What’s seen as a way to make a few dollars more for these night market sellers might soon be a way to suck them dry.
The Straits Times has reported that a 3m by 3m pasar malam stall can cost upwards of S$10,000 a month to rent.
Which is why the pasar malam aunty we spoke to, Aunty Teo, is lucky – she only pays S$200 to rent a stall for a day, which would work out to the equivalent of S$6000 a month.
But already, the 63-year-old clothes seller is feeling the pinch.
Speaking in a Hokkien-Chinese mix, she said:
“I have a shop, but I rent a stall to earn some extra money because got more people mah. But after 3 nights, how much can you earn? S$50? You lucky already lah. In the end all the money you collect goes to the rent, so might as well don’t want already.”
When quizzed about whether she would pay S$10,000 a month, or about S$330 a day, to rent a stall, she said:
“[expletive deleted] like that vomit blood ah. That is 3-4 times more than the rent I pay for my own shop! People just want to make a living, to make some money to eat, why must make things so difficult?”
Aunty Teo said she won’t rent pasar malam stalls anymore if the rent continues to increase because it’s not worth the time and effort.
Rents at pasar malam stalls have reportedly tripled over the past 8 years.
This, in addition to the rising cost of supplies, has put a squeeze on retailers like Aunty Teo.
They’re caught in a bind – want to sell cheap also cannot, but increase price people don’t want to buy.
The Trade Fair Merchants’ Association has mooted the idea of expanding night markets to include theme parks, and even beer gardens or restaurants.
However, AUnty Teo says this totally defeats the purpose of night markets.
“Who goes to night markets? People who pass by, look look, see some cheap things then buy back and use. You put all these things (beer garden etc) in the end who will go? Tourists? You want pasar malams to become over-priced tourist stops? Then our own people (Singaporeans) how? Cannot like that lah. [expletives deleted]”
But what exactly is the problem?
“It’s not that people don’t come, it’s people see already say expensive then don’t want to buy. How you want to explain? High rent? Who cares. People go to pasar malam for those cheap 3 for $10 kind of things. You cannot give discount, people scold you say you’re arrogant. Like that no win lah.”
But what about the pasar malam being a unique part of Singaporean culture?
“Young man, I tell you, Singaporeans are all greedy. No one cares whether you live or die as long as they can cut you (extract benefits from you). Don’t talk about culture, that’s life. A lot of things from last time all no more already. 50 years from now, everything will be different again. You live or you die, no one will remember you.”
The anger and depression of aunties like Aunty Teo can be very infectious.
But Aunty Teo made her point very clear – why should small-time vendors selling cheap items be subject to such high rents?
While Singapore wants to use these night markets to lure tourists to our shores, just as Taiwan does with its famed night markets, the country also allows landlords to charge exorbitant rents.
A case of wanting to have your cake and eat it, at the expense of everyone else?
Let’s just say, to quote the words of a renowned PAP politician (who’s only famous because he said these words), “Liu lian bo bao jiak”.
You can’t have the best of all worlds.