and there’s a smaller crowd compared to closing time.
All photos taken with a Konica Big Mini 201 + Sensia 200 x-pro.